Neil deGrasse Tyson Interview
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a name that’s been bandied about the office in the last several weeks as a potential guest. While scanning RSS feeds, one keys in on keywords one may not have paid attention to previously.
In this interview with The Humanist, the popular astrophysicist has some intriguing things to say about beliefs, education, and communication. When asked if he’s a humanist:
I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics—that’s what I identify with.
I gave a talk to the National Science Teachers Association. That is an important group of people, K-12 educators in science. I asked by show of hands how many people—because I knew it would get an interesting reply—didn’t own a television. Half of the hands went up. Of those who owned a television, I asked how many only occasionally used it to watch a movie, and half of the hands went up. So fully three quarters of that audience whose job it is to teach the next generation science don’t watch television, yet the average American watches thirty or forty hours of television a week. That disconnect is pedagogically fatal.
…and when I say pop culture I don’t mean only the TV shows that are kind of cool and interesting. I also mean the hit shows. I’m talking about Dancing with the Stars. I’m talking about the reality shows most educators thumb their noses at as being of no educational or intellectual value. Yet clearly millions of people watch them every week so there is a disconnect. Once there is a disconnect, you’re not communicating.
On a new atheist’s style of communicating science:
In the category of worst practices, there are occasions where people—either humanist or atheist—are just completely obnoxious in a conversation with others. I even had a tussle with Richard Dawkins (I think it’s my most viewed YouTube clip) in which I accused him of being completely ineffective because he is so sharp of wit in the service of his point of view, and he is so well educated that he may fail to fulfill the directive of his title, which at the time was Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. That implies that your conversation with another person is an act of persuasion in some ways, not hitting them over the head. You want to understand what is going on in another person’s mind and meet them there. Otherwise, you’re not as effective as you could be.
Rapping the LHC
Marc Sanchez, Associate Producer
I was recently doing some research on Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczeck. Truth be told, I can barely spell “physics” much less grasp the concepts he works with, like quantum chromodynamics (QCD).
Currently, Mr. Wilczeck is trying to combine the theories of how to measure the four forces of nature — gravity, electromagnetism, strong force, and weak force — into one, unified theory. To help solve this problem, he has enlisted the help of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). That’s the gigantic particle accelerator that got people in a tizzy about sucking the Earth into a self-made black hole.
Physicists, including Mr. Wilczeck, have assured us that our universe is safe, but I still needed to wrap my head around the LHC. Enter Kate MacAlpine, an employee who works with the particle accelerator in Switzerland. She put together a rap that actually does a really good job of breaking down the science.
A Matrix of Science and Religion
by Colleen Scheck, producer
Science historian Robert Crease evaluated responses to a 2008 Physics World survey that asked, “Which of the following reflects your views on science and religion?” He found he could place them in this matrix.
Dr. Feynman’s Father
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
Right now I’m reading (or listening to, rather — in audio book form) The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of physicist Richard P. Feynman's short works. Feynman was a unique and fascinating figure — not only was he a genius (he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965), but he was also a skilled explainer, storyteller, prankster, and bongo player (among other things).
The video above is from a 1981 BBC interview with Feynman, and includes some of his thoughts on religion, doubt, and uncertainty. Watching this, I couldn’t help thinking of our program “A History of Doubt.” His enthusiasm lies in the act of questioning rather than in belief: “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”
This same interview is also excerpted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and one thing that stood out to me was how much Feynman referenced his father’s teaching. I’m excited by Feynman’s ideas, but in some ways I’m even more fascinated to hear him trace those ideas back to his father. With “The Spirituality of Parenting" broadcasting this week, it seemed fitting to share a few of these stories — to catch a glimpse of how Feynman acquired his faith in doubting, as he tells it in the following video:
The Wonder of Water
by Trent Gilliss, online editor
Video snacks are the latest rage among the working proletariat nowadays. People are hungry for the sentimental, the celebratory, the enigmatically natural joy of physics, the contemplative, the comic — especially at 3 pm on a workday.
For me, one of the pure pleasures of video on the Web is discovering cinematic joy in a short commercial that I may have dismissed because of timing and the medium. But, with a set of headphones forming an aural cocoon, I can experience the magic of water balloons floating and bursting in super-slow-motion, reflect on my children and wife, and appreciate what an immensely beautiful world that presents itself. All in a Schweppes ad; can you believe it?