August 8th, 2014
06:33 PM ET

Why the big science questions matter for all of us

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...

Inflationary meaning?

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…

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Topics: GPS Show • Science • Space

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Allan Kinsman©

    Carl Sagan's little blue dot. A idea worth reading. Human kind reacts, fears and has the idea we are the center of the universe. If you even take a few moments to examine the size and potential of the universe a rational reaction to knowledge would be humility. Human hubris has created a destructive character which seems unstoppable. We think we have the answers to meaning yet looking around it seems clear this kind of certainty is nothing more than a reaction to fear.

    August 8, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
    • andrewtheis4

      That book began me on my quest for knowledge after college. I wish I would have discovered it in high school. I would have studied astrophysics–no question.

      One of the most important books written in the 20th century.

      August 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
  2. Leftcoastrocky

    All scientific issues/questions should be decided by elected politicians.

    August 8, 2014 at 6:44 pm |
  3. andrewtheis4

    What a great American. Learned, generous with his time and knowledge, and so passionate about his life's work. He serves as an inspiration to us all!

    August 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm |
  4. Ferhat Balkan

    I remember watching COSMOS with Carl Sagan as a kid and loved the way he explained things. Neil deGrasse Tyson has the same spark, the same tenacity. I enjoyed watching the first season of the new COSMOS and can't wait for the second.

    August 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
    • Science!

      You may be waiting a long time. It got unsatisfactory ratings for the network to consider a second series. NdGT doesn't particularly want to continue it either.

      August 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Bummer :((

        August 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm |
  5. Allan Kinsman©

    The thing I find a remarkable consideration. Television could be a tremendous tool for change, education , perspective and contrast about our world and it is run by those who pay to sell a product. The amazing thing is this is a very obvious condition and clearly observable yet we argue by contesting the most deliberately scripted controversal issues keeping us apart. All the while young Americans die in foreign wars impossible to win, again all brought about by a fabrication of a deliberate delusion again scripted. Yet this has continued through multiple elections. Yhere seems to be some missing in this great democratic process?

    August 9, 2014 at 1:31 am |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The same economic forces that determine TV programming for next season controlled TV programming when we could watch Carl Sagan, or before that, even Leonard Bernstein's Young 0eople's Concerts.
    Tastes and interests of the USA TV audience have changed because the new, rich cultural diversity of USA residents has evolved to the present situation.

    August 9, 2014 at 4:40 am |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    We who reside in the USA are blessed to know many parents who want their children to be taught Creationism.

    August 9, 2014 at 9:19 am |
    • Allan Kinsman©

      I've heard it said the dark ages are over. I think we give ourselves too much credit. Civilization has to discontinue the use of violence the abuse of power and a non interruption of a continuum of justice. When these things are accomplished then many other things will have been done also. Then we can say we no longer believe in childish stories of reality for we can see and act upon the many injustices put upon people by a better measure of the meanings of life.

      August 9, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
  8. bobcat2u

    It's more fun to discuss Big Bang Theory, the tv show, than it is to discuss Big Bang Theory the event. In discussing BBT, the tv show, there is a whole lot less divisiveness.

    August 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm |
  9. chri§§y

    Lol @ bobcat...Bazinga!

    August 11, 2014 at 4:06 pm |
  10. Darell Leyua

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    December 20, 2020 at 5:56 pm |

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