Neil deGrasse Tyson – “Accessory to War” & Arming Society with Knowledge | The Daily Show


-Welcome back to the show.
-Hey, man. Thanks for having me back. -First things first.
-What’s that? -Happy birthday.
-Oh. This week is my birthday. -Happy birthday.
-(applause and cheering) So-so, but everybody has
a birthday every year, so just to specify,
this is my sixtieth. -60? -Yeah. Yeah.
-(applause and cheering) I-I’m the same age as NASA. (laughter) -We were born the same week
in 1958. -Right. And how are you both doing? (laughter) -We-we have our ups and downs.
-Right, right, right. Right. We’re trying to keep ’em
mostly up. -Things are looking up. Uh…
-Yeah. We-we got Neil a little cake
from the show, and, uh, I was like, “We should make it
like a planet-type thing.” And then we’re like, “Well, the
planet doesn’t, like, balance.” -So we got you, like,
half a planet. -Yeah. Then we’re like,
“Is it a planet? Is he gonna judge us for it?”
It was so much stress. It’s-it’s a pro… It’s a planet
somewhere in the universe. -Right.
-Not one of ours, right. Yeah. Well, like, can I ask you
a question? Do, like…? -What? -Are people intimidated
by you, because, like, they don’t want
to say the wrong…? Like, for instance, I-I’m just
hanging out with Neil. I always ask him
a random question about what’s plaguing me about what’s happening
in the universe. And now, I was like, “Hey, man,
what’s going on with Pluto?” ‘Cause I read a thing
where they said, like, Pluto might be a planet again, and then you’re like,
“No, it’s not a planet again.” -What’s going on with Pluto?
-Just-just get over it. It’s-it’s had… Get over it which way? (laughter) So it’s a planet,
it’s not a planet? -Which way should I get over it?
-No, no. I think there’s a push right now
to try to get it back, -but it’s gonna be really hard.
-A push from whom? We… There are people.
There are planet… There are Pluto… plan…
Pluto lovers out there that have not…
not given up. You’re telling me there’s,
like, a Pluto lobby out there -that really, like…?
-Yeah, and they’re all… and they’re all
mostly American, ’cause in 1930, when Pluto, the
cosmic object was discovered… -Right. -…Disney first drew
Pluto the dog. So, Plu… Yeah, the dog
and-and the former planet have the same sort of tenure
in our hearts and minds. The… Did you just say
“the former planet”? (laughter) What? Like, man, this world. You know what? I…
What I’ve always enjoyed about your work, um,
and, you know, I mean, a testament to that work
is how your book is still on
theNew York Timesbestseller. -Oh, crazy. My other book?
-Yes, your other book. -Yes, it’s still on.
-Right.New York Times.And this showed up next to it -on, like…
-Right, right, right. Because… -(applause and cheering)
-No. We… Wait… Hey. Yeah, because you-you make…
you make… Let me just say.
Let me just say. We cheer any science book that lands anywhere near
the bestseller list. And so… ‘Cause there’s always
the political books that… -Right, right, right. -…that
tide waters bring in and out. And an athlete book
and a celebrity book. And if a science book shows,
everybody’s like: Whoa, maybe finally someone
will be talking science -at the water cooler.
-Right. And so, so my first one
is still… in its 73rd week. -It’s-it’s ridiculous.
-And this one, -and so it’s two books.
-(cheering, applause) -Two science books. Yeah.
-And I say it’s because you make it so accessible–
you try and tie astrophysics to what’s happening
in the world. -I mean, this book…
-Wait, wait, I could do that, but someone still has
to be interested in it. -And for me, it’s a sign…
-No, no, no, no. -it’s a sign…
-It’s the other way around. I think it’s
the other way around. I think you make us interested
in the… because you go… Interest, I think, is created.
We’re interested in everything. -That’s very sweet of you.
-Yeah, people are always interested
in interesting things. -But you have to make it
interesting. -(cheering) And that’s what you’ve done
with this book for me. Right? This book is
a really interesting book. Because you talk
about the relationship between astrophysics
and the military… -Going way back.
-Right, going, like… -but, like, way, way back.
-Hundreds, thousands, yeah. So, people have
always been using… like, the military has
always been using astrophysics -to move forward.
