I had my mind expanded after a fascinating NPR interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson in conjunction with his latest publication Accessory to War. The book is an examination of the scientific communities intrinsic partnership with the military. Tyson is an acclaimed astrophysicist and celebrity talking head, the kind of character that exudes Yoda-like wisdom.
I’ve never been good with algorithms and probability statistics, such fundamental logic leaving me starry-eyed and tongue-tied. Tyson is an intuitive teacher and excels at translating complex science into digestible metaphors for the layperson. He spends much of the interview ruminating on the marriage of convenience between the scientific community and the government.
“The fact is when the country is exercising its geo-political interests, science piggy-backs that to great gain. And that has been the case…forever.”
He talks of mankind’s innate desire to survive, our compulsion to innovate in order to stay one step ahead of the grim reaper. As he elaborates on the impossible feats achieved with space exploration in the 20th Century, it dawned on me that our unparalleled progress was devoid of any ounce of goodwill. Every single dollar was put towards drowning our enemies in the mud.
Tyson answers questions surrounding Trump’s proposed Space Force, a $13 billion plan to create a new branch of the military. He welcomes it as a positive step in the right direction, precisely as a way to combat universal issues like asteroids and cleaning up space garbage.
He also speaks of Adaptive Optics, a scientific breakthrough that allows a telescope to root out atmospheric distortions between us and a specific target. In the process it has allowed astrophysicists to capture accurate representations of the universe. He explains that the development was inspired not through curious endeavour but the intention to destroy enemy targets with pin-point accuracy.
I’ve often wondered why our parents were raised to look up at the stars while my own has spent their formative years lost in pocket sized computers. How had we lost interest in an infinite cosmos that was far more awe-inspiring than facial contouring? Was it because we failed to uncover any X-Files extra-terrestrials? Or were we simply too busy conspiring against our fellow man?
As I wrote last month, our generation is increasingly finding renewed inspiration in the cosmos through the feats of moneyed individuals like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s Space X. Only yesterday, SpaceX unveiled plans for the first commercial trip around the moon. Thanks to these dreamers, our grand-kids may be getting their rocks off in zero gravity.
At least that’ll give us a reason to look up at the stars.