Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘The Universe Is in Us’

It’s not an easy task to combine comedy and science. The last time I tried to make such a joke, my friend angrily stared at me for a few seconds, slapped me, and told me never  to try that again. Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to have figured out the right formula, however, and it probably has something to do with the fact that unlike me, he knows what he is talking about.

Stepping onto the Eisenhower Auditorium stage, Tyson slipped off his shoes and relieved the weight from his pockets, prepping himself for an intimate evening. The last of this year’s SPA’s Distinguished Speaker Series, the man who helped turned Pluto “from a planet, to a dirty ice ball,” kept the audience on its toes with his punchline-charged routine “Skepticism,” or as he deemed it, “Brain Droppings of an Astrophysicist.”

Like most scientific masterminds, Tyson’s rhetoric was a little offbeat, full of awkward phrasings and quirky hand gestures. But let’s be honest, public speaking is awkward. His queer demeanor complemented by his casual dress (the man took off his shoes, for god’s sake) only further captivated the eager listeners. Transforming a lecture into a cordial conversation, Tyson even sporadically engaged in brief exchanges with audience shout-outs.

Abruptly surging through an eclectic pool of cosmological hot topics, Tyson voiced his opinions on astronomical misconceptions, adding in a few of his own observations of human customs. While he established that the existence of life on another planet was not on the bill, he touched on claims like UFO sightings and alien abductions. In regards to the latter, Tyson explained that he had no interest in hearing people rant about how blinding lights reeled them away in their sleep. He explained that such occurrences are most likely illusions, a tool of the brain. “Our brain senses are not meant to be entirely accurate, but to keep us alive.” he said. “We find patterns when there are none.” Yet he suggested that if anyone present were to be abducted while being probed, they pull the classic “look over there!” and pocket anything they can get their hands on, even if it is an ash tray. Then he’ll talk to you.

He talked of astrology, snickers bubbling at the very mention of the subject, which synthesized translates into ‘that’s just silly,’ and scoffed at the antics of conspiracy theorists. “The government is terrible at keeping secrets. Look at how much we know about President Clinton’s genitalia,” he said. Reaching beyond his area of expertise, he fascinated that religious individuals who survived terminal cancer are more likely to give their god credit for healing them before recognizing that his or her doctor(s) really just dropped the ball on the diagnosis.

During the second half of his talk, Tyson targeted on dismantling the “Earth Ego” that has sealed humans beneath a veil of conceit. Drawing largely from the novel, Pale Blue Dot, of his former mentor and champion of melding astrophysics and philosophy, Carl Sagan, Tyson displayed a picture of Saturn in which there is a miniscule pale blue dot near the planet’s rings. And that dot is Earth (the picture and excerpt referring to it can be seen here).

He then worked through the only times table I have ever enjoyed (damn you elementary math). Starting with 10^0, Tyson progressed upwards, accompanying each number with an explaining the relevance it holds to human existence. At 50 billion, he explained that when an averagely paid person today sees change on the ground, it is fair to say that it is only a quarter that he or she will pick up every time. For someone who has 50 billion dollars, the equivalent of the quarter’s impact on the averagely paid person would $45,000. Finally, when he reached sextillion (I don’t believe in this number), he stated that this is the number of stars in the observable universe.

Finally, Tyson explained that the cosmic abundances of elements in life on Earth parallels those most prevalent in the Universe. While it is important to remember that we are just a few pixels in comparison to all surrounds us, and that we are made of “common stuff,” in order to monitor the delusions of self-absorption, Tyson believes that we must not believe ourselves to be insignificant.

“When I look at the Universe, I feel quite large. We are a participant in the great cosmic search for truth. That’s when you learn, that’s when you see, that’s when you know that we are not just in the Universe, but the Universe is in us. And that fact alone makes me feel big.”

Your ad blocker is on.

Please choose an option below.

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter:
Support quality journalism:
Purchase a Subscription!

About the Author

Ryan Kristobak

Hailing from Lebanon, PA, I am a senior majoring in print journalism. Things I enjoy include lovesacs, denim, mullets, Fight Milk, Jonny Moseley, and "hang in there" kitten posters. Things that bother me include "fun" sized candy bars (not fun), fish, shoobies, wet door knobs, baby leashes, and Jake Lloyd.

[Photo Story] State College’s Fifth Annual Juneteenth Block Party

The event was buzzing with local vendors, performers, and more.

[Photo Story] Lift For Life 2024

Penn State football players took to Holuba Hall to raise money to fight rare diseases.

Penn State Names Corey Phelps Dean Of Smeal College Of Business

Phelps came from leading Oklahoma’s Michael F. Price College of Business.

Other posts by Ryan

Jim’s Army & Navy: The Greatest Store Ever

For those of you who have ventured onto the west side of Beaver Avenue, there is a good chance you have passed by Jim’s Army & Navy. If you are one of those people, your first thought when passing by Jim’s was most likely, “What the hell is going on in this store?” When a store’s window display boasts handcuffs (they even come in pink), switchblades, throwing stars, machetes, other swords, and ammunition, you really have no choice but to be utterly confounded. Little did I know that I was about to walk into the greatest store ever.

The ‘Indiana Jones of Virus Hunting’ is Coming

Rob Schneider: ‘The Man, The Myth, The Legend’