Evolution is Like a Self Organizing Flash Mob

Television Host and Science Educator

Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.

In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.

While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”

Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.

Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.


  • Transcript


Bill Nye: If you are a science teacher with a student whose parents insist that he or she not be exposed to biology, to evolution, I’m not sure what the rules are.  I know you can—there’s lawsuits pending in a couple of states.  I get emails every week from the National Council for Science Education, the NCSE, addressing lawsuits about this issue.  

But I guess just let your passion come through.  It is a hard thing to find a kid who doesn’t love dinosaurs.  There’s probably one, but I’ve never met him or her.  So I would start there: the ancient dinosaurs are very much like modern birds, and there’s reasons for that—one thing led to the other. 

The other thing I just remind everybody about—to a lesser extent this guy Alfred Wallace but—Charles Darwin was disciplined.  I mean, he did these extraordinary experiments, this series of experiments to discover, to understand the process of change from generation to generation, and this change is all around us.  

And the other just really hard thing for people who haven’t taken time—and this will be a pun—to understand the amount of time involved.  We live less than a century, a human does, but this process that brought us to be is billions of years old, and it’s just really hard to get your mind around what that means—billion years, 65 million years. 

And the other thing that’s just out of our everyday experience as people. . . . We design things and make them.  We decide how big the piece of paper is.  We decide how large our handwriting is going to be.  Then we make an organization chart for our corporation and then we hire people.  And it’s top-down, it’s idea-down.  But evolution doesn’t work that way.  Evolution is bottom-up.  Evolution is, in the poetic sense, organic, and in the chemical sense, literally organic.  All these systems emerge, all these living things emerge, and the good ones, the good designs, eat the bad designs, and so there’s no more bad designs, there’s just good designs.  Then the designs compete and then they eat each other.  And so you very quickly end up—people run computer models about this—you very quickly end up with an ecosystem in tuned species.  It is out of our everyday experience.  It is not top-down.  

Although maybe—I will digress on this—maybe with the social networking that happens now, it is organic, it is bottom-up in another sense, that this self-organizing system’s come into place.  Let’s all have a flash mob.  Okay, there’s no manager of flash mobbing, it just emerges.  And if it’s a stupid flash mob, nobody shows up, so then that one’s eliminated.  If it’s big fun, like what’s the one everybody likes?  “Thriller,” dancing to “Thriller,” yeah.  Two hundred people show up to pretend to be Michael Jackson.  Okay, it’s self-organizing is what I’m going for.  And that’s what evolution is.  The bad designs get eaten by the good ones and so all you have is good ones.  It happens very fast.  

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd