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Excerpt From Star Talk Radio: Neil Degrasse Tyson - Season One: A Universe of Inspiration

We are happy to present this excerpt from Star Talk Radio season one with Neil Degrasse Tyson as he discusses how creativity is inspired by the universe and every type of artist there is.  It's not just about painters and sculpters.  Let's take a look:

Welcome back to StarTalk. I am your host, Neil Degrasse Tyson, joining me is my co-host Lynne Koplitz. Lynne, you’ve been gone for two weeks.

I know. Did you miss me?

Yes, I did. I hope you were making people laugh wherever you were.

I was in Schaumberg Illinois and I did make people laugh. I had a lot of fun there thank you.

Excellent. Well, welcome back to the show. You’re my co-host. Don’t go away again.

Thank you Neil. Yeah, I missed you too.

You know, in our talk today, we’re going to talk about the universe as it inspires the creativity of artists, artists throughout time, and artists of all kinds. Not only painters and sculptors alike.

That’s very interesting.

I’ve liked it because, as scientists, we hang out together and, and sometimes we’re not appreciated as much as we would like to be, for whatever reasons. And occasionally we see someone…, our handiwork reflected in the creativity of artists themselves. When we say to ourselves “maybe we’re becoming mainstream”. Maybe we’re creative and we’re not nerds. (laughter)

No. Well, no.

Let’s take credit for that. OK, I’ll take credit for it too.  So, actually, I saw enough of this happen, so a few years ago I wrote an essay for Natural History Magazine called “The Universe as the artist’s muse”.

Dude, do you have a family? Do you ever not write? You’re always writing. You’re like “I wrote a book about that”.

Well, because that’s what I do! OK?  You inspired the symphony I wrote.

So……You’re great Neil. I’m happy if I like get off the couch, but that’s great.

So, no, it was an essay, because I was impressed by how often I was being called by artists to get the latest image from the Hubble telescope, and they wanted to find out the latest understanding of the big bang or black holes or Mars, so they could paint a scene, something inspired by it.  I mean, even as a comic, you know, artists tend to look at where people, all artists, whether it’s writer, comedienne, the visual artists, you know, we tend to look at the whole world. We look at everything over, under, in and out.

I just don’t think science was in that portfolio until recently. Well, science is part of the world. It is definitely part of the world, in fact it shapes the world, and so I think science has come a long way, in terms of being felt by the general public.


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The Neil deGrasse Tyson StarTalk Radio Collection

Excerpt from "Perfect Just as You Are" with Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron explores limitless potential in this wonderful transcribed excerpt from "Perfect Just as You Are".

So often the question is asked: why are they called limitless? Have you asked that question? Because these four remarkable qualities are, generally speaking, traditionally called the four limitless qualities or the four limitless ones or the four boundless qualities. But boundless or limitless, it’s because we start with what we have, and it’s in a limited form, and that isn’t meant to be a criticism. It’s so valuable to touch in on these qualities as you already experienced them. But it’s limited in the sense that it’s love for one or two people, or four or five people, compassion for one person or three or four, a whole category of people and ability to rejoice in the same way or stay open. Have a sense of equanimity in the same way. It starts limited. I would be surprised if we weren’t all in the limited category. I know I am. 

But the good news is you find what’s limited and you connect with it, and you contact it, and its potential is limitless. Which is to say, what starts as a feeling of free-flowing love for Fido, if you give your compassionate attention to this feeling of free-flowing love, and you give your compassionate attention to when it gets blocked, then basically by working with these two aspects of what we already have and where it’s blocked, the capacity to love is limitless. Which is to say a description of enlightenment would be someone who actually loved everyone and had compassion or could feel the pain of everyone, and rejoice in the good fortune of everyone, and didn’t shut their heart or mind to anyone. That makes you realize how far we are away from that. So we say, we mouth the words “all sentient beings”, but we’re not at all yet. All is a little far away from where most of us find ourselves, all sentient beings. And if you doubt that, all you have to do is, you know, just start going through these categories and see if you actually have love for all sentient beings. How about your boss, or your child, or your parent, or your partner, or the difficult people? As long as it isn’t all, then it’s in some way limited.

So I would say that you could be a pretty wide-awake realized person and still be in the limited category because limitless means all, everyone. And those of you who choose to take the bodhisattva vow at the end of this course, you actually make an aspiration that you could stay that open to all sentient beings. Recognizing that you’re in the limited category right now, you nevertheless make the strong aspiration to be able to move in the direction of a completely open attitude -- being able to love and feel the pain and rejoice in al

So I want to say one last thing and then open it up for some questions. This again comes from Ken McCloud’s book. If you ask the question: where does this love come from? Where does this compassion come from? Where does the ability to rejoice or feel joy come from? Where does equinimity come from? You think I have the answer, don’t you? Well, I actually am going to give an answer, but I’m not sure that I have the answer. I haven’t mentioned the “B” word. The bodhichitta word yet. But these four qualities are, if we cultivate these four remarkable, healing qualities, we are cultivating what’s called bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a -- traditionally -- it’s said it’s the spontaneous wish that there not be suffering in the world and that people not suffer, and the wish to be able to help alleviate that suffering. And it starts limited. That you wish for certain beings not to suffer and you wish to be able to alleviate the suffering of certain beings but it has this limitless capacity so that the bodhisattva is one which is a synonym for the word warrior. Courageous, compassionate warrior. The bodhisattva is one, who in their full-blown mode, has that wish that all beings not suffer. All. 

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All Pema Chodron titles

The Shambhala Collection

Excerpt from the NeuroLeadership Institute's "The Brain Is a Social Animal"

Think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid explains it all?  Matthew Lieberman of the NeuroLeadership Institute challenges that theory by stating that our social needs might just be more important -- or at least as important -- as food and water.  Learn in this transcribed excerpt from "The Brain Is a Social Animal".

I can’t talk about social pain without first mentioning Naomi Eisenberger, and that’s not because she’s a source of social pain.  Naomi is a professor at UCLA.  She is my most important collaborator.  She is also my wife.  And the reason I have to mention her here is because, although with our son, he’s both of ours, when it comes to the social pain we’re going to talk about, he’s really much more her baby than mine.  So, I’m going to be conveying it to you, and sharing that data with you, but I want you to remember that this work is more hers than mine for this first chunk that I’m going to be talking about.

OK. So this may be familiar to a fair number of people in the room. This is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The very old idea goes back decades where he suggested that there is a hierarchy to the different needs that we have in our lives. And at the bottom, we have the most critical needs -- our biological, physiological and safety needs.  You can think of these as needs with a big old capital N.  These are the ones that you need because if you don’t have them, you’re going to die.  On top of that, you start to get into what are the more optional frou-frou lower case n kinds of needs.  It’s nice to be loved and have the regard of others, and if you can get to self-actualization, well, that’s nice, too, but none of those are going to prevent you from living and going on.  

Well, what Naomi and I would like to suggest is that this isn’t actually quite right.  That this pyramid doesn’t get it right, and that if we want to get it right we actually have to do some inverting here even though it’s not good for the physical foundation of a pyramid.  We think we need to switch these two things around and, in general, what I’m suggesting is that social processes and social connection may actually be more foundational than these biological, physiological and safety needs. Now again, this seems absolutely preposterous, rght?  How could social needs possibly come before your need for food, for water, for shelter?  It just doesn’t make any sense.  And that may be true for a lot of animals out there in the animal kingdom.  But for one kind of animal, it makes all the sense in the world.  And that one kind of animal -- we all partake of this group -- is mammals.  Because mammals, unlike a lot of other animals out there… our young are built massively immature.  They are incapable of taking care of themselves; they are incapable of going out and securing any of those resources they need for their own survival. Other animals don’t always have this problem, but mammals do.  Mammals, if they want to get the food, water, shelter that they need to survive from infancy to a point where they can take care of themselves, they depend on one thing more than anything else – mother.  Right?  Or a caregiver.  It doesn’t necessarily have to mean mother, but in most animal arenas it is the mother.  If you want to survive, you’d better stay socially connected to your caregivers.  If you don’t, if you’re a mammalian infant and you’re not connected to your social caregivers, you’re dead. Period. So, food, water, and those things are very, very important and you’re going to be dead without those, too.  But this is how you get those.  You get those by being socially connected, and that means that the brain is going to be set up to make sure, in mammals, that this doesn’t get lost. That we don’t get disconnected.  So babies cry, and they cry whenever they are socially disconnected from their caregivers. They cry when they are hungry, but they care about social connection from the moment they are born, okay? And on the flip side, parents care about social connection.  We don’t have to be wired that way but we are.  

