Neil deGrasse Tyson: We Don’t Understand the Most Fundamental Aspects of Our Universe

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We have nanobots that swim inside our bodies and monitor our vital organs. We have autonomous robots that work alongside human doctors to perform complex surgeries. There are rovers driving across the surface of Mars and, as you read this, thee humans are orbiting high above you, living in the cold vacuum of space.

In many ways, it seems like we’re living in the future. But if you ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, it seems like we’re little more than infants trying to clutch sunbeams in our fists.

At the 2018 World Government Summit in Dubai, Tyson gave a presentation to an enraptured audience. The topic? How humans will — most definitely not — colonize Mars (Tyson, if you aren’t aware, is an eternal skeptic). It seems fitting then that, following his rather depressing speech, he took the time to discuss how humans are, in many ways, entirely ignorant.

Here are three things that, according to Tyson, show just how far we have to go:

Dark Matter

A portion of our universe is missing. A rather significant portion, in fact. Scientists estimate that less than 5% of our universe is made up of ordinary matter (protons, neutrons, electrons, and all the things that make our bodies, our planet, and everything we’ve ever seen or touched). The rest of the matter in our universe? Well, we have no idea what it is.

“Dark matter is the longest standing unsolved problem in modern astrophysics,” Tyson said. He continued with a slightly exasperated sigh, “It has been with us for eighty years, and it’s high time we had a solution.” Yet, we aren’t exactly close.

The problem stems from the fact that dark matter doesn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation (aka light). We can only observe it because of its gravitational influence — say, by a galaxy spinning slower or faster than it should. However, there are a number of ongoing experiments that seek to detect dark matter, such as SNOLAB and ADMX, so answers may be on the horizon.

Dark Energy

Dark energy is, perhaps, one of the most interesting scientific discoveries ever made. This is because it may hold the keys to the ultimate fate of our universe. Tyson explains it as “a pressure in the vacuum of space forcing the acceleration of the [expansion of] the universe.” Does that sound confusing? That’s probably because it is.

If you weren’t aware, all of space is expanding — the space between the galaxies, the space between the Earth and the Sun, the space between your eyes and your computer screen. Of course, this expansion is minimal. It’s so minimal that we don’t even notice it when we look at our local solar system. But on a cosmic scale, its impact is profound.

Because space is so vast, billions of light-years of space are expanding, causing many galaxies to fly away from us at unimaginable speeds. And if this flight continues, eventually the cosmos will be nothing more than a cold unendingly dark void. If it reverses, the universe will collapse in on itself in a Big Crunch.
Unfortunately, we have absolutely no idea which will happen, as we have no clue what dark energy is.


We know a lot about how life evolved on Earth. About 3.5 billion years ago, the earliest forms of life emerged. These single-celled creatures dominated our planet for billions and billions of years. A little over 600 million years ago, the first multicellular organisms took up residence. The Cambrian explosion followed soon after and *boom* the fossil record was born. Just 500 million years ago, plants started taking to land. Animals soon followed, and here we are today.

However, Tyson is quick to point out that we don’t understand the most vital component of evolution — the beginning. “We still don’t know how we go from organic molecules to self-replicating life,” Tyson said, and he noted how unfortunate this is because “that is basically the origin of life as we know it.” The process is called abiogenesis. In non-scientific jargon, it deals with how life arises from nonliving matter. Although we have a number of hypotheses related to this process, we don’t have a comprehensive understanding or any evidence to support one.

There we have it. The biggest mysteries of the cosmos just happen to be some of the most important and fundamental. So, when will we finally figure out these scientific conundrums and move out of our infancy? Tyson refuses to make a prediction.

If there’s one thing he knows, it’s how very little humans actually know: “I’m not very good at predicting the future, and I’ve looked at other people’s predictions and seen how bad those are even among those that say ‘I am good.’ So I can tell you what I want to happen, but that’s different than what I think will happen.”

The post Neil deGrasse Tyson: We Don’t Understand the Most Fundamental Aspects of Our Universe appeared first on Futurism.


