The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of...

Title:The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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Edition Language:English

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Reviews

  • Trevor

    Sagan has been a hero of mine since I saw Cosmos years and years ago. Now that was one of the truly great science documentaries and one that, on the subject of physics, has rarely been bettered.

    This is a supurb book. Many people say things like, "I've no idea how people without a belief in the supernatural can bare to live in this world". Well, Sagan gives a powerful answer here.

    Sagan understood the infinite joy that comes from understanding something about the world - something that is real. H

    Sagan has been a hero of mine since I saw Cosmos years and years ago. Now that was one of the truly great science documentaries and one that, on the subject of physics, has rarely been bettered.

    This is a supurb book. Many people say things like, "I've no idea how people without a belief in the supernatural can bare to live in this world". Well, Sagan gives a powerful answer here.

    Sagan understood the infinite joy that comes from understanding something about the world - something that is real. He feared for our future, particularly in a modern world brimming with nuclear weapons when so many people know nothing at all about science.

    In this sense Sagan turns the standard argument on its head, rather than faith based beliefs offering comfort, they actually present a series of demons and therefore make your life a much more frightening place than it would have been if you had just confronted reality in the first place.

    In a world overflowing with pseudo-science and new age madness Sagan offers a candle in the dark - and one that doesn't require you to dance around naked while chanting to the moon goddess. Well, unless you really want to.

  • Dan

    I sit before my computer, typing out a review of what is my favorite book. I’m daunted by the magnitude of this task, having just finished the book for the fourth or maybe fifth time. I wish I could remember when I bought this book, likely close to a decade ago, but I’m sure that I must have been awestruck to discover a book written by a man who has influenced my life and my interests to such a great extent.

    One of the great memories of my early life was that of waiting to plop down in front of t

    I sit before my computer, typing out a review of what is my favorite book. I’m daunted by the magnitude of this task, having just finished the book for the fourth or maybe fifth time. I wish I could remember when I bought this book, likely close to a decade ago, but I’m sure that I must have been awestruck to discover a book written by a man who has influenced my life and my interests to such a great extent.

    One of the great memories of my early life was that of waiting to plop down in front of the TV set for a few Sunday nights in 1980, as our PBS station aired a thirteen part series called Cosmos. Accompanied at the TV by my mom and grandmother, Cosmos captured my imagination in ways that will last my whole life. It was a series not merely discussing outer space, but in fact, it addressed the history of humanity’s understanding of our place in the world, the universe, and in life. Why is the memory of a TV show so incredibly dear to me? I could say that the show opened my mind to concepts and philosophies and possibilities that I never imagined, and that’d be a fair and true statement. What really makes the series so pivotal in my life, though, is that I shared such a formative experience with my mom and my grandmother; two people to whom I owe my life, my intelligence, and, hopefully without too much hyperbole, my essential spirit. At the age of nine, it’s not very likely to imagine that I would have planted myself in front of a television tuned to PBS on a Sunday evening, but the patient guidance and love of my mom and grandmother gave me the gift of knowledge and wonder.

    Needless to say, I’ve always been partial to the works of Dr. Carl Sagan. Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is the first work of Dr. Sagan’s that I’ve read as an adult and in the many years I’ve owned this book, I’ve read it at least four times. Why re-read a book so often? The answer is found in my reverence of the book’s message, its point, and its passion. Not only have I read it often, but I have made an irregularly observed tradition to start each new year with a fresh reading. At least three times, I’ve picked the book up within hours of watching the ball drop in Times Square, heralding in the new year.

    Many who know me, already know this is my favorite book, but I’m deeply challenged when I’m asked what the book is about, and several paragraphs into my review, I’m probably overdue in attempting to answer this exact question. In this book, Dr. Carl Sagan tackles one of the key problems facing our time, as well as repeated throughout the history of our civilization, and that is the propensity for humanity to delve into our darkest superstitions and most bleak behaviors when our knowledge or ego is challenged. It seems that throughout the history of our species, we’ve turned our backs on critical thought and skepticism at times when those with claims to power and zealotry and wealth have found it advantageous and profitable to subvert the masses.

