THT: A Journey through Science and Philosophy

By Neil deGrasse Tyson

What are the things that keep you up at night in regard to understanding truth? You have axioms that define your worldview and drive your world-view. What unknowns keep you up at night? Are there any truths that you struggle with empirically and have to choose to take on faith?


Sometimes I wonder whether the human intellect is sufficient to figure out the hardest questions we’ve asked about the universe. What keeps me awake, on occasion, is whether we even know the right questions to ask.

Scientists don’t really have world views.  People who do are typically blind to all that falls outside of that world view.  Good scientists are open to anything that manifests in the universe.

Singular, non-repeating events or phenomena are difficult to verify and analyze. So we prefer multiple occurrences allowing repeated observations and testing.

If there were an axiom that we hold as scientists, it’s that the world is knowable. The history of this expectation has led to all the advances in our understanding of the universe that have shaped civilization.  So maybe what was once an axiom has become an experimentally verified truth.

Claims that some things fall outside the realm of science are typically offered by people who, deep down, don’t want science to tread in those places.  A common example is whether we can invoke science to affirm one person’s claim of love for another.  The deeply personal nature of that question implies we can only know via individual testimony whether it’s true.

Right now, science has little or nothing to say about this, but that doesn’t mean it never will.  Imagine the future of neuroscience, where we have isolated the parts of the brain engaged in feelings of love.  Imagine that these neurosynapses activate when someone feels this emotion.  We can then test the person’s brain to verify if the emotions are authentic.  If a person declares love, but is really after your inheritance, a brain scan would reveal this instantly.  While none of this is possible today, it doesn’t occupy an unimaginable future.

So no, there are no truths I take on faith.  I simply apportion my confidence in whether something is true based on how much evidence supports it.

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