deGrasse Tyson on new ideas vs old, and battles against ignorance

Catching up on back issues of magazines, I came across this long profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson in the The New Yorker, by Rebecca Mead. A couple passages struck me.

First, he’s chatting with a makeup artist who brings up New Age philosophy.

Tyson questioned its vaunting of ancient wisdom. “In practically every idea we have as humans, the older version of it is not better than the newer version,” he said. “With the invested effort of generations, and centuries, and sometimes millennia of smart people who have been born since the idea came out, we have improved ideas.”

Later the article compares the new series to the old.

Sagan was not altogether optimistic about the future of his own species: the threat of nuclear annihilation is a motif of the original “Cosmos”. But he did believe that certain battles against ignorance had been decisively won, and that humankind was oriented firmly toward progress.

The context in which Tyson promotes science suggests otherwise. …

With examples about creationists, the shrinking NASA budget, and those who think the moon landings were a government conspiracy (“a theory promoted, in part, by a widely seen television special broadcast by Fox”).

The most amazing thing about the 30 years since the original “Cosmos” is the extent to which more and more people (or at least, Americans) have disengaged from reality and retreated into closed, self-reinforcing groups of fantasy thinking, immune to rationality and evidence. It’s very sad, and a very dangerous trend. (If the US is a fading world power, that’s why.)

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