Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of StarTalk Radio, and author. He rejoins us to discuss his latest book, Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going.
What We Discuss with Neil deGrasse Tyson:
- How Neil learned to explain scientific complexities in layman’s terms.
- Why you should always take advantage of an opportunity to engage with an expert.
- How opportunity comes from embracing the unknown rather than shying away from it.
- Why, when it comes to learning something new, understanding is far more important than memorizing facts.
- How Neil has mastered the art of ending any Q&A with the perfect answer — no matter the question.
- And much more…
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Overly cautious cat parents have been slandering curiosity as some kind of death trap for generations, but today’s guest would argue that only by actively exercising it can we truly understand and enjoy the world to its fullest. Astrophysicist and StarTalk Radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson knows the value of asking good questions — and having good answers, as illustrated in his latest book, Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going.
On this episode, we discuss the opportunities afforded by embracing — rather than shrinking from — the unknown, why we should always take advantage of the opportunity to engage with an expert in anything we don’t already know, how Neil’s ability to explain scientific complexities in layman’s terms isn’t as effortless as he makes it look, and how we might hone this skill for ourselves. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going by Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil | Amazon
- 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
- Neil deGrasse Tyson | Astrophysics for People in a Hurry | Jordan Harbinger
- Categories of Waves | The Physics Classroom
- Why Is Pluto No Longer a Planet? | Library of Congress
- Miley Stewart | Hannah Montana Wiki
- Neil Tyson Demonstrates Absurdity of “Flat Earth” | StarTalk
- Vaccines – Let’s Make America Smart Again | StarTalk
- “Dear Science Deniers (Anti-Vaxers, Anti-Maskers, Climate Hoaxers, Flat-Earthers, Etc.)…” | Neil deGrasse Tyson, Twitter
- “On Astrology…” | Neil deGrasse Tyson, Twitter
- Origin Of Batman’s Utility Belt! | Variant Comics
- How Do Crickets, Grasshoppers, and Cicadas Sing? | ThoughtCo.
- Woodrow Wilson Was Extremely Racist — Even by the Standards of His Time | Vox
- The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement | The New Yorker
- What Science Is, and How and Why It Works | Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Galileo Galilei | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Was Giordano Bruno Burned at the Stake for Believing in Exoplanets? | Scientific American Blog Network
- Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe? | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Neil deGrasse Tyson Reveals Location of Superman’s Home Planet | The Guardian
- How An Accelerator Works | CERN
Neil deGrasse Tyson | Cosmic Queries for the Acutely Curious (Episode 521)
Jordan Harbinger: Microsoft Teams is helping Priority Bicycles transform the way they work. After closing their New York City showroom, they started doing virtual visits on Teams. Now, people from all over the world can come into their showroom. Learn more at microsoft.com/teams.
[00:00:15] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:18] Neil deGrasse Tyson: First when full-grown adults say earth is flat and they don't want to have a vaccine and they don't trust science. I might tell them you're probably alive today because of discoveries of science. Take a walk, stroll through any cemetery that goes back at least a hundred years. And just look at how old people were when they died. What's particularly tragic is you don't have to walk far to find this. You find a double grave where there is — and you do the math on the birth and death. And there's a 30-year-old woman and a three-day-old child buried together. They both died in childbirth. This doesn't happen anywhere. Not with both. You can have complications, sure, and occasional death, but not one where every 30th tombstone is a record of the trauma that we went through as a civilization, just trying to stay alive in this world.
[00:01:13] 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 people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional Russian spy, billionaire investor, or former cult member. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:39] If you're new to the show or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it, we created episode starter packs. These are on the website at jordanharbinger.com/start. They're collections of your favorite episodes, organized by topic. They'll help new listeners, or you, get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Again, just go to jordanharbinger.com/start to get started or to help somebody else get started with us here on the show.
[00:02:02] Now today, back on the show, one of everyone's favorite scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson. We discuss how he deconstructs complex scientific concepts for the layman and makes it easy for us to wrap our heads around some of the more abstract astrophysics concepts, such as black holes and multiple dimensions. We'll also get some insight into how he constructs his soundbites for the media and how he goes about educating others, which is very useful if you ever want to teach anyone anything for that matter. Of course, I wanted to ask Neil some questions about space travel, aliens, quantum physics, and it seems like I managed to keep him from rolling his eyes at me, like maybe we caught on camera last time. You guys know I love smart folks, and that's why the show is always packed full of scientific literacy. It's like a super power right now that helps you to know when people are full of crap. And that's a super power I want all of you to have.
[00:02:48] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, the authors, thinkers, and creators every single week. It's because of my network. I'm teaching you how to build your network for free, not just for booking podcast guests, of course, for your business, for work, getting those negotiations, going for your raise, personal life, whatever you might need, your network has it. And you know, you only go as high as your five closest friends, right? Check out jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is free. And most of the guests you hear on the show subscribe to the course and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. All right, let's get to it with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:03:24] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sorry. I'm a little late. I came off — I was talking to a high school class.
[00:03:27] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, you can't really — I get it. It's funny. I'll be late for like Time Magazine. But if I'm talking to like a high school class, I'm not going to say, "Hey, I got to go. I have something more important to do." It's the other way around.
[00:03:39] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's the other way round. Exactly. Exactly. Otherwise, what are you about? What are you trying to do here?
[00:03:44] Jordan Harbinger: It would say something about somebody if they said, "I'm leaving for a taped appearance. So I have to go now, but thanks for showing up." Like, "My life's all about educating people." "Oh, sorry. Chumps, I got something more important to do that makes me look cool to adults. No, thanks."
[00:03:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah.
[00:04:00] Jordan Harbinger: As an educator, you've got your priorities in the right place and that's good. Do you consider yourself primarily education at the top of the pyramid?
[00:04:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I don't consider myself anything, really.
[00:04:10] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:04:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The answer would have to be yes, but let me just offer a different perspective on that. I'm only an educator because people have reached for me to educate them. Let me put it that way. I write my books. Those are my own initiatives, but the fact that people come to my tweets, for example, or they come to my public talks. I'm not twisting their arm. This is not some, "You have to be in the class and you'll get a test on this." No. It's more of a shared celebration in learning. And if I can play some role in your life to take you to a new place, I'm delighted to do so, honored to do so, privileged to do so. And if I ever stopped succeeding at that, I'll take on something else. I'm not going to still say, "I'm an educator. Dammit!" Do you know what I'm saying? So for me, it's a fact of circumstances rather than fact of ambition.
[00:05:04] Jordan Harbinger: I can appreciate that. I think there's probably a lot to unpack there as well, but maybe on a different show. I'm excited to have you back on the show. You were here pre-pandemic. Here, you're in your own, probably, house right now.
[00:05:14] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Does that still exist? Does that even—
[00:05:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yes.
[00:05:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It was 10 years ago.
[00:05:17] Jordan Harbinger: There was a thing where we used to be able to leave the house.
[00:05:20] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's called BC, but before coronavirus.
[00:05:23] Jordan Harbinger: BC, exactly.
[00:05:24] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah.
[00:05:24] Jordan Harbinger: We used to have this huge gong in the studio that I recorded and you walked in, you said, "I just got off a New York, red eye." And I was like, "Oh great. He wants coffee and not this." And you go, "Can I hit this?" And you whack the gong and then started telling us about — and I'm going to get it wrong, unfortunately, which is embarrassing. But the sound waves from the gong, technically having kind of like infinite range out into the universe or something like that. Am I close or—?
[00:05:47] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No.
[00:05:48] Jordan Harbinger: No, I didn't think so.
[00:05:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No, there are some — I don't remember exactly what I might've said.
[00:05:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But sound waves would move when it has a medium, through which to propagate. In that case, it would have just been air.
[00:06:01] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:06:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But sound waves can also enter walls and things, but there is an energy loss for the propagation of all such signals. And there's a point where you can't distinguish it from the background noise. So basically, at that point, it disappears, but no, it's not a forever thing.
[00:06:18] Jordan Harbinger: That makes more sense. Because I wondered how possibly sound waves could go through space. And I just sort of assumed, "Eeh, there's some quantum thing going on here, which is what—"
[00:06:26] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And you might see an article, a journalistic article is saying, "Ooh, we heard sounds from Saturn." No, we didn't. No, there's electromagnetic signals that you put into a box that convert it into a sound. But those aren't sounds from Saturn. That's electromagnetic, usually radio waves from Saturn. And it happens historically that in the whole electromagnetic spectrum, we use the very long wavelength light waves. You can't see these, but we happen to call them radio waves. That happened to be the part of the spectrum that we used for communication. So we created a device that can receive a radio wave, converted into sound so that you can hear it. Because you can't see radio waves.
[00:07:06] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:07:06] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And these boxes, we call those radios because we're using radio waves and TV uses radio waves, and so do microwaves. Your cell phone uses microwave. Micro means small. Those are small radio waves. Microwaves are bigger than all the other wavelengths. Then there are the other side of it, which includes infrared, visible gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet. So I'm just saying people want there to be sounds in space, but no — yes. If you're in the star, you're going to hear the gurgling.
[00:07:38] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:07:38] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But go into the vacuum of space. You're not hearing Jack.
[00:07:41] Jordan Harbinger: That makes a lot of sense to me. It'd be like sitting outside and hearing CNN in one ear and Fox News in the other ear and 98.7 FM coming in front of me. I don't hear those things, even though the radio waves are going through my skull. Right? So it's kind of the same thing.
[00:07:54] Neil deGrasse Tyson: If you could hear them. But what we do is we put it through a device and that device converts it into an audio signal that one of your five senses then detects.
[00:08:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:03] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That's all.
[00:08:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. If people come up to you in public and ask you random questions — you know like when you find out someone's a doctor or if you're an annoying person and you find out someone's a doctor and you go, "Hey, I got this thing on my leg. Does that look infected to you?" Do people do that? And they're like, "Hey look. So if a black hole has infinite gravity, can I transport to another dimension?" Do people kind of do that to you?
[00:08:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes, of course. And the most hazardous occasion for that is in the airplane, because then they talk for you, the whole flight.
[00:08:30] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah, you can't escape.
[00:08:32] Neil deGrasse Tyson: There was a day when I had the energy to sustain that, but less so today. So I do the Hollywood thing with the hat and the dark glasses.
[00:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: But people still must recognize you.
[00:08:42] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, so there's a subset of people who recognize my voice and I don't even hear my voice. I don't think about it. So when someone just swings around and says, "I recognize it." It was like, okay, there goes the hat and the glasses, you know, and I guess the full disguise would be a hat, glasses, and a mustache, but I already wear a mask. So I can't step out of that. But the kind of questions people ask, I can tell you what the ranking of what the first questions are. So right up there in the top two or three are, is there life out there in the universe? That's up there. Another one to black hole showed up. What was around before the big bang? What's outside of the universe? And if not the top five, then the sixth question I get asked is, is there God? You know, studying the universe, do you see the face of God imprinted in there. So God typically shows up if the person has any historical religious affiliation at all, but generally it's not the first question that comes in a little later.
[00:09:39] Jordan Harbinger: Can you sort of tell where somebody is level of, maybe not intelligence, but at least understanding of things are just based on that first question?
[00:09:47] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I can tell it based on how they ask the question.
[00:09:49] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:09:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah.
[00:09:50] Jordan Harbinger: What are you looking for? Or what are you seeing?
[00:09:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's not that I'm seeing. It's what I notice.
[00:09:54] Jordan Harbinger: What are you noticing?
[00:09:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So it's just what facility do they have with the vocabulary? All right. So they might confuse the solar system with the galaxy in a sentence. So that tells me, okay, maybe they've never had Astro 101, where that's like the first day of class. You learn the relative sizes of things and what's embedded in what that means. They didn't have that. If they say something about that's mystical, like, "Oh, there's no such thing as coincidences. Everything happens for a reason." It starts saying things —these are thoughts and sentences that come from an entire other place in the world that is very untouched by the methods and tools of science. So what that does is I have gears going on in my head all the time when I'm interacting with people and they rotate into place such that, by the time I hear the question, my answer is shaped to best intersect their receptors for the information I'm sharing with them.
[00:10:53] And it was decades in the honing of this, but it's what has led to the following thing. I'll have a conversation with someone and they say, "Oh, wow, that's great. I understood that completely. Could you tell that exact same thing to my kids?" It's like, "No, I'm not because they're not, you. They're kids and they have other things going on in their head." So different gears rotate in my head. How old are they? Are they eight? Are they 12? Or are they 16? Or are they five? Right? They rotate into place. And I tap on my exposure to pop culture, which is an embarrassingly large fraction of how I spend my daily time. But I think it makes me a more potent educator because it allows me to take things that matter to you and shape them into the information that I'm delivering. So that it can maximally impact your capacity to think about it and to remember it. And so, yeah, there's not one cut fits all.
[00:11:51] Jordan Harbinger: I'm just kind of imagining you using Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana to explain why Pluto is no longer a planet or something like that. Like, after you're done, you're just like, I hate myself a little, but I think they understood me.
[00:12:06] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. It was Hannah Montana all along. It was never really,
[00:12:10] Jordan Harbinger: She was never a pop star.
[00:12:12] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It was a false identity for Pluto. Yeah. So, but I think it's, that's the difference. I think between being an educator and being a communicator. All right. I think if you know something, you can be an educator by teaching it. But how are you teaching? Are you facing the chalkboard or whatever they use today and just writing on the board and never looking back, never thinking about, are they paying attention? Are they falling asleep? Are they reading the newspaper? Or are you facing them?
[00:12:40] By the way, so in that first scenario, you're requiring that they meet you 90 percent of the way. They're got to do all the work to get to where you are. But suppose you put a little bit of effort and your own energies into reaching them, where they are. Then you're bound to be much more effective, not only communicating, but in impacting, leaving, having some influence on people's capacity to think which is what has to happen in a science class. It's not just a satchel of facts. It's a way of querying nature. And it's a new way of understanding and thinking about how this world works and why the world works the way it does.
[00:13:16] Jordan Harbinger: Last time we talked, we talked a little bit about flat earth, which still makes me kind of like roll my eyes to a point where I'm not sure if they're ever going to come back. There must be a part of you that's looking at flat earth, anti-vax. And I don't just mean people going, "Oh, no new vaccines. I'm a little scared." I mean, like anti-vax, it's all a microchip conspiracy, looking at Bigfoot. You must be at some point thinking like, do I really have to explain this sh*t to you guys? Because it seems like we're advancing in so many areas. But we're also just, it's almost like we're regressing, like the Internet is bringing some elements of the population somewhat willingly into just another dark ages.
[00:13:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. So I know I'm less puttered by this than others are. First when full-grown adults say the earth is flat and they don't want to have a vaccine and they don't trust science. I might tell them you're probably alive today because of discoveries of science. Take a stroll through any cemetery that goes back at least a hundred years. And just look at how old people were when they died. What's particularly tragic is you don't have to walk far to find this. You find a double grave where there is, you know, and you do the math on the birth and death. And there's a 30-year-old woman and a three-day-old child buried together. They both died in childbirth. This doesn't happen anywhere, not with both. You can have complications, sure, an occasional death, but not one where every, you know, 30th tombstone is a record of the trauma we went through as a civilization, just trying to stay alive in this world.
[00:14:45] So I can say that, but it probably won't stick. What I rather do is look at the root source of how and why people think that way. And it happens in the classroom. It's because people think science is just a body of knowledge. I can take it or leave it. I don't even have to agree with it. It's just like any other body of knowledge. No, science is a fundamentally different activity undertaken by this human species. It is different from everything else that has ever happened before. And it is a way of decoding what is objectively true in this world. And when we find what is objectively true, it is not susceptible to your opinion, to your politics, to your religion, to your culture, to your economics. It exists as a truth outside of anything you then think. That is not taught in school. And so people come out thinking, "Oh, I can just be skeptical." If you think skeptical means doubting everything, no. Skeptical is asking more questions. And knowing when the answers are sufficient so that you really wasting your time continuing with that line of inquiry, time to question something else.
[00:15:51] Jordan Harbinger: I've got a couple of kids, and I assume that scientific literacy was probably at the top of your list of things to teach them. And for me, with a two-year-old boy, I'm thinking of ways to make sure that he's always curious, but also knows how to investigate the claims that he hears from people. And you've talked about this a little bit—
[00:16:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Wait, it's a two-year-old and a two-year-old is not going to investigate people—
[00:16:11] Jordan Harbinger: No, no, no, no, no. I just mean in the future. Not right now. Right now, I'm just trying to get him to like stop crying when he has a diaper change.
[00:16:17] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Exactly. I have a two-year-old. I want to make sure they investigate people's claims — yeah. All right. Fine.
[00:16:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:22] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So the question was?
[00:16:23] Jordan Harbinger: The question was essentially, well, one, do people ask you about horoscopes and confuse that stuff with actual science? And I'm wondering what the best way is to handle that. For me, I find it really difficult communicating with people who are averse to logic/science evidence-based things. But I also know I'm in the past been guilty of doing the wrong thing. Like, I'm almost like, oh, come on, I've got to, it's like a smugly leadism that I really have recently stopped doing because as you know, it doesn't help at all.
[00:16:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's irresistible to the educated, to just be smug in the presence of those who don't know as much as you do. So it's irresistible and it's created, I think, an unfortunate rift in society between people who are sort of, you know, as they say, Joe Sixpack and the academic elite. The academic elites are summarily rejected for anything they might contribute to society. That's unfortunate. I put some of that burden, if not, most of that burden on the academic elite for not having an awareness and a sensitivity to how people think in this world.
[00:17:23] So, no, I don't beat people over the head about this. I might give them an experiment to do. So, for example, You find some widely read source of horoscopes and pick one. Now, if you happen to be in a room of, let's say a hundred people or more, just say, I'm going to read a horoscope and you tell me if it's your horoscope. So this is the inverse of what people normally do. You go to the horoscope that's written, you think for just you. And he say, "Oh wow, that's really — they got some insight into my life today.
[00:17:51] Jordan Harbinger: They nailed it.
[00:17:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: They nailed it, right? So let's just perform the inverse experiment, pick one at random and read it to a room of a hundred people. And I do this. And when I do that, about 60, between three 50 and two thirds of the people say, it's their horoscope. And then I say, fine. And then for those who are certain, it's not, can you tell me why? And then we find out that the horoscope is, it applies to some of the people who said they were, it was certainly not theirs and it doesn't ever really do much better than random in each of those cases.
[00:18:22] So the point is a person has to be primed to accept evidence that opposes what they want to be true. And if you're not primed to do that, then no amount of conversation you offer is going to change that. And so that's why it's something deeper. It's something deeper in the educational system. So I can't hold people accountable for that and I don't. Now, that being said, you're commenting on the absurdity of a flat earth and all the rest of that, because it just defies logic and common sense in science and all the rest of this, by the way, the founding claims of most religions, defy science in ways that are not fundamentally different in how sort of exotic the claims are relative to any of this else that people are believing.
[00:19:10] All right. You want to think Mars affects you. And then you want to laugh at them. And then someone says, well, Jesus is in the sky. And it's the fact that we were Mohammed or Krishna whatever. And I don't see you running after all of the religious communities of the world telling them that, "No, you're crazy for thinking this way." So in a free society, I'm not going to say stop people from thinking whatever they want.
