Neil deGrasse Tyson

African-American astrophysicist, and science communicator
Creativity is seeing what everyone else sees, but then thinking a new thought that has never been thought before and expressing it somehow.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, science communicator, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and since 2006 host at PBS's educational television show NOVA scienceNOW.



  • Yes, the universe had a beginning. Yes, the universe continues to evolve. And yes, every one of our body's atoms is traceable to the big bang and to the thermonuclear furnace within high-mass stars. We are not simply in the universe, we are part of it. We are born from it. One might even say we have been empowered by the universe to figure itself out — and we have only just begun.
  • A few years ago I got a phone call from a marketing executive who wanted to light up the Moon with the logo of her company. She wanted to know how she might proceed. After slamming down the phone, I called her back and politely explained why it was a bad idea. Other corporate executives have asked me how to put into orbit mile-wide luminous banners with catchy slogans written across them, much like the skywriting or flag-dragging airplanes you see at sports events or over the ocean from a crowded beach. I always threaten to send the light police after them.
    • "Let There Be Dark". Natural History Magazine. October 2002. Retrieved on 2018-24-03. 
  • No matter who you are, engaging in the quest to discover where and how things began tends to induce emotional fervor—as if knowing the beginning bestows upon you some form of fellowship with, or perhaps governance over, all that comes later. So what is true for life itself is no less true for the universe: knowing where you came from is no less important than knowing where you are going.
    • "In the Beginning". Natural History Magazine. September 2003. Retrieved on 2010-12-07. 
  • Cosmologists have plenty of ego — how can a person not be ego-driven when it's your job to deduce what brought the universe into existence? But without data, their explanations were just tall tales. In this modern era of cosmology, each new observation, each morsel of data wields a two-edged sword: it enables cosmology to thrive on the kind of foundation that so much of the rest of science enjoys, but it also constrains theories that people thought up when there wasn't enough data to say whether they were wrong or not. No science achieves maturity without it.

    Let there be cosmology.

  • I don't want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don't understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don't understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.
  • People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah's ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it's about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.
  • During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore—in part because it's fun to do. But there's a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us. In that bleak world, arms-bearing, resource-hungry people and nations would be prone to act on their "low contracted prejudices." And that would be the last gasp of human enlightenment—until the rise of a visionary new culture that could once again embrace the cosmic perspective.
  • George Bush, within a week of this [the 9/11 attacks], gave us a speech, attempting to distinguish 'we' from 'they' … and how does he do it?.... He says "Our god" — of course it’s actually the same God — but that's a detail, lets hold that minor fact aside for the moment. Allah of the muslims is the same God as the God of the Old Testament so he says … "Our God is the God who named the stars" … Here's the problem with his comment … The problem is: two-thirds of all stars that have names, have Arabic names. I don't think he knew this. That would confound the point that he was making.
After several sources questioned the veracity of this attribution to George Bush, Tyson acknowledged he was mistaken and posted an apology on Facebook 29 February 2014.

Global Ideas from Pluto's Challenger (May 21, 2009)Edit

Marina Leight (May 21, 2009). Global Ideas from Pluto's Challenger. Retrieved on December 7, 2010.
  • Knowing how things work is important, but I think that's an incomplete view of what science literacy is or, at least, should be. Science literacy is an outlook. It's more of a lens through which you observe what goes on around you.
  • Creativity is seeing what everyone else sees, but then thinking a new thought that has never been thought before and expressing it somehow. It could be with art, a sculpture, music or even in science. The difference, however, between scientific creativity and any other kind of creativity, is that no matter how long you wait, no one else will ever compose "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony" except for Beethoven. No matter what you do, no one else will paint Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Only Van Gogh could do that because it came from his creativity.

    Whereas in science, you can't just make stuff up and presume that it is a proper account of nature. At the end of the day, you have to answer to nature. Since everyone has nature to answer to, your creativity is simply discovering something about the natural world that somebody else would have eventually discovered exactly the same way. They might have come through a different path, but they would have landed in the same place.