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Neil Gaiman is turning The Sandman into an expanded comics universe

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Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman set a new high-water mark for the comics industry when it debuted in 1988, and 30 years later the author is expanding that world into its own full-fledged mini-universe. Dubbed The Sandman Universe, the series will be part of DC’s Vertigo imprint, and consist of four new individual comic series, each handled by a different writer, with the entire thing kicking off on August 8th.

“I found Vertigo at a time when I was bored with comics, then I read Sandman and my head exploded,” Vertigo executive editor Mark Doyle said in a press release. “Suddenly I saw all these endless storytelling possibilities. I knew I had to get into comics, and I had to get into Vertigo. To return to the imprint and…

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Neil Young lambasts Google for profiting off of links to piracy sites

In a new essay posted to his website, musician Neil Young called out major tech companies such as Google for linking to piracy websites and thus depriving musicians of income, and wondered how the next generation of musicians will survive.

In his post, Young begins talking about his 1996 album Broken Arrows, and how the lyrics for the song “Music Arcade” made him reflect on his earlier successes, which he’s not sure can be attained by musicians nowadays. “Today, in the age of FaceBook [sic] GOOGLE and Amazon,” he writes, “it’s hard to tell how a new and growing musical artist could make it in the way we did.” He goes on to say that Google profited immensely from searches (including ones for piracy websites), but left artists out of the…

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs

It’s no secret that Neil deGrasse Tyson has strong feelings when it comes to the intersection of science and belief. Science, he says, is objective. It’s not something that you believe or do not believe; it’s something that you accept or don’t accept. It remains true regardless of your personal beliefs.

At the opening day of the World Government Summit, which took place this weekend in Dubai, Tyson spoke with Futurism about the current state of our world, why some nations refuse to accept science, and the dire consequences we’ll face if those nations continue to reject the truths science reveals.

When asked about how governments around the world are doing in terms of science, whether they are doing right by their citizens and supporting a sound science education, Tyson said the state of affairs is, sadly, “highly unequal.” He continued by noting that, globally, how much investment there is in science and technology varies according to how much available funds a nation has.

“I think it may be considered a luxury to fund scientific research if it’s not completely obvious how that research will help you,” he told Futurism. Though, as he went on to point out, it’s exactly that kind of inquiry — knowledge for the sake of knowledge — that makes scientific advancement possible. Oftentimes, advances come because of random happenstance.

He’s right: from lasers to electricity to X-rays, scientific developments aren’t always the result of someone knowing exactly what it is they are doing. That often comes far, far later. To that end, Tyson noted that it is important for nations to invest heavily in science whenever and wherever they can, as it always pays in the longrun.

“You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

“Innovations in science and technology, we’ve known forever, are the engines of tomorrow’s economy,” Tyson said. “You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

The conversation then turned to the situation in the U.S., where the current (and often controversial) sociopolitical climate is having a demonstrable influence on the ability of scientists to make progress in their research.

“One of the problems — I know the United Stated the best — is that most of our government, most of our elective government, stands for reelection every two years,” Tyson said. “So, if there are people coming in that don’t know science or appreciate it or understand it, then we are susceptible to having them cancel a project that might need a ten-year horizon or a twenty-year horizon to bear fruit.”

This, he noted, is obviously a less than ideal situation. To that end, he suggested that, perhaps, nations should have a dedicated budget set aside for research and development — a dedicated budget that is not subject to the whims of each new politician.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When discussing how nations can overcome the hurdle that exists where personal or cultural beliefs meet science — as happens when talking about gene editing, evolution, and a host of other topics — Tyson took a strong stance.

“It’s only a hurdle if your belief system is in denial of objective reality,” he said. “If you have a belief system that wants to say that something that an emergent scientific truth has established is somehow not true, then you should just give up at that point….if you cannot simultaneously allow both to co-exist, and one has to fight the other, you will have problems.”

Fortunately, there are alternatives to giving up. What has happened in the past is belief systems have adapted.

It is easy to see this throughout our history books. Religion used to say Earth was the center of the universe. Religion used to say that evolution was a myth. Some religious individuals may still cling to these beliefs, but many do not. The solution, it seems, is to simply wait for people to accept the objective reality that is presented to them — to let it speak for itself.

