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

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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 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 our democratic institutions. Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

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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 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 our democratic institutions. Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    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 of this book, as I understand it, 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I miss Carl Sagan. Ever since I was a kid, Carl Sagan has been the face of science for me. I would watch Cosmos 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 the face of science for me. I would watch Cosmos 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 literally, 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 print 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 other options. 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 isn't there. 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 has 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 Mythbusters, and Penn & Teller strongly advocate critical thinking in their Showtime program Bullshit! 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 X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Flintstones. Science fiction would all be something like Contact - 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 Skeptic's Guide to the Universe 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:"All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well-based - or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven't thought of, or demonstrates that we've swept key underlying assumptions under the rug - it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault."He goes on later to say: "In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many ways consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped."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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    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, The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature. Sagan spends a lot of time explaining the reported sightings of UFO's and aliens. I particularly enjoyed this passage: "Occasionally, I get a letter from someone who is in 'contact' with extraterrestrials. I am invited to 'ask them anytheng.' And so over the years I've prepared a little list of questions. The extraterrestrials are very advanced, remember. So I ask things like, 'Please provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.' ... I never get an answer. On the other hand, if I ask something like 'Should we be good?' I almost always get an answer." Sagan also quotes many of the letters that he received, some hilarious, and others quite sad. For example, a tenth-grader wrote, "Our society is doing just fine with what discoveries we are making. It's going slowly, but the cure for cancer is coming right along." A parent wrote, "The problem in science education is that God isn't sufficently honored." Concerning UFO's, "I'm going to lobby my Representative to try to cancel funds for this program of listening for alien signals from space, because it would be a waste of money. They're already among us." 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    This is a wonderful, important and scary book that has not aged much at all. I was made aware of its existence in a rather unconventional way: through a video game called The Witness. In The Witness, you explore an unreal and mysterious island, solving maze puzzles that gets more and more complex as you go along. Scattered around the island you'll find audio logs containing quotes on science and religions from around the world and across time, and these sometimes gives you abstract hints on how This is a wonderful, important and scary book that has not aged much at all. I was made aware of its existence in a rather unconventional way: through a video game called The Witness. In The Witness, you explore an unreal and mysterious island, solving maze puzzles that gets more and more complex as you go along. Scattered around the island you'll find audio logs containing quotes on science and religions from around the world and across time, and these sometimes gives you abstract hints on how to solve the puzzles. If you dig deep enough into this game you might discover an area containing audio logs were the creators of the island talk about the purpose of the island and discuss the choice of content for the other, easier to find, audio logs. And this is where I first heard about Demon-Haunted World and Sagan: So next I want to present this problem. Which is that I don't think we have enough smart representation of materialist atheists, physicalists, anything in that neighborhood of ideas. And I've been trying to do something about that, but it's hard. The problem is that most coherent atheist screeds are focused on defeating some specific idea of God or are angry about the historical activities of organized religions - rather than say, from first principles making a good case for the impossibility of any concept of God, which would be more like what we are after. [...] there is a large contingent for present day real scientists who believe in some form of atheist materialism and whose beliefs have been carefully considered. So we need to ensure that we respect that viewpoint. [...] Carl Sagan has a good piece in, umm, Demon-Haunted World?, where he talks about science as a profound source of spirituality. But he doesn't mean mystical spirituality, he means ... this pure dedication to truth, and the development of a wise perspective on our place in the world. It's nice. And it's a picture of atheism that isn't hostile or contemptuous. The quotes above describes Sagan's project very well. He tries very hard not to just make fun of weird things people believe in, but to discuss them properly. That includes looking into how the human mind works, and he underlines the importance of understanding that our perception of the world around us is highly subjective, that evolution has shaped us to be afraid of the dark and of the unknown, and how our brains are hardwired to see faces and meaningful patters everywhere - whether they are there or not. Astrology is just one example: No stuffy dismissal by a gaggle of scientists makes contact with the social needs that astrology - no matter how invalid it is - addresses, and science does not. It's completely understandable that most of us wants our lives and our place in the world to be important somehow - that our existence is not mere chance, that is has meaning. In addition to that, religion promises an afterlife - which obliterates the consequences of death. We want to believe in something, not only because many of us are raised religious, but also because facing the world as an atheist is difficult. Many of us passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. But we can't believe in something just because it makes us feel good, safe, comfortable or entitled. In this context, science is a system that can help us navigate the world, and understand when we are (probably) right and when we are (probably) wrong: As I've tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes - an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error correcting machinery at its very heart. With this mindset, Sagan approaches and dissects some of the myths of our time, with a main focus on alien abduction stories, crop circles, and astrology, and he does it very convincingly. By drawing lines back to the Inquisition witch hunts, and other stories from the past that turns out to have a lot in common with alien abduction stories, he shows us the fallacies of both (the book also contains a baloney-detection kit, by the way). Sagan also scrutinizes several examples of how therapists and the legal system sometimes fail because they don't apply a scientific mindset or understand the research available to them. I really enjoyed all the psychology and anthropology in Demon-Haunted World, these are fields of study I find utterly fascinating. Sagan shows us how, and under what circumstances, science and technology can be developed - and what has historically prevented or hindered this from happening (not all societies are equally suited). And in doing so, he also enters into the political sphere. This, more than anything else, ensures that this book is still relevant today. Sagan investigates moral issues within science, how it can be both dangerous and arrogant, as well as the shortcomings of the U.S. educational system and the dangers this pose. This constitutes the scary part of the book. A well educated public and a free press that wants more than just to make money on entertainment, is paramount to preventing a democracy from degenerating into totalitarianism. If power corrupts - and it does - we need other forces to keep our leaders in check. The poorer quality of education people have, the less they can contribute to maintaining free democracies. Demon-Haunted World left me with the feeling that science is a very fragile field, at the mercy of much bigger forces in society that might topple or corrupt it. The book is extremely informative, but most of all it works as a warning. We consider ourselves to be enlightened, civilized people, safe in our modern world. Sagan shows us that that's not necessarily true, and that the world moving forward is not something automatic or matter of course. What I loved the most about this book was the broad strokes. Sagan shown us the place of science and critical thinking in history, what shapes it, was hinders it - on a very large scale. This gives us a much deeper insight than if he had focused on a narrower field.

  8. 5 out of 5

    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 their 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 causes 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    If Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a nuclear bomb in the atheist arsenal, Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World 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. The Demon-haunted World 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 Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a nuclear bomb in the atheist arsenal, Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World 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. The Demon-haunted World 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    Carl Sagan takes on pseudoscience. This book extolls the value of skepticism, critical thinking, and the scientific method. It should be required reading in my opinion. Unfortunately, those that could benefit most from applying more rigor in deciding what to believe will likely never read it. Originally published in 1995, he has proven to be prescient, as pseudoscience is even more prevalent than ever in recent years. Witness the rise in the number of shows about ancient aliens and paranormal ac Carl Sagan takes on pseudoscience. This book extolls the value of skepticism, critical thinking, and the scientific method. It should be required reading in my opinion. Unfortunately, those that could benefit most from applying more rigor in deciding what to believe will likely never read it. Originally published in 1995, he has proven to be prescient, as pseudoscience is even more prevalent than ever in recent years. Witness the rise in the number of shows about ancient aliens and paranormal activity, not to mention fake news. Outrageous claims are made and spread from person to person, and people believe these claims without questioning or proof. Why does this happen and what can we do to prevent it? Sagan attempts to answer these important questions. This book is very readable. It does not require a deep understanding of science. Sagan writes in a way that is easily understood, while not becoming overly simplistic. He does not use jargon and, not surprisingly, presents evidence in a logical manner. He provides helpful analogies and treats his audience as bright and capable of understanding. He shows how scientific advances are fueled not only by hypothesizing, rigorous testing, and analysis of results, but also by curiosity and imagination. I was surprised by how many areas outside the specifics of scientific inquiry are covered in this book, including literature, history, politics, religion, communications, education, economics, ethics, social norms, culture, and more. Science touches on almost every aspect of our lives but is largely ignored by many. Sagan’s subject matter includes debunking of such issues as crop circles, alien abductions, ancient astronauts, ESP, UFO’s, astrology, New Age mysticism, and the like. He reminds us of the importance of not confusing cause and effect, questioning claims that cannot be tested, requiring evidence to support assertions, and remaining skeptical about authoritative statements, especially if monetary gain is involved. We are bombarded daily with outrageous claims (click bait, anyone?) urging us to simply believe without scrutiny, so healthy skepticism is becoming increasingly more important in our inter-connected world. Carl Sagan died in 1996, when the world wide web was in its infancy. One can only wish he were around today to help refute today’s absurdities, which are so obviously spurious in origin. I know I am “preaching to the choir,” since avid readers regularly engage in evaluative thinking. Even though some of the references are dated, this book contains an important and still relevant message on the value of critical thinking skills. I found it fascinating. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    . . . every question is a cry to understand the world. In a nutshell, Sagan valiantly attempts to understand why people believe weird stuff, then explains why they shouldn't. I particularly enjoyed the several excellent chapters on the importance of literacy and education. There's also a probing (Sorry!) look into alien abductions. I think this quote, included in the book, sums everything up nicely: [I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, an . . . every question is a cry to understand the world. In a nutshell, Sagan valiantly attempts to understand why people believe weird stuff, then explains why they shouldn't. I particularly enjoyed the several excellent chapters on the importance of literacy and education. There's also a probing (Sorry!) look into alien abductions. I think this quote, included in the book, sums everything up nicely: [I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. CHARLES DARWIN, Introduction, The Descent of Man

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Ever read one of those books you SWEAR you've read before. Nonfiction? Where every single point seems to have been made elsewhere? Well, that's where this book went with me. From witch trials to alien abductions to conspiracy theories and a lot more, Sagan extols us to bring rational thought back to our lives. The scientific method is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. I totally agree, and that's why I kept reading despite every single point being a re-hash... but that's me. Sometimes we like to be reminded wh Ever read one of those books you SWEAR you've read before. Nonfiction? Where every single point seems to have been made elsewhere? Well, that's where this book went with me. From witch trials to alien abductions to conspiracy theories and a lot more, Sagan extols us to bring rational thought back to our lives. The scientific method is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. I totally agree, and that's why I kept reading despite every single point being a re-hash... but that's me. Sometimes we like to be reminded why we keep going, why we believe certain things, and realize that we can apply the scientific method to everything in our lives. It doesn't stifle creativity or spiritualism. It broadens everything. And it also happens to help us throw out the trash. :) WOAH! RATIONALITY! :)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Bastian

    “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” (p. 26) The omen above was put to print in 1995 and echoed throughout Carl Sagan’s prolific career as both practitione “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” (p. 26) The omen above was put to print in 1995 and echoed throughout Carl Sagan’s prolific career as both practitioner and communicator of science. Swathed in a world so joined at the hip to science and technology, Sagan saw denial and ignorance of science as the greatest risks to human well-being and continuity. Is the past here to stay? In the US at least, conditions are none too sunny. Nearly 7 in 10 believe that angels and demons are active in the world. 61% and 48% believe in ghosts and UFOs of extraterrestrial origin, respectively. More than half doubt the scientific consensus on climate change, while one third of the public still waffles on evolution. And over half believe that God influences the outcome of sporting events. Dr. Sagan passed away the year after releasing The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, and in the decades that have come and gone since his oracular swan song, the American electorate seems as awash as ever in pseudoscience and superstition. As momentous, relevant and urgent though Sagan’s message was, its infiltration remains woefully incomplete. The venerated astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist regularly popularized his lifelong passion for replacing delusion with fact-sensitive grandeur. His 1980 docuseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was such a groundbreaking moment in broadcasting because it showcased the degree to which science, presented properly, could warm hearts and inspire minds. In The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan continued this saga, with his inimitable style intact, but with a dire focus on communicating how science undergirds the modern world, its co-dependency with democracy and, amid the tenured struggle for progress and survival, is so often overshadowed by uncritical thinking and politicized agenda. The Method The uninitiated often maintain a warped view of science, that of an arcane discipline requiring superheroic intellect out to devour devout beliefs. But as Sagan spent a lifetime making clear, science isn’t just for scientists. Every one of us can revel in its fruits, be won over by its infectious appetite for discovery. Most important, we can all benefit from applying the philosophical principles on which it rests to our everyday life. What are those principles? The twinship of skepticism and trained observation fueled by an overarching preference for the truth, however inconvenient, over the psychologically comfortable. Science is far more than cold collection of data and interpretation; it is a way of thinking, an approach to the world that values the questions as much as the answers and has built-in tools for prioritizing both.   “Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.” (p. 27)   Donning this intellectual apparatus full-tilt may occasion us to revisit ideas we once accepted without any skeptical filter or require we discard some beliefs long held dear. And in taking the plunge, Sagan encourages, we often find that nature is far more clever, subtle and adept at inspiring wonder than our fallible pattern-seeking devices can imagine. “Better the hard truth than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy…There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any." (pp. 59, 204) While this may be new cognitive territory for some of us, the benefits are too vast to pass up. A sharp mind keeps the charlatans at bay. Key to how science delivers the goods has been its unmasking of natural processes to arrive at natural explanation. We may recall how our ancestors ascribed various features and bugs of our existence to supernatural causality: witches inflicted sickness with their spells; rain was a divine reward, drought a divine punishment; earthquakes were just the local god(s) stomping around in fits of rage; the “rising” and “setting” of the sun was controlled by the whims of the neighborhood deity; short-period comets presaged the fall of state empires. The advent of science severed the agency-focused paradigm. We learned that the ebbs and flows of celestial bodies mind predictable, calculable patterns. We discovered that weather events are beholden to entirely terrestrial phenomena. We found that transmissible disease is carried by microbes and other agents in our environment. We learned that the right medicine can cure an illness. The implications were radical, because if an illness was caused by the spell of a witch there is no reason to think we should find a natural cause for it, nor is there any reason to think we should find a natural cure. But in fact, it turned out that the right remedy could always overcome the power of “magic spells.” Per a unidirectional phase shift, super- and non-natural explanations were rendered obsolete, buoyed by an acute awareness of our propensity to overinterpret reality.   “For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with its unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror. Science is an attempt largely successful, to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get hold of ourselves, to steer a safe course. Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death." (p. 26) Irrationalia Respect for this approach has not been universal, as a handful of minutes with mainstream media will avouch. In a world overflowing with pseudoscientific madness, Sagan divides his time between conveying the method and blitzing specific manifestations of the irrational. He casts his gaze on a whole armamentarium of woo, including creationism, crop circles, faith healing, astrology, psychics, UFOs and alien encounters. Is there anything at all behind these claims that can connect them to reality? Not if skeptical inquiry has anything to say; such notions find a vacuum of support inside, as Sagan wittily remarks, “any universe burdened by rules of evidence." (p. 58) We learn of how two enterprising hoaxsters from Southampton fooled millions of credulants into believing that patterns in cornfields were cryptic messages from off-world. We listen in on the exploits of James Randi, who once outfoxed Australian media with video documentation of a “channeler”. Our talent for deceiving ourselves is on full display as Sagan recounts the initial frisson of seeing “faces” on Mars and assesses the merits of UFO claims from perhaps every conceivable angle. (As a pioneer of exobiological research, it’s no surprise Sagan devoted such sizable chunks to debunking UFO conspiracy tales, but he could have toggled it down a notch or two.) In turn, astrology and biblical creationism sport the same empirical garb as alchemy and witchcraft. (Quickly! Someone get Answers in Genesis on the phone.) From séance mediumship to 'spirit photography', the counterfeit carousel requires similar ingredients to survive: “what they need is darkness and gullibility." (p. 241) Democracy and the Future Why haven't the contrails of science seeped into the inner recesses of society and taken hold of our discourse and policy, Sagan asks? A look to the past tells us that commitment to these ideals has waxed and waned over time, surfacing first and most clearly in ancient Greece in the form of natural philosophy. Greek antiquity’s mental preoccupation with nature was distinguished by an express concern with natural cause and effect explanation, checked against their homegrown rules of logic and deduction. This marriage of reasoning and observation nourished some extraordinarily precocious activities. Sagan charts the achievements of early