-Well, before the… late 19th century, just
the term “astronomer” was it. -Right. -Later on,
we started doing spectroscopy and much more physics
came a part of it. -Uh-huh. -So we use
the word “astrophysics.” But basically, people
who understood the universe were handmaidens to military
conquerors from the beginning. -Right.
-And part of it is, you want to know– especially
the seafaring nations– you want to know
where the people are who you want to conquer. How do you know
where you are on Earth? You got to go
to the astronomers, ’cause we know
what the sky looks like -from all different parts
of the Earth, -Uh-huh. and you take that information and infer where you are
on Earth from it. -Right. -And when you do that,
you control the seas, you control
the undiscovered lands, you control the lands
that people are living in that you are more powerful than. When you finally land on the… -Like, Columbus did this.
-Right. Columbus, he…
he, on his fourth voyage, he-he…
he landed on Hispaniola, does what he does,
he tries to get back to Spain. He doesn’t have enough supplies. He goes to the natives and say,
“Give me some of your supplies.” They said, “No, we just
have enough for ourselves -to get through
to the next harvest,” -Right. and he knew that a total
lunar eclipse was coming up a week later, and he said, “If you do not give me
your supplies, I will… “my God will make
the moon go away. I’ll make it disappear
from the sky.” And they freaked out.
But some of them were skeptical. A week goes by,
the moon starts disappearing. They rapidly got their supplies,
gave it to him. He stayed…
he stayed in his cabin till halfway
through the eclipse. He then comes out and says,
“My God is merciful to you “for-for giving me supplies. We will now have
the moon returned.” -(laughter)
-And halfway in the eclipse, the moon comes out the
other side of Earth’s shadow. So he exploit… he used
knowledge of the universe -Right. -to exploit people
not as knowledgeable -or as powerful as he was.
-That is a hilarious story, but I feel like we’re
skipping over the part -where these people died.
-(laughter) ‘Cause they don’t have food now. Right, right, right. There’s
nothing written aboutthat.But Columbus successfully
gets back… back to Spain. That is a wild…
I feel like you could still use those techniques today,
because a lot of people don’t think like that– like,
I feel like I could use that with, like,
my taxi driver in New York. And I’d just be like, “I’m not
gonna pay.” And he’d be like, “You have to pay.”
And I’ll be like, “My God will remove the moon!” I feel like
it could still work today. Yeah, it could for some,
it could for– It ain’t work– -Who follows the moon right now?
-It ain’t working on me, -but it-it could work. -Well,
you’re not my taxi driver, Neil. I mean, if you were my taxi
driver, it’d be like, “Neil, what happened to the best
seller? What’s going on, Neil?” No, but the thing is,
think about it. If you have knowledge
of natural phenomenon, and of the universe, and you
have nefarious motives, you can exploit anybody
who does not. And so for me, science literacy is so important
in modern civilization. So it is inoculation
against people who would otherwise exploit
your ignorance of the phenomenon of the world. We’ve come a long way
from the days of Columbus, and we’re looking at the
modern day military today, who are still in a relationship -with astrophysicists.
-Yes, we are. So, you know, Donald Trump
has promised us one of the greatest promises
a president ever has, and that is the development
of the Space Force. -Space Force. Space Force.
-Space Force. -And the…
-(laughs) -The idea…
-Here, calm down. -(grunts) It’s okay.
-You cannot calm down -It’s okay. -when you’re talking
about Space Force. You cannot calm down when you’re
talking about Space Force. -Plus, the way he talked
about it. -Right. It was like, very– It was,
it was bicep flexing. Now, I want to know from you
as an astrophysicist, how feasible is a Space Force? Like, can you fight wars
in space? Fighting wars
against other countries when the aliens come–
where would you say we wage the war against
the aliens? Just looking at the planet
and how things work? Yeah. Aliens, I think,
just give up all hope. If the aliens come across
the galaxy in a ship, and we haven’t left…
(stammers) -We haven’t been past the moon
since 1972. -Oh. They are smarter
and more powerful -and have better machinery
than us. -Right. And every example of when that
happened in our own species, the one who had less tech– who
was less technologically able, ended up– it was bad for them.