True, at times, it seems like deeply ingrained belief systems that contradict or deny scientific fact are unmovable pillars of life in the United States; stumbling blocks to progress that we simply have to put up with. Still, significant progress is being made around the world by countries willing to make a change. Though some may scream “communism,” India and Scotland are experimenting with a basic income. Sweden has taken powerful steps toward becoming carbon neutral, despite the fact that some think climate change is “fake news.” And advances are being made in embryonic stem cells, though they remain controversial.

As Tyson so eloquently explained, humanity is fully capable of shifting its paradigm. The evidence exists throughout history, and in modern times, we just need to remind ourselves that our beliefs can be molded to facts — not just the other way around. Sometimes, it just requires waiting.

“I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

When asked if he was hopeful about the future and government’s ability (or willingness) to change its tune, Tyson laughed. “I’m neutral,” he said, but quickly added, “I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

The post Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs appeared first on Futurism.


Recode Daily: Spotify is socked with a $1.6 billion lawsuit by Tom Petty’s and Neil Young’s music publisher

Plus, Peter Thiel’s monster bet on bitcoin, the lucrative industry of Addiction Inc., and your first meme of 2018.

In 2009, Iranian protestors relied on Twitter. Now they’re flocking to Telegram, a messaging app that lets them communicate privately. In response, the Iranian government is trying to block the app, along with other social media tools like Instagram. In other news cycles, Telegram has been criticized as a tool used by terrorists. [Sam Schechner, Stu Woo / Wall Street Journal]

Spotify has been hit with a $ 1.6 billion lawsuit from a music publisher that represents titles by Tom Petty, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks.Wixen Music Publishing alleges that Spotify is underpaying songwriters and streaming thousands of songs without a proper license. The suit comes as Spotify preps for a long-awaited IPO. [Variety]

Founders Fund, the venture capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel made a monster bet on bitcoin last summer, and that $ 15 million to $ 20 million investment is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. [The Wall Street Journal]

Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son has changed the startup game with his aggressive investing and enormous checkbook. Bloomberg looks into the SoftBank CEO’s eccentric, relentless deal-making, and asks — does he know what he’s doing?[Bloomberg]

With millions falling victim to America’s opioid epidemic, here’s a four-part series that looks at Addiction Inc. — the $ 35 billion recovery industry — and on its fringes, the marketing wizards, urine-testing millionaires, addicts-turned-entrepreneurs and other opportunistic people clustering around the lucrative business of turning addicts into customers and billable fortunes. [The New York Times]

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Amazon killed their wine website. Now the two founders are back with another.

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On the latest episode of Recode Decode, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo says the Valley needs a shot of self-awareness.

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Answer our survey and tell us what it’s like to be a new mom working in tech.

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Here it is, your first major meme of 2018.

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Spotify sued for $1.6 billion by publisher for Tom Petty, Neil Young, other major artists

Spotify could be in some trouble. $ 1.6 billion worth of trouble, to be exact. Variety reports that the music streaming giant is being sued by the Wixen Publishing Company for allegedly using thousands of popular songs by major artists without permission or proper compensation.

To understand Wixen’s grievance, it’s important to distinguish between the music labels (the record companies) and the music publishers. Generally, the labels recruit artists, market their music and videos, and may also handle recording, distribution, and myriad other aspects of music production.

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Spotify sued for $ 1.6 billion by publisher for Tom Petty, Neil Young, other major artists was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Neil Young just launched a high-quality archive of his entire back catalog

In April, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young announced that he was shifting gears on his high-fidelity audio project, Pono. What began as a music player and online music store would become a high-quality streaming service, Xstream. This week, Young not only released his thirty-ninth studio album, The Visitor, he also launched the Neil Young Archive, a site that contains almost his entire back catalog using the service, which visitors can listen to in a high quality format.

Young has decried the relatively low quality that most music is available in for digital audiences. In 2012, he told Walt Mossberg and Peter Kafka at D: Dive Into Media that he was concerned about the quality of MP3, and hoped that better devices would come to…

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