Neil on StarTalk with Wu-Tang’s GZA
If I Were President…
New York Times
August 21, 2011
Part of collection of opinions on the topic:If I Were President…which appeared in the Sunday Review section. What follows is the unedited version of what was published.
The question, “If I were President I’d…” implies that if you swap out one leader, put in another, then all will be well with America—as though our leaders are the cause of all ailments.
That must be why we’ve created a tradition of rampant attacks on our politicians. Are they too conservative for you? Too liberal? Too religious? Too atheist? Too gay? Too anti-gay? Too rich? Too dumb? Too smart? Too ethnic? Too philanderous? Curious behavior, given that we elect 88% of Congress every two years.
A second tradition-in-progress is the expectation that everyone else in our culturally pluralistic land should hold exactly your own outlook, on all issues.
When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different to you. It’s a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths of the world that exist outside of whatever your belief system tells you.
One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Aug. 21, 2011
After recently signing on to reboot one classic TV show, Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones, Seth MacFarlane is taking on another iconic TV series, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Fox has greenlighted Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, a 13-part docu-series from Family Guy creator MacFarlane and late Sagan’s original collaborators – his widow, writer/producer Ann Druyan and astrophysicist Steven Soter. Envisioned as a successor to the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning original 13-part program, which was hosted by Sagan, the new Cosmos series will be hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Underscoring MacFarlane’s commercial appeal, Cosmos will air on Fox in primetime, something pretty unprecedented these days for a science documentary series on commercial American television. (The original series aired on PBS.) Fox will air Cosmos: A Personal Voyage in 2013, which is also when the network will launch MacFarlane’s Flintstones reboot. National Geographic Channel, which will co-produce Cosmos, will air a same-night encore of the episodes following their broadcast on Fox. The project is being done outside of MacFarlane’s overall deal with 20th Century fox TV. “Never more than at this moment in the modern era have we needed a profound reminder of the colossally important and exciting role that science, space exploration and the human quest for knowledge must continue to play in our development as a species,” MacFarlane said. “We should be vigorously exploring the solar system by now, and who better to inspire us to get there than Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, Neil deGrasse Tyson and, of course, Carl Sagan.”
A self-professed geek, MacFarlane hit it off with Druyan after the two met at a function some time ago. When she shared with him the idea for a new Cosmos series, MacFarlane immediately sparked to it and set up a meeting with Peter Rice, entertainment chairman of Fox where MacFarlane has 3 series on the air, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad. That happened about a year ago, and after lengthy negotiations, Fox just closed all deals for the project to go forward. In September 2010, MacFarlane and Druyan appeared together on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher where they shared their concern about the growing anti-science sentiment in American society, something Druyan attributed to “the failure of public education,” which has “compartmentalized science to 20-40 boring minutes a week, maybe taught by a gym teacher.” That is a far cry from the way her late husband approached science. “Carl believed that science belongs to all of us,” Druyan said now in reference to the Fox series. “He wanted to convey the thrill of its cosmic perspective to the widest possible audience. I wish I could tell Carl what Seth’s leadership on this new Cosmos has made possible. Besides, I know how much they would have liked each other.”
According to the producers, the new series will tell “the story of how human beings began to comprehend the laws of nature and find our place in space and time. It will take viewers to other worlds and travel across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on the grandest scale. The most profound scientific concepts will be presented with stunning clarity, uniting skepticism and wonder, and weaving rigorous science with the emotional and spiritual into a transcendent experience.”
Carl Sagan’s original series Cosmos, which was first broadcast in 1980, remains the most successful American public television series of all time and has been seen by an estimated 700 million viewers around the world. One of the signature features of the 1980s series were the groundbreaking for its time visual effects, which allowed Sagan to walk through space. The new series is expected to employ the latest special effects, though it is unclear if it will incorporate another signature element of the original, the catchy music by Vangelis. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey will be produced by Druyan’s Cosmos Studios. Ann Druyan, Seth MacFarlane and Cosmos Studios president Mitchell Cannold will executive produce along with Allan Butler of National Geographic Channel.
Neil talking to Robert Kuhn as part of a group of distinguished panelists in a discussion of what may lie beyond our world
I do not know much about writing rap lyrics, but I’m guessing that most rappers do not meet with physicists and cosmologists from MIT and Cornell before sitting down to write. But that’s exactly what Wu-Tang Clan founding member GZA did during the creation of his new album, Dark Matter — a project the rapper hopes will turn his audience on to science.
GZA’s partner in this endeavor: Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the fusion of astronomy and awesome in the shape of a man. Oh yes. Pretty sure this is going to be amaaaaaazing. A conversation with a violinist scoring the album went something like this, according to the Wall Street Journal:
“We talked about frenetic energy, outer space, molecules crashing into each other, organized chaos,” Mr. Vitali said. “The grandeur of the fact that the universe was born in a millionth of a second, in this explosion that created billions of stars, these overpowering ideas that are bigger than we can conceive. How do we make the record feel like that?”
No word on whether GZA is going to take a page out of ODB’s book and change his name to Big Baby Grandeur of the Universe, but oh please oh please oh please.
GZA isn’t just relying on his lyrics and music to convey his love of science; the album may also come with an illustrated book featuring a glossary of terms. Nor is he stopping with space. The next album in the series is going to be about oceans. With any luck, the third will be about fuckin’ magnets and how they work.