Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of StarTalk Radio, and author of New York Times bestseller Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

What We Discuss with Neil deGrasse Tyson:

  • How a seasoned scientist maintains childlike curiosity.
  • The power of science to transcend bias.
  • Why Neil didn’t have typical public speaking jitters when he gave his first lecture at age 15.
  • Do you have to be a math wizard to pursue science?
  • What enlightened leadership (from either side of the aisle) understands about the value of science — and why science denial has surged so dramatically in recent years.
  • And much more…

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse TysonOn this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show, we’re pleased to present science champion Neil deGrasse Tyson. His complete resume would be too lengthy to list here, but some highlights include Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and StarTalk Radio, and author of The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

If you already know who he is, he needs no further introduction. And if you don’t know who he is, you have our permission to take in this episode twice. In this episode, we talk about why an interest in science serves every field of expertise (from law to art), what education should ideally train us for, why Neil likes writing with fountain pens, what Neil sees as evidence of the supreme height of illiteracy prevalent in the era of the smartphone, how support for science has historically been bipartisan over the course of American history, how science denial has gained a global foothold by — ironically enough — the use of that very science, why Neil rarely interviews other scientists on his StarTalk podcast, what Neil has to say in rebuttal to Walt Whitman, what it’ll take for the US to get to Mars before China, why it’s dangerous for people to claim the Earth is flat, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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Transcript for Neil deGrasse Tyson | Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Episode 327)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. We want you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, then you’ll be right at home here with us.

[00:00:42] Today — one from the vault — we’re talking with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Man, how do you introduce someone of this magnitude? Someone with this amount of gravity? See what I did there? I got these dad jokes on fleek with only a seven-month-old. It’s only going to get worse from here, folks. He’s one of America’s most beloved science personalities. Kind of a cross between Mr. Rogers and Carl Sagan. He’s an amazing guy — brilliant obviously — and one of the major influences in science today, certainly in the zeitgeists and vernacular of science pop culture in any case. We’re talking exoplanets, black holes, and more. This is science, education, politics, and science. Finding your calling while you’re young, getting obsessed with astronomy, finding mentors, cognitive bias and focus, ironically. This was such an interesting episode. So much fun. Everything from dark matter to keeping a childlike curiosity in science. This was a great pleasure and it’s my pleasure to introduce you here to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[00:01:38] If you want to know how I managed to book all these great folks, well, it’s always through my network and I’m teaching you how to create and maintain relationships using systems and using tiny habits. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you’ll be in smart company. Now, here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[00:02:06] I did like the book. It’s a well-written sampler platter of astrophysics. If you’ve ever heard of exoplanets or black holes stuff and you think, “Yeah, that’s a space thing,” but you know nothing else about it. I thought this was a really good place to start. And like you said, for people in a hurry and you can plow through that thing instead of being really nervous about the wedding you have in five hours, which is what I — that’s what I use this for.

