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Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’ by Neil deGrasse Tyson 

by Bryan Meniado

I watched the Dark series on Netflix and it totally blew my mind. Dark is a German science fiction thriller that revolves around the concept of time travel across several generations. The plot is so mind-bending and complex that it would be almost impossible to faithfully retell it to someone who hasn’t watched it yet. 

It was easy for me to get engrossed in Dark, as I’m also into science books. Apart from my usual social science niche, I collect popular science books on biology, physics, and astronomy. Some of my favorite books to read are those by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking”

So for this month’s WFSR, I would like to share about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Published in 2017, the book is a collection of his essays in the Natural History magazine between 1997 and 2007. As the title suggests, it is an introduction to astrophysics for people who, according to Tyson, are “too busy to read fat books, yet nonetheless seek a conduit to the cosmos.” 

Here are five key points I learned from reading the book:

  1. Learning science doesn’t have to be difficult. We only need people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who can make complex topics easier to grasp and digest, as our science teacher. 
  1. We don’t have to pretend that we know things just to appear smart. It’s okay to not know everything, and it’s perfectly fine to say “I don’t know, but I’ll look it up.” That doesn’t necessarily make us stupid. In fact, it shows how self-aware we are of our own limitations, and that in itself is a kind of intelligence. 
  1. Don’t be stubborn. It’s okay to admit that we are wrong and we can always change our minds on things, especially if we are presented with facts and verifiable data. Even Albert Einstein, who was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, had made and acknowledged his mistakes during his time. 
  1. Science pushes us onto the edge of human knowledge. It is a never-ending process of knowing through data gathering and testing hypotheses over and over again. Learning never stops, and this doesn’t only apply to scientists and students, but to everyone. 
  1. Astronomy and astrophysics make us realize how small and insignificant we are on the grandest scale of things. This idea may be depressing (offensive even!) for some, but for me, just like Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s quite liberating. In the cosmic perspective, the universe doesn’t really care about us and our worldly problems. If everyone ceases to exist right now, the universe will still move on without us. 

The last point may sound belittling for us as a species because we would love to think that we are important. Regardless of what we think, I would say it’s also helpful for us to see this kind of perspective that makes us question our own existence: Why do we exist? Does our existence matter? If it does, how can we make our lives more meaningful? 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry also poses these philosophical questions. The book may have presented the possibility of intergalactic travel, time machines, and aliens, but it also made me realize the importance of appreciating ourselves as a thinking species capable of understanding the universe, our planet earth, and our fellow human beings. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book reminds me of how fortunate we are to exist here and now. And I think the ultimate challenge for us is how we make the most out of it. 




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