Fareed speaks with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, about the Big Bang Theory – and how grappling with science’s big questions matters to our daily lives. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
The Big Bang Theory seems to have been – I'm talking about the actual event, not the not the TV show – seems to have been proven even more right, and there’s now this talk about the Inflation Hypothesis. What is it and why is it important?
So recently, there was a result, an observation, that appeared to confirm predictions made in the inflationary universe. So in the...
Yes, this idea, which was an appendage to the Big Bang, was put forth back in the 1970s, when that word had much higher currency than it does today. So it stuck and it's been with us ever since.
And it refers to an early period of the universe, really early, like fractions of a second after the original explosion, where the universe has a rapid expansion – faster than the speed of light rapid expansion. It is scientifically valid, that prediction and that idea. And it had a whole sweep of expectations that you should look for if it were true.
So people started exploring the universe, checking that box, yes, that's true, too. Yes. Hey, got that one right, as well.
Why does it matter?
Why does it matter to know how the universe was born?
What are the consequences – are there any scientific consequences that may have some applications?
I want to unpack the question and split it out. You can, on the surface, say what does it matter? Does it help the homeless person in the street? No. Does it help your show? No, all right, except I'm here talking about it. A lot of things, my answer is just flat out no.
But what drives people to do it, because there is a boundary between what is known and unknown. And some percent of our species is curious about the answers to what lies on the other side of that boundary. And they explore it.
Such explorations of the past – for example, in the 1920s, quantum physics was discovered. If you were around back then on this show, you'd say why do I need to care if there's particles inside an atom? I make a cup and I'm good. Who cares? But the entire information revolution, the IT revolution, would not exist without our understanding of the conduct of an atom on its smallest scales, brought to you by an entire branch of physics discovered at a time where no one is thinking why it has any relevance at all.
And the same with nuclear energy, right?
No, the military knew if there's energy in the atom, let's get it and use it. So that had an application.
Immediately. That’s why physics was so well-funded over the 20th century and it fueled the Cold War politics of it. But I want to take simpler things. Like Einstein wrote on the stimulated emission of radiation – a brilliant, beautiful paper. If that's all he did in life, that's what he'd be most famous for.
Why? He didn't say to himself, hmmm, with this research, you can make bar codes. No. It was just that curiosity about the conduct of atoms in the presence of a radiation field…it is the foundation of the laser. You can't imagine modern life without a laser…This result, stimulated emission, is under publicized in his output. The photoelectric effect, he got the Nobel Prize for. This one went unmentioned. But I'm telling you it's the foundation for the laser. You can't imagine modern life without a laser and all the different things we do with it, from cosmetic surgery to Lasik surgery to fix your eyesight to bar coding, to CD players, Blu-ray players.
So we can say let's not explore it. Go ahead. Here's a ticket back to the cave. I'll meet you there. We'll build a fire together…