Cite Text Evidence Support your responses with evidence from the selection. IdentifyWhat is the central idea that the author develops throughout this essay? What key points support that central idea?
The central idea of the essay is that we cannot rely only on our five senses; we have to use scientific tools to understand what is beyond our senses. For example, in lines 117–124, Tyson explains that magnetic detectors and spectrum analyzers are tools we need to understand what is beyond our senses.
Tyson says that the world is full of things that we cannot understand simply by observing or touching them. He claims that only using our five senses is inadequate. In lines 131–133, he explains that if our eyes functioned like high-performance microscopes, humans could have easily understood the cause of the plague.
InterpretThe author says, “we register the world’s stimuli in logarithmic rather than linear increments.” In your own words, explain what he means.
He means that differences in sensory stimuli are less noticeable because they occur logarithmically, or exponentially. If the differences were linear, we would pick up on them more easily.
AnalyzeThe author provides a brief explanation and discussion of parapsychology. Although it may seem like a digression, it serves his larger purpose. What function does this discussion serve?
He compares parapsychology to real science, and finds that there is no way to find or confirm the infamous sixth sense, but that in real science, there exists many tools for measuring what our senses cannot perceive. This discussion supports his claim that we need scientific tools to truly understand the world around us.
SynthesizeWhy does the author begin the essay with a quotation by Edwin P. Hubble and then later suggest a revision of the quotation? How do the two versions of the quotation help shape and refine the essay’s central idea?
Hubble’s quotation claims that the five senses are the basis for science, and Tyson revises the quote to include modern equipment in order to illustrate that we have to rely on technology to help us understand the world we cannot sense.
InterpretTyson writes, “In modern times, if the sole measure of what’s out there flows from your five senses, then a precarious life awaits you.” Explain what he means by this statement.
He means that the five senses are not enough to fully perceive our surroundings, so if you don’t use scientific tools, you may be putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
EvaluateToward the end of the essay, Tyson asserts that as we develop more scientific tools with which to see and understand the universe, “a new level of majesty and complexity in the universe reveals itself to us.” What is the impact of the author’s word choice on the tone of this passage? How does the author’s word choice help you understand his perspective?
Using words such as majesty and complexity create a sense of wonder and amazement. Tyson’s words elevate the topic of understanding of the universe to one of high honor (majesty).
AnalyzeWhat does the phrase “coming to our senses” usually mean? How does this usual meaning relate to Tyson’s central idea?
“Coming to our senses” usually means acknowledging what’s in front of us or what is really happening. Tyson is using it as a play on words to show us that we need technology to really sense what is in the world.