For decades, Neil deGrasse Tyson has shared his knowledge and his wonder about the depths of the universe, helping millions grasp what they see when they look up at the sky.

Neil is director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. It turns out that Neil was born in New York City the same week NASA was founded. His interest in the universe traces back to age 9, after a first visit to the exact planetarium he is now the director for… the cosmos aligned that day.

In addition to being an astrophysicist, Neil is also a teacher, actor, philosopher, cosmologist, science writer, and television editor.

He earned his BA in Physics from Harvard and his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia.

In 2001, Tyson was appointed by President Bush to serve on a twelve-member commission that studied the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, and he was appointed again in 2004 to serve on a nine-member commission on the Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy.

Neil has served as host of NOVA ScienceNow and the StarTalk Radio podcast and was also the Executive Science Editor and on-camera Host & Narrator for the documentary series, Cosmos.

His newest book, Welcome to the Universe in 3D: A Visual Tour, which allows readers to visually see the far-flung features of the universe up close.

Just to be upfront, this podcast went in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. I had all kinds of black hole, matter, and anti-matter questions lined up that stretched the limits of my knowledge of astrophysics.

But I dare say that this may be the least astrophysic-y interview he’s ever done. We delve into topics such as:

  • How he picked which college to attend
  • The naming of his daughter
  • What his family discusses at the dinner table
  • What he would do if he were dean of admissions of Harvard
  • How flight attendants assume he’s not in first-class because he’s black
  • The limitations of the bible as a reference source
  • Why he doesn’t mind how Mark Zuckerberg uses the term “metaverse”
    In other words, this is truly a remarkable interview with a truly remarkable person.

By the way, a few hours before the interview I got a shot (two if you count the anesthesia) because of sudden hearing loss in my left ear. I’ve been deaf in the right ear for years.
But the show must go on. If Beethoven can compose deaf, I can podcast deaf.

Enjoy this interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson!

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

Here is Neil’s essay: Reflections on the Color of My Skin.

Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is the Remarkable People podcast. I'm on a mission to make you remarkable.
Helping me today is Neil deGrasse Tyson. He has shared his knowledge and his wonder about the depths of the universe, and helped millions grasp what they see when they look up at the sky.
Neil is a director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.
It turns out that Neil was born in New York City the same week that NASA was started. His interest in the universe traces back to age nine after a visit to the exact planetarium that he is now the director of. Truly, things aligned that day.
In addition to being an astrophysicist, Neil is also a teacher, actor, philosopher, cosmologist, science writer, and television editor.
He earned his BA in physics from Harvard and his PhD in astrophysics from Columbia.
In 2001, Tyson was appointed by President Bush to serve on the twelve-member commission that studied the future of the US aerospace industry. He was appointed again in 2004 to serve on a nine-member commission on the implementation of the United States space exploration policy.
Neil has served as a host of Nova ScienceNow, and the StarTalk radio podcast.
He was also the executive science editor and on camera host and narrator for the documentary series, Cosmos.
His newest book, which we will talk about. It's a book you should not miss, Welcome to the Universe in 3D: A Visual Tour, allows readers to visually see the far-flung features of the universe up close.
And just to be upfront, this podcast went in directions that I didn't anticipate. I had all kinds of black hole matter, anti-matter, plank questions lined up to stretch the limits of my knowledge of astrophysics, to put it mildly.
But I dare say that this may be the least astrophysicy interview he's ever done.
We delve into topics such as; how he picked which college to attend, the naming of his daughter, what his family discusses at the dinner table, what he would do if he were Dean of admissions of Harvard, how flight attendants assume he's not in first class because he's black, the limitations of the Bible as a reference source, why he doesn't mind how Mark Zuckerberg uses the term metaverse, and how the name Madison became a girl's name.
In other words, this is a truly remarkable interview with a truly remarkable person.
By the way, a few hours before the interview, I got a shot, well two, if you count the anesthesia, because of sudden hearing loss in my left ear.
But the show had to go on. If Beethoven can compose deaf, I can podcast deaf.
I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People, and now to sit you on a meta path to being remarkable, here is Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Are you okay after whatever procedures?
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, it is a little bit of drama. I'm completely deaf in my right ear, and last week about half my hearing dropped out of my left ear. And so today, I started getting a steroid shot on my ear, and that's not a pleasant experience. But you got to do what you got to do when you have Neil deGrasse Tyson lined up, right?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
You probably could have rescheduled.
Guy Kawasaki:
No, no, no, no, no. If it was just a random astrophysicist, maybe. But not Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
You're running the mill. Sure, we'll postpone it.
Guy Kawasaki:
I want to get a story straight. Carl Sagan recruited you to Cornell, and you chose Harvard. Isn't that like Jane Goodall recruiting you and you go to the San Diego Zoo?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Yeah. So I was already accepted at Cornell where he was a professor, and unknown to me, the admissions office, having not heard from me yet because I was still thinking about it, forwarded my application to Carl Sagan.
In turn, he wrote me a personal letter. I didn't know him, I love him, but I'm just a seventeen-year-old high school student.
And I opened the letter said, "I understand you might be interested in Cornell, and you're definitely interested in the universe. So am I. Do you want to come by? I'll show you the lab and give you a tour."
I was like, "Whoa." So I took a bus up to Cornell, it was in the winter, it was very cold. I'd never seen a negative temperature on a bank time and temperature sign before. That was fascinating to me.
It was like minus seven. It's like, "Whoa, that's not why in math we invented negative numbers." Something looks unholy about a negative number on a temperature sign.
But yeah, he gave me a tour of the place, and he did a no look grab on a book behind him at his desk. No look grab. He just reaches back, pulls a book, and it's one of his books. And I said, "That's badass if you could just reach any book that's laying around on his shelf." He signed it to me. I still have that book.
And he drove me back to the bus station when the day was over, and it looked like it was about to snow, which I think it's always about to do in Ithaca, New York, and he wrote down on a shard chart of paper, "Here's my phone number. If the bus doesn't come through, spend the night with my family and return tomorrow." And it was like, "Whoa."
My lesson from that was, I thought this at the time, if I'm ever as remotely famous in this world as Carl Sagan was at that time, I would treat students the way he has treated me. And to this day, I'd be on the phone, "Barack, I got a student at the front door. I'll get back..."
There's a slight exaggeration, but basically if there's an ambitious student who's interested in the universe, I'm there for them.
Now, so no, I didn't go to Cornell because I analyzed what motivations I might have for attending one institution for another.
I was an analytical kid so it might sound weird, and again, this is more information than you probably thought you'd be getting from me. But you asked.
So at the time I subscribed to Scientific American and I'd done so for several years, so I had a three-year library of these magazines. My favorite part was the section called About The Authors.
