Neil deGrasse Tyson says 'everyone is special' for a cosmic reason most wouldn't consider
You're special, but your ego may tell you otherwise.
Science educator, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson has an incredible talent for taking complex ideas about the cosmos and making them more accessible for the average person to understand.
In a clip from a conversation with Steve Berlett on the “Diary of a CEO Podcast,” Tyson flips the script and uses the cosmos to help us better understand ourselves. But there’s one big problem getting in the way of coming to this universal understanding: our egos.
“Your ego is incompatible with the cosmic perspective,” Tyson says in the clip. “The cosmic perspective shows you how small we are, in size, in time, in space, and if you go in with a high ego, you might resist that. You might say, ‘No, I'm important.’ But I think of it differently.”
Tyson believes we can push past the feeling of insignificance that comes with understanding the vastness of the universe by realizing how we are inseparable from everything in the cosmos.
“We know one of the greatest gifts of modern astrophysics to civilization, dare I call it a gift, is the knowledge that the atoms of your body are traceable, not only to The Big Bang, origin of the universe itself, but especially to stars that manufactured those elements and later in their lives, on death, exploded scattering that enrichment across gas clouds,” Tyson says in the clip. “So that their next generation of stars would have planets. And on at least one of those planets, life.”
“So, we are not just figuratively, we are literally stardust,” he continues. “You have kingship with the cosmos. That feeling to me is greater than any other you could have possibly walked into the room with.”
The notion that we are made of stardust isn’t entirely new, but it needs to be repeated so every generation can understand. Astronomer Carl Sagan popularized it in his 1973 book “The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective” in the following passage:
“Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.”
Sagan hosted TV’s original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980-81). Tyson hosted the follow-ups, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” (2014) and “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” (2020).
Tyson argues that connection with the universe is what makes us special. Not the unique qualities and characteristics that we have been taught to value. For the astrophysicist, being of this universe and made of such formidable material is enough for us to consider ourselves special.
“So why not look around and say, ‘I'm not special because I'm different. I'm special because I'm the same as you, as others, as the tree, as the brook, as the animals, you know, the woodland creatures,” Tyson said. “And we can all sit here and look up at the night sky and say, 'Yes, we have kinship with the cosmos.' I feel large because of that, not small.”