[00:19:32] Where I draw the line — now that you asked, but where I draw the line is if you have a belief system and I count flat earthers as embracing a belief system. In a free country, that's protected. I would draw the line if suppose you now run for office and you have power over laws or legislation that affect everyone. Well, you're taking your belief system and now imposing it on other people. That's dangerous. That is a recipe for the unraveling of an informed democracy. Whereas objectively, established truths, established by the methods and tools of science apply to everyone, whether or not they believe in it. And that is a wholly different way to construct civilization.
[00:20:12] You base civilization on what is objectively true, and then give people the freedom to think what they want provided. They don't make a law requiring that you believe something that conflicts with your own beliefs. We have words for that. They're dictatorships. They're autocracies, whatever there's an O-C-R-A-C-Y, ocracy. That applies to what that is. We should be happy we live in a country that celebrates free speech, and I am.
[00:20:40] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Neil deGrasse Tyson. We'll be right back.
[00:20:45] Microsoft Teams is helping Priority Bicycles reinvent the way they work. When the pandemic hit, the bike shop had to close their New York City showroom. They found a way to reopen by doing virtual visits on teams. Now, the team can meet with two or three times the number of customers than they could before. And people from all over the world can visit their showroom. Learn more about their story and others at microsoft.com/teams.
[00:21:09] Now back to Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:21:14] I would love to know how you develop your skills to be able to explain and communicate complex ideas effectively to the everyday person or any suggestions for people struggling in this area, because you must have worked really, really hard to be able to go, "Okay, your level of understanding is right here because you're 16, 12 or 41, and you just don't have a good science background. I'm going to now make this digestible for you." And you do that seemingly on the fly on talk shows like on the Daily Show or on TV, possibly even live. So it's not like, "Oh, Hey Neil, we're going to ask you all this stuff, come up with a clever sounding soundbite." Like you got really, really good at that through a lot of hard work I assume.
[00:21:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, first thank you for not saying, "Oh, you're so good at it. It must be natural."
[00:22:00] Jordan Harbinger: I know it's not — no one's that good at that naturally.
[00:22:03] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thank you for granting me the expectation that it's the product of hard work. So that's my first, thank you. Second, I remembered — you know, I go back. I'm an old man now. So let me go back many decades. And I started explaining things to people because they'd asked, "Oh, you're a natural physicist. I have this question." And I would monitor their attention span, their eyebrows, would they lean into the conversation or are they easily distracted? At what word did I utter did they then lose interest? By the way, any writer thinks this way all the time, because the moment you lose someone in that sentence, they're gone. They're never coming back to your novel. Hence is the important review of a novel — it was a page turner, right? Where you kept wanting to hear more. So somehow the author has gotten under your skin in a good way and keeps you coming, sentence by sentence, idea by idea. So there I am explaining things and not everything is working, the words I'm using that they're not understanding. So I'm taking mental note of this because I say to myself, if this happens again, I want to avoid those pitfalls. I mean, why not? If it's done incrementally, how much effort is that?
[00:23:15] But you also have to pay attention to body language. You have to monitor, are they interested or not? And if you're not, it's just like the professor facing the chalkboard or the class, if you're not even looking or paying attention, you will fail because you're not going to be reading what works with them. So I make note, "Oh, this works for person of this age group, but not this age group or this kind of background or if they're from this part of the country. Okay, or this part of the world, all of this is an assembled encyclopedia — that sounds so antiseptic — an assembled toolbox for me to reach it — utility belt. There you go.
[00:23:54] Jordan Harbinger: There you go. Yeah.
[00:23:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I'm Batman. Everybody wants to be Batman. It's my utility belt. And I find out what their interests are and I clad the science that I'm describing on what they came to me with. Are they fluent in pop culture or are they religious? Are they ambitious? Are they not ambitious? All of these things shape what words I choose and hardly anything I ever say, do I say without having first written it down.
[00:24:23] Jordan Harbinger: Really? Like even the soundbites on like a show you'll have written that in the past and used it on before.
[00:24:28] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes. But I've worded differently. I'll say, I've written so much about all of these topics that when the topic comes up, I just access a carefully worded sentence that I spent time composing. So if science writing was just communicating information, you can just staple together Wiki pages on all the science topics, but well-written books don't read like Wiki pages as useful as Wiki pages are. You're not reading them to be page turners, right? You're reading them to get specific information. But if you're going to write a book or give a lecture, you want the words to matter to flow, to attract someone's interest.
[00:25:08] And so I'm going, "Oh, I have a better word that's shorter and less complicated. Let me use that. Yeah, that works." But now the next idea that follows it, these become templates within me and I have a good random access memory. Because if you spent that much time composing a sentence, you're going to remember that sentence. You're going to remember what the machinery was that went through your head. And I've written about basically every single science topic that I talk about publicly. So that helps a whole sentence is, can come out fully composed primarily because I already went through that same thought process. Unless you ask me a question that's so out of far left field, but then I can sort of assemble. I have words with me and I have, I can do this on the fly. I don't fear that. In fact, I welcome it. It gives me a new pocket in my utility belt to field questions of one nature versus another.
[00:25:58] Jordan Harbinger: On the flip side, if you encounter a topic in your life that you're not familiar with, which I assume happens, you know, just from anybody who reads, what's your process, to then understand that topic? Are you using something similar that you would use to teach other people to remember things yourself or wrap your mind around topics?
[00:26:13] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No. No, it's not about memory. Memory is good to have. It's good to have a good memory, but you know, it's even better to have a good understanding.
[00:26:20] Jordan Harbinger: Understanding, yeah.
[00:26:21] Neil deGrasse Tyson: When you have an understanding of something, you don't have to remember it because you just understand it. So I'll give, I think, a good example. So if you walk into a bookstore and you say, "Okay, where are your cookbooks?" "Oh, there'll be here." And there's an entire section of cookbooks regional, fast cook, slow cook. By the way, there are more cookbooks than there are elements on the periodic table. So what's going on there? The recipes are things you kind of memorize. Whereas if I say, "Where are the books on all the known physics in the universe?" Well, it's one corner of one shelf. There's like electromagnetism. There's gravity. There's light and it's that. And so I can come to you with a deep understanding of all manner of things that go on in the universe that derive from these four books. That's an understanding. I didn't memorize the books.
[00:27:12] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:27:12] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's not about memorization. It's about understanding how and why things work so that when you encounter something you've never seen before, you can invoke the principles of how and why things work to fully understand what's happening. And it empowers you to evaluate situations that you've never been in before. Let me take a quick side ramp here. Imagine two people in the workplace, all right. So the boss comes up and hands the worker some tasks. And the worker says, "I've never done this before. This is not in my job description." And the person declines the task. Another person, "Wow. I've never seen this before. This is outside my job description. Let me go home and learn about it. This is great." Okay, there's two completely different employees. One of them embraces the unknown and wants to learn about it.
[00:28:00] By the way, having done so makes them more valuable to the company. And then the other person gets a task because they think — and this surely happens in some cases, but stay with me on this. They think that doing extra work that's not in their job description is exploiting them. And yes, that's true. But if you're in the kind of job where they care about how you contribute to the company. If you show you did something great that was not in your job description, there's a new job description awaiting of you, okay. If there were places fair in any sense, there are other jobs for you. They will grow your responsibility and accountability into that position.
[00:28:40] So to get back to your question, when I encounter something I don't understand, I will totally dig it up and I'll try to think of interesting things I'd want to know about it and start there because that feeds your curiosity and your interest. So let's pick a topic I don't know much about. How about grasshoppers? So I would first say, "Well, how do they make that noise?" I heard it's their legs. But really? What's rubbing against what to make the noise? And they have these big beady eyes. What do they need antennas for? I would ask questions about it because what is science, if not a method of querying nature. And then I use those as ways to pull me in.
[00:29:16] And while I'm on that journey, I might see other things. "Oh yeah. Here's why the grasshopper wants to jump so far. Or why is it that size?" Or I suppose I want to eat a grasshopper, right? Where does all the protein cause the whole cultures that thrive on grasshoppers? And so I would ask things that interest me and that gets me deep into it in such a way that I can now celebrate the subject and be conversant with somebody, not an expert in it, but I'd be conversant with someone who is an expert and possibly even learn more.
[00:29:46] Oh, and I never lose the occasion to ask questions of an expert in the room, no matter what that person is an expert in. If you have just a little bit of knowledge of a lot of things, just enough to crack open a door so that you can engage an expert in a conversation, I'm all in on that. And there's an old saying, if you look around and you're the expert in the room, change rooms.
[00:30:12] Jordan Harbinger: What's the last thing you did a deep dive on? Just out of sheer curiosity.
[00:30:17] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Let me think. I do this so often that I don't have one that stands out. So I did a deep dive on Woodrow Wilson, the president, and his relationship to the economy of the United States. And more importantly, his racist charge policies regarding the federal government, how he basically segregated the federal government and reversed trends that have been rather progressive leading up to that point. Something I'd never known about him. I spent time at Princeton University, whereas the Woodrow Wilson school of public policy and all the while I just never knew that about him. So I just dug up more about that chapter in American history. I will add that in the emphasis part of the deep dive, right? You know, we can start blaming individuals for things, you know, because we like doing that.
[00:31:12] We say, it's your fault. Let's punish you. Let's cancel you. So I get that, but sometimes it's a little more complex than that. So over that time, especially in the United States, the eugenics movement was rising high in priorities and actions and politics and policy. So there's the Statue of Liberty saying, "Bring me your week and your, your help—" whatever is the poem there. And people started saying, no, these immigrants are diluting the stock of the white European stock, and we must protect it. And there's an entire eugenics movement feeding that. And it is pervasive in the culture among those in power.
[00:31:58] And so there's Woodrow Wilson, a man of his time. Who's sure that eugenics is onto the right thing. And then there's someone with power who makes very unfortunate non-progressive regressive decisions in this world. So for me to even have any fluency there at all, I had to have some open door to say, "Oh, that's an interesting thing. Let me ask that. Let me find this out. Now, what else was going on?" So I have in my books, I have a shelf probably four feet across that has books on just eugenics. And then you learn that the American eugenics movement fed him of what he was thinking about how he was going to take care of business in Germany. You know, we've "whitewashed" that from our role in his thinking. He's not a scientist, he's getting his ideas from anthropologists who are totally bought into this eugenics movement.
[00:32:54] So that's been sort of ongoing with me for many months now, actually years. But since George Floyd this past summer, I've been doing deeper dives into race relations in the history of the country. Going farther back than just the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s.
[00:33:13] Jordan Harbinger: Is it frustrating for you to look at how science was used as a cudgel with eugenics and all this other bullsh*t? And then having people go, "See science is political. So how do I know that what you're telling me right now isn't just eugenics 2.0, and that it's real science and it's not just politically motivated gobbledygook.
[00:33:30] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. That's an honestly posed question. And I think I have a good reply to that. And I wrote this, you can Google it. I wrote a perspective piece. I originally posted it to Facebook as a note, but Facebook got rid of their notes for some reason. That was my main means of communicating with people. It's long-form entries, rather than punchy things that you'd put in several times a day. But anyhow, it's not there. So it's on my own website. The title of it is what science is and how and why it works.
[00:34:00] Jordan Harbinger: We'll link to that in the show notes.
[00:34:02] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So here's the point. The physical sciences are less susceptible than sciences that involve human beings as subjects. But one of the most important things you have to carry with you is the capacity to judge whether what you end up thinking is true, what you think it's true, but it's actually not, or something you think is not true, that actually is. And when human beings are the subjects, it is some of the most susceptible to science to the influence of bias. That's some of the most, it is the most susceptible science with regard to bias. And so if you have a study that is going there, you need extra attention given to it. And almost always, when you have those kinds of studies, the people doing the study, whoever they are, end up at the top of the list. If they're men, then men are better than women. If they're white, then white is better than other colors. If they're European and the European cultures are better — and the anthropologists are ground zero for that level of bias in their scientific thinking. Then, they are carrying the titles of scientists.
[00:35:15] So I'm happy to report that my fields collectively, the physical sciences, were susceptible to other kinds of biases. Like you really want this to be true because you invested 10 years of your life. And so you don't even see that it's false. And so you keep cherry picking the data to support your own views, but I'm not you. And I don't have your biases and look, it's not holding up. So many scientific careers have ended or faded because people wouldn't relinquish some long earlier held thought that was not yet verified.
[00:35:49] So yeah, it's unfortunate that science has been used in that way. And I suspect it will continue to be used in the fields that involve human beings as subjects.
[00:36:00] Jordan Harbinger: It makes sense. And I think it's hard for us to shake our concept. I mean, it takes generations, if not longer for people to — I mean, even when you look at things that are physical sciences, I mean, didn't they string up Galileo, like, you know, you see these scientists getting killed or was it Aristotle? I forget now, like, "Hey, you can't say that. This is wrong." It was Galileo, right, who got executed for saying, "Hey, maybe the earth isn't the center of our—"
[00:36:24] Neil deGrasse Tyson: He was imprisoned.
[00:36:25] Jordan Harbinger: Imprisoned, okay.
[00:36:26] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Giordano Bruno got executed, burned upside down at the stake in Italy for suggesting many things, but suggesting that there might be other worlds out there, not just earth, and earth might not be the only object of God's creation. One of his famous quotes is, "Your God is too small."
[00:36:47] Jordan Harbinger: That might've been what got him hung upside down, I'm just saying.
[00:36:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. Yeah. So if you look at that article — by the way, it takes about four minutes to read. It's a fast read, but you will see that the methods and tools of science as we now practice them. I've only been in widespread use since about the year 1600, so since Galileo onward, so it's about only 400 years and that's nothing in the history of civilization.
[00:37:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:37:13] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So if you go back before Galileo, you have the whole world thinking or many people thinking earth is flat or that there's all manner of thinking. And by the way, on the frontier of research, most results will be wrong. What matters is not what any scientist tells you or any one research project suggests. What matters is that: has that been verified? Has that been duplicated? not by just your friends in your own lab. Has it been duplicated by one of your competitors? All right. Only then if you have some interesting result, will we then say, "Yep, you have arrived at a new objective truth about this world. Then you put it in the books." Those objective shoes are not later shown to be false. Hence, my comment is true, whether or not you believe in it. People want to sort of caricature it and say, "Listen to any scientist, no matter what." No, no. It's the methods and tools of science when invoked to their fullest will establish what is objectively true. And that is not later shown to be false.
[00:38:15] So when people say — well, scientists thought the earth was flat before 1600. Okay. Well, how about this? Scientists used to have leeches and bleed you. Go back to that time and look at the research literature. It was not yet settled. That was a contested idea. Will this work? Do we need the blood? Blood is an essence. We got this. So in that case, you're taking something that is on the, no pun intended, bleeding edge of medical research and some things that have caught on to people's fancies that don't make it the objective truth. So it's only when it's established. And how do we know when it's objective truth? When multiple studies demonstrate it, that's all, it's that simple. And on the bleeding edge most will turn out to be wrong.
[00:38:57] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. I can now see people twisting that and going, "Well, then don't use anything new vaccines. Don't use it."
[00:39:04] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No, no something could be new, but if it's tested, go for it.
[00:39:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:07] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:39:07] Jordan Harbinger: I'm just saying, I don't want people to twist it.
[00:39:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, they will, no matter what we say.
[00:39:11] Jordan Harbinger: True.
[00:39:12] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The twister is out there will do it no matter what we say. What I'm saying is for someone to say, "I'm not going to take the vaccine because it's not tested." Yes, it has been tested. Yes. You can read the test results. These are people who have already made up their mind and are inventing reasons to justify the mind that they've already made up. And the reasons they're invoking are false because there are the studies, you can read them and you can find out what the side effects are. If any, how severe they are. Who was most susceptible to those side effects? You can then ask yourself, do I have those conditions that would make me susceptible? You can do this rather than say, "I'm going to wait until it's tested." That's just you've been misinformed by whatever your sources. Your news sources sometimes don't have your own enlightenment in their interest.
[00:40:03] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neil deGrasse Tyson. We'll be right back.
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[00:40:24] Thanks for listening to and supporting the show. I love making it for you. To learn more and get links to all the deals on everything you hear during the ad spots here, all those sponsors, we put all the codes, all the deals, all the URLs, they're all in one place. Just go to jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please do consider supporting those who support us. And don't forget, we have worksheets for many episodes. If you want some of the drills, exercises that we talk about here during the show, those are all in one easy place as well. The link to the worksheets is at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. They're in the show notes for every episode.
[00:40:55] And now for the conclusion of my conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:41:00] If light takes so long to travel from one solar system to another. What is it again? Like 186,000 miles per second. Am I even close?
[00:41:08] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes.
[00:41:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:41:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Very close.
[00:41:10] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I'll take it. If light takes so long to travel from one solar system to another, is it possible with a high enough resolution telescope that we could look at another planet? And see an extinct civilization just going about their daily lives and suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, just ending but that's like a million years ago.
[00:41:29] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, of course.
[00:41:30] Jordan Harbinger: That this happened.
[00:41:30] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So let's take the number of million years. Let's say we have a really good telescope and we find a planet and it's a million light years away. Let's be a little more realistic, 10,000 light years away. That would be within our own galaxy, a million you're out in intergalactic space.
[00:41:43] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:41:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So 10,000 years ago, it was, "Oh, there's a civilization. Oh my gosh, look, they invented nuclear power. Oh look, they just rendered themselves extinct." Everything you just witnessed happened 10,000 years ago. And it's that wave of light emanating from the planet, moving through space at the speed of light informing every next civilization that it washes over what has happened to that civilization in your past. And to get DC comics on you. I've got a call from DC comics once they wanted to know if I wouldn't mind meeting Superman. And I said, "Sure." And the typical questions were, which one was it? Is it this? "No, no, no. It's actually meeting Superman." So this is how they were writing a story for their comics where Superman wanted to come to the Hayden Planetarium my day job and looked through whatever telescopes they believed we had, but we don't keep telescopes there, but that's fine. It's the comics. So look through there and look back at his home planet and observe it getting destroyed.
[00:42:45] Jordan Harbinger: Depressing, and you just have to be there for that and give him a hug.
[00:42:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And so I said, "Well, we got to give this some ground truth, right? If he is on earth and sees the planet getting destroyed, because the light is only now just reaching us, how old is Superman?" And they said, "Oh, he's eternally in his late twenties." So I said, "Okay, so Krypton or the Krypton system will have to be in the late twenties, light years away." Because that's how long it's taken to get here. Okay. So I said, "I'll find you a star that has the right criteria for that." Okay. So that's great. And this has to be a red star because it's a red star that is home planet orbited.
[00:43:22] So then I said, "Well, how did he really get here?" If he traveled at the speed of light, he won't age and clearly, since he was launched Moses style, the baby, and you know, from month to month, if a baby has matured, right, months matter, you can see this baby basically didn't age at all, going from Krypton to earth. So had it traveled at the speed of light, it would not have aged according to relativity, but then it would have arrived when the light from the exploding planet would have arrived. So he wouldn't be able to see it 27 years later. So I said, "Superman would have had to travel through a wormhole." That way he beats the light, gets here instantly, age, grows up to be in his late twenties, and then he can see the light. So they all agree to do this.
[00:44:05] So in action comics 14, you can look this up. Superman visits the Hayden Planetarium. And I greet him, my comic form — that's why I can say I actually met Superman. I greet him and he asks about it and I tell him how we got the equipment to work, to do this. And then he sees the destruction. It is a sad moment. He actually looks sad in that illustration because he watches the destruction of his whole — he knew intellectually what had happened, but to feel it and to see it. So that was a 27-year delay on an event that happened 27 years ago.
[00:44:38] Jordan Harbinger: They must've been pretty thankful that you were — or were they just like, "Ah, man, now we got to rewrite stuff. Can we keep the old illustrations?"
[00:44:45] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Well, it's been part of the cannon. I mean, I think the good comic strips that have superheroes that where there's some kind of science involved, they've been very responsive and I've been quite impressed by that. Because their fan base cares.
[00:44:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, they do.
[00:44:59] Neil deGrasse Tyson: In the ecosphere, are they the primary fan base? That's the ground zero of their fan base. And they're going to hold you to it.
[00:45:06] Jordan Harbinger: So if I'm sitting in front of you, let's say I'm across, we're at a large conference room table talking about action comics, number 14, in your licensing deal. I'm actually not seeing you as you currently are. I'm seeing you as you were a few, I don't know, like nanoseconds prior because the light is reaching me and some with some delay.
[00:45:23] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The answer is yes. But let me give you some tools to work with you. Are you ready? So nano is a metric prefix for one billionth. So a nanometer is one billionth of a meter and nanosecond is one billionth of a second. The robotics community, BARDA, and they call them nanobots, but they're not billions of anything. They're just little robots. Okay, so I'm a little upset about that, but I can't reverse that. Okay. They're just minibots. They're not nanobots.
[00:45:53] It turns out at 186,000 miles per second light takes one nanosecond to travel one foot.
[00:46:00] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:46:01] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So if you're three feet away from me at a conference table, I see you not as you are, but as you once were three billionths of a second ago.
[00:46:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:46:10] Neil deGrasse Tyson: We don't make a big deal of it because you live for much longer than a billionth of a second. So you haven't changed much over that time. But if I start putting you farther and farther away, I put you on the moon, I see you as you were one and a half seconds ago. I put you on the sun, eight minutes ago, the nearest star to the sun, four years ago. And I can keep putting you farther, farther away. And eventually you will be very different from the light in any given moment than the light that I receive from you because the time it takes to the travel is large compared with your life span. So there's stars out there that have long died, but we don't know it yet.
[00:46:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, we still don't know.
[00:46:51] Neil deGrasse Tyson: We don't know. Every night there are stars observed to explode and they exploded hundreds, thousands, and in some cases, millions of years ago.
[00:46:59] Jordan Harbinger: So that stuff is so interesting and it makes it good for making your sort of bad day go away when you go, "Well, first of all, I'm really small, but also they're having a bad day." If there was anybody who knew that.
[00:47:09] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's a cosmic perspective. It works every time.
[00:47:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. When we hear about major physics discoveries, I guess these are major physics discoveries, I really don't know the scale, but they tell us more about space and physics and matter. And we hear about particle accelerators. What are we actually accelerating? Particles, fine. I get it. But why accelerate them? Are we smashing them into each other? Are we measuring them at high speeds?
[00:47:31] Neil deGrasse Tyson: That's a great question. And I'd like that question, especially just for how bluntly simple and honest it is. What's all — why an accelerator?
[00:47:41] Jordan Harbinger: I am simple.
[00:47:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And so if you go back hundreds of years and you go to a tabletop, you could do things on the tabletop that we wouldn't understand. So you say, well, let's find out. You can build a machine that creates energy that passes through your skin and leaves the shadow of your bones on a thing. What is that? How does that work? Did that on a tabletop? I can take a wire and pass it through a magnetic field and then an electrical current meter tips. So I do this over here and something happens over there. How did that happen? What is that? Okay, I can have a bar magnet and sprinkle iron filings on it, and it takes the shape outside of the magnet. What's there? There's just air. You can do it in a vacuum and the same thing would happen. So there were mysteries on the tabletop that remained undiscovered or not well understood. Right now there's nothing on a tabletop that we don't understand.
[00:48:43] Jordan Harbinger: Cool.
[00:48:43] Neil deGrasse Tyson: So where do we have to go? What do you want to do is you want to push the limits of energy on your tabletop. All right. Why was x-rays so interesting? They're an extreme form of electromagnetic energy that we hadn't reached yet. And it was doing interesting things that we'd never seen before. And so we had later discovered gamma rays, which are even more energetic than x-rays. So what we have found in physics and astronomy as well is that if you want to make the next discovery, you got to hang out in an energy regime that no one has reached before.
[00:49:19] Well, when do you generate these energies? If you take two particles, accelerate them and then slam them into a target, the energy of that impact is huge. If something interesting happens in the universe, only under those conditions of energy, it will manifest there and then. That's what we've done. That's how you discover quarks and all these exotic subatomic particles and how new elements were created. The element plutonium named after Pluto, falsely, by the way, because they thought it was a planet was discovered in 1940.
[00:49:54] Jordan Harbinger: So recent.
[00:49:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Within five years, we had developed it and weaponized it and turned into the bomb we dropped over Nagasaki. These are discoveries made at the energetic limits of our understanding of the universe. And if you create a particle accelerator that lives in an energy regime that no other accelerator can touch, then whole new frontiers of discovery awaits you. The equivalent in my field to that of the particle physicist is how big is your telescope? A big telescope sees farther and dimmer than any previous telescope has.
[00:50:28] So if there's something close, that's really dim, it'll catch it. It is something far and it's dim because it's far, even if it's inherently bright, intrinsically, it'll catch it. So we always expect any new telescope when it comes online to be on the frontier of cosmic discovery, simply because it has gone where it needs to away from the desktop, the laboratory, the slab in the lab where previous discoveries could be made. You're not making those discoveries anymore.
[00:51:00] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you, brilliant explanation. I know you got to go. It's kind of a bummer that it's already over, but we'll have you back when you write the next book, which seems to be like every other year. I don't know how you do it. I'm not going to ask all of your secrets.
[00:51:11] Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's ever more efficient use of one's own time. That's really where that comes down to.
[00:51:16] Jordan Harbinger: I think so.
[00:51:16] Neil deGrasse Tyson: But you want to be too efficient because then your life becomes regimented in its efficiency. And I think creativity comes from a different place. It comes from when everything is a mess and then you have to make sense of the mess, metaphorically, physically, literally artistically, and then you innovate with a solution to that. I think a balanced life is overrated for that reason.
[00:51:44] Jordan Harbinger: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you for endeavoring to make us a more enlightened country and world. I think it's so important.
[00:51:52] Neil deGrasse Tyson: And with these questions in the latest book, Cosmic Queries, it's all about a celebration of questions and it's not, these are questions we have answers to. These are questions that have preoccupied us in civilization for millennia. And so we address those questions in the book, whether or not we have an answer for them. So, because in the end you need to learn to love the questions themselves, because they're in are the doorways to learning and understanding and enlightenment,
[00:52:23] Jordan Harbinger: I know you are going to leave us with an awesome sort of end soundbite. Do you plan those or are you just like, "Ah, I'm going to do this one now?" Or does it come out of there? You just got to be second nature at this point.
[00:52:33] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah. You don't want to say an ending thing at the beginning, a quick anecdote. I give a public talk. I forgot where I was somewhere in Indiana and there's a Q and A session that was being managed by someone else. And someone says we only have time for one more question. So then a question gets asked of me. And so I answer it in a way, knowing it's the last question.
[00:52:55] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:52:55] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Afterwards, someone came up to me and said, "You lucked out on that last question." "What do you mean?" He said, "Oh, because it was such a perfect question to end on." I said, "You have no f*cking idea what I just did." It was I took the question and made it an ending. And so again, they were just assuming it was just luck in the end. It's natural.
[00:53:18] Jordan Harbinger: You're so gifted, Neil.
[00:53:20] Neil deGrasse Tyson: No, no, no. It was, I think there are summative reflections one can offer on practically any question that gets asked so that if it happens to be the last question, you can still exit the building on a pensive reflective note.
[00:53:36] Jordan Harbinger: And on that note—
[00:53:37] Neil deGrasse Tyson: I'm happy to be back on your show, keep it going. You're a good voice out there.
[00:53:41] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Good luck with the bajillion other interviews that you may have to do today.
[00:53:49] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Okay.
[00:53:50] Jordan Harbinger: We've got a trailer of our interview with Jack Barsky, former KGB spy, who posed as an American in a truer than life version of a Hollywood movie. This is one of our most popular episodes of the show. Jack not only dodged the FBI for decades, but also defected from the Soviet Union secretly becoming a real American. We'll learn how spies were recruited and trained during the Cold War and what skills Jack used to assimilate seamlessly into American culture. Coming right up.
[00:54:17] Jack Barsky: I was untouchable. I was above the law. I was always bypassing customs and passport control. So the young person that really feels good because I never liked rules.
[00:54:28] Jordan Harbinger: How did you flip to eventually becoming full American? I know they tried to call you home. Can you take us through that?
[00:54:33] Jack Barsky: They called me back as an emergency departure. They've done this in the past. They called back in agent and as soon as they step on Soviet soil, they are jailed or even executed. I was stalling the Soviets, and then one day they send one of their resident agents and he said to me, "You got to come home or else you're dead." It was a threat. I decided I would defy them and tell them that I'm not returning. I will not betray any secrets and please give the money on my account to my German family.
[00:55:04] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Tell us how you got caught because the story is just not complete until you, like you said, had to face your past.
[00:55:12] Jack Barsky: I was stopped on the other side of the toll gate. It was a state trooper. He said, "I just like to check your license and registration. And could you step out of the car?" I stepped out of the car and still not having a clue what was going on. Out of the corner of my eye, somebody approaching me from the back. The fellow introduced himself. He said, "Joe Riley, FBI," and he showed me this badge. "We would like to talk with you." The first question I asked her, "Am I under arrest?" And the answer was no. Then I said, "What took you so long?"
[00:55:41] Jordan Harbinger: For more from Jack Barsky, including how Jack was finally caught by the FBI and what happened after that, check out episode 285 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:55:51] I always love Neil deGrasse Tyson. A fun fact, he met his wife in relativity class and they later became relatives. I guess that's how that works. In one of his earlier books, he was answering a lot of questions from fans and also from haters. And I thought that was a hilarious concept for a book. We actually do that a lot here on the show as well as you know, and he's really good about giving people full attention and respect, which I can appreciate. I think it would be very tempting if I were a scientist to look at and regard anti-science people or people who believe absolutely ridiculous things as morons or people who should know better, but he doesn't seem to do that. And I want to take a page out of that book for myself, a little bit of intellectual humility, but also humility in the face of things that you know are incorrect.
[00:56:35] Like when people write in and tell me that Bigfoot exists and Bill Gates is microchipping us with vaccines. I just want to scream in their face that they're not worth microchipping in the first place. And that they're already essentially microchipped because they carry a freaking phone everywhere and post photos of all their meals on Instagram and Facebook. But it seems like now, look, there could be an alien civilization, right? We're obsessed with this lately because of the UFO stuff. And the news cycle that we can't seem to escape from. There are obviously other plausible explanations for all of those things. It is fascinating though that even if there are aliens and they don't have to be visiting us here on earth. But if they're looking at us, they're actually looking at us through the Genesis of humanity or even the Genesis of our entire planet, because they are so far away. So there could be aliens looking at what's going on in the Roman empire right now with their super crazy optical technology. And that's a fascinating thought. And one I think is we're thinking about, even if we don't believe in all of the UFO stuff that we have seen lately in the news and elsewhere.
[00:57:35] Now Neil, his major goal along with mine, frankly, but his major goal is a more enlightened country. I think we do share this, especially never telling people what to think, but instead training them how to think. He does it with science. I like to do it by presenting brilliant people like him to the audience. That's you listening. And I appreciate you doing that. So thank you for listening and for being self-motivated coming here, empowering yourselves with scientific knowledge and better thinking. We had a brilliant guest today. I think he's made us all smarter, but don't get too cocky because as Neil says, "As our knowledge grows, so too, does the perimeter of our ignorance." Of course, when he says it, it's all basically, and you know, kind of mysterious. I can't really follow that.
[00:58:14] Big thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the book, the newest one anyway is called Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here and Where We're Going. Always fascinating with him. Links to his stuff, including the book will be in the show notes. Please use our website links if you buy the book because it does help support the show. Yes, the Audible links work. Yes, they work in other countries. Worksheets for the episode are in the show notes as well. Transcripts are in the show notes. There's a video of this interview going up on our YouTube channel, by the way, at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. And we have a clips channel, full of stuff you can't see anywhere else, stuff that didn't make it to the show highlights from the interviews that aren't anywhere else. jordanharbinger.com/clips is where you can find that. And it's a new channel. So please do subscribe because the first thousand subs are really hard. And that's what everybody who manages YouTube has been telling me, jordanharbinger.com/clips. Do me a solid and sub there. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[00:59:08] 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. The course is free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. They contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:59:27] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My amazing 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 the show is that you share it with friends. When you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who is into science, loves Neil deGrasse Tyson, into aliens or into Bigfoot for that matter. I don't care. Share this episode — maybe not Bigfoot, share this episode with them. Bigfoot people might get mad. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode. Please 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 leave everything and everyone better than you found them.
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