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Thinking in Public A Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson

 
nacazo
 
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nacazo
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31 May 2016 19:53
 

So Maryam Namazie is the person saying: “But I know a woman that is taller than most men”

 
Randomhero
 
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Randomhero
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31 May 2016 22:15
 

I registered just to comment on this podcast episode, having been a fan of Harris since the release of “The End of Faith”.  About the only thing I found myself in agreement with Tyson about was the fact that Sam is indeed a uniquely gifted wordsmith, and he is by far one of the most articulate speakers I’ve ever heard.  I honestly don’t know much about Tyson but assumed based on his field of study that he would have something interesting to say, however that did not turn out to be the case.

I found him annoying more than anything else, and naively obstinate about many things that just seemed counterproductive.  You don’t believe in a personal god, just accept that you’re an atheist and move on, it’s not interesting or intellectually valuable to dwell on this label anymore.  All that being said, the only thing I really wanted to put out there in the hopes that Sam is listening is please, PLEASE do not take his critique of your writing style or choice of words to heart. 

The suggestion that you should effectively dumb down your writing to prevent people from misreading your intent is just insulting.  Your audience is your audience for a reason.  We appreciate your nuance and dedication to articulating the fine points of philosophical arguments in a way that very few can or choose to, and don’t need to be trudging through needless disclaimers to understand that “most does not equal all”.  If your guests can not, or in the case of the guest in question I would say WILL not understand your point or intent, or assume ill intent where none is meant, that is not your problem.  If this means that some podcasts are not successful, then so be it.  I would never, ever, trade a successful version of the Maryam Namazie podcast for a “bulletproofed” version of “The End of Faith”, “Letter to a Chrisian Nation” or any of your other past books or essays, or those yet to come.

 
scarletknight
 
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scarletknight
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02 June 2016 01:34
 

I think Tyson gave decent advice.  Knowing your audience does not equate to dumbing down, necessarily.  But I don’t think language or wording was the issue with Namazie or most others.  Certainly wasn’t the issue with Aziz.  Some people are insufficiently intelligent or cognitively blocked or have an ends justify the means mentality.  This manifests itself in irrational responses or positions.  The key to debating with a live witness who has different views is to prepare like a cross examining attorney with a line of questions that are not easily side stepped.  Losing ones temper and expressing frustration over cognitive dissonance on parade is unproductive.  Tyson lives in the politically correct entertainment world.  He can’t fight all our battles.  Sam can.

 
thesocraticdilemna
 
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thesocraticdilemna
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02 June 2016 08:45
 

Almost finished with the podcast and haven’t found it as exciting/interesting as I thought it would be, but still found it insightful at times.

Huge fan of NDT as a scientist/educator but it feels at times like he values his role as an educator to the public more-so then he values an honest assessment of certain facts (i.e. when discussing spirituality NDT claims that he doesn’t want any label but would use the word agnostic if he had too, even though how he defines his system of beliefs equates perfectly with how an atheist approaches the god argument).

I was actually slightly insulted when he gave an assessment that the blame was on Sam as the communicator if the person he is communicating with doesn’t understand him. The analogy NDT used was that “if we were playing basketball it’s solely my fault if I pass the ball to you and it goes by you.” I don’t know if he’s never played basketball before, but that’s not true at all.

In basketball passing the ball is EXACTLY like communicating, in that both parties are equally responsible for the pass (albeit to varying degrees based on the circumstance). I can only pass the ball so well, based on where my teammate is, how fast they are moving, anticipating what they are anticipating, etc. My teammate is equally as responsible to be ready to catch the ball and to actually catch it. So if I pass the ball straight at his chest when he isn’t moving, but he looks away/moves/drops the ball, NDT would blame me for not telepathically mind-melding with him so that I could synchronize our thought process’ like the Borg. When you take a shot in basketball you are solely responsible for if it goes in, as the hoop doesn’t move, doesn’t think, doesn’t catch. Either the shot goes in or it doesn’t, and the hoop has no influence on the outcome, as it is an inanimate object stuck in a static position. Not true at all with a pass, as the person being passed to moves, thinks, catches. It’s a mutual exchange that depends on the positive actions of the players involved, just like communicating.

