http://www.cbsnews.com/news/neil-degrasse-tyson-astrophysicist-charlie-rose-60-minutes/IMG_1700That little dot, Tyson tells us, is Earth, as photographed from Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft. But an earlier photograph was even more world-shattering, that taken of “earthrise” on the Moon by astronaut William Anders.

1920px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseThis image, says Tyson, gave birth to the cosmic perspective in the collective imagination. He traces the origins of the ecological movement to the emotional and metaphysical impact of this photo. “We thought we were exploring the Moon, but we ended up discovering the Earth.”

Tyson continues to elevate our mood to the contemplation of the power of All, the Universe, by quoting Galileo: “The Sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” He becomes Space-time’s poet-seer when he says “the end of space is the beginning of time.”

It is only towards the very end of the interview that I start to feel resistance to what Tyson has to say about cosmology, i.e., the scientific and philosophical pursuit of the order of the universe. He describes human beings as “voyeurs” who merely “eavesdrop” on the cosmos. I don’t think his conception of consciousness is at all adequate. Human consciousness is never merely “looking on” at a universe “going on” without it. It is rather that consciousness is part of the goings on of the universe; consciousness is what we do, it is not an unchanging substance or a passive witness. We are participants, not onlookers. We don’t observe from outside like aliens, we are at home here, we can feel and know the universe from within the universe, because we are the universe feeling and knowing. I imagine Tyson would agree with me so far as it goes. But I think the old conception of a scientist or astrophysicst as someone who stands back and observes, trying to erase all influence their own activity might have on the activity they are experimenting upon, is no longer tenable. We need a better way of conceiving what scientists are doing when they produce knowledge of the cosmos. This knowledge cannot be other than the cosmos. It must be integral to it.