The biggest difference between Neil deGrasse Tyson and other famous, accomplished people is that Tyson would never make grandiose claims about wanting to change the world. He just wants to observe it. So Tyson’s pretty much a slacker by the now all-too-pervasive Silicon Valley standards. This probably has a lot to do with the size of the world Tyson’s just observing. See for Tyson disruptive–that hackneyed tech anthem–doesn’t describe a new app that lets you see who’s looking at your Google profile. For Tyson, disruptive describes the Big Bang. New impresario of the Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson, knew he wanted to be an astrophysicist by the age of nine. This helpful precociousness allowed him to win some extra time and space (his bailiwick ever since, don’t you know) by avoiding small talk with well-meaning but patronizing parents of friends. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” people asked the child Tyson. “An astrophysicist,” he’d invariably reply, cutting the conversations short. It’s a story he recently told Stephen Colbert, where Tyson has been a guest a record ten times. Tyson, the genial and rational man of science, is the perfect foil for the cocksure Colbert character’s exercises in truthiness. In this country you have the right to say whatever you want, the great science explicator tells Colbert: it doesn’t mean you’re right.
Dr./Professor/Director/Author/Explainer/Explorer Tyson is right, however, when he says what he wants. And he says look at the universe, here’s what we know. Tyson has written ten books and is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Currently he is our galvanizing tour guide through galaxies and molecules as host of the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the multipart TV series which builds on the legacy of Carl Sagan’s original mind-bending 1980 series Cosmos–with all the populist and universal appeal of its broad-minded predecessor. (Warning for the faint of heart and large of ego: science is bigger than you, and you won’t be changing it.) For Tyson’s updated and visually beautiful version of Cosmos, Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, is a producer along with Seth McFarlane, who knows something about building an audience for the far-out. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the sun in their Copernican plan: besides having a voice that sounds just like what we hope space will sound like when it speaks to us, Tyson was actually wooed to attend Cornell decades ago by Sagan himself–and “billions and billions” of opportunities followed. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of this one. And it must be said: the show airs on Fox. As anyone familiar with dark energy and other astrophysical preoccupations will know, it’s a complicated world.