You can only make an argument so well and in so many ways. NDT seems to advocate that Sam provide endless caveats, dumbing down his arguments into generalities, and treat his readers/listeners as if they are a hoop and not a person. The only way to have an elevated level of discourse is to communicate in a way where you leave yourself open to be misinterpreted on the foundation that the person you are communicating with is an “actor in good faith” (as Sam himself would put it). That way if there is confusion it can be addressed in a way where both sides do not shut down/retreat from ideas that might conflict or contradict their own. Instead of being afraid of these ideas an actor in good faith would want to determine whether these conflicts are valid and how this might impact their pre-existing view.

You could tell Sam had such tremendous respect for NDT as a person/scientist he didn’t want to aggressively broach the subject, which I completely understand. Just wish he would’ve held NDT’s feet to the fire on that basketball analogy, because it literally felt like NDT blames the failure to have reading/listening comprehension skills on the speaker/writer instead of the reader/listener, which is asinine beyond belief for someone who is literally a genius like NDT.

 
pozo
 
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pozo
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02 June 2016 11:45
 

Two people I could listen to for hours. Wonderful discussion, gentlemen.  Thank you for putting this together.

 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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02 June 2016 13:02
 

I think Sam Harris desperately needed that conversation, just to get back on an even keel.

NDT is right in pointing out that unless Harris and his guest frame the issue in similar ways, no real conversation is possible. Framing is not one of Harris’s strong points.

What I found interesting was the Tyson’s mention of the difference between Black Christians and White Christians in the US.

 
 
Babble68
 
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Babble68
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02 June 2016 17:07
 

A more advanced alien intelligence might be smarter at present but humans will be getting smarter as well.  Not only through AI but with brain enhancement.  We know that humans can be very smart like Einstein, Hawkins and many brilliant people.  If the brain can do that then we will find a way to make most brains do that. 

On the Fermi paradox, there are many thousands of videos, pictures and eye witness reports of UFOs, so how many do you have of the Higgs particle?  The evidence stands that UFOs are real.

 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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02 June 2016 20:29
 

There is a flaw in the assumption that a self-improving A.I. is a danger:
if there was a danger of designed intelligence becoming too smart, an AI would come to the same conclusion -after all, just like the first self-designing AI would be our offspring, the dangerous AI-desinged hyper-intelligence would be its offspring. The new AI would be as much a danger to its silicon ancestry as to us.
So the only AI that would create such a thing would be one without a sense of self-preservation, which in turn means we could switch it off if we wanted to.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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03 June 2016 09:06
 
pozo - 02 June 2016 11:45 AM

Two people I could listen to for hours. Wonderful discussion, gentlemen.  Thank you for putting this together.

Absolutely! I hope they do it again soon—make it a regular thing ... maybe work as a Siskel and Ebert kinda duo delving into, mostly but not entirely, all the cool shite they both love to delve into. There are some really cool tin/yang dynamics between the two.

 

Twissel - 02 June 2016 01:02 PM

I think Sam Harris desperately needed that conversation, just to get back on an even keel.

I suspect he felt that way too, if not before, during and after.

 

Twissel - 02 June 2016 01:02 PM

NDT is right in pointing out that unless Harris and his guest frame the issue in similar ways, no real conversation is possible. Framing is not one of Harris’s strong points.

Yeah, it’s about different goals I think, although I suspect Tyson’s relative lack of experience in the trenches (when he’s ambushed and dragged into the trench he climbs back out immediately, whereas Harris jumps down, digs in and maintains a residence down there) gives him a non-embattled, clear perspective from above, while Harris has to try and sort it out through all the blood and guts he’s spread all about himself. Harris seems the trenches as where the real fight is, while Tyson is trying to lead the way out of the trenches by example. There’s merit to both views, and it seems to be one of those only time will tell kinda things, but Tyson’s angle is dependent upon having a conducive social climate, whereas I think Harris’ is required in order to get there. Again, that doesn’t say anything about who is right or even if it’s a right or wrong kinda thing, which I doubt very seriously. I think Tyson is just far more interested in moving on whereas Harris sees a lot of problems that need to be fixed before that’s going to work very well. I think Tyson is just more comfortable moving on with those who can keep up, and Harris is more concerned about the conditions being left behind and unmonitored by that posture.

