Letters from an Astrophysicist
Number of Pages: 272
As the title suggests, this book is a compilation of letters Neil DeGrasse Tyson has written over the years. There are responses to genuine questions, pithy retorts to criticism, and a collection of op-eds written over the years. His answers were short and thoughtful. As the William Cowper dictum goes, and as he quotes, “if in this I have been tedious, it may be some excuse, I had not time to make it shorter.” Somehow, Tyson found the time to make each answer pack a punch.
Here are some ideas that either show up repeatedly or stuck out to me in a unique way:
- eyewitness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science, yet has a high regard in the court of law
- the Apophis Asteroid is scheduled to pass closely to the earth on April 13, 2036
- “established science is not an ensemble of beliefs, it’s a system of ideas supported by verifiable evidence”
- further to this – “theories don’t all of a sudden get reprove wrong, they get incorporated into other theories”
- the importance of peer-review
- “the most important moments in life occur at times when how we think will matter more than what we know”
There was a lot of material about faith, religion, and science. Tyson included two quotes by Galileo that I found interesting:
In my mind, God wrote two books. The first book is the Bible, where humans can find the answers to their questions on values and morals. The second book of God is the book of nature, which allows humans to use observation and experiment to answer our own questions about the universe.
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.
Overall, an excellent and quick read that had me want to read more by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.