Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for PETA (Extended Cut)

Uploaded by officialpeta on 22.07.2011

If we find life out there, and it’s not us, we will deem it not intelligent, but what
may be equally as likely is that we find life that is vastly more intelligent than we are.
If that’s the case, we are putty in their hands. Our greatest thoughts are things that
their toddlers do. And so they would run circles around us, and some fun science fiction stories
portray earth like this has already happened. Earth is just their zoo. We are just a zoo
for these intelligent creatures and if they are smart enough, they can construct a zoo
where we would never even know we are in one. Isn’t that kind of what we do in our zoos?
Penguins are in a place where you paint some icebergs; we think that they don’t know.
If we find some creatures, not as smart as we are, I think they would make interesting
subjects to explore what they are made of, how they work, what’s their biology, what
do they eat, do they eat, maybe they just receive sunlight. There is a famous science
fiction story, forgive me, I forgot who wrote it, called “They’re Made Out of Meat.”
These were aliens who came to visit earth, they found humans not only being made of meat
but they eat other creatures on the planet. And we take that for granted, we eat other
life. But given the sun is an energy source, in principle, you can use the sun as energy.
That’s what we sort of do, that’s what it means to get energy from plants and in
fact, we are all solar powered in that sense. But very indirectly so. And imagine another
species where they power their body from sunlight. They come and see us gnashing on each others’
ribs for food. It makes us look pretty primitive. You know ethics, there are a lot of kinds
of ethics that people think of. I’m glad that there is an entire branch of philosophy
that addresses this; it can get a little intractable in the frontiers of their journals, but I
think their heart is in the right place. There ought to be ways to think about your behavior
as relationship to others, and to nature, and your environment. Plus ethics have changed
over the years depending on prevailing social mores. There was a day where it was surely
ethical to beat your slaves; first to have slaves in the first place and then beat them
if they didn’t obey your command. Why? Because they were less than human. And in our Constitution,
they were three-fifths human; even down to mathematical fractions. So ethics cannon does
evolve as a means of thinking about how to treat others. So I think everyone should have
some sense, some ethical sense of the world. Otherwise, what would the world be? There
would be no civilization if it were not for some ethics, that we require, that we think
about, that we deduce. The built in. And so the extent to which people do not exhibit
ethics of some kind, is often the unraveling of that civilization. Ethics evolves as we
come to learn about the natural world and our relationship to it. And I’d like to
think it’s evolving in the right direction. In a sense that we are not apart from but
participants in a great, unfolding cosmic story. And I see that not simply as a consequence
of an ethical perspective, I come to it from a cosmic perspective. When I look at the commonality
of the chemistry of life, chemistry of the universe, our origin and elements traceable
to the universe, there’s a connectivity there that gives me the sense of participation
and belonging to the universe; not a sense of being apart from it where it’s my duty
to mord over it. All of this matters, I think. And chances are that if there is a kid with
a distorted attitude about how to treat others, you go and knock on the door and speak to
the parents. And then it is within the behavior of the parents. So maybe it’s the reeducation
of the adults, rather than the concern for the kids that matters here. The fact that
someone can find themselves in the position of saying, “it’s just a dog,” harps
back to me hearing people just saying, “oh, it’s just a…” and put your nationality
there, or your religion there. Whatever it is, “it’s just…” that and then people
justifying wanton slaughter of each other. I think that it’s deeper within the species
that just whether one person treats a dog one way or the other. And to me that’s disturbing.
One of the more fun segments that I had the privilege of participating in was the PBS
show NOVA Science Now, was on animal intelligence. And one particular segment was on canine intelligence,
and so I got to hang out with Chaser, a Border Collie who had memorized at least a thousand
words for toys, trained by his owner. And you can’t even believe it until you do the
experiment yourself, which I did. You can’t ask, “Find all thousand;” it would take
too long and it would be a boring experiment for television. So I took the mound of thousand,
pulled out ten at random. The dog did not see me do this. We took the dog, basically
blindfolded it, put it up on the second story. I pulled out ten, put them on the couch, and
one by one said “Find me Inky.” It was the name of the octopus and he found it. I
said, “Find me Butch,” the name of the little Booser animal, stuffed animal. And
the real clever one was, we put a stuffed animal there that Chaser had never seen, nor
even heard the name of. There was a little puppet of Darwin, so I put it back and said,
“Find Darwin.” Never heard the name before. Took twice as long, but Chaser found Darwin.
Inferring that among the toys she could identify, that was not among them. That must be what
I sent her to get. And so, what I’ve noticed over the years, over the decades, that I’ve
paid attention to this, is the other animals in the animal kingdom, whenever we presume
some level of intelligence for them further research shows that they are smarter than
we ever thought. Or cleverer than we ever gave them credit for being. In the next generation,
I don’t think the concept of “birdbrain” will survive, because birds are showing remarkable
intelligence, remarkable acuity of thought, and so that’s a lost phrase. I don’t think
I’ve heard it for years …”You birdbrain,” Hey thanks for the compliment! Birds are looking
pretty good. So I think society can change. And part of why we think animals are stupid
or limited is I think hubris. We don’t want anything to rival what we define as our own
intelligence. So we feel better if we say, “Oh they will never figure that out. They
can’t do it.” And then they do. And so, I think a lot is going on in the minds of
these creatures. A little bit more research will tell us more.