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Here's a great video by Neil DeGrasse Tyson covering a couple of super-cool notions that combine what most excite me about astrophysics and life. This is the essence of science fiction for me!

First up, he talks about how we are starstuff, made of the most common elements in the universe. The first part of that statement is pretty basic to everyone who's ever taken a basic astronomy course: All the elements in our bodies were first manufactured in the heart of long-dead stars, starts that went supernova billions of years ago, casting their guts into space, where their matter coalesced into our Sun and the Earth and all the other matter in the Solar System. The notion I hadn't really considered before is that our form of life - carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen - is likely the most common form of life in the universe, because those are the most common elements (excepting helium, which is non-reactive, so useless to life except for using to float around). We're not likely to encounter much advanced life based on, say, lead or arsenic. Much useful idea-fodder there for SF writers.

The other cool SFnal material - perhaps even more relevant for writers thinking about aliens - is that we are only 1% or so different from chimpanzees, and that's what makes all the difference between maybe being able to do sign language and building the Hubble Space Telescope. If we encounter aliens who are only 1% different from us in intelligence, they might naturally intuit the greatest mysteries on the frontiers of science, their toddlers might be able to do astrophysics in their heads like Stephen Hawking, whom they might put in front of their anthropologists who'd say, "Aw, isn't that cute! My little BillyE59X just did that in school today and I put his homework on the fridge" - the way we do display our kids' pasta art.

If we meet superior aliens, would they stop to have a conversation with us? Well, do you stop to have a conversation with a worm? A bird? Well, maybe you do, but you don't expect the bird to hold up its side of the conversation.

Good stuff. Check it out:



I've been watching videos by him for the past couple of hours, since getting home from running errands after my Dad left to return to Minneapolis (great visit by the way! We went to see Cowboys and Aliens and the Douglas County Fair demolition derby, among other things). TONS of wonderfully insightful yet simple and accessible thoughts, much as Carl Sagan was the voice of reason and wonder from my youth. How did I miss knowing about Tyson for so long? I guess this is the sort of thing one gives up by not having cable.

In short: Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome. The universe is awesome. Everything is awesome!

Chris

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
tully01
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
Hey, we are stardust. We are golden. We are billion-year-old carbon!
mckitterick
Aug. 8th, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
If we're billion-year-old carbon, does that make us diamondish rather than golden? ;-)
clevermanka
Aug. 8th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
he talks about how we are starstuff, made of the most common elements in the universe. The first part of that statement is pretty basic to everyone who's ever taken a basic astronomy course

Basic, yes. But amazing and awesome.
mckitterick
Aug. 8th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
SO TRUE! I should have made that more clear, that just because it's basic doesn't make it AWESOME.
victoria_lane
Aug. 8th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
I love just about everything that comes out of Neil's mouth. He's one wise, insightful, beautiful man.
mckitterick
Aug. 8th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
So true! I've become an immediate and complete fan.
justaqt
Aug. 10th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
science PLUS religion? I know. Crazy right?
I know that some people might be confused as to how I can belong to an organized religion and believe all the things Tyson is saying, but for me they are one and the same.
I don't think there will ever be any scientific discovery that would disprove God to me.
I see God as the ULTIMATE scientist. -smile-
I like how he was pointing out that being able to sign a couple words in sign language and constructing the Hubble may not be as different as we think they are. That concept is directly related to my ideas on an almighty. With this amusing and enlightening description from Tyson on the potential for higher intelligence, I find it hard to see how someone could deny the possibility of an all powerful being ("All powerful" being defined by our own meager definition of such).
mckitterick
Aug. 10th, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC)
Re: science PLUS religion? I know. Crazy right?
I agree - I see the whole universe as being "God," as it fits every description religions use: omnipresent, all-powerful, and so on, just not yet omniscient... at least until it's full of sentient beings who completely understand how it works. Then, by definition (and using Tyson's language, as we're all part of the universe and it's part of us), God will become sentient.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )