February 8, 2014 3:19 pm

The answer to every one of this week’s Cosmic Queries is… Science.

Illustration of science arising from the mind of man

Credit: ©VLADGRIN/iStock/Thinkstock

One of the fun things about being in the studio for our Cosmic Queries episodes is watching how Neil responds to some of the questions. Sometimes, the more “out there” the better.

Take this Sunday’s episode, “A Powerful Potpourri.” The first question co-host Chuck asks Neil to answer comes from a fan who believes in ghosts: “I’ve witnessed ghosts and several experiences that have made be a believer in the supernatural… Can the expansion of dark matter in the universe be the accumulation of all the souls of all the planets in the Cosmos?”

To answer this, Neil discusses the development of X-rays by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, the experimental use of X-rays to attempt to see the soul leaving the body of a dying patient, the definition of death, the possibility that souls have weight and the lack of evidence supporting that, the mass equivalent of the dark matter of the universe, the scientific method, objective vs. subjective truth and the field of neuroscience.

Now, there’s a bit of laughter too, but the respect with which Neil treats the question, rather than dismissing it utterly, is refreshing. In fact, Neil frequently tells us, when we’re picking the questions for him to answer on Cosmic Queries, not to limit ourselves to just the straight-up science, astronomy or physics questions, because sometimes it’s the weird ones that offer the most possibilities for learning.

Another of this week’s questions, (paraphrased), is: “Could intelligent life have evolved on Earth in the distant past, and not be recorded by the fossil record.” It turns out, as Neil says, this is a question that he thinks about all the time and lays awake at night thinking about. And then he proceeds to tell us how he’s approached the question and why it couldn’t have happened. (The growth of complexity in the evolutionary chain and an understanding of tectonics are just part of it.)

Both of these questions, and many others in this episode, brought to mind this past week’s debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationism advocate Ken Ham. At one point, 2 hours and 4 minutes into the debate, both Ken and Bill are asked what it would take them to change their beliefs. Basically, Ken said nothing could. And what did Bill Nye say? Evidence.

That’s the thing about looking at the world through the lens of science. You can ask any question you want, no matter how seemingly weird, strange or silly. It’s not about the questions. It’s about how you answer them. Some questions have remained unanswered for centuries, and may remain unanswered even longer. But the moment we have data – demonstrable data derived from a repeatable experiment – we have our answer. And until we have that, we may have a hypothesis, or even stronger, a theory, but we don’t “know” until we have evidence.

With that in mind, join us this Sunday at 7:00 pm ET to hear the answers to a far-ranging, compelling and surprising collection of your questions, as picked by our producers and Chuck Nice and answered by your own personal astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons