Business, Science & Tech

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.

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Topics include: Hypothesis vs. Theory


- 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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Neil deGrasse Tyson

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

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