    Even though we name theorems and equations after the people who discover them — Newton's laws of gravity, Kepler's laws of planetary motion — somebody else would have discovered them afterward. It's that simple. Your creativity is not a boundless creativity.

  • Some of the most productive times in the histories of nations have been when they were badly stressed — economically, politically, culturally or socially. It's possible to be stressed to a point that more creativity is stimulated than would otherwise be the case. I think it is true that necessity is the mother of invention.
  • If you ask adults how many teachers — out of the scores in elementary, middle school, high school, college and graduate school — made a singular impression on who and what they are, it's never more than three or four teachers. Everybody else is a distant second to this set.

    When we finally create a cloning machine, we should clone those teachers. Maybe that's 100 years from now, but that's at the top of my list. Until that happens, the educational system has not fully understood the causes and effects of achievement and success in life. There remains a culture that equates high grades with success in school and correlates success in school with success in life. That mentality is so deep within us that it may be inextricable from our behavior.

  • After your first job, is anyone asking you what your GPA was? No, they don't care. They ask you: Are you a good leader? Do people follow you? Do you have integrity? Are you innovative? Do you solve problems? Somebody's got to do that homework and redesign the educational system so that it can actually train people to be successful in life.

    I think the greatest teachers are not the ones that are best trained at educational tactics. I don't know a person who's ever said, "Boy, that teacher is so good! The teacher gives such good exams. That teacher gives such good homework sets!" No one has said that about a great teacher. That's not what people remember about the great teachers they've had.

  • The best educators are the ones that inspire their students. That inspiration comes from a passion that teachers have for the subject they're teaching. Most commonly, that person spent their lives studying that subject, and they bring an infectious enthusiasm to the audience.

    I think many people have that enthusiasm, but they are prevented from being teachers because they didn't go through the teacher mill. Now you have teachers who have been through the teacher mill, yet they have no capacity to inspire anyone at all. It's the inspired student that continues to learn on their own. That's what separates the real achievers in the world from those who pedal along, finishing assignments.

  • The great tragedy is that they're removing art completely, not because they're putting more science in, but because they can't afford the art teachers or because somebody thinks it's not useful. An enlightened society has all of this going on within it. It's part of what distinguishes what it is to be human from other life forms on Earth — that we have culture.