 

Twissel - 02 June 2016 01:02 PM

What I found interesting was the Tyson’s mention of the difference between Black Christians and White Christians in the US.

I thought it was refreshing to hear it laid out so clearly like that, but I perceive it as a strange kind of blind spot mostly in white America. It’s a striking difference to consider the whining of the WASP oppression delusion, and then see how people who are really being oppressed behave by considering the black church in the US over the decades. That’s how people behave when they’re really being oppressed. It’s all about not hurting them in various ways. The whining we get from the WASP side of it is almost always about bein’ oppressed because someone who doesn’t affirm them isn’t being oppressed adequately to their taste. It’s so fragile—they can’t bear up against non-approval, often even just non-overt approval. It’s really quite pathetic. I can’t feel too harshly about it because my understanding of the situation informs me that the whiners are almost always born into that mentality and never come into the means by which to genuinely consider it, but the bottom line always boils down to the fact they’re the ones causing the problem—including their own, which aren’t what they think they are. Their problem is their fragility, not that everyone else isn’t coddling them to accommodate it.

Anyway ... yeah, that was a particularly noteworthy segment, but I’m not sure there are any segments that weren’t in that particular conversation.

[ Edited: 03 June 2016 09:48 by SkepticX]
 
 
_Tim_
 
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_Tim_
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03 June 2016 09:16
 

Long time lurker here, just chiming in to comment that I thoroughly enjoyed this meeting of two of my favourite minds. Made my week.

 
Aristarchus
 
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Aristarchus
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07 June 2016 13:42
 

I really don’t understand why Sam Harris chose to do a podcast with Tyson. Is he….running out of popular public figures? The man has held various posts over the years and it’s so obvious, that these are posts that are heavily influenced by politicians. Did Mr Tyson come to the podcast to teach Sam and his audience about how to balance ourselves politically among “sensitive” groups? I’ve found Sam to be particularly unwilling to engage Tyson into a really meaningful conversation. I have learned absolutely nothing from this podcast, I find Tyson totally unsuitable to teach anything to a Sam Harris audience. I also find his “jokes” and intelligence wanting. Lukewarm at best. An advice to Sam: Choose your guests carefully or you will start loosing people that really admire you (I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time now) and I’m saying that with every last gram of honesty in my heart.

 
FerdRoseboom
 
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FerdRoseboom
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08 June 2016 05:03
 
Twissel - 02 June 2016 08:29 PM

There is a flaw in the assumption that a self-improving A.I. is a danger

Yes. I’ve thought so too.  It’s one thing to program A.I. to obtain and act upon hard data as in chess, go, and jeopardy.  But what algorithm would allow the OS of a driverless car, to make unpredictable decisions such as whether to avoid rear-ending a fuel tanker truck in favor of colliding with opposing traffic in the event of a sudden mechanical malfunction?  Hollywood seems to have given many the impression AI is far ahead of where it actually is.  The day when AI can spot logical fallacies and pseudoscience claims will be when I take Harris’ fears more seriously.  Intelligence is more than data processing.  The decisions most of us make are rarely made by looking at all the hard data and compiling probability stats and not just because we’re too lazy, busy, or too gullible, but because, trusting our gut and word of mouth generally leads us into making the right decisions.

 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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08 June 2016 06:07
 

I thought Neil gave interested advice and is obviously someone who knows how to “play the game”, but I do wonder if he’s considered the role of niches in public personas. deGrasse is so ubiquitously pleasant, with such a teddy bear face, that I find myself wondering if random strangers approach him throughout the day and go “Hello. I wish to snuggle you Neil deGrasse Tyson. Do not try to escape, resistance is futile. Hugs!”.