[00:02:27] It’s a great way to look at how small you are in the universe. I got married on Saturday — a huge significant event in my life. The whole existence of the entire planet of earth is — in the scheme of the whole universe — not significant really whatsoever. And that was a cool realization to have right before going, “What if I fall? What if I forget this thing or what if I stumble over a word?” And whenever you think of that you just go —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:02:48] It benchmarks at all. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:49] It benchmarks at all. Sentient beings in other galaxies don’t give a rat’s ass if you stumble over your wedding vows. It’s like watching two amoeba get married or something like that. How do you keep childlike curiosity when you’re a scientist and you know a bunch of things and you’ve studied a bunch of things and you’re in a planetarium teaching a bunch of things? How do you not let things get in the way? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:03:08] Oh, so no, you don’t have to maintain it. You just have to make sure nothing interferes with it, which is different from having to actively maintain something. So if you have something that’s always at risk of evaporating away or fading, then you’ve got to pump it. But I don’t have to pump my curiosity. I’ve had it since childhood. It’s the same curiosity you have as a kid, but I just have it as an adult. And I think all scientists have it as adults. It may be the only way you can be a scientist. Everything is curious to you. “Oh, what’s that? I wonder how that works.” You know, almost distractingly curious. So yeah, it’s there. I just make sure that things don’t get in the way of it. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:46] Sure. I’m curious all the time, but I put in things I learned about something yesterday and just go and steamroll the learning process with bias.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:03:53] Yeah. Well, bias is an interesting force. You can’t expect to live life without bias, but you can live life self-aware of it or self-aware of the risk. I would often bias. You don’t even know you’re biased in a moment that you’re being biased, so you would at least have the self-awareness that you can be biased. And then at another time, in another mindset, well, you know, when to bring someone else into the equation and to assess how effective you were being unbiased if that’s necessary for the thoughts that you’re having. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:24] Sure. Like a scientific experiment, the double-blind thing ideally keeps out as much bias as possible. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:04:29] Exactly. And so not only that, there’s the fact that someone else does the experiment who might have a different bias from you, but if they get the same result, then it means you’ve transcended the bias.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:40] Right, especially if they’re trying to prove you wrong and they still get your results.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:04:42]Exactly, exactly. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:43] That’s got to be a little disheartening if you’re a scientist and you’re thinking, “I’m going to prove this guy is full of it,” and you keep doing it and you’re bashing your head against the wall —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:04:51] And you just make the results even better.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:52] Right. You’re making it more accurate. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:04:54] One of the problems in science today is there’s not much reward for verifying someone else’s results.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:01] Sure.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:05:02] So, the person who gets the result first will get the Nobel Prize. The person who verifies it, enabling the rest of us to believe the first result essentially gets nothing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:13] Gets fired for not discovering something.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:05:14] We would benefit from a shift in the culture, in the peer-reviewed scientific publishing universe, but it’s still the best thing we’ve got going in terms of how you would decode what is and is not true in the world.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:26] Thankfully, people are still stumbling into correct results whether or not they want to find them or not I suppose. People who fund those things might be less crazy about that, but the people who are running it, at least are doing good — still doing science. It’s still science even if you get the result that you don’t want.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:05:41] It’s still science, well, provided the experiment is properly defined. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:44] Right. When I went to school, I was one of those kids who went, “Is there a book full of majors?” Because I was told I have to pick one of these and I’m flipping through the book. And eventually, luckily enough, I made my own concentration out of different subject areas. Very few people do that because it’s a huge pain. But that was dodging a bullet of just deciding on business or something else because it sounds good. Do you find that finding your calling really young is an advantage that has shaped your career path? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:06:09] I took it for granted that I have that interest very young and did not realize how odd that was until college and just like you said, I’m there in college and half the people are still thumbing the course catalog. I could have told them astrophysics is early in the alphabet. You could hit that pretty early. Only then did I look back and deeply value the fact that I could align my life pistons early on so that they’re all firing together. And I guess with emergent electric cars, the piston analogy will rapidly go extinct. So, align my electrical currents so that every decision I make can be in the service of that mission statement. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:52] You are giving lectures on this stuff when you were – what 15 years old?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:06:55] My first public lecture, yeah. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:56] I mean, that’s bananas. I think most people in their subject area and they give a talk when they’re 35 and they go, “Okay, I’ve got to learn how to do this.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:07:02] Oh, it wasn’t that I had to learn how to do anything. I was simply talking about what I love. If you love something so deeply and you know a lot about it, and someone says, “Tell me about it.” Are you nervous? No, you’ll just start talking. So now it’s like, “Tell me about it,” except there are 50 people in the room or 100 people in the room. So that didn’t make any functional difference to me sharing it with one individual or a room full of people. The difference was when I gave it to the roof full of people, they actually paid me.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:30] Right. You get a check at the end and they clapped.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:07:32] And I did it without expecting that they were candid and said, “Look, this is what we would pay other speakers –” I mean, the subtext was “You’re only 15 we probably could’ve gotten away with not paying you at all, but we’re going to pay you because that’s what we pay our people.” It might not have been more than $50 or something but it felt like an infinite amount of money at the time. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:51] Somebody just gave you enough money to buy pretty much everything you can wrap your head around.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:07:54] All I did was talk about what I loved.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:57] Yeah, not bad.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:07:58] I felt really cheap, like, no, the world should not be configured this way. Did I sweat? Did I bleed? Did I –? No, it was just an outing and then I realized that society values knowledge. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:09] Yeah, some parts of it anyway.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:08:11] In some parts.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:13] Looking through the coursebook, thumbing through, trying to find a major, if you’re trying to help people save time and work by suggesting that they select astrophysics, I think that recommendation can be a little bit off. But what do you recommend for people who email or tweet at you? I assume you get this all the time. “What should I do with my life?” That’s got to be a tough one.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:08:29] What typically happens is it’s not so blunt as that. It’s a more common example — not necessarily in detail but broadly — is that someone made a career in a subject that their parents wanted them to go into. They took over the family business. The parents are doctors. They became a doctor. The parents didn’t become doctors but wanted to become doctors, so they wanted their kids to become doctors. So they’re establishing a career based on forces that they did not control. For that category of person, they reach a point where they realize they’re not fulfilled because they’re not doing what they love.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:59] Sure.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:09:00] And then I get the phone call because they like the science they read about, and typically people have a very different range of mathematical background. So nonetheless, there are many places in ways you can plug into this moving frontier. Of course, if you have high math ability, you know, sky’s the limit. But if you don’t, there are artists who reach for the universe as their creative muse. There are attorneys who are trying to create a new frontier of space law. Who owns this patch of land on the moon if you get there first? Do you get to homestead it? Who owns the mineral rights to the asteroid that you paid a mission to go visit? And so I think almost no matter your mathematical ability, there are places you can plug in that still have tremendous value, provided you love what you do.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:42] I used to be an attorney as well. And in part, it’s funny, you should mention math ability. One of the things I triple checked on before going to law school was how much math is involved in this particular course of study. And they said, “Oh, virtually none,” and I said, “Great. I’m in.” Not really the only decision factor you’ll want to look at when choosing your career, of course, math ability, but maybe when looking at science and things like that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:10:02] It matters but there’s something that’s not widely embraced but should be is you get a kid in a math class and they already have some established interests somewhere else and they’ll recite the following phrase, “I will never need to know this for the rest of my life and why am I slogging over it now?” And I think that’s the wrong outlook because that ignores what hoops the brain goes through just to solve a problem. The statement would be true if learning was, “I will learn all the things I need to know to do things I will one day need to do.” But that’s really not what learning should be because that ossifies you into whatever was the hot topics at the time you were in school. A more powerful posture would be having had your brain trained for thought and analysis and processing information. Then if there’s a new thing you’ve never seen before, you will just attack it with vigor — attacking in a good way — because it’s an unsolved problem and you can’t get enough unsolved problems.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:05] I feel like what happened to you in college as well, it looks like by your own account, you didn’t maybe spend as much time in the research lab as you would have needed to cause you had some dancing, some rolling and some wrestling. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:11:14] Well, no, that would have been in graduate school. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:16] Graduate school.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:11:17] Undergraduate, my load outside of classwork was not atypical from others who lived down the hall from me in the dorm. But graduate school, yeah, I spent a lot of time — I mean, how much of my time? Maybe a fourth. In retrospect, I clearly shouldn’t have. I should’ve spent all that time in the lab, but I can say at the end of it all, that I have a certain enrichment of thought and of creativity that I don’t know that I would have obtained any other way. I started writing with fountain pens back then. I just like fountain pens. I like the way they feel. I like ones that have an interesting nib where they can leave an interesting line on the page. If you just have a fountain pen that leaves the same line in every direction, then you might as well use a ballpoint. But look at the flourish and the expressive elements of communication that went on in the era of the handwritten letter. In the era of handwritten letter and handwritten correspondence in general, the words would be written with the flavor of the meaning you’re trying to convey. And it would influence the flourish or how big the first letter is or is it curlicues underneath it. And so it was a dimension of communicating that went beyond the simple definition of the word you were writing. All that went away with a typewriter because every word now comes out identical on the page.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:30] Same font, same size. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:12:32] Yeah, exactly. And then more of that went away in the era of texting where big words are just abbreviated into letters. See you tomorrow is the letter C, the numeral 2. Evidence that pure texting is completely inadequate to communicate, is the flux of emojis that have come down. So instead of writing how you feel, you just put a picture of how you feel. That is the supreme height of illiteracy where you just put pictures of —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:05] Hieroglyphics again

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:13:06] Is it Pictionary? I mean, like what is this? Right, it’s back to hieroglyphics again. I use fountains as a way to commune with the past. That interest started while I was in graduate school. And so I had some pens and I bought ink and I would practice penmanship. Back in the day, you had these big computer pages that came out of the big printers, and so it was huge real estate.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:28] Dots you’ve got to rip off on the sides.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:13:29] Yeah the perforated holes, the dots. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:33] Yeah. You’ve got to fold it and then you rip the sides off.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:13:34] Yeah, so my point of saying this is in my adult life, I have found that now that I’ve written books, people are vastly more appreciative when I sign it with one of my fountain pens because it has an interesting form to it that the pen brings to the signature in ways that no Sharpie ever could. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:52] Is that what you got in your pocket right there? Because all I got is a Sharpie. All right, well, then I’m going to need this thing.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:13:56] You dare put a Sharpie in front of me?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:59] Fling it over my shoulders. And speaking of emoji, I’m feeling pretty smiley face with glasses and buck teeth right now, so that’s a good sign. It’s a good interview. There and a smiley face with hearts on it in the eyes instead of eyes. Your career started off — well, I should tell you before that — with your doctoral dissertation committee getting dissolved from the University of Texas.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:14:17] Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:18] That’s got to be kind of scary, right? Because you’re in the process of completing this childhood dream. Even before when you were 15, you were giving lectures on this stuff, and now they’re kind of like, “Hey, sports medicine is a burgeoning area you might want to look at.” I mean, how did that affect you at that time? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:14:31] Well, I don’t think they had any clue of the depth of my interest in the subject, the depth and breadth. So to say, “Oh, we’re going to dissolve your committee. Now, what are you going to do?” Thinking that I’ll just do something else as though going to graduate school was some decision made on a lark. So no, I persisted, and so I knocked on doors and called people I knew, asked if they would admit me. I’d take whatever tests were necessary. So I transferred my graduate program to Columbia University from the University of Texas after the committee was dissolved. And so, there was a year delay in there because they wanted me to take the general exam, which is what you take after you finish coursework. But once you know the material, I mean, you’re becoming an expert in a field and a world’s expert in a subpart of that same field so the idea that somehow taking an exam would be arduous — that’s a foreign concept. We’re academics. This is what we do. Not only that, the idea that I would lose years having put into graduate school and sort of re-jumpstart that exercise also sounds a bit harrowing. But no, because what you do in graduate school, it’s exactly what you do when you get your PhD and beyond. You just get paid less. It’s not, “Oh, now I have to slog through another thesis and another thing,” and it’s like that’s what science is — posing a problem, researching it, writing it up, publishing it. So it was lost professional standing and it was lost income, but it wasn’t lost ambition. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:01] Right. Yeah, that makes sense. In the closeup version of that story, it probably looks a lot like you fell off the tracks. Obviously, now you come back to become a legend in the game, which is pretty cool. Not everybody does that, but the fact is they can’t really remove your interest from that. They can tell you, “Well, you know, we’re not going to do this anymore cause you’re doing too much Latin ballroom or whatever, wrestle or so, whatever the deal was.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:16:22] Both. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:23] Both. But they can’t stop you from going through it and macro picture, a big picture — Do you feel like that even was anything more than a hurdle or a speed bump or maybe not even that?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:16:31] It was a huge hurdle because I had to leave Texas and I was living in my parents’ basement. My wife, who I met in Texas got her PhD in mathematical physics from the University of Texas at Austin. She moved with me to New York — by the way, she’s from Alaska, so this is a huge shift for her. She moved with me to New York. This is when we were just still dating. Then while I was living in my parents’ basement, I proposed to her and she said yes, and so I don’t think you can get more pure than that. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:01] No. Especially if she wasn’t sure what’s going to happen. I mean, was there ever a time when you were thinking that this might not work out especially if you get that letter, “Hey, we’re dissolving your dissertation committee.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:17:11] It’s possible. But again, I had a huge fuel tank of energy to pursue these interests. It was not anywhere near empty. It was lower, maybe one-fourth full but a car that has one-fourth of a tank of gas can actually go faster than a car that has a half a tank of gas.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:28] That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about that — because of the weight factor.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:17:30] The weight factor. So you just have to need enough to feed the cylinders and you’re good to go. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:36] Well, speaking of fuel, I’ve read and heard you say this a lot. “We can’t make America great again until we make America smart again.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:17:42] Right.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:42] What that means?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:17:44] You need to make wise decisions, and I recently wrote an Op-Ed. It’s posted on my Facebook page if anybody cares. It has the same title as that video that got so much distribution just before the science march. It’s the same title for both, and it’s called Science in America, but the Op-Ed gets to flesh out in a sort of written detail what that means. There’s a section of the Op-Ed — it’s about 1,000 words — where I just go, president by president from Abe Lincoln fast-forwarding to the 20th century and just moving forward and identifying which president was responsible for creating which well-known agency that is responsible for thinking about science. So that would include the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the Center for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA. You just track this over the past 140 years and it just bounces back and forth across the aisle.

[00:18:41] Truman put in the National Science Foundation and that became law in 1950 although it was proposed a few years earlier and he is a Democrat. He was, of course, the vice president to Franklin Roosevelt. Then Eisenhower, a Republican, put in NASA in 1958. Of course, Kennedy, a Democrat, sent us to the moon. In 1970, we had the Environmental Protection Agency put into place by Nixon, a Republican. That same year, NOAA was signed by Nixon, a Republican. In the 1990s, there were major investments in bringing the Internet from an obscure thing that scientists use to a household product and these were investments in the Clinton administration.

[00:19:23] So you just look at this and it’s clear that enlightened leadership knows and understands and values what role science and technology can play in our health and our wealth, especially our wealth, but also our security. So to enter an era where people are standing in denial of science, in denial of what is true, established by science, which is the most reliable path we have ever invented between ignorance and truth, is a recipe for the complete dismantling of all that I grew up here in this country.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:59] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neil deGrasse Tyson. We’ll be right back. 

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[00:22:27] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episodes so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Neil deGrasse Tyson. That link is in the show notes at If you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:07] I’m 37, I’m not that old, but I’ve seen from when I was younger, there was very little dissent on a lot of obvious scientific truths. And people were in agreement under that and, of course, there’s criticism — “You just didn’t hear the dissent and this and that.” And the other thing, you know, “Why would the thinking be better back then in one way, but not the other?”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:23:22] So just to be clear, right now, people can dissent and have it distributed worldwide via the Internet. Before the Internet, you could descend, but no one would care and no one would print your thoughts. So maybe there were just as many people who would have dissented if they have the mouthpiece to do so. But, of course, they didn’t have the mouthpiece to do so, and that’s what’s critical here. So we now live in an age where you can have an idea that has no foundation in any reality, no foundation in nature. And you can create a website, and I have the same no foundation thought is you have, and I’ll search my no foundation thought and I’ll find every other person in the world who thinks exactly the way I do — giving the illusion of affirmation of an idea that in a previous generation would have never seen the light of day.

