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Neil deGrasse Tyson won't take a computer to the Bahamas

Ben Johnson in conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson

I said I would do it, and I did: In my conversation at SXSW with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, I asked about aliens.

We didn't talk about whether or not aliens would have an appetite for cats (Alf), or if they could make bicycles fly (E.T.). I didn't ask if he thought they would use their technology to rejuvenate the elderly. Cocoon, anyone? Instead, we talked about what aliens might find surprising about the human condition. According to Tyson, they would be appalled by our conflicts over antiquated fuel sources. 

"I’d be embarrassed to say that we still fight wars over lines in the sand to extract fossil fuels out of the ground so that we can power our automobiles. The alien would just laugh. They’d say ',What? What’s wrong with you? The universe is full of energy.' And then they’d leave, and they’d report back to their alien leaders that there’s no sign of intelligent life on earth."

Certainly, there's a lot of intelligent life working on Tyson's new television show, the re-booted Cosmos series of Carl Sagan fame. What is particularly stunning about the show is the visual effects; a product of having network television behind the venture. As Tyson points out, if the best visual effects are available, what better place to use them than when portraying the universe?

"If there’s any project that needs extraordinary visual effects, it’s one that involves the universe, because you can’t go there. And you can’t just put a picture of it. You want to experience phenomena in the universe. It has the power to influence you not only intellectually but emotionally, and occasionally, perhaps, even spiritually."

And in case you were wondering, Tyson would not bring a computer to the Bahamas. Clarification: I asked him about the idea of preserving one's psyche on a computer chip, and if he thought it was feasible. Tyson isn't so preoccupied with whether or not it's possible. He's more concerned with the fact that he doesn't think the technology would ever be able to actually preserve a person's experience.

"If in this instant, I upload my mind to a silicon-based chip, and then tomorrow I go to the Bahamas, the chip didnt go to the bahamas...it’s not going to have a new idea that, for me, is stimulated by an experience that happened after the upload date stamp. So I’m ok in my own body having my own life experience. And the computer is not going to the Bahamas. And if it wanted to go, I wouldn’t take it."

For the record, I would go to the Bahamas with a computer... but Tyson's point is well taken. 

 

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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