On an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience released on Thursday, astrophysicist and popular science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed his thoughts on the Thirty Meter Telescope and its attendant protests.
“Native Hawaiians, from what I’ve read, view the mountain as a sacred place. To put yet another telescope there becomes an invasion of sacred land,” Tyson said.
“At the end of the day you have to ask, how are we gonna make decisions going forward? Are you gonna make them democratically? Then you take a vote. Do you want the natives to be the deciders of their own fate, and is that democratic? Then the natives vote. Or is it the few people who are protesting, do they win the day? It’s complicated. There are a lot of nuanced issues going on there.”
The outspoken scientist also offered his opinion on the matter.
“If I were to weigh in, this is how I would do so. I think what should happen is, if the mountain is viewed as sacred by the natives, the natives should have entire say of what happens to the mountain. That’s how I think that should be. What you want to make sure is, whatever decision gets made and voted upon by the natives, that it is fully informed. You don’t want to vote being misinformed or under-informed.”
That message of support was accompanied by an appeal to the protesters.
“You know what we do as astrophysicists. We study the universe, rather passively at that. We sit at the end of a telescope where we wait for light to reach us…What we do is try to understand our place in the universe. All I’m going to say is that if you have power over what happens on that mountain and it’s sacred to you, because whatever [Mauna Kea] is, it is something important to you and your sense of your understanding of your place in this world, I can tell you that what we learn as astrophysicists from those mountaintops gives us a deeper understanding of who and what we are in this universe.
“So I would say that whatever is your concept of god — be it the creator of the universe, the spirit energy that pervades all space and time, whatever is your concept — the discoveries of astrophysicists bring you closer to it.”