Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of StarTalk Radio, and author. He is kind enough to rejoin us and discuss his latest book, Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization.
What We Discuss with Neil deGrasse Tyson:
- The problems society faces when average citizens lose their ability to distinguish between facts and opinions — and how this can be remedied.
- What some of our dearest opinions look like under the scrutiny of scientific literacy — and why we should feel relief at being proven categorically wrong about some of them.
- As an educator, what Neil’s first urge is when he hears people spreading patently false “information” that can be easily dispelled by basic scientific awareness. (Surprisingly enough, it’s not to bop them on the head!)
- What the history of mathematics might hint about the average human brain‘s tendency to avoid thinking statistically and probabilistically.
- Things pondered: Are you a GMO? Eating how many pints of ice cream will kill you? For the benefit of all humanity, who would Neil send into space first? If technology common to us in the 2020s would be unrecognizable to someone from 1990, what will the world look like in 2050?
- And much more…
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No small number of folks seem to be under the impression that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a curmudgeon who gleefully relishes the opportunity to shame people when they dispense erroneous “facts” that can be easily disproven by comprehension of basic scientific principles. Rather, he insists, his first instinct as an educator is to educate, not humiliate those of us who offer opinions and hearsay over authentic, verifiable knowledge. As human beings, this is a tendency that seems to permeate our DNA, but it doesn’t mean we can’t strive to do better. Neil’s job is to remind us that learning to distinguish between facts and opinions gives humanity some amount of control over its future rather than being forced to rely solely on the meandering happenstance of evolution.
On this episode, Neil rejoins us to discuss these points and more as chronicled in his latest book, Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization. Here, we get into the relief we should feel when some of our most dearly held beliefs are scrutinized and dismantled by scientific literacy, what we can do as responsible citizens to increase our own scientific literacy and capacity for understanding the world around us as it is rather than as we might wish it to be, and how we can help others come to such an understanding as well. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Miss any of the conversations we’ve had with famed science guy Bill Nye? Start catching up with episode 366: Bill Nye | Radical Curiosity Saves the World!
Thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson | Amazon
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Cosmic Queries for the Acutely Curious | Jordan Harbinger
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Astrophysics for People in a Hurry | Jordan Harbinger
- Other Books by Neil deGrasse Tyson | Amazon
- StarTalk Radio
- Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey | Prime Video
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Hayden Planetarium
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Facebook
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Twitter
727: Neil deGrasse Tyson | Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You get another notch higher and view Earth from the moon. And then you see all of Earth in one frame as this isolated board, alone in the dark vastness of space with no hint, that help is going to come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. When you see Earth that way, that's a cosmic perspective. There's not enough of that in the world today.
[00:00:30] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional organized crime figure, former cult member, investigative journalist, or rocket scientist. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:00:59] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, scams, cults, crime, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:24] Neil deGrasse Tyson is back on the show today. This guy's always a hit. This episode is hopefully no exception. We'll explore scientific thinking, astronomy, and space. I've actually got a lot of questions on this that Google simply did not have answers to. And of course, how much Ben & Jerry's ice cream is actually enough to kill you? Now, here we go with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:01:47] The book, I read it, I enjoyed it. I enjoy all your books. This one, even more sort of up my alley because I won't say it crosses into politics because it really doesn't, but it gives you perspective on politics, namely, in that a lot of what we consider important is not actually important at all in the scheme of things.
[00:02:04] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thanks for noticing that about the book. The book will feel like it's just this rant of opinions, but in fact, it's what the world looks like if you're scientifically literate. And there's so many people who dig their heels in and are sure that their point of view is correct and unassailable, and they should win at all costs against somebody else's point of view. And I just say, pause, in fact, so many of these arguments are not even about, well, let's agree to disagree or let's compromise is that there's another place neither of you are standing, vista looking onto both of your arguments, which if you ascended to it, you'd realize you had no argument at all.
[00:02:43] I give a quick example, there's a chapter, Meatarians and Vegetarians. So let's say you're vegetarian and you're a vegetarian because you don't want to kill animals. So you might have a humane mouse trap in your basement because you don't want to snap the neck of any wandering mice. By the way, you have to check those every couple of days—
[00:03:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Or you starve it.
[00:03:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. Yeah. They'll dry out real fast. So you got to check it every — you can't go away on vacation with a humane mouse trap. So you capture one and then you take it and what do they do with it? They return it to the wild. I don't know if they know that the life expectancy of a mouse in the wild is anywhere between nine and 18 months because they make tasty snacks for all manner of woodland predators, you know, the owls and the crows and the foxes. If you live anywhere near any woods, all those are in the woods and the mice are tasty.
[00:03:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:37] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Whereas in the comfort and safety of your basement, they can live up to six years. So if you really cared about the fate of the mouse, you would just welcome it into your house and all its mice friends.
[00:03:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:50] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But you don't because you believe you have a sort of a moral high ground by protecting the life of the mouse by not killing it upon entering your residence. And by the way, one doesn't need a PhD in astrophysics to realize this, but it does help to have some of the wiring you get for free, if you will, by being scientifically trained. Because you look at a question, you look at a problem, you look at solutions people have proposed and ask, "Is this the best? Is it the most efficient? Are they missing a point of view? Is there bias in that point of view?" All of this matters, and you'd be surprised how many opinions we hold dearly that would just simply evaporate under that kind of scrutiny.
[00:04:30] Jordan Harbinger: It's a little scary because what it means is — or actually it shouldn't be scary. It should be a relief that we're always going to be wrong about a lot of things because that makes it okay.
[00:04:38] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. The relief is not only that you might be wrong, which you have to be prepared to accept, but that you might have more in agreement with the person you're arguing with than you ever imagined.
[00:04:47] Jordan Harbinger: You wrote something along the lines of, I'm paraphrasing here, "Truth and scientific conclusions exist whether you believe in it or not." Actually, you may have told me that in person a long time ago.
[00:04:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay. Yeah. So the bumper sticker version of that is, "Science is true whether or not you believe in it." All right. But the frontier of science is a contested place. So the non-bumper sticker version of it is, "Objective truths established by repeated scientific experiments are not later shown to be false and they are true, regardless of whether you believe them."
[00:05:19] Jordan Harbinger: You could fit that in a bumper sticker. You just couldn't read.
[00:05:21] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No, that's too much, too much.
[00:05:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Depends on your bumper.
[00:05:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:24] Jordan Harbinger: Would you agree that we have as a society, well, it seems like we've lost our ability to distinguish between facts and opinions? I don't know if that's — of course, it's not everyone, but it seems like society at large, we shook up the container a little bit too much with facts and opinions recently.
[00:05:38] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Let me give you a slightly different view of that same correct fact that I think we never really had the ability to distinguish the full methods and tools to distinguish truth from falsehoods. But today people have platforms to express their views where their views can be louder than ever before. So it creates quite a cacophony in the space of public discourse. So I would say, and this is almost a cop-out to give this as an excuse, that what we're missing is certain training in elementary school, in K through 12 more broadly, where you learn that science is not some situal effects.
[00:06:21] Science is a way of querying nature. Science is a way of thinking about what is and is not true. The scientific method, which gets eviscerated of its joy. When it's said, "Well, it's induction, deduction, experiment, conclusion." No, I'll tell you what the scientific method is. It's do whatever it takes to not fool yourself, to thinking something is true that is not, and do whatever it takes to not fool yourself to thinking something is not true that is. That's the scientific method. We do not have those abilities. We're not trained to do that.
[00:06:59] So when I see people saying things that would be patently false to anyone with scientific awareness, I don't, my urge especially as an educator is not to bop them on the head. That's not my urge. My urge is how can we prevent this in the future. Why is it that photos from space of a rotating Earth are not convincing to people who think Earth is flat? What's missing in their training? And there are people who don't know what the word skepticism means.
[00:07:30] If you're a skeptic, it doesn't mean you doubt everything. It means you understand the role that evidence plays in apportioning your confidence in whether something is true.
[00:07:40] Jordan Harbinger: That's important because I consider myself a skeptic. We have Skeptical Sunday episodes where we debunk things like GMOs are the lottery, for example. And people say, "I'm a skeptic too. Did you know? Yeah. The earth is flat or the moon landing was fake." And it's like, well, that's what Carl Sagan was talking about when he said be open-minded but not so open-minded that your brain falls out.
[00:07:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Plus, I'd also say debunk is a very harsh word.
[00:08:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And consider the following, it's just as intellectually lazy to deny that something is true as it is to completely accept it as truth without investigation. So if I say, "Oh, here's some crystals. I'll sell them to you and they'll heal your ailments." You say, "Oh, great, great. Here's the money." Okay, that's lazy. If I say, "Here's some crystals, it'll heal your ailments." You say, "Oh, that's impossible. That can never be true." That's also lazy. What takes effort and energy and a little bit of training is how to ask questions. Where are these crystals from? What is it about the crystals that give them these powers? What is the evidence to support it? Has that evidence been duplicated, but halfway through the person is in tears, walking away, typically, if they're otherwise charlatans in this exercise. I say this because I will stand here flatfooted and tell you the entire universe was once the size of a marble.
[00:09:01] And you can believe me because I'm an astrophysicist and I carry that "authority," but I would be joyed, overjoyed if you ask questions about that and it would be my task as an educator to see, do I have enough information to convince you as you proceed along your skeptical path? I don't want to say debunking. There's a lot of really weird things that are true today—
[00:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —discovered by science. So I just want to say discussing ideas that people who are absent, some level of scientific literacy could benefit from learning what the truth is.
[00:09:37] Jordan Harbinger: When I use the word debunk — and I appreciate the nuance here — the lottery is sort of not good for you. And I think we can say people who advertise for the lottery don't necessarily have your best interest in mind. Is that still a strong word at that point?
[00:09:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So there's a whole chapter in the book called Risk and Reward, and there's a point I make that I've never seen people make before, but it's very real. Do you know all these branches of math that you learned in school? They're sort of arithmetic and algebra and trigonometry and algebra two and then calculus, geometry. I left out geometry. All of those branches of math, predate probability and statistics.
[00:10:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:10:15] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Do you realize all of those branches of math were established before anyone even thought that it would be a good idea to take an average of numbers? What that tells me is, thinking statistically and probabilistically as we anathema to the native wiring of our brain. Otherwise, it would be easy. We would take to it like that.
[00:10:39] Jordan Harbinger: We would intuit it and it would be really, really old. It would be like, remember when we invented — it was on the stone tablet, them telling us how to do this.
[00:10:46] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Oh, they're taking averages, you know, fag took an average of how big the bison were—
[00:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:10:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —or whatever. Okay. But let's keep following this. So it must not be natural to think that way. Here's evidence of that. An advertiser could show you data that was the statistics of a thousand people and their comments on a product. And they had very good comments on the product. You say, "Hey, I'm going to buy that product," but that's not what they do. They show one person testifying with great emotion. "I was lost and I didn't know what I was doing. And then I found this product and it was amazing." You're going to buy the product because you heard one person say, that the product changed their life. Not because you saw data of thousands of people for whom that very same result, would've been true.
[00:11:34] Advertisers know this. They know to not show you bar charts, statistics, averages. They know this. And so not only that, we have people in society who exploit this very weakness of the human mental capacity. And these are casino owners.
[00:11:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah, yeah.
[00:11:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: They know there are people in there saying in the roulette wheel, "Seven is due. We haven't had a seven in a while. A seven is due."
[00:12:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: "No, seven is not due. You don't understand probably in statistics. Step away from the roulette." Okay. Take some courses in this so that you can learn. I retell a story. Was it 1987? The American Physical Society, professional organization of the nation's physicists because of a snafu of hotel reservations in one city versus another, they had to move. They couldn't hold their conference. I think it was in New Orleans. Something happened with the hotel. So Vegas said, "Come to us, we got the MGM Grand, or, you know, we got one of the biggest hotels in the world. We can accommodate all of you." So on short notice, thousands of physicists descended on Las Vegas in the MGM hotel, the MGM Marina hotel, it was at the time. At the end of the week, there's a headline, "Physicists in town, lowest casino take ever." Okay. It was rumored that the physicists were told to never return to the city. Okay. So you can think, well, maybe the physicist broke the code for how they could win. No—
[00:13:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. They figured it out.
[00:13:06] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —they just simply didn't play. And by the way, is probability a statistics given in elementary school or middle school or high school? No, not really. You can take it as an elective or as an AP class, but it's not in there with the algebra and the trigonometry. While you're learning trig identities, maybe you should also be learning some basic statistics. So getting back to — that's my long response to your comment about the lottery.
[00:13:32] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, I appreciate it.
[00:13:32] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I've only heard one. What I would call legitimate reason for playing the lottery — did I tell you what that was?
[00:13:38] Jordan Harbinger: I think I know where you're going, but I'm going to let you do it. You're making my job really easy.
[00:13:41] Neil deGrasse Tyson: How do you know where I'm going? How do you know where I'm going? Why do you think you know where I'm going? Okay.
[00:13:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, psychic powers, man.
[00:13:47] Neil deGrasse Tyson: This is the mother of a fellow astrophysicist told me this. You know those brochures? I don't know if they still print them certainly online, we see all these really fancy homes that you can't afford.
[00:13:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course. I love looking at those.
[00:14:00] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, of course.
[00:14:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:14:01] Neil deGrasse Tyson: We all love looking at those homes. There's America, there's a chance one day you'll be rich—
[00:14:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —and maybe living one of those or have more money than you do. She buys one lottery ticket a week and thinks to herself, "If I won the lottery this week, this is the home I would buy. And that brings her a certain psychological joy to even have those thoughts. No, she's not buying a thousand tickets and scratching out, you know, just one ticket. So that while she's reading it, there's a chance, she can move into one of those homes. And I said, "I am not going to take that away from you."
[00:14:39] Jordan Harbinger: I did know where you were going because it's in the book.
[00:14:40] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's in the book. Okay.
[00:14:41] Jordan Harbinger: That's the real answer to your question.
[00:14:42] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Does that mean you actually read the book?
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I did.
[00:14:44] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, no, I wasn't lying. I don't just lie about that.
[00:14:46] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:14:47] Jordan Harbinger: I'm going to make a hard left here because I save up science and space-related questions for you in a notes file on my phone because we talk like once every year or two, and then I pick the one.
[00:14:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Why is that a left turn instead of a right turn?
[00:14:57] Jordan Harbinger: Because a right turn seems more predictable. Whereas this one it's like, "Ah, this isn't even in your book, it's just random stuff."
[00:15:03] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay. But three rights make a left.
[00:15:04] Jordan Harbinger: I'm going to make three right turns in that case.
[00:15:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:15:09] Jordan Harbinger: It's about that time. So this is probably like the space equivalent of when you're a doctor and someone pulls up their shirt at the dinner table and says, "Does this look infected to you?" Why when scientists are naming nebulas, for example, do they name it both the Hand of God Nebula, the Cat's Eye Nebula, the Pacman Nebula, but then it's also called NGC 618? Why not just stick with the name?
[00:15:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That's a great question. Certain categories of objects in the sky were cataloged for being the same kind of object. And so they have a catalog number sometimes in the sequence they were discovered, other times in their sequence from east to west across the sky/ so that matches their sky longitude, if you will. So that's why you have certain phone numbers for each of these objects, that have pluses and minus signs in them. Those relate to whether it's above the equator or below the equator so that their coordinate becomes part of their catalog number. So they all have catalog numbers, galaxies, stars, but then if it looks like something, we're going to call it that.
[00:16:14] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:16:14] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And in my field, we call them as we see them. Everything you just listed there is an actual nebula in the sky. You have a Tarantula Nebula, a Lagoon Nebula, a North American Nebula, a Pacman Nebula, like as you had duly mentioned. These go on and on and on, and those are the colloquial reference to what they are. I think botany has something similar. We have colloquial names for certain plants.
