WE’RE UNIQUELY THE SAME
In our society, we place an inordinate amount of value on being unique and different. Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author, science communicator, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium New York City, encourages us to place less value on individuality and instead to focus on what brings us together.
“We are a participant in an ecosystem. And so when you put all this together, you realize it’s not that we are here and the universe is there. It’s not that we are humans and everything else isn’t. It’s that we are a participant in the great unfolding of cosmic events.”
“And for me, that gives a sense of belonging. That’s a cosmic perspective that allows you to sort of sit up straight and look around and say, I belong to something bigger than my daily routine. That’s a gift of 20th century astrophysics to civilization. That awareness. That sense of participation. You’re not separate and distinct from the universe. You are part of the universe. You are in the universe. The universe is in you.”
Our country is currently plagued by polarization. I use the world plague intentionally. If we don’t actively work to reverse it, this plague could take over and end the democracy that so many died and fought for. It’s time for a revolution— not a physical revolution but an intellectual revolution. This revolution starts with learning to think differently. We HAVE to search for objective truth. Objective truth is truth whether we believe it or not. It is unbiased and unflawed by human flaws, by human biases. We can no longer make decisions for this country and our collective humanity, based on personal and political truths.
KNOWING vs THINKING
“I can guarantee you that the most important moments of your life are decided not by what you know, but by how you think.”Neil degrasse tyson
Tyson says, “What do you do when you confront a problem you’ve never seen before? Do you say, I’m not trained for this, and walk away? You say, wow, that’s a problem I’ve never seen before. Let me try to solve it. Science literacy is not so much about what you know, but about how your brain is wired for thought, how your brain is wired to ask questions, empowering you to probe knowledge and information that’s out there in the quest for what is objectively true in this world.”
THE BIAS OF NEEDING TO FEEL SPECIAL
Tyson says, “One of the cognitive biases is that you want to feel special. I’ve spoken to people who say, I always find money in the street. And I say, OK. You know what you don’t find? The money that you missed.The urge to feel special knows no bounds. If there’s ever a moment where something happens around you and you want to think it’s special, just pause. Chances are it’s not. And this comes about because the human brain is not wired to think about probability and statistics. It’s just not.”
“What’s wrong with feeling special? I guess, in principle, nothing. But it’s not an accurate understanding of the world. You have a choice. Do you want to live in a delusion of what you think is true or do you want to live in the reality of what is true?”
CULTURAL BIAS & PERSONAL TRUTHS
Tyson says, “Where the bias to feel special does have a consequence is when we start to join groups. Cultural Bias is the blunt assertion that your group is superior to another group. When you have this attitude, it affects everything you do. It affects laws that you pass. It affects how you treat people who are not you. It affects what opportunities you give others relative to you. It affects how you wage war, what weapons you would use and choose to invoke. These are tenets that exist in different religions that are deeply and strongly held by the faithful among those religions.”
“This group association thing is kind of unhealthy for a peaceful society. It’s the impetus for whole countries going to war because one country feels they’re better than the other, or one group enslaving another group because they think they are better in whatever metric it is they are using to decide.”
“In a free country, especially one where religious freedoms are protected, go right ahead. Have whatever personal truth you want. Of course, providing it doesn’t constrain or remove the freedoms of others. That’s why we’re calling it a personal truth.”
“If you have a strong personal truth, and that personal truth overlaps something that can be tested scientifically, then you have to just be aware that you can end up confronting information that is objectively true— that is, true regardless of who looks at it— and it could conflict with your personal truth. And it can manifest, once again, by thinking you’re special, but not from a, I’m a special human, but, I’m part of a group that is special.”
“My religion is more special than your religion. My country is more special than your country. My way of thinking is more special than your way of thinking.”
“It actually distorts your ability to interpret reality because you have an unjustified level of confidence in a particular worldview you have adopted. What I mean by unjustified is you participate in this mindset because it makes you feel good about yourself and this group that you’re a part of. And in order to feel good, in almost all cases, it involves denigrating other groups.”
