- Jack McDevitt
Christmas always arrives with intriguing gifts, jigsaw puzzles, communication devices, Eagles sweaters. Most interesting, usually, are books. This year I received a copy of Letters from an Astrophysicist, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson operates out of the American Museum of Natural History, located in New York City. He’s known largely through his television show StarTalk. He’s written several books. This is the first one I’ve read, and I have to confess it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a science book this much. Most physicists seem to have a problem expressing ideas in plain English, though the problem might lie with the complexity of the ideas. In any case, Tyson’s book rolls through a long series of questions by readers and others, sometimes scientific, sometimes not, and responds rationally, and with energy and a sense of humor.
The setup is a communication from a reader or someone who has seen him on TV or at an event, or who simply knows about him. The communication poses a question, or takes a position and looks for a response. Some of the issues raised:
Is it true the universe is trying to killing us?
The laws of physics show that the Earth is flat.
How do you explain UFOs? Are they really visitors?
What are my primary obligations to my children?
How does gravity work?
Are there parallel universes?
If we’re all going to die, how can life have meaning?
Are you sure astrology doesn’t work? Let me tell you about my aunt.
Does Big Foot exist? How do you know?
What’s the worst science fiction movie?
Is there a way to connect Darwin and the Bible?
Is global warming really happening?
Doesn’t science actually do more harm than good?
What evidence could we find that would point to God’s existence?
Tyson also shares his reaction to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. And responds to a question whether, if an intelligent alien arrived, we shouldn’t kill him in an effort to prevent their finding out we’re here.
I’ve rephrased a lot of the material without, I hope, changing any of the issues. It’s a thoroughly entertaining read.