    Why discuss witch burnings and crop circles and claims of government coverups of alien abductions from 50 years ago? The answer lies in the here and now. At a time when every facet of our daily lives revolves around technology; when each and every human being lives under the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons; when communications are global but subject to being monitored in violation of the founding documents of our nation (granted this is a problem that would occur years after Sagan’s death, yet it’s exactly the type of behavior Sagan speaks of), we find that critical thought wanes in the population of our own nation, not to mention that of the entire world. Credulity and old habits creep into our consciousness. Our world, our freedoms, and our lives come under attack.

    Go to the movies and watch ghosts haunt a house or watch the undead torment campers in the woods. Turn on the TV, and you’re likely to find tales of alien spacecraft being hidden by the government. You’re equally likely to channel surf past a shopping network selling new age crystals. But where on broadcast television are you likely to find a substantive debate on issues of education or technology? Where do you see educational programming talking about the technology that engulfs our very lives? As Sagan points out, imagine the irony that kids can watch a cartoon about a prehistoric family with a dinosaur for a pet (I actually protest... I enjoyed the Flintstones!), but may never have the opportunity to watch a show about the invention or technology of television, itself!

    At what cost to our freedoms, will we accept great claims without great proof? What decisions do we as a world culture need to make to grow and prosper and what can we learn from our history, replete with credulity and domination and fear mongering?

    Should we shrink from the challenges of education and critical thinking, what price will we pay? Will it be our personal or national economic stability? Will we see our freedoms curtailed (as if we haven’t witnessed that already)? Or will we pay with the extinction of our species?

    
The thesis as I understand it, of this book is that we, as a culture and society, may be repeating a common mistake of our history: accepting a diminution of our critical thinking skills at our own distinct peril. Because of the threats we face though, this time we stand at these crossroads at possibly the least opportune of times. Throughout history, those in power or those who seek it, have abused our fears and used them to control the masses to their own advantage or profit. This book begs to serve as a wake up call to anyone willing to accept the challenge not only to read it, but to deeply ponder each of its points and positions. It offers the methods of critical thought as the grand lighthouse by which we can safely steer our course through the treacherous times and malevolent forces we face. Dr. Sagan, true to the book’s title, offers the methods of science as a candle in the darkness in men’s souls.

    This book occupies a special place in my life, as I’ve stated. I believe that this is a book of such enormous importance, that it should be required reading in every senior level high school class in the country. It may not be comfortable reading, and Dr. Sagan wrote on an astronomically high reading level (forgive the pun, as Dr. Sagan was of course a world renown astronomer) that it may take weeks or months to fully drink in the material, but the discussion that Dr. Sagan presented are vital. The arguments he presents are vital to our intellect, our freedom, and to our humanity.

    For making me think and contemplate, reading after reading, this book scores five stars.

  • Chris

    I miss Carl Sagan.

    Ever since I was a kid, Carl Sagan has been

    face of science for me. I would watch

    and feel a sense of amazement that the universe was as wonderful as it was. He'd be there in his turtleneck and his blazer, smiling as though he'd just heard the coolest secret and he wanted to share it with you. And he did, except that it wasn't his secret. Hell, it wasn't a secret at all - it was the combined results of thousands of years of thoughts, deductions, mistakes, missteps, e

    I miss Carl Sagan.

    Ever since I was a kid, Carl Sagan has been

    face of science for me. I would watch

    and feel a sense of amazement that the universe was as wonderful as it was. He'd be there in his turtleneck and his blazer, smiling as though he'd just heard the coolest secret and he wanted to share it with you. And he did, except that it wasn't his secret. Hell, it wasn't a secret at all - it was the combined results of thousands of years of thoughts, deductions, mistakes, missteps, experiments, accidents and achievements. Whether he was talking about the orbits of the planets or the genetics of peas, you could feel an almost palpable sense of wonder coming from him. You'd listen to him and think, "Y'know, maybe we humans aren't too bad after all...."

    Then the smile would fade, his eyes would get serious, and he would explain how, for all our achievements as a species, humans were still terribly fallible creatures. Our knowledge has, perhaps, outpaced our morals, and we are only a few simple steps away from losing everything that we've gained. Our mastery of nuclear technology could wipe out civilization in a day. Our carelessness with industry could do the same in a century. His earnestness was clear, as was his disappointment.

    It was in this latter mood, perhaps, that he wrote this book. Simply by looking at the title, one can glean his attitude not only towards science, but towards the world around it. When he looks at the world, he sees a place filled with demons - not

    , of course - the demons of irrationality, superstition and an unfortunate willingness on the part of people to believe in things that just aren't so.

    This book is about the advocacy of skepticism and critical thinking. In a world where people are obsessed with celebrity, where people trust their feelings over their observations, where rulers make decisions based on the predictions of astrologers, Sagan feels rather threatened.

    I can certainly understand why.

    It still angers me that now, in the 21st century, we are still arguing about evolution over creationism. It amazes me that newspapers even

    horoscopes, to say nothing of the fact that there are people who take them seriously. It horrifies me that evil men are still able to use fear and superstition to convince people that they should kill in the name of God. And it saddens me that so many people have given control of their lives over to a deity rather than taking responsibility for it themselves.

    Sagan's premise in this book is simple: knowledge is better than ignorance. Full stop. Whether it's witches, "intelligent design," UFO abduction or anything else, it is always better to find the truth rather than to rest comfortably in a lie. The truth is hard, yes, and it may feel better to stay wrapped up in our illusions, but no matter how comfortable they are, they're still illusions. Still lies.

    He spends a lot of time on UFOs and abductees, actually, and uses that as a bridge into other areas of skeptical inquiry. This is because UFO abductees (and the legions of enablers who encourage them - psychologists, writers, newspapers, and conspiracy nuts) exhibit the same behavior that allows unreason to flourish: an unwillingness or inability to consider

    . Yes, the UFO explanation would be a romantic and weird one, but wanting something doesn't make it so. There is probably a reason why you saw things out your window, and that explanation is probably perfectly terrestrial.

    Whether you're talking about UFOs, reiki, power crystals, witchcraft, tarot cards, channeling, telepathy, past lives, Indigo Children, psychic surgery, miracles, visitations by angels, demonic possession, the hollow Earth theory... The evidence just

    As interesting and entertaining as a world containing such things would be, they're just not so.

    Wouldn't it be better, Sagan asks, if we could all dismiss such things? If everyone could think critically about them, dismiss them, and turn their vast amount of energy and resources towards actually making the world better? If, instead of putting together high budget shows about ghosts and Bigfoot, networks made programs about scientific inquiry and achievement? Or perhaps a show about mysteries that science

    solved? Instead of portraying scientists as either nerds or maniacs, why not show the scientists who are looking for ways to make safer materials, better medicines and more efficient cars? I suppose that the Discovery Channel has done a very nice job of trying to realize this dream, with shows like

    , and Penn & Teller strongly advocate critical thinking in their Showtime program

    But I reckon Sagan would want more.

    This is where he does come across as something of a curmudgeon in this book. You get the feeling that if Old Man Sagan had his way, there'd be no

    or

    or

    . Science fiction would all be something like

    - nothing that isn't reasonably explainable by our current understanding of science. No evil robots or planet-busting Death Stars would survive such skeptical scrutiny. Indeed, you get the feeling that he would not only disapprove of those shows, he would definitely look down on those of us who do.