Because in Scientific American, the articles are not written by journalists, they're written by scientists.
Each About The Author entry cited where they went to college, where they got their master's degree, where they got their PhD, and where they were on the faculty.
So this is the quad arc of the life of an academic, which I had aspirations to be. And so I took every astronomy and physics article and then made a grid for all the schools that I was accepted to. I made a grid and I put a check as to which one of these authors went as an undergraduate, graduate, and PhD, and was a faculty.
Upon doing so, Harvard just overrode all other schools in these categories. The next closest school was a factor of two down from Harvard. And I said, "If I want to do astrophysics and maybe one day do what these scientists are doing, I'm going to follow in that group of footsteps." What cheated a little bit about that, which I didn't think of at the time, is that the government's astrophysics lab, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, was co-located with the Harvard College Observatory on the campus of Harvard.
So the sheer volume of work that came out of Harvard was Harvard plus some Smithsonian. But in a way, that doesn't matter because they all shared the same set of buildings.
So if I'd go to Harvard, I'd be among all these same people. And I didn't go to Cornell, not only for that reason, but I realized that faculty can switch schools.
Sometimes they move, I don't think they're traded like in athletics, but they'll move, and I thought to myself, "If I go to Cornell because of Carl Sagan and midway Carl Sagan leaves, then that's not enough other reason for me to continue to Cornell." So I was just protecting my future options there.
Guy Kawasaki:
Man, at seventeen you were a deep thinker. I would've just gone where the cutest girls were, but that's why you're Neil deGrasse Tyson and I'm Guy Kawasaki.
I want to know why you didn't name Travis either Umbriel, Titania, or Oberon.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
That's deep in the know there that you're asking that question. My daughter is named for one of the moons of the planet Uranus. The planet Uranus' moons, unlike the moons of any other planet in the solar system, are named for fictitious characters in Shakespearean literature, and so her name is Miranda.
But at the time, I only knew Miranda as a moon of Uranus.
And after my wife and I got married and I was thinking about kid names and I stumbled on Miranda again just as a moon, I said, "Miranda would be a good name if we had a daughter."
"Miranda, the heroine is Shakespeare's, The Tempest." And I said, "Yeah, that's exactly what I meant. I totally meant that. I was thinking exactly that too."
Allison and I met in Austin, Texas in graduate school, and that happens to be Travis County. So Travis for the county where we met. And it would be weird if we named him Umbriel.
No, we're not doing that. Or Oberon.
Guy Kawasaki:
You notice I left out Ariel.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I don't know if there are any other good names of Shakespearean fictional characters. I don't know.
Guy Kawasaki:
When I read that little fact to it, I said to myself, "I wonder if the conversation with Neil's mom went like this." Your mom says, what are you naming my granddaughter? And you say Miranda. And she says, "Why? So she remembers her rights?"
Guy Kawasaki:
"No, mom. It's one of the moons of Uranus."
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Well, it's Uranus if you're like eight years old.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
But when you reach nine and you realize it's pronounced Uranus, generally you don't go back.
Guy Kawasaki:
Another reason why you're Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I'm Guy Kawasaki.
So what is a dinner conversation like between you, astrophysicist, and your wife, mathematical physicist? What do you discuss at dinner?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
So it's not so much about topics. I think people misunderstand the role and value of education. They think it's, "Oh my gosh. Do you take some tests and you do really well on the test?" Because tests test knowledge typically. But that's not what really goes on.
What's actually happening at the dinner table with our kids too, who are certified scientifically literate, is even though neither of them at the moment are interested in the sciences, we made sure that they knew how to think about the world and how to not be exploited by charlatans who would tell you something about the physical world to get your money or your confidence or whatever, that wouldn't be true.
So what is science, if not a means of querying nature? Science is a way of probing what you do not understand, and arriving at a place where you do. So dinner conversations are not who's trading knowledge, it's what if have you come to understand lately, and can you share that? Oh, here's something I learned. An idea more than just facts about an object.
Here's an idea and understanding a perspective on the world. And those typically are what gets shared at the table, of anything, you learn new that day.
And I think the best scientists, the best anybody, are people who have remained curious their entire life because they continue to learn beyond the days of their formal education.
Think about it. We all know people, if not a little bit of ourselves or a lot of ourselves, who on the last day of school, you take your notes and toss them in the air as you run down the steps.
"School's out. School's over." Or graduation day from college, "It's graduation. No more college." And I'm thinking to myself, are you really celebrating that you no longer have to learn? Is that really something to celebrate? Because to me, that would be sad if no longer am I expected to learn anything.
So for me, what school should be teaching or should be stimulating is a sense of curiosity that is unbounded within us.
And in that way, the whole rest of your life, you become a lifelong learner. And as a result, you end up knowing and learning and having much more insight into the world as you get older than you ever had having just graduated from school. So in that way, for me grades are so temporary. So ephemeral. They mean so much while you're in school, and they're judging you based on it.
And there's so much at stake for it. But if you become a lifelong learner, you learn twice as much as what you learned in high school three years later, and twice as much another year and a half later because you get better at learning. And you reach a point where you don't even remember what you learned in high school, because it is subsumed by everything you've learned since.
And if you're a lifelong learner, the grades are just some tiny stepping stone en route to a much greater world of enlightenment. And so my wife and I are fundamentally academic. We want to learn, we want to read, we want a new understanding of the world. Part that comes with it is a frustration with the world when the world does not see or understand that there's not force coming from outside to save us from ourselves.
We need to use our own intellect and our own drive, and our own resolutions to fix what is wrong and to ensure that, as the Navajo tradition where they say that the generations that follow, we're not bequeathing it to them. We are borrowing it from them.
Guy Kawasaki:
From them.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Guy Kawasaki:
So if Neil agrees to let me interview Miranda, this is where we would put it. I'll record so that it's in the same session, same volume, same everything, and we either cut it or we put it in.
So now you know what the Tyson family discusses at dinner. And I thought, let's just get another perspective. Let's have some objective fact checking here.
So I talked to Miranda, his daughter, and I asked her about what really happens in the Tyson family.
Here we go. So based on what you just said, let's suppose that you become the Dean of admissions of Harvard. Now, how would you run the admission process?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I would not care about people's accomplishments because when you think about it, that's what goes on. It's like an escalation of college app warfare, if you will. How many AP classes did you take in your senior year? How many sports are you captain of? And it's this piling on and piling on, and on the expectation, which I think is true in many schools. I'm not entirely sure if it's true at Harvard, for reasons I can tell you in a minute.
But you pilot on so that someone can say, "In the last three years of this person's eighteen-year life, they did amazing things and they will continue to do amazing things for the rest of their life." You have to say that and come to that judgment, and use that as evidence of their future promise. I'm not entirely convinced that what you piled on in those three years is the measure of your future promise and performance.