polymaths like Eratosthenes—who measured the circumference of the earth, its axial tilt, as well as its distance from both the sun and the moon all with peculiar accuracy in the 2nd century BCE, Aristarchus—who presented the first known model of a sun-centered cosmos, and Democritus—who was the first to offer an atomic theory of the universe and often considered the “father of modern science." Later societies yielded intermittent deviation from the systematic acme of Athens as triumphs gave way to enshrined overindulgence of superstition and as nationalistic fervor billowed to abnormally toxic levels. Beyond our undersized prefrontal cortex and the diversiform predispositions underwritten by our evolutionary heritage, at the heart of these setbacks lay the institution and its doctrinaire approach to knowledge. Both religious and secular governance can boast of choking free inquiry, stamping out critical investigation of the cosmos, and cultivating an infrastructural incapacity for nurturing the open exchange of ideas. Whenever and wherever this happens, humanity falters, the mind capsized under the crushing weight of tyranny. And like a derailed traincar, we inevitably throw ourselves headlong into state-sanctioned superstition and unreason. Science cannot prosper under these conditions. It stultifies and stagnates. Democracy ensures the efficacy of science insofar as it ensures all voices are heard. Science and democracy reinforce one another in this way; science depends on democratic values to function, while democracy depends sensitively on science to maintain its selected way of life, in everything from informing policy to keeping infrastructure in motion. After spending ample time surveying the overwhelming science illiteracy and innumeracy in the States, again and again Sagan returns to the point that democracy is unworkable in this environment. Uninformed citizens cannot cast informed votes. The shrieks of the ignorant become the shrieks of the next generation, who often adhere to the ideological persuasions impressed by their sheltered upbringing. So before we rebuff the allegation that beliefs in pseudoscience are harmless, we must be open to recognizing how they are emblematic of a larger infirmity. We need open-minded, critically thinking, intellectually equipped individuals exercising their constitutional duty and voting on the policies that will give shape to the parameters under which future generations may thrive or fall.   “A proclivity for science is embedded deeply within us, in all times, places and cultures. It has been the means for our survival. It is our birthright. When, through indifference, inattention, incompetence, or fear of skepticism, we discourage children from science, we are disenfranchising them, taking from them the tools needed to manage their future.” (p. 317)   Closing Thoughts Sagan’s penultimate work is packed with diverse subject matter. Much more than an impassioned defense of science, The Demon-Haunted World meanders through philosophy, history, politics, religion and grin-inducing exposés on claims to reality that just aren’t so. While acknowledging the imperfections of science that come with all human endeavors, Sagan urges that when it comes to understanding how the world works and why nature is the way that it is, science seizes the epistemological crown. It is also a siren call to the coming generations: that we stifle its advance and deflect its discoveries at our own peril. With mounting concerns over a warming planet, overpopulation and sustainability, and the most forward-focused way to preserve our pale blue dot, we cannot afford to treat with insouciance its revelations. Every human should read this book. On a more personal note, Sagan holds a special place in my own intellectual journey, reviving a pulse which continues to reverberate throughout my life. His books unshackled my imagination. His words spoke for me. He gave me a voice. A man of great passion and fierce intellect, he had the uncanny ability to ambush the heart with an equal measure of poetry and humble curiosity. His words can be understood by anyone who takes the time to read them. Carl synthesized my deepest thoughts and pointed me toward new horizons. He opened my eyes to a post-religious ethos and, more than any other, inspired me to abandon the intellectual celibacy of my youth and secure a personal relationship with reality and the cosmos. If Sagan communicated anything, it’s that science is a unification measure, something in which all of us can partake. Together with reason it is among the greatest tools in our survival kit. Let’s keep them burning brightly.   “I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” Note: This review is republished from my official website. Click through for additional footnotes and imagery.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mitch

    I was very disappointed in this book. I serously don't understand why people consistantly rated this book so highly. I'm really out of synch on this one...and here's why: Carl obviously had an ongoing religious relationship with science and boy, is he ever tiresome about it. What a reckless evangelist! He condemns everything that does not stand up to science's demonstrable standards (whether such application is appropriate or not) and then....he violates the same standards time and again in his ' I was very disappointed in this book. I serously don't understand why people consistantly rated this book so highly. I'm really out of synch on this one...and here's why: Carl obviously had an ongoing religious relationship with science and boy, is he ever tiresome about it. What a reckless evangelist! He condemns everything that does not stand up to science's demonstrable standards (whether such application is appropriate or not) and then....he violates the same standards time and again in his 'logical' arguments to promote his first-love. Example: early on he says that no religion or psychic has ever foretold the future accurately, but that science has. He can accurately tell you where Uranus will be in 3 weeks. (This is accurate, but it's not exactly tommorrow's Derby winner, now is it?) Later in the book he lists several predictions he made via 'scientific reasoning' that turned out to be false. My point: he condemns all paranormal experience and religion (Show me God. You can't? Then he doesn't exist. Neither do souls. That stuff is hooey.) He then turns around and expects blind faith in science...let's dump millions into research for research's sake and trust that it will be good for us somehow. He acknowledges that science has given us humans a greater capacity to harm one another than ever before...and calls for a corresponding greater morality to contain it. Question: where will said greater morality come from? Science??? Perhaps he shouldn't have been in such a hurry to throw out religion. Boom!