[00:24:08] So in a free country where at least we tell ourselves we live in a free country, freedom of thought and of speech, I actually don’t care what you believe. That’s why you don’t see me chasing people down, knocking on their door. I care as should everyone. If someone says, “I think the earth is flat.” “Okay, let’s find a job for you that doesn’t depend on earth being round.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:29] It’s funny you should bring that up.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:24:30] Plenty of your jobs for you. I’m sure we can find a job and that way you can think about what you want in this free country of ours. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:35] I had Shaq on the show a few weeks ago, and he came out on this show and said, “Oh, I was just kidding about that,” and it made all these news outlets and things like that, and I thought, “Well, it’s funny, but it’s more dangerous than people think because it’s still getting quoted everywhere.” I got hundreds of emails from people that went, “Well, you know why he had to say that, right? Because the Freemasons made him do this and now it’s all this.” Once you put that out there, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube when you’re an influencer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:25:00] I just don’t know why anyone cares what shape Shaq thinks. Earth is. I don’t know why that’s news.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:08] Just because he’s Shaq. I’m sure that’s why.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:25:09] I mean, well, except that he has a PhD in business management. So he’s Dr. O’Neal. And you would think that if you have a PhD in anything, that you were a learned person in ways more than sort of the average other person. It might include being able to figure stuff out. But he said he was kidding, so, okay, fine. So I just don’t see why people care. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:33] I think people like to laugh at slash with a concept like that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:25:37] It’s new — if he says something that is false, that can influence some agency he has power over.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:45] That is a problem.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:25:47] That is a problem. Then you’re building a house of cards. You might get two layers high, and look solid with the third layer. That’s all she wrote.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:57] That’s all she wrote. Game over.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:25:58] Game over.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:59] Well, we see a lot of really cool science activism and awareness shows like Nova Specials, Cosmos, Bill Nye’s New Show on Netflix, which looks really good. I haven’t been able to crack into that yet. And they do a great job so far of explaining the importance of scientific literacy to the masses. Like you mentioned earlier, we live in this era that’s just dominated by the Internet, social media, and a lot of those separate people, creates those little microcosms, like you said, the majority illusion, the bubble that breeds scientific illiteracy. When I watch science —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:26:25] It breeds much more than that. And not just science illiteracy, it breeds dogma. So you have a point of view that you are sure is correct. And you never see a critique of your thoughts because your search engine never takes you there. And even if you did, you would staunchly defend your thoughts because it’s in a deeply held principle within you. It could be a bit of religious philosophy, political philosophy, cultural philosophy. Each of which if taken strongly, you can create a bubble that’s impervious to criticism. Then you ossify in place. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:59] This is a huge problem, especially for maybe younger people that grew up digital natives if you want to call it that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:27:04] Yes, so what they got to do — so what we’re missing is –okay, now we have this Internet, and there’s such susceptibility to it. By the way, if you hear kids in school talking, the teachers say, “Never trusted anything you see on the Internet.” By the way, that is equally as intellectually lazy as trusting everything you see on the Internet. What we need is not telling people, “Don’t trust anything on the Internet.” We need in kindergarten through 12 curriculum, somewhere in there, multiple times taught how to process information and evaluate the likelihood of it being true, and that has huge value in these modern times, and it’s just simply not taught.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:36] It’s really hard to teach that which is one reason. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:27:38] That’s why. Yes, it’s hard. But so what? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:41] Well, yeah, I agree with you. The point is that, yeah, it’s hard, but you’ve got to figure out how to do it because it’s more important than just teaching facts. I think what I watched scientific shows and when other people that, I know, we talk about geeky stuff because we’re all on that same page, but in a way though, shows preach to the choir. If I listen to every other episode of StarTalk and I’m watching all the Cosmos, I can talk with certain people about that and the rest of the people go, “I don’t know what that is. Anyway, the earth is flat and climate change is fake.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:28:03] StarTalk by design is intended to grow its audience in every single episode because the guest is hardly ever a scientist, and so that person if they’re famous enough, they’ll have a fan base that’ll chase them wherever they go. So now their fan base follows them to a science-based talk show and in a science-based talk show, they’re going to hear their favorite person talking about science and all the ways that the moving frontier of science has touched their lives and their livelihood. The goal for StarTalk is to reach people who don’t know that they like science or better yet know that they don’t like science. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:40] I think we’re on the same page there. This show was about getting people who don’t care about learning better critical thinking skills to figure out that these can be really interesting depending on who the guest is, of course. Maybe I should have science-based guests on this show. It’s really a good idea to do this, and it’s mandatory, I think because a lot of people want to lock themselves into a cone of ignorance. But I think a lot of other people just don’t they’re —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:29:01] But they wouldn’t call it a cone of ignorance. They would say, “This is the actual truth and everyone else doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:05] Right, so don’t waste your time with all that stuff. We already figured it out already. So what can we do ourselves aside from making sure that we’re watching or looking at different sources of information? What would you do if someone you cared about — your next-door neighbor kid goes, “Oh yeah, you know, I heard about all this completely false dumb stuff and he thinks it’s true,” where do you even get people started on that?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:29:23] So what I’ve seen happen, there might be something written about something that I wrote or said. If it’s critical in a way that’s completely missing the idea or the point, there are enough people out there who will jump into the comment thread and just sort of take the person to task. “Why would you say that? Because he’s never actually said this.” “But you’re saying he said it.” “No, he said, ‘instead of this.'” There are people who are plugged in enough into the whole portfolio that I have that’s out there that they become sort of defenders in the comment threads. And so you should, I think, always be prepared to have that argument with someone who might otherwise just simply go on challenge. If you let false arguments go unchallenged, they become laws. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:08] Oh, that’s interesting. It’s true, and it can be really tempting to do so, especially when you’re talking with somebody who is not only may be condescending but just refuses to hear your side of the argument. I guess there’s only so much you can do, especially when it’s a young person, the conversation is always worth having. Just because somebody who has their head up their butt got to them first doesn’t mean they should be doomed to think that way for life.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:30:28] They’ll be more open to a learning session. School is closer in their memory.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:32] Oh, that’s a good point. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:30:33] On campuses, the word lecture has meaning. What does it mean to be lectured, to get a lecture? You go and attend and you take notes and you paid for it and you take the test. But interestingly for me, the word lecture has negative connotations in essentially every other context.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:47] Oh yeah, of course. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:30:48] “Don’t lecture me. Why are you lecturing to me?” That’s bad — which is odd because I would say, “Please lecture to me. I want to learn, keep at it.” Repeating a broken record — do you know what a broken record is? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:59] I’m very familiar with broken records. I broken many records of my parents. Just ask.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:31:04] Oh okay, because broken record is not really broken. There’s just dust on it. It doesn’t come off and then it skips each time.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:09] You haven’t seen me break a record, Neil.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:31:11] So broken record repeats the same groove each time because there’s something in a groove that has it pop over and go back to the same place.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:18] And bounce it back.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:31:19] And bounce it back. So that colloquially is a broken record. For everyone, that’s 30 and under might not know that.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:24] Don’t lecture us on broken records.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:31:26] See. Somehow we’ve created an educational pipeline where the urge to not be in school is greater than the urge to be in school. Right on down to the last day of school where you some — not everyone — some take their notes and throw it in the air and say, “No school. Summer began,” or “I graduated.” And when all they ever had to do was learn in their life. So something is missing in the educational trajectory — love of learning and re-instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity. Because if you graduate curious, then you spend the rest of your life learning and you learn vastly more the rest of your life than you would have ever learned in school.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:03] I think it is possible to get back there because when I graduated law school, I was sick of it. When I graduated college, I was sick of that. When I graduated high school, I was definitely sick of that and I learned more now — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:32:13] So you got a fatigue factor.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:14] Definitely.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:32:15] Okay, that’s interesting. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:17] I definitely did. I didn’t even go to the graduation ceremonies of high school, college, or graduate school because I just could not for one more day, be around it. And I for years thought, “Oh man, I’m just not cut out for any of this. It’s a miracle. I made it through here. Good thing I have a job now and I don’t have to learn anything ever again in my whole life.” But now that I’m a grownup and an adult in different ways, I’ve read more now and I’ve learned much more now.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:32:39] And so you retained curiosity and you’ll spend so much more time not in school than in school. That to define being in school as the one arc of occasions that you learn does such a disservice to your life. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:53] Yeah, it’s a shame actually all around.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:32:56] Well, in fact, there are many studies that show the strong correlation between the simple existence of books in your home growing up compared to other homes that have no books at all. And the kids that come from homes with books do much, much better. Is it because the parents make an environment that is more literate or is it that smart kids come from smart parents and if the parents have books, they might be smarter than average? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:16] Maybe. It depends on the books, but yeah.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:33:19] The jury may still be out on that, but the idea that books can matter. I think that’s in motion right now.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:25] When I talk to younger people about this kind of thing, there’s a lot of hope involved.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:33:29] You’re 37, so what’s younger people to you?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:31] People still in college, because I get hundreds and hundreds of emails every day from people who go, “I want a job like yours. What was your career path?” And I tell them, “Seven years of college learning about something I don’t do anymore.” And they’re like, “I got to skip all that.” But it becomes very tricky to show people that life after college is one, better in many ways because you have more freedom over what you can learn and what you can do with the knowledge and two, that it’s actually worth pursuing. Because when you’re in the middle of this funnel, the siphon where you have to learn different things that you’re not crazy about and apply them in ways that are often mildly torturous. It’s tough to convince somebody that you’re going to want to do some parts of this for the rest of your life and apply them and use them.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:34:08] Yeah. So that’s why education has to be not only, “Here’s a craft and here’s where you’re going to apply the craft,” it’s got to be, “How is your brain wired for thought?” So that when you confront a problem you’ve never seen before, you will attack the problem rather than shun it. So much of learning is the preparation of the mind for just those situations. The fact that you have students in school thinking that what they’re learning has to have some direct application, otherwise it’s not useful to them. That’s a tragic state of affairs under the educational umbrella if that permeates the system. That would mean everyone would just have to be taught a trade. Then you go out and lay the bricks or smelt the steel or whatever they do in steel. Do they still make steel? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:48] Yeah. China.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:34:49] Yeah. Okay. That’s the right answer to any question.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:52] Right. Yeah, yes in China is the answer to that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:34:55] Right, yeah, they do it in China.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:56] How do you prepare your brain then for that? If you’re listening to this right now or if I’m listening to this right now, I’m thinking, “Yeah, I got to prepare my brain to realize that not everything that I learned has to be applied in some way. It sounds like a great idea. Where do I begin?”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:35:07] No, it’s not that active. It’s passive in the sense that I majored in physics in college. Half of my courses were neither science nor math. It was liberal arts school. So I had art, psychology, and economics, and a little bit of history. Well, for me, it wasn’t as fun learning about that as in my major of choice. Nonetheless, they’re seeds planted that flesh out all the total kinds of thoughts you can have. You don’t know the thoughts that you’re not having but does it make sense that the more you know about, the more things, the more enriched your thoughts would be.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:40] Sure. So even if they’re seemingly unrelated —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:35:42] Correct. And then there are people, especially saying this to scientists, “I don’t want to know too much sciences. That’ll take away the wonder in the majesty of the world.” So if we’re both sitting on a rock and there’s —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:52] That’s ridiculous.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:35:53] — and there’s a sunset and you look at the sunset for it to beauty and the colors and the warmth, and I look at the sunset and I say, “That is a star, a glowing ball of incandescent gas undergoing thermonuclear fusion in its core.” You might say, “See, you’ve ruined it.” But what is missing is the fact that I also see a beautiful sunset with a curtain of twilight colors. I now have another dimension that I can take in the experience. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:19] Knowing how something works have never ruined anything for me. I don’t understand that perspective at all. I feel like that — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:36:25] Yeah it was tweeted. Do you remember there was a double rainbow guy on YouTube?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:27] Yes, what does it mean? That guy — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:36:29] Yeah, I tweeted the link to that and I said, “This is how you behave if you haven’t had physics.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:35] I wondered what was wrong with that guy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:36:36] Yeah, you think there is — 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:37] Lack of physics class.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:36:38] It’s just one physics class. Optics is part of a physics class. Then he would understand double rainbows, he can triple rainbows if the optics are just right and each rainbow is significantly dimmer than the previous one. So the multiple rainbows are very hard and so, therefore, they’re rare. And the rarity is what in part accounts for the enthusiasm of the person who left his recording device on. Because remember he’s like, “Oh, oh my God!” And he started crying practically. And you don’t see him but you hear him so you might say, “Well, did I take away his wonder by doing this?” I don’t think so because we understand rainbows. Do you want to wonder? I put you on the frontier. There’s a lot of wandering that needs to happen there. Like what does the nature of dark matter and what does the nature of dark energy and what was around before the Big Bang? And how do you go from inanimate organic molecules to self-replicating life? That’s a transition that remains — we got top people working on that right now. So if you’re going to assert what we don’t know is what matters for your wonderment and now you worry that we discover what the wonder is and then somehow it’s gone. No, as the area of your knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of your ignorance.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:45] I agree. When I was reading this book, it’s astrophysics, any sort of science I would imagine is like the – do you ever go to the Winchester Mystery House? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:37:52] No.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:53] It’s right around here. I know you don’t have time to deal with that, but basically this crazy lady — whose husband invented the Winchester rifle — she built a house and you’ll walk in a room and they’ll be 20 doors in the room and you’ll open some of them and there’s a brick wall and you’ll open another one, there’s a big pit. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:06] Wait, wait, wait, you’re saying he invented rifling?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:07] He invented the Winchester rifle.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:09] Okay.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:10] So all these people died as a result of his invention, and she was loaded and she thought the ghost of all — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:14] Loaded with money?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:15] Loaded with money, yeah.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:16] Not loaded with lead.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:17] Yes, it’s totally different. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:17] I’m just thinking because rifling has a very specific feature of the barrel.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:20] He may have done something with that in fact, and maybe that’s why the Winchester — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:23] Spin stabilized projectile.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:24] I think that may be part of it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:25] Greatly enhancing — I’m not saying he wasn’t, I just —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:27] Yeah.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:27] If the Winchester rifle was the first to rifle a rifle, then —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:32] Successful invention. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:33] Yeah, and in fact, I think it goes unnoticed by many. If you look at the most iconic image of James Bond in a poster, you’re looking through this cylinder and he’s at the other end. And you see his silhouette and he turns and he shoots. And that cylinder is rifled. So you’re actually looking down the barrel of a gun.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:50] Right, this spiral of grooves — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:52] Yes.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:52]  — that causes the pressure to spin the bullet and stabilize it. So you may be right. I’m going to have to look that up. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:38:56] No, no, I didn’t see any — there’s nothing for me to be right about it. I’m just wondering if what you said is exactly as true as you have said.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:02] It might have misspoken and been totally right on that. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:04] But if that was the most deadly rifle ever made, then clearly something was different about it. Either the bullet traveled faster or it was spin-stabilized in ways previous ones weren’t. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:14] And the Civil War didn’t hurt. I mean, people were shooting each other all the time with this particular weapon. Anyway, my analogy is completely ruined now. Oh, well.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:21] I’m sorry.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:23] It doesn’t matter.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:23] Did I derail your entire –?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:24] It was going to be magical.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:25] So she said what?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:26] Basically, she built this house with all kinds of crazy doors that lead in different shapes, some of them lead nowhere, but the book reminded me of this. It’s kind of situation in which — 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:34] You mean Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:35] Correct, yes. Your new book, right here, which everyone should grab and we’ll link to it in the show notes. The things that you’re learning or that I’m learning that you’re teaching in this book, as soon as you find something in there, dark matter, why planets look like they wobble, or the fact that things arrange themselves into spheres, you ended up with 20 other doors to go through 20 different questions about the thing that you just learned. So there’s no way —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:39:54] And that’s my fault. I apologize.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:56] So that’s the point. The point is you read this and you go, “Wait, I’m interested in all of these different subject areas.” So losing wonder based on learning something is a complete — that’s a load. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:40:05] Yeah, it’s a statement implicitly admitting that it doesn’t fully understand wonder or discover. Now dare I say that Walt Whitman fell victim to this. There’s a poem — if you write beautifully, is it a poem even if it doesn’t rhyme? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:19] I think if you say it’s a poem or if they say it’s a poem after you die, then that’s how — it doesn’t have to rhyme, yeah. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:40:24] I might be mixing two poems from two different people, but there’s one called The Learn’d Astronomer, and he talks about sitting in a lecture hall listening to the astronomer speak and all this beauty and wonder of the universe now gets laced with formulas and math and equations and numbers, and his eyes glaze over and he has to get up and walk outside and drink in the beauty of the night once again, maybe we can find it to read it again today.

