It’s easy to forget how little we really are in the scheme of things. Humans exist as one species amid millions, on one planet among eight, in one solar system out of billions, living lifetimes that are but a cosmic blink. With that perspective, things like how the US budget gets allocated seem rather…small. Former President Bill Clinton understood the grandeur of this view, and used it to help his politics.
In the first episode of a new season of StarTalk on National Geographic Channel, everyone’s personal astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, sits down with Clinton to talk about the intersection of science and politics. It is a fantastic interview in which Clinton shines. He has a deep passion for science, one that he tried to realize in his policies. But the moment that really stands out is when Clinton tells the story of how he used a piece of the Moon to bring a cosmic perspective to political proceedings. Talking about a rock taken off the Moon in 1969, presented to him on the 30th anniversary of the landing, Clinton says:
Because I supported the space program so strongly I said [to NASA], “May I just borrow that until I leave? I’ll give it back when I go.”
When you see the TV coverage of the president meeting with a foreign leader or whatever in the Oval Office, there’s two chairs and two couches and there’s always a table between the couches…I put the moon rock on the table.
For the next two years, 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. Now we’re all just passing through here and we don’t have very much time, so let’s calm down and figure out what the right thing to do is.” And it worked every single time!
They were looking at an object that existed at a time they can only imagine. It just gave them that little bit of space in their mind and spirit to try and figure out, “OK, let’s go at this one more time.”
What a beautiful way to bring people together. The rest of Clinton’s interview is just as insightful, and I was surprised to see just how excited he got about science.
StarTalk‘s first episode has an advanced premiere tonight, and the full season officially kicks off Sunday, October 25th at 11/10c.
IMAGE: NG Studios/Katy Andres