Science and History: Becoming Part of the Whole

Some time ago I watched a video on Youtube of a speaking event where Stephen Colbert interviews Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a man who's become one of America's biggest celebrity scientists in the grand tradition of guys like Carl Sagan or Bill Nye. I first saw Tyson a few years ago as a host on one or two PBS science shows (I don't remember which) and I'm glad that he's getting even more attention nowadays, since he's a very good speaker with some very good messages for the public.

Among the various gems contained in the video, one that I really liked starts after the 37-minute mark:
Well I think if you know about what's going on, then it's not mysterious and you're a participant in the unfolding cosmos. Otherwise, you are consumed by it, and you fear it and you shun it and you say, "I don't want to know that I live on a speck called Earth, orbiting an undistinguished star in the corner of an ordinary galaxy in an expanding void of the cosmos."
When I heard this the first time, I immediately felt connected to what Neil DeGrasse Tyson was saying. The exact words he used are just as true regarding the study of history, rephrased in the following way:
Well I think if you know about what's going on, then it's not mysterious and you're a participant in the unfolding history of humanity. Otherwise, you are consumed by it, and you fear it and you shun it and you say, "I don't want to know that I live in a mere moment along our species' chronology, influenced by an expanding array of trajectories entirely beyond my control."
I believe there are many people who fear or are angered by what historians have to say, just as there are people who disdain or disbelieve what scientists have discovered. People like feeling special and important and powerful, and it seems some people sustain that ego through belief in historical myths, and some through anti-science religious beliefs (probably some through both). If you learn about the dark realities of the American past, however - that we haven't always been a country of freedom and justice, that we aren't on on some inevitable road to progress - the truth can set you free. Learning about history, just like learning about science, can make you feel part of the whole. Just look at Tyson's quote from around the 19-minute mark:
We knew that we are star stuff. We knew that we are stardust, in the middle of the 20th century. That connects us to the universe like no other fact.
In the same way, learning the truths of history connects us to the rest of humanity. Instead of believing in myths that set us apart, believing in ridiculous ahistorical concepts like "American exceptionalism," you can come to realize best through the study of history the threads of commonality that connect all of our experiences - all the peoples of the world, every era of our past, tied together in our common emotions, thoughts and actions. I think that studying science and history is a beautiful thing to do. It helps us cast aside our prejudices, step closer to the truth, and become part of the whole.

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