[00:16:36] Jordan Harbinger: Like a Venus flytrap, and then it's got a Latin name.
[00:16:39] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, it might have some Latin thing, which is more precise. And when you're communicating across languages, that's where culture does not, should not influence the science that's when they do it. But in my field, our culture is all over the science. So we just kind of accept it.
[00:16:55] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. My guess was, well, if you're talking with your colleagues in Beijing, they're not going to remember the Hand of God or maybe that's offensive to your colleagues in Dubai. They don't want to use that term. So it's like, let's just stick with NGC 688. Everybody's cool with that.
[00:17:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: In Dubai, they have a god. We didn't say the hand of Jesus. We said Hand of God.
[00:17:13] Jordan Harbinger: But maybe they don't want to say they don't want to use that for anything, but, you know, I don't know, but God, maybe they're like, "Hey, we don't name things out in space.
[00:17:19] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Oh, gotcha, gotcha. Right, right. You don't want to represent—
[00:17:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:22] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —deity. Right, right. That's very Islamic and Jewish—
[00:17:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —actually. So, if you look at Jewish temples and Islamic and mosques, there's no representation of any biblical characters anywhere.
[00:17:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:32] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Which is the interpretation of the, was it the first, I think, first amendment or the first commandment? Which was, "Thou shalt not have graven images before you." So that has been interpreted by all Jews, all devout Jews, and all devout Muslims to not portray any deity and beyond that, just any biblical character by illustrating what you think they look like. Whereas Christianity said, "We're doing it." Okay.
[00:17:58] Jordan Harbinger: So here's a huge genre of art, all the faces. Yeah.
[00:18:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: An entire genre, we got Jesus, we got Mary, we got Joseph, we got the apostles. You got everybody coming and going in the Bible. So if you discover something, you get to name it so that's all.
[00:18:14] Jordan Harbinger: It's cool.
[00:18:15] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Two-thirds of the stars in the night sky that have names, have Arabic names. Because they weren't necessarily discovered in the Middle East or in the Gulf states, but they were identified and cataloged, and we respect that.
[00:18:27] Jordan Harbinger: During the golden age of Islam or what was that like 13 something?
[00:18:30] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. A thousand years ago.
[00:18:31] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:18:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So the golden age of Islam where tremendous advances in math and engineering and navigation and astronomy, medicine, all of this, that's where people figured out that the eye doesn't send a beam of light outward and that's why you see things. But think about that.
[00:18:49] Jordan Harbinger: I'd see in the dark if that were the case.
[00:18:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right, exactly. And that's how you get the legend of Medusa. If Medusa looks at you, you turn to stone.
[00:18:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:18:57] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That implies some came out of her eyeballs and went into your molecular chemistry and turned you into stone. To realize that sight is a 100 percent passive phenomenon, took some deep thought, some curiosity, and cutting open the occasional cow eyeball to figure it out.
[00:19:15] Jordan Harbinger: Hopefully only that.
[00:19:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right, right.
[00:19:20] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neil deGrasse Tyson. We'll be right back.
[00:19:25] This episode is sponsored in part by Thuma. Bed frames are so important. We had one that actually collapsed. I've had them collapsed while I'm on the bed. That's always fun. We moved a couple of times with one of ours that didn't survive the latest move. We had a premium mattress. We really went all out on that, but we skimped on the bed frame. I don't think you should do that. We upgraded to The Bed by Thuma. It's a sturdy, solid handcrafted bed frame. It's from eco-friendly, high-quality, upcycled wood. We got the walnut color, but now we also have the new espresso color and a new modern headboard as well. Thuma features modern minimalist design with Japanese joinery. You know what that is? It requires no screws. You can slide it together, kind of fancy like that. Jen did the whole thing by yourself. Took about five minutes. There was no cursing involved. This bed will last you for your life. Literally, it's also backed with a lifetime warranty. Along with The Bed, there's also The Nightstand, The Side Table, and The Tray. They're really straightforward with their branding as well. Minimalist, I would say. Plus we love that Thuma plants a tree for every bed and nightstand sold.
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[00:20:50] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by SimpliSafe. So Jen woke up and decided to make a tasty breakfast, eggs, toast, some sausage, well, the good all smoke detector goes off. Whoops. We have a SimpliSafe smoke detector, which results in a phone call from them, making sure there's no emergency. And I am so grateful for the service that SimpliSafe provides. We answered the phone right away. We assured them it was just Jen cooking. I'm sure they've heard that kind of thing before, but what's great is, and I asked, if they can't get ahold of the homeowners, they will call whoever you designated as backup contact. If not, they're going to dispatch police, fire, whoever is needed for whatever the emergency. Security for our home is very important to me, especially, of course, now that I have kids, not that I wasn't worried about you, too, Jen, I just want to know that our family is safe when we're home. And even when we are gone, that the house is also safe. I'm also out of town here and there. So having SimpliSafe makes me feel secure that Jen and the kids are protected with 24/7 professional monitoring and it's affordable too.
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[00:22:02] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, y'all I'm teaching you how to connect with amazing people and create a better network. It's been great for my business. I know people are thinking, "I don't need this. I'm a teacher. We don't network." That's all kind of nonsense. You just don't know when you will need relationships until it's too late to build them. So we're teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty and do so in a non-gross, non-schmoozy way. That's our Six-Minute Networking course and that course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, many of the guests on our show actually subscribe and contribute to this course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:22:35] Now back to Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:22:39] It's fun. Now that you mentioned the faces thing. When I was in Egypt, like 20 years ago, we were in the middle of nowhere because we took a boat up the Nile and when we had to go to the bathroom, they would just pull over and they'd say like, "Be quiet. There's roving bandits here and stuff and boars that will attack you." But we found some old tombs, I guess you would say, or staircases and things like that. And we would go in there and the guys were—
[00:23:00] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Wait, you pooped on the tomb?
[00:23:01] Jordan Harbinger: No, no, that's a little much, nearby, however.
[00:23:04] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You started the story by saying, "I got to go to the bathroom."
[00:23:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. But then you see—
[00:23:08] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Couple of old tombs.
[00:23:09] Jordan Harbinger: You see a staircase going down in the middle of nowhere. You're like, "Well, this is pretty interesting. I kind of want to check it out," and we would go in there and—
[00:23:15] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Oh wait, by the way — wait, wait, stop.
[00:23:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:19] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Who knows if this is genetic or not?
[00:23:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:21] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But if I'm in the middle of some place I've never been and there's a tomb and stairs going down in there, I'm not going. I'm a curious guy—
[00:23:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —but I got to draw my line. Okay. That is why every single horror movie never had black people in it. They're not going to say, "Oh, look at that spooky house." And then, "Let's go find out." It's like, no, let's go in the opposite direction.
[00:23:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point.
[00:23:47] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay. So you went into the spooky tomb, go.
[00:23:49] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't go very far down because my friend — first of all, they're very narrow. The people, I guess, were very small back then. So you're hunched over in a very uncomfortable way. Your head's touching what I assumed was moss on the top, my friend goes, "Wow, look at this stuff on the top. The moss growing on the top," and we noticed it was moving a little and then we realized it was all bats, which was disgusting. And that got us out of there. And the rest of the tomb was filled with water. Which is part of it, but we noticed that, and it was terrifying. And now that you mention it—
[00:24:15] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You had it coming.
[00:24:15] Jordan Harbinger: Had it coming.
[00:24:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I had no sympathy here.
[00:24:17] Jordan Harbinger: On the side, there's hieroglyphics and pictographs and the gods and the faces and things like that. And we noticed that the ones towards the top of the stairway were all scratched out. And the ones, towards where we were, were not which that our guide is a loose term, but the boat captain said, "Oh yeah. When I guess the Muslims then came into Egypt, they went and scratched out a lot of the faces." But when they find new tombs, one of the ways they can tell immediately before they look for a robbery or things like that, they can tell immediately if someone's been there and when, because the faces are all scratched out or not, which is, that was interesting.
[00:24:48] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Interesting.
[00:24:49] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, you marvel that simple, universal truths that are beautiful, and it's kind of hard for a layman to wrap their minds around this stuff. Sometimes at least for me to do it. So here is something that I've always wondered—
[00:24:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: This is the Truth and Beauty chapter. Yeah.
[00:25:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. There's a lot of things in there that sparked questions that I think are interesting, hopefully, interesting. If things in the universe are moving away and moving around and spinning or rotating, like the earth, et cetera, they had to give that energy from somewhere. So does that mean that all the energy for all the objects in the universe, all the things that move and spin and all that, did all that energy come from the Big Bang itself?
[00:25:22] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes.
[00:25:22] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:25:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes. All energy, all matter, even time itself birthed at the Big Bang.
[00:25:28] Jordan Harbinger: That's crazy given how big, I mean, we're small, but how big the universe is and that you just said it was the size of a marble and it contained all that energy.
[00:25:35] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. Yeah. And it's freaky. But what happens is you look at the properties of the universe and you see we're expanding today that meant we were smaller yesterday and you run the clock back — oh, by the way, we're also cooling off the temperature of the universe, which means yesterday, the universe was hotter than today. So if you run the clock back, the universe gets hotter. The universe is denser as you go back in time and you reach a point where, oh my gosh, the laws of physics will manifest differently under these conditions. Well, how big was the universe when that was happening? Well, it was this big, right?
[00:26:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:26:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The size of a basketball or the size of a blimp or this such, so you can calculate what the temperature and pressure of the universe was and deduce what was going on to the matter subjected to those pressures and temperatures. And how do we know that? Because we do it every day at the particle accelerator in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider, and other particle accelerators, simulate the temperatures and pressures you would get at the beginning of the universe. You see what the matter does. And so we didn't just make this up. It can be as uncomfortable as it is, but that doesn't mean it's not true. Just because it doesn't make sense to you because the universe has no obligation to make sense to you.
[00:26:49] Jordan Harbinger: It's so I guess awesome is the real word that I want to use, but it's an overused word and doesn't really suit the purpose almost anymore because you just think about how much energy that is and how small we are. And it's very humbling, but also it really does give you a little bit of perspective on how inconsequential certain things should be in our lives, I suppose.
[00:27:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And by the way, there is something called negative energy.
[00:27:11] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:27:11] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And so, there are places where if you add up the negative and positive energy, the total energy budget is just zero. And when you start out with zero energy, you can have negative and positive energy responsible for interestingly different things. Yet, you began with no energy at all.
[00:27:28] I'll give an example. If you have a meadow and it's flat, and then you sort of dig a hole and put the dirt over to the side, well, you can now climb up the top of that dirt. And you're in a higher place than you were before. That's kind of interesting.
[00:27:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:27:44] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Where you can go into the hole and you're at a lower place than you were before. But in fact, the total sort of energy change is zero. You just put energy that used to be in one place in another place and at the expense of the energy budget from where you took it. So in fact, Krauss, a physicist friend and colleague, he wrote a book called A Universe from Nothing where he gives a more detailed account of the energy balance and the energy budget for how that works. So if people want to explore that further, I recommend it.
[00:28:16] Jordan Harbinger: How's this one, then if space — and we'll link to that in the show notes — if space is expanding, what is it expanding into? And if the answer is nothing, well, I thought space was nothing, so how can nothing expand into nothingness?
[00:28:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. Space is anything but nothing.
[00:28:30] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:28:30] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I mean, imagine before you knew anything about air molecules. You would say air is nothing.
[00:28:35] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah.
[00:28:35] Neil deGrasse Tyson: If there's something there, I wouldn't be able to see you. So air is not anything. Then you find out no air is something. And then, well, how about space? Space is nothing. Then we learn that space is filled with sort of rarefied gas molecules. It's also filled with what we call virtual particles or prediction of quantum physics. And the energy level is not zero. So no, space is not nothing.
[00:28:58] Then what's outside of space? But we want to call it nothing, well then what's outside of space? Well, if space is nothing then where you don't have even nothing, then you might call that nothing, nothing or not even nothing, but you can take this a step further. If in that place, there's still laws of physics that apply, can you really say there's nothing there? If you brought something there that obeys laws of physics, that means the laws of physics permeate that space. So if you wanted a true nothing, you'd have to be in a place where there was not only not matter or energy, virtual or otherwise, you need a place where there was not even the laws of physics and that's a little freakier.
[00:29:37] What would it mean for you to step into that place? And all the forces holding the molecules of your body together would dissolve. And you'd end up a pile of goo on the ground or in space floating. So we don't know what's outside of our expansion, but we have some hint that the multiverse, we are possibly one universe of many being birthed by the multiverse. That outside of our universe is, well, there are different versions of it.
[00:30:04] Let me give the simplest, the simplest is we have one space time, one space time, and we're a bubble within that space time, and other universes are other bubbles. So you go outside of our horizon, you can go into somebody else's horizon if you could do that and be a part of somebody else's universe. That's the mild version of the multiverse.
[00:30:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:30:22] Neil deGrasse Tyson: There are other versions where the laws of physics change as you move from one universe to the other, that would be really dangerous if you tried to vacation that way.
[00:30:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Even a slight change in physics could be a little unhealthy for the delicate human body.
[00:30:37] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Completely catastrophic. Correct.
[00:30:39] Jordan Harbinger: All right. I'll bring it back to our galaxy for a minute. Lately, when we hear discussions of space exploration and the immense costs of something like the web telescope or any space mission, some common complaints that I'll see online, especially are, "Oh, we got to solve the problems we have here on earth before we go worrying about space." I assume you disagree, but I'd love to hear a well-thought-out retort to this aside from my own sort of knee-jerk reaction.
[00:31:03] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. So I addressed that in the Exploration and Discovery chapter, where what I do is I recreate a conversation that might have taken place in a cave. To go back 30,000 years, we're all cave dwellers. This is a contrived example, but I think—
[00:31:19] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:31:19] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —it makes the point. We're all in there. And there's some young whippersnappers who want to exit the cave. So they took a peek through the crack in the door if caves have doors. They took peek, and they see like mountains and valleys and trees with fruit on the vines. And they say, "Wow." And they go to their elders back in the cave and they say, "Elders, me and my friends, we want to go explore what's outside the cave." And the elders, they caucus, and they come back and say, "No, we have cave problems here first. Those problems you must solve before we go outside the cave." The sheer absurdity of this requires no, no explanation. So that's what you sound like to me when you say, "We have problems here on earth, we should solve those before we go to the universe." You know how tiny earth is—?
[00:32:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —compared with the universe. Do you know how much resources there are in the universe compared with earth? You say, "Let's solve earth problems first," and I'm thinking there can't be anything more boneheaded than that desire given what we already know about space, what we know about space, and what we know are the challenges that still face us and how space could solve them.
[00:32:31] Jordan Harbinger: What are some things that we've done or learned or solved in space that's used here on earth to benefit humankind? I think people honestly struggle to think of something that's been solved or invented or whatever in space. There's got to be plenty. I just don't know anything off the top of my head.
[00:32:47] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Often, because it's multi-layers removed.
[00:32:49] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:32:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So the fact that almost all electronics is currently miniaturized where it just fits on your hip. That original incentive was NASA, right? When our grandparents, perhaps you're great grandparents because I'm older than you, talked about listening to the radio. They weren't talking about bopping down the street, holding up a radio to their ear.
[00:33:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:33:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: They're talking about gathering around the piece of furniture, called radio in their living room to listen to the radio. At that time, is anyone saying, "Gee, I want to carry that on my hip"? Is that even a thought?
[00:33:22] Jordan Harbinger: You needed to tow it in the car, barely fit the car.
[00:33:24] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. Get the trailer.