  • I don't know how many people know this, but often it's mindblowing when you learn, that some infinities are bigger than others. [...] The number of counting 1, 2, 3, up to infinity...the numbers you would use to count things, that's infinite. The number of irrational the numbers you cannot represent as a fraction, okay, there are more of those than there are counting numbers, by far. So these are orders of infinity. Then there are more transcendental numbers than there are irrational numbers. So that's a number you'll never find as a solution to an algebraic equation. So pi is a transcendental number. e is a transcendental number. These are magic numbers that show up in mathematics. And it turns out there's an even bigger infinity of those than there is of these other two classes of numbers. And they use the Hebrew letter aleph in ranking. So it's aleph-1, aleph-2, aleph-3, aleph-4. I think there are five levels of infinity.
This is mostly confused and wrong. The set of transcendental numbers is a subset of the set of irrationals and both sets are thought to have the same cardinality. And there are an infinite number of cardinalities when it comes to infinite sets, not just five.
  • Do parallel universes exist? We don't know, uhm parallel universes are losing favor to the multiverse we have some cogent theoretical expectations that our universe might be just one of many spawned from this, sort of, this hyper-dimensional medium which we'll call the multiverse there's no data to support it but we have good theoretical premise to think that it's there and we have philosophical precedent we used to think Earth was special and unique. It wasn't, we got 8 .. 9 .. 8 planet we thought the Sun was special it's one of a hundred billion suns, the galaxy's special, no there's a hundred billion galaxies we have one universe or do we? The track record said why should there only be one? be open to the possibility that you don't live in the majority [looking?] universe that's out there Would a separate universe .. when you say "different universe" slightly different laws of physics which (that's what I'm asking) oh this is the fun part because if you find, if you manage to get a portal to another universe don't be the first one to volunteer to go through because your atoms are working in this universe if a slightly different law of physics.. you could implode, explode come out with three heads who knows?
  • It has been said that every great emerging scientific truth goes to three phases: First people say: "It can't be true". Second they say: "It conflicts with the bible." Third they say: "It's true all along."
    • Neil deGrasse Tyson on Climate Change Deniers from ALL IN with Chris Hayes, MSNBC and also in Bill Maher Show.[1][2]
  • I took two bites, bitch!
    • Neil deGrasse Tyson on a particullary spicy sauce in the popular Youtube show "First We Feast". [1]
  • You don't take a dead cat to the vet. I mean you might, but why?
    • WNYC Radio Podcast, RadioLab, "Gravitational Anarchy" November 29, 2010, Minute 16:33.
  • Does it mean, if you don’t understand something, and the community of physicists don’t understand it, that means God did it? Is that how you want to play this game? Because if it is, here’s a list of things in the past that the physicists at the time didn’t understand [and now we do understand] [...]. If that’s how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on - so just be ready for that to happen, if that’s how you want to come at the problem.
  • I'm optimistic. I see no longer people accepting fuzzy thinking in the world. The change is not that people aren't still saying under-informed things. The change is that if you're in power and you say something under-informed, there are people out there with a voice who will take you to task for having done so.
  • There are people who say "I'll never need this math, these trig identities from 10th grade or 11th grade," or maybe you never learned them. Here's the catch: whether or not you ever again use the math that you learned in school, the act of having learned the math established a wiring in your brain that didn't exist before and it's the wiring in your brain that makes you the problem solver.
  • Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. They beat the curiosity out of the kids. They out-number kids. They vote. They wield resources. That's why my public focus is primarily adults.
  • Some of the greatest poetry is revealing to the reader the beauty in something that was so simple you had taken it for granted.
    • At an interview with Stephen Colbert at Montclair Kimberley Academy on January 29th, 2010.
  • I am trying to convince people--not only the public, but lawmakers and people in power--that investing in the frontier of science, however remote it may seem in its relevance to what you're doing today, is a way of stockpiling the seed corns of future harvests of this nation... Advancing a frontier--history has shown--has advanced a culture ever since the industrial revolution got underway.
    • At an interview with Stephen Colbert at Montclair Kimberley Academy on January 29th, 2010.
  • Words that make questions may not be questions at all.
    • At an interview with Stephen Colbert at Montclair Kimberley Academy on January 29th, 2010, in response to the question "Why is there something instead of nothing", with the constraint of using ten words or less.
  • If you start wielding a hammer, then all your problems look like nails. And maybe they’re not. Maybe it's more subtle than that. And so your toolkit has to be able to morph into what is necessary for what it is that you confront at that moment.
    • At an interview with Stephen Colbert at Montclair Kimberley Academy on January 29th, 2010.
  • I could just tell you it's all bunk; but then you wouldn't be empowered to understand why. Other than to quote, "Oh, Doctor Tyson said..." And I never want you to quote me citing my authority as a scientist for your knowing something. If that's what you have to resort to I have failed as an educator. As an educator, it's my duty to empower you to think. So that you can go forth and think accurate thoughts about how the world is put together. Inoculating you against the [people] out there who will exploit your ignorance on anything they possibly can.
  • Within one linear centimeter of your lower colon there lives and works more bacteria (about 100 billion) than all humans who have ever been born. Yet many people continue to assert that it is we who are in charge of the world.
  • The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