When I say wired, I’m talking about a mix of things that are nature and nurture.  Nurture wires us. So I don’t mean to suggest that wired necessarily means that it’s all entirely inborn, although in this case, I think it is.  We’re pretty much pre-designed to have these kinds of reactions.  So, you need your parents; social connection is really important if you’re a mammal.  And for us, this suggests that this becomes a primary need, this comes before some of those others.   

We weren’t the only ones to think of this.  A long time ago, Mother Teresa wrote that there is much suffering in the world from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having noone. I’ve come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can experience.  So, if we take this seriously, if we now start to say that maybe the social needs are needs with a capital N and not a lowercase n, they’re serious needs.  There should be some consequences of that. These needs should have some of the features that we typically associate with the other kinds of needs that are “capital N” needs.  And what I mean by this is that whenever there is a need, there is an experiential state that we experience when we are deprived of that need. And it’s always a painful state. So, if you don’t have food, you feel hunger.  If you don’t have water, you feel thirst.  If you don’t have shelter, you either feel the temperature of the elements, you might be freezing in New York, or too hot in L.A., and if you don’t have social connection… 

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The NeuroLeadership Institute Collection


Excerpt 2 from the NeuroLeadership Institute's "The Beliefs Organizations Should Hold"

This fascinating transcribed excerpt from "The Beliefs Organizations Should Hold" with Carol Dweck and Janet Van Huysse recounts a research experiment where kids were either told how intelligent they were or how hard they worked.  Guess which ones performed better in the end?

I want to tell you about some studies we did that show how tuned in kids are.  In one study with adults, we started giving a math lesson to them that was full of genius talk, the geniuses who invented that, who discovered that theorem. And to other adults, we talked genius but in a different way.  We talked about people who have fallen in love with math, and just worked at it passionately and eventually discovered these theorems.  The genius talk, the boring genius talk --  boy, did that create a fixed mindset. And when we gave some hard problems to the people, they really were not resilient because they thought, “Oh, there are a few people – geniuses -- who are good at this; then there’s the rest of us”.  But, in passion… if being a math person is about passion, they remained persistent and resilient. 

But probably the most shocking [element] of our research has been about the impact of praise on mindsets.  We undertook this at the height of the self-esteem movement when the gurus were telling us to praise everyone lavishly and constantly.  So we took, in this study with adolescents -- we did it with hundreds of kids all over the country, and we brought them one at a time to a room in their school. We gave them ten problems from a non-verbal IQ test, and they did pretty well.  We made sure they did pretty well.  And then we gave them one sentence of praise.  A third of them were praised for their intelligence:  “WOW!  You must be smart at this!”.   A third were praised for the process they engaged in.  It could be their strategy, their focus, their effort, in this case, effort: “WOW!  You must have worked really hard!”.  So we focused on the process that brought about their success.  And then a third group, just for purposes of comparison:   “WOW!  That’s really good”.  What happened?  First of all, one sentence of praise put them into different mindsets.  Just saying “You’re really smart” says “I value smarts. I value genius”. This is a culture of genius, and whoa, into a fixed mindset they went.  But the most shocking thing to us was that the one sentence of intelligence praise made students into non-learners.   We then gave them that choice: “What do you want to do now -- something in your comfort zone or something really hard you could learn from?”,  the majority of people praised for intelligence, (and it’s been done with adults, too) chose something in their comfort zone.  They did not want to risk their newly minted gifted label. However, the overwhelming majority of those praised for their process in two of our studies, over 90% chose a hard task that they could profit from, learn something from.  What happened to their performance?  We gave everyone a very difficult set of problems, and then we looked at their performance on somewhat easier problems following that.   Those praised for intelligence crashed after the hard problems.  Their performance on this IQ test really suffered.  But those praised for process had kept on working hard and being engaged in the hard problems, so when they became easier again, their performance flourished.  But there was something even more amazing.  We told them we were taking this test to another school, and don’t put your name on this piece of paper, just write a few lines about your experience. And then we left a space for them to report their scores.  Would you believe that almost 40% of the students praised for intelligence lied, and only in one direction.  What does this mean?  They are writing to someone they don’t know, they’ll never meet, they didn’t put their name on the paper.  I think it means that in a fixed mindset environment, a mistake is so humiliating, so undermining, they can’t even admit it to themselves.  That’s not what happens in a learning organization.


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The NeuroLeadership Institute Collection