The Joe Rogan Experience #1159 – Neil deGrasse Tyson


  • Neil (@neiltyson) is probably one of the most famous astrophysicists of all time
  • He is the author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
    • It’s been on the New York Times best seller list for 67 weeks
    • This tells Neil – “There is a curiosity that this is serving”

Learning and School

  • Most kids, just aren’t curious and don’t have the desire to learn – schools don’t teach them to embrace curiosity
    • Learning is thought of as a chore
    • “The educational system needs an adjustment”
    • You want lifelong curiosity
  • Children don’t need to be taught to be curious – we should all have child-like curiosity
    • Children are constantly experimenting with the world – “They’re born scientists”
    • “We spend the first years of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk. Then you spend the rest of its life telling it to shut up and sit down”
  • Why is it universally accepted that learning ends after college?
  • Kids are bored in school – they’re not interested in what they’re learning, the enthusiasm is absent
    • It’s just so hard to get their attention
    • “Half the energy a teacher spends, is maintaining order”
  • Most people only have 1-2 teachers who have had a real influence on who they became
    • Neil’s advice to teachers – “Be that teacher”
  • Ask questions – probe deeper than the layer of information that comes to you – that’s what should be taught in school, and it’s not

The Success of Neil’s podcast

  • There’s a rise of “science curious” podcasts
    • Neil has his own – StarTalk
    • “There are programs out there that serve people who already know they like science, but who serves the people who don’t know they like science? Or better yet, the people who know they don’t like science?” – That’s what Neil’s show aims to do
    • “Science is everywhere” – StarTalk is a celebration of this
  • Joe enjoy Stuff to Blow Your Mind, and Radiolab
  • “Stand up comedians are some of the smartest people in the world” – Neil
    • They see the same things you do, and get to shape it in a way you never thought possible


  • Neil is currently shooting the second season of Cosmos, Cosmos: Possible Worlds
    • It will premiere in the spring of 2019 on National Geographic
  • It looks like Neil’s first season (Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey) is no longer on Netflix, but the second season will be
  • Fun fact – All seasons of Cosmos (including the original one with Carl Sagan) have been co-written by Ann Druyan, the widow of Carl Sagan

Neil’s New Book

  • Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military
    • “This book, unlike the other, is not for people in a hurry”
  • There were versions of the Hubble telescope previously launched by the military, looking down on us
    • The model for the Hubble telescope, had already been conceived, built, and was operating before building another one to look into space
  • The first x-ray machines for airports..
    • A company in Boston, called American Science and Engineering, was building an x-ray detector, small enough to put on a satellite, to observe the universe in x-rays
    • The technology was then applied for airport use
  • “The people who think about and study the universe, are hugely creative. Their creative energies cannot be pre prescribed”
    • The greatest discoveries come from a cross pollination of interests, where they were engaged because they were interested, just for the sake of being interested
    • “All the frontiers of the unknown – biology, chemistry, AI, know those frontiers! And then you can cross pollinate them and transform civilization”
  • Another example – Cordless high torque power tools were invented to service satellites in orbit by NASA due to a lack of an electrical outlet
  • NASA’s budget today is 4/10ths of 1% of the federal budget
    • Many people think NASA has a greater budget than it actually does
  • GPS was originally launched for military intent
    • Now we use it for everything
  • A physicist discovered that different atoms, specifically their nuclei, resonate differently when exposed to the same electromagnetic field
    • This is known as nuclear magnetic resonance
    • This served as the foundation for MRI machines, which are used today to distinguish one kind of tissue from another
  • Microwaves were originally used as a communication tool until it was discovered that they speed up the frequency of vibration of water molecules
    • This is why microwaves tend to heat the food more than the plate

Columbus Was Kind of a Dick

  • On his third voyage to the new world, he asked the natives for some of their food stock, so he and his crew could survive the journey back to Spain
    • The natives didn’t have enough to give him
    • Columbus knew there would soon be a lunar eclipse (where the moon enters the earth’s shadow and disappears, causing the moon to appear very red)
    • He told the natives that unless they gave his crew some of their food, his God would make the moon turn blood red
    • Within seconds of the moon turning red, the natives began to change their mind and supply him with food
  • Neil thinks that Columbus coming to America was the most significant thing to happen to our species
    • This contact was the first time something like this had happened in 10,000 years – the Ice Age had split humans up into multiple, separate pockets
    • As a result of Columbus – humans became one common genetic group
    • Columbus brought Syphilis back to Europe – he got it from the Native Americans

Quantum Entangled Particles

  • You can create a pair of particles that know about one another, even though they’re separated in space
  • If you observe one of them, it instantly changes the state of the other particle
    • They communicate instantaneously, faster than the speed of light
    • “Observe” just means …observing/interacting with


  • Certain industries would still exist without computing, but are made more efficient with it
    • Like UPS – they track all their trucks with computing, but UPS predates the use of these tools

The 3 Kinds of Truths

  • Objective Truth – True whether or not you believe in it
    • This is science
    • This is what you want to base governance on – it applies to everyone
    • This is not to be confused with a perceived truth – like eating a high cholesterol diet results in high blood cholesterol levels (it’s not true, but many claim it is)
      • The first study that gave society this idea left out many countries/people of certain nationalities
        • Many news outlets over hype studies because they want to report it first
      • “Most research in any journal of the moment, will openly show to be wrong”
  • Personal Truths – like religions
    • You can’t convince someone else about your personal truth without some act of violence
    • “Because it’s a personal truth, you cannot require someone else share it”
    • Note that the U.S. Constitution is a God free document
    • “Your personal belief is not true for everyone, its only true for you”
  • Political Truths – true because it’s been incessantly repeated
    • Like “Crooked” Hillary

Words and Calendars

  • The word “goodbye” comes from the phrase “God be with you”
    • Saying “God speed” is the space equivalent of “God be with you” (like when an astronaut is going to space, we say “God speed”)
  • Neil doesn’t call himself an atheist. as he doesn’t like what it means to be one today
    • Specifically, it’s beneath him to criticism other people for believing in their religions, which many atheists do
  • B.C.E = before common era
    • C.E. = common era
    • B.C. = before Christ
    • A.C. = after Christ
    • The Christians really came up with the Gregorian Calendar that we use today (leap years and all)
      • Neil still uses B.C. and A.C in his writing to honor this
  • In terms of earth orbiting around the sun, in relation to New Years, we don’t actually reach the same place in our orbit every 12am on January 1st
    • It happens 6 hours later each year – this is why every 4th year we put in a leap day


  • We know far more today than ever before
    • However, there is always a possibility of “lost knowledge”
  • The first structure that society built, ,that was taller than the Egyptian pyramids, was the Eiffel Tower in the late 1800s
  • Check out the book Stonehenge Decoded
  • Check out this Instagram pic by Neil – he calls it Manhattanhenge 
    • From Wikipedia – an event during which the setting sun or the rising sun is aligned with the east–west streets of the main street grid of Manhattan, New York City. The sunsets and sunrises each align twice a year, on dates evenly spaced around the summer solstice and winter solstice


  • Born in the early 1980s to the late 1990s
  • “They have a different relationship to science and technology. They don’t fear the science or technology, they embrace it because it has shaped the civilization that has enabled their social life
  • Only 64% of millennials believe the earth is round


  • If you took earth, with all of its mountains, valleys, hills etc., and shrunk it down to the size of a cue ball, it’d be smoother than any cue ball ever machined
    • Think about it…
      • The Mariana Trench goes 6 miles down, and is the lowest point on earth’s surface
      • The highest point on Earth’s surface is Mount Everest (5 miles up)
      • The distance between the lowest and highest points on earth’s surface is only 11 miles – less than the length of Manhattan
        • Earth has a diameter of 8,000 miles
  • Joe wants to have Neil debate a flat earther and record it as a podcast episode
    • “It’s just as intellectually lazy to believe everything you see, as it is to deny everything you see”
    • People connect themselves to ideas – it’s who they are
  • Neil tries not to base his character profile on anything not identified as objectively true
    • This is why he doesn’t have any tattoos – “There’s nothing I am so sure about, that I want to put it forever on my skin”
    • “There’s nothing I value in my mind, body, and soul so much in this moment, that I want to etch it on my skin. I want to leave room for me to possibly have a more enlightening thought later.”
    • If you’re always learning – this is even more important
  • What’s something Neil learned recently?
    • Two basketballs can fit side by side in a rim (the area of the opening is 4x the ball itself)
      • That’s why basketball teams sometimes use a smaller rim size for practice
  • “The majority of people who play football have CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy)” – Joe
  • Neil doesn’t keep a case on his phone
    • He likes to keep it slim


  • Post and Drop
    • Joe recommends the “post and drop” technique – “You can’t be reading those f*cking comments, you’re dealing with too many human beings”
      • Joe says Neil shouldn’t be reading responses
      • In regards to certain tweets, Neil says, though – “I care how people can think about what I wrote, if it’s a way I had not considered” – so it’s hard for him to “post and drop”
      • “It makes me a better communicator when I’m in front of a audience”
  • Joe – certain people are always just going to be angry with what you have to say
    • “They’re looking to get angry. The arrogance of thinking you could fix 30+ years of worthless shit bag living with a couple of tweets…Just walk away”


