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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Got to see Neil deGrasse Tyson this afternoon at Elon

Dr. Tyson's badass jazz-hands

Astrophysicist, bestselling author, science education advocate, "some guy from a Fox show" (as we heard one passerby say while we waited in the standby line), advisor to multiple White Houses and general megaboffin Neil deGrasse Tyson came to my alma mater Elon University this afternoon to speak at the school's spring convocation.  This was a tough thing to get into.  Tickets sold out in less than 30 minutes when they went on sale a few weeks ago, with only a few allotted for the general public.  Not even being esteemed alumni as "Weird" Ed and myself are was any help.

But Ed was determined to see Tyson, and nothing was going to stop him.  He drove four hours to pick me up and then after some lunch on the way we got to Elon and became the third and fourth people in the standby line.  That was at half past noon.  Convocation was scheduled for 3:30.  Thirty minutes before it began they began handing out tickets for the standby people and we proceeded in to await the appearance of Dr. Tyson.

After the processional of the class of 2015 into the hall, Elon's chaplain delivered an opening prayer.  President Leo Lambert and a member of the science faculty extolled the virtues and accolades that Tyson has accumulated during his colorful career.  And then it was time for the man himself...

He spoke for at least an hour, in what he called a "stream of consciousness" speech as opposed to something really prepared.  He had multitudes of information and was nothing short of animated in presenting it.  Tyson totally took hold of the scene and captivated us with thought on objective and subjective realities, the guiding forces of exploration and scientific inquiry (I especially appreciated his remarks on the real reason why President Kennedy challenged the country to reach the Moon in less than a decade).  During his opening Tyson spoke of Aristotle and how experimentation had not been developed as a tool of investigation.  To demonstrate the point he took off his shoe and dropped it onto the stage: trust me, it was the coolest demonstration of the tenets of Newton's Principia that I've yet seen.

What I appreciated most of Tyson's lecture however had nothing really to do with science.  He made a point numerous times: that we can't be defined by the majority.  We certainly cannot be defined by political parties (which, he noted, are capricious in the extreme).  That was something which resounded especially strong with me.

I will be honest: I do not agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson on everything.  In my estimation, he is too focused on the objective means of understanding the universe around us, while showing considerable disregard and even some amount of disdain toward what he termed the "subjective": of which the spiritual is part.  Throughout my years I have come to understand... and Tyson would be the first to note that this is purely something that I cannot prove, as it lacks grounds for experimental proof... that science and faith are not counter to each other, but are instead two sides of the same coin.  Each is the pursuit of truth.  For the love of truth.  Truth for its own sake, without ourselves within its frame of reference.  More than we give them credit for, I do hold that those from the spheres of religion are, for the most part, seeking that truth... and not to draw from it any sense of power.

But I also came away from his lecture with a far deeper respect for Tyson's perspective as a scientist.  And during his lecture I came to understand something: that we may disagree on the methods, but our motives are the same.  Although, it must be said, he definitely has a classier presentation!

I enjoyed this.  I came away from this with a deeper appreciation of the human condition.  "Weird" Ed agreed.  And his four-hour drive wasn't for naught after all.  Mission accomplished!


Dana said...