While I’ve seen him on tv a bunch of times (both on NOVA and on the Comedy Central fake-news shows), I have somehow managed not to read anything by Neil deGrasse Tyson before. I’m not sure how that happened. After his appearance on The Daily show last year, and especially after the Rubik’s Cube thing the next day, I figured I needed to read something of his, so I picked up a copy of Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries. Kate actually got to it before me (I was working on my own book, and didn’t have much time for reading other people’s non-fiction), but it’s been serving as bedtime reading for a while now.

This book is a fix-up of a bunch of pieces he originally wrote for Natural History magazine between 1995 and 2005, though there’s been considerably more fixing up done than in the usual collection-of-old-magazine-columns sort of book. The various pieces cross-reference each other in a fairly useful manner, and there’s a minimum of repetition (though in places you can see where the original column probably had a more detailed explanation of something that was explained in an earlier chapter.

The key to any pop-science book is really the voice, and Tyson’s a charming guide to the wonders he talks about. The essays making up the book are written in a style that somehow manages to be both breezy and authoritative at the same time, and while his first goal is always to inform, he never fails to be entertaining as well.

There’s really only one thing I can’t figure out, an odd paragraph that suggests that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Emmy might have more in common than you might think.

The passage in question comes at the end of Chapter 14, “On Being Dense,” which runs through a description of all the different densities of matter in the universe, ending up talking about the intergalactic medium, then ending with:

What lies beyond?

Among those who dabble in metaphysics, some hypothesize that outside the universe, where there is no space, there is no nothing. We might call this hypothetical, zero-density place, nothing-nothing, except that we are certain to find multitudes of unretrieved rabbits.

(That’s on page 143 of the paperback edition, if you’d like to check…)

I can’t find anything about rabbits anywhere else in the chapter, so what this could possibly be referring to remains a complete mystery to me. It feels like a reference to something else, but what, I have no idea.

And, more importantly, are these rabbits by any chance made of cheese?

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    June 29, 2009

    I can’t find anything about rabbits anywhere else in the chapter, so what this could possibly be referring to remains a complete mystery to me

    ——-

    Magicians pull rabbits out of a hats …

  2. #2 Dr. Kate
    June 29, 2009

    Does he talk about magic (rabbit in a hat)? Maybe he’s left in a reference to rabbits that get disappeared into hats on stage…

  3. #3 Dan Blum
    June 29, 2009

    I am 99% certain there was a reference to magicians earlier in the chapter. At least there was in the hardcover edition, but I doubt the paperback was edited to make it less sensible.

  4. #4 natural cynic
    June 29, 2009

    Maybe the rabbits got lost on the way to the PreCambrian. Thank goodness.

  5. #5 Jenn
    June 29, 2009

    Diesn’t he talk about magicians earlier in the chapter? Otherwise, it might be a reference to the “down the rabbit hole” theories.

  6. #6 Mark Hurley
    June 29, 2009

    It is a reference to Alice in Wonderland. Alice begns her adventure by following the white rabbit down his rabbit hole and into another world.

  7. #7 Neil deGrassse Tyson
    June 29, 2009

    Thanks for your interest. Second paragraph the “On Being Dense” chapter contains this sentence:

    ==========
    And when a rabbit disappears into “thin air” at a magic show, nobody tells you the thin air already contains over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten septillion) atoms per cubic meter.
    ==========

    Thought people might enjoy the rabbit’s second reference at the Chapter’s end. Perhaps it was a bit too obscure. My apologies.

    -NDTyson

  8. #8 rob
    June 29, 2009

    i was going to toss my $0.02 worth in, but the last comment posted seems to have nailed the explanation.

    :)

  9. #9 Art
    June 29, 2009

    LOL.

    Nothing like hearing it from the source. I wish I had writers who would pop in and explain the finer points of their writing. Must be nice.

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