(laughs) They were enslaved,
they were put on reservations, they– So, in fact,
all the movies that portray aliens treating us
that way, I think it’s– not from act–
It’s not from knowledge that we ha– We won’t have
any knowledge of the aliens, it’s how we know we’ve treated
each other. It is a mirror to our culture
and our civilization, how aliens are portrayed in all
of these sci-fi movies. So, anyway, Space Force, yeah, it would be nice if it could
swat aliens out of the sky, that’s not what the goal. The-the– So the goal–
So the Air Force has a branch of itself called the U.S., um,
the U.S. Space Command. So there’s already
military activity in space. It was just sort of an
accounting shift– it shifted all out,
got its own branch. And if you’re gonna do that,
I’d throw in… asteroid defense, why not? Throw in– Why don’t you
clean up the debris, -the space debris, okay?
-Right. Now, you’re thinking there’s,
like… -‘Cause there’s the junk in
space. -There’s junk in space that would be bad for
our space assets. What’s a military to do? You want them to protect
your borders, of course. -Right. -And the normal things
a military would do. But how about your assets? There’s assets in space
that are worth far beyond -the value of the hardware
itself. -Right. There’s-there’s satellites that
enable business on the ground. -So the GPS satellite,
for example. -Uh-huh. They were put up
by the military, and we figured out how
to tap into it. We– I mean, people–
figured out how to tap into it and use it
for conducting business. The entire business model
of Uber runs off of GPS satellites. (laughs): Tinder runs off
of GPS satellites, okay? You-you want a mate
in the next 48 hours and get a coordinate system
for that? (laughs): That’s…
This is how that works. So, now,
what-what I’m enjoying… And-and, wait, so,
in the old days… (both laugh) -What I’m enjoying… what I’m
enjoying right now… -What? What I’m enjoying right now is that… is this relationship. So, you had a natural physicist
like yourself who was like, “I think I’ve just
figured out a way “to use space
to launch a satellite that can tell us exactly
where we are on the Earth.” And the military was like, “We
can use this to conquer people.” And someone was like,
“Oh, now I know how to smash.” -That was basically…
-(laughs) -Is that evolution,
or is that the opposite? -I… -What is that?
-I don’t know what that shows. -The creat… The boundless
creativity of people -Right. when confronted with a new means
of conducting business. So, is it important
for astrophysics to be part of the military? Is this something
that is a luxury, or do you genuinely think that this will determine
the future of the world? Here’s what happened.
We make discoveries, and the military
looks over the picket fence. -Says, “Hey, we want some
of that.” -Right. And then they do things
of much higher budget that we couldn’t
otherwise afford. It emerges out,
and it gets declassified. Say, “Hey,
we want some of that.” Project Keyhole was an idea -to put telescopes in orbit
that look down. -Right. With masterminded telescopes,
beautiful telescopes. We said, “Hey,”
after that got declassified. “We want one of those.” Became the Hubble
Space Telescope. -Looking up.
-Right. This is why we-we… we care about the same things
the military cares about. Are you ever worried, though,
that the military would use one of your discoveries
as an astrophysicist to do something really horrible
on Earth? They might do that,
but I have no control over that. And so what this book does, it-it is a discussion. It’s-it’s an exploration
of all the ways we have each crossed
each other’s street. Either blindly, say,
“Oh, give me that. “I don’t care what you did
with it or how many… I want that ’cause it’ll help me
learn about the universe.” -Right. -And vice versa.
I don’t judge it. I just… I-I present it,
and I observe it. Because not all wars are bad. I used to think war was bad
’cause I grew up during Vietnam. But the Second World War?
You’re not gonna sit idly by -and just let Hitler run
ramshackle over Europe. -Right. You’re gonna say,
“Let’s rise up.” War memorials have soldiers
standing proudly, astride a steed,
brandishing weapons. And-and I looked at that,
and I said, -“Why are they doing this?
‘Cause war’s bad.” -Right. But then I realized no,
not all conflict is bad. Sometimes you have to stand up and fight enemies
of civilization. And so we have been a handmaiden to that enterprise
ever since the beginning. And this is why
they’re best sellers. You make it interesting.
Thank you so much -for being on the show,
my friend. -Oh, yeah.Accessory to War
is available now. Neil deGrasse Tyson, everybody.

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