July 18, 2018

The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan stands as one of the great popularizers of modern science. Known best for the “Cosmos” PBS television series and companion book of the same name, “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” was perhaps his most vital work.

In it the author presents the tools for skeptical thinking and inquiry in an engaging format. Carl successfully avoids a major pitfall that most skeptics seem prone to; he does not talk down to his audience. Far from taking away from the wondrous universe by revealing the hidden man behind the curtain, Sagan shows that science and knowledge can enhance that same wonderment. Although planetary science is his forte, (Sagan was a key player in the Voyager-Pioneer-Viking missions) diverse topics such as UFOs, astrology, witchcraft, parapsychology, and the like are all successfully debunked. Flat Earthers take note; Carls’ got you in his cross hairs. Don’t let the suede jacket complete with arm patches and the Beatles hair mop fool you; Carl’s got a sense of vision for humanity as a whole and science in particular. Core to “The Demon Haunted World” in the Baloney Detection Kit. This should be a must for high school science classes. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” is one of Carl’s most recognizable quotes. Carl takes the reader through critical thinking, explaining the rigors of how a theory comes to be. There seems to be a general misconception that a theory is merely an idea that “sounds good” at the time. Mr. Sagan shows the reader that a theory has with stood careful scrutiny and often continues to be rigorously tested for falsifiability. To be valid, a theory should also enable the researcher to make valid predictions. It has often been said that alien abductions could be proven in a court of law; the idea is that there is an enormous amount of eye witness testimony. But scientific validation also requires a final element of repeatability; this is where the abduction paradigm falls short.

The author also provides engaging examples of pseudo science trickery through the such examples as “The dragon in my garage” and example of a man who successfully duped his psychiatrist from the book “the fifty minute hour”. Like most of his works, Sagan’s central theme is this; there is a true thirst for science and knowledge out there that’s not getting quenched by the media and education. I can personally verify this, working public outreach at a major observatory. Sagan deftly uses fine skills to lead the reader towards wonderment. He also rightly points out that a society that doesn’t understand its own technology may be doomed to failure. This alone may make “The Demon Haunted World” a crucial book for our times. It was a true tragedy that Carl died of leukemia shortly after its publication in the mid 90s. He single handedly inspired a generation of science enthusiasts, such as myself. Read “The Demon Haunted World”, and then use its candle of reason to fend off the encroaching demons of superstition.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] that wonder along with astronomy once again as an adult with probably his most crucial work…The Demon Haunted World. This should be required reading in high school science. Far from boring us with a know-it-all [...]

  2. [...] throughout the book was one first echoed by Carl Sagan in his final and arguably most crucial work, The Demon Haunted World; a two culture society world is emerging, one with an elite highly trained few operating in a [...]

  3. [...] a look at modern culture, and the troubling decline of science literacy that picks up where Sagans Demon Haunted World left off over a decade ago. For far too long, the author notes, weve given folks a pass on math [...]

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