neil de grasse tyson vs the consolation of philosophy

I recently watched a somewhat interesting video of a discussion between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, ostensibly on "The Poetry of Science", but they weren't actually overly poetic. There were some bits of emotional impact, but Tyson has done better in other talks.

Here's the video:

I was kind of disapointed by Tyson's response to the last question from the audience (at 1:12:18). The young man introduced the issues raised in "The Consolation of Philosophy" and challenged Tyson and Dawkins to respond. It wasn't actually a question, but basically he presented the scenario "You're going to die tomorrow. How do you, using only your ability to reason, reconcile yourself to your fate?" For a couple seconds the two men on stage check each other to see who's going to take the "question", then Tyson answers with

I would request that my body, in death, be buried, not cremated. So that the energy content, contained within it, gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined on flora and fauna throughout my life.

Whereupon there is much applause, and they wrap up, and head off to the book signing.

The questioner did not mention life after death, or any "religious" keywords, but he certainly seemed like a person who was attempting to point out the need for faith. When I heard the question, my feeling was that he was attempting to say something like the following, except without explicitly saying anything about heaven, or life after death.

You're going to die tomorrow. With only science, and reason, how do you reconcile yourself to death? Without faith, and some belief in a next life, how do you not despair in the face of death?

Clearly, I'm putting words in his mouth, but my sense is that this is what he was pushing for. You can view the video and judge for yourself.

In any case, here's what I wanted to hear Tyson say:

I am reconciled to my own death. I do not fear it, or at least I like to believe that I do not fear death. Fear of death is driven by ego, and I am forced to accept humility when confronted by the cosmos. The universe was here before me, and will go on without me. I am thankful that I have been able to live in this world, to learn, and experience my life. My life has been good. Not as good as some lives, but far better than many. Today I enjoy the privilege of being well respected. In this room are a couple hundred people who came to listen to me and my friend chat for an hour. I am a slightly bigger than average frog in a puddle in a very, very, very large world. But I know that in a hundred years, less than a microsecond on the cosmic scale, I will be forgotten, my lifetime contributions to humanity will likely be less than a footnote. I understand that science, like evolution, is built on a very long chain of tiny, tiny steps forward. Hopefully I add something useful to that chain. Maybe not. My additions will be forgotten in time. But I am thankful. I am thankful that I was able to be here, briefly, and try to contribute, in a small way, and to experience this vast, amazing and beautiful universe. I try to devote my life to learning and appreciating the wonder and beauty that is here, and I attempt to share that with my brothers and sisters here on our little blue ball. That is enough for me.

Or something like that. :)

Cars don’t kill people; people kill people.

Everybody knows the popular anti-gun-control slogan "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." What's the difference between cars and guns?

Motor vehicle-related injuries kill more children and young adults than any other single cause in the United States. More than 41,000 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes each year, and crash injuries result in about 500,000 hospitalizations and four million emergency department visits annually. Increased use of safety belts and reductions in driving while impaired are two of the most effective means to reduce the risk of death and serious injury of occupants in motor vehicle crashes. (link)

The bit about "the most effective means ..." is really thinking inside the box. Many, many more lives would be saved if we all rode bicycles. If 25% of the current drivers stopped driving, I believe we would see a greater than 50% reduction in those death and injury rates.

Since it's not written into our constitution that everybody has a right to a car, perhaps we could legislate some more rational controls of car ownership? Or do something to lower the death toll?

Seriously, cars don't kill people, except when they are being operated by people. People are killing people. If nobody is driving the car, it sits there, doing nothing, not killing anybody.