“Nazi Germany— that was a personal truth. Personal truth is Nazi Germans are superior in every way to everyone else in the world. This is a personal truth that they— and they believed it down to their bones and acted on the world based on that belief system. So what they all have in common is that they derive from belief systems, whether or not their belief system has a religious foundation or otherwise.”
The value of science is that it’s true whether or not you believe it. It’s constant and therefore you can make measured, reliable, and consistent decisions when used.
Tyson urges us against eye-witnesses and authoritative figures as a sources of information. Whenever humans are involved, information is naturally flawed and biased. Tyson says, “It’s not our fault that we’re human. Being human, we all have a susceptibility to a certain category of bias, and it’s called cognitive bias. These are things you think are true but are not and can be demonstrated to not be true.”
People often ask him what he thinks to be true and he says that it’s harmful to only believe something because an authoritative figure believes it. This is a recipe for disaster where you can be easily taken advantage of and will only follow charismatic figures that have power over you. He instead teaches people to learn for themselves. And that simply starts with asking questions.
It’s as equally lazy to accept information without understanding it’s factual backing as it is to disregard information because of that same lack of factual background. When we are confronted with new information, as stewards of growth, understanding, and tolerance, we have an obligation to:
ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS FIRST.
Not only does asking questions help us to learn more about an idea, but it also helps us to learn more about the actual person perpetuating this idea. What is their motivation, what is their knowledge on the topic, what is their experience with the topic?
But more importantly this healthily challenges this person or groups ideas and ideologies.
Ask the following questions:
- Where did you learn this?
- What is the research behind this information?
- Who taught this information?
- Has this been replicated?
- Have you learned this from multiple sources?
- Was it a reputable publication?
- Was it peer-reviewed?
Asking these questions also challenges a group or person sharing ideas and ideologies to really “know their stuff”. It might even make them pause and say, “you know I’m not really sure what the answer is to a lot of these questions, maybe I need to dig a little deeper and challenge the information before I believe it and perpetuate it.
WE HAVE A DUTY
Who are we, if not measured by our impact on others? That’s who we are! We’re not who we say we are, we’re not who we want to be— we are the sum of the influence and impact that we have, in our lives, on others.carl sagan
We are so fortunate to benefit from amazing leaders and scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who feel a sense of duty and appreciation for the talents they have. Tyson says, I do what I do because “some of you will rise up and end up doing exactly what I’m doing. I am a public educator, not because it was ever my life’s ambition. I’m a public educator out of a sense of duty. If I can communicate something effectively in ways that others can’t, and that which I’m trying to communicate matters to the health and wealth and security of the nation, I would be irresponsible if I did not.”
What’s the point of learning anything new if we don’t change with that new information and like Tyson, pay it forward. If we have a talent that can better mankind it’s our obligation to share it and use it to better those around us. I hope all of you will take your talents and rise up to that call of duty.
COMMUNICATING vs LECTURING
“It’s not good enough to be right. You also have to be effective.”Cyril deGrasse Tyson (Neil’s father)
What use are great leaders, great teachers, and great information if it falls on def ears? A great communicator is someone who learns how to lead, teach, and connect in a way that motivates and elicits action. Tyson says that great communicators make it look easy but it only looks easy because they do their homework. They learned the demographics and needs of their audience. They learn what information will resonate with them. What facts and comparisons will make an impact in their daily life. Communicators don’t lecture, they connect.
Understanding your audience is step number one. Read and learn about what is important to your audience. Are they old, young, female, male, poor, rich? What are their concerns about the topic? When you don’t understand what a person’s opinions and perspectives are motivated by then you will have a tough time convincing them and even opening their eyes to a different view. Your goal should not be to convince them so that you “win” the argument. Your goal should be to get that person to a place where they say, “I never even thought to look at “this” differently.
Above all else. Tyson implores us to stay curious. Curiosity is what makes change. It’s what challenges people, ideas, and ideologies. It’s how inventions are made. It’s what made the lightbulb, it’s what cured polio, it’s what helped me to have children, and it’s what gives us access to information from all over the world. Curiosity is what helps us to change the world into a place we want to be.
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