Neil DeGrasse Tyson, sci-fi’s preeminent fact-checker, is not a fan of “alternative facts,” as you might have guessed. He tweeted earlier this week that he dreams “of a world where the truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” Vulture ran into the astrophysicist at last night’s premiere of The Space Between Us hosted by the Cinema Society at the Landmark Sunshine and Jimmy at the James Hotel, and we started chatting about the film’s premise, and the culture shock a human raised on Mars might have if they came back to Earth, especially now. What kinds of things would they need to learn about? Beyond science, Tyson also thought some lessons about the political system would be in order. So we brought up his tweets, and how facts seem to be under attack by Trump’s administration. How would he even begin to explain that to someone from Mars?
“I would tell him that there are three kinds of truths,” Tyson began.
The first, he said, is “an objective truth that can be established outside of your own mental state,” such as by the methods and tools of science. This is the kind of truth that is true “whether or not you believe in [it],” he said, “so I would recommend that if you base policy on any kind of truth, it should be that truth.”
The second, he said, is “a personal truth,” which could be, for example, a religious belief that you can take on faith. “If Jesus is your savior, no one can take that from you,” he said. But convincing someone else to believe the same is difficult “without some kind of coercion, force, or some other attractive way.” There are just as many personal truths as there are various deities.
The third kind of truth, he said, is what he calls “political truth.” “That’s what’s true simply because you repeat it so often that everyone thinks that it’s true, even if it’s not the truth,” Tyson said.
The question is, he said, What do you want to base your civilization on? “In a free society, you have that choice.”