Neil deGrasse Tyson

August 4, 2013

I am Neil deGrasse Tyson AMA about the new Cosmos TV series

The re-posted Cosmos Trailer [3m 20s]:


Awesome shoes to fill. And of course his series appeared a generation (34 years) ago. So there's lots to add, subtract, enhance, develop.

Hey Neil, big fan.

How similar will your new series be to the original? Will you cover similar, or the same topics? The trailer looks awesome by the way, good luck!

13 episodes, like the original. Cosmic Calendar returns. So does the Ship of the Imagination. But in this 21st century version, I'm taking over as host -- sans turtleneck.

What is your favorite Burt Reynolds film (just for a change of pace from science questions!)

Longest Yard (the original, of course) & Deliverance

This kinda relates to Cosmos, but... I felt that my perspective of everything changed when I took my first astronomy class. Do you think astronomy should be taught at the elementary or high school level?

The study of they universe is the only time and place where you acquire a cosmic perspective. And it's the cosmic perspective that changes you forever -- a true understanding of our place in space and time. It also offers a deep awareness of our relationship to each other and to the cosmos itself. These themes will resonate in every episode.

I feel special for seeing this so early. I'm a huge fan, you're inspirational.

Thanks for joining in.

What's your favorite part of the show? Do you enjoy filming? Why?

You get a glimpse of the Space Ship of the Imagination from the trailer. It's a literal and figurative vehicle to move through space and time, and, quite frankly, it's badass. But that will be for viewers to judge. I enjoyed filming in the set for the ship. Gesturing to all manner of places in the universe - past, present, & future.

What can you say to those of use who are too young to have seen the original Cosmos?

Netflix them. They're all there.

How do you balance such an active work life with your personal life?

One of the hardest things to do. When away filming for great lengths of time, your kids change. And you long for the stability of food and warmth that you otherwise take for granted at home.

What's your favorite part of the show?

This may sounds like a cop-out answer: all of it. It's written (by Ann Druyan, co-writer of the original series along with story development by Steven Soter, also from the original series) in a way that the parts come together to tell bigger stories of how and why science matters. To pick a favorite part would be like picking the part of a bicycle you like the best. The chain? The spokes? The handlebars? The petals? The thing won't ride without any one of them.

Steering wheel on a bike? Now this I gotta see.

Ha. Thanks. Went back and changed it. -NDT

Neil! I just wanted to say your podcasts have been inspiring and informative. Keep it up!

labors of love, them all. Thanks.

Will there be pie?

Edit: I mean apple pie made from scratch. I'm referencing Sagan.

Ha. ha. No, not this time, around. But there'll be other key references to the importance of the Big Bang.


Dare I suggest that Cosmos, airing in primetime on network television, will play its role in this struggle.

Neil! What has surprised you the most about creating the new Cosmos? The process as well as the reactions of those who hear about it? This is Mary from Newark, DE.

The people who say with disdain and disgust: "It's appearing on Fox? Their viewers don't know any science!" And I simply reply, "If true, that makes Fox the best network of them all on which to air this series."

What are you most excited for in the new series?

Finally, the portfolio of story-telling tools, normally reserved for film-making and evening drama, will be applied to telling the story of the universe. The trailer, while purposefully mysterious, ought to give you a direct sense of this cinematic armament.

I never watched the old Cosmos TV series, but how easy will it be for someone with limited knowledge of the cosmos to get interested and excited about the new show?

The show targets people who are sure they don't like science as well as those who never knew they could like science. As for the scientifically literate out there -- Redditors surely leading that pack -- the show may take you places you have never been before: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

I don't have a question, I just wanted to thank you for being one of the most interesting people I know of and explaining science in an understandable way.

It's the universe that's the interesting one. I'm just your conduit to it.

How did you discover your interest in space?

Age 9. A first visit to my local Planetarium - NYC's Hayden Planetarium. Yes, I am now its director. A story that plays better in a small town than in a city of eight million people. In any case, after that first visit, I had no choice in the matter -- in retrospect, I'm quite sure it was the universe that chose me, and not I who chose it.

Will you be able to talk to Eric Weinstein about the new theory of Geometric Unity? We are all wondering about that.

Cosmos is not your normal talking-head documentary. In fact, it's that feature of the original that enabled the series to live for an entire generation, beyond the shelf-life of hundreds of other science documentaries that came afterwards. So the answer is no.

What planet would you most like to visit?

We go there in Cosmos.

Will there be info on how the budget cuts affect space exploration?

No. Cosmos, at its best, will compel people to want science, to want space, to want to explore, to want to dream of a world informed and enhanced by all the good that cosmic discovery brings to it. A mission statement such as that sails above any talk of budgets.

no question, but keep being awesome!

: - )

As, someone who became very interested in astrophysics as a whole after reading Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. What are your hopes for the series in terms of bringing more interest to the scientific community?

Big fan by the way.

I've never wanted to turn everyone into a scientist. What a boring world that would be. We want and need artists and philosophers and comedians and everybody else who fleshes out what we've come to call civilization. So the goal of Cosmos, and so much else of what I do professionally, is to sensitize people to why science matters -- especially to our survival, but also to our soul of curiosity, and to our sense of who and what we are in the universe. Imagine if every member of Congress had this perspective - this cosmic perspective. They could transform the country overnight, even if not a single one of them were a scientist.

Hey Neil! Fan from Dubai.

Do you think this remake is more information based or more theatrical? I'm afraid it'll be a little too sensationalised. Nothing's wrong with theatre, but I just hope it retains the educational element that made the first Cosmos amazing.

You presume that the delivery of information is somehow mutually exclusive to theatrics. I'm not convinced of that. As I've said in an earlier answer, full-up tools of movie-making have never really been tapped for telling science stories. So the new Cosmos will live and thrive in both worlds, if we succeed as imagined.

Everything Neil does is 100% informative, 100% of the time.

Thanks for that vote of confidence. Keeping in mind, of course, that trailers, at their best, are always theatrical. -NDT

How do you feel you will carry on Sagan's legacy from this experience?

I think of it instead as a legacy of science that Carl set into motion. If this were all about Carl Sagan, or me, then we wouldn't be educators, we would be cultists.

What's your favorite TV Show? Why?

Twilight Zone.

Who made the choice to continue with the whole "flying around in a ridiculous spaceship" for this series? The new ship is certifiably ridiculous in the best of ways.

Who "certified" its ridiculousness? I know enough to be certain that the designation is pre-mature.

I'm a teenager who is a big fan of astronomy and physics and an enormous fan of yours. Do you have any tips for a high school student who is interested in pursuing a career in astronomy/astrophysics?

Thanks for doing this :)

In whatever you choose to do. Do it because it's hard, not because it's easy. Math and physics and astrophysics are hard. For every hard thing you accomplish, fewer other people are out there doing the same thing as you. That's what doing something hard means. And in the limit of this, everyone beats a path to your door because you're the only one around who understands the impossible concept or who solves the unsolvable problem.

As someone who is struggling with falling back into an opiate addiction I have to remember to keep these words in mind. It's just so easy to get overwhelmed by how fucking hard it is to get back into school once you leave on a bad note. I fucked up and got addicted. I let my loans go into default. Now I have to make the loan payments while also paying for a place to live and paying for classes at a community college so I can show a real university that I can actually do it. The work isn't the hard part, I always did fine with content even at a good uni in a stem major. I just got depressed and never went to class. I'm the only person I knew who's grades were propped up by tests and dragged down by labs, quizzes and homework.

I love learning, I literally just work, learn and do drugs. I would be a student my entire life if I could be. I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore, I'm not high and I'm a little emotional from minor withdrawal. I just want to get a second chance and show people what I can do but in the end I feel like it's just never going to happen. Everyone has always told me I'm crazy smart or that I'm the smartest person they know. Like I'm the guy everyone always turns to when there is some dispute. But despite keeping up with current events, both economic, political and technological, and knowing a lot about all kinds of random shit, I'm a fucking idiot.

How am I supposed to get back on track while I make so little money? But the only way to get a better job is either go to school or invest more time into a bullshit job. But if I do that I waste even more time and feel like even more of a fuck up. I feel like such a spoiled whiny little shit complaining about this while on my smartphone on reddit. But the reality is, this fucking phone is all I have anymore. It's what allows me to keep learning and occupy myself long enough so that I don't want to kill myself.

I have no idea where this is even going or why I even responded to this post in this way. Good message though so thanks. Thanks for being awesome and having my dream job. I have the looks and personality for it but too bad I have to be too weak willed to resist this shit.

Most of what we call a free society -- most of what we call civilization --involves the management and control of our body's chemical urges, especially when the sources of those urges are available in abundance - Caffeine, Alcohol, Food, Sex, Drugs. So you are far from alone out there. And if you are contributing lucidly to these threads, you are surely not the worst case. But every step in the right direction is a step - no matter how small. And as the resolution of Zeno's paradox reminds us all - you do not require an infinite amount of time to take an infinite number of steps -- and of course it's not an infinite number of steps. So be strong. Recover strong. Stay strong. -NDT

Do you prefer waffles or pancakes?

I've always been a fan of any food that resembles construction material.

Hey Neil big fan here What topic are you most excited to cover?!

Keeping an eye on the search for life in the universe and on the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Who wouldn't be?

What topic are you most excited to talk about in the new series?

