Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s something about Neil de Grasse Tyson’s voice and narrative style that’s captivating for me. I can listen to his soothing yet engaging delivery for hours at at time (yes, he’s narrating his own book, which is perfect as far as I’m concerned), feeling that warm feeling of belief in humanity fill my shriveled husk of a soul. He’s so level-headed and rational and calmly excited about science and the wonders of the world that I can’t help but be sucked into the magic of his narrative.
This is not a science book like the others by Dr. Tyson I’ve read. This is the collection of his opinions and musings borne from life experiences, from desire to see scientific objectivity supersede a lot of irrational stupidity we use in our life choices and annoyance at the “us”/“them” lines people are so quick to create. Since with the way we are, the hypothetical space aliens that visit us just may scoff at these weird mammals on this space dirt balls, maybe preferring to strike a conversation with an ant colony instead.
“Personal truths have the power to command your mind, body, and soul, but are not evidence-based. Personal truths are what you’re sure is true, even if you can’t—especially if you can’t—prove it. Some of these ideas derive from what you want to be true. Others take shape from charismatic leaders or sacred doctrines, either ancient or contemporary. For some, especially in monotheistic traditions, God and Truth are synonymous. […] Personal truths are what you may hold dear but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion, or force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions and are normally harmless when kept to yourself or argued over a beer.”
No, this certainly is not his typical “science” book about astrophysics but rather his reflections on humanity. The pace of scientific developments with all the biases of each era clouding judgments on what was to come. The polarization of society and the need for rational thinking about issues rather than blindly following the politics of your chosen political affiliation and stereotypes for those your party seems as enemy. The need for reason and rationality and statistics. The danger of “personal truths”, although attractive and appealing, replacing objective truths — even if our mammalian brains seem to prefer the easiness of polarization into “us” and “them”.
“Differences in opinion enrich the diversity of a nation, and ought to be cherished and respected in any free society, provided everyone remains free to disagree with one another and, most importantly, everyone remains open to rational arguments that could change your mind. Sadly, the conduct of many in social media has devolved to the opposite of this. Their recipe: find an opinion they disagree with and unleash waves of anger and outrage because your views do not agree with theirs. Social, political, or legislative attempts to require that everybody agree with your personal truths are ultimately dictatorships.”
And just for fun, because he’s accumulated enough gravitas that he can, Dr. Tyson with his approach to find common grounds and reason and to build bridges may just have pissed off every group we can think of:
– The left.
– The right.
– The anti-vaxxers.
– The gamblers.
– The vegetarians and vegans.
– The anti-abortion groups.
– The racists.
– The believers in strict gender binary.
– The Twitter warriors.
– The fundamentalists.
– The warmongers.
– and I’m probably missing a few more, but oh well.
“Far beyond wine truths, and close cousins of personal truths, are political truths. These thoughts and ideas already resonate with your feelings but become unassailable truths from incessant repetition by forces of media that would have you believe them—a fundamental feature of propaganda. Such belief systems almost always insinuate or explicitly declare that who you are, or what you do, or how you do it, is superior to those you want to subjugate or conquer. It’s no secret that people will give their lives, or take the lives of others, in support of what they believe. Often the less actual evidence that exists in support of an ideology, the more likely a person is willing to die for the cause.”
I really enjoyed it. Dr. Tyson seems like an interesting guy to hang out with and talk about all sorts of things.