Tyson has no time for people who ask questions that serve no purpose or have no real value
Neil deGrasse Tyson has been popping up in many opinion pieces and segments lately. The most prominent mentions of him are among creationists that are upset with Tyson’s reboot of the “Cosmos” series, in which Tyson has taken personal liberties to attack the religious dogmas of those who attack him. While Tyson has mainly been attacked for his anti-creationist stance, recently a second and much more obscure debate opened up with Tyson involved.
Tyson is now the center of a small “controversy” involving the age-old misnomer of science vs. philosophy. He was invited on a radio show, where the topic of philosophy was brought up. Tyson essentially made the argument that certain types of theoretical questioning can be detrimental and “hold you back.” Many saw this as a revival of science battling against philosophy, and that Neil deGrasse Tyson was espousing anti-philosophy viewpoints.
The comments Tyson made, in fact, don’t seem very controversial to me. In fact I agree with some of what he said, just not in the context some think. For one, no I don’t think Neil deGrasse Tyson was intentionally trying to denigrate the idea of philosophic thought. Personally I think many intellectual types got a little too hasty in attacking Tyson for something that is really not that controversial.
Many of Tyson’s detractors in this regard claim that he was attacking philosophy as a whole, without really understanding the differentiations Tyson was making in his wording. Tyson described certain methods of questioning, disguised as true philosophic questions, that in fact are rather pointless and do not get to the roots of the human spirit or progress human knowledge in any way.
What Tyson was attacking was not the true notions of philosophy, but rather what we would consider pseudo-philosophy. For example, a true question of philosophy “what is the difference between a good man and a good citizen?” A pseudo question would range in the nature of, “what is the flavor of seven?” Or questions such as “what is the meaning of meaning”, in the end, advance us nowhere in intellectual discourse. That is what Tyson was referring to.
When Tyson remarked “I don’t have time for that”, he wasn’t referring to the idea of asking deep inner questions. Rather, he was referring to questions that ultimately are pointless and serve no use in helping humanity advance itself.
While Tyson admitted that he is not a huge follower of philosophy, he never claimed that the entire field was a “waste of time”, as many critics claim. What Tyson claims is a waste of time are cycles of pointless questions that have no real purpose except to perpetuate itself without any answer or unlocking of deep inner self-knowledge. Questions should not merely be posed simply for the sake of asking a question.
Critics will say, “well Tyson is more concerned about answers, without realizing the point of philosophy is the questions.” This is true to a degree. Philosophy is more focused on its questions than it is on potential answers, while empirical science is more focused on finding answers. Yet, we have to understand that Tyson works in a field that does not spare itself time for unneeded questions. Yes, he is more concerned about the answers, but his field demands that. Tyson never wanted to say that philosophic ideals are wastes of time. What is wasting time are people who take themselves too seriously while asking questions that serve no purpose or value.
The Philosophy of Neil deGrasse Tyson is pretty simple. Knowledge is the end of all human endeavors. There is nothing wrong with asking deep questions, only if there is a reasonable purpose to them. When asking what makes a person “good”, and the definitions of such, we are asking serious questions that invite healthy discovery. When someone asks, “what is a person”, essentially they are just raising semantic questions that are more focused on definitions than challenging human ideas. Science and philosophy are not in conflict. Questions are useful in what they add to the human discussion, not in what they distract from.