Neil deGrasse Tyson, STARRY MESSENGER: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization


Rather similarly to a couple three other nonfiction books I’ve read lately –- Ari Wallach’s LONGPATH (review here, Jim Al-Khalil’s THE JOY OF SCIENCE (review here), and even Justin Gregg’s IF NIETZSCHE WERE A NARWHAL (review here) -– this book is another basic, entry-level book covering ideas familiar to forward-looking thinkers of all kinds, but especially to scientists and to science fiction readers.

The difference between this and those other books is that Tyson is a major cultural figure, probably the best-known scientist in the nation. He’s done TV shows (Cosmos), he does the lecture circuit, and he has lots (hundreds of thousands? Don’t know exactly) of followers on Twitter. He pokes fun at the bad science in sci-fi movies. (And in the latest Top Gun.)

This book has, gratifyingly, gotten a fair amount of attention. It was published September 20th and was on Publishers Weekly’s nonfiction bestseller list for 5 weeks, by which time (this link is probably subscriber limited) it had sold some 47,000 copies. Not bad for a science book.

Like the other three books mentioned above, there’s lots of good stuff here, big-view long-view perspectives on a variety of topics. The book reminds me of Carl Sagan’s THE COSMIC CONNECTION, published in 1973 (retrospective review here) in its application of a “cosmic” worldview on everyday matters. The differences between Sagan’s book and Tyson’s are the specific topic each covers; Sagan was concerned about dolphins and ETs, among many other things; while Tyson includes chapters on vegetarianism, race, gender, disabilities, tribal forces in politics, the legal system (I appreciate his stories about dismissal from juries because he was a scientist; it happened to me too) and tropes about conservatives and liberals. He’s willing to challenge verities and explain why they aren’t actually true. There’s a terrific passage about how black racists might demeaningly depict whites. And: his idea of a “Rationalia” nation, and how it was denounced; and contrasting the idea of the soul, given our chemical reality.

As one would expect, Tyson comes down on the sides of reason and logic, recognizes complex realities rather than simple solutions or simple dichotomies, and above all advocates a respect and understanding of the universe around us as the proper foundation for genuine awe.

So, worth reading. Especially worth passing on to your grandkid, or niece/nephew, in their teens, when a book like this could expand their world.



Overture: how science informs everything. “Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into believing something is true when it is false, or that something is false when it is true.”

• 1, Truth & Beauty. Various kinds of truth: scientific; personal; and political. Aesthetics shift from one generation to the next, but objective truths have a transcendental beauty. And some things can be true, but ugly.

• 2, Exploration & Discovery. Paying for exploration pays off with discoveries of solutions for old problems. Knowledge grows exponentially; most predictions of the future under-predict, or simply deny new innovations. Following a timeline of innovations since 1900, author makes some predictions of his own.

• 3, Earth & Moon. The view of the Earth from the Moon provided new perspectives: an appreciation of the planet, environmental reforms, all triggered by Apollo. The Moon drives many superstitions…

• 4, Conflict & Resolution. About tribal conflicts — here Tyson explores the insights of modern psychology: in-group/out-group behavior, and discusses tropes about conservatives and liberals. And contrasts politics with the culture of ComicCon (!).

• 5, Risk & Reward. Probability and statistics, assumptions of cause and effect, our biases about coincidences. Casinos, the stock market, controversy over GMOs, cancer threats, cities vs. suburbs.

• 6, Meatarians & Vegetarians. The debate about eating meat or being vegetarian, or vegan, and whether animals suffer. Do plants suffer?

• 7, Gender & Identity. Humans can’t cope with ambiguity, and love to categorize things, even though most everything is on a continuum.

• 8, Color & Race. Again, a continuum, while humans love classifications, and hierarchies. For what reason? To suppress others? To feel superior to others? Great passage about the rationales black supremacists might say about why whites are inferior.

• 9, Law & Order. Legal systems are needed for civilization to exist. But it’s not usually about identifying truth. With pertinent comments about debate teams and jury systems. About the author’s idea of “Rationalia,” that was shot down, as if evidence would undermine morals and ethics.

• 10, Body & Mind. The yearning for an immaterial soul, or life force. We’re sacks of chemicals, and a thousand prescription drugs have all sorts of effects on our thinking and physiology. How these ideas apply to abortion, the idea of disabilities, and differential intelligence, e.g. how we might not understand the simplest thoughts of alien life. And there are still people who believe the Earth is flat, who follow astrology. The irrational behavior of our species undermines, the author claims, the idea we’re living in a simulation. The inanity defense.

Coda: Life & Death. We now live twice as long as people born in 1900. Could we live forever? Would you want to?


Full Notes


This book is a wake up call to civilization. Two fast takeaways: 1, human eyes alone are insufficient to detect fundamental truths about nature; 2, Earth is not the center of all motion; it’s just another planet.

These were the first-ever cosmic perceptions.

Overture: Science and Society

It’s easy to understand why people disagree; groupthink may have had a survival advantage. [[ We’ve seen this idea elsewhere recently. ]] But there are unifying perspectives we have in common. Consider the ‘overview effect’. What of our disagreements? “All I can promise is that whatever opinions you currently hold, an infusion of science and rational thinking can render them deeper and more informed that ever before.” 2.6 [[ This was precisely the message of the book just read, by Al-Khalili. ]]

Scientific method summarized in one sentence: p3m. Goes back to the 11th century. “Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into believing something is true when it is false, or that something is false when it is true.”

The royal society of London was founded in 1660. Others came in the US…

1, Truth & Beauty: aesthetics in life and in the cosmos, p7

What would aliens think of our sense of truth and beauty? Objective truths apply everywhere, across all space and time, and scientists are the discoverers of what is objectively true. Not from authority, or from any single research paper. The frontier of thought is rarely ‘breaking news.’ Objective truths don’t get overruled; they may be enclosed within larger truths. They are not found in belief systems, or from repetition of magical thinking.

There are two other definitions of truth. Personal truths are what you believe, what you’re sure about, but can’t prove. Often about what you want to be true. Most religious and political opinions are of this sort. In vino veritas usually doesn’t work in real life. Then there are political truths. These align with who you are, what you do, how you are superior to those you want to subjugate or conquer. Propaganda and indoctrination work here. People die for political beliefs.

Aesthetics shift from year to year, from one generation to the next. The cosmetics industry is huge. But objective, authentic truths have transcendental beauty. E.g., when we understand what stars or eclipses really are. Thus we imagine high places as being closer to god. In the sky among the clouds. Especially the greatest of clouds, cumulonimbus. Animist religions imagine nature itself as imbued with spirit energy. Thus we name nebulae for what they resemble, p15. Clinton used a moon rock to calibrate heated discussions.

Objectively true ideas can be true on their own. E=mc2. F=ma. The idea of pi. Chemistry: water, chlorine. Biology: 8.7 million species of insects.

What about things that are true but ugly? Most species that ever lived are now extinct. The universe is a killing machine. We have a morbid fascination with geologic and weather catastrophes.

Cosmic impacts are destructive but can be beautiful. Comets impacting Jupiter. Are things that can harm us thus ugly? Examples are none show up on posters with Bible quotes. Not all that is natural is beautiful, and vice versa. Poets help us reflect on these things. Kilmer’s “The Tree”.

Author considers the most beautiful thing about the universe that it’s knowable at all.

2, Exploration & Discovery: the value of both when shaping civilization, p23

Many people think exploring space is too expensive given problems on earth like hunger and poverty. Why can’t we both explore space *and* fix society’s problems? Consider the same issues thirty thousand years ago. Emerge from the cave, or? Maybe by traveling beyond the cave door, you discover solutions to cave problems. And new ways of seeing – the famous Eliot quote, p25, “We shall not cease from exploration…”

We’re wired with linear minds 25m. We don’t think in exponentials. Examples. Or using huge factors. Sizes of earth, sun, etc.

‘Measurement moxie’ is also needed for biology and geology. The pace of evolution, slow. History on a football field. Examples of flag planting.

And knowledge grows exponentially. Everyone thinks they’re living in special times. Example of ‘doubling times’ of scientific journals, say. And of patents. Is there a way to measure the doubling time of society? Speeds of transportation [[ recalls Clarke’s PROFILES OF THE FUTURE, review here ]]. Author cites predictions from 1900, and then reviews what actually happened in following decades. Many under-predict; some simply deny new innovations. What happened just between 1900 and 1930, p33. Then from 1930 to 1960, p34. Then 1960 to 1990. Yet, a movie with flying cars — and fax machines. Then from 1990 to 2020. The smartphone may be the single greatest invention of all time, p37.3. Predictions made today about 2050 will all fail. Most are bleak.