    This is an attitude I've noticed a lot of in modern skeptics - a certain annoyance with fantasy and a rather condescending attitude towards those who haven't signed on to the skeptical view of the world. I am a regular listener of the

    podcast, and I enjoy it - except when they turn on the arrogance when talking about people who believe in things like religious revelation, UFOs and the like. I can understand the attitude towards scammers - they deserve nothing but contempt - but there are people who take real comfort in their world view, regardless of how irrational it might be. Sagan addresses this as well in his book:

    He goes on later to say:

    So in other words, even if you know a lot, don't be a know-it-all.

    Sagan had a lifelong love of science and the wonders that scientists have performed. The world today, every part and parcel of it from that computer that you're reading this on to the fact that you didn't die before you were five years old, is attributable to the work of dedicated scientists trying to better understand the world. And that is the key message of this book: knowledge makes the world better. Science has performed wonders that aliens, witches and apparitions of the Virgin Mary have never been able to do.

    A well-educated, rational populace is the greatest protection we have against tyranny, and it behooves every citizen to acquaint him or herself with the methods and principles that science uses. It is the greatest tool available to us if we want a better world. Yes, there will be missteps along the way, but the errors of science can - if we act out of clarity and reason - be repaired. Teach your children, encourage them to think critically about the world and no one will ever gain mastery over them. For an educated person is a free one. And if you can spread this kind of freedom, then perhaps Sagan can rest well.

  • David

    Full disclosure here, I did not finish this book; I made the decision to stop reading it after around 100 pages. I kept expecting the science to start at any page, but I got tired of reading accusations that the Weekly World News and Beavis and Butt-Head are sources of ignorance and misunderstanding. I won't argue that either of these are intellectual, but at best these are forms of entertainment and that is largely a product of taste, not intellect. I couldn't risk wasting my time reading anoth

    Full disclosure here, I did not finish this book; I made the decision to stop reading it after around 100 pages. I kept expecting the science to start at any page, but I got tired of reading accusations that the Weekly World News and Beavis and Butt-Head are sources of ignorance and misunderstanding. I won't argue that either of these are intellectual, but at best these are forms of entertainment and that is largely a product of taste, not intellect. I couldn't risk wasting my time reading another 100 pages of more of the same.

    The last time I thought that WWN might be reporting real news I was maybe 11 (although I did buy their Saddam and Bin Laden wedding spectacular issue, but only for the pictures). If an adult thinks that stories in the paper are real, their problems will not be solved by not having access to WWN. If he had instead criticized the Discovery Channel for

    UFO coverage he'd have a point. They are at least giving a pretense of showing knowledge-based programming. As it stands it's like citing The Colbert Report as a source of vile right wing hate. It completely misses the point.

    As for Beavis and Butt-Head, sure it is stupid humor, but just because it is not Sagan's brand of humor doesn't mean that watching it

    stupidity (and merely accusing it of causing stupidity is a pretty unscientific method of demonstration). Not only does Sagan admit that he has never even watched the show, but he does so proudly. This strikes me as an arrogant attempt at justifying his own taste as a sign of mental superiority while cutting down other tastes. Mike Judge's subsequent works have even been quite clever. Sagan might have even enjoyed Idiocracy and considered it a poignant criticism of the very dumbing down of society that his book is supposed to be about.

    Sagan was a big marijuana advocate and as such marijuana is absent from his list of criticisms. I am not saying that it causes dumbing down, there certainly are smart people who use it responsibly, but there is also a common stereotype associated with it (I think most of us know more of the stereotype pothead than the intellectual type). I am surprised Sagan was not able to look at his own experiences with this past-time and how they differ from the stereotypes and apply that to other issues.

    If this book had dived right into scientific examinations of ghosts and UFOs I would have absolutely finished it. 100 pages may not have been the whole book, but it was far too many pages dedicated to something that was not "Science as a candle in the demon haunted world" for my taste.