    For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

  • There are street artists. Street musicians. Street actors. But there are no street physicists. A little known secret is that a physicist is one of the most employable people in the marketplace - a physicist is a trained problem solver. How many times have you heard a person in a workplace say, "I wasn't trained for this!" That's an impossible reaction from a physicist, who would say, instead, "Cool. A problem I've never seen before. Let's see how I can figure out how to solve it!" Oh, and, have fun along the way.
  • Life is too short for me to worry about something I have no control over that I don’t even know will happen. People ask ‘if Earth is going to be swallowed by a black hole or if there is some disturbance in the spacetime continuum should we worry about it?’. My answer is ‘no’ because you won’t know about it until it crosses your... your place in space-time. Your beats come to you when nature decides it’s the right time... be it the speed of sound, the speed of light, the speed of electrical impulses we will forever be victims of the time delay between information around us and our capacity to receive it.
  • What keeps me awake at night: wondering whether human species is just too stupid to figure out the Universe. I just wonder. I lose sleep over that. Because we define ourselves as intelligent— because we made up the test to say that. And we sit alone at the top of the intelligence chart because we invented the exam, and all the other species of life on Earth are not. So who's to say that the first species (us) to be intelligent (us) has just enough intelligence to actually decode everything that's decodable in the Cosmos? [...] Think of the next closest thing to us, the bonobo chimp— 98½% identical DNA, yet you cannot teach them trigonometry, they have no concept of it. So if that's only 1½% difference in our DNA— and so imagine 1½% beyond us, rather than below us, in intelligence. [...] Their toddlers would be talking about things that would completely confound us.
  • What is NASA's mission? Is it to beat the russians? Is it to inspire?
    • An intro talk published by Primate on Jan 17, 2017
  • If you want to assert a truth, first make sure it's not just an opinion that you desperately want to be true.
    • Twitter post, [3] (2015-03-03)
  • All I can say is, the universe is in a good shape, it's earth that has all the problems.
    • Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks to CNN's Van Jones about climate change and the intersection of science with the military and politics. (2018-10-14)
  • As important as Steve Jobs was, no doubt about it — [and] you have to add him to Bill Gates, because they birthed the personal computing revolution kind of together — here's the difference: Elon Musk is trying to invent a future, not by providing the next app.
    • Neil deGrasse Tyson: Why Elon Musk is more important than Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg[1]

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017)Edit

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2017. ISBN 9780393609394. 
All quotes from this hardcover first edition, sixth printing
  • The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.
    • Epigram (p. 13)
  • Ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist. People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the universe.
    What we do know, and what we can assert without further hesitation, is that the universe had a beginning. The universe continues to evolve. And yes, every one of our body’s atoms is traceable to the big bang and to the thermonuclear furnaces within high-mass stars that exploded more than five billion years ago.
    We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.
    • Chapter 1 “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (pp. 32-33)
  • This universality of physical laws drives scientific discovery like nothing else.
    • Chapter 2 “On Earth as in the Heavens” (pp. 35)
  • To the scientist, the universality of physical laws makes the cosmos a marvelously simple place. By comparison, human nature—the psychologist’s domain—is infinitely more daunting. In America, local school boards vote on subjects to be taught in the classroom. In some cases, votes are cast according to the whims of cultural, political, or religious tides. Around the world, varying belief systems lead to political differences that are not always resolved peacefully. The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them.
    In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.
    • Chapter 2 “On Earth as in the Heavens” (p. 45)
  • Cosmologists have plenty of ego. How could you not when your job is to deduce what brought the universe into existence?
    • Chapter 3 “Let There Be Light” (p. 60)
  • In our own solar system, for example, everything that is not the Sun adds up to less than one fifth of one percent of the Sun’s mass.
    • Chapter 5 “Dark Matter” (p. 83)
  • Other unrelenting skeptics might declare that “seeing is believing”—an approach to life that works well in many endeavors, including mechanical engineering, fishing, and perhaps dating. It’s also good, apparently, for residents of Missouri. But it doesn’t make for good science. Science is not just about seeing, it’s about measuring, preferably with something that’s not your own eyes, which are inextricably conjoined with the baggage of your brain. That baggage is more often than not a satchel of preconceived ideas, post-conceived notions, and outright bias.
    • Chapter 5 “Dark Matter” (p. 90)
  • Personally, I am quite comfortable with chemicals, anywhere in the universe. My favorite stars, as well as my best friends, are all made of them.
    • Chapter 7 “The Cosmos on the Table” (p. 133)
  • Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the Earth is discovered . . . ; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above [their] low contracted prejudices.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (p. 193, quoting James Ferguson)
  • When I pore over the data that establish the mysterious presence of dark matter and dark energy throughout the universe, sometimes I forget that every day—every twenty-four-hour rotation of Earth—people kill and get killed in the name of someone else’s conception of God, and that some people who do not kill in the name of God, kill in the name of needs or wants of political dogma.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (p. 195)
  • Within a month of opening day, I received a letter from an Ivy League professor of psychology whose expertise was in things that make people feel insignificant…He wanted to administer a before-and-after questionnaire to visitors, assessing the depth of their depression after viewing the show. Passport to the Universe, he wrote, elicited the most dramatic feelings of smallness and insignificance he had ever experienced.
    How could that be? Every time I see the space show (and others we’ve produced), I feel alive and spirited and connected. I also feel large, knowing that the goings-on within the three-pound human brain are what enabled us to figure out our place in the universe.
    Allow me to suggest that it’s the professor, not I, who has misread nature. His ego was unjustifiably big to begin with, inflated by delusions of significance and fed by cultural assumptions that human beings are more important than everything else in the universe.
    In all fairness to the fellow, powerful forces in society leave most of us susceptible. As was I, until the day I learned in biology class that more bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon, than the number of people who have ever existed in the world. That kind of information makes you think twice about who–or what–is actually in charge.
    From that day on, I began to think of people not as the masters of space and time but as participants in a great cosmic chain of being, with a direct genetic link across species both living and extinct, extending back nearly four billion years to the earliest single-celled organisms on Earth.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (pp. 198-199)
  • If a huge genetic gap separated us from our closest relative in the animal kingdom, we could justifiably celebrate our brilliance. We might be entitled to walk around thinking we’re distant and distinct from our fellow creatures. But no such gap exists. Instead, we are one with the rest of nature, fitting neither above nor below, but within.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (p. 201)
  • The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge. But it’s more than about what you know. It’s also about having the wisdom and insight to apply that knowledge to assessing our place in the universe. And its attributes are clear:

    The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is not solely the provenance of the scientist. It belongs to everyone.
    The cosmic perspective is humble.
    The cosmic perspective is spiritual—even redemptive—but not religious.
    The cosmic perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.
    The cosmic perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we’re told.
    The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place, forcing us to reassess the value of all humans to one another.
    The cosmic perspective shows Earth to be a mote. But it’s a precious mote and, for the moment, it’s the only home we have.
    The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae, but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
    The cosmic perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and a mate.
    The cosmic perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave, an indication that perhaps flag-waving and space exploration do not mix.
    The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (pp. 205-207)
  • At least once a week, if not once a day, we might each ponder what cosmic truths lie undiscovered before us, perhaps awaiting the arrival of a clever thinker, an ingenious experiment, or an innovative space mission to reveal them. We might further ponder how those discoveries may one day transform life on Earth.
    Absent such curiosity, we are no different from the provincial farmer who expresses no need to venture beyond the county line, because his forty acres meet all his needs. Yet if all our predecessors had felt that way, the farmer would instead be a cave dweller, chasing down his dinner with a stick and a rock.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (pp. 207-208)
  • During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore—in part because it’s fun to do. But there’s a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us. In that bleak world, arms-bearing, resource-hungry people and nations would be prone to act on their “low contracted prejudices.” And that would be the last gasp of human enlightenment—until the rise of a visionary new culture that could once again embrace, rather than fear, the cosmic perspective.
    • Chapter 12 “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” (p. 208)


  • ... the anatomy of a sound bite is—it's gotta be interesting. And it's gotta be tasty. It should also be a little bit fun to hear ... so that you smile. And it's gotta have enough of all that to want to tell someone else that you just learned something. ... I have a master class on thinking like a scientist and how to communicate what you know in your expertise to others.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)Edit

  • Halley shattered their monopoly, beating them at their own game. A game that no scientist had ever played before: Prophecy. -S01E03
  • Ibn al-Haytham was the first person ever to set down the rules of science. -S01E05


  • In this moment, I am euphoric. Not because of any phony god’s blessing. But because, I am enlightened by my intelligence

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