[00:33:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:26] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Portable radio. So, well, why does it get miniaturized? Oh, because when NASA has to launch something in a payload section, there's a certain amount of weight that a certain amount of fuel can launch into orbit. And you want to put in as much as you can within the weight limit. If your weight can be trimmed in any way possible, do it because then you can take up more payload for the amount of thrust that the rocket is giving you. Point is the overall miniaturization of everything electronic has strong drivers from the urge to put things in space. The very James Webb Space Telescope had to be designed so that it furled into a rocket fairing. That telescope is way bigger than any rocket that could possibly launch it. So the engineer says, "Well, that's folded, furled it. So that when we deploy it out in space, it will unfurl and become the great telescope that we intended to be."
[00:34:19] That's one example, but another one, my physics professor in college, he loved the universe and he did research on detecting gas clouds in the universe and made some important discoveries there. He also discovered a new phenomenon called nuclear magnetic resonance, where you can put a radio wave across an atom and the magnetic field of the atom will interact with the radio waves or other waves of light, and create a signature on some detector where you know the mass of that atom.
[00:34:51] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:34:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: What's valuable here is beyond x-rays where you find the dense bones and materials, this actually can figure out what is the mass of the atom that is responsible for that signal. Okay. A clever medical engineer said, "Hey, I can build a cavity and make a medical device out of this." Thus was born the nuclear magnetic resonance imager. And nuclear is one of the two N words you're not supposed to use this century.
[00:35:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:35:19] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So that dropped the N and it's just MRI. The MRI exists based on a principle of physics, discovered by a physicist who had no interest in medicine. How many lives have it saved?
[00:35:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, my gosh.
[00:35:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Not only that — you're not wearing glasses. Did you have LASIK surgery?
[00:35:33] Jordan Harbinger: I did.
[00:35:34] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thank NASA. Did you thank NASA when you came back?
[00:35:36] Jordan Harbinger: You know, I didn't, I didn't even, probably thank the doctor who did it. Now, I think about it.
[00:35:40] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thank the doctor first.
[00:35:41] Jordan Harbinger: I was on Valium at the end of it.
[00:35:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So the algorithms used to line up the docking between the shuttle and the space station were co-opted for aligning the laser cutter to your cornea in laser surgery.
[00:35:58] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:35:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So what used to happen as I understood it, they'd line everything up and then your eye would move. Okay.
[00:36:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:05] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Then the incision goes to the wrong place. This moves the incision with the eye, empowered by what happened between the space shuttle and the Space Station.
[00:36:15] Jordan Harbinger: That's incredible.
[00:36:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So the affordability and reliability are — now, you could still have done that separately, but the motivation was clear and present.
[00:36:25] Jordan Harbinger: That is really something. I had LASIK in the '90s.
[00:36:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That was early. Oh yeah. No, that was early. Yeah.
[00:36:30] Jordan Harbinger: When did NASA invent this? I must have been rolling right off the back of that.
[00:36:33] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. That's a tough one. Yeah. Just right, if it's not wasn't right then, it would've been shortly after that.
[00:36:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Wow. Interesting. I had no idea. It was so early.
[00:36:41] A concept I thought was fascinating was the idea that knowledge grows exponentially and people don't understand this. I know that because I didn't and you explain it well in the book.
[00:36:50] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Exploration and Discovery chapter, yeah.
[00:36:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, tell me about this and why it matters. I love this concept and I think it brings a lot of hope given the state of ignorance that we find a lot of the world in these days. And you just think, oh my gosh, it took us — we're still here and this is all we have, but this is sort of a ray of light.
[00:37:04] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. So it's tempting to think to yourself. We live in special times. Look at the JWST, look at the sharp images from surfaces of comets and asteroids and other planets, and look how amazing these images are. All, that's true.
[00:37:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:37:18] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But you would've said the same thing about the Hubble Telescope. And I said the same thing about the 200-inch Palomar Telescope in California. These are telescopes that in their day were pioneering. And so, of course, you're going to celebrate it because they, what they provided was without precedent. So, of course, that would be the case. So I'm just trying to impress upon you, no matter where you rejoin civilization, if they're on an exponential curve, it'll look like you're in a special time and feel that way as well. So here we are reveling at these photos — but wait, 1958, Boeing introduced the first passenger jetliner, the Boeing 707. Do you know that the distance flown by the Wright brothers in 1903 was less than the wingspan of that 707 airplane?
[00:38:09] Jordan Harbinger: I did not know that. I figured they at least flew down a hill or something, maybe not.
[00:38:14] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So all of this is on an exponential growth curve. What that means is you can't predict the future. Stuff is going to come in from left field, from centerfield, from places where you don't see it coming and then bada bing, there it is.
[00:38:27] Jordan Harbinger: Bada bing laser on your eyes because the Space Station needed to dock—
[00:38:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, correct
[00:38:32] Jordan Harbinger: —the craft.
[00:38:32] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And there's no way, you know, the people who wrote that those algorithms liked Space Stations and like space shuttles and like space.
[00:38:40] Jordan Harbinger: And probably wore glasses and still didn't think about this.
[00:38:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right. So just keep that in mind when the times come.
[00:38:48] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, there's a little anecdote about a guy who predicted that nothing could ever beat the railroad and the steamship because this is the pinnacle of technological progress.
[00:38:57] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Of transportation, of transportation, year 1900—
[00:38:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:00] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —the head of the New York Central Railroad reflecting on life in the year 2000 says, "We can scarcely imagine that transportation in the 20th Century will be as rapid and advanced as they were in the 19th."
[00:39:13] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, he's right, if he's talking about Amtrak, but she got the ship part completely wrong.
[00:39:19] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Correct.
[00:39:20] Jordan Harbinger: The book contains a lot of scientific developments and inventions that have changed the world and you list them by decade kind of. And the message is that life in each era of 30 years would be unrecognizable to the one previous. In other words, the life we're living in the 2020s would be alien and unrecognizable to somebody living in 1990. And this stuff is really amazing when you think about it because it's not really that long of a time—
[00:39:41] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's not.
[00:39:42] Jordan Harbinger: —to have these massive changes and improvements.
[00:39:44] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And I found that 30-year increment for civilization, just to have, you know, for the sake of definiteness. I said, what might be the doubling time of civilization? And I just hypothesized 30 years, just to be long enough so that, you know, you have kids if you're going to have kids or not. But that we'd be able to highlight things that would be undreamt of at the beginning of the 30-year period, and then are taken for granted at the end.
[00:40:08] Jordan Harbinger: You are a Star Trek fan. You talk about that in a lot of your books. And I love how you admit nobody can predict the future, including futurists. The Star Trek anecdote is really funny. You said, "Yes, we're going to have interdimensional transport, photon torpedoes, but there is no way a door will open for you automatically when you walk near it.
[00:40:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I had exactly those thoughts. I was like I'm with it — photon torpedoes, check; a replicator, check; that an early version of a microwave oven with a food heated immediately, check; all of that.
[00:40:36] Jordan Harbinger: And then grocery stores got that door like 10 years later.
[00:40:39] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right. Right. Then I walk up to — they walk up to a door and the door just opens all by itself. I said, no, that'll never happen. How does it know that the doors should open? And a little later, there were these door pads you'd step on outside of grocery stores.
[00:40:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:40:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That connected a circuit. I remember thinking about that. And now, of course, it uses infrared or radio frequency.
[00:40:57] Jordan Harbinger: I had endless fun with those as a kid. And then when the pad went away, I remember standing there thinking, how does this one work? I'm standing on the concrete right now.
[00:41:05] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right, right.
[00:41:06] Jordan Harbinger: And my mom's like, "Come on in." I'm like, "No, no, no. I got to figure this out.
[00:41:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Curious guy, he's going to have a podcast one day.
[00:41:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Another space question or two, because I can't resist. At some point, the sun will go red giant and expand to, I think, 10 million times the size it is now give or take engulfing Earth's orbit or at least part of it, right? Am I right on this part so far?
[00:41:26] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I've forgotten the exact number, but the fact it'll grow large enough to engulf Mercury, engulf Venus become most of the way towards Earth. That's the death of the sun. Fortunately, that's long into the future, fortunately.
[00:41:38] Jordan Harbinger: So this will melt the rock and everything else on earth. When that happens, I assume, right?
[00:41:45] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes.
[00:41:46] Jordan Harbinger: To say the least. So what happens to the water? It won't leave the planet, but it will be boiled into super hot steam.
[00:41:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. So the water boils into the atmosphere, evaporates into the atmosphere and the atmosphere evaporates into space. Yeah.
[00:41:58] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:41:58] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You lose all the water.
[00:41:59] Jordan Harbinger: Because I just thought maybe it all is one sort of blob or there's some nuclear reaction that happens that will change the elements of the materials on earth. But it sounds like there's just no more earth at all at that point.
[00:42:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: At that point, no, that's correct. We would just be this charred ember orbiting deep within the surface of the red giant star, never to see the light of day again.
[00:42:19] Jordan Harbinger: Oh. So only the heaviest elements kind of remain as a chunk and everything else is just gone into the solar system somewhere.
[00:42:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. The heavier ones will sink to the bottom and they get to those last. Right.
[00:42:28] Jordan Harbinger: And I won't be here for that. So, that's the end of me thinking about it.
[00:42:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I got it on my calendar.
[00:42:35] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neil deGrasse Tyson. We'll be right.
[00:42:40] This episode is sponsored in part by Bodyguardz. Your phone case says a lot about you. Is yours old? Is it dirty? Is it damaged? Maybe you like to live on the edge and not use a case at all? What the hell is wrong with you? Or maybe you're like Jen and it's a personal filing system. She's got that wallet phone case with way too much stuff in it. Bodyguardz has a variety of cases for anyone, whether you like something clean and basic or a little more robust and functional. Bodyguardz cases and screens are designed with every nuance of the phone in mind. So they're tailor-made to fit perfectly. If your dingy old case is putting off the wrong vibe, you should check out cases from Bodyguardz. Tons of new colors, styles, MagSafe compatible cases to choose from including a new case that is so crystal clear, it looks like ice. Cases are engineered to protect your phone from 10 feet or even up to a 14-foot drop and no one's that tall. And when you buy from Bodyguardz, a portion of your purchase supports their charity foundation called Relief Haven, which gives back to the local community as well as abroad to help children in Africa escape child labor, and gain education and self-reliance, which I think is pretty worthwhile.
[00:43:39] Jen Harbinger: Go to bodyguardz.com/jordan to protect your phone today. That's Bodyguardz — with a Z at the end— .com/jordan to start protecting your valuable phone today.
[00:43:49] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is sponsored in part by Into the Impossible podcast. This is my buddy professor Brian Keating who's a brainiac, even if he does say so himself and his podcast, he explores some of the most interesting ideas in the universe from consciousness to aliens in the galaxy to the Big Bang to God versus science. And he covers it all in the Into the Impossible podcast. He's hosted 12 Nobel prize winners, four billionaires, five astronauts, including one while she was actually live aboard the International Space Station, traveling 1700 miles per hour. I assume there was some lag on the old Skype. You'll binge on the Into the Impossible podcast as you ponder the biggest picture ideas, topics you probably haven't thought about since your last late-night bowl sessions back in your college dorm room if you know what I'm saying. The Into the Impossible podcast was recently ranked in the top 10 of both Apple and Spotify in the science category in 2022. So he is right there along with us. Brian's got a special offer for listeners of The Jordan Harbinger Show, he's going to send a free chunk of a four-billion-year-old space dust, aka, a real media right sample to the first hundred listeners in the USA who sign up for his twice-monthly Magic Monday newsletter at briankeating.com/jordan. That's briankeating.com/jordan. And don't forget to subscribe to the Into the Impossible podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Free media right, you don't hear that every.
[00:45:05] Thank you so much for listening to and supporting the show. I hope you're learning a lot. I always love guests, especially like this. Your support of our advertisers, this is what keeps the show going. I know you all think, "Oh, somebody else will do it." Actually, I really need you to look at the deals page when you're thinking about supporting the show, or if you just want to grab something, you never know if we have a sponsor that might serve your needs. Visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can get great discounts there from all of our sponsors. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box on the website as well. So please consider supporting those who support this show.
[00:45:38] Now for the rest of my conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:45:43] You mentioned there are freshwater comments in minerals and on asteroids and other celestial bodies that are greater than the amount of these minerals ever mined in the history of our planet, of the world. Since we just discussed that nobody can predict the future, you realize, now I'm going to have to ask you to predict the future. How far away are we from being able to access those resources? Is it decades or is it centuries?
[00:46:05] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Wait, which resources?
[00:46:06] Jordan Harbinger: The minerals on asteroids and freshwater comets and things like that.
[00:46:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay. Okay. Got it. You're talking about asteroid miners.
[00:46:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:13] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So I would say 15 years.
[00:46:15] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:46:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, we already have missions that have been to them. Now, we want to characterize the surface and understand where it's most friendly or where it's least friendly and then check with the loved ones and then go.
[00:46:27] Jordan Harbinger: Well, how would we get it back? Just blast it into the Earth's orbit, so it lands in the ocean. It's just a solid thing, a gold or what? I mean, how do we plan to do that?
[00:46:35] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Most of how you would use it is if it's water, you would melt it and then distribute it to other space operations.
[00:46:42] Jordan Harbinger: I see.
[00:46:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Right now, it costs NASA about $10,000 a pound to launch anything into orbit. So if you can drop that price, that's good. Elon Musk is attempting to drop the launch costs of vessels. If you do that, then you go to these asteroids and you have the minerals, you have the water, and you sell it to NASA who was on orbit. If it costs $10,000 for NASA to launch one pound of payload, let's say one pound of water, that's 16 ounces, and you just melted 16 ounces of water off of a comet and you can hand it to the astronauts. That's one pound NASA didn't have to launch. They can make their spacecraft smaller with a more efficient design. That's how that would unfold. By the way, what would you sell it for? You sell it for $9,000.
[00:47:29] Jordan Harbinger: So we're not talking about bringing gold or some sort of rare earth mineral from an asteroid back to earth from manufacturing. You're talking about leaving it in space.
[00:47:36] Neil deGrasse Tyson: In principle, you could, but the first law of economics, or is it the second, you bring all that gold back then gold becomes worthless.
[00:47:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So you could do it a few times and then that's it. Or you get one comet and you just break off little chunks provided you don't destroy the earth bringing it back to the surface, which sounds more likely to happen. Like what caused this tsunami? Definitely, it wasn't me bringing this giant gold comet back in the atmosphere. Don't look at me.
[00:47:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Exactly.
[00:48:00] Jordan Harbinger: I know space exploration is obviously near and dear to your heart as it is for a lot of people. What was your reaction when—? Was it the Russian foreign minister or whoever it was, was it saying things like, "Oh, we're going to leave Americans in the ISS, in the International Space Station. We're not going to let American astronauts on a Russian rocket to come back home. We're just going to leave them up there." For me, that was profoundly disappointing because it was like this line had been crossed that didn't need to be crossed at all.
[00:48:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's just politicians being babies again. I mean—
[00:48:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —think about it. When you go to school elementary school, there's a globe on the back shelf and it's a globe of the earth and there might be more than one globe, but if there's only one globe, it's going to be the globe that has color-coded countries. Why are we doing that? It's just a land mass. Oh, they're telling you implicitly who your friends are and who your enemies are, geopolitically. Look over the, across that border, their enemies, and they're fighting and there's a war over here and it's always across some boundary, some border. And I grew up in the cold war. Russians are the enemies. Okay.
[00:48:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Cold war ends and now they're friends. Hey, let's do science together. Okay. So now Putin behaves badly. We react worse than badly. We react. It's a geopolitical incident and we have Russians and Americans in space looking down on an earth where they do not see color-coded countries. What do you do? So if I'm there and there's a Russian there, do we get into a fistfight because our leaders are getting into fistfight? Really? We're scientists, engineers, we're spacefarers. So I think I know what I would've done, but I don't know how to do this experiment. I would've said to my fellow spacefarer from another country, "We're in space and we're above it all. Let's continue our experiments and be an example to people on Earth for how they should behave." Maybe that's a little too wishful thinking for me. I don't know. Am I too kumbaya? Let's hold hands.