Author makes some predictions for 2050 anyway: mental illness will be cured; vehicles will all be self-driving; about the space industry; curing cancer; DNA tailoring; regrow lost limbs; etc. Driven by science and technology. Quote from Ecclesiastes, p41. Today, it’s all new under the sun…

3, Earth & Moon: cosmic perspective, p42

Most of America’s 500 astronauts have only gone to orbit, a centimeter above an ordinary globe. Yet from orbit very little can be seen on earth. Boundaries are invisible. The overview effect. Yet two regions do have visible borders from space: the Gaza Strip, and the two Koreas. In 1992, a shantytown of Johannesburg.

To the Moon. We have one. 1968: the view from Moon to Earth. During the Apollo 8 mission, the astronauts read 10 verses from Genesis, pp48-9. Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued the federal government, and lost. Author tells her to shut up. The view of the Earth shifted people’s minds. It led to the expansion of national parks; to the abolition of DDT; now the shift to save the planet. Apollo 11; clean air act; national earth day; NOAA formed, and more through 1973 unleaded gas pp51-2. The whole movement could have happened earlier. But it happened during the era of Apollo.

The Moon sets our calendars and feeds our superstitions. Examples of various of the latter: werewolves, births during full moons. Ask pertinent questions, and these fall apart. Full moons and tides.

The coincidence of the relative sizes of sun and moon. Won’t be so forever. Astrology. Seeing events in the sky through the lenses of religion. Solar eclipses; meteor showers; Abe Lincoln knew what one was, not biblical doom. Recall Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

Other cosmic revelations could reveal we’re not alone in the universe…

4, Conflict & Resolution: tribal forces within us all, p62

What happens when democracy fails? Behind all-out conflict are the puppeteers of politics and religion. Examples of WWII casualties.

In-group/out-group behavior is disturbing even as it’s evolutionary understandable. Yet you don’t see scientists going to war; conflicts are resolved with more or better data. Sometimes both sides are right.

Humans further fight over limited resources. Some could be solved with resources from asteroids or comets. Science and math are unchanging across human societies. Author served on a White House commission and met colleagues from around the world. Recalls vodka at 10am in Star City. Most displays of international cooperation are competitions—the exception is the ISS. In the 1970s was Apollo-Soyuz.

Author leans liberal but was appointed by Bush. Met people across a ranch of viewpoints. Learned to appreciate other points of view. Scientific rationality can at least make people disagree less strenuously. Author considers four red-blue political tropes.

Trope 1: Conservatives think nuclear families bring stability, and that liberals live under questionable moral codes. Yet statistics for out-of-wedlock births and divorces belie conservative claims. Evidence of Republican presidents, but also the Ashley Madison site.

Trope 2: Liberals embrace science, conservatives science deniers. Note how the conservative position has softened, somewhat. Recall the 97%, or now 100%, consensus of scientists, about human-caused climate change. Consider those statistics in other contexts. Another area: Darwinian evolution vs. “their 3,500-year-old sacred texts.” But, a minority of Christians. Meanwhile a few liberals promote crystal healing, etc etc p73. Anti-vaxxers began with liberals. Yet recently far more Republicans refuse vaccines than Democrats (see tweet p74). At least the liberal beliefs won’t precipitate the end of civilization, like conservative climate denial; but they are not all pro-science either. Lately right-wing radio shows promote various diet supplements. And political support for funding science advisors has been uneven.

Trope 3: Republicans are racist, sexist, anti-immigrant homophobes… In the past, the parties held opposite positions. Today things have flipped 180 degrees. Yet supreme court appointments since 1990 don’t align with the trope. So do people think for themselves? When author hosted Cosmos in 2014, for Fox Network, many liberals assumed there would be pressure to express conservative agendas. Also note progressive movies from studios owned by Fox. Recalls The Simpsons and others. [[ well but all the Fox commentators *are* right-wing racist etc etc ]]

Trope 4: Republicans are the patriots; liberals want to raise taxes and live off government social programs. Or, maybe liberals are trying to save your life by banning things that are bad for you. And look at the data to compare which states pay more to the government than receive benefits. Yes Democrats increase taxes, but it’s the blue states leading the economic strength of the nation.

[[ well, he’s finding exceptions that, as it goes, prove the rule. The tropes are still largely true. His points are valid in terms of shades of gray, perhaps… ]]

Is there a world with no partisan divisions? Consider the culture of ComicCon. A diverse group of people with common interests and making no judgments. Well, except about your cosplay. Would that comicCon’ers ran the world.

5, Risk & Reward: calculations we make daily with our own lives and the lives of others, p84

Probability and statistics; risk. These ideas are relatively modern. Gauss in the 1800s. The bell curve. Examples of a lion rustling in the grass. Seeing patterns can save your life. And assumptions of cause and effect. We retain these biases. There *are* coincidences. Personal testimony and anecdotes sway us the most. Casinos and advertisers take advantage of these. But not scientists. Anecdote of physicists in Las Vegas; the casinos lost money. Examples of casino practices. Casinos and lotteries are everywhere. Some people play just to fantasize. Some lotteries fund public schools… which mostly don’t teach statistics. Example of Borders bookstore at Las Vegas, with no science section.

Everyone wants to feel special. Example of group of coin flippers, culling those who don’t get heads. Again and again. Similar in stock markets. Markets always go up or down, and the news can always ‘explain’ it. If markets are completely random, a few people will win big anyway, and claim special insights. And none of those will do the same the next year. Where there’s a consistent winner, there’s most likely fraud—Bernie Madoff.

Consider GMOs. Scientists and right-leaning people tend to be fine with them; left-leaning as evil and unhealthy. Consider Monsanto’s Roundup. And the lethal levels of its key ingredient, compared to sugar, alcohol, and so on p99. This is all about relative risks, and statistics, which people don’t understand. 400m pints of ice cream to die from glyphosate, but 20 to die from the sugar. Ben & Jerry’s chose to withdraw the ingredient rather than explain this. People don’t want to be upset by new ideas.

Similarly with risks of cancer due to various activities. Searing meat. Studies vary. Existential threats are often long-term outcomes. Consider an experiment with cigarette smokers, p102.

Safety. Is city living worse than suburban? It turns out you’re safer in the city. Chances of dying prematurely 22% higher in the suburbs. Mass shootings are actually a tiny fraction of all preventable deaths. Similarly traffic deaths vs. 9/11. Or deer vs. predators. Self-driving cars; they would save thousands even if they kill a few. Similarly with plane crashes.

Recall Gulliver’s Travels, the rational horses… Yet feelings make us human. We can’t abandon them.

6, Meatarians & Vegetarians: we are not entirely what we eat, p109

Meat eaters feel no reason to justify their preferences; vegetarians go to great lengths to do so, often being evangelical about it. Many animals are one or the other, carnivores or herbivores; some are omnivores. Vegetarians who remove cheese and eggs, milk and honey, from their diets, are vegan. About 3% of the population. About 8% who don’t eat meat. Meat consumption has gone up faster than the population. All fish eat other fish (except for the smallest, who eat plankton). Should humans, being sentient, respect other animals and avoid eating them?

The best plan is likely to source food locally. Yet, meat production in the US is very efficient. Nine billion chickens per year. Cattle are fully domesticated, selectively bred, to turn grass into steak, or milk. Moby [the pop music arranger] complained when author tweeted that. But it was just a statement of fact.

In other parts of the world people eat many other animals, 114.7.

Fish don’t seem to suffer. Justification for people doing what they please with fish and animals goes back to Genesis. Until the 1970s, when the ethics of animal treatment emerged. Could you justify eating meat if all animals were treated humanely? Or apply various standards? Insects, mollusks? Anecdote about snails. There are all sorts of justifications for eating, or not eating, this or that animal. Speciesism. The genetic degree an animal is from humans. Still, your house is made of trees. Don’t trees suffer too? What if plants were sentient? Think of Avatar and others about sentient trees. What would aliens think about life on earth? Think about how mammals consume the reproductive organs of plants – sometimes serving the purpose of spreading them around. All our food comes from killing and eating other forms of life. Except milk and honey.

We may soon get lab-grown meat. That would circumvent those ethical issues about killing other animals. Recalls a ‘vanity card’ from the end credits of The Big Bang Theory, about vegetarians and vegans, p123. Such ideas were discussed by Huygens in the 17th century. Maybe it’s all sacred. Recalls Terry Bisson’s story, p125. And the largest known organism, a huge mat of mushrooms in Oregon…

7, Gender & Identity: people are more the same than different, p127

We make all sorts of distinctions about people, about matter and energy. Some properties are not stable, e.g. boiling points (depending on elevation). But humans can’t cope with ambiguity. The wave-particle duality. Schrodinger’s cat. “Our limited capacity to interpret reality” 129.2. And quantum computing, with qubits. What about gender, sexual preference? “Such questions are hard for some people to grasp…” 129b. How about colors? There are typically seven, Roy G. Biv. But actually they’re a continuum, with no actual boundaries. Similarly LGBTQ+. Such people have always been around, if not called out, e.g. the character Anybody in West Side Story. The world was binary back then. God says so. But biology isn’t; the presumed binary of sex in nature is rife with exceptions…

P132. Consider people on a NYC subway. Bodies hidden by bulky coats, but faces easily identifying male and female. But all through societal constructs. Only a few features distinguish men from women, e.g. jaw line. We spend lots of money on enhancing our gender expression.

While reindeer all have antlers, males and females. But the males lose their in fall, before Christmas — so Rudolph, with his antlers, must have been female. (!)

We categorize things even knowing they’re on a continuum – e.g. hurricanes, by wind strength. There’s no right number of categories. With more and more colors on the rainbow flag, the continuous nature is lost, and discrete groups emphasized.

Many people who argue against any kind of mandate (masks, guns, seat belts) nevertheless argue to restrict how other people express their gender identity. What about life and liberty and freedom?

8, Color & Race: once again, people are more the same than different, p137

During the 20th century stars’ spectra were analyzed and classified into fifteen types, from A to O. The ‘computers’ who did the work were women, hired by Harvard men.

Many places on earth classify skin color by black, brown, or white. Even through there are many shades in between, and none of them are pure colors. Obama was a light-skinned black; in other cultures he’d be considered white.

You could use the idea of albedo to measure people’s skin. Colors tend to derive from areas of the globe, so there’d be no black Santa, or white Jesus. Skin color is an adaptation to the amount of UV light at a particular latitude [[ of course!; are there people who do not realize this?? ]]. Despite the few skin colors we use, there are dozens of shades of hair color and makeup. Makeup artists, and interior decorators, are artists of colors.

But why classify skin color at all? To oppress others? Yet plenty of conflicts have been between white groups. Now the US is removing statues of past racists. They were about “defending the Southern way of life”. Which is tied to slavery. Example quote from a representative Hammond, 143m. A statue of Teddy Roosevelt was removed from the American Museum of Natural History. Because of things he said? His time was that of eugenics, and ideas that lasted until the Nazis. The statue had him on a horse, flanked by an Indian and a black, all looking noble. Few would find it demeaning. But opinions change, with contexts. Author is happy to see statue relocated, if only because no one would create such a statue today.

Why would someone want to feel superior to others? We do so in athletic events, exams, beauty contests, etc. Biased attitudes tend to appear in sciences that study humans, less so math or physics, say. Still, subconscious biases may linger; examples. Acronyms, for colors of resistors, etc.

19th century anthropologists were obsessed with the races of man. Examples p153. Even from Jefferson. Textbooks all the way to 1962. But we can reverse the tables, and consider what black supremacists might have said about whites, p155. Hair, white skin, big ears, Neanderthal blood, head lice, skin cancer, psoriasis, acne, etc.

There’s also racist Black mythology, p159.

Africa is the ‘cradle of mankind.’ It’s five time larger than Europe, and so on. Short and tall. Wide ranges of many characteristics. Whites like to deny that Africans could possibly have built the pyramids. Yet some Africans are great chess players.

Notice how people identify themselves to the home of their ancestors, e.g. Italian or Swedish. Go back far enough, we’re all African.

Ancestry is convergent; go back far enough, we share many ancestors.

Civilization has made great social advances over the centuries. If you could settle in any moment of human history, when would it be? [[ Obama made this point. ]] If you’re not white, cis, heterosexual, think carefully. Or perhaps the future, where the moral arc bends further toward justice, 166.

Consider the visiting alien to whom all humans look alike. The way we see animals.

9, Law & Order: the foundation of civilization, whether we like it or not, p168

Space law is still a frontier. Who owns the moon, mineral rights to asteroids, etc.? Legal system are needed for civilization to exist, to protect us from our own primate instincts. But is the law really about finding truth? Or what people need to be true? Consider the evolution of trials, 169b. Gods. Hammurabi—trials by water. Throw bodies in the ocean. How about evidence? But you need people who can argue it, and listen to it. Up until the 1600s natural philosophers simple declared things that seemed true. Eventually the evidence of nature had the final word. How about the wisdom of the crowds? But they easily become mobs, ripe for lynching. Now we have crowds on the internet. Then how about a jury? Or one’s peers. Our modern system. The Sixth Amendment. The idea goes back to the Magna Carta. And yet, we breed lawyers to use powers of persuasion. Debate teams in high school. Author didn’t learn until an adult how they worked. Always two sides, not three or five. “I could think of nothing more disruptive…” p174.9

[[ I’ve always been skeptical about debates, and the lawyerly process in general; they’re about winning, not identifying truth. Glad to see someone say this. ]]

Examples of author being called for jury duty and being dismissed after explaining what he did for a living. And, witnesses are unreliable. Second example, about “1700 milligrams of cocaine” rather than “1.7 grams”, less than the weight of a dime. Third time, about not being able to rely only on eyewitness testimony (which the judge repeated wrongly).

If this is the legal system we want, then scientists, statisticians, and engineers need not apply. Consider the Innocence Project, to free those innocently sentenced to death. And example of author who wrote about being raped, and later apologized for mis-identifying the rapist.

Virtually all prisoners in the US are male.

Can Earth use a rational virtual community? The idea was floated in 2016. Rationalia. But author’s tweet about the idea – “all policy shall be based on the weight of evidence” – got major pushback, p182, a ‘terrible’ idea. (Why?) A common objection is how scientists would determine morals and ethics. If verdict were evidence-based, we’d redefine “not guilty” and add “innocent” p183. But plenty of policy that Rationalia could determine, listed 184. And for many other issues, all you have to do is present your reasons for this position or that. All the way to capital punishment… morality… However it might work out, let’s hope for a justice system that makes ours look as primitive as trail by death-dunking.

10, Body & Mind: human physiology may be overrated, p188

We’re all made of chemicals. Yet we want to feel that we’re more than that: soul, spiritual energy, life force. And yet there are a thousand prescription drugs that are chemicals with all sorts of effect. The human body is a big sack of chemicals, and it’s quite amazing. Our heart, our feet, our microbes, our senses. Sight comes first; then hearing; smell; taste and touch. Science developed as it developed tools to supplement those senses. MRI, ultrascan, others, all based on physics, not medical research. You have to fund everything; you never know which discoveries will transform your field.

Ultrasound has ramped up the debate about abortion; opponents think they heard a heartbeat at six weeks. When the embryo weighs no more than a paperclip. Conservatives and religious are passing all sorts of laws to restrict it. Recent abortion rates in the US show about 13% were medically aborted, compared to 15% spontaneously. Plus miscarriages unnoticed.

Is it important that every part of you work well? Beethoven was deaf; Helen Keller deaf and blind. Other examples of an archer without arms. Grandin, Hawking, Sacks, others. If you can’t do vector calculus, are you mathematically disabled? Non-artists disabled because they can’t draw? Maybe everyone is disabled in some way; or, nobody is disabled.

How about the mind? It’s not true that we use only 10 percent of our minds. Humans are the smartest creatures ever to exist on Earth. Vastly more so than chimps, with whom we share 98% of our DNA. Physically, the only thing we can do better than any other animals is stalk a land animal to exhaustion. By some measures our minds prevail. But we’ve underestimated the intelligence of other animals. But other animals have larger brain to body weight ratios. Ants, birds.

Imagine alien life where we’re as smart as their two-year-olds. P202. “the simplest thoughts…” We can’t imagine what discoveries and inventions they’d be capable of, 203t.

We can’t even communicate with chimps. Why should we be able to communicate with aliens? At all? Cosmic perspectives. Are we smart enough to sit at the table of intelligent life-forms..?

Where does that leave us? Can the mind understand the brain? Can the universe create something better than itself? We admire the complexity of the human brain; yet built computers that can solve Rubik’s cubes and drive our cars. So already we’ve made something better than ourselves, in some ways.

Yet there are still people who fear the number 13, think the earth is flat, and follow astrology. And we know chemicals can greatly disrupt our perceptions of reality.

Are we living in a simulation? The irrational behavior of our species is an argument against. The inanity defense.

Coda: Life & Death, p206

Human birth is amazing; most people rarely witness one. Four babies are born every second; about two people die per second. We can expect to live twice as long as people in 1900. Could we live forever? Would you?

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