“Human identity resides in our Brain,” Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted a few months ago, “so the executioner’s call ‘Off with your head!’ should really be ‘Off with your body!'” It was a typical tweet by Tyson, who regularly offers acerbic scientific commentary on current events, popular culture and esoterica.
Tyson’s favorite subject, of course, is the universe, which can inspire both awe and dread, but most often humor:
Tyson says these tweets are intended “for people who don’t know anything about the universe but want a playful way to get in,” in the same vein as his question-and-answer book Merlin’s Tour of the Universeand its sequel Just Visiting This Planet.
“I think the way I answered questions in those books primed me — all these decades later — to create these snippet tweets that capture some flavor of the universe,” Tyson tells Big Think. The idea is to make people “smile but still learn something,” he says. “I think that was proving ground for what I would later do as someone who also tweets.”
What to Read
If you want to find a deeper connection to the study of the universe, we certainly recommend you follow Tyson on Twitter, but you can also access his lively approach to learning through a body of work that has grown to ten books. “I thought a lot about what someone else would care to read and what would enlighten them,” Tyson tells us. “And I didn’t find that in anybody else’s books.”
For instance, a lot of books present the universe as “a collection of objects,” says Tyson, like this: “Here’s a galaxy. Here’s a planet. Here’s a star. Then you just remember the universe as objects,” Tyson says. “I want you to remember the universe as ideas.”
And so Tyson co-authored the coffee table book called One Universe at Home in the Cosmos. “I wanted people to be empowered with knowledge about how the universe works,” Tyson continues, “not pumped with information about what the world looks like.”
What to Watch
Often when people watch a documentary or read a book, they expect to learn what science has to offer, or the latest discoveries. “I thought to myself, you know, there’s a lot of stuff out there we don’t yet know,” Tyson tells us. And so he created a six-lecture DVD course called the Inexplicable Universe. “We’re still grappling with these questions and scratching our heads,” Tyson explains. “I want to share that leading edge frontier with the public.”
What Tyson has done is presented science from another angle. Call it the “we don’t know it yet” angle. “I thought that would be an important contribution to people’s understanding of how science works, Tyson says.
Who to Follow
While Tyson told us that he was slightly embarrassed to be recommending his own books, he also said that he tends to be more generous with his recommendations on Twitter:
Tyson recommends you follow these smart peeps on Twitter:
…and these scientists:
And don’t forget the people who make us laugh:
And the associations that matter:
Photograph by Delvinhair Productions