Suppose you are at home and your kid, it's a single parent household or maybe it's a zero-parent household to be raised by an uncle or somebody, and both parents work, and you got to get home early because your little sister, your little brother, there's no one else home to... You got to be there and you got to cook meals for them, and you got to work a job to make that happen.
And you're getting B pluses in school, not As. You're getting B pluses, and you take a couple of classes at the local community college on the weekend because you can, but that's about it.
And then you apply to get to Harvard, or to some elite school.
If I were an admissions officer, I would not ask how much have you accomplished? It's how much promise do you have given what you have experienced thus far?
And if this person didn't have to worry about a job, and if this person didn't have to raise their kid's sister, if the person didn't have to... But when they did have free time, look what they did do in the little free time. That's the kind of analysis I would give to it, because that's ultimately what you want. You want to give people opportunities that have earned the opportunity.
And opportunity is not only manifested by how much you've already accomplished, it's how much you might have accomplished had your situation been different. And we know enough about the life and the world and where you come from and what you're raised in. We know enough about those situations to evaluate whether you actually were fully exploiting in a good way, the limited resources in your environment. That's who I would admit.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now, what happens if we have many applicants with the opposite case where they didn't have all those exterior pressures and negative and subtraction forces.
So they came from a well-educated, upper middle-class family, they had the tutoring, they had all that good stuff, 800 SAT, 4.3 GPA.
How do you weed out to people who are just groomed, but not going to go beyond being a Goldman Sachs McKinsey consultant?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
That's a very important question, and one day I'll write something on this probably sooner rather than later. But I'm intrigued by the analysis that the public brings upon selective schools. Be they high schools in New York City where you take a test to get into this set of public elite high schools, or the elite colleges across the land.
I'm intrigued by it, because there's a lot of talk about who's admitted, or who should be admitted, or who isn't admitted or whatever, and all this talk about affirmative action, and the Asians, and the blacks.
What interests me is most of the time those conversations are being had, dare I even call them debates, and most of the history of these schools, no one talked about the dumb rich kid who also got in because the parents gave a lot of money to the school. These are the legacy cases. No one talked about the athletes who got in because they're really good athletes, but their grades sucked.
There're these demographics that had always gained admission to elite schools, even when their academics didn't support it. But no one talked about them because basically they were all white. And so they didn't stand out in a group in the cafeteria. "See those black kids over there, they're all affirmative action, so I don't know about that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
But if they don't stand out in some way from a distance, then as far as you're concerned, everybody's the same in the admissions office, but they're not.
And so what Harvard does is admits people who are in the best interest of their future survival. So they will admit a rich kid because they will get money later on that'll help them fulfill their mission. And if it's a private school, they do this. That's what they do.
Now, if you want to say some person was admitted with a lower score than someone else, watch how this plays out. That implies that Harvard admits you based on your scores, but that's not true. It's just not true. This was true while I was there, I don't see why it wouldn't still be true.
Harvard has twice, something like that, the number of applicants as they're entering class, who are valedictorians of their high school.
So if they only admitted valedictorians, there'd be a thousand valedictorians that would say, "How come I wasn't admitted? I got the highest grades possible." That's the first fact.
Second fact, how many valedictorians are admitted? And I forgot the number, it might be a third, as many as 40 percent, a lot, but not 100 percent. There's a guy down the hall from me who had a medium mediocre grade point average in high school. “Why was he admitted?”
And you'll start invoking scores like scores are the be all and end all? Then you find out, "Oh, this kid ran for state representative and got a third of the vote from his district his senior year high school." Holy shit. If you can do that, I want you to come to my school. If you can convince a third of adults to vote for a seventeen-year-old kid who could represent you at a state assembly or whatever...
So there are these elements of people's promise and performance that aren't always encoded in the grades. And beyond this, go to any thirty-year-old and say, "When was the last time someone asked you your GPA?" They'll say, "I don't even remember."
"How'd you get this job?"
"Well, they wanted to see that I was a hard worker, I was good at solving problems, I was a good leader, I could explain things to others, people would follow, I'm honest, I'm moral."
So there are these other factors, none of which are encoded in GPA.
And so as far as I'm concerned, if a school has resources, they would be best used for people who didn't previously have them, but who showed some promise of being able to use them to their fullest gain. Then people will be boosted as much as possible in this world.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Now, let me add to that. I'd like to add to that. You didn't ask this, but can I volunteer an answer to a question you didn't ask?
Guy Kawasaki:
Of course. You're more insightful than I am.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you are truly brilliant, then A, you don't need to attend a brilliant school. What's really happening is the school wants you to attend them. It's not, "Will they take me?" Well, if you really, really brilliant, they might want you because that makes them look better.
Take Harvard for example. If you look at all the graduates at Harvard, they'll do great things, fine, fine, fine, and then you look at state school and they don't do as great things, or the jobs are not as fancy.
You say, "Well, I got to go to a fancy school." Excuse me, that's the wrong experiment.
And by the way, this experiment was done some decades ago, but I'll repeat it for you. You ready? It's not how well do the graduates of elite schools do. I'm using Harvard as proxy for the half dozen Stanford, Berkeley, Yale. It's proxy for that whole community.
It's not, "I want to go to an elite school so that I can do great things when I get out."
You were already doing great things when they admitted you. Did these elite schools turn you into who you became, or did you hand the elite school the reputation that other people now ascribed to it?
Just think this through. So what is the experiment?
How about the people who were accepted to Harvard but didn't attend and ended up going to state schools for whatever reason, money, resources, proximity to home, whatever. Now you're comparing apples and apples. Two people accepted to Harvard, this group goes over there, this group doesn't.
They're statistically indistinguishable later in life for their achievements, for their rank, for their incomes, this sort of thing.
And so to believe that the school is going to really make a difference to you overvalues the school relative to your own ambitions. And we can have a conversation about Albert Einstein or pick any truly famous person, but let's do Albert because he's my man.
At no time in that conversation are either of us saying, "Gee, I wonder what college he went to. I want to go to that college." Are we saying that? I don't think so. I don't think so.
And any famous person you have ever thought of, anyone, you'll talk about their accomplishments. You're not going to say, "I want to go to the same high school they went to or the same college." That's absurd to even suggest it because deep down, they are who they are because of their own ambitions, their own drive.
There's a website called famous people who didn't go to college, or flunked out of college, or only went to community college. And you look at the people on that list, oh my gosh. You've got Steve Jobs, you've got Bill Gates, both of them were college dropouts.
You've got Jim Cameron who did some community college. He liked engineering, but he never really did the full college thing. And you look at the top ten highest grossing movies of all time, I think he's three of them.
Avatar, what's the other one? Titanic. So it's not like they did okay for not going to college. No, they're at the top of their game. And again, we could talk about James Cameron and not even concern ourselves with what high school or college he went to.
Guy Kawasaki:
Or his GPA.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Or his GPA.
So if I were on the admissions committee, I would admit people who maximized their environment, whatever that environment was, and I get an entire entering class of maximizers. That's who I want because they're go-getters, they're hungry, they want more, they need more. So to answer your question now fifteen minutes later, that's the kind of admissions officer I would be.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think you should start a school called achievement university.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
We think you have high grades, you could become a high achiever. This is the delusion that preoccupies everyone at all stages of our education.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm almost afraid to ask you this question, but what do you think of how most kids are learning math today?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I took a look at the new approaches to math, and I've actually quite impressed with them. It's been a while since my kids were in elementary school, but at the time I knew there was a revamping of the curriculum. I didn't have the excuse to look at it until I had kids who were taking it, and I deeply value what and how they were doing.
They were treating math as a cognitive understanding of relationships in the world, rather than memorizing long division rules and trig identities or the times table.
And it was frustrating to many parents because they want to get the right answer for the test.
Guy Kawasaki:
First SATs.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
For anything. "I need the right answer. So give me the tools so I get the right answer." No, but they're not teaching you tools. They're teaching you, not in the way you're thinking, understanding of the meaning of multiplying two numbers.
I remembered with my son... And there's a book that's going to come out of this one day. I haven't gotten around to it yet. With my son, he was learning math and there was the times table.
So I asked him Travis, what's six times four. I forgot how old he was at the time. Very young. What's six times four? And he's there, and he's thinking, and thirty seconds later, a full thirty seconds, he says “twenty-four.” I said, "Okay, that's right." So I said, "Travis, "What's nineteen times fourteen?" thirty seconds later, and then he gives the right answer the same amount of time.
Guy Kawasaki:
That's pretty good actually.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Now, the point is you as a previous generation parent, you're saying, "Look, six times fours on the times table. Memorize it. Just memorize it." But he didn't memorize anything.
So he went there and just figured out, "Okay, I've got six of these and there's four..." And he did it as a series of sums, and he got the answer. He also knew that nineteen times fourteen, in there is a ten times a ten, so that's going to be a hundred. Put that in your pocket.
So he's constructing the answer. And in so much of how we're tested in school, your speed apparently matters. And so my gosh, how long did it take to build the pyramid which are still standing? Was that a speed test? No, that probably took a while. So there's so much going on in education that I'm so disappointed with, and I'm going to write something on this eventually.
So I think frustrated parents who learn math by memorizing, and then they thought now they don't just have the answer off the top of their head, so they're not going to do well in some standardized test where you want to do the answer at the top of your head because the standardized test is also timed. So it's a system that it feeds on itself with all kinds of things that don't actually matter by the time you're thirty.
Guy Kawasaki:
What if Travis or Miranda were fifteen and you said to them, "What's fourteen times nineteen?" And they whip out their phone and they say, "Hey Siri, what's fourteen times nineteen?" Is that adaptive? Is that cheating?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
They wouldn't do that. If they didn't do it in their head, they'd do it on a calculator.
By the way, if all I cared about was the answer, then any way they get the answer ought to be legit.
Guy Kawasaki:
Including Siri.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Sure. But that means you have to trust Siri. And so did Siri hear you correctly? If you ask, "Hey Siri, what's six times four?" And Siri says, "3,928." And you don't know intuitively that can't be the right answer, you're not really good at this exercise because you have put such trust.
There's an old Russian saying, "Trust but verify." People want to credit American leaders, but I think it actually started in cold war, Russia that is, of course.
So I care how people think. So if it's just the answer, sure. If all I care about is the answer and I ask you that question, then sure, give me the answer. But if I care about more than that, and I've given this example before. Let's imagine I'm an architect, and I own a firm, and I have two interns that are on paper similar.
So I got to interview them, otherwise I'm not going to know who to hire for the summer. This is a very contrived example, but you'll see the point. So one walks into my office and not the windows of church steeple. And I say, "Do you know the height of that church steeple?" And the first candidate, "Yes I do. I study all the tall structures in every city. And it's 134 feet tall." I said, "Oh okay, well, thank you."
I finished the interview, and the next person comes in. And I said, "Do you know the height of that church steeple?" And they said, "No, but I'll be right back." They go away for ten minutes and come back. They say it's between 130 and 140 feet. I say, "How'd you get this?"
"I know how tall I am, and so I measured the length of my shadow, then I measured the length of the church steeple shadow, and did some fast math to get the height of the church steeple." Who are you going to hire? That's the question.
It's almost too easy to memorize information, when the actual problem solvers in the world are those who will land in a place where they didn't even see pathways to get there because they had to create them from scratch. These are the problem solvers of the world.
And so much of what we're tested on in school is not that. It's, "Did you memorize the boldface words in the textbook, or the vocabulary at the end of the chapter? You're going to be tested on that tomorrow."
Now some fields lend themselves to this. So I'm not here to compare physics with botany where the knowledge of words and names of things and the relationships, that's very important.
But I'm going to say broadly speaking, simply knowing the right answer to something is not as interesting to me as understanding it in the first place.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm going to try to perhaps make this a historical interview, that in this whole interview with astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson, I'm not going to ask about matter, anti-matter, or black holes because I'm just finding all this other stuff so interesting.
When you talk to your kids, not that it would ever come up this directly, but what would you tell them if they said, "Dad, how does one truly pursue and obtain objective truth?"
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I have a book coming out in the fall where there's an entire chapter called Truth and Beauty. It's called Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization, which is a way to look at the world cosmically, scientifically, such that it ends up looking very different when you invoke these understandings and these perspectives.
It's not out for a few more months. But in there, objective truth is a very simple to define concept. It's if you think something's true and you perform the experiment, and the experiment agrees with what you think is true, that's good, but you might have been biased. So you get someone else to perform the experiment. And they get the same result-ish, so that's pretty good.
Now you get someone who's using 240 V electrical current instead of 120 because maybe the apparatus is influenced by it, because whatever you did, you had to plug in the wall. "Oh, they got the same result. Let's get someone from a different country who speaks a different language." Oh my gosh, we're starting to arrive at the same result with many different methods and approaches.
We have discovered an emergent truth, an objective truth about the universe. And if it is experimentally verified by multiple experiments, by people with different biases or no bias at all, that is a truth that will not later on be shown to be false. It's that simple.
There are things that people say, "Well, the frontier of science changes all the time." Which it does. And what defines the frontier is the science that we haven't settled yet. But once it's settled, we're onto the next problem. That's what an objective truth is. Period.
And Isaac Newton measured speeds and gravity and came up with Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of gravity, those are objective truths.
