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

June 5, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

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


In The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan examines science by looking at religion and pseudo-science and its effects on how the public views science. He writes about how scientists straddle the fine line between skepticism and wonder — they need that wide-eyed wonder to want to know about things that seem mysterious, but they also need proper skepticism to not fall for the easiest answer. In this book, he advocates for a healthy skepticism, and discusses how it benefits us across all aspects of society.

Published in 1995, the book is still relevant today. Consider this passage:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or my grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantative content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Or this one:

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

What Sagan is doing isn’t soothsaying; it’s reflecting on history. That it’s relevant today shows that we still haven’t learned from the past. Maybe thinking skeptically and scientifically is a way to remedy that inevitable slide to ignorance. The Demon-Haunted World is one way to engage that healthy skepticism.

Started: March 28, 2018
Finished: April 16, 2018

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