For those of you who don't know Tyson, he's a celebrity astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. The guy is pretty amazing, having been influenced by a man I have profound respect for: Cornell's own Carl Sagan (sadly he left us before the turn of the century).
Cosmos is a reboot of Sagan's successful series that last saw television more than a generation ago. Last night's episode had us flying around the universe in a really cool ship that struck me as an all chrome version of the one that delivered the huge angry robot in "The Incredibles" during that movie's finale. Impressively, Tyson boiled down the many epochs of the universe's birth from the Big Bang to present day by representing it all on a twelve month calendar. All of recorded history on this calendar took place on the last day of the last month in the last sixteen seconds. That puts so much into scale. We are literally a blip that emerged during the last hour of the last day of the last month of the cosmic calendar and so much has come before us that the amount to study is literally immeasurable.
But most profound to me was Tyson's claim regarding the scientific method. "It's so powerful," he says, "that in just four hundred years it's taken us from learning about our planet's place in the solar system to making footprints on the moon." That's incredible, and I agree. We need to question everything, keep learning, and pass the torch to the next generation of scientists so that they can unravel more of life's mysteries.
Not long ago, I'd read that Tyson believed we should stop calling dark matter and dark energy by those names. Instead we should refer to them as "Fred" and "Wilma." This alone made me think that Tyson was perfect for this job: to create a show that would incite the imaginations of so many young people to use science as a way to explain our universe. And if you don't get the reference of "Fred" and "Wilma," it's because Tyson believed that the terms "dark matter" and "dark energy" were misleading. For one, science doesn't know what dark matter is. It should be called "dark gravity." And for another, just having the word "dark" makes people think that the two might be related, but they're not. So yeah..."Fred" and "Wilma" works beautifully.
Mr. Tyson, you blew my mind in your show last night. But in this case, blowing my mind is a lot of fun, and I hope you continue to do so as long as the show is on the air. Who knew learning could be so much fun?