Dr. Neil D. Tyson: Astrophysicist

Dr neil-degrasse-tyson-e1345131262885
Voted “The World’s Sexiest Astrophysicist”

 A Scientist and Teacher Extraordinaire

The fact that American youths know who prize fighter and erstwhile thug Mike Tyson is but stare at you like a country cow upon seeing its first steam engine when the name Dr. Niel Degrasse Tyson is mentioned, offers irrefutable evidence that our nation is experiencing a deep cultural crisis, centered in the widespread failure of public education and parental responsibility.  This is especially so for young black folk, males in particular, because they have been convinced that the world of science is beyond their comprehension…that’s something the whites and Asians do.  It is impossible to calculate the wasted talent and potential that is squandered because of this misbegotten belief.

Hence the value of brilliant, hip, black scientists like Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who is director of the Planetarium at the world renowned American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is impossible to overestimate as a role model for all American youths; especially black youths.  The fact that Dr. Tyson, like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, grew up in the “boogie down Bronx” and can bust a move on the dance floor, plus he went to Harvard on an athletic scholarship, greatly enhances his attractiveness to the youths.

The fact that young people know virtually nothing of him is a modern tragedy.    It should be fairly obvious to thoughtful people who contemplate the fate of black youths in the United States – a harbinger of trends among the majority of American youth – that until Neil Tyson becomes more popular than Mike Tyson they are doomed in this evolving global economy dominated by information technology based on mastery of science and mathematics.  Even the production of art in the future will increasingly rely on a knowledge of computers.

One way of measuring our progress is to see how many kids we can convince that the video of Dr. Tyson discussing whether the universe is the result of “Intelligent Design,” is cooler than Mike Tyson’s one man show on Broadway, which HBO taped and broadcast as a special that can be seen worldwide.  Since I have already written a review of Mike Tyson’s show – which I gave a rave review as an entertainment event, especially since he has but sparse training as a thespian and pulling off a successful one man show is a challenge for seasoned actors – I will now offer my assessment of Dr. Tyson’s performance….which I also found way cool.  In fact, it broke the cool-o-meter!

This video of Dr. Tyson was shot during a lecture to a gathering of scientist at Vanderbilt University, who had congregated to consider the question of whether the concept of intelligent design should be discussed in serious science classes.  One gets the impression that this is an academic exercise directed at college professors, since in so far as the public schools are concerned this question has been settled by a 1987 Supreme Court ruling banning the teaching of “Creationism” as a counterbalance to the Darwinian consensus  among the world scientific community regarding the evolution of life on this planet.

The High Court correctly viewed Creationism – the biblical version of how the universe was created and life began on earth- as an attempt to interject religious dogma into the classroom, a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against the state playing any role in promoting religious views.  However, like all true believers, the right-wing fundamentalists behind the attempt to replace Darwin’s thesis of Natural Selection with biblical myths about the origins of life did not just lay down their theological swords and study war no more.

Instead, they retreated to their churches and Bible schools to fashion another strategy for accomplishing their goal of replacing Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” with Biblical myths about the creation of life.  Hence they devised a political strategy to take over local school boards and institute a spurious theory called “Intelligent Design.”  The first successful attempt at this strategy came in 2004 when the Harrisburg Pennsylvania school board introduced Intelligent Design into the curriculum of their public schools.

Some parents were outraged by this development and filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education.  The board members had left no doubt about their intentions when they declared in an official statement of the objectives in mandating this approach to explaining the origins of man to their students.  They argued that by its very nature “evolution is not a fact” but a “theory.”  And therefore students had a right to hear a counter-view.  They even selected a textbook “Of Panda’s and People,” one of the bibles of the creationist crowd.  Alas, there was no shame in their game as the religious fanatics on the right ignored the Courts ban on teaching “Creationism” in science classes.

Fortunately, US District Court Judge John E. Jones, a Republican mind you, wouldn’t go for that okey doke and ruled there was “overwhelming evidence” establishing that intelligent design ‘is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory” and he ordered the school system to cease and desist from teaching it in the public schools. This ban on teaching “Intelligent Design” supplies the raison d’etre for Dr. Tyson’s lecture in the video below.

There is a world of difference between knowing complex information and being able to impart it to others who are not as learned as you.  This is the essence of teaching and Dr. Tyson is a master teacher who can put his audience at ease by effortlessly and skillfully employing humor in order to make his point.  The lecture on this video takes us on an amazing Odyssey through the development of modern science beginning with Ptolemy in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to present day America.

There are so many high points in this lecture that it seems arbitrary to select a single episode.  Nevertheless I do favor a moment that struck me as compelling evidence of the clear and present danger to America’s position in the world represented by the anti-science religious right that is gaining increasing power over our political process.  When Dr. Tyson examines the major developments in science from 800 to 1100 AD, a period which corresponds to the “Dark Ages” in Europe, he demonstrates that Islamic civilization led the world in scientific discovery.

However this flowering of science came to a screeching halt when the leading scientific thinker in the Islamic world declared that mathematics is the work of the devil!”  He was taken seriously all over the Islamic empire and, since mathematics is the language of science, Islamic civilization fell dramatically from leadership in science to insignificance.

The have yet to recover from placing religious dogma over objective scientific thought based on serious observation of nature and unfettered imagination and experimentation.  By way of demonstrating his argument Dr. Tyson pointed out that while there are less than 20 million Jews in the world, they dominate the ranks of Nobel Laureates in science.  Yet of a billion Muslims they have produced only three.  One has only to look at the death grip that religious dogmatist have on education in the Muslim world in order to see why…especially their attitudes against the education of women.

Finally, the brilliant astrophysicist drove this point home by showing that this is same danger the unscientific thought of Christian fundamentalist who privilege biblical myths over science poses for American civilization in our time.  Dr. Tyson’s performance is a tour de force!   His eloquent speech, hilarious wit, mastery of scientific thought on the highest level, buttressed by his elegant sartorial style and gracious manners, leaves no doubt that we are witnessing a bonafide star at work.

There are certainly Afro-Americans who value scientific excellence over mastery of sports or subservience to religious dogma, yet until the majority of black Americans – and Americans in general – are able to elevate Dr. Tyson’s performance on the podium over Mike Tyson’s performance in the ring, we cannot produce a value system that will inspire our youths to think of scientific excellence as more important, and achievable, than  virtuosity in the sports arena or stardom in the entertainment arena.  And when the growing influence of the anti-science forces of the Christian Right is factored in….we have a formula for disaster!

The Cosmic World of Dr. Tyson
Dr. Neil_tyson_bcol_9a.hmedium
Explaining the Vast Universe is his Bag 
A Boogie Down Bronx Boy!
Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson - boogie down BronxChillin in the Hood
The Ladies Voted Him….
Dr.Neil Degrasse Tyson - sexiestThe Sexiest!
Dr. Tyson as College Wrestler
Dr. Niel Tyson as College WrestlerHe just wanted to pin his opponent to the mat
 Alas, “Iron” Mike Tyson
 Assaulted the brains of his Opponents for a Living!
Double click on this Link to hear Dr. Tyson’s Lecture
 This talk attracted over a half million viewers and 8000 comments
On youtube
Playthell G; Benjamin
Harlem, New York
January 26, 2014

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