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Life and Cosmos

September 4, 2011

Fascinating discussion of the big questions with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Zac permalink
    September 6, 2011 11:49 AM

    This is great. Ben and I had an epic philosophical discussion a few months ago, prompted by this very video. The beauty of the internet age is that these types of coffeehouse conversations can be shared with the world. I watched this video shortly after my second reading of Steven Johnson’s ‘The Invention of Air,’ which stresses the importance of: a) coffeehouses/coffee inspiring great leaps in science; and b) the intermingling of branches of knowledge such as philosophy, chemistry, biology, politics and religion, and the importance of long-view thinking in revolutionary discovery. So, of course, I remember being annoyed at the comments on philosophy in the Q&A at the end. I don’t think anyone expects philosophy to flirt and cohabit with science as it once did, so it’s rather akin to saying that the Whig party can no longer make contributions to the field of American Literature. There’s a question as to whether it ever really did, and so he’s kind of answering a non-question. That said, lets not close the door on armchair thinking and assume it has no contribution to make to science. Tyson of all people knows better, and while there may be no way of proving a hypothesis from an armchair, there are most certainly still avenues that can be explored abstractly through simple philosophical conversation. And isn’t that the purpose of this video?

    Which brings me back to coffee, that great instigator of rapid-fire conversations. As Johnson is so smart to highlight: great ideas always start with small seeds, planted in casual conversations like this one, usually fueled by caffeine and interrupted sentences. Most discoveries happen by accident. Most ideas are like molecules in gaseous form: they float around indefinitely until released into the right environment and prompted to react. This video is a ripe prompt for discussion because Dawkins and Tyson frequently fail to catch a train of thought and follow it deeper, to where greater questions lurk. Having gone off on another track, they allow us to board the trains they missed.

  2. September 9, 2011 11:29 AM

    Well. Not epic compared to the 40 pager. 😀

    Zac, I think you would like the TV show Cosmos, on principle if not also for entertainment value. Sagan brought together the history of science with lessons on current science and reason. Cool stuff.

    I’ve recently read through a good chunk of Dawkins’s book Unweaving the Rainbow, meant as an answer to the claim that science destroys the beauty of nature by analysis. There is some really cool stuff in there, too.

    I should watch this video again.

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