Special Events

Neil deGrasse Tyson Delivers An Evening Of Wonder And Science At Jones Hall

At just past eight, Neil DeGrasse Tyson walked onto the Jones Hall's stage, greeted by thunderous applause from the eager crowd at his sold out show. Dr. Tyson jokingly ensured the audience that despite him appearing in a performance space, we were going to get a "lecture", and shouldn't expect any singing or dancing. The charismatic scientist, then launched into what would be the theme of the evening - What movies looked like from his point of view.

It turns out that Tyson is more than just a famous astrophysicist, author, and advocate for science, he's also a huge movie fan who once got James Cameron to change the night sky in an updated version of "Titanic" because the original one used was incorrect - A sloppy mistake in a film that had otherwise gone to great lengths for accuracy. He watches movies with an eye toward scientific accuracy or lack thereof, and much of the next two hours was spent citing examples from films and television commercials that either presented scientific principles correctly or incorrectly. While the approach may have seemed like an odd one at first, Tyson led his audience through a broad range of scientific subjects by showing examples from films most people would be familiar with.

His presentation had a relaxed feel, and it is obvious that he is a master of public speaking, with a natural ability to deliver large chunks of information painlessly and in an entertaining way.

Relying on slides and short videos as visual aids, Tyson explored topics like killer asteroids ( It turns out that besides being a terrible film, the science in "Armageddon" is bad too), and time travel - He cited the first "Back to the Future" movie as a great time travelling film, with interesting attention to detail. Disney films have had some good representations of scientific principles, and Tyson pointed to a song in "Frozen" where a lyric about fractals is used, as well as a visual gag involving the physics of surface tension and a drunk mosquito in "A Bug's Life".  

Throughout the evening, the scientist built on the point that filmmakers really have no reason to feel like they are constrained by the limits of science when making a movie, because the science is so amazing already. By using scientific examples from films like "The Matrix", (A movie Tyson loves despite it breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and "Thor", Tyson made me want to study math and outer space. That's a pretty amazing talent.

Tyson seems to think that science is mainstreaming, becoming "cool" to a much larger number of people than in the past, and pointed to more recent films where the creators seemed to be paying attention to detail and crafting more realistic stories. Toward the end of his presentation, Tyson had the house lights dimmed so a photo taken of the Earth from a NASA spacecraft near the rings of Saturn could be better viewed. The photo shows our planet as a tiny blue dot of light, dwarfed by the vastness of space, and makes it clear how small our home is - The entirety of all human civilization contained on such a minute speck in an enormous universe. Dr. Tyson read a passage from the Carl Sagan book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision Of The Human Future in Space", that includes this:

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.