Tuesday, July 23, 2013


If you don't already listen to Star Talk Radio, you should start now. I have loved Neil deGrasse Tyson for years, every since he first appeared on, then began hosting, Nova Science Now*. He's the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at The American Museum of Natural History, and is known as the guy who de-planeted Pluto. He's brilliant.

And on this week's episode of Star Talk Radio, he said this:

The more pockets of knowledge you have command of, the more creative you can be....
He was talking about hip hop, and really just rephrasing something in order to understand how MC's work, but he said something profound.

This should be what we all answer every time a child says, "Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use this in life?"

Because the fact is, nobody knows when you'll use it, or how you'll use it. And "creative" applies to more than just hip hop, more than just art. Learning is itself a creative act. When you learn something, you are creating understanding, and it is much easier to learn when you can connect the new information to something you already know.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Because we need creative thinkers in every field or we would never have progress. Inventing a new product requires creativity. Solving problems requires creativity. Negotiating contracts requires creativity. But creativity is also essential to putting robots on Mars or dealing with personnel or training dogs. We need people in every field who are able to think in new ways, to look at problems from multiple directions and to create metaphors that help us all understand the universe from a perspective we never saw before.

And that means we need people to have command of as many pockets of knowledge as possible. Because you never know when that math lesson or book you read in high school or painting your parents made you look at in the museum will be the key to understanding a problem you have to solve.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, in trying to understand for himself how MC's write music, stated for all of us why Public Education is essential to the functioning of a democracy. He explained deftly why schools must teach not only math and English, but also science and art and music and physical education and foreign languages and drama and dance and creative writing.

Because education in a variety of disciplines is the key to creativity. The more systems of thought you understand, the more you can think. And the more you can think, the better you can do whatever you do.

*He's no longer the host, but you can find some of his episodes on Netflix, and he'll soon be hosting the new version of Cosmos, which should be awesome.

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