Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘It Would Be Really Cool if There Were More Visual Thinkers in the World’

The education system has a very limited view of autism. It’s seen solely as a disorder. Children who have it are treated like they have been given nothing more than a disadvantage. Their alternative ways of thinking are not praised but rather questioned and often scrutinized.

Some would argue, however, that autism deserves a completely different kind of reaction from the public.

Some of the world’s greatest minds belong to autistic people like Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

She is hailed by many as an incredible asset when it comes to research, and famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson pondered the impact of her autism during the latest episode of Star Talk.

“Does [autism] give something to her or take something away,” he questioned before his guest joined him.

Her mind is “fascinating,” in Tyson’s words, but is that the result of her autism or just her “insightful” nature.

Grandin, an autism activist whose own life was chronicled by HBO in a self-titled film, joined Tyson and explained that she indeed offers a different way of thinking that is absolutely necessary in the world of science.

“In science we need both kinds of thinking,” Grandin told Tyson.

The two kinds of visual thinking she was referring to are “object photo-realistic thinking” and “more visual, spatial, where you are in space thinking.”

Object photo-realistic thinking is often associated with more artistic minds. This is the kind of thinking that makes Grandin stand out in science.

The latter form of visual thinking is more typically associated with math and science.

“What I’m really good at, when I read a journal article, is the methods — because when I read the methods section of an animal science or biology paper, I want to be able to understand how they did that experiment,” Grandin said.

That’s where other researchers tend to fail by focusing too closely on statistics and programs.

“Yes, you need to do statistics — that’s why I work with a statistician —but you also need my kind of mind to make sure people are fully describing how they did an experiment,” she added.

She believes that many more great minds like hers could be innovating STEM fields if they were pushed and shown their true potential.

Unfortunately, much more focus is placed on the areas where autistic people struggle rather than where they can excel.

“I’m worried that with all the emphasis on math, my kind of mind is being pushed off the team because we can’t do the algebra,” she added.

Tyson even noted that in his own field of astrophysics, much of the field is visual.

“You have to get into the computer and program it, but there are things we can only look at — you can’t poke it, you can’t stick it in a petri dish,” Tyson said as he cut away from the interview to insert commentary that was added later. “So it would be really cool if there were more visual thinkers in the world.”

Getting more of the visual thinkers who operate the way Grandin does even has the potential to vastly improve research and expedite scientific discoveries.

The key, Grandin says, is to make sure children with autism are being encouraged to try new things and expand their minds.

“I’m seeing far too many smart, geeky kids ending up in the basement playing video games because things aren’t being done to nurture their [visual] ability,” she added.

That’s because they aren’t being encouraged the way Grandin says her mother encouraged her.

“When I was a child my mother nursed my ability with art,” she added. “A lot of these kids want to draw the same thing all the time, and I did horse heads — but I was encouraged to draw lots of other things,” she continued. “I was taught to broaden that fixation out, to turn it into a skill you can use.”

It seems like such a simple solution, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Grandin just hopes that as time goes on, the stigmas around autism will vanish and more unique visual thinkers will find their place in the sciences.

Famed Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson Continues Push to Increase Public’s Science Literacy

Despite living in a world run by advances in technology and groundbreaking discoveries in science, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson still finds himself battling to increase the public’s science literacy level.

Today, scientific discoveries are often perfectly integrated into our lives through new advancements in medicine, technology, transportation and more.

Because science manages to blend itself so well into a person’s daily life, it becomes easier not to actually acknowledge those things as scientific and that, Tyson explains, could be a problem.

“We’re not constantly reminded of it,” Tyson said, according to “If we were, we would say, ‘Oh, you’re a scientist – tell me more about how my future will be improved by what you do.’ “

Instead people barely notice anything that today’s scientists do because they simply recognize their discoveries or advancements as “just life.”

“But if [science] slides into your life, on a level where it’s fully blended with your waking hours and sleeping hours, then you’re not thinking science,” Tyson continued. “You’re thinking that’s just life. Science is something else. Science is what you take in a class.”

This lack of scientific literacy has caused Tyson to dedicate much of his time trying to educate the public and significantly boost their level of science literacy.

His latest step to doing so brought him to Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Tuesday for an old-fashioned Chautauqua lecture.

The old-fashioned lecture style is named after an early town in New York that kicked off the idea of an adult education movement that would provide traveling lectures across the nation to keep the country informed throughout the early 20th century.

“I’m glad [this idea] is coming back, and I don’t take it lightly,” Tyson said.

While it may be an older lecture style, Tyson had no intentions of pushing modern topics to the side.

“I’ll surely be talking about the comet landing in whatever I talk about,” he continued. “What I talk about is folded into whatever is the current event at the time.”

The “comet landing” Tyson mentioned was a reference to the recent landing of Europe’s Philae probe.

By focusing on scientific current events, Tyson hopes to boost the audience’s curiosity in science while also informing them in a way that will have them feeling empowered against those who would typically take advantage of scientific ignorance.

“My goal is, by the end of the evening, a scaffold has been erected, in the hearts and minds of people, and that’s the science literacy scaffold,” he told “That enables you to receive science information going forward, in deeper ways than might have been possible otherwise. Because when you’re scientifically literate, you’re empowered to think in ways that protect you from charlatans who might exploit what might otherwise be your ignorance of science for their own financial gain.”

The Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey host explained that it is important for people to take science into consideration even when dealing with politics.

Tyson has testified before Congress several times in the past but says he is much more concerned about educating the public, not the politicians.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you teach these lawmakers about science?’ “ Tyson said. “I have no interest because they have to be re-elected every two years. And in terms of my investment of energy, I don’t think that’s the wisest way to allocate it. Instead, I communicate with the public.”



More Than Neil deGrasse Tyson: 10 Equally Awesome Black Astrophysicists You Should Know

Neil deGrasse Tyson has brought Black scientists of all fields to the forefront. Many young people interested in science can learn from his example and he should get credit for that. However, there are many people working and researching that are not in the spotlight. Here are just a few:


Dr. Beth A. Brown

She holds a B.S. degree in Astrophysics obtained in 1991 from Howard University, a M.S. in Astronomy obtained in 1994 from the University of Michigan. She obtained her Ph. D. in Astronomy in 1998 from the University of Michigan as well.

Most of her work is currently in the area of the hot interstellar medium in elliptical galaxies, and the mechanisms for X-ray emission from faint elliptical galaxies. Other interests include galaxy observations in multi-wavelengths.

She was an astrophysicist working for the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and Astrophysics Data Facility of NSSDC. Sadly, she died in 2008.


Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

She received her B.S. in Physics in 1987 at the California Institute of Technology and her M.S. in Astronomy in 1992 from San Diego State University.

She obtained her Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1997 from University of California, Santa Cruz.

She has been an Assistant Research Scientist at The Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at The University of Arizona. Now she works in South Africa.

8 Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read According to Neil deGrasse Tyson

king_james_bible7The Bible

“To learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it,” stated Tyson in a 2011 Reddit chat.


The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

Tyson encourages individuals to read this book in order to “learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

Embracing Your ‘Inner Geek’ Could Change the World

When people discuss how to make science interesting and exciting, the conversation usually gravitates around children and younger audiences.

Esteemed astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson, on the other hand, wants to shift the conversation toward adults.

According to Tyson, it’s just as important for adults to embrace their “inner geek” and become fired up about science as it is for children to feel the same way.

For each person, that “inner geek” is going to be something different, but Tyson explained that the important thing is just making sure you remain curious and nurture your thirst for knowledge.

“Your inner geek is simply what empowers your curiosity about the natural world,” he told National Geographic. “When you see a problem, you ask, ‘I wonder how we can solve it?’ rather than, ‘I wonder how fast we can run away from it?’”

Tyson believes that many adults just need a small spark to ignite their inner geek while others may need a little more coaxing to really get interested in the scientific mysteries that surround us every day.

“In most adults I’ve met, there is some ember within that carries their soul of curiosity,” he added. “For some it is almost extinguished and needs to be fanned. For others it’s like a pilot light. You just have to put some extra fuel there, and it ignites.”

A huge part of adding fuel to the fire is by simply acknowledging how vital science really is.

Without a thorough understanding of the world around us, our quality of life may not improve and innovation may come to a screeching halt.

“I don’t know if science can save us,” Tyson told National Geographic. “What I do know is that the absence of science will kill us. If you look at the improvement in quality of life around the world, it is entirely brought about by advances in science and technology.”

He went on to explain that those years of innovation and improving the quality of everyday life are exactly why we aren’t worried about the same things that civilizations from hundreds of years ago were worried about.

“If you polled people in 1900 and asked them what they feared most for civilization, they’d say they worry about hunger and overpopulation,” he said before explaining that there were not efficient farming methods at the time.