Until you realize that when you use very high gravity and very high speeds, his laws break down. Can't use them anymore. They failed to predict accurately the operations of nature. And we needed Einstein's laws of motion, relativity, and Einstein's laws of gravity, general relativity, to understand a broader range of phenomenon in the known universe.
Well, you know what happens? If you put low speeds and low gravity into Einstein's equations, they become Newton's equations.
So Newton's equations are still valid. They just were never tested in the regimes that we would discover later, and that we needed adjustments to it, which is what Einstein provided. But we went to the moon and back using just Newton's law's motion.
So we have a deeper understanding that encloses a prior understanding and applies in more cases than it previously did. But the cases where it previously did, those all of a sudden become false. They are no less true than they ever were. So that is an objective truth. It can be objectively agreed upon by many different parties looking at the same phenomena.
Guy Kawasaki:
So would you say that the efficacy of COVID vaccination is an objective truth because it's been tested in so many countries and so many cultures?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Guy Kawasaki:
No questions?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
That's an example. It's not that there's no question. That's not the right word to add to that sentence. It's, "Has it been tested? For how many people?"
So if you test something, no matter what it is on a thousand people, you will get... What do you call it when you have a bad reaction to something? What's the term?
Guy Kawasaki:
To a vaccine?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
To anything.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you have an adverse reaction to a medicine or anything a food, the FDA tests food as well, by the way. That's what the F stands for in Food and Drug Administration. If you have some new food, they're going to test it.
So if you have some adverse reaction and you're in that group of a thousand people, that's fine.
So now we can talk about this percentage of people had this reaction, and this other percent had that reaction. Here's the problem. If somebody reacts to that food or the medicine or the vaccine, that's one in a million. Your one in a thousand test is not going to show it. You didn't test enough people.
So you want as big a sample as you can so that you can accurately and honestly winnow out the extremely rare reactions that someone might have, which wouldn't otherwise show up in small numbers.
So what happens is there's always a race to who's going to die. So there's a disease let's say, and people are dying from the disease. And I start this case study and I have 100 people and ninety-five of them are cured.
Meanwhile, ten in 100 are dying from the disease. So immediately start giving the medicine because it's going to do better than people getting the disease at all.
“Oh, wait a minute. What happens to those five? Do they die from the medicine?”
So actually the medicine still did better than the disease itself. The difference is someone will want to sue you for giving them a pill that killed them. Whereas we have a different tolerance if you catch a disease in nature than if you're religious and like, "God told me its time," or whatever.
You're going to take those risks and those chances. There's an entire other chapter in this book called Risk and Reward that explores how people think about risks that they take. And risks that if they were purely rational, they wouldn't be taking.
But we're emotional creatures, so emotion folds into how we make those kinds of decisions.
I don't have a problem with that provided you know and have the rational option available to you. I want you to be self-aware that you're rejecting a rational option. Then in a free country, do what you want as long as it doesn't harm someone else.
So that's what leads to that interesting saying, no medicine is healthy on anyone, until it's tested on everyone.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Because if you have adverse effects that are one in a billion, you won't even see that statistically until a billion people have had it.
So if you look at the COVID vaccine, the number of people who are in the trials and the number of people who accumulated as evidence of its efficacy continue to rise. And when you have stability in the efficacy, adding more people is not going to change the statistics. Then you have an objective truth.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Can I give another example of that? A couple of times I've done a Twitter poll. You can do this. It's elegant and clever how they set it up. You ask a question and people answer, and you can see the bar charts grow the more people answer. Are you tall? Or are you short? Or do you like sunshine or darkness? Whatever question you ask.
So I tested it. I have a lot of Twitter followers and I said, “I wonder what the statistics look like after a hundred people have answered.”
So I looked at the data, and then 1,000 people. And then 10,000 people. And I found that the result started settling out after about 2,000 or 3000 people, and stayed that way up to 150,000.
So I noticed that what was true in the distribution at around two or 3,000 people stayed that way up to the 150,000 responders.
So that's an example where I had enough data at 2,000 or 3000 to not have to get the rest of them, and if that happened to be a medicine, I can put it into effect right away with little risk of a weird side effect showing up later.
And by the way, statistics is a very late discovered branch of math. And it's not surprising when you consider how feeble we are in understanding probability in statistics. We are the worst. We are so bad that entire industries exist to exploit how bad we are at it. And they're call casinos.
Guy Kawasaki:
Or political parties.
Speaking of political parties, so I read someplace or saw a video someplace, where you discussed it. I don't know if you said it was too difficult or not optimal, but along the lines of instead of trying to educate and make politicians intelligent so they make good decisions, you think that we should educate the general public so they elect politicians who can make intelligent decisions. Did I get that right?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
You get that perfectly right. They represent an electorate.
So who am I to go try to change the mind of a politician who's representing an electorate? That's not my job. I shouldn't be able to do that. I guess I could try. That's what lobbyists do. That's their career. That's their job to change the views of an elected official in ways that serve them, not necessarily who they represent.
But as an educator, yeah. It's the electorate. That's my duty as an educator, to educate an electorate. So that when they decide who they want to lead them, they can do so in the most informed posture they can take.
Guy Kawasaki:
You don't think it's harder to educate the general public to then elect intelligent politicians?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
No. If I have to chase politicians, I have to do it every two years. But the public is out there all the time, and I have large platform to reach them.
No, I willingly take on this task. You can do little things. On the East Coast and you're watching a football game on a Sunday in the winter on the west coast and it's live, and the sun has set for you but the sun is still shining on the stadium in Los Angeles or San Francisco.
That's really good evidence that the earth is round. I'm just saying, between you and me, have you thought about that?
So there are ways to make the point that can influence a lot of people at once. I try not to talk to politicians. It's the people I care about.
Guy Kawasaki:
What kind of pressure do you feel, external or internal, as a black man in such a visible STEM position?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
The only time I think about my skin color is when I'm denied services, or courtesy, or anything that others take for granted.
And then it's, "Oh my gosh, I have darker skin color than this person who's facing me."
So if a taxi goes by me and picks up a white person and not me, going north in Manhattan because north of where we would be is Harlem. So they don't want to go to Harlem. So I'm not picked up for that.
I'm ready to board the plane and got my carry on with me, the compartments are filling up and they say, "I'm sorry, you have to check that." I say, "I hope not because I'm in first class." "Oh, excuse me. We didn't know you're in first class." By the way that happens even when I'm there with the first class line. They'll say, "Excuse me sir. This is first class."
"I fucking know. I can read."
So then I say, "Oh my gosh. Oh yeah, I have darker skin color than they do." Otherwise, the only “ist” I am is a scientist, and that's how I think about it.
And I happen to be in a field unlike anthropology and some others that were severely affected by racial bias in their history, especially in the nineteenth century, I'm in a field where the results of what we study are resistant to what might be your racial bias going in.
