A Vision of Rationalia
Imagining a city Neil deGrasse Tyson can call his own
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist.
That’s all you get from the Twitter bio. But that’s not all you get from Tyson. From Tyson you get ruminations on religion, philosophy, and a whole lot more.
It was his most recent pronouncement, a grand statement about the essence of art, that reminded me of Rationalia.
Rationalia is a place where statements like this abound. In our world, they exist only in the dorm room, where joint papers, rolled like scrolls, give each insight that extra bit of gravitas ordinary life just cannot match. But in Rationalia…well, now. In Rationalia there is salvation. There is a wisdom too pure for words.
A couple of years ago, Tyson tweeted a lamentation from his heart: There are too many dumb people on Earth.
His solution was to form a scientistic utopia, an Elysium restricted to the intelligentsia, whose laws are free from the ponderous influence of ancient religious tomes and invulnerable to flights of philosophical fancy.
Within a few hours, Tyson’s tweet had garnered more than 10,000 likes. Every single retweet was a yearning.
At this time, perhaps propelled by the collective intellectual energy flowing through the timelines of our utopia’s unfrightened citizenry, I fell into a trance and had a vision of Rationalia. Here is what I saw.
I saw sports leagues replaced by Jeopardy! tournaments, with Watson always ranked as a #1 seed and always wearing a Neil deGrasse Tyson biosuit. On Rationalia, the World Cup is just Alex Trebek doing a karaoke rendition of Principia Mathematica.
Since there are no sports, Mike Tyson is no longer the most famous Tyson. You’d think this would mean Neil would snatch up the top slot, but, actually, the chicken nugget outfit, also called Tyson, shocked everyone by rising to prominence in Rationalia as a biohazard processing firm. But Neil safely comes in at number two.
I saw hostilities cease. Well, hostilities as we know them. They use different curse words there. In fact, cursing just takes the form of colorful uses of Republican leaders’ names. Shouts of “Shut the Bush up” were heard. Someone said to another, “You son of a Dubya.” On Rationalia, calling someone a “Gorka” is an irreversible offense; you say it when you are certain you want them out of your life.
One pathetic individual, who apparently couldn’t cope with Rationalia’s emphasis on intellectual virtue, yelled out “LET’S GET TRUMPED UPPPPP” as he treetopped heroin into the back of his skull, canceling out his own life in the process. He didn’t belong. His body was tossed by the Protectorate Guild into the back of a Tesla XLR8R, which runs on quantum energy. Was this all a simulation?
I saw Rationalia’s citizens marching down its evidence-based street configurations with purpose in their hearts. They were chanting, their voices in unison. One loud, imperious, irrepressible message: “COMING SOON: COSMOS SEASON 2.”
I felt hungry and ordered a local favorite at an LED-lit kiosk furnished with ergonomic IDEA seats (Rationalia’s clever play on IKEA). I was asked to pay in proverbs. I remembered a fortune cookie from youth and recited it. I was refused service. I need to step up my game. “Every ending is a new beginning”? What was I thinking — they value evidence here!
I wrote the same phrase down on a piece of paper, only now with the prefix “Scientists find that” before the fortune. Everything changed. I was welcomed by the restaurant owner as if I were his wayward son. “Bring the fattened calf and kill it!” he roared.
But it was said metaphorically, of course, as they only serve abstract objects in Rationalia. I was given a three-course upload on parallelograms and told I would soon be full.
I really need to find another restaurant.
I saw a shrine to Darwin. A shrine to Einstein. A novice forgot to bring his A Brief History of Time to evening service and was singled out in front of the congregation. He was dissipated on the spot by a meister conceptually dressed as the river of time. The congregants broke out into “Oh, let me taste those waters!” for three millennia.
The children on Rationalia love to play. In one sense, they’re no different from children back on Earth. In my youth, I used to slide down the PVC-pipe wonderland of McDonald’s playplaces. But the children here do one better: They zoom through Large Hadron Colliders as singularities. When they come out the other side, they shine like Newton’s children.
I saw a community of equals. Any inequalities were ruthlessly dealt with. Just try to stand out, they warned. See what happens. What happens is you’re forced to read the collective works of Carl Sagan in one, uninterrupted sitting for reprogramming, with the worst offenders being required to listen to them in audiobook format, narrated by Jodi Foster. Consider me deterred.
I saw Tyson speak in front of his admirers. One hundred thousand utterly enraptured devotees lifting their eyes to the heavens. I witnessed his transfiguration into an archangel. Something must’ve gone wrong though because he rode a comet into the sun and was instantly incinerated.
I saw panic. I saw T-Rexes with normal-sized arms flail them violently in confusion. I saw the night descend on us all — an unwelcome pall hovering over the perfectly symmetrical skyline. Is our great herald dead. Is the great rationalizer gone?
“I am here.” Where did this come from? Why did I say this? Was I just trying to calm the anxieties of the crowd?
They were skeptical. They asked me to tell them what pi is. They wanted to see if I was one of them or an impostor. Could I remember the repeating numbers?
I cheekily said “Better tasting than abstract objects, I’ll tell you that.”
A collective sigh. In Rationalia, humor is seen as inefficient. Would I be banished?
It was confirmed: I was to leave. I was told I didn’t belong. And just like that, I woke up. I checked Twitter and saw Tyson’s tweet absolutely savaged by most who responded.
Whew! Rationality still exists, after all.
A version of this article first appeared in the Weekly Standard.