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Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Top 10 Best Quotes

“In 2002, having spent more than three years in one residence for the first time in my life, I got called for jury duty. I show up on time, ready to serve. When we get to the voir dire, the lawyer says to me, “I see you’re an astrophysicist. What’s that?” I answer, “Astrophysics is the laws of physics, applied to the universe—the Big Bang, black holes, that sort of thing.” Then he asks, “What do you teach at Princeton?” and I say, “I teach a class on the evaluation of evidence and the relative unreliability of eyewitness testimony.” Five minutes later, I’m on the street. A few years later, jury duty again. The judge states that the defendant is charged with possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine. It was found on his body, he was arrested, and he is now on trial. This time, after the Q&A is over, the judge asks us whether there are any questions we’d like to ask the court, and I say, “Yes, Your Honor. Why did you say he was in possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine? That equals 1.7 grams. The ‘thousand’ cancels with the ‘milli-’ and you get 1.7 grams, which is less than the weight of a dime.” Again I’m out on the street.”

“Down there between our legs, it's like an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system. Who designed that?”

“But you can’t be a scientist if you’re uncomfortable with ignorance, because scientists live at the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos. This is very different from the way journalists portray us. So many articles begin, “Scientists now have to go back to the drawing board.” It’s as though we’re sitting in our offices, feet up on our desks—masters of the universe—and suddenly say, “Oops, somebody discovered something!” No. We’re always at the drawing board. If you’re not at the drawing board, you’re not making discoveries. You’re not a scientist; you’re something else. The public, on the other hand, seems to demand conclusive explanations as they leap without hesitation from statements of abject ignorance to statements of absolute certainty.”

“Our nation is turning into an idiocracy.”

“You know that passage in the Bible that says, “And the meek shall inherit the Earth”? Always wondered if that was mistranslated. Perhaps it actually says, “And the geek shall inherit the Earth.”

“Some molecules - ammonia, carbon dioxide, water - show up everywhere in the universe, whether life is present or not. But others pop up especially in the presence of life itself. Among the biomarkers in Earth's atmosphere are ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons from aerosol sprays, vapor from mineral solvents, escaped coolants from refrigerators and air conditioners, and smog from the burning of fossil fuels. No other way to read that list: sure signs of the absence of intelligence.”

“Robots are important also. If I don my pure-scientist hat, I would say just send robots; I'll stay down here and get the data. But nobody's ever given a parade for a robot. Nobody's ever named a high school after a robot. So when I don my public-educator hat, I have to recognize the elements of exploration that excite people. It's not only the discoveries and the beautiful photos that come down from the heavens; it's the vicarious participation in discovery itself.”

“There’s a fascinating frailty of the human mind that psychologists know all about, called “argument from ignorance.” This is how it goes. Remember what the “U” stands for in “UFO”? You see lights flashing in the sky. You’ve never seen anything like this before and don’t understand what it is. You say, “It’s a UFO!” The “U” stands for “unidentified.” But then you say, “I don’t know what it is; it must be aliens from outer space, visiting from another planet.” The issue here is that if you don’t know what something is, your interpretation of it should stop immediately. You don’t then say it must be X or Y or Z. That’s argument from ignorance. It’s common. I’m not blaming anybody; it may relate to our burning need to manufacture answers because we feel uncomfortable about being steeped in ignorance.”

“The four most common chemically active elements in the universe—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen—are the four most common elements of life on Earth. We are not simply in the universe. The universe is in us.”

“Imagine a life-form whose brainpower is to ours as ours is to a chimpanzee’s. To such a species, our highest mental achievements would be trivial. Their toddlers, instead of learning their ABCs on Sesame Street, would learn multivariable calculus on Boolean Boulevard. Our most complex theorems, our deepest philosophies, the cherished works of our most creative artists, would be projects their schoolkids bring home for Mom and Dad to display on the refrigerator door.”

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Book Keywords:

earth, humor, drawing-conclusions, bible, astrophysics, astrophysicist, aliens, robots, voir-dire, exploration, ufo, quote, difference, universe, intelligence, discovery, life, jury-duty, people, stupid-design, science, definition, dna, scientists, discoveries, ignorance, funny, geek, eyewitness, meek

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