Posted on 16.05.14 By Charlie Pickering

Two geniuses walk into a theatre….

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Stephen Colbert interviews Degrasse Tyson at Montclaire Kimberly Academy

For a short taste, here are Neil’s thoughts on allowing children to perform experiments:

For the full experience:

And you really should set aside the time to watch the whole thing.

It’s pretty easy for Neil Degrasse Tyson to come across as the smartest guy in the room. Largely because he is. Pretty much every time. Regardless of the room. Even if it’s the after party for the Nobel Prize All-Star Game, you know that everyone would be standing around saying ‘tell us another story, Neil’.

And that’s essentially why Neil is the smartest guy in the room. He doesn’t just have an encyclopaedic knowledge of some of the biggest and most challenging ideas that humans have ever wrapped their heads around, he is also a master of the complicated art of human communication. I once heard Chris Rock say that “saying something so clever that only five per cent of people can understand it, isn’t actually that smart. But saying exactly the same thing in a way that everybody can understand is just about the smartest thing in the world.” (that fool Einstein was probably plagiarizing Chris Rock when he said that “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.) This is exactly what Neil Degrasse Tyson does.

Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, has mastered the art of playing the dumbest guy in the room for satirical purposes. Here, he is doing something different. He is playing the innocent, trying to understand science on the audience’s behalf. He is somehow playing dumb while still managing to guide a conversation with one of the smartest, best-informed people in the world.

The result is Idea Jazz. The structures are known, the knowledge is there. Now it’s just time to riff and see where it goes. And it goes to some magical places. Not least of which is the Newtonian law that Stephen’s intellectual crush on Neil has an equal and opposite intellectual crush by Neil on Stephen.

But the most incredible thing they create is contagious intelligence. Watching them in conversation, it is impossibly to not feel that your intelligence is utterly dwarfed by what they offer. Yet somehow you feel smarter just by watching it. In fact, you feel smarter just for finding it on Youtube. Then you watch it, you learn something, and you feel more curious about the world, not to mention more confident about it and your place in it.

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