Audio Summary –
Text Summary –
Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization
The book discusses the current trend of people being fed up with experts and the rise of hyperpartisanship and culture wars. While some argue for delegating decision-making to cool-headed rationalists, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson believes that science can’t replace politics, but can contribute to debates by providing a more nuanced perspective called the cosmic perspective. By placing our problems in a wider context, we can gain a better understanding of what really matters and potentially stimulate a greater sense of unity. The article suggests that reasoned debate is out, but perhaps by embracing the cosmic perspective, we can engage in more productive and meaningful conversations.
The book begins by discussing the vastness of the cosmos and the concept of the cosmic perspective, which encompasses every particle of matter in the universe. The author then takes us back 30,000 years to imagine a group of cave-dwelling ancestors huddled around a fire with a limited understanding of the world beyond their cave. When a couple of intrepid individuals want to explore beyond the familiar territory, the elders weigh the risks and rewards and ultimately decide against it. However, in a second cave, the pioneers are given the go-ahead to explore.
The article highlights the importance of exploration in solving problems and discovering new ways of thinking. Exploration is not just about discovering new worlds, but also about looking at the world we already know in new ways. This is the cosmic perspective, which widens our frames of reference and recontextualizes familiar ideas. To embrace the cosmic perspective is to see the place from which we started in striking new ways, which can change everything.
The year 1968 was a significant turning point in political, cultural, and scientific history. It was a year marked by civil rights activism, student protests, and musical innovation. But it was also a year of profound scientific exploration, as evidenced by the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon.
During that mission, astronaut William Anders took a photograph of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape, a picture known as Earthrise. This image, and the perspective it offered, fundamentally altered how people thought about the planet. It shifted the focus from local environmental concerns to a more holistic, planetary ecosystem.
This change in perspective led to a wave of environmental legislation, as governments around the world passed laws regulating the emission of industrial pollutants and the use of ecologically devastating pesticides like DDT. New agencies were established to safeguard natural resources, and the United Nations began observing Earth Day as an international demonstration of support for environmental protection.
While it’s true that awareness of environmental issues had been growing for some time, it was the cosmic perspective offered by the Apollo 8 mission that helped to crystallize this concern and push it to the forefront of public consciousness. In this way, the mission to explore the Moon ultimately led to a deeper understanding of and commitment to protecting our planet.
What is the relationship between air pressure and the boiling point of liquids? How does this affect cooking at high altitudes or on Mars? How does this relate to a cosmic perspective on things like gender and color?
The boiling point of liquids is affected by air pressure. At sea level, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, but at higher altitudes with lower air pressure, the boiling point is lower. For example, at 10,000 feet above sea level, water boils at just 90 degrees Celsius. This means that when cooking at high altitudes, the cooking time needs to be extended to compensate for the lower boiling point.
On Mars, the boiling point of water is affected by the extremely low air pressure on its surface. As air pressure is reduced, the boiling point of water is also reduced, eventually reaching a point where water boils below zero degrees Celsius. This is known as the triple point, where water is simultaneously a solid, a liquid, and a gas.
The author suggests that this cosmic perspective on things like boiling points can also be applied to concepts like gender and color. The author argues that gender is largely a social construct and that when stripped of social cues, humans are relatively androgynous. Similarly, the concept of color is largely a cultural convention, and there are many more colors than the traditional seven of the rainbow. Overall, the author argues that we need to question traditional boundaries and see things from a more nuanced, continuum-based perspective.
About the Author –
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and best-selling author. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and the host of the Emmy-nominated podcast StarTalk. Tyson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA. His previous books included Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.