  • Joe – “There’s people that believe there are aliens among us”
  • Neil – “I would love to meet the aliens. They’re going to have technology I don’t have! I want to compare notes”

Weaponizing Space, Planes, and GPS

  • We now use GPS to help us find people to have sex with, and hail rides (Uber)
  • Maybe we should have a police force in space (a space force) to protect our valuable satellites which give us our GPS capabilities
    • They could also protect us from asteroids and clean up space debris
      • Neil likes to joke that aliens have never visited us because of all the debris in the way
      • Check out this visualization
  • “If you want to think about the future of civilization, you have to include a defense plan against asteroids”
    • What do we do now if we see an asteroid coming to earth? – Nothing, really
      • Check out Project Sentinel – They’ve tasked themselves with organizing world governments to protect earth from species killing asteroids
    • Neil recommends a solution
      • Each country on earth should contribute a small amount of money each year, that would be used to save the world if an asteroid were heading towards us
    • It’s really all about how much time we would have until it hit – all you need to do is nudge the asteroid, to make it go in another direction – if you do this early enough, you might veer the asteroid away from earth
      • Neil estimates time wise….we’d need 10 years .. 😔
      • “The good thing about species killing asteroids, is they’re large and visible. City killing asteroids, those slip through.”
  • After September 11th, a pilot will never give up the plane (even if hijackers are shooting people one by one) – the plane going down takes everyone out
    • Before September 11th, it was policy to follow the hijackers’ requests – the assumption was that if you deny their requests, they’ll start harming people, and if you follow their requests it will delay when they harm them (if they harm them at all) and maybe everyone would end up safe
      • It was never in the game plan that hijackers would crash the plane on purpose
  • On planes, when a pilot goes to the bathroom, the stewardess will stand in the aisle and block it with the food cart – this is to delay things if someone ever tried to charge the cock pit
  • If a plane goes into a building, and you’re in the back row, it’d take about 1/10th of a second before you’d be dead (think – how long does it take a plane to go it’s own length at 400-500 mph)

Why there will never be flying cars…

  • Neil gives a good visualization (in regards to regular cars)
    • If there was only 1 road, you could only go as fast as the slowest car (one dimensional travel)
    • If there were two lanes, you could go around slow cars (two dimensional – you can slide left to right)
    • Then we can add travel in another dimension (up)  – we already have this (helicopters)
      • They have to create a downward thrust of air equal to its own weight, and they’re very noisy – this is what flying cars will have to do
      • They also disrupt the terrain wherever we go
      • We also do this with bridges and tunnels (we build roads above and below one another)
  • Joe – “Self driving cars would be the shit, you just fly around. It’s like a boat, but for the air.”
  • Neil – “Tunnels and bridges are flying cars”
  • If a flying car fails …. you’re dead – another reason
  • Neil – in a way, we need access to the 4th dimension for flying cars to work
  • Check out the BlackFly
    • Its like a drone for a human
    • Neil has a good point – if we made a bunch of human drones, they’d be way too loud
      • Planes used to be way louder than they are now
        • Over time, engines got quieter and quieter which allowed people to build real estate closer to airports
        • You would used to have to pause a conversation, every time an airplane flew overhead
  • Joe suggests putting magnets on flying cars so they repel one another
  • When we achieve self-driving cars, they’ll be fewer cars on the road, so we won’t even need flying cars
    • “Most people’s second greatest asset, spends 90% of the time doing nothing”
    • Neil says people will likely share cars
    • Joe doesn’t think anything will change if we have self-driving cars
    • Neil says we’ll likely have specialized, self-driving only, 125mph lanes

Electric Cars

  • When you plug your car into the wall, you’re not asking where your power/energy is coming from – it could be from hydro, solar panels, tidal energy, oil, coal, etc.
  • This causes these energy sources to compete with one another for your business
  • Check out the book Turning OIl into Salt
    • People used to use salt to preserve their food – then we came up with the process of canning, refrigeration etc.
      • Salt reserves, at the time were very important – EVERYONE knew where there salt was coming from
      • Salt lost its strategic value with canning+refrigeration
    • So, if we design a car that can run on many types of energy (hydro, fuel cells, batteries), they’ll be forced to compete with oil
      • If they do that, we’ll no longer fight wars for oil
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