[00:49:58] Jordan Harbinger: No, I don't think so.
[00:49:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You know—
[00:49:59] Jordan Harbinger: I don't think so, because if anything goes wrong up there, he's going to be like, "Yeah, forget all that stuff, the foreign minister said, I really need you to pull me out of this—"
[00:50:05] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Exactly
[00:50:06] Jordan Harbinger: —life in this situation right now.
[00:50:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The foreign minister, the ambassador, whoever and whatever it is. So for me, the first bus into orbit would get the heads of state of all warring nations, especially those that are warring across a border. You wouldn't need Canada and the United States because that's a peaceful border, but there are plenty of contested borders around North and South Korea, for example. You want to send others too so that they can have this experience together.
[00:50:33] The astronauts have called this an overview effect. For me, the overview effect is like in low Earth orbit, but as an astrophysicist, you get another notch higher and view Earth from the moon. And then you see all of Earth in one frame as this isolated orb alone in the dark vastness of space with no hint, that help is going to come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. When you see Earth that way, that's a cosmic perspective. And there's not enough of that in the world today.
[00:51:05] And one of the chapters called Earth and Moon, the subtitle is the Cosmic Perspective. So take all the heads of state, the ambassadors and all the people who are sure they have the one true way to make love to other people, the one true way to worship a God, the one true way to run a country. Get all the people who are certain they have the one true way and everybody else is wrong, put them all up in space. Leave them there for months and then bring them down. That could be transformative. It could be the greatest piece act ever performed. NASA would get the Nobel Peace Prize for sending them up.
[00:51:38] Jordan Harbinger: I'm wondering how long it is till you get your field trip to space in high school, just to give you that same perspective.
[00:51:44] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, that would be interesting. Oh, by the way, let me just set the record straight. I'm an astrophysicist. So to me, space is moon, Mars beyond a destination.
[00:51:53] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Sure.
[00:51:53] Neil deGrasse Tyson: What the billionaire boys club was doing Bezos and Branson and Elon Musk, Elon Musk went a little higher, but Bezos and Branson went the thickness of two dimes above a school room globe.
[00:52:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:06] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And so, no, you can't just take a picture of all of earth in your field of view. You're not far enough away for that to happen, and them saying, "Oh, the country borders disappear." That happens on a transcontinental airplane. You don't see national borders from an airplane. So if you're going to put me in space, I don't wanna boldly go where hundreds have gone before. You know, send me to a destination and I'll sign up. I'll bring the family. Give me a good—
[00:52:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, bring the family.
[00:52:33] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —streaming account.
[00:52:34] Jordan Harbinger: Make sure Netflix has got some downloaded stuff in case—
[00:52:36] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Exactly, in case the connection breaks.
[00:52:38] Jordan Harbinger: Save your Spotify playlists.
[00:52:40] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, exactly.
[00:52:41] Jordan Harbinger: I'm not sure why this one resonated so well with me, but you talk about, I think it's called LD50 and the amounts of substances that it takes to kill people. And I'd love to dive into some of this because the example you gave, one of the examples is Ben & Jerry's banning GMO corn syrup because of — is it gly-phosphate or something like that?
[00:52:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Glyphosate.
[00:53:00] Jordan Harbinger: I just think it's funny somehow that there's amount of just about everything that if you eat it, it will kill including foods we love, or maybe even especially foods we love.
[00:53:08] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah.
[00:53:08] Jordan Harbinger: And you know, it's no surprise, okay, nicotine, caffeine, salt — fine, that seems obvious that there's an amount of those that would kill you. But it's funny that things we often think is normal food can actually be totally lethal if ingested all at the same time. So naturally, the question arises, how many pints of Ben & Jerry's do you need to eat before you die on the spot—?
[00:53:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:53:28] Jordan Harbinger: —from doing so.
[00:53:29] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So what started all this was, you know, before monkeypox, and before COVID, there's always something everybody's worrying about. And so there was a spell there a few years where GMO foods were in headlines, genetically modified organisms. And there's a general hate movement against GMO foods. Mostly led by people who want to sell you organic foods. So in whole foods where organic foods is a very big part of their food, education that they're giving you. There's all these foods that say no GMOs on it. So that—
[00:54:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:54:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —you juxtapose no GMOs with organic. And you're saying, "Oh, I'm buying organic or I'm buying no GMOs. That way I'm healthier." This show is not long enough to go into the fascinating history of genetically modified organisms. By the way, dogs were the first GMOs. We invented dogs. We were unhappy with the genome of the wolf. And we said, "We want you to lick our face instead of rip our neck out. Let's change the genes," and we did it by selective breeding, but then we got to do better at it, you do it in a laboratory, right? For me, there's no difference. You can say there's a difference.
[00:54:44] Heirloom tomatoes, by the way, if you go back in time before we created the genetic line that gives us modern tomatoes, there's no big juicy tomatoes. We invented cows for goodness sake. There's no herds of milk cows wandering the countryside or other herds of Wagyu beef steers, right? We invented cows to turn grass into milk and grass into steak. Cows are genetically modified organisms, period. If you want to say, "Well, I don't want it to happen in the lab." Okay, if the farmer does it but not in the lab, well, the result is the same in the sense that you're creating something that, that does not exist in nature. And yeah, you want to test it because like, might it harm you. Plenty of stuff in nature will harm you. Okay?
[00:55:35] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:55:35] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Stuff we create, you want to test that too. So of course, they test it, of course. Here's the point, Monsanto, back when they were an independent company, they're now owned by Bayer, I think. Monsanto did something diabolically brilliant. The farmers are trying to get rid of weeds in their corn crops. Weeds are devastating to crops because they're taken all the nutrients, all the water, all the sunlight.
[00:55:59] All right. So, what did they used to do? Everybody used to do, they'd get this herbicide and they'd sort of spray it where the weeds were very labor intensive because otherwise, it's going to kill your corn. An herbicide kills plants and this is nasty stuff they were using. Okay?
[00:56:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:56:15] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Monsanto says, "We have an idea. We just created an herbicide that will only kill the weeds and not kill the corn." Oh wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. It can't just be any corn. It's corn that they developed.
[00:56:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:56:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So they found the place on the DNA of the weed targeted that and that place on the DNA of the corn because they're both photosynthesizing plants. They remove that from the corn plant. So now you can spray it over the entire crop and it'll only kill the weeds. And the lethality of the glyphosate is way less than the lethality of anything they were using before. And it's water soluble. So farmers loved it. Okay. Loved it.
[00:57:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But there'd be traces of glyphosate in the food that you grew or in the soil, from which you grow the next plant. And corn, you used to make corn syrup, a sweetener for so many foods. Ben & Jerry's for some of their ice creams used corn syrup. By the way, I was surprised by that too. Okay.
[00:57:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:57:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Ben & Jerry's, first they used corn syrup. What? Really? It's Ben & Jerry's—
[00:57:32] Jordan Harbinger: Surprise.
[00:57:33] Neil deGrasse Tyson: —Vermont, really? Okay, so I had to get past that first. Then the corn syrup they used was corn from corn that had been grown with glyphosate as the herbicide. Oh, by the way, so the point, what made it diabolically brilliant is if you want to use their herbicide, you have to buy their corn.
[00:57:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:57:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Point is glyphosate has what's called an LD50, like does as does anything else, LD50 is called lethal dose 50, where if you ingest this amount and this lethal dose is typically established in test on laboratory mice, which are highly genetically similar to humans if you consume this much of that substance per kilogram of body weight, 50 percent of you will die of the people who do this. So it's called LD50 and everything has an LD50. The smaller the LD50, the more lethal it is, because it means you take less of it to kill you. So poisons have LD50s that are really tiny, but other things that are more normal also have LD50s.
[00:58:32] Nicotine is one of the most deadly substances out there. There is a very low LD50. Caffeine has an LD50. What is that LD50? Okay. If you consumed — I did the math — was it 80 demitasse cups of espresso, half the people who do that will die. Okay. I have to double-check. The number's correct in the book. I'm just trying to remember the number.
[00:58:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's something like that. That's a lot. That's a lot.
[00:58:57] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. You don't want to drink 80, but if you did half the people who do that would die. You don't have people banning coffee, because if you drink less than that, you're not going to die, your body will just simply process it. Salt has an LD50. You know the "Salt of the Earth"? I knew salt was bad for your blood pressure before I learned that salt used to be a strategic commodity necessary for life. So if someone said "Salt of the Earth," I'd say, "Why are you insulting me?" Oh, they're complimenting you.
[00:59:22] Well, sucrose has an LD50. The regular sugar you would get from sugar cane, all right, and beets, and many of those foods where we get cane sugar from. So where's glyphosate on this list? It's between like caffeine and salt, but closer to caffeine. I think that's right. Again, I'm trying to remember six numbers on a table. Point is how much glyphosate was in the cup, in the pint. How much was it? It was in parts per billion. So this became a public relations nightmare.
[00:59:53] Ben & Jerry's firstly using corn syrup, which like I said to me, that was a little odd. Then there's glyphosate in it in parts per billion. And they say, "Glyphosate is GMO blah, blah," because everybody's anti-GMO. Everyone who's buying that ice cream is anti-GMO because it's back to nature and all this stuff and all the whole food buying folks.
[01:00:12] And so there's a whole outcry. And so they said, "We will no longer use GMO corn syrup or GMO products at all." Okay, fine. Maybe they did the right business decision, but they lost a really important occasion to teach people. Ask the question. How many pints of Ben & Jerry's would you have to consume to reach the LD50 point for glyphosate?
[01:00:38] Jordan Harbinger: It's got to be like a stomach-exploding amount.
[01:00:40] Neil deGrasse Tyson: In the list, I mean, anything could be on this list, but I handpicked six things for this list. I have nicotine, caffeine, table salt, glyphosate, ethanol which is this common alcohol, and sucrose table sugar. And so the number for demitasse cups of espresso, you'd have to drink 150 demitasse cups of espresso. That's the correct number for half the people who do that to die from it. So what else? Oh, the least deadly thing on the list is sugar as you might expect with people eating sugar all the time. So the sugar itself is not killing you, even if it has complications that do.
[01:01:14] So glyphosate is more deadly than sucrose. Yes. In fact, it's six times more lethal than sucrose. However, the glyphosate was in your pint of ice cream to the part of one in a billion, not so much the sugar. So you need to consume 400 million pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for its trace amounts of glyphosate to kill you. But 20 pints, eat 20 pints, the sucrose will kill you first. So the sugar content is lethal at a dose far lower of pints of ice cream than the glyphosate given the microdoses found in it. But people aren't thinking about it that way. They've created an enemy, the GMO is like the enemy without really thinking through the relative risks.
[01:02:07] And so this book is an attempt to rebalance how people think about their lives, what they think is true, what isn't, but especially one truth relative to another truth and what emerges from a dispassion analysis of both.
[01:02:23] Jordan Harbinger: All right. So I know I got to let you go, but I'm going to leave you with one final question here. If cows are GMOs because of selective breeding over time, my grandparents and great grandparents and parents also selected each other in theory because of certain traits, does that mean that I am also a GMO?
[01:02:40] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. So you're only at GMO, really, if you can create like a whole sort of subspecies of it. So in a way nature's making GMOs all the time. All right. Nature's genetically modified organisms, those that could survive some assault on their environment relative to all the others who die. A little-known sort of correction I want to put out there, in evolution, nothing adapts. Organisms do not adapt to the change in an environment. They either survive it or it kills them. And if they survive it, it's because they had some unplanned variation in them that enables them to move through that portal, that environmental assault portal to then have offspring that have some of their own properties. And that's how nature moves through.
[01:03:28] By the way, Mother Nature, caring Mother Nature is responsible for the extinction of 99 percent of all species there ever was. So you're being very selective when you say, "Oh, nature cares about life." No, she doesn't. Care about life, in general, but as species, don't give a rat's ass. Compete with the other species and if you die, I don't care. And if most of you die and only one of you gets through, I designed it that way. So nature is one of the most lethal things operating on earth. This is another one of these, just things you should know if you're otherwise running around making claims that actual data and perspective do not support.
[01:04:08] Jordan Harbinger: Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you so much. It's always fun having you on. I always learn a ton and I look forward to the next one.
[01:04:14] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, thanks for your continued interest. Yeah. I mean, you got smart questions and that's always better.
[01:04:18] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you very much. Yeah. Have a good rest. I know you got a lot of these, so break a leg and whatnot.
[01:04:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But you're early, so I'm still fresh.
[01:04:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah, you do it. Yeah, you seem fresh. Yeah.
[01:04:27] Neil deGrasse Tyson: All right.
[01:04:27] Jordan Harbinger: Great.
[01:04:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: You got it.
[01:04:28] Jordan Harbinger: Take care.
[01:04:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thanks.
[01:04:28] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you. Bye, bye.
[01:04:30] You all know I got thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's a preview of my conversation with Bill Nye about why anti-vaccination activists aren't only endangering themselves and their crusade against the establishment, why climate change is real and a real threat, and what Bill thinks is even more important for the future of humanity than Elon Musks drive to colonize Mars. Here's a quick listen.
[01:04:56] Bill Nye: It is fascinating the energy people have, the haters have to hate, but meanwhile, the climate is changing even if you hate me.
[01:05:05] Jordan Harbinger: So you mean my anger towards the things that you say is not positively affecting the climate?
[01:05:09] Bill Nye: No.
[01:05:09] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[01:05:10] Bill Nye: It's weird.
[01:05:11] Jordan Harbinger: I got to change strategies, man.
[01:05:13] Bill Nye: The reason I want you to get vaccinated is really not that I care about you. It's me, me, me, me. Because when you are unvaccinated, you are an incubator for mutating viruses, mutating bacteria. We can't fight with the conventional antibiotics. You're denying the discoveries made by diligent scientists over the last three centuries. You're objectively wrong about it.
[01:05:40] Hey, if you're a flat earther, if you're out there, go to the edge and take a picture and send it to us.
[01:05:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:05:47] Bill Nye: Go out there to the edge. "Woo. They won't let you see the edge." Who's they? If you think you'll find that you're living on a big ball and you can travel any direction and never leave. "Whoa, dude, that's impossible. How could you be something that you could go anywhere and never get off?" Because it's a ball.
[01:06:08] My claim is if you're always curious, the world's always exciting. And every day you will learn something and big idea behind that is everybody knows something you don't. Radical curiosity, I just want to get people excited about this process. I mean, we are living at a time. It is very reasonable that we will discover life on another world. Is there something alive on Mars? Is it like us or is it a whole nother thing?
[01:06:37] Jordan Harbinger: To hear more about why Bill Nye devotes his life to education but has no children of his own, how to deal with cognitive dissonance, the two things that always happen when we go exploring, check out episode 366 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:06:52] Thanks again to Neil deGrasse Tyson for joining us here on the show. Yet again, always a blast. Links to all things Neil deGrasse Tyson will be on our website in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. All of our guests' books are at jordanharbinger.com/books. Do what smart, considerate, and supportive listeners do, which is take a moment right now. Go to that books page at jordanharbinger.com/books, and pick up a copy of the book from today's episode. We all know our memories are a little bit like goldfish. Give yourself the gift of knowledge, jordanharbinger.com/books. Or hey, you're not into reading, you already got the book, I get it.
[01:07:23] Advertisers, deals, and discount codes for other sponsors of the show are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I've said it once, but I'll say it again, please consider supporting those who support this show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or connect with me right there on LinkedIn.
[01:07:41] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every day. It takes a few minutes a day. Teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty over in our Six-Minute Networking course, that course is free, jordanharbinger.com/course. And hey, many of the guests on the show subscribe to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:08:03] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends and you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's really into science, astronomy, or loves Neil deGrasse Tyson, there's no shortage of those folks, share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. 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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