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The Frontier of Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Lesson time 7:16 min

The frontier of science is a messy place. Neil takes you through the process of understanding the frontier’s landscape and explains the roles of hypothesis and theory in determining objective truths.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson teaches you how to find objective truths and shares his tools for communicating what you discover.


- You know what keeps me awake at night? I get asked this all the time. What's the one question you want to see answered before you die? You know what that question is? It's the question I don't even yet know to ask, the question that will only arise after you've worked your way to the edge, and you find yourself standing on a new vista, and you're staring out into the unknown and say, I have a new question about what's going on out there. And that place where you're standing wasn't even in view five years ago or 10 years ago. That's the exciting moving frontier of science. [MUSIC PLAYING] The frontier of discovery, it's a messy place. You don't always know what the next step is. Sometimes you don't even know what question to ask. It's like you're in a forest, and you're asking where is the edge of this forest? I don't know. And then you get to the edge of the forest, and you peer out into this unknown frontier. The research scientist is standing at the boundary between those two places, and you do not know what is true. You don't even know what questions to ask necessarily. Maybe you think you know what question to ask, and it's the wrong question. I want to research the moon. Hmm. What kind of cheese is the moon made out of? There's a question for you. We laugh at it, because it's a-- that's a stupid question. It's not made of any kind of cheese. Yes, I get that. Because you already knew the answer. On most frontiers, you don't know the answer, and you don't even know the question. So you're just kind of reaching in the dark, hoping you can touch something. Hey, this feels kind of interesting. How do I measure that? Let me bring it a little closer. Oh, and then the fog dissipates. Oh, it's a-- this thing. OK, well does that fit with anything that happened before? No, it doesn't. Hmm. I'll put it on the shelf and save it for later. Reminds me of an old saying. As the area of our knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of our ignorance. It's thrilling and scary at the same time, and I don't know if it's ultimately the absolute truth of the world. Maybe one day, we will know everything. And as the area of our knowledge grows, there's less and less to explore, and yet, we make mistakes there. We hope not blunders. You know, you've got to remember to carry the 2 when you're doing the math, OK? You know better than that. I'm talking about mistakes that no one even knew you could make. Those will get made on the frontier. The day you stop making mistakes is the day you can be pretty sure you are no longer on the frontier. [MUSIC PLAYING] Let's go back to ancient times. The sun rose every day, and it set every day. And if you had a timekeeping device, you would notice the sun doesn't rise at the same time every day. Nor does it rise in the same place on the horizon. It moves. Well, if you've been around a long time, not only you, but your tribe, your culture, you, in principle, have good records of this. The sun rises in ...

About the Instructor

With a hit talk show and bestselling books, Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most popular figures in modern science. Now the influential astrophysicist teaches you how his mind works and how he connects with audiences. Learn to think like a skeptic, open your own mind through scientific literacy, distill data, and navigate bias to discover objective truths—and deliver your ideas in ways that engage, excite, and inspire.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I found many ways to use this information within my business practices and techniques to better my sales approach in what I do...

Will improve my future thinking as I will pay more attention to looking at the Objective Truth

How to communicate with other people. Tweaking your story depending on the audience, not wanting to get into details, and communicating in a way that the audience will listen to you.

Dr. Tyson is an incredible speaker whose message is effective and motivating. Thank you!



I am absolutely focused on what he is saying. He has my attention. I will have to be more discerning about my use of the words "hypothesis" and "theory".

Julie O.

Yeah. I've done other classes. This is not my favorite by far. Watching his National Geographic or Star Trek gives me more information. I get theorems... but a whole masterclass on it? With no personal assosiation to hold on to? It seems to have no grounding point

Ross N.

Not such a fan of these so far - I had hoped he would ask questions, get us thinking, engage rather than just lecture. I also find his presentation method off-putting. He veers between slightly odd philosophical nonsense to a sort of aggressive "if you don't do this you'll never know anything" kind of attitude.

A fellow student

We are, all of us, standing upon an island, surrounded by a sea of the unknown. As our little island of knowledge grows larger, it only serves to reveal more of the great expanse of the unknown that surrounds us.

Nick A.

I really liked the thought of leaving the frontier when your not making mistakes anymore. Quite inspiring to convert that saying into your current situation.

sylvia M.

why is it called a building if it is already built, is water just boneless ice, if the universe was bourn when the big bang happened, what was there before the Big Bang


Let down, he didn't answer the question. I wanted to hear a question. Instead an ambiguous unquenchable never-ending cyclic day dream.

Hannah C.

These are truly so intriguing. But according to your definition of a theory, it would be "Einstein's Theory of Relativity"...and Darwin's Hypothesis.

A fellow student

I did like the clarity of your explanation of the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. I also think that the description of scientific research occuring along the perimeter of our knowledge and unknown frontiers to be eloquent.

Chet D.

Outstanding lesson. I would like to see this thinking applied to Carl Jung's thoughts on psychological interpretations of the: mandala, Kundalini Yoga, and dreams.