Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why He Doesn’t Want to Live Forever

And how to adopt a 'cosmic perspective.'

On part two of the latest episode of The Thrive Global Podcast, Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington sat down with astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson to talk about fake news, the importance of childlike curiosity and the connection between spirituality and science.

“There’s an assumption that science and spirituality are at odds, even mutually exclusive,” Huffington said. But being spiritual means different things to different people. Huffington read an earlier quote deGrasse Tyson gave in an interview with comedian Paul Mecurio: “When I say spiritual I am referring to a feeling you would have that connects you to the universe in a way that it may defy simple vocabulary. We think of spirituality as an intellectual playground but the moment you learn something that touches an emotion rather than just something intellectual, I would call that a spiritual encounter with the universe.”

deGrasse Tyson talked about one of the ways he connects to the universe, something he calls his “cosmic perspective,” which can help give us perspective. “A cosmic perspective is a potent way to dismantle your own ego, or the hubris of what we carry as humans, and reassemble it into something that changes your outlook on who and what we are in this universe,” he said.

Thinking this way can make life’s annoyances seem, well, small. Consider being stuck in traffic: “The cosmic perspective is Earth from space, deGrasse Tyson said. “You can’t even see streets. So I’m here on this speck. It limits how seriously you can take anything that’s happening in front of you.”

This big-picture view isn’t reserved for trying to shake off minor problems, though. deGrasse Tyson told Huffington a story about interviewing Bill Clinton on his radio show StarTalk. Clinton told deGrasse Tyson that he asked NASA if he could borrow a rock from the Moon, which he then placed visibly on a table in the Oval Office. Clinton told deGrasse Tyson, “when we’d have Republicans and Democrats or people on two sides of any issue, and they’d start getting out of control, I’d say ‘Wait! You see that Moon rock? It’s 3.6 billion years old,’” Clinton said. “They were looking at an object at a time they can only imagine. It just gave them that little bit of space in their mind and spirit,” Clinton told deGrasse Tyson.

“It resets the conversation. It kind of loosened things up. That’s a perspective for you,” deGrasse Tyson told Huffington. Thinking about your life in the context of the whole universe can also help you relate better to others and to the world around you, too. “So here we are talking about the molecules in your body and how they’re traceable to stars who have given their lives…The universe is in us. That awareness arises because we’re revealing that we’re not different from the universe; we’re the same as the universe,” deGrasse Tyson said. “That makes us connected to all our fellow seven billion citizens of this earth, so that we are special because we are a connected entity, not because we are different.”

Even more profound, deGrasse Tyson explained, is that “we have chemistry that you might find in aliens that you discover on another plant. Because chemistry moves across the galaxy, across the universe, across time,” he said. “We have a kinship with yet-to-be discovered life. A chemical kinship.”

Part of deGrasse Tyson’s perspective includes a unique outlook on death. “When I die I want to be buried, not cremated,” he said. “Your body has an energy content that has been assembled since you were a child. Your body grew from these nutrients, supplied by the calories of the flora and fauna that you’ve consumed throughout your life. When I die that energy content is still there in my body. I want to be buried so that I can be dined upon by flora and fauna in death just as I have dined upon flora and fauna in life, thus completing the biologic process of life on this earth.”

The cosmic perspective not only frames how deGrasse Tyson will “complete the biologic process of life on this earth” in death, but gives his days more meaning. He explained to Huffington that, “People have asked me ‘if you could live forever, would you?’ And I say, no. No I don’t think so. That doesn’t attract me.” As to why, deGrasse Tyson said, “The knowledge that I am going to die gives meaning to the days that I’m alive. And it gives purpose when I wake up in the morning, I say ‘there are things I’ve yet to accomplish and I’m going to redouble my efforts to do so. If I knew I was going to live forever, what’s the hurry?’”

To hear the full conversation, click here.

You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes and Stitcher.

Life Lessons, Inspiration, Wonder