The theater was packed (the show sold out in 24 hours) and all 2,300 seats were filled as the lights dimmed and a hush blanketed the audience. The Bendum Center, which we’ve mentioned before, often hosts great acts from opera and theater to classical and rock music. The acoustic were designed more than 90 years ago, carrying the voices and notes to the back of highest tiers of seats. So what amazing play or performance was the audience eagerly anticipating? This night, it was a physics lecture.
Yes, a lecture on astrophysics drew 2,300 people, and we were among them. Our professor for the evening was Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, world-renowned astrophysicist and director or the Hayden Planetarium in New York, host of Star Talk and Cosmos and half a dozen books.
His topic for the evening was achieving a Cosmic Perspective, the idea that we all need to take a step back and consider the world from a vantage point much larger than our daily existences. We looked at the Pale Blue Dot photos from 1990 and 2013 (pictured) and used that as an opportunity to step *way* back in perspective.
Tyson stressed that, as humans, we tend to want to be seen as unique individuals; but the fact of the matter is we’re all much more alike than different. And we’re all far more similar to nearby species (in terms of genetic makeup) like rats and mice than most of us would care to admit.
Stepping back and considering our existence from that cosmic perspective may help us become better stewards of our blue dot — and maybe even better co-inhabitants of our home.
Tyson also talked about Pluto (and his part in the planet’s demotion to dwarf planet status) and the decline of scientific thought leadership in the United States between as recently as the 1990s and today (both moves we’d like to see reversed).
I have to admit Tyson has a gift for taking complex theories and making them understandable. He may be the most high-profile science educator in the U.S., and possibly in the world. He has used his platform as advocate for science literacy, stating in an interview with The Science Network,
“[A] most important feature is the analysis of the information that comes your way. And that’s what I don’t see enough of in this world. There’s a level of gullibility that leaves people susceptible to being taken advantage of. I see science literacy as a kind of vaccine against charlatans who would try to exploit your ignorance. “
It’s a philosophy that applies to understanding cultures, and is cured by travel as well an understanding of the laws of nature.