Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses with Tom Bilyeu about the lessons from his father, race, sense of duty, purpose in life, raising kids the right way, learning, and more.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, planetary scientist, science educator, and author. The Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City since 1996, Tyson has won numerous awards and accolades throughout his career including being awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by NASA. He has hosted various science television shows including Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Nova ScienceNow. Tyson has written many popular science books including Death by Black Hole, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, and Letters from an Astrophysicist. He considers it his duty in life to teach and empower other people.
Enjoy the takeaways of the conversation put concisely in this Impact Theory Neil deGrasse Tyson Podcast Notes.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson’s father was able to pass on the wisdom he gleaned from his life by being an example and through his words.
- Tyson’s father was pointed at in School during a Track and Field class by a gym instructor who said that he was an example of a person who did not have the body type to excel in the track. Tyson’s father refused to be defined by another person’s opinion and used the comment from the gym instructor to become a world-class athlete in middle distance runs.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson says that it is the same people who speak ill of others that were during his youth that are present now, but now people are getting easily offended by words.
- Tyson remembers repeating, “Sticks and stones can break my bones. But words will never hurt me.” that helped people back then to ignore the foul mouthers.
- During the civil unrest of the 1960s where widespread protests erupted across various parts of the country, New York had relatively fewer protests even though it had the largest ghetto in the country. Tyson’s father who worked as a commissioner in the Human Resources Administration played a significant role in ensuring that the plan to contain protests was effectively implemented in New York.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson feels a greater sense of duty to empower the society with what he knows and that it would be irresponsible if he did not do it.
- The American astronomer, Carl Sagan who was a professor at the Cornell University, wrote to Neil deGrasse Tyson who was a 17-year-old looking for admission into various colleges including Cornell University and invited him to Ithaca, New York where he showed him his office, labs, and then signed one of his books for Tyson. He also gave his home phone number to Tyson to call and spend the night with the Carl Sagan family in case the bus could not get through the snow.
- In 2014, Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey television series on both FOX and the National Geographic Channel, thus reviving Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series.
- Tyson wants people to create their own purpose rather than look for it.
- He wants parents to let their kids revel in their childhood curiosity and retain it into adulthood.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson reads everything so that he can understand where a person is coming from when he/she is talking to him about something.
- He recommends his book ‘Death by Black Hole’ for people to get excited about science.
- Tyson wants to empower people with his teachings and in the process make himself irrelevant.
Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
- “You want to celebrate differences rather than go out of your way to establish differences and then claim one group is better than the other.”
- “What is a riot if not the very last act of desperation because you’re left without any hope at all. That is what a riot is.”
- “Because I can do something and if I can do it better than others and it’s for a greater good in society, I would be irresponsible if I did not.”
- “You have the power to create meaning in your life rather than passively look for it.”
- “Meaning to me is ‘Do I know more about the world today than I did yesterday?’. That enhances meaning for me.”
- “Kids are sources of chaos and disorder. Get over that fact. Where does the disorder come from? It’s because they are experimenting with their environment. Everything is new to them.”
- “Your task is less to instill curiosity in your kids than it is to make sure you don’t squash what’s already there.”
- “What is an adult scientist but a kid who has never lost the curiosity.”
- “I learn because I want to be better at what it is I am doing than I am.”
Lessons from Tyson’s Father
Neil deGrasse Tyson says that his father was able to pass on the wisdom he learned in life by being an example and through his words.
- Tyson’s father was pointed at in School by the gym instructor and told that he had the body type that could not excel in track and field. Tyson’s father refused to be defined by the words of another person and used that as a motivation to become a world-class athlete in middle-distance runs.
- Tyson’s father had the notion that it is not enough to be right but to be effective. This was seen in his contribution to the containment of riots in New York during the civil unrest in the 1960s when Tyson’s father was a commissioner in the Human Resources Administration.
Bound by Duty and Meeting Carl Sagan
Neil deGrasse Tyson feels that he is bound by duty to share with others what he learned for the greater good of the society. He recounts the instance when he was 17 years old when he got to meet Astronomer Carl Sagan who was a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University. Carl Sagan showed his office and labs to Tyson and signed a book for him. Later, he told Tyson to spend the night with his family in case the bus to the Bronx could not make it through the snow.
- Tyson says that he is driven by the sense of duty not by personal ambition to share his knowledge with the world.
- Tyson’s encounter with Carl Sagan made him want to treat his own students the same way that Sagan treated Tyson.
Purpose in Life
Neil deGrasse Tyson says that many people go through life trying to find their purpose like it is something hidden from them behind a tree or under a stone. He wants them to create their own purpose rather than passively looking for it.
According to Tyson, if he gets to know more about the world every day, that enhances the meaning of life for him.
How to Raise Kids?
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants people to stop interfering in the curiosities of their children and let them explore it.
- According to him, any parent should not expect to have a clean home with kids at home. He explains that kids are sources of chaos and disorder because they keep experimenting with their environment which is new to them.
- He gives an example of a woman with a kid in Central Park in New York who turned the kid away from a muddy puddle thus extinguishing the curiosity of the kid who would otherwise have jumped in the puddle and satisfied its curiosity.
- He wants parents to not squash the curiosity that is already inside kids.
Neil deGrasse Tyson says that even though he was raised in a Catholic family, decision making at home was secular and rationally informed. When he got some visibility and started receiving letters from people, there were questions on God for which he did not have many answers. But then he started reading the Bible and other holy scriptures to answer the people. He wanted to understand where people came from and started reading everything.
- Tyson has shelves of books on UFOs and conspiracy theories. He reads everything so that he can speak to people and understand their views.
- He explains that there is a question in his book, Letters from an Astrophysicist for which it took him nearly a year to answer. It was a question from a Jewish Orthodox woman whose 10-year-old son who is in the autism spectrum and going to a Hebrew School came back one day from school and said that he did not believe in God. The woman asked for Tyson’s advice on the matter saying that she herself had her doubts and he wrote back to her after studying about it. He later received an invitation letter from the woman inviting Tyson to the Bar mitzvah of her son.
Sparking Interest in Science and Impact on the World
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants people to learn what science is and how and why it works.
- Tyson points people to his book, “Death by Black Hole” to gain an interest in science.
- His intended impact on the world is to empower people with what he teaches them so that they can go and explore the world.
- Tyson wants the epitaph, “Be ashamed to die until you’ve scored some victory for humanity.” to be inscribed on his tombstone.