[00:40:53] It presumes that these mysteries and then we figure out the mysteries and then a no more mysteries. And it doesn’t recognize that when you figure out a mystery, you are now standing in a new place and you’re empowered to ask questions that you never even dreamt of before. And so for someone who is curious where you have learned to love the questions themselves, this is a very natural trajectory through the world of research.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:41:17] you’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neil deGrasse Tyson. We’ll be right back after this.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:21] this. This episode is sponsored in part by Oura Ring. I love this. This is a fitness tracker that’s actually a ring and it looks like a ring. It doesn’t look like what you’d expect a ring-sized fitness tracker to look like. You know, like a giant non-ring. It actually just looks like a ring. It looks like my wedding ring and I’ve been using it to, well, find some crummy sleep problems. I get like five minutes of deep sleep every night, which is a little scary. Something’s definitely wrong there. Even with the baby waking up, Jen and I, all the time, she gets like an hour and a half of deep sleep. So I’m not sure what’s happening there. I’ve got to get a sleep study and I would not have known about that without wearing the Oura Ring. It’s much more accurate than sleep tracking on a wrist-based device, you know, like a watch. So if you want to increase productivity, stay energized, strengthen your relationships by not being a cranky bastard all the time, I highly recommend the aura ring and it’s really accurate. I just can’t highlight that enough. It really is accurate. It breaks down REM sleep, deep sleep, light sleep, wake time, all in the app, and the battery lasts like a week, so it’s not something you have to charge every single day. Jason, tell him where they can get the ordering.

