Bill Nye on the joy of scientific discovery

In this two-minute excerpt from his debate with Ken Ham, Bill Nye channels Carl Sagan and talks about the excitement of discovery. It’s quite eloquent, though I suspect it’s been edited from a number of his remarks.  And I could do without the grandiose music.

Regardless, I think Nye should be saying stuff like this in lectures and not debates.  Perhaps he will.

43 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    “I think Nye should be saying stuff like this in lectures and not debates.”

    I’m makes non-debate appearances quite often. And evidence at this point suggests he does reasonably well in at least some debates.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Bad edit. “I’m makes” should be “He”.

      I need more coffee I guess.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        And bacon.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Na. Don’t eat meat.

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            No pudding for you, then!

            b&

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            There is ‘tofu bacon’, but I cannot bring myself to provide the link.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

              That’s called fakin’ bacon.

              • NewEnglandBob
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                Is it worth makin’ fakin’ bacon?

                I guess if you have just awaken and then mistaken the fakin’ bacon for shaken, forsaken Jamaican coffee.

              • Filippo
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                “Is it worth makin’ fakin’ bacon?”

                It’s just as or more relevant and important to ask whether it is worth “fakin’ makin’ bacon.” ;)

              • gbjames
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                I had a response all built around “achin for the bacon” and “dying for a frying” but decided that things were getting out of control.

          • docbill1351
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            Me send you self-addressed stamped envelope.

            You send bacon.

            OK?

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Bacon is meat? That’s shocking.

  2. Filippo
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    If there must be music, it should be somewhat (significantly?) softer. Certainly, there’s too much distracting music added to videos, and what quality music there is gets trivialized as a result.

    Still, it beats by a long shot the loud, fuzz rock guitar that some (U.S.) National Public Radio producer in his/her wisdom jars me with at 5:30 a.m. At least one a.m. TV morning show keeps a continuous stream of fuzz rock guitar playing underneath the hosts’ chattering.

  3. Richard Olson
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Not too bad; better without the orchestral drama. A big wince moment for me:

    ‘… one of the ways the universe knows itself …’

    Woo fuel.

    • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Not at all; Nye lifted that line directly from Sagan, and there wasn’t an ounce of woo in Sagan’s body. Awe, yes, but not woo; even when his head was in the stars, Sagan’s feet were still firmly grounded on Earth.

      Perhaps somebody can find the segment from Cosmos where he used that phrase to put it in its proper context. It’s actually quite profound and uplifting.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Filippo
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        Concur.

      • docbill1351
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        I thought that line came from Neal Degrasse Tyson. I’m sure I’ve heard him use it before, but it could have come from Sagan.

        I don’t consider it Woo because it doesn’t invoke any supernatural nonsense or magic beans. I think it’s a great way to turn around the old “trying to know the unknowable” meme.

        Also, if I recall, Nye did the entire piece during one of his rebuttals after the main debate.

        If this nicely edited clip (music and all, JERRY!) is all that survives from the Ham on Nye, then it was worth the effort.

        This stands on it’s own.

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        The idea that the universe is just such that it can know itself was also proposed by physicist John Archibald Wheeler (most famous as the coiner of the term “black hole”), who symbolized the “participatory universe” and its participating observers with a “U” having an eye on the right branch looking back at the rest of the “U”. (J.A. Wheeler, “The Universe as a Home for Man”, American Scientist, 1974, 683–691.)

    • Greg Esres
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Surely Nye didn’t say that? It’s aggravating to hear that from an otherwise rational person. I think Sagan first said it, though.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        From Wikiquote:

        Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

        That’s all woo, and makes me blush to hear it from Sagan. Guess that’s why I never really liked listening to him.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          No, it’s not woo — not in the slightest. It’s phrased poetically, yes, but it’s bedrock and essential cosmology and cognitive theory.

          Except for some of the hydrogen, every atom in your body was forged in the death throes of a main sequence star as it underwent the supernova explosion phase — and the hydrogen was either part of a star that blew up or is leftover from the Big Bang itself. You are mostly the ashes of multiple generations of dead stars, with a sprinkling of as-yet-unused star fuel thrown in just for spice.

          And, when you look up at the stars at night, the light projects itself on your retina, creating an image that’s a direct (though fuzzy) representation of the whole of the Cosmos. That optical image gets turned into a mental construct encoded in the electrochemical characteristics of your brain as a yet-more-fuzzy model of the Cosmos…but this model is special in that it can hold more details, many more relevant. For example, you can mentally superimpose the Hubble Ultra Deep Field at the proper position of your naked-eye view, and your internal mental reflection of the whole of the Cosmos is that much more complete. Link that view to what you know of stellar life cycles, and everything else of physics and biology, and the way in which you, a truly insignificant fraction of the Cosmos, has created a model of the whole of the Cosmos is mind-blowing.

          Watch the whole episode, and it’s wonderfully clear from context that this is what Sagan meant.

          Only his poetry far outshines mine.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Greg Esres
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            “No, it’s not woo — not in the slightest. It’s phrased poetically,”

            Hmmm, then I guess Deepak Chopra is a poet as well. :-)

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              The difference between Sagan and Chopra is that Sagan gets his science square, and Chopra chokes on it.

              Sagan would be the first to tell you that the Cosmos has no consciousness outside of that such as happens such as in our skulls, and there are no connections between minds other than by communication and other forms of shared experiences. But he’d also be quick to point out the very real marvels of our consciousness, the things that lump of meat can do; and of how significant interpersonal connections truly are to humans.

              Chopra, on the other hand, would be the first to tell you that the Cosmos itself is Conscious (cue Sastra!) and that we are made of that Consciousness and tangled in its web. And that’s pure bullshit.

              Cheers,

              b&

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            “Only his poetry far outshines mine.” How modest!

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              Sagan was the greatest epic poet of modern times. I’m so many levels removed from him it’s not even funny…but thanks….

              b&

              • Richard Olson
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                What Sagan wrote is quite profound, even poetic. It is not what anyone listening to the Nye video hears, though.

                “… one of the ways the universe knows itself.” – Deepak Chopra

                Anyone unfamiliar with the entirety of the quote from Sagan (like me) would read the above, gnash his/her teeth, and mutter “Another Depak Deepity.”

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Totally agree with Ben here. This is totally far from woo.

        Because it is TRUE. As explained by ben (and as I recalled repeatedly explained by Sagan in many different -psalms- :D), we are literally part of universe, and a super-duper complex one, each of our atoms were/are reborn again and again in the star furnaces. Only hydrogen and helium might be -virginally born-, all the others were results or countless fornications within the inside of stars and galaxies for countless millenia ..

        So it is true, that our brain – mind, which is totally non-woo product of materialistic deterministic atomic star-stuffs, in a profoundly poetic saganistic way, is a way of cosmos to understand itself.

        Because we start to understand cosmos, and we are intrinsically literally materially linked to cosmos from very beginning and forever and ever millions of times thousand years ….

        The modern idea that all our atoms in our bodies, houses, earth and cosmos are super-complexly interlinked to each other, and born with, still is, universe, is starting to know understand universe itself.

        We are cosmos, we understand cosmos, cosmos understand itself.

        Once I have overnight debate about possibility of a super-being know-it-all: why no mention at all of internet? television? telephones?

        And Sagan’s words sometimes close to answer them …

        cheers

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          Our conclusion: were he was born thousand years ago, Sagan might have his own profound mystery religion .. the saganites ..

          (thousand years ago, how could st.sagan knew about stuffs he knows? .. cicular logic indeed!)

  4. gbjames
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Here is Hemant Mehta on why he changed his mind about the whole “debating creationists” thing after the Nye-Ham event.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      There ought to be some sort of training program to go through before any scientist is allowed to debate a creationist; I suspect that most are naive enough to think that mere knowledge is enough to “win” the debate.

      I agree with this comment by someone on Hemant Mehta’s site:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/02/12/should-scientists-debate-creationists-ive-changed-my-mind/#comment-1241454398

      • gbjames
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        I think that view is quite the minority view.

        Be that as it may, here is where I really disagree with you:

        “There ought to be some sort of training program to go through before any scientist is allowed to debate a creationist”

        Allowed?

        It really rankles me when some of us demand that others of us “get permission” before engaging religion however we choose. I don’t mind if someone presents a litany of cautions. I don’t object if someone thinks it unwise and says so. I do mind when hurdles are erected and do not think that someone needs permission.

        There are many ways to engage we shouldn’t waste our time trying to make everyone do it our preferred way.

        • Greg Esres
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          “I think that view is quite the minority view.”

          No doubt, but the majority view comes from people that already believe as Nye does, and they’re not really the best judges of his effectiveness.

          “It really rankles me when some of us demand that others of us “get permission” before engaging religion however we choose. ”

          The word “allowed” was used a bit tongue-in-cheek, since there isn’t any way to prevent it from happening.

          But it does seem foolish and irrational to insist on one’s right to engage when one does so incompetently.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

            Two things.

            Is Pat Robertson included among those that “already believe as Nye does”? My greatest pleasure after this debate was watching believers of (nearly) all stripes try to distance themselves from the guy you think won the debate.

            Secondly, to suggest that people who disagree with you or haven’t jumped through your particular “training program” are therefore incompetent is… well, I’ll leave the choice of adjective as an exercise for the reader.

            • Greg Esres
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              “Is Pat Robertson included among those that “already believe as Nye does”?”

              Yes. He accepted an old earth before the debate, so he wasn’t persuaded in any fashion by Nye.

              And the remainder of your comment is an overly-quarrelsome interpretation of my point, so I won’t address it any further.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                Does Bill Nye believe in old earth creationism, just like Pat Robertson? Really?

                Pat Robertson is a biblical literalist who like all Christians, picks and chooses bits he likes and ignores bits he doesn’t. Forcing people like him (and far more rational believers) to confront the idiocy that follows from believing what the Bible actually says is a valuable thing from the point of view of science.

                My comment may seem quarrelsome, but I can’t help but find it irksome freethinkers tell other freethinkers what they may or may not do. It is, to me, exactly like being told by an accomodationist to “stop being strident”. It makes me want to snarl.

    • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      It’s a difficult call. Is Ken Ham piggy backing on Bill Nye’s celebrity in the same way that say Alistair McGraph is taking a piece of Dawkins?

      • gbjames
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Who cares? He was made to look the fool by the very fact that he expressed exactly what he believes.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          If there’s a niche whereby you can earn cash by appearing to be a fool, I’m sure that there are many people who would be vying to appropriate it. And Ham, I think, has developed a good technique for exploiting this sector of the market.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            Well, he’s pretty good at it. Except his disaster Noah’s Ark park is going down the tubes. I say give him every opportunity to embarrass himself and his religion.

            • darrelle
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

              Speaking of Noah’s Ark, I just saw a trailer for a new “blockbuster” movie called Noah starring Russell Crowe. I would be really pleased if this movie bombed.

  5. Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    In a somewhat different issue: contemplation of style and what is true.

    Sagan was one of my early introduction to rational thinking, anti religion stance.

    Sagan may not academically very strict, and he is not very good with details, but he is definitely poetic. One role that he filled is a kind of non-woo woo-meister, he spoke of nice and -spiritually inspired- words and high methods.

    For me he made transition from total-woo of catholicism to the cat-world of atheism somewhat easier. While Sagan might sounded woo-ish, the important thing is that he is not. Somewhat like Charles Darwin, Sagan weaved words (probably with similar intention) as waving a chair in front of circus-lions .. “this is important to do, but do it slowly with style and try not to frighten the beast” …

    Current New-Atheists use the approach of bash-the-lion-in-the-head. St.Dawkins has a lot of strengths (details, brilliance incisiveness) that were bit lacking in St.Sagan, and he brought fury to the debate ..

    Personally, of course I support truth above everything, as long as it is true that’s what matter most, tone and style is secondary.

    Stephen Jay Gould has a gift of gab, but he was not totally always true .. biased by his own study and personality…

    Well, there are many interpretation, as long as we stick to what’s true, religions come in many colors, LGBT in many colors, so do the new-atheists.

    Happy Darwin Day!.

    • Posted February 13, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      If you strip their words of all non-verbal cues, Sagan and Dawkins are expressing nearly the exact same basic points in almost perfect unison.

      The only difference is that Dawkins talks as if he’s just drunk a pot of tea, and Sagan talks as if he’s just smoked a bowl of pot. And no, I’m not being strictly metaphorical.

      Richard, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll forgive me for placing Carl just barely above you on my list of the greatest poets of the modern era…but, you gotta admit: Cosmos really was something most special. I very much doubt Neil can do it justice; as with the Ham-on-Nye debate, I’m mostly just hoping he doesn’t fuck it up too badly.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • gbjames
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        I think Tyson will probably do just fine. But then I’m among those who, though quite liking Sagan, found some of the original Cosmos just a little too gushy. It’s a matter of taste, not one of principle. I would never have thought to describe it as at all “woo-ish” nor do I find it over the top to talk about the cosmos coming to “understanding itself” because that is quite literally the case. Still, he was just a bit gushy. Maybe it was the music (as I remember it) or the somewhat goofy space-ship special effects.


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