  • Lightreads

    Hey, so, guess what? People who read the Weekly World News are stupid, but scientists are awesome! Did you know that?

    I just put this book down, 175 pages in. It's not that I disagree with the thesis, because I actually don't at all. Sagan uses the widespread belief in alien abductions to talk about the need for more critical thinking in this world. And I'm totally there -- yes, for the love of God, teach people to distinguish between fact and what they want to be fact. But Sagan goes on -- and o

    Hey, so, guess what? People who read the Weekly World News are stupid, but scientists are awesome! Did you know that?

    I just put this book down, 175 pages in. It's not that I disagree with the thesis, because I actually don't at all. Sagan uses the widespread belief in alien abductions to talk about the need for more critical thinking in this world. And I'm totally there -- yes, for the love of God, teach people to distinguish between fact and what they want to be fact. But Sagan goes on -- and on and on -- about the evils of unexamined credulity, and how so much of what we believe is contextually determined and not logically deduced, and then he turns around and says 'therefore empiricism is the only truth.' And then completely fails to deal with the indeterminacy problem -- all the ways empiricism is also an ordinal choice, not some universal baseline against which to measure all intellectual thought. I mean, I'm as much a fan of the scientific method as the next well-educated dabbler, but I'm rendered irretrievably cranky by a guy touting the holy purity of his truth mechanisms when his argument basically boils down to, "the scientific method works! I've tested it! With the scientific method!" And never stops to wonder about his contextual determinants.

    Actually, that would be more okay if I could discern a point. Sagan waxes on and on and on about why people come to believe they were abducted, why other people believe them, where such mass dilusions historically might come from. And it's written in this snotty, "now you see the error of your ways," tone when, you know, I sort of suspect the Weekly World News readership is not also snapping up this book. That, and Sagan was a much better astrochemist than a psychologist or historian.

    Meh.

  • Brad

    If

    '

    is a nuclear bomb in the atheist arsenal,

    's

    is an anti-personnel mine.

    Where Dawkins goes for maximum destruction, piling the misery and mockery on those he's battling, Sagan doesn't even acknowledge his enemy.

    poses, instead (and very effectively), as a book in defense of skepticism, a book persuading the unskeptical to embrace reason in the form of open-mindedness, the pursuit of evidence, and a thir

    If

    '

    is a nuclear bomb in the atheist arsenal,

    's

    is an anti-personnel mine.

    Where Dawkins goes for maximum destruction, piling the misery and mockery on those he's battling, Sagan doesn't even acknowledge his enemy.

    poses, instead (and very effectively), as a book in defense of skepticism, a book persuading the unskeptical to embrace reason in the form of open-mindedness, the pursuit of evidence, and a thirst for asking questions of everything.

    To this end, Sagan takes on some of his favourite topics -- witch burning, demonic possession, science illiteracy, repressed memories, psychology, parapsychology, superstitions, UFOs and alien encounters -- and pokes at them with his skeptical stick to show us how a good skeptic (or good scientist) gets to the heart of an issue. He offers lessons in detecting fallacy (or "baloney," to use Sagan's technical term) and how to avoid it in our own arguments. He make a case for the importance of being skeptical of ourselves, our leaders, and our most cherished beliefs.

    And underneath it all is a carefully mounted attack on theism. Sagan avoids detonating his explosives himself. He piles the dirt and camouflage on his landmine, hiding it with the skill of an old campaigner. He offers supposedly clear paths through the field, hoping that more than one will unwittingly trip the explosives and blow their belief systems to pieces.

    I wonder, though, if Sagan's plan is too subtle to really make a difference. I wonder if Dawkins' preference for arguments of mass destruction is more effective. I felt like a sapper in Sagan's minefield. Aware or the landmines, appreciating their design, loving the patterns in which they were laid, but certain that most of Sagan's targeted personnel would simply wander through the field, unscathed, beneficiaries of their own dumb luck.

