Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and one of the great popular faces of physics. He is unequivocally my favorite among them. His sense of humor is eclipsed only by his sense of wonder. Listening to him : feeling wonder at the universe :: listening to a Zen master : feeling aware and at peace.
The way to know this man is through his speaking.
# Dr. Tyson describes his encounter with Carl Sagan:
Not that I was like drinking buddies with him, we were sort of a generation separate. But I was applying to colleges in high school and I already knew I wanted to study the universe at age seventeen because I knew at age nine. So my applications were dripping with the universe. I was accepted at Cornell, and it's time to decide what school you go to, and a set of other schools as well. The admissions office, unknown to me, sent my application to Carl Sagan. He was already famous. He was already on Johnny Carson, Tonight Show. To get him to just comment on it. Carl Sagan then sent me a letter, hand signed, saying, 'I understand you're considering Cornell. If you come by and visit I'd be happy to show you the lab.' And I said, 'Is this Carl Sagan?' I showed it to mom, dad, I said, 'Could this be?' And it was. I wrote back and I said, 'Yeah, I'll go up in two weekends.' He met me on a Saturday morning in the snow, gave me a tour of his lab. I'm in his office, he reaches back, pulls out one of his books, signs it to me. It's time for me to leave, he drives me to the bus station, snowing a little heavier. He writes his home phone on a sheet of paper, says, 'If the bus can't get through, call me, spend the night at our place.' And I thought to myself, who am I? I'm just some highschool kid. And to this day, to this day, I have this duty to respond to students who are inquiring about the universe as a career path, to respond to them in the way that Carl Sagan had responded to me.
# Cosmic Quandaries, a Q&A (skip the 13 minute intro) with Dr. Tyson. Subjects include Pluto (both the once-planet and the dog), dark matter, dark energy, black holes (individually and colliding), UFOs, and more. This is absolutely worth the hour and a half. Watch it.
We've all bought and enjoyed books called 'optical illusions', right? We all love optical illusions. But that's not what they should call the book. They should call them BRAIN FAILURES. Okay? Because that's what it is! It's a complete failure of human perception. All it takes is a few sketches that are cleverly done; your brain can't figure it out. Alright? So we are poor data taking devices. That's why we have such a thing as science.
# An excellent interview of Dr. Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy by Stephen Colbert (out of character).
So, Titanic, you may remember, was marketed as a film of high accuracy because Cameron had funded this submersible to go down and to check out the staterooms and the wall sconces and the china patterns. And so they reproduced that to detail. And so here they recreate the ship for the movie; can you double check that? No, because he had the submersible. You just have to trust him. Okay? Look, you gotta trust him. So now the ship sinks. Right? Did I give away the...? Did you see the movie yet? I'm sorry. Okay, so the ship sinks. And here's Kate Winslet, on the floe, and she's delirious. On the whatever, the plank, alright, she's looking up. We know the date, the day, the time, the weather conditions, the longitude, the latitude. We know all of this about the sinking spot of the Titannic. There is only one sky she should have been looking at, and it was the wrong sky. Worse than that, the left side of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right side of the sky. So it was not only wrong, it was lazy. And so I was livid. I got out my finest stationery and I wrote a letter to Jim Cameron. No reply. Five years later I bumped into him. [This story has some twists and a surprise ending. Start the video at 35:43 to hear the whole story.]
# AskMeAnything with Dr. Tyson on Reddit. (Edit: Here is a second one.) Some excerpted questions, with Dr. Tyson's responses:
What never fails to blow your mind in physics?
1) The fact that an electron has no known size -- it's smaller than the smallest measurement we have ever made of anything.
2) That Quarks come only in pairs: If you try to separate two of them, the energy you sink into the system to accomplish this feat is exactly the energy to spontaneously create two more quarks - one to partner with each of those you pulled apart.
3) That the space-time structure inside a rotating black hole does not preclude the existence of an entire other universe.
MindBlown x 3
What is your favorite sci-fi movie?
Three-way tie: The Matrix - The first one, of course. Contact Deep Impact.
And classical have: 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Can we inspire more kids to pursue space-related science and research? If so, how?
Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. The beat the curiosity out of the kids. They out-number kids. They vote. They wield resources. That's why my public focus is primarily adults.
Thank you. Just... thank you. You're one of my personal heroes. ...no pressure. ^_^
You should chose your heroes a-la carte. Picking and choosing from one and then another, thereby assembling a kind of composite hero. That way when you discover something reprehensible about any one of them it matters nothing to you because that's not the part of them that piqued your interest.
If you could add one course to a student's curriculum, what would it be?
Course title every university should offer: "How to tell when someone else is full of shit"
# Symphony of Science - Onward to the Edge!, prominently featuring an autotuned Dr. Tyson.
When I reach for the edge of the universe, I do so knowing that along some paths of cosmic discovery, there are times when, at least for now, one must be content to love the questions themselves.
# "Stupid Design", a "fast tirade" by Dr. Tyson on how finely tuned the universe is---toward instant death. Equal parts brash, funny, illuminating, and terrifying.
We have to eat constantly because we're warm blooded. A crocodile could eat a chicken a month, it's fine. Okay? So we're always looking for food. These gasses at the bottom? [CO, CH4, CO2] You can't smell them, taste them; you breathe them in, you're dead. Okay? I'm almost done, I'm sorry, I'm taking up your time here.
# Dr. Tyson testifies before the Senate Science Committee on March 7, 2012