If you aren’t already obsessed with Neil deGrasse Tyson, you should be. An extraordinarily eloquent astrophysicist and public figure, Tyson might be the world’s most interesting man. He’s a frequent guest on Real Time With Bill Maher, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and Stephen Colbert has already come out as a huge fanboy of his. When you read his speeches and work, it’s easy to see why. The man is nothing short of amazing — thoughtful, poetic and awe-inspiring.
Here’s 35 of his absolute best quotes, proof that a single person might not be able to change the world, but he can inspire the world to make change.
1. The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
2. Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.
3. Some of the greatest poetry is revealing to the reader the beauty in something that was so simple you had taken it for granted.
4. Math is the language of the universe. So the more equations you know, the more you can converse with the cosmos.
5. The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life 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 lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.
6. [It's] curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.
7. We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there.
8. One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases…but people prefer reassurance to research.
9. With automatic spell checkers running unleashed over what we compose, our era is that of correctly spelled typos.
10. Lots of people think, well, we’re humans; we’re the most intelligent and accomplished species; we’re in charge. Bacteria may have a different outlook: more bacteria live and work in one linear centimeter of your lower colon than all the humans who have ever lived. That’s what’s going on in your digestive tract right now. Are we in charge, or are we simply hosts for bacteria? It all depends on your outlook.
11. If each dead person became a ghost, there’d be more than 100 billion of them haunting us all. Creepy, but cool.
12. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do.
13. Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.
14. 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.
15. Curiously, light-loving green plants reject the Sun’s green light, reflecting it back at you, which is why they look green.
16. There is no shame in not knowing. The problem arises when irrational thought and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance.
17. But you can’t be a scientist if you’re uncomfortable with ignorance, because scientists live at the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos. This is very different from the way journalists portray us. So many articles begin, “Scientists now have to go back to the drawing board.” It’s as though we’re sitting in our offices, feet up on our desks—masters of the universe—and suddenly say, “Oops, somebody discovered something!” No. We’re always at the drawing board. If you’re not at the drawing board, you’re not making discoveries. You’re not a scientist; you’re something else. The public, on the other hand, seems to demand conclusive explanations as they leap without hesitation from statements of abject ignorance to statements of absolute certainty.
18. Next time you’re stunned by [a] large moon on [the] horizon, bend over and view it between your legs. The effect goes away entirely.
19. Some air you inhale was exhaled by Cleopatra.
20. Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. They beat the curiosity out of kids. They outnumber kids. They vote. They wield resources. That’s why my public focus is primarily adults.
21. There’s a fascinating frailty of the human mind that psychologists know all about, called “argument from ignorance.” This is how it goes. Remember what the “U” stands for in “UFO?” You see lights flashing in the sky. You’ve never seen anything like this before and don’t understand what it is. You say, “It’s a UFO!” The “U” stands for “unidentified.” But then you say, “I don’t know what it is; it must be aliens from outer space, visiting from another planet.” The issue here is that if you don’t know what something is, your interpretation of it should stop immediately. You don’t then say it must be X or Y or Z. That’s argument from ignorance. It’s common. I’m not blaming anybody; it may relate to our burning need to manufacture answers because we feel uncomfortable about being steeped in ignorance.
22. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide everybody into two kinds of people and those who don’t.
23. 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.
24. Again and again across the centuries, cosmic discoveries have demoted our self-image. Earth was once assumed to be astronomically unique, until astronomers learned that Earth is just another planet orbiting the Sun. Then we presumed the Sun was unique, until we learned that the countless stars of the night sky are suns themselves. Then we presumed our galaxy, the Milky Way, was the entire known universe, until we established that the countless fuzzy things in the sky are other galaxies, dotting the landscape of our known universe. Today, how easy it is to presume that one universe is all there is. Yet emerging theories of modern cosmology, as well as the continually reaffirmed improbability that anything is unique, require that we remain open to the latest assault on our plea for distinctiveness: multiple universes, otherwise known as the “multiverse,” in which ours is just one of countless bubbles bursting forth from the fabric of the cosmos.
25. Just to settle it once and for all: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The egg, laid by a bird that was not a chicken.
26. Some morning while your eating breakfast and you need something new to think about, though, you might want to ponder the fact that you see your kids across the table not as they are but as they once were, about three nanoseconds ago.
27. Would a NASA reality show “Lunar Shore” be more popular than “Jersey Shore?” Civilization’s future depends on that answer.
28. After the 9/11 attacks, when President George W. Bush, in a speech aimed at distinguishing the U.S. from the Muslim fundamentalists, said, “Our God is the God who named the stars.” The problem is two-thirds of all the stars…have names have Arabic names. I don’t think he knew this. This would confound the point that he was making.
29. Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes…The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms.
30. While shopping at the supermarket, most Americans aren’t surprised to find an entire aisle filled with sugar-loaded, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But foreigners notice this kind of thing immediately, just as traveling Americans notice that supermarkets in Italy display vast selections of pasta and that markets in China and Japan offer an astonishing variety of rice. The flip side of not noticing your own culture is one of the great pleasures of foreign travel: realizing what you hadn’t noticed about your own country, and noticing what the people of other countries no longer realize about themselves.
31. Need a distraction today? Not only does 12 + 1 = 11 + 2, but the letters “twelve plus one” rearrange to give you “eleven plus two.”
32. Robots are important also. If I don my pure-scientist hat, I would say just send robots; I’ll stay down here and get the data. But nobody’s ever given a parade for a robot. Nobody’s ever named a high school after a robot. So when I don my public-educator hat, I have to recognize the elements of exploration that excite people. It’s not only the discoveries and the beautiful photos that come down from the heavens; it’s the vicarious participation in discovery itself.
33. Whether or not you can never become great at something, you can always become better at it. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t say, “I’ll never be good.” You can become better, and one day you’ll wake up and you’ll find out how good you actually became.
34. My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily then you are blind to all the universe has to offer.
35. In five billion years, the sun will expand and engulf our orbit as the charred ember that was once Earth vaporizes. Have a nice day.