Thursday, February 2, 2023

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson Will Never Be Invited To My Dinner Parties

Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t seem like a very fun dinner guest to host. This is to say nothing of whether Tyson is an important or influential cultural totem; no doubt he’s both. But is his conversation threads the right choice whilst chewing a roasted squab drizzled with some port wine sauce? Because sometimes it seems like the world’s biggest astrophysicist can also be the world’s biggest downer.

“Have a nice day”? Seriously, guy? Sure, I’ll have a fine week actually as thoughts currently reverberate over the meaninglessness of human creation and ingenuity if one day all of it’s going to crumble into ashes. The city of Pompeii appears to us not as a warning, but as prophecy.

At times like this, Woody Allen speaks for us all.

This isn’t the first time Tyson has (not-so) gently reminded us of humanity’s possible larger futility in the universe. About two years ago he was on All In with Chris Hayes to promote his show Cosmos. Hayes poked Tyson, asking what his shortlist of unresolved questions regarding the universe was. The conversation tumbled into questions of alien lifeforms and Tyson eventually said the following:

“My great fear is that we’ve in fact been visited by intelligent aliens, but they chose not to make contact, on the conclusion that there’s no sign of intelligent life on Earth.”

Essentially, he goes on, perhaps aliens did contact us and continue to do so, but we lack the technological advancements possible to receive their message. Our modern iteration of humanity has existed for approximately 200,000 years. A long time. However, we did not detect the presence of radio waves until about 200 years ago. So is it that radical a thought to consider we have not yet detected the medium for a message long conveyed to us?

Furthermore, our use of radio waves to broadcast some of our earliest TV programming means that’s the message we’ve been sending to the rest of the known universe. A bunch of aliens could currently be mocking us, judging from cultural representations like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. Just think about it: We make fun of us now for that shit!

This isn’t the first time Tyson has (not-so) gently reminded us of humanity’s possible larger futility in the universe.

You think placing the Michael Jordan meme on someone is clever? Imagine the trash talk aliens are producing about us right now over The Honeymooners. Oh wait, Tyson would interject, we can’t! Because we’re too fucking stupid to understand their superior intelligence!

Okay. I’m not saying these aren’t important questions. In some ways, these are the only questions worth pursuing. But again: is this appropriate dinner party banter? I mean, is this even appropriate pizza party banter? Are we having any fun at all, here?

This is saying nothing of the simulation theory. In layman’s terms, this is similar to the “reality” of The Matrix, except in that world, “humans” could exist outside the simulation. You might dismiss it offhand because that seems preposterous. “I think, therefore I am,” right….right?

Well, some of our country’s most prized minds believe in the simulation theory, or at the very least, the likelihood of it. Minds like Elon Musk, and, wouldn’t you know it, Neil deGrasse Tyson! Recent studies regarding cosmic rays and the upper limits of the energy they produce are an anomaly when compared to similar scientific phenomena. As Tyson says in Chuck Klosterman’s book But What if We’re Wrong?

“It was suggested that if we were a simulation, you’d have to put in a limit to something that goes on within it. And this cutoff could be the program’s pre-calculated limit for energy level of these cosmic rays. We could be up against that boundary. It’s an intriguing thought that we’re all just one big simulation.”

I must say: If I were eating pizza right now, and someone told me this, I wouldn’t want to be eating pizza anymore.

But then, in this hypothetical, my dinner part guest Neil deGrasse Tyson would offer me an Olive Garden breadstick. (I’m what you’d call a great pizza party host, opting to deliver the pricier, but more delicious breadsticks for my guests.) I’d reply, firmly but politely, “No thanks,” because “My now-dried mouth formed due to examining my own futility is not currently compatible with that scrumptious, puffy Olive Garden breadstick. It’d stick like glue in my mouth.” Then my buddy Ty Ty would reply, “Oh silly friend. It couldn’t possibly taste like the protein bonds formed from boiled horse collagen. This is just bread!”

And before I could even one-up Ty Ty, reminding him that, “Synthetic glue has long replaced animal-based glue product, like we don’t even send horses to the glue factory anymore,” he’d already be off, dismantling the mystery and wonder of some other dinner party guest.

Probably some young couple marveling at the rainbow appearing on the horizon, due to a recent rainfall. “Jimmy, aren’t rainbows just magical?” Jimmy’s partner would ask.

Tyson would then inform that person, “Rainbows aren’t magical, but merely the amalgamation of refracted sunlight through multiple rain drops. Actually, the phenomena produces a whole circle of what we refer to as ‘a rainbow.’ However, since we’re stuck on Earth, we can only ever see a half-band of the entire spectrum of a rainbow.” Then, not noticing the deadpan, glum expression of his listener, Tyson would continue, “I guess we can only ever see half the beauty of anything! Okay, who wants another beer?”

No one, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Because you’re not allowed at our dinner parties forever more.



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