Alerting the viewer of science martyrs of the past, who made discoveries that conflicted with prevailing dogma - religious, political, cultural, and who gave their careers or even their lives for the truth of their discoveries.

What topic was your favorite to film for the series?

Actually, as hinted earlier, no one topic stands out above the rest. They all blend into seamless story-telling.

Neil! You are my hero, you have inspired me so much. Thank you!

Cosmos looks amazing, what do you hope people take away from it?

Science is not a subject you took in school. It's life. We are wrapped by it, in it, with it. And one's science literacy should never be viewed as a disposable dimension of ones mind -- not in this, the 21st century, where the engines of tomorrow's economies will derive from wise investments and innovations in science and technology.

Can you do your own cover of Space Oddity please?

Can't really sing:

Can i watch this in the UK?

Thanks or asking. Fox international Channels will be distributing Cosmos around the world. We did a press preview and panel for their international press during ComicCon. And a major carrier for this in many countries will also be National Geographic.

Holy smokes. I've been waiting for this series forever. Sagan left big shoes to fill. Other than obviously updating the science, how do you rework his series while keeping true to the original? Assuming that was a goal in the first place.

We carefully reviewed what worked and what did not work as intended in the original series. We are keeping -- and enhancing -- all that we are confident is worthy of carrying forward. Not only the tools of storytelling, such as the Cosmic Calendar -- seen briefly in the trailer -- but also the kinds of stories that are told. All of this is true to the sprit of the original. And that what matters most to us.

What type of audience are you aiming for with the new Cosmos?

Everyone who watches Fox. And if you stop and think about that -- the demographic crossroads into Fox may be broader than any other in modern times: 20th Century Fox / Foxlight Pictures / Fox Sports / Fox News / Fox Business / and of course, Fox Network.

How well do you think yourself and the staff did in preserving the wonder and entertainment of the original series in addition to keeping educational material key? Are we looking at a completely new show or a remaking or sorts? Thanks for stopping in, really appreciate you and the work you do for the science community!

Hard to know what to call it. It's not a remake. It's not a re-tread. it's perhaps best described as a re-boot. You can ask, if Cosmos were freshly conceived today, what would it look like? That being said, we are, of course, deeply informed by what made the original Cosmos so successful. So combine these mission statements and I have high confidence that Cosmos will land exactly where it needs to, in all of our hearts and minds.

I just wanted to say hello! can I get a hello back?

Hello? Okay to not have a question. But if, after you watch even one episode of Cosmos, you still don't have a question, then we failed.

I hope that the new Cosmos is something great I can show to my children. I'm 100% sure it will be.

Thank you for everything.

it will surely be child-friendly but it's conceived for adults. Adults, not kids, tend to be the source of problems in society.

Do you think this new Cosmos will live up to the educational value of the original despite being on a network that focuses primarily on entertainment, and not PBS?

Yes. Not to worry. It's the widespread educational appeal of the Cosmos "franchise" that interested Fox in the first place. They respect the creative team and, beyond the normal FCC rules and regulations for broadcasting, they have granted the creative freedoms necessary to keep the Cosmos spirit and legacy in tact.

I add here that something can be educational without being pedantic. A stunning visual along with carefully worded voice-over can ignite interest in viewers that can send them running to the library. In fact, from the educators perspective, that's the strongest impact a visual experience can have on a viewer.

Do you believe The Cosmos will reach people of all ages and backgrounds?

Yes. It's conceived to do just that. And the demographics of Fox viewers basically ensures it. Cosmos might have aired in a more traditional place in the broadcast or cable pantheon. But those traditional places tend to slice thinly the American (and international) demographic. You tune into science channels because, by and large, you know in advance you like science. That leaves out most people who could be watching science.

Do you think that the new series will appeal to generations young and old? I feel that Sagan's cosmos was primarily meant for older watchers.

As with the original, the series is conceived for adults but I'd bet if you are watching Cosmos, kids of any age will not be able to walk past your flat panel without stopping to join you on the couch.

Hey Neil,

I'm wondering how you think your rise to stardom in the science popularization realm has affected you personally. Do you think it's changed your personality or outlook at all? You've always been gifted in speaking and explanation, just curious. Really excited about this new series.

P.S. Bring back This Just In! please!

I'd like to think I haven't changed. But perhaps I'm the least qualified to assess that. What will be curious to watch is what happens after Cosmos. Right now I'm ID'ed about 100x per day by strangers in the street. That's plenty for anybody. But Cosmos has yet to air. One thing is true, when I leave the house I'm a bit better groomed than I'd otherwise be. On the chance that someone wants a photo. As an academic, grooming is often a secondary priority.

What's your favorite .gif of yourself?