Guy Kawasaki:
You don't feel like you're Serena or Venus Williams, and Little Black Girls are watching you rise to the top of a sport and you're their hero?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I'm self-aware of that, but I don't feel it as a burden. It's not a burden.
I'm definitely aware of that, and I'm also aware that if I go to some elite private school to give a public talk and the school is 95 percent white, people say, "Why don't you go to a black school where you can be their role model?"
And I say, "No, I go to both schools." Why? Because it's just as important for them to see me as the people in this elite school who have wealthy parents who will one day be captains of industry.
They need to know that maybe the black homeless person in the street that they stepped over is there because of lack of opportunity, not because there's some other bit of pseudoscience that they've been taught or want to believe. Because I'm direct evidence of the opposite of that. I love the universe, and we're all citizens of this universe.
By the way, in this book I was telling you about, there's a whole chapter are called Color and Race, as well as Gender and Identity. The book is not out yet. That's not even the book I have out now. The book I out now is visualizing the universe.
The other one is called Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization, and all the things that divide us. War and peace, truth and beauty, vegetarians and meatarians. How do you like that? They're always fighting.
Guy Kawasaki:
The book that you came out right now, I'll tell you when I looked at the... Is it hell Q? Is that what it's called? When I looked at the hell Q hole in 3D, oh my God.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Oh, the keyhole. Yes, yes, yes.
Guy Kawasaki:
That thing left out at me.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Oh my gosh. Yes. So if I can just give a slight backstory.
When I was on the teaching faculty at Princeton, I co-taught a class with two fellow professors on introductory astrophysics, and it was a brand-new class. Princeton's not a large school. It's not like Ohio State or University of Texas. It's a relatively small school. There were about forty people in the class initially, and then every semester it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and ended up with 300 people in the class, which is large for Princeton.
And we had to switch rooms twice just to get to the room that side. So it became a very popular course. What we decided to do was write a book of the course. It's hard to call it a textbook because it was much more conversational and much more in the flavor of how we taught it, which was very friendly and colloquial, and that was so successful people wanted to use it as a textbook.
So then we wrote a problem book. And it was called Welcome to the Universe, was the name of the class. There was a problem book, Welcome to the Universe. People still wanted more. So then we made a little version of the book called Welcome to the Universe: A Pocket Tour. With a little version with the distilled essence of the coolest stuff in the universe in the pocket.
Now, these are mostly words, and the universe is very photogenic. So we created a Welcome to the Universe in 3D, which is some of the coolest objects in the universe in a book where you look through these portals one to each eye, and then you see the object through these portals.
Here's the thing, 3D is that gimmicky or what? You might ask. When you just see a picture of a planet, you know what it is? It's a picture of a planet.
When you look with the 3D glasses, when we have two different sight lines on it, it pops and becomes a world, and you'll never look at it the same way again.
It's no longer a picture of the planet, it is the planet. And so it affects you intellectually and emotionally, because the captions tell you what you're looking at and why.
So the universe is no longer just these flat pictures captured by Hubble or anything else. So this book is an attempt to make it all that much more real to you. It all started with this class that we taught twenty years ago.
Guy Kawasaki:
Highly recommended. One more question about race, when you were growing up, did your parents have the talk with you?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
All three of us. Me, my brother and my sister, especially me and my brother. We most certainly got the talk from my mother and from my father. But my mother was a housewife, so she was home and we saw her most of the time.
It was “If the police stop you, don't move your hand suddenly, don't do this, say ‘Yes sir. No, sir.’” She didn't want her kids getting shot, that's really what that came down to.
It was “If you enter an establishment, a store, and you're carrying something with you, alert someone who works in the store that you are walking in with that object, so they don't think you stole it from the store on their way out. If you get your groceries, make sure you have a receipt in case they stop you so you can show it was purchased.” All of these things.
This goes on and on and on. And “If something's happening down the street, don't run because people will think you did it.”
So I got the full talk. And it's not just one talk, it's sustained. As you get older, your situations differ and they require different elements of the talk. So yes. And I hardly ever talk about this because I'm onto other things. I'm talking about it now only because you're asking me. But after the George Floyd murder, I felt I have to jump out and say something, and I did.
So on my website, which is attached to the American Museum of Natural History, I composed something called Reflections on the Color of my Skin. And in there, I give a little bit of my background and what I think about it, and how I think about it then, and today, and for the future.
So that's where most of my thoughts in the moment were collected, and I posted those two years ago. But otherwise, I generally don't ever talk about it.
Guy Kawasaki:
Did you have the talk with Travis and Miranda.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Less so, but they hear our stories and they will fold it into what fits in their lives. It's not as severe as it once was. And you know this because when I was growing up, there were seven homicides a day in New York City. Some percent of the homicides in a week was a cop killing an unarmed person, black male. Sometimes that would make the local news, other times not.
When George Floyd was murdered, it was headline news across the country.
In a weird, perverse way, that's progress. That a single unarmed black man, in this case handcuffed, on the ground, is killed by a police officer. Like I said, in a perverse way that's progress because everyone cared about that, and it triggered protests.
When I was growing up, there was no protest over a dead black person. Spike Lee had a movie Do The Right Thing, and in the end he gives a scroll of unarmed black people killed by police officers, either in their custody or not.
And it's a scroll at the end of the film. I put every one of those names in my Reflections on the Color of my Skin, and in there just to remind you that the fact that we're all reacting to George Floyd, no one reacted this way back then, not on this scale, and so this is a good sign that maybe change will come.
My kids very progressive, very forward. I will never be as woke as they ever want me to be. I don't know how to be that woke. They're the woke generation, so they see the problems of the world even more acutely than I do today.
Guy Kawasaki:
When you see Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson fly into space, are you thinking waste of money or increases STEM awareness?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Not all questions should only be given two choices and answer.
Guy Kawasaki:
Who am I to tell Neil deGrasse Tyson what to say? Okay.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I think we are breeding a multiple-choice world where you ask a question, what are my choices? No, think of an answer. I don't want to prescript your answer.
So I can tell you this, that what are other things billionaires could be doing? They could be comparing who has the biggest yacht.
Guy Kawasaki:
Or had the biggest yacht.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
There are a lot of things billionaires could be spending their money on that are less visible and less STEM stimulating.
And so I think in America, billionaires should do whatever they want with their money. But I can tell you that if you're going into space with it, what we witnessed was the birth of an entire new industry, the commercial space industry.
It's been around for a while, but to turn it around at the rate that Bezos, and Branson, and Elon Musk are doing, of course Musk is actually sending them into orbit. That's a whole other nother compared to the ten minute up and down. How often do you get to see the birth of an entire new industry? That's what airplanes would've looked like to any of us in the 1920s and 1930s. Only rich people flew in airplanes.
