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“Star man” as rock star

My meditation on our common sense, everyday experience of physics and the 10^n and 10^-n reality was facilitated by MSNBC this morning — there was a segment with Neil deGrasse Tyson promoting his latest book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. A brief Q&A offered some additional context and memorable quotes. For example, Galileo’s famous quote that “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” 1

Tyson is one of the “rock stars” in the field of popular science.2 I’m finding more and more such books by other authors as well — covering today’s “cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.” 3

Looks like Tyson’s been promoting his new book the last couple of months. CBS posted an article containing excerpts on April 29. Their video “Joyful guide to the stars” provides some personal background about his passion for scientific literacy. Excerpts from“Reflections on the Cosmic Perspectives are noteworthy.

CBS’ excerpts from “Dark Energy” include a description of the vacuum of space and the “vacuum pressure” problem.

Are we, too, missing some basic pieces of the universe that once was? What part of the cosmic history book has been marked “access denied”? What remains absent from our theories and equations that ought to be there, leaving us groping for answers we may never find?

Since I follow visualizations of physics in movies and on TV, I’ll need to check out some of his “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies” talks.4


[1] Also cited here.

[2] As CBS put it, “When it comes to STAR POWER in the field of science, few if any can outshine star-gazer Neil deGrasse Tyson.”

This is what happened when astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson paid a visit to his old high school. You might expect pandemonium here, at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, which has graduated eight Nobel Prize-winners.

For these kids, the “star man” is a rock star.

But adults love him just as much. One man said, “He’s, like, only the smartest man on the planet.”

“Whoever thought a scientist could be funny, you know?” said one woman.

And another man summed it up: “He’s the epitome of geek cool.”

On a weeknight, he can fill a theater with people willing to pay rock-concert prices to see him live talking science, in a show he calls, “Let’s Make America Smart Again!”

He’s been famous ever since he argued in 1999 that Pluto wasn’t a planet. He wasn’t the only one, but he’s still being blamed for its demotion.

[3] Amazon’s teaser:

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

Not many Amazon reviews as yet. And reactions are mixed, from Paul Halpernon’s 5-star review (below) and some enjoying the “quick tour” to those who felt the book repeated prior content or remained over their heads. Hard to strike a balance in a such a short book, eh.

5.0 out of 5 stars Clear compendium of cosmic knowledge
By Paul Halpernon May 2, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
Verified Purchase

Neil Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, has received considerable acclaim for his outstanding ability to relate scientific ideas to the general public, on television programs such as Cosmos and on social media. His humor and down-to-earth allusions help make even the farthest reaches of space seem accessible. ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’ doesn’t disappoint; Tyson’s compelling anecdotes and clear prose shine throughout. His cultural references are especially memorable, from quotes by Shakespeare, the Bible, and a poem by Einstein, to modern-day allusions to Star Trek. There are excellent sections about the origin of the chemical elements (Tyson wonders why the general public is afraid of chemicals) the shape of astronomical bodies (comparing them to hamburgers and hot dogs), and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. All in all, the book offers a model of clarity in scientific explanation. Highly recommended as an introduction to contemporary astrophysics! — Paul Halpern, author of The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality

[4] “Neil deGrasse Tyson hates scientific inaccuracies in film, so he put together a two-and-a-half hour PowerPoint presentation on the subject and took it on tour.”

Outside his formal talks, there’re some YouTube interviews on the subject of physics fidelity in movies. Here’s his assessment of the movie Interstellar.

Published on Nov 18, 2014 For astrophysicists, “Interstellar” is probably like being a kid in a candy store. But how realistic is it? The one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about the realism of “Interstellar” and how the Matthew McConaghey-led space epic stacks up to some of his favorite science fiction flicks.

2 thoughts on ““Star man” as rock star

  1. On May 9, 2017, posted an article on the May 5th TimesTalks interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson about his new book.

    The astrophysicist discussed his new book and much more with journalist Amy Harmon May 5 in a live interview for the New York Times’ TimesTalks program.

    He discussed the way that he conveys science — by attaching scientific concepts to a pop culture scaffold of references and ideas that people already understand. But if a concept is “fundamentally mind-blowing” without a pop culture connection then he just puts it out there, he said — and a combination of those types of concepts makes up the book.

    Tyson started the interview by addressing cultural skepticism and the process of science since the year 1600 — frontier (bleeding edge) papers and opinions vs. process of emerging consensus and “objective truth” (whether you believe in it or not). Later he returned to the difference between a skeptic and denier.

    Other Q&A: exoplanets and search for bio-markers, cosmic perspective (pale blue dot), being a servant of the public’s curiousity about the cosmos.

    The article links to the full (1 hr 5 min) YouTube video.

  2. February 13, 2018: “Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Sets an Example for Science Educators (Op-Ed).”

    The success of science depends on the ability of scientists to successfully explain their subject. It depends on the talent of professionals who can popularize science in the media, where education and entertainment can become one. Such individuals include Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman, among many others, whose enthusiasm is contagious, whose videos still attract millions of viewers and whose viewpoints still enlighten minds around the world.

    Add Neil deGrasse Tyson to this list, thereby creating a trinity of physicists and astrophysicists with the ability to translate the prose of science and mathematics into poetry better suited for mass communication. Tyson is the host of the television series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” a follow-on to Sagan’s 13-part miniseries “Cosmos,” which aired in 1980.

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