On the other hand, to think of an extreme example, if you advised Ann Coulter to tone it down and give measured, thoughtful advice, I doubt it would do a lot for her ratings - that’s precisely not her thing. So to my mind if your schtick is “lighting rod”, you can either be of the Ann Coulter variety (pretty much knowing from the start that you’re preaching to your own choir and alienating outsiders - a dynamic that is the exact opposite of inclusive but is sometimes useful when really harsh criticism needs to be made that would be far too awkward for any semi friendly or connected voice to make, but perfect fodder for a group that has already defined itself as totally opposed) or find a way to absolutely ooze a kind of nobility and selfless intent that seems authentic, in which case one’s purist idealism, if not always their actual opinions, become quite appealing. (For example, when Harris tweets eye rolling comments about “Oh, look, a Muslim did something bad, are you totally surprised? Not!”, it pretty much seems like he has a giant chip on his shoulder regarding Muslims, not any real desire to help religious people. Imagine if someone did the same thing regarding a minority community, what your assumptions about their intent would be.) But that requires a more “feeling” based personality than I think Harris has, if that’s done inauthentically it just comes off as contrived and awkward. So for him, “slightly more measured lightening rod” may indeed be his niche.

 
 
renraku7
 
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renraku7
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09 June 2016 09:27
 

I generally like Tyson. I like that he at least attempts to educate the American public on scientific issues. We as a country certainly need it. Loved Cosmos reboot. But what drives me crazy about him, is that he refuses to take a position on just about everything. He answers questions like a politician, meaning not at all. He tends to dance around actually saying anything. C’mon man, grow a set and tell us what you really think. If you don’t want to answer tougher more meaningful questions stop going on podcasts. As some have previously said, Sam should have challenged him. Don’t let him squirm away and give non answer answers. It’s like he’s running for office, doesn’t want to be pinned down on anything. It’s okay Neil, you are allowed to change your stance on anything when new evidence arrives.

That being said, I saw this today: http://collider.com/seveneves-movie-ron-howard/
Tyson is perfect for the character of Doc DuBois. While reading the book, it was his voice in my head the whole time.

 
After_The_Jump
 
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After_The_Jump
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09 June 2016 11:05
 

Overall, I enjoyed the discussion between Harris and Tyson. I found Tyson’s thoughts on the impact of language to be interesting (for example, how using simple one syllable words to label large scale scientific occurrences helps the public connect with the concept). I also found Tyson’s breakdown of black churches versus white churches in America to be fascinating (and accurate).

I too found myself a bit disappointed in Tyson’s seeming unwillingness to dig into the trenches on any topic. However, I thought he provided a rather lucid explanation for why he doesn’t, and he appeared to be quite consistent in the application of his explanation.

Lastly, while I think Tyson’s advice for dealing with guests like Maryam Namazie was good advice generally, I think it’s application for individuals like Namazie is essentially useless. Harris spent a dizzying amount of time with Namazie articulating exactly the kind of landscape Tyson identified; namely, that Harris was speaking in terms of probability and percentages, and thus in no way was making an argument meant to generalize everyone in the group being discussed (in other words, Harris made the “most but not all” statement in countless ways, and actually was making a claim in some instances of “not most and certainly not all”). Harris also dedicated a large amount of time (in relative terms) to explaining and differentiating the focus on ideas as opposed to individual people. Namazie *still* responded with “but you can’t generalize all Muslims that way”.

Along those lines, it seems quite inaccurate to say both Harris and Namzie have equal parts blame for that breakdown, or that Harris deserved most of the blame. Harris rather consistently responded directly and specifically to Namazie’s words while Namazie virtually never responded to Harris’s actual words but rather to the general concept of undifferentiated generalization.

 
Heyzeus
 
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09 June 2016 12:34
 

“The analogy NDT used was that “if we were playing basketball it’s solely my fault if I pass the ball to you and it goes by you.” I don’t know if he’s never played basketball before, but that’s not true at all.”

I believe NDT was saying the passer would get credited for the ‘Turnover’ (the bad communication).

 
 
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