02 July 2018

Science, Curiosity, and God

[I've watched the PBS NewsHour, as it’s now called, pretty much every night since it was the McNeil/Lehrer Report.  In the last several years, the program’s introduced two regular features that are essentially oral essays by guest contributors.  They’re generally opinion pieces on subjects of particular interest to the essayist, but they cover a wide range of topics and presentation styles.  Recently there have been several of these segments that especially caught my attention, and two of them, one from “Brief but Spectacular” and one from “In My Humble Opinion,” seemed somewhat related.  So I’ve decided to post them together and let them play off one another for the benefit of readers of Rick On Theater.  ~Rick]

by Niel deGrasse Tyson

[This essay, part of NewsHour’s “Brief but Spectacular” feature, was originally aired on Thursday, 24 May 2018.]

Neil deGrasse Tyson says he is like a “smorgasbord of science food” – he’s recognized hundreds of times every day and people are always hungry for more knowledge. DeGrasse Tyson, who spends much of his professional life encouraging science literacy in adults, gives his Brief but Spectacular take on bringing the universe down to Earth.

Judy Woodruff:  Finally, we turn to another installment of our weekly “Brief but Spectacular” series. Tonight, author and astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

For more than two decades, he has served as director of the Hayden Planetarium in his home town of New York City. Tyson’s latest book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” is available now.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson:  What I think actually happened, was that the universe chose me. I know that’s not a very scientific sentence, but that’s what it felt like. The universe said, come, Neil, join us. And yes, I never looked back, back at earth. I kept looking up.

I was star struck at age nine. A visit to my local planetarium. Having been born in the Bronx, I thought I knew how many stars there were in the night sky, about a dozen.

Then you go into the dome of the planetarium and then thousands of stars come out. I just thought it was a hoax.

By age 11, I had an answer to that annoying question adults always ask children, what do you want to be when you grow up? I said, astrophysicist.

That usually just shut them up right there. Nobody knew anybody who was an astrophysicist and then I’d get back to the telescope.

So, deniers are people who wish the world were a way that does not agree with the operations of nature.

Believe what you want. I’m not going to even stop you. I would just hope you don’t rise to power over legislation and laws that then affect other people who do understand how science works. That’s dangerous.

Skepticisms is I will only believe what you believe what you tell me in proportion to the weight of the evidence you present. If you start speaking in ways where no known law of physics supports it, then I’m going to be all over you with my skepticism.

I’m recognized basically several hundred times a day. I wish I could put on a mustache and not be noticed but, of course, I have a mustache. They don’t care about me, tell me about that black hole you mentioned a program I saw the other day. Or, will we ever travel through space?

It’s like, I’m just this, this smorgasbord of science food and I got them hungry from something I did before and they’re still hungry and they want more. Most of my professional effort is trying to get adults scientifically literate. I think kids are born curious and if you fix the adult problem, the kids problem gets fixed overnight.

Part of my confidence is I see this generation who’s been born since 1995, teens, low 20s. That generation has only ever known the Internet as a source of access to knowledge. I have very high hope and expectations for what world they will create when they actually assume the mantles of power.

It’s the gap between when they do and what’s going on now that concerns me. It’s the adults that may have once been curious and forgot or there’s a flame that has been tamped down and you want to fan that flame and reawaken a sense of wonder about this world that we so often take for granted.

When I see eyes light up because that moment was reached, I’m done.

I’m Neil DeGrasse Tyson, your personal astrophysicist, and this is my “Brief But Spectacular” take on bringing the universe down to earth.

*  *  *  *
by Alan Lightman

[This comment from “In My Humble Opinion,” essays by thinkers, writers and artists, was broadcast on PBS NewsHour on 4 June 2018.]

Amna Nawaz:  One conflict in the ongoing culture wars seems to suggest that science and religion cannot coexist peacefully.

Alan Lightman is a distinguished physicist and a novelist who teaches at MIT. Tonight, he shares his Humble Opinion on how to make space for both facts and spirituality.

Alan Lightman:  I have worked as a physicist for many years. And I have always held a purely scientific view of the world.

And by that, I mean that the universe is made of matter and nothing more, that the universe is governed by a small number of laws, and that everything in the world eventually disintegrates and passes away.

And then, one summer night, I was out in the ocean in a small boat. It was a dark, clear night, and the sky vibrated with stars. I laid down in the boat and looked up. After a few minutes, I found myself falling into infinity.

I lost all track of myself, and the vast expanse of time extending from the far distant past to the far distant future seemed compressed to a dot. I felt connected to something eternal and ethereal, something beyond the material world.

In recent years, some scientists have attempted to use scientific arguments to question the existence of God. I think these people are missing the point. God, as conceived by most religions, lies outside time and space. You can’t use scientific arguments to either disprove or prove God.

And for the same reason, you can’t use scientific arguments to analyze or understand the feeling I had that summer night when I lay down in the boat and looked up and felt part of something far larger than myself.

I’m still a scientist. I still believe that the world is made of atoms and molecules and nothing more. But I also believe in the power and validity of the spiritual experience.

Is it possible to be committed to both without feeling a contradiction? I think so. We understand that everything in the physical world is material, fated to pass away. Yet we also long for the permanent, some grand and eternal unity.

We’re idealists and we’re realists. We’re dreamers and we’re builders. We experience and we do experiments. We long for certainties, and yet we ourselves are full of the ambiguities of the Mona Lisa and the I Ching.

We ourselves are part of the yin-yang of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment