This is the first episode of StarTalk with Neil de Grasse Tyson that I have seen. There are a quite a few interesting topics covered in this show. It is interspersed with sometimes annoying, sometimes funny comic jabs. Overall, I think the show is interesting and the comedy does keep it light and from being too heady. Plus Cara Santa Maria is really hot.

Evolutionary goodness of extreme emotions – “Emotions evolved as a need for seeking out pleasure (food, water, sex). As we evolved we developed these more cerebral cortexes which interpreted these emotions and applied labels to them” The thing that can mess us up is that we label these feelings and those may be the wrong label. We attach ourselves to our interpretations of our feelings instead of just feeling. The point that is brought out is that this really is what makes us human. This is what gives us words, art, poetry, science…

Another interesting aspect is that we can be primed to answer a specific way without really knowing why. We make a decision and after the fact we come up with a justification for it. The example given in the video is of a word association test where participants are given words like “moon, ocean” then asked what do you think of when you hear “laundry
detergent”, and most people answer tide because they have been primed with “moon, ocean”. However the justification that is given by the participants is “well, my mom used tide”. They are unaware that they were primed for the answer, but were still able to provide some sort of justification that allows them to agree with the answer. This then leads
into the question of free will. How much of what we do is influenced by external sources. Are our thoughts our own? If there is no free will, what does that really mean?

I am pretty sure that I have seen this used with hypnotists and magicians. One that was on TV a while back had the audience try to think of a shape. Try to think of a shape. Not a square. Now around that shape draw another shape. Were you thinking of a triangle in a circle or the other way around? This may not work with text or the way I think, but the words he uses “try” and then diverting attention from the most likely shape you thought of disrupts your thoughts and you go to Tri-angle. He then used the word “around”. For me, around conjures up images of round objects and thus a circle. Unless I force myself to think outside of that, that is the shape combo that I come up with.

Persistence of self – “We can a lose sense of self and gain a sense of connection with a greater cosmos. There are ways that we can affect the brain so the sense of self becomes less tangible.” Why do we wake up as the same person every morning and not another person.  We are all made of like materials, but every morning we wake up as the person that we went to bed as? The persistence of self. If I lost my sense of self, would I wake up as someone else? When I wake up, are my memories made fresh or am I really persisting though my years? Was I someone else yesterday, but the memories that I have place me here today. Everything that I need to prove that I have existed is there, but is it really? They don’t really go into this, and that is a shame.

Can computers gain consciousness – “[We are the bottleneck to computers gaining consciousness.] Until we as humans understand computational neuroscience, we are going to have a hard time programming computers to learn beyond our limitations.” Can we give life to something that we ourselves do not understand? Can we create something that has the ability to learn at a faster rate than we can learn? I think that at some point just the sheer speed and brute force of computing will produce something that we don’t understand. It will produce what we call life or being. If our soul/essence/being/self can inhabit stardust that has formed into what we call organic material, can it inhabit something that is not completely organic or something organic that we engineered? Gene manipulation is no different than computer programming.

We are the universe experiencing ourselves, but what if we have a distorted vision of our place in the universe – “Perhaps these aliens, these space creatures with the big heads and big eyes who come down to see us are really us evolved coming back to visit us with a greater understanding of who we are and we are these primitive ape like creatures. […] The aliens see us and think their smartest are as smart as our toddlers and just zoom on by thinking that we are not evolved.” – We see the smartest primates (which are genetically different from us by 1%) as being as smart as human toddlers. What if aliens see us the same way? They see us a primitive, unevolved creatures no smarter than

their most simple. Is this possible? Could there already be an intelligent life above us that sees us and says “maybe in a few hundred thousand years”? We have such hubris thinking we are the top, but what if we are in the middle or on the bottom of universal intelligence. How do we make that next leap to have the recognition? Personally, I
think it has to be advancements in quantum physics. Our understanding of that level is so small, but what goes on there seems so powerful. I can turn a quark and then 10 kilometers away another quark turns the same way. I think we have to have some breakthrough in our understanding of the cosmos for us to be really noticed. Or it may just be us, floating on a rock, in a vast sea of nothingness. Either way it is pretty amazing.