Neil deGrasse Tyson, recently at an event called “Cosmic Quandaries”, shared some of what he calls “deeply cosmic” thoughts, whatever that is supposed to mean, and then “a fascinatingly disturbing thought”; you can watch it here on liveleak.
There is a lot one can criticize* about how and what he claims, however, he is missing something obvious that stands out like a sore thumb even when taking on his descriptions at face value. In short: Silicon!
Neil, super smug** and on every semi-intellectual speaking platform like TAM, on every show he can get his hands on that has a receptive target audience, all the way from “The Daily Show” to “The Big Bang Theory”. But science is not finished and moves faster than ever. Is it time for some quiet reading time and reflection once in a while among the hyper schedule of politics and speaking engagements?
He argues that the most abundant elements in the universe are, in order of abundance, hydrogen (H), helium (He), oxygen(O), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and “others”. “Others” is here the usual trick: If the empirical data stop supporting your point, stop mentioning them. He also left out Neon (Ne) and Iron (Fe) before nitrogen (see Abundance of elements in Universe) in case he meant mass abundance; but let’s not be picky and insist on well defined metrics, because the important is: The biggest one relegated to “others” is Silicon!
Now he goes literally “look at earth” in order to not mention the Abundance of elements in Earth at all, because that would completely destroy his argument, and instead just talks about human bodies: Oh look, it is H, Helium does not matter, O, C, N, and “others”, precisely like the universe he claims, so it seems not surprising that we are here or whatever the gist is which he aims to push across.
I am neither out to dwell on his factual mistakes, nor further on his general mistake of endorsing new-atheist pseudo-scientific strategies that usually back-fire and ultimately support the religious, here for example having humans consist of the most common stuff in the universe, not the most common in earth's crust or ocean, which is where animals evolved after all. This is not my main objection, although you have got to be puzzled about why an atheist would want to push a position that effectively claims we are created in his image (him being the substitute god Mystic Universe), or worse, that the universe is made for us.
The most interesting oversight is that he goes on to talk about aliens that are just that much different from us as we are from the chimps* and that they must be out there (he would have to claim that they must have a chemical composition identical to ours), and that they would like to communicate with us just as much as we want to discuss philosophy with worms, namely: not at all. There is again much wrong, but let us focus on the big one: If you look at element abundances, for example that of earth's crust, but especially if you stay with the Tyson-edited version of the universe's element abundance, and ask yourself, what is the next one, the next level up, like nitrogen for amino acids being important after carbon perhaps being sufficient for the pre-biological organic molecule soup, what comes next that would fit right in with Darwinist evolution of replicators/life forms that score “higher” on some sort of metric, and that will thus leave us in the dust like dinosaurs, but that also take more or less step by step the most abundant material around? The next abundant element is: Silicon!
Silicon is what our information technology is based on, so if his just-so-description tells us anything, it is that the universe is made for the computers and bio/hybrid-robots that may treat humans like we treat chimps in animal testing laboratories or zoos or Asian restaurants. The robopocalypse! Not aliens safely hundreds of light years away, so not to pose a danger and come along to disturb Neil’s cute ideas, but the very tools that we are actively building right now.
Why does he not see this connection? Is it because he cannot go anywhere near the issue of the dangers of emergent technology in order not to undermine his main platform, being partially rather misguided scientism and uncritical embracing of technology?
* Beside mystic quotes like “the Universe itself exists within us” that promote scientism as a substitute religion, there are many science errors he could do fine without, like the misrepresentation of the richness of carbon chemistry, misrepresenting how far we looked out into the universe (superman “looks out” with a laser beam view, astrophysics merely receives the photons on the past light-cone), distorting genetics (the old trick of taking a convenient measure to support a progressive agenda, one day presenting chimps as 98% genetically identical to us, the next week having even identical twins only 80% genetically equal in order to doubt twin studies’ questioning the “all is nurture and culture” paradigm, effectively ending up with the self-defeating positions that black people are much more different from whites genetically than chimps), elitist misconceptions on what intelligence is about, ...
**UPDATE: Neil deGrasse Tyson has personally replied below and complained that my blog is more smug than him. Smug: Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one's situation; self-righteously complacent. Well, I reject that of course, but of course I would, and of course he would. The point is, if one can avoid to come across that way, one should try, and I try my best to never exhibit self-righteous satisfaction, let alone be complacent about any of my arguments, and I stick with demanding that those who claim to be all for science outreach and public understanding to also not be complacent with backfiring arguments regardless of how much target audiences and (false?) friends enjoy and encourage it.