Fast forward years later and people have figured out how to farm in an efficient manner – in a manner that makes starvation less of a worry than it was in the past.

“Starvation was a big issue because they knew what the production levels of farms were and saw the rate of population growth,” Tyson continued. “What they didn’t know was that we’d figure out how to farm better. They were not considering innovation.”


Neil deGrasse Tyson Helps Bring Science and Art Together in Stunning Fashion Film

Neil deGrasse Tyson may not be the first person to pop into your mind when it comes to fashion, but the famed astrophysicist has turned out to have quite the artistic side.

Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna Couture set out to create a one-of-a-kind fashion film to play in the background for its Fall/Winter 2015 fashion show.

In order to pull off the complex project, they called on the help of the Cosmos host himself.

The short film is only 11 minutes long and goes back and forth between intriguing shots of outer space and the bustling images of major cities like New York, Shanghai and Milan.

So how did Tyson help bring the fashion film together?

Tyson teamed up with Ermenegildo Zegna Couture creative director Stefano Pilati and Florida International University astronomy professor Fiorella Terenzi to help plan “the film’s precise, earthbound astral journey,” according to Wallpaper.

In other words, the film remains scientifically accurate as it takes you on your journey through space.

The short video serves as a stunning reminder that art and science can mesh together, and they often come together quite beautifully.

Just look at Tyson’s wardrobe.

Back in May he told the New York Post that he has roughly 100 custom-made ties and vests that were all inspired by celestial images.

Meanwhile, the video will be on display for much longer than just one fashion show. The galactic journey can also be witnessed over and over again at Harrods, a famous department store in London.

The store will have the video displayed as a special window project up until Oct. 19.


‘Cosmos’ Host Neil deGrasse Tyson to Bring Educational Entertainment to Atlanta’s Fox Theatre

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the host of Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, will be coming to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in March.

The evening is promised to be family-friendly, entertaining and also educational.

As viewers of Cosmos witnessed, Tyson has an undeniable talent to discussions science and the mysteries of the universe in a way that truly leaves audience members mesmerized.

Now, he’ll be bringing that talent to the Fox Theatre for a multi-media presentation about modern science.

With the famous astrophysicist clearly having a vast amount of knowledge, there is no telling what aspects of modern science the presentation will actually focus on the most.

In addition to hosting his own presentation, he is also expected to open up the floor to take questions from the audience with a particular focus on the children.

While many people were first introduced to Tyson through his captivating science special, it certainly isn’t the most impressive item on the New York native’s resume.

He is the host of StarTalk Radio and was deemed The New York Times best-selling author 10 times with 10 different books.

In 2001 and 2004, former President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to serve on commissions studying the future of the U.S. aerospace industry and the implementation of the U.S. space exploration policy.

Tyson also holds far more doctorates than the average person.

Throughout his career he has been awarded 18 honorary doctorates.

He has also been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, which is the highest NASA can give to any nongovernmental citizen.


5 Interesting Topics You Have To Be a Blerd To Appreciate

1. The Author of  ‘The Three Musketeers’ Was a Black Man
During the mid- to late 1800s, Alexandre Dumas rose to literary fame as one of France’s most prolific writers. He wrote alluring and adventurous tales. His novels were filled with descriptions of picturesque French landscapes and deadly sword fights. His most notable novel The Three Musketeers has boasted over 100 film adaptations. His other well-known novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, is loosely based on his father General Alex Dumas, who had a reported rivalry with Napoleon Bonaparte.

2.Why Lonnie Johnson is One of the Coolest Inventors

Lonnie Johnson, African-American engineer and entrepreneur, is a dynamic inventor who has made significant contributions to NASA space travel, but Blerds can’t ignore the impact one of his inventions has had on children worldwide. ABC news reported that in 1982, Johnson was  working on building a heat pump when he attached a nozzle to the end of the pump, which he connected to his bathroom sink.

Immediately water blasted across the room and the Super Soaker was born. In 1990, the Super Soaker hit the market and garnered much success. Since the invention of the Super Soaker, water fights have never been the same.

3.Why Raze From ‘Underworld ‘ is Our Favorite Werewolf

If you’re a fan of the Underworld film series then you are probably a huge fan of Raze, the big, booming and ferocious Lycan. Raze played by Kevin Grevioux, not only had a significant role in the successful franchise, but Grevioux also wrote the original screenplay for the first film. His creativity and love for science fiction did not stop there.

According to Shadow and Act the Howard University graduate, who majored in microbiology, wrote and executive produced the sci-fi film, I, Frankenstein, released earlier this year.

