Brain Pickings

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why We’re Wired for Science & How Originality Differs in Science vs. Art

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“Every child is a scientist.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson may well be the Richard Feynman of our day, a “Great Explainer” in his own right, having previously reflected on everything from the urgency of space exploration to the most humbling fact about the universe. In this short video, Tyson contributes a beautiful addition to this omnibus of notable definitions of science and explores subjects as diverse as the nature of originality and the future of artificial intelligence.

Watch and take notes.

I can’t think of any more human activity than conducting science experiments. Think about it — what do kids do? … They’re turning over rocks, they’re plucking petals off a rose — they’re exploring their environment through experimentation. That’s what we do as human beings, and we do that more thoroughly and better than any other species on Earth that we have yet encountered… We explore our environment more than we are compelled to utter poetry when we’re toddlers — we start doing that later. Before that happens, every child is a scientist. And so when I think of science, I think of a truly human activity — something fundamental to our DNA, something that drives curiosity.

One particularly interesting line of thought examines the difference between originality in science and originality in art — a refreshing complement to last week’s tangential musings on the subject by Mark Twain and Henry Miller.

If I discover a scientific idea, surely someone else would’ve discovered the same idea had I not done so. Whereas, look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” — if he didn’t paint “Starry Night,” nobody’s gonna paint “Starry Night.” So, in that regard, the arts are more individual to the creative person than a scientific idea is to the one who comes up with it — but, nonetheless, they are both human activities.

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