After taking his usual monologue tour through the depressingly ignorant mundanity of life in Trump world on Friday, Stephen Colbert was clearly delighted to welcome back a guy whose seemingly irrepressible capacity for seeing the big picture has made him Colbert’s all-time most-invited guest. Physicist, ambassador for reason, and occasional sci-fi killjoy Neil deGrasse Tyson has sat down with with Colbert more times than anyone, both on The Late Show and on his old Comedy Central stomping grounds. (Bite it, distant second-place finisher, John Oliver.) The pair sparred playfully—Colbert really wants that recent, cigar-shaped interstellar visitor named ʻOumuamua to be an alien spaceship, while Tyson gently disabused him of the idea with some of those facts and scientific principles he’s so in love with. Killjoy.
Still, the noted astrophysicist did assure Colbert that he, too, hopes to find proof of alien life someday, and pointed to the recently revealed Pentagon UFO study (the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program) as a more likely place to look for some of that pesky empirical proof that science nerds like Tyson continue to insist upon. And, as ever, Tyson brought along a few actual facts whose more science-based mysteries nonetheless left Colbert with the sense of wonder he keeps inviting Tyson to rekindle. Tyson talked dark matter, dark energy, and an accelerating universe whose enigmatic processes, as Tyson put it with his wonted, sonorous enthusiasm, may have robbed us of unimaginable knowledge of “some previous chapter ripped from the universe itself.”
And while the two never discussed the narrow-minded trudge of the daily reports from this blinkered, narrow-minded daily slog per se, Tyson’s quoting of 18th-century Scottish astronomer James Ferguson was, in itself, an elegant rebuttal to those who seek to devalue science, truth, and intellectual curiosity. As Tyson quoted Ferguson concerning the study of the universe, “our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted beyond their low, contracted prejudices.” Mired as he is in the ludicrous and petty with the rest of us, it’s no wonder Colbert introduced human reality-check Tyson as his favorite guest.