I was listening to Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson being interviewed on National Public Radio the other day about his new and updated incarnation of the classic TV series “Cosmos.” The original 13-part series, which explored our then understanding of the universe around us, aired in 1980 and was hosted by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, one of Tyson’s mentors. It remains the most-watched science documentary in the world and is still fascinating despite being somewhat dated.
While many new discoveries have been made about the universe in the 30 years since the original aired, some things haven’t changed and a couple of Tyson’s comments during the interview stuck with me.
First Tyson, now director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York where he grew up watching Sagan’s original production and was inspired to become an astrophysicist, pointed out that it’s not people who have a cosmic perspective, that is people who understand or at least acknowledge that we here on Earth are not the apex of the cosmos, who are responsible for all the world’s ills.
“You will never find people who truly grasp the cosmic perspective … leading nations into battle,” Tyson said in the NPR interview. “When you have a cosmic perspective that there’s this little speck called Earth and you say, ‘You’re going to what? You’re on this side of a line in the sand and you’re going to kill people for what? Oh, to pull oil out of the ground, what? WHAT?’ … Not enough people in this world, I think, carry a cosmic perspective with them. It can be life-changing.”
Obviously, people like Russian President Vladimir Putin don’t carry that cosmic perspective.
The second thing that Tyson brought up that stuck with me was his view on the current state of scientific advancement and just plain curiosity about the universe we live in – or rather lack thereof – in this country.
We’ve lost the will, he purported, to achieve and to problem-solve.
“When we find an asteroid headed our way, what’s your first thought?” Tyson asked. “Is it ‘Run!’ or ‘Stockpile toilet paper!’? No. If that’s your first thought then you are not an innovation nation. If you have enough people who are influenced by this way of thinking, the innovative way of thinking, their first thought is, ‘How do we deflect that asteroid?’ ‘How do we destroy that asteroid?’ ‘How do we mine that asteroid?’ … That’s a culture that I don’t think the United States is a part of right now.”
Sadly, that’s true. This nation, which once put men on the moon, no longer even has the capability to put astronauts into space.
We rely on the Russians, who apparently have even less of a cosmic perspective, to do that for us.
“Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” the new, 13-part series hosted by Tyson and co-written by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, begins airing this Sunday night on the Fox and National Geographic channels.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.