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    Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Why Having a “Cosmic Perspective” Will Help You Do Life Better

    Continuously strive for self-improvement, balance leisure and productivity, measure progress based on personal goals, remain adaptable, and focus on leaving a positive legacy.

    enMay 08, 2023

    About this Episode

    Today’s guest is the legendary astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, the host of the Emmy nominated podcast, Star Talk, and the recipient of 21 honorary doctorates. He also has an asteroid named in his honor.


    Tyson’s latest book is right up our alley on the show. It's called Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization and it’s basically about how taking a scientific perspective can improve your life—and the world.  


    In this episode we talk about:


    • Applying a scientific lens to our emotions
    • The importance of intellectual humility
    • How the knowledge of death brings meaning to life 
    • Neil’s long view of social media
    • Whether we are living in a simulation
    • Neil's personal mental health regime
    • And whether there is intelligent life in the universe



    Full Shownotes:https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/neil-degrasse-tyson-594 

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    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Embracing a scientific perspective can enhance personal and societal decision-making by differentiating between opinions and objective truths, promoting rationality and scientific reasoning, and gaining intellectual humility.
    • Acknowledging that there is still so much we don't know and prioritizing objective truth helps us grow and avoid conflicts. Both intellectual and emotional humility are essential in objectively resolving disputes.
    • Pause and question our own thoughts and ideas to remove biases. Actively seek out and point out errors in our own thinking. Foster disagreement to promote growth and discovery.
    • Despite emotional fuel powering creativity, it's crucial to distinguish emotions from quantitative analysis for conflict resolution. An objective view shows the world is better than ever. Rational thinking is vital for decision-making today.
    • Despite the challenges we face with social media, it's important to maintain hope and confront the difficulties head-on. With persistence and ingenuity, we can work towards positive change and progress, as no sanctioned country in the world endorses slavery.
    • Understanding science and having a cosmic perspective can lead to rational decision making and a better understanding of the world, while helping us rise above petty arguments and make informed choices.
    • Understanding and celebrating diversity while stepping back to view situations from different perspectives can lead to greater compassion and unity, and help us question our decisions and actions.
    • Engaging in conversation with an open mind, strategic thinking, and evidence-based approach are essential for resolving conflicts in any situation, including war.
    • Although there may not be a known cause for certain phenomena, adopting a cosmic perspective can bring value to our lives and remind us that our bodies, even in death, contribute to the universe.
    • Being alive is a rare and valuable gift. Live with focus and intensity, celebrate every moment, and create a world where life is cherished and not cheapened.
    • Continuously strive for self-improvement, balance leisure and productivity, measure progress based on personal goals, remain adaptable, and focus on leaving a positive legacy.
    • Find happiness and humility through reconnecting with the universe, reading old books, and valuing past thinkers. Avoid space movies that violate physics and portray scientists as being ignored. Embrace storytelling to gain exposure to the human condition and different perspectives.
    • While we may not be alone in the universe, the existence of intelligent life forms and their interest in communicating with us cannot be assumed based on UFO sightings alone. Intelligence is not the only measure of a successful life form.
    • Our world may not be a simulation because irrational behavior exists in our world, which is not possible in a perfectly logical computer-created world. Our universe is vast, unpredictable, and constantly surprising us with new discoveries.
    • Neil DeGrasse Tyson's work combines humor and science to make learning about the universe fun and accessible. Science and spirituality can coexist, and we should never stop seeking answers to the mysteries of the cosmos.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Power of Science for Personal and Global Progress

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson's book, Starry Messenger, conveys how taking a scientific perspective can improve one's life and the world. His conversation with Dan Harris covers applying a scientific lens to emotions, the importance of intellectual humility, and the knowledge of death bringing meaning to life. Tyson's lifetime of insights and observations on civilization's conduct in the face of objective truths highlights how we often hold very strongly held opinions without considering objective realities. He emphasizes the need to differentiate between opinions and objective truths. By encouraging investment in objective realities, Tyson inspires individuals to seek rationality and promote scientific reasoning in their daily lives.

    The Significance of Intellectual and Emotional Humility in Avoiding Conflicts

    Having intellectual and emotional humility is crucial in softening arguments and avoiding conflicts. Even in science, there is so much that we don't know and being aware of this fact keeps us open to learning. Instead of defending our opinions blindly, we should have conversations that prioritize objective truth. Intellectual humility is essential, but emotional humility is also needed, especially when passion is attached to objectively resolvable matters. Even great thinkers like St. Augustine emphasized the importance of humility. Scientists have a better understanding of the concept, but everyone can benefit from practicing it. Humility can help us grow and see farther beyond our current knowledge.

    Adopting a Scientific Approach to Avoid Biases in Daily Life

    As human beings, we have susceptibilities to over-investing in what we want to be true. However, scientists have extra checks and balances to avoid biases and foster disagreement on the frontier of discovery. This approach can also be adopted in our daily lives. We can pause and question our own thoughts and ideas to remove biases and diminish them to as small as possible. For example, the idea of being a vegetarian out of not wanting to kill animals could be re-examined with a scientific view of animals' life expectancies. The best thing we can do is to actively seek out and point out errors in our own thinking, and fostering disagreement on the frontier of discovery.

    The importance of rational thought and objective truths in decision-making.

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson emphasizes the importance of rational thought and objective truths in decision-making, including consideration for nature and its creatures. He acknowledges the emotional fuel that powers creativity and makes life interesting but says that distinguishing emotions from quantitative analysis can help resolve conflicts. Tyson reminds everyone that despite social media fueled tribalism and disagreements, the world is objectively doing better by almost every measure related to health, longevity, and cooperation. Europe, for instance, is at peace with itself, which has never happened in the last thousand years. Therefore, it is important to have cosmic perspectives and rational thinking while making decisions and resolving conflicts, especially in today's world.

    Navigating the Power of Social Media in Today's World.

    Social media is still a young platform and we are still discovering its power over us, over opinions, over politics and over the geopolitics of the world. As we learn to interact and mature with it, we can hope for a positive outcome. We must not be dissuaded by hopelessness or the seemingly insurmountable challenges presented to us. Facing our challenges and confronting them head-on may seem impossible, but it's not reason enough to not try to conquer them. There may be a solution you'll think of tomorrow that you never imagined was there yesterday. Don't forget to give yourself credit for your ingenuity. Real changes take place over centuries, and no sanctioned country in the world endorses slavery.

    The Power of a Cosmic Perspective and Scientific Literacy

    Having a cosmic perspective can help us make rational decisions and understand the value of science. Science has shaped the world we live in and has led to significant advances in medicine, sanitation, health, and communication. Rationality shouldn't be the only goal, but being scientifically literate can help us make better decisions. Our brains are wired to think statistically, which can lead to exploitation by industries like casinos. Looking at the world through a lens of science gives us a cosmic perspective that can help rise above petty arguments and see the Earth as it truly is, with oceans, land, and clouds.

    Geopolitical conflicts and how a cosmic perspective can help bridge divides

    The concept of geopolitical conflicts is instilled in us from a young age through color-coded globes. However, the Earth has no national boundaries and we are all one species. A cosmic perspective allows us to step back and make accurate measurements of daily annoyances. It helps us to be informed about our actions and to question our decisions. We need to look at situations from different perspectives and put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Tribalism and a sense of in-group outgroup can lead to ugly incidents. Understanding that people are raised a certain way can help us be more compassionate and forgiving towards them. Ultimately, we need to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the world and strive for unity

    The Wisdom of Scientists in Conflict Resolution.

    Opening up for conversation is the key to avoid war. Scientists observe conduct and make notes of it, rather than letting it affect them emotionally. They strategize and fold the conduct into the next things they do, and navigate future interactions with humans based on that. Instead of labelling people's behaviour, one can understand that every action has a cause and effect. Scientists are like kids who never really grew up, except they have more powerful tools to probe things. Science works because people think differently and only evidence-based paths lead to the right conclusion.

    The Unknown Causes in Quantum Physics and Human Behaviors.

    Quantum physics has phenomena that take place without any known cause, leading to situations where finding solutions with a cause may not apply. Certain human behaviors do not have an obvious cause, and although billion years of evolution could be the cause, it is not a cause accessible to our actions. However, the cosmic perspective can bring value and insights to our lives, and it is objectively true that upon death, our body decomposes into flora and fauna that have brought nourishment to our bodies throughout our lives. Cremation releases our stored chemical energy into space, an opportunity for those wishing to tour the universe even in death.

    Embracing and Valuing Life as the Most Precious Thing

    Knowing that we are alive against the vast odds of all the possible genetic variations that could have existed, gives us a cosmic perspective that should make us cherish every moment of life. The fact that we will all die gives meaning to our limited time on this planet, and so we should live with focus and intensity. Embracing life and valuing it as the most precious thing we own could help us create a world where life is cherished, and not cheapened. We should also take personal responsibility to celebrate every waking moment, as we have one chance through this and we should make the most of it.

    Tips for Personal Growth and Success

    Nobody's perfect but you can try to be perfect. Don't waste time doing nothing. Entertainment has value too, but make sure you're serving your body or mind. Regardless of the metrics, you use to measure progress, be more today than yesterday. While the long term impact of social media and other devices is still uncertain, it is important to put in reminders or whatever is required to correct past mistakes. Everything is negotiable, even non-negotiable things. Stay open to arguments and different perspectives. Remind yourself that one day you'll be dead and use your time effectively to leave a positive impact on the world.

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Philosophies on Humility and Storytelling

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson's fundamental source of happiness is reconnecting with the universe through his backyard telescope and reading old books. He also values the exposure to the human condition and different perspectives through storytelling. He advises against watching movies like Armageddon and Moonfall as they violate laws of physics. He finds every space movie plot to be about something bad happening and scientists being ignored. These hobbies help him reset and gain humility while valuing the previous thinkers. Stories about Chinese spy balloons and UFOs are unrelated to his philosophy but portray the current world's interest in space.

    The difference between the questions of aliens and unidentified aerial objects.

    The question of whether we are alone in the universe and the phenomenon of unidentified aerial objects are two completely different questions. Just because we don't know what a UFO is, it doesn't mean that it's intelligent aliens visiting from another planet. It's an extraordinary leap that any skeptic won't take without better evidence. The most common atoms in the universe are the atoms that comprise life, so it's inexcusably egocentric to suggest that we are alone in the universe. Intelligence is not the measure of the success of a life form in any ecosystem. There could be intelligent species out there who would not rank us in their club and see us as so insignificant as to not even be interested in communicating with us.

    The Complexities of Simulations and the Inanity Defense

    The argument that we are living in a simulation is based on the creation of complex worlds within computers. However, the inanity defense states that if this were a simulated world, there wouldn't be irrational behavior exhibited by its residents. Computers only make logical decisions, and every world it creates will have rational things going on, which are not present in our own world. The universe continues beyond the horizon that we can see, and it may be infinite, but we don't know for sure. Cause and effect is not a law of the universe, and things happen statistically, which has been proven in quantum physics. Science is always learning, and there are new things that might violate previously held laws.

    Exploring the Universe with Neil DeGrasse Tyson

    The law of conservation of matter and energy both prevails in the universe, and sometimes things happen for no known cause and may be discovered later on. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's book 'Starry Messenger' discusses how stars bring messages that may disrupt our understanding of our place in the universe, and his podcast 'Star Talk' combines humor and science to make learning fun. Galileo's quote 'the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go' reminds us that science and spirituality can coexist. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's work aims to bring the universe down to earth for those who want to learn.

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