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Jason DeFillippo: [00:44:02] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit and don’t forget the worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at If you’re listening to us in the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:32] Do you want to read The Learn’d Astronomer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:44:34] Oh, do you have it? Shall I read it?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:35] Do it. Knock it out. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:44:37] Walt Whitman.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, 

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out. I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:14] It is a beautiful poem. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:45:15] It’s beautiful. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:16] Too bad he didn’t like the mathematical formulas.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:45:18] So the counterpart to this would be. “Oh, sir, literate one, why ruin what something looks like by describing it with words when I can see it fully with my eyes? Your words just get in the way. I’d rather my mind float freely and gaze upon something of interest than have the writer step in between me and it, and interpose his or her own interpretation.” If I were to compose a poem. It would have been that in rebuttal to that. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:46] We should write that down. We will do that and leave Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reply to Walt Whitman in the show notes, 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:45:52] But I don’t really feel that way, but if I had to offer a rebuttal — the kind of rebuttal I’ve thought about often because I’ve many times been in a party, maybe hosted by highly social liberal arts types, so artists or English majors, history majors — people do a lot of reading and writing. And they’re generally really informed about things in ways that none of the rest of us are. And so it’s a cocktail party. So I’m there and there’s a little scrum of them over in a corner, and I try to join in and then talking about some Shakespeare sonnet, and they say — apparently it was a well-known one but I’d never read it. In fact, at the time I hadn’t read any of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And you feel the pressure that I’m not sharing the literacy that mattered in the corner, okay? And I feel it. After that, I went up and dug up some of his sonnets but consider the opposite of this. Suppose I had a geek party where everybody is sort of engineering, math, science, especially physical sciences, and then we’re talking about Fermat’s math, last theorem or something. So what will happen is you get those same people who threw that other party — this is a stereotype of what happens, but this has actually happened and I’ve seen this happen — overhear the conversation and they’ll say, “Oh, I was never good at math,” and then chuckle about that to themselves or to their friends to chuckle. It’s not an embarrassment that they were not good at math. It’s a chuckle that they were not good at math. And so what’s the counterpart to that? It wouldn’t be just me feeling guilty I hadn’t read the sonnets. It would be me saying, “Oh, I was never good at nouns and verbs.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:27] It sounds way more ridiculous.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:47:28] They would think I was some kind of stupid idiot, uneducated idiot. The assessment of your person is not symmetric in those two cases. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:40] I’m still guilty of that though. Oh, this math. I’m intimidated by this even though I can obviously add a receipt together.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:47:46] That’s different from saying, “Oh, I was never good at it,” and chuckle.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:48] Oh, sure.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:47:49] That’s all I’m saying. There’s no shame in not knowing or having struggled. That’s not my point. My point is somehow thinking that it is — making light of the facts that you don’t know it. These are people who are learned people, and if you are a learned person, you should never make light of anything you don’t know. You should run home and learn it. If it arises in front of you and it was a gap in your knowledge you never even knew was there.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:14] Especially now because you don’t have to go to the library and look up seven books on the subject. You can Google that thing in the Uber on the way to the next venue. You can get a good synopsis. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:25] Now that’s a sentence that made no sense 10 years ago.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:27] True.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:27] You can Google it in your Uber 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:29] On the way, right, from your smartphone. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:32] Yeah. Smartphone is 10 years old this year.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:34] Yeah officially this year.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:35] Take a picture of the book with your phone as you Google it in your Uber 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:42] And then text it to me. Put it on Snapchat. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:44] But we had texting before then.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:45] That’s true.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:46] It wasn’t as fully —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:47] Texting from the ’90s.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:48:47] Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Jordan Harbinger:  00:48:48] That’s right, SMS, sending a picture via text, though that came later. That came much later. So what stuff keeps you awake at night, proverbially now? Is dark matter, dark energy, that kind of stuff? What do you think about? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:49:00] No, I’m a little more obscure than that. What keeps me awake is wondering what questions I don’t yet know to ask because they would only become available to me, visible to me after we discover what dark matter and dark energy is. Because think about it, the fact that we even know how to ask that question, that’s almost half the way there.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:19] Sure because you know there’s something. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:49:21] there’s something there and I can design an experiment as we’re doing now with face probes and things, but I want to know the question that I can’t know yet because it’s not available. It’s not in reach. That’s what keeps me awake at night. What is the profound level of ignorance that will manifest after we answer the profound questions we’ve been smart enough to pose thus far?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:44] Do you think we’ll figure that out within our lifetime, the dark matter thing or is that just so far –?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:49:48] Dark matter, maybe. I’m not sure about dark energy. The over-under on the dark matter is that it’s going to be likely a particle that one or more family of particles that don’t interact with ours, but of course they would have gravity. The problem with dark matter is that it not only doesn’t interact with us. In any way other than by gravity. So in other words, it doesn’t stick. The experiments intended to detect it are hoping that however elusive they are because they don’t interact with us every now and then, it’ll actually interact with one of our molecules.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:18] Glitch in the matrix 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:50:20] A glitch in the matrix. And so it’s very hopeful, mind you, but my sense is the dark matter not only doesn’t interact with ordinary matter, it doesn’t much interact with itself. So it can’t collapse to become solid objects, even if it’s a dark matter, solid object. So we don’t see concentrations of dark matters the way you see concentrations of regular matter because we have the electromagnetic force to — 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:43] And it doesn’t even have that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:50:44] — hold our molecules together and doesn’t even have that. Correct. Because if it did have it, it would interact with our particles.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:49] Sure. Right. It would have to. Is that the, what you were showing on — maybe it was Cosmos? Some of the stuff blurs together — where you’re going down miles underneath and there’s this giant vat of something and we’re just hoping a neutrino flies through.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:50:59] Oh yeah, that was a neutrino detector, yeah. And there are reasons why you would have these detectors deep underground. You would shield it against the kinds of things that might masquerade as a signal that you’re trying to detect because the rocks protect you from it but —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:13] There’s a cell phone service down there.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:51:14] No, they’re good repeaters, I think. Although I don’t know that I tried my cell phone. These are abandoned salt mines and things, so they’re kind of already there. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:21] Yeah, I’ve been in one of those. My parents took me to one when I was a kid in an abandoned salt mine, and it was the coolest thing ever, still sounds weird saying it out loud, that an abandoned salt miner is the coolest thing ever. They filled it with toxic waste. I remember that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:51:31] Which just means — well, just to get rid of the toxic waste. So it just means you’re curious into adulthood to say that an abandoned salt mine is really cool. And of course, do you know how the salt got there? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:41] Ocean water deposits, I guess.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:51:43] Yeah, exactly. You evaporate — generally not an ocean but it could have been, but generally, it’s a body of water that completely evaporated out, leaving behind what was previously dissolved salts. So what that means is even mined salt is sea salt.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:58] Ah, true. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:51:59] It’s just from lakes long evaporated from millions of years ago. So I think the mined salt community lost an opportunity there. They might still be able to jump in on it, but basically, all salt is sea salt.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:11] Now, you can sea salt from Indiana. If you can find a salt mine or wherever we were. I was climbing a mountain in Israel once — not climbing like, you know, a fancy kind, but walking on a trail on a mountain, and I remember —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:52:21] That’s not climbing a mountain.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:23] I was walking on a high mountain, on a hill.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:52:25] You’re walking on a trail that happened to be uphill.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:28] I was probably going downhill. To be honest, I took the bus to the top, probably walked down.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:52:34] There’s a chair lift, yeah, if I keep listening. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:37] So I was driving down this mountain and I put my hand out on the trail and I remember it crumbled. And I looked at what had crumbled away, and it was a bunch of seashells and little things like that. And I looked down, I don’t know hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet or even more and there’s the ocean. It’s such a mind trip to go, “Wow, at some point that was so high that this was the bottom and these are all the things that collected there over hundreds or thousands of years that are still there.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:53:01] It wasn’t so much that the ocean was higher which can have been the case, but more likely is that you have the geologic rising of the landmass. Now that you mentioned it, just since you went there, there’s an interesting — take you through the reasoning that then has a fork in the road. I’ll tell you about each fork. The fact that there are seashells on mountaintops had been for centuries invoked by devout Christians, devout religious monotheistic religious people as evidence for Noah’s flood. And of course, you would have to be Christian because that’s in the Jewish Bible, not the Christian Bible. So the flood would have brought seashells to high places because the whole earth was covered. That was widely accepted as such.

[00:53:41] And then Leonardo da Vinci comes along and looks at these seashells and says, “Wait a minute, these seashells are perfectly laid out. It looks like they got fossilized in place in an orderly way. And if there is a catastrophic earth-wide flood, nothing gets laid down orderly.” You’d expect broken shells, twisted, mixed with all manner of things. And so he used the fact that the shells were orderly, not broken in their fossilized state at high altitude to suggest that maybe the land and the seas were different elevations in earth history. And that was in the 1400s 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:24] And everyone went, “That doesn’t even make any sense.” Or, they went, “You ruined it. There goes the wonder.” Leave it to da Vinci. Who invited this guy?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:54:31] Uh-huh.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:32] What do you think is something that we as humans can see but not really kind of comprehend that we’re going to discover later as part of this astrophysics, sort of super complex?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:54:40] No, I don’t think we understand consciousness yet, and I’ll give you some blunt evidence of it. So if you go into a bookstore and ask, “Where are your books on consciousness?” They’ll show you the shelf and it’s like shelf after shelf, after shelf, and books still being published on that subject. You know, say, “Well, where are your books on gravity?” Well, it’s like three books on one side of one shelf. So evidence that we don’t understand something yet is that people keep publishing books saying that we understand it.

[00:55:07] When you understand something, the book gets written and then you move on to other topics and you’re done. So we have Newton gravity and Einstein gravity and you get that in three or four books. No one is still trying to explain it. Explain it as a mystery to be explained. They might explain it because maybe this other method wasn’t as successful as you have some new educational twist that you would put on it, but then it said it’s an educational exercise, not someone putting their next idea out as an explanation for it. And by the way, this would be true for almost anything. Just look around. If active researchers are still publishing and it means we know least about it, typically. That tells me if we don’t fully understand consciousness, yet, there are people who fear AI becoming conscious. I don’t see one following from the other. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:51] Or afraid it’s going to become this thing we don’t fully understand yet because we’re afraid of that, maybe.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:55:55] Yeah, but like I said, we don’t understand our own Id in a way to think that just simply having a faster computer is going to make an Id in the computer, but we’ll see. I remain fearless of AI. I say bring it on, just bring it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:08] Bring it on.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:56:08] Bring it on.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:09] When you start thinking about AI, it starts to answer a lot of questions where people think, “Oh, an alien civilization will never contact us because there are too many stars.” And when you start looking at — well, if AI and computers can start to look at things millions or billions of times faster than we can —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:56:23] Yeah, they’ll figure it out. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:24] — it starts to narrow that gap quite a bit. I know you’ve got to go really soon. One last thing that I want to wrap with. July 29th, 1958, NASA gets kicked off. It’s started. The world’s captivated on space travel. We’re trying to beat the —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:56:35] Where did you get July 29th? Where’d you get that? 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:37] Because it was written right here. Maybe that’s an incorrect 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:56:39] Did you get it off the Internet?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:40] I did. I don’t trust everything I see on the Internet, though. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:56:43] So almost in all cases, the actual truth is a little more subtle than the simplified truth that is presented, and that’s not a problem. It’s just a reality, okay. So for example, if I say, “What path does earth take in its orbit around the sun?” What would you tell me?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:59] Ellipses.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:57:00] Okay. Ellipse. So if I drew a perfect circle and then a sort of an oval and then in like a really skinny oval, and I said, “Pick the orbit that comes closest to earth’s orbit.” You might pick the ellipse that is in the middle. However, the perfect circle comes closer to what earth orbit is than this sort of ovalized ellipse that I’ve just drawn. Earth’s orbit is a three percent ellipse. If I draw that on a page, you’re not even really going to notice that. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:26] Imperceptible. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:57:27] Yeah, if you look hard or you folded it to see if the edges match up, yes, okay. So you’re saying your ellipse because you’ve been taught ellipse, but to say a circle would not be all that bad. But here’s the rub, it’s not even an ellipse because the earth and the moon orbit their common center of gravity. It’s the center of gravity of the earth’s moon system that traces the ellipse. But the earth itself does this loop-de-loop wobbling with the moon as it goes around the sun. That’s the actual path of the earth around the sun. But we just say it’s an ellipse because we don’t want to talk about the loop-de-loops because that’s a deeper level of understanding of what’s going on. If I ask you what shape is the earth, what would you say?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:11] Sphere.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:58:12] Okay, that comes very close to what we actually are. That one.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:15] At least I got that one right.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:58:16] But if you want to be more precise, you would say we’re a spheroid. We’re wider at the equator than pole to pole, looking like a hamburger. But then we’re not even that, we’re slightly wider below the equator than at the equator. So we’re a pear-shaped oblate spheroid.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:28] Provided that the earth isn’t flat.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:58:30] Just in case there was any —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:31] Just in case.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:58:32] So I’m saying all that is a preamble to — 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:36] It was July 29th, 1958.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:58:38] So I don’t know that date in association with NASA, it could be the date that the legislation was proposed, passed by Congress. There’s a different date where it actually became law, where they ratified the document that lays out everything that NASA does. That was the one year anniversary in the week of the one year anniversary of Sputnik in October. So whatever date you found, it will be something that — I’m not denying it wasn’t a useful, important date, but generally the date that’s quoted is the one in October. 