    Whether Sagan's weapons have taken any theist casualities or not, it is a wonderful book about skepticism. A wonderful reminder to be ever vigilant. A book I can't wait to pass on to my children.

    But it also made me just a little sad. I wish he'd been around when the Patriot Act was drafted. His voice would have been an important voice of dissent, and perhaps the USA wouldn't be as deep in the shit as they are.

  • David

    This is a marvelous book about the consequences of a population being scientifically illiterate. There are numerous consequences, all of them bad. Most notably, the growth of superstitious beliefs can lead to terrifying witch hunts that grow and grow, leaving a broad trail of torture, execution, mass hysteria and paranoia. Interestingly, Carl Sagan holds up science and democracy as mutually supporting concepts. He cites Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson as examples of l

    This is a marvelous book about the consequences of a population being scientifically illiterate. There are numerous consequences, all of them bad. Most notably, the growth of superstitious beliefs can lead to terrifying witch hunts that grow and grow, leaving a broad trail of torture, execution, mass hysteria and paranoia. Interestingly, Carl Sagan holds up science and democracy as mutually supporting concepts. He cites Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson as examples of literacy, and science literacy in particular, for supporting democracy. This concept is developed further by Timothy Ferris' excellent book,

    .

    Sagan spends a lot of time explaining the reported sightings of UFO's and aliens. I particularly enjoyed this passage:

    Sagan also quotes many of the letters that he received, some hilarious, and others quite sad. For example, a tenth-grader wrote,

    A parent wrote,

    Concerning UFO's,

    Sagan has some interesting approaches for making science more interesting. He claims that since many kids are interested in sports, there is a wealth of science concepts to teach related to sports. Probability, winning streaks, ballistics, angular momentum, and center of mass are all useful concepts.

    Even though this book was published eighteen years ago, it is just as relevant today, as when it was written. In fact, the growth of pseudo-science is still rampant, and scary (thinking about anti-vaccine campaigns, climate-change deniers, exorcism, astrology, ESP, and anti-environmentalism.) Sagan is famous for "popularizing" science, but he writes that it isn't an easy task. For example, a deep understanding of quantum mechanics really does require about 15 years of study of mathematics and physics, and quantum theory is "so resolutely counterintuitive." But an esoteric religion may require a similar degree of study before acquiring a deep understanding. So, how are religions any different from quantum mechanics, when they are both equally mysterious? The first difference, Sagan explains, is that quantum theory works; it makes extremely accurate predictions that can be observed and measured. The second difference, is that religions are "infallible" and rely on faith, while science advances and relies on experience--it never stands still.

  • Kevin

    Always insightful, it seems that Sagan just wanted to watch the world learn. I should've read this at 14. Honestly, this should probably be required high school reading for everyone. It illustrates clearly the many and varied personal and societal benefits gained from applying the methods of science to every corner of our thinking. The methods are the important part, the findings are just icing on the cake. It covers the dangers of unchecked ideologies and the requirement for both objectivity an

    Always insightful, it seems that Sagan just wanted to watch the world learn. I should've read this at 14. Honestly, this should probably be required high school reading for everyone. It illustrates clearly the many and varied personal and societal benefits gained from applying the methods of science to every corner of our thinking. The methods are the important part, the findings are just icing on the cake. It covers the dangers of unchecked ideologies and the requirement for both objectivity and wonder. Almost no topic is left unexamined. I really can't recommend this book enough.

