Thoughts From An Astrophysicist

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrapped up his science fiction film tour, debunking movies and beer commercials based on their scientific accuracy, with a touch of humor.

His goal is not to defer anyone from the pure enjoyment of pictures, but to ask the question: is this scientifically possible? If so, what can we learn from it? If not, how can we make it possible? Are we asking the correct questions? Science is the foundation of life where one question leads to another.

He flowed from thermodynamics, quantum physics, biology, mathematics, and beyond, transcending the audience on levels of understanding. The least accurate movie is Armageddon. "Wouldn't it make more sense to train astronauts to become drillers instead?" The most precise film, although not 100 percent, goes to The Martian. Author Andy Weir wrote it with intent citing, "I imagined [Dr. Tyson] was standing behind my shoulder, reading my every word."

Disney's Frozen got an appraisal for featuring the word fractals in the lyrics of "Let It Go." When it came to time-travel, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was a personal favorite on his list. He found it most excellent that the director made a note to include all the historians in their native tongues during the history project portion. Moreover, it was an epic thought process to discuss traveling back in time, so history would not repeat itself.

As for beer commercials, would one bust out a bud-light if an asteroid was heading straight for Earth as their last choice of beverage? No one in the audience voted aye. In the end, Corona had accurate timing for a twilight moon rising.

Beyond the science and PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Tyson is quite humble and generally engaged. At the very core, he is a scientist and human being who has been and currently being misunderstood. His intentions are like toddlers learning to walk and play, sheer curiosity. That's not a quality only the Dotorates have. It's a quality that all humans and animals possess. This engagement goes back to asking the right questions and challenging our learning behaviors. He expresses the action of science and leaves his 'pupil' to their free thoughts of expression—an admiral quality in any person, which allows conversations and idealism to flow voluntarily.

After a brief photo session, I became enamored that he took my question very sincerely:

Is there a way to make science reliable yet unbias?

"Go to a lecture and question the work. That's how to respect scientists even if they don't like it. If there is any bias, call it out. We [scientists] don't want to become called out for being bais because you throw our work into question. There can be bias in the hierarchy of society; therefore, science doesn't have unique issues with that per se. In terms of what you discover to be true about the world, it could make your belief bais. For example, the military may want you to create weapons. Then the future of science can be influenced by what can help the military. That's a bias, but not in terms of what is true. It just takes life in a different direction."

In his experience, this question is not the biggest threat in our society at the moment.

"Yes, someone should think about it, but not too much."

He stated that his wife, who holds a Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics, often thinks on similar grounds. He expresses that women are likely to embrace a link between the big bang and a cyclical universe. As women, we live our lives in cycles in ways that men do not.

"Growing up, we didn't have the data to know whether the universe was in a steady-state or if there was even a big bang. They were both competing hypotheses for the origin of the cosmos. My wife pondered and yet understood it. You can have a bais on what nature should be just based on your own life experience. Again, it comes back to the bais, not being what is ultimately true."

Furthermore, local Charleston photographer, Matt Drobnik wanted to know if humans can give insight into something that space probes cannot. (Since our time with Dr. Tyson was limited I'll redirect this question to a similar one in his book "Letters From An Astrophysicist").

Dr. Tyson steers clear from a philosophical approach and deflates philosophy due to the focus of "word usage and word meaning, rather than ideas. The progress of science is a domain where ideas matter more than words."

"Science primarily concerns itself with obtaining sufficient knowledge in addition to seeking a foundation of truth, understanding, and meaning. The sufficient knowledge should be able to be tested on predictions about its past and future behavior. Computer simulations can substitute for this when sensible.

If we predict with accuracy and precision the behavior of nature, then we are satisfied with our work and move on to the next problem. I would say that the major equations of modern physics (but not limited to quantum, relativity, thermodynamics, and evolutionary theories) provide truths in understanding for the behavior of things and the existence of phenomena.

It can be frustrating not to get one's physical hands on the subject of interest. But we learn in astrophysics that the telescope is even better than hands. This empowers us to use a lens of investigation that's forged in the operations of nature. And remember to keep looking up!

The second tour leg extends March 17, 2020 - June 22, 2020. Tickets.

New Cosmos season begins March 16 on National Geographic.