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:07] Ah, okay. Well, there’s that Internet.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:59:09] And it’s easy to remember because it’s on the anniversary of Sputnik and it’s the same week that I was born.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:13] Oh, that’s how I’ll remember it from now on. The question, regardless of what NASA was started, was that we’re trying to beat the USSR to space or to the moon anyway.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:59:21] Not at the time. Just get into space at all.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:23] At all, right. What do we need to do to get people in power to take things like space exploration this seriously once again?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [00:59:31] Well, the two easy ways. One of them is we go to war with China because they want to put military bases on Mars. “Oh, I guess we have to go to Mars,” and then we go to Mars because it’s a military project as was the entire founding of NASA. NASA is a civilian agency, but it was triggered by what was viewed as a military show of muscle. Sputnik was not as innocent as we want to think it was because even though it was a radio transmitter that just went bleep, bleep. It was a radio transmitter inserted into a hollowed-out Intercontinental ballistic missile shell. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:08] Oh, I didn’t know that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:00:10] That’s why I said it. It’s been cleansed over the years. There were laws about who can fly over whose airspace, but there were no rules about who could fly over whose space space, about the space over the air, over your country. Is there any rule about that? No. And there is Sputnik crossing our country in an intercontinental —

Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:28] In a missile.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:00:29] In a missile. They had contemplated doing the experiment with a warhead, a disarmed warhead, but they were concerned that that might be viewed as an act of war, whereas it just a simple radio transmitter would not be. So you can still show your mind without it being an act of war by having no weaponry in it. But it’s the thing that would house the weaponry that does it. Anyone who was alive October 4th, 1957 remembers that like it was yesterday. I don’t think in modern times people can fully capture how berserk we went here because these are sworn, godless enemies, the communists. And we were already kind of didn’t like them. There’s pre-Berlin Wall, but I mean, it was so significant that in the mid-1950s, we wanted to show that we were God-fearing and they were godless. So we added God —

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:19] To the Pledge of Allegiance.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:01:20] To the Pledge of Allegiance and to the money and to the back wall of the House of Representatives. “In God, we trust,” that phrase, and if you look at the Pledge of Allegiance, it doesn’t really make literary sense to read with God in it. Would you know the phrase?

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:35] “In God we trust.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:01:36] No, no, no, no.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:36] Oh, “One nation, under God, indivisible” — is that what?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:01:38] Right, exactly. Okay. So if you take out “Under God,” it reads, “One nation indivisible.” That makes sentence sense.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:45] Yes, yes.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:01:46] “One nation, indivisible.” You put “Under God, indivisible,” and it breaks that, but you’re reminded what that was before this was introduced. And so we’re doing this in every way to show that we are better than our system of government is better than our system of economics is better, that we are in the free world and they are enslaved to their own country’s rules. And if we’re better, but they then put up something that clearly takes technology — oh my gosh, we went ballistic.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:11] No pun intended.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:02:11] Definitely, pun intended. Ballistic — if you only know ballistics through guns, a ballistic projectile is something that moves only under the influence of gravity, and so a bullet after it has left the gun. Also, there’s some aerodynamics in there, but it doesn’t have its own propulsion. If a bullet had its own little rockets on it, it wouldn’t be ballistic.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:29] I did not know that. Yeah, that’s a good point. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:02:31] Yeah. In fact, I wrote an essay long ago called Going Ballistic, which was all about the arc of weaponry. But anyhow, so —

Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:37] Method one, go to war with China. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:02:38] Yeah, yeah, that would happen — oh no so another way to side joke about this, you go to the head of China and say, “Could you please leak a memo that says you want to put military bases on Mars?” Just leak one, it doesn’t have to be true. Just leak a memo. Then we’re on Mars in 10 months.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:52] Elon, get back to work buddy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:02:54] We’re on Mars in 10 months. So of course, I presume most, if not all, people don’t want this to happen as the consequence of a military engagement. I’m simply being frank and saying, that’s how we went to the moon. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:07] That’s how we light a fire under our butts to —

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:03:09] Correct. That’s how and why we went to the moon even though we’ve cleansed that memory as well.] You go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, there’s a bust of JFK, and there’s a whole granite wall behind him and chiseled into the granite is his famous line from his speech, “I pledge,” or whatever it is, “that we will put a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth.” You know, I can hear his voice as I read those words and it’s stirring what they left out. And there’s plenty of room on this granite wall to have included it. Of that same speech, he says the following, “If the events of recent weeks,” this is almost verbatim, I’m probably paraphrasing a little because the speech he gave six weeks after Yuri Gagarin had come out of orbit. We didn’t yet have a spacecraft that wouldn’t explode much less a spacecraft worthy of putting a human being in it. It would still be the next year before John Glenn would fly. After many failed experiments with our rockets. So in that same speech, a few paragraphs earlier, he says, “If the events of recent weeks,” he wouldn’t utter the man’s name, Yuri Gagarin, “If the events of recent weeks are any indication of the impact of this adventure of the minds of men everywhere, then we need to show the world the path of freedom over the path of tyranny.” It was a battle cry against communism. Once you say that, nothing else matters in the speech. We can cherry-pick it and put it on granite and say to ourselves that we were explorers and discoverers and we’re Americans. But that’s not the reality of how that stuff went down. And when you feel threatened, money flows like rivers. But I would say, and I wrote this in a whole other book, not this current one, that there’s another way to do it and one of the great drivers of investment is economics, the promise of economic return. So if you can construct our exploration of space as something that ultimately pumps the economy, then it would be trivial to justify doing so.

[01:04:50] And when I say pumping in the economy, I’m not talking about spinoffs or any of that traditional — they will be but that’s not what I’m talking about — I’m talking about a cultural shift, a firmware upgrade in our mind, body, and soul related to how we value exploration, innovation, and discovery. When you go into space in a big way, you have to invent stuff. Patents get awarded. Records are set, headlines are read, and it reaches us in all of our social fabric, especially in the K-through-12 pipeline. In the 1960s, you didn’t need special programs to get people interested in science or to attract teachers to become science teachers? We knew tomorrow was getting invented by science and technology in spite of all the other problems we had in the 60s — Civil Rights Movement, and the Cold War, Hot War, assassination, campus unrest — we were going to the moon and that’s shaped our visions.

[01:05:42] That’s how you get TV shows like the Jetsons. Even at that level, children’s cartoons, we’re thinking about what science and technology will bring for the future. And this is why I made the point in that video Science in America video when I grew up, nobody was standing in denial of whether something was scientifically true, not at high levels of power. Even if you were there, you were not empowered. That’s my only point. If you were hidden and you thought the earth was flat and that medicine would kill you, rather than make you better and everything else anti-scientific, you’re not in power of anything, so I didn’t really matter. Economically, we go into space. It could be transformative on our civilization, certainly on the American culture and possibly the entire civilization unless you have some other more potent way to do it, I’m all ears. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:25] Yeah, well, hopefully in the near future we’ll see a resurgence in this. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:06:28] You began by saying, “We sleep on our backs and we look up and wonder about the night sky.” Space exploration, I think there’s a little piece of that and everyone just because we’ve all gone out into the darkness of the night and looked up and wondered. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:44] I’m super happy that we got to do this. I’m super, super happy. There are educators like you, and I know I’m not alone in that, so thank you so much for coming.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [01:06:51] Okay, excellent. Thanks for having me. 

Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:54] Big thank you to Neil deGrasse Tyson. His books will be linked in the show notes. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you’ve learned here from Neil deGrasse Tyson. We also now have transcripts for each episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well.

[01:07:09] I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at Don’t kick the can down the road. The number one mistake I see people make is postponing this and not digging the well before they get thirsty. Build your network before you need it, even if it means starting from scratch. These drills are designed to take just a few minutes per day. This is the stuff I wish I knew decades ago. It is not fluff. It is crucial and it’s free. It’s at By the way, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter, so come join us and you’ll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social. I’m at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.

[01:07:57] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode is produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, shown notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. I’m a lawyer, but not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Although if you manage to get hurt with the content of today’s episode, you are talented in all the wrong ways. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting — you got a science buff in your life, send this one over. Hopefully, you find something interesting in every episode. Please do share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.

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