4.Why ‘Sharknado 2’ is Worth Watching

Blerds everywhere know that Sharknado 2: The Second One is far from cinematic excellence, with its questionable blue screen graphics and its equally subpar script. However, you know you were one of the 3.87 million viewers glued to your flat screens on July 30 to watch the Syfy channel original movie. Do you regret watching the sequel? No. In fact there were some memorable moments that made you feel better about watching the film. Two moments in particular were cameos by two rap legends.

You may have cringed, bust out in laughter or both when you saw Pepa, from the ’90s rap duo Salt-N- Pepa attempt to escape impending danger from flying sharks while riding a bicycle. You definitely rooted for Biz Markie when he went from an ordinary cook to a knife-wielding shark killer. Either way after those two appeared you felt a little better about tuning in.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Ultimate Blerd
If you are true Blerd then you consider Neil deGrasse Tyson Blerd royalty. The Bronx, N.Y.-bred astrophysicist removed Pluto as the ninth planet.

In true blerd fashion, Tyson argued that the “dwarf planet” doesn’t share the proper criteria to be given  “planet” status. To add to his awesomeness,  he currently hosts the 12-time Emmy-nominated series, Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.

‘Cosmos’ and ‘Wormhole’: Black Men Taking Over Pop Culture Science

We are reminded repeatedly that to inspire children to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics, they need to see people who look like them in those fields. Every kid needs a role model and until very recently, there weren’t many images of famous Black Americans in STEM. How many teenagers these days know who Geordi LaForge is, much less Mae Jemison? But they need those images if they’ll ever believe that they can become great scientists too.

Enter: Pop Culture.

Fox network and the Science Channel have done what no one else has: they’ve put Black men at the forefront of America’s new scientific curiosity. With the documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Through the Wormhole,  television is doing for science what Reading Rainbow did for reading: it’s showing children (and adults) that scientific exploration is not just a white man’s game.

Who are these Black men, you ask? Well, you probably didn’t ask because they’re everywhere. But just in case you don’t own a television, a radio, aren’t on Twitter, have never heard of the Internet and don’t listen to podcasts- the host of Cosmos is satirist Jon Stewart’s favorite astrophysicist- Neil deGrasse Tyson. And the host of Wormhole? Academy-Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. Because the story of the universe should pretty much only be narrated by Morgan Freeman.

If you’ve never seen these shows (they’re on Hulu and Netflix so there’s really no excuse), Cosmos is a revival of the popular 1980s show hosted by Carl Sagan. Now hosted by Tyson, Cosmos explores the workings of the universe and the people who discovered exactly what’s going on in this world of ours. Cosmos is beautifully produced, engaging, and the fact that Tyson is so very in love with science encourages the viewer to fall in love with it too. Nominated for 12 Emmys, Cosmos’ global warming episode tied The Bachelorette in ratings. A show about science tying a reality show? Incredible.

Also Emmy nominated, Through the Wormhole covers everything from whether zombies really exist (spoiler alert: yes), to whether or not time travel is possible (non-spoiler alert: I really, really, really hope so). Freeman is completely engaging in this show, not just because of who he is – Morgan Freeman –  but because of what he’s not, a scientist.

Like our children, he’s just a guy who thinks the world is awesome and wants to find out more about it. Now in its fifth season, Through the Wormhole answers the questions we’ve always wondered about and confirms some things we were pretty sure about – see zombie comment above.

It’s an extraordinary thing to have two Black men hosting the two most popular science TV shows of our time, and even more extraordinary that one is a scientist, and the other is one of the most famous actors of the century. Such different men prove that no matter what our children become, or where they come from, nothing is more important than an education.

As Tyson said in Mother Jones earlier this year, “Science is trending in our culture, and if science is trending, that can only be good for the health, the wealth, and the security of our species, of our civilization.” And if a more diverse cast of characters are leading the trend? That can only be good for the hearts and minds of our children.

In hip-hop artist Talib Kweli’s best song (don’t argue, that’s scientific), he says:

“The TV got us reaching for stars

Not the ones between Venus and Mars

The ones that be reading for parts.”

After all of these years, “the TV” is showing us a wide universe of possibility. Are your children watching?

Kat Calvin is a social entrepreneur, writer and advocate for the empowerment of women, entrepreneurs and the black community. She is the founder of Michelle in Training, a mentoring and educational organization. You can follow her at @KatCalvinDC.