Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review of Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/19/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) What Makes Science A Science?

Watch Short Review


“Objective truths don’t come from any seated authority, nor from any single research paper.  The press, in an attempt to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as the truth, perhaps also touting the academic pedigrees of the authors.  When drawn from the frontier of thought, the truth still churns.  Research can wander until experiments converge in one direction or another – or in no direction, a warning flag of no phenomenon at all.  These crucial checks and balances commonly take years, which hardly ever counts as “breaking news.”” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chapter One: Truth & Beauty, Page 8

“With systems in place to disseminate thought, such as scientific conferences, peer-reviewed journals, and patent filings, every next generation can use discoveries of the previous generation as fresh starting points.  No reinventing the wheel.  No wasted efforts.  This blunt and obvious fact carries profound consequences.  It means knowledge grows exponentially, not linearly, rendering our brains hopeless in our attempts to predict the future based on the past.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chapter Two: Exploration & Discovery, Page 29

“Hidden bias can cause a persistent urge to see all that agrees with you and ignore all that does not, even when countervailing examples abound.  Among the many categories of how to fool oneself, the more pernicious is confirmation bias: you remember the hits and forget the misses.  It affects us all, at one level or another.  The antidote?  Dispassionate rational analysis.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chapter Four: Conflict & Resolution, Page 80


Is This An Overview?

People have different experiences, values, and priorities.  Differences that cause division and conflict.  With tribes formed by those who agree and share the same values.  A method to overcome the division and conflict would be to change how to think about the ideas.  To think about the ideas from above, a cosmic perspective.  Science and rational thinking provides that perspective.  Many disagreements disappear when data about the ideas is introduced.  Scientists are after the data, rather than opinions.

While scientific tools overcome human sensory frailties, scientists are taught to think rationally rather than emotionally.  Truth comes from repeated and consistent results, not based on authority nor on a single research paper.  Changing how ideas are interpreted based on tests and experiments.  Knowledge grows exponentially as previous research is used to develop new understanding.  While science seeks to change behavior through voluntary consensus, behavior on social media tends to coerce agreement.   



This book is on applications of science across diverse topics.  Various topics that include those that are socially sensitive.  Some topics have been developed further by specialists within the topics, who have different interpretations of the claims. 

There is an idealism about science and scientists.  There is a recognition that scientists can corrupt research, but that the community can self-regulate.  The problem in thinking of the community as an ideal, can prevent scientists from considering how science can be corrupted, which exacerbates the corruption.  Ideally, scientists remove their emotions from their claims, but emotions provide logic with value.  Scientists are people, who have emotions.  Emotions that influence how data is interpreted.  The want to remove emotions, does not prevent emotions, but rather hides them.  Creating the hidden biases that the author recognizes corrupt science.

The subtitle is a bit deceptive.  The cosmic reference is not about astrophysics, but about science.  Science is the cosmic perspective.  There are some references on astrophysics, but that is not the purpose of this book. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Why are there disagreements?
•How to overcome disagreements? 
•What is the cosmic perspective?
•What do scientists want?
•What is the effect of scientific tools?
•What to do about emotions?
•How to get to truth?
•How does knowledge grow?
•How does science change behavior?
•How does social media change behavior?   
•How not to fool oneself?
•What can limit the effectiveness of science? 
•What is pre-consensus?
•What is the effect of hidden biases?
•What is confirmation bias?
•What defines something as beautiful or ugly? 
•What are the features of a democracy? 
•What are labels? 
•Who did evolution reward? 
•How do monetary lotteries effect society? 
•How to understand risk and reward? 
•How do emotions change risk evaluation? 
•What should people eat? 
•What is speciesism? 
•What do animals think of humans? 
•What is the triple point of water? 
•How to tell the difference between the sexes?
•What determines skin color? 
•How do people define themselves based on region?
•How does canceling people effect society? 
•How do debate tournaments function?
•Is the law searching for justice? 
•Can eyewitness testimonies be trusted? 
•What is the purpose of scientific tools? 
•How many miscarriages are there? 
•What defines a disability? 
•How smart are animals?
•Do you want to live forever? 

Book Details
Edition:                   First Holt Paperbacks Edition
Publisher:               Holt Paperbacks [Macmillan Publishing Group]
Edition ISBN:         9781250861511
Pages to read:          218
Publication:             2024
1st Edition:              2022
Format:                    Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall          5