It was a luxury thing. "Oh my gosh, I want to fly in an airplane." No, you're not rich enough. You need $100,000, whatever. It was a lot of money back then. Then it became commoditized. And now hardly anyone who's ever wanted to fly has flown because the price is relatively cheap, and cheaper than ever really.
I grew up before deregulated pricing on airplanes, and tickets were very expensive. It was a special occasion to go on it. You got dressed up to go on an airplane. Now people go in their sweatpants.
Guy Kawasaki:
And they sit in first class, and they're black.
So what's the Neil deGrasse Tyson prediction for what the James Webb telescope is going to unveil?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I've got a cop out prediction for you. You ready?
So I remember the planning sessions for the Hubble telescope, and we knew what its capabilities were, and whole documents were created to guide our expectations and the proposals for what people would observe. And in the end, the things we remember most, none of them are in those documents. The Hubble Deep Field where we looked into the deepest corners of the universe, in an otherwise uninteresting splotch on the sky only to reveal thousands of galaxies lurking in the dark.
So for any great telescope that's opening a brand-new window to the world, either because of its sensitivity, or because of its bandwidth of light, it's going to discover things no one predicts.
So for me, I predict that the most interesting thing it will discover are things that we don't know how to predict for it yet. That's my cop out answer. We cannot imagine what its most important results will be, because it will discover things we don't correct.
It will show us what we didn't know enough about to ask a question on, is what I'd expect.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now, when an astrophysicist uses the term metaverse, what does he or she mean?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I've used it to describe what might be the origin story of a multiverse. A multiverse, which was this good theoretical reason to think we are just one of some uncountable number of universes in a multiverse.
And so now you can answer the question of what was around before the universe. Well, there was the multiverse.
Then you say, "Well, what was around before the multiverse?" Now the universe, as far as I can tell, has never made anything in ones.
We thought we were a special planet, no we're one of eight planets. Well, the sun, no, it's one of a hundred billion sons. Well, the galaxy was one of a hundred billion galaxies. Well, the universe could be a number of infinite universes in the multiverse.
The multiverse, maybe there's more than one multiverse, and I just call that the metaverse.
And then if there're multi metaverses, I don't know. Maybe it's just that all the way down. Who knows?
Guy Kawasaki:
So when you hear Mark Zuckerberg pontificating about the metaverse, are you just laughing?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
No, no. I like it when our words reach out into the public and they borrow them, use them, chew them up, spit them out. I'm flattered that the vocabulary of cosmic inquiry is embroidered into the fabric of pop culture.
Guy Kawasaki:
Wow. You are just a half full optimistic, the rising tide floats all boats kind of guy, aren't you?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
No, I think I'm a realist.
And by the way, I can permanently, I've never done this publicly before. I'll do it for you for this show…answer the reason why you would say a glass was half empty or half full. You ready?
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm ready.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you're math fluent, it has to do with the first derivative of the water that's in the glass. So it's the rate and change of the water.
If you are filling the glass with water with a pitcher of water and you reach halfway, it's half full. If you are emptying the glass of water and now it's halfway, it's half empty.
To me, that's the simplest way to understand that.
And if the glass is just sitting there with half liquid, I'll give you the engineering answer to that, which is, that is a vessel that is larger than necessary to hold its contents. It's neither half full or half empty. It's just the wrong size glass.
Guy Kawasaki:
Literally, thousands of management book writers and executive coaches, their heads are exploding now because they've been using half empty half full incorrectly for the last...
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
No, I don't want to stop other people. Language is a fluid thing, but I think I pose a cogent argument for how you would use those two terms, and that's how I use them.
Guy Kawasaki:
You've changed my life. You have changed my life.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you are filling the glass, it's half filled. But if you're taking stuff out of the glass, you have no right to say it's half full because you're in the process of removing its content.
Guy Kawasaki:
That is a drop the mic moment. Oh my God.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
So the debbie downers out there who are always saying negative things, it's always half empty to them because they're taking stuff out of the glass.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh my God. I have to get one out of the way that I'm just so curious about, which is what kind of car does Neil deGrasse Tyson drive?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
The answer is no car until I was twenty-five. I need to start there. I was born and raised in New York City with no valuation of cars. Cars was a liability, not an asset. If I wanted to get somewhere, I'd go on the subway. I want to go somewhere different, I get on a bicycle.
So I didn't even have a car until I was twenty-five. The reason why I got a car, that little old lady lived in the apartment complex where I was, and she had to go to a nursing home, and we were friends, and so I said, "I can help you move stuff."
I told her two daughters, "I can help you move stuff, but I don't have a car." And they said, "Do you want her car?" And it was like, "Oh, okay." Not that it helped because I didn't know how to drive yet. I might have been the first person in the world to own a car and not know how to drive it. So by the time I was twenty-six, I figured out how to drive a car, and that was a Mercury Montego. Got seven miles a gallon.
And then after that, I had that into my marriage, and I think our first car was a Honda Accord. So I don't value cars. That's my point.
I'm telling you this because you're expecting maybe an interesting answer, but I'm telling you a car was a vessel to get from A to B, and my A to Bs were not very far apart from each other. And by the way in Texas, where I got that car, that's why I was at the time, that's where I met my wife, you learn that distances are larger in Texas.
If you want to go to San Antonio from Austin or Dallas or Houston or even El Paso, these are many hours and so your car becomes a place that you're living in for a big part of your life.
So I started thinking about cars differently at that time, but still a car was a utility. So I went from an early Honda Accord, not before they got fancy and fast the way they are today. An early Honda Accord, and that went to a VW Passat, and then we had our kids with the VW Passat.
And then I realized that VW owned Audi and I had a couple extra dollars, and I liked the comfort and the luxury of Audi. And so then we drove it out and I still have an Audi to this day.
But we're also very green, but my wife is more green than I am probably by a factor of ten. I'm already kind of greenish, but she's really green, and so we ended up getting an electric car because we can.
Even though early adopters, it's not really financially efficient to do so just yet because you need more charging stations and this sort of thing, but somebody's got to do it first, and since we were able to do it, she worked for Wall Street for several years, so we did. So we have a Tesla and an Audi.
Guy Kawasaki:
Elon Musk just smiled someplace.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
By the way, I know Elon Musk. Not that we're beer drinking buddies, but we've corresponded on several occasions over various things.
Plus, he's launching many satellites that are going to be streaks in my astronomical photos. So we still have to have a showdown on that. I'm trying to figure that one out.
Guy Kawasaki:
Speaking of Elon Musk, it used to be where governments would pay for basic science. But it seems like Elon Musk is taking that role. Isn't he doing things that are hard to predict will be commercially worth it? Is he taking the place of government investment?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
He's got rockets. He’s probably not going to Mars. But for everything he's been doing, he made electric cars, he's got one of the most highly valued companies in the world, he's commercially launching rockets, so commercial is his model that NASA is using him to launch. Have you seen him go to Mars yet? No. So that question doesn't matter yet. That's not the right question now.
Just look at the rest of his business models, and their business models. He's smarter than most people who pass judge on him. Look at all the people who gave up Tesla for dead just a couple of years ago. I don't know how healthy it is, I don't study that.
But look at the people who ended up in the toilet in their portfolios because they bet against Elon Musk. Generally, it's not good to bet against people smarter than you.
Guy Kawasaki:
And the same can be said of Steve Jobs.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Yes. For example. That's correct.
Guy Kawasaki:
Because you're such a science geek, I have to know what's your favorite science fiction movie?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
The Matrix by far. It's my favorite movie of any genre, The Matrix. Just for the themes it tackled, how it did it, the cinematic innovations within it, the concepts, the layering and the depth of storytelling, all combined. Matrix One, not two, three or four. Matrix One.
Guy Kawasaki:
One last question for you. Somehow you're granted the answer to one question. What would that question be?
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
I want to know if the human mind is smart enough to answer questions we have posed about the operations of the universe. And beyond that, I want to know if we are smart enough to even know what question to ask in the first place.
Because if we're not, I will lower my expectations for what we are doing as we try to decode the universe. But if we are, I will redouble my efforts to try to figure out how it all works.
Guy Kawasaki:
Wow. Wow.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
And by the way, to realize that the universe is knowable was itself an achievement. You look up at the night sky and things happen and you don't understand it, well, of course we don't understand it. Those are the heavens and we're terrestrial here on earth. That's the handy work of the gods, and you'll never understand the mind of God. And then Newton comes along and says, "Well, there's an equation that fully understands what's going on up there." Oh my gosh.
Then what happened to God? I didn't understand it so that God did. Now I can understand the handy work of God. That's a little weird, a little freaky. And then we say, "I'm now studying the handy work of God." Religious scientists will invoke that, and nothing wrong with that. Newton invoked that. Newton was a religious man.
They're not mutually exclusive unless you're trying to use the Bible as a source of your scientific insights, because the history of that is one of abject failure.
Guy Kawasaki:
That would be a bad thing.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Not that its bad, it just would fail. It's failed so many times, and so the statistics on that exercise don't bode well for any future invocation of what you're going to pull out of the Bible.
And it doesn't count if you already have a scientific truth, and you go back and reinterpret a passage. That's just not useful. If it's to be a useful document, you'd want to find a prediction that we don't know yet about the world, and we go out and train our telescopes on and "There it is, oh my gosh."
Ecclesiastes or John, whatever it is, you say, "Wow, let's keep looking and get even more insights into how nature..."
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, I basically think you can prove anything you want with some passage in the Bible.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
There's enough flexible language and contradictory terms. So there's Moses with the Ten commandments, one of them is thou shalt not murder, and then he sees people not obeying him, and then he slaughters 3,000 of them right after he's handed the tablets that includes, thou shalt not murder. So maybe he's not murder them, he's just killing them. Maybe there's a difference.
But by the way, in the movie The Ten Commandments, do you remember how he kills all the people? He raises his staff, there's lightning, there's thunder, the earth opens up, there's an earthquake, and all the bad people fall in the hole and the good people stay out. So if that really were what was described in the Bible, you could that say that Moses was wielding the power of God to make that happen.
But you actually read the Bible, it's not what he does. He says, "Here's a line in the sand. Who's with me? Who's against me? Are you against me? We will hack you to pieces." And he and his brother, Aaron, get their swords and all the others that joined them, and they killed 3,000 men, and probably their 3,000 wives who were with them, but they didn't count the deaths of women at the time. They only counted the deaths of men.
So there's a lot of contradictory things going on, and so therefore it's especially easy to find passages that'll support anything you want. All it needs is multiple contradictions and you cherry pick and you're there.
Not on purpose. Does your audience know who Steven Wolfram is?
I just said his name and I didn't want to continue the conversation unless I had some assurance that your audience knows who Stephen Wolfram is.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, that's what Google's for.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Okay, fine. Okay. I like that. Audacious. I should invoke that more often. Don't get me explaining, go Google the damn thing. Go on.
Guy Kawasaki:
I can have a conversation with Steven Wolfram once every ten years, because it's such a different plane that my head explodes, and I'm going through a similar experience right now. I just thank you so much for taking this hour and twenty-six minutes or something that you have. It's been fantastic.
I have someone listening. Madisun, if you're listening, turn on your camera so you can say hi.
Madisun is one of smartest people I've ever met, and I hope she's hearing this and turns on her camera. She's a huge fan, and so she wanted to listen to this in real time and then she helps me edit.
But she's not turning on her camera. We tried. This is your moment to be in a screenshot with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you don't turn it on, I think I'll think you're a bot that Guy programmed. "My name is Madisun."
Guy Kawasaki:
Madisun is redefining the limits of artificial intelligence as we speak.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Is your name actually spelled S-U-N, Madisun?
Okay. So we don't credit the movie Splash with your name then?
You know about that, right? Have you seen the movie?
In the movie Splash back from, when it was it? The eighties, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as a mermaid, and Daryl Hannah, as all mermaids are, she's very smart, but she doesn't know English or anything or culture. She comes out and her feet grow out of her fins, and she's walking around.
And he's friendly with her and he says, "Do you have a name?" And she shakes her head. She doesn't even really speak yet. “So we have to give you a name.”
And so he's looking around, and he looks up at a street sign and it says Madison Avenue. "I think I'll call you Madison." And so from that day onward, little newborn girls were called Madison, and there's no evidence of that before then.
Madison for a girl name is not in the child registry until that moment.
Guy Kawasaki:
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Just thought I'd tell you that. Yeah.
And it's not even obviously a girl name. It could have been a boy name. "My name's Madison." You can imagine that being a boy name, but because of that movie, and Daryl Hannah is like beauty queen and she's a mermaid, it has all the features of, so it became a girl name instantly, and then there it was.
But you don't spell your name that way, so you can't be the mermaid.
Guy Kawasaki:
Madisun learned the origin of her name almost, and I learned the correct pronunciation of Uranus. It's a big day in science today.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Big day. That's fine.
Guy Kawasaki:
Indeed. It is a big day in science because you've listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Remarkable People Podcast.
What a fun guy. You ask him a question, buckle your seatbelt and off you go.
I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People. I'm on a mission to make your remarkable.
My thanks to the rest of the remarkable staff, Peg Fitzpatrick, Jeff Sieh, Shannon Hernandez, Louis Magana, Alexis Nishimura, and Madisun, M-A-D-I-S-U-N, not O-N and not the mermaid, Nuismer.
Until next time, Mahalo and Aloha.