  • Ahmad  Ebaid
  • Sebastien

    Wow. Just wow. This is one of the great paeans to science, logic, and critical thinking buttressed by philosophy and deep moral sensibility. This is the first book of Sagan's I've read, I was so impressed, wonderfully written, very accessible and easy to read. He is a scientist by training, a highly critical thinker, but he is clearly a very multidimensional multitalented man. He has grounding in many other areas outside of science, including philosophy, political science, questions of morality,

    Wow. Just wow. This is one of the great paeans to science, logic, and critical thinking buttressed by philosophy and deep moral sensibility. This is the first book of Sagan's I've read, I was so impressed, wonderfully written, very accessible and easy to read. He is a scientist by training, a highly critical thinker, but he is clearly a very multidimensional multitalented man. He has grounding in many other areas outside of science, including philosophy, political science, questions of morality, etc... I found him to be extremely intelligent and well thought out in his thinking (I would've been surprised if it had been otherwise haha!), but he also manifests a deep and what I feel is a true humility which adds power to his positions. He is exquisitely rational, but he is also deeply compassionate and filled with wonder.

    This book should be required reading for all our children, and heck all the adult population. It provides a blueprint for the way I feel we should approach life and existence.

    Sagan through a variety of examples, shows the carnage that can take place when fake facts, uncritical blind emotional thinking takes over. We are more easily manipulated, more liable to fall under the sway of unscrupulous authoritarians that take advantage of a credulous populace. None of us is impervious to bias and dogma, but we can continually try to check these basic human impulses by working to hone our critical thinking, by learning how to think and analyze the strength of evidence, by striving to keep our minds open to new information... Inflexibility of mind and blindly rejecting (new) information because it doesn't fit our preconceived notions and narratives is pernicious, closed-system ideological thinking is a great danger to our society and culture. We should use the scalpels of rationalism and critical thinking as equally towards our own notions as the notions that disagree with us. It's not easy to practice and no one is perfect but this is something that every one of us should strive for imo.

    He spends a bit of time on an interesting duality within science and critical thinking. At its core is a meticulous rationalism based upon evidence and testable hypotheses, but it is balanced and fueled by our creative wonder, curiosity, and excitement in regards to the natural world. There is always a push pull between cold hard rationalism and wonder/curiosity, but these dynamics are absolutely integral to one another and play off one another. With humility and curiosity we acknowledge our ignorance which in turn pushes us to ask questions and pursue questions and then tests that can allow us to further peel back layers of our reality and when we are lucky gain more knowledge. Pure rationalism without wonder and creativity and curiosity is an empty shell. As I see it, curiosity is the engine behind intellect and innovation.

    Science, unlike most faith and religion, is willing to question itself, and be guided by evidence. It is open to a type of creative destruction, old rules and established thinking is destroyed when new contradictory evidence comes to light, and if the evidence is strong and broad enough it changes the paradigms and pushes things forward. Science is not static, it is not perfect either and not immune to dogma and dogmatic thinking, but by using the scientific method, given enough time and resources, it is self-correcting. Which is more than can be said for pretty much anything else imo. As I see it the scientific method has to be one of the greatest innovations of the human species.

    So another aspect I love about Sagan is his compassionate and respectful methods in trying to guide people towards a more rational critical thinking methodology. Sometimes I feel that skeptics are too obsessed with their (supposed) intellectual superiority and enjoy belittling and disrespecting others who do not practice scrupulous critical thinking. They spend a bit too much time indulging in making fun of people, taking gleeful joy in bashing them. It's rather sad and totally counterproductive imo, not to mention insulting. Plus the great irony is some of these skeptics/skeptic community engage in a sort of dogma, and get sucked into a huge sort of groupthink that congeals around frigid static consensus that doesn't tolerate contradictory evidence against the status quo. It's rather weird, not every skeptic indulges in that but a good number do. That is my impression at least. If any of you have thoughts on that I'd love to hear it, maybe I'm off base. Anyways, Sagan doesn't have this self-serving style, instead he focuses on guiding and helping people, he does not go out of his way to try and show intellectual superiority and dominance. He is respectful, humble, and kind, and I think that is a beautiful way to try and open peoples' minds and guide them towards the value of critical thinking, grounded skepticism, and honest dialogue.

    Awesome book. Awesome dude. Sagan inspires and challenges me to be better, to do better. And I think that is awesome.


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