I guess the original of me posturing while talking about Isaac Newton, that itself got pencil-sketched to become the "badass" meme.

what is going on with this supersemetry and string theory news recently and the disapointment results ?

Still the only game in town. I give them "space" whenever they need it.

Thank you for making science fun and being an advocate for free thinking. Science is the coolest thing, and with people like NDT or Bill Nye or Carl Sagan to make it fun and awesome, everyone wants to know about it. No question- just wanted to get a chance to say it to you where you'll read it!

Thank you.

Hey, Doc T! What's your favourite joke?

Not a joke, just a flattering bit of arithmetic:

What was the most personally satisfying part about working on the new Cosmos series?

Realizing first hand how much collaboration is required when making a show. Lighting people, and gaffers, and grips, and production assistants and makeup and costume. Many of these people you never hear or read about in awards ceremonies. They all become family during the shoot.

Hey Neil,

Would you say that working with the Fox network made you stray from what you had in mind for the series at all?

In other words, were there some things you would rather have spent more time on? To what extent do you feel the new series does justice to Dr. Sagan's?

All that aside, I'm looking forward to it! Very excited. Take care.

Fox was reminded of the original - the "remastered" DVD of the 1980 series and simply said, and I paraphrase: Do that for the 21st century. For some that's hard to believe, but it's true. I add here that Seth MacFarlane was our conduit to the network. He's a fan of my work, of Sagan's legacy, and of science. And who can soon forget this scene from Family Guy:

So when I told him that we were shopping around the new Cosmos, he brought the concept to Fox Executives. Given his importance to the network, they had to listen. Initially they may have agreed solely because of Seth's endorsement. But later, they saw the value of the network hosting Cosmos for the 21st century, and have backed it as they would any show in their stable, for the Spring airing of the series.

What is the most fundamental change in the field since the original Cosmos was produced?

Tons. But what hasn't changed is the value of telling a good story, especially one that has the benefit of being true.

What do you think is your biggest accomplishment?

Raising children. That should be any parents' answer. If it's not, then they under-invested in all their kids could be.

What technologies do you think we'll see by 2020?

Flying Cars. Just kidding. I'm still amazed by smart phones. Enough to surely last me until 2020. Come back then and ask me about 2030.

Hello Dr. Tyson! I'm a huge fan and thank you for doing another AMA. There's tons of questions I'd love to ask but this is the only one coming to mind right now.

What goals do you hope to accomplish with this new series?

To remind people that science is not something to be feared but embraced. And that understanding our place in the universe, as revealed by the methods and tools of science, can not only be intellectually rewarding, but spiritually uplifting as well.

What is your opinion on reddit almost idolizing you, do you find it quite flattering?

Yes. But I don't see it as Reddit idolizing me, but Reddit idolizing the stuff I do for a living. That's a bit different. I can live with that.

Mr. Tyson, huge, huge fan, but sadly I have a dumb question :P Can you influence anyone to have the heavy metal stars named after heavy metal singers?

No. We have extensive rules regarding naming and nomenclature. But nothing stops you from doing it unofficially. Go for it.

Will the cosmos be available to watch online for free?

It will appear on network television around the world. That normally counts as free. After that, and after re-runs, it will surely be available for purchase. But there's not plans to just post it for everyone to download.

The program is being presented on Fox, did the corporation's ideology at all hinder the development of the program at any point?

Edit: Grammar

No. However hard that answer may be for you to believe.

How big of a part did Seth play in the production?

Advised on doing graphic novel-style animation for many of our historic recreations. Also, he's an all-around TV-Movie smart person. So his guidance and advice, particularly with regard to Network broadcasting was invaluable. Also, his contacts in the business brought to us many production professionals who work on films and famous dramas, but were also fans of science and what a new Cosmos can do for the world. That's how we got, for example, Bill Pope, our director of photography, perhaps best known as the director of photography for the Matrix Trilogy. And our Director, Brannon Braga, long-time writer and producer for StarTrek.

We've assembled talented people, bitten by the Cosmos mission, bringing their formidable talents to the series.

For somebody who has never heard of this or really know what it is. What would be the best way to sum it up and what will we expect to learn/see?

Gotta end it here. Thanks again, Redditors, for your (persistent) interest in my work.

As for my answer to the question - Simply use the broadcast of Cosmos to reawaken within you what it's like to look up and to wonder.

Respectfully submbitted, Neil deGrasse Tyson - New York City

What is the most interesting, completely useless fact of the universe that you know?

The Moon, when full, raises tides on Earth that are no higher than at any other phase. The higher tides we see during Full Moon come about entirely because the Sun's tides add directly to the Moon's tides. Just an FYI

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Neil deGrasse Tyson conducted on Reddit on 2013-08-04. The Reddit AMA can be found here.