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Though a bit dated because of its original publication date in the late 90s (see this review for a few updates, the pleas for facts, scientific method, and science scholarship are timeless. I downloaded the audio because the narration duties are shared between Seth Macfarlane and Cary Elwes, with an introduction by Sagan's last wife in her own voice. (The audio production is much more recent, 2017.... I suspect the whole fake news thing may have inspired it!) Sagan takes on many issues of pseudo Though a bit dated because of its original publication date in the late 90s (see this review for a few updates, the pleas for facts, scientific method, and science scholarship are timeless. I downloaded the audio because the narration duties are shared between Seth Macfarlane and Cary Elwes, with an introduction by Sagan's last wife in her own voice. (The audio production is much more recent, 2017.... I suspect the whole fake news thing may have inspired it!) Sagan takes on many issues of pseudoscience, at times directly debunking, at other times suggesting the logical questions to ask that might lead to better conclusions. Alien abductions, UFOs, crop circles, fairies, etc. This was a great pick for Science September! "We cannot have science in bits and pieces!" "If we have no idea of the answer, we can... take the child to the library... every question is a cry to understand the world."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    This book is a favorite of mine. It’s non-fiction. It’s very full of science and scientific principles and explanations. It’s also full of respect for those who want to understand the world better. And that is Carl Sagan for you in a nutshell: A caring person, a scientist who throughout his life always took other people seriously, and endeavored to understand them and help them. Very few scientists, I think, have taken the time to consider other people’s fears, their anxieties and compulsions. Sa This book is a favorite of mine. It’s non-fiction. It’s very full of science and scientific principles and explanations. It’s also full of respect for those who want to understand the world better. And that is Carl Sagan for you in a nutshell: A caring person, a scientist who throughout his life always took other people seriously, and endeavored to understand them and help them. Very few scientists, I think, have taken the time to consider other people’s fears, their anxieties and compulsions. Sagan did, and because of that, he understood the appeal of simple explanations and answers, and dedicated a big chunk of his time to present the reality of our universe in a way most people could understand. And that is The Demon-Haunted World in a nutshell: a wonderful presentation of our surroundings based on the principle that startling claims should be supported by evidence that can be tested and challenged. Interestingly, when this book first appeared, many Americans believed that they were at risk of alien abduction, aliens were reportedly creating crop circles in England, and committing improper acts on mysteriously unmarked adults throughout the world. Hence, timing explains Sagan's sustained attention along the pages of this book to fantasies of extraterrestrial interference with humans. Something that may feel a bit dated for those who read it for the first time today. At is core, the aim of Demon Haunted World is to debunk the paranormal and the unexplained in a study with a range of reference that is just phenomenal. For example, in just one essays Sagan enlightens the readers on (1) US constitutional history at the time of Thomas Jefferson, (2) the witchcraft trials of Wurzburg, Germany, in 1631, (3) the manipulation of historic memory in Russia under Stalin, (4) the monopoly of media ownership, (5) Linus Pauling and the test ban treaty of 1963, and (6) Edward Teller's enthusiasm for the hydrogen bomb, and he does it all with a prose that is both easy to follow and nice to read. But perhaps most impressive, though, is the book’s predictive qualities. It predicted, for instance, the dumbing down of the United States. “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the 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…” And that is why book like this, I think, should be part of general education and schools curricula, because knowing is not as important as learning how to learn.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    If Carl Sagan was alive today I think he would probably cry if he saw the state of the world. He wrote this book as a kind of wake up call to the people and the government, he pointed out how bad the education system is, he tries to get people to understand how important science is, he warns us not to watch so much crap on TV, go out and get some real-life experiences and he warns us about the government abusing the bill of rights. Well it looks like everybody has ignored him, if fact to me thing If Carl Sagan was alive today I think he would probably cry if he saw the state of the world. He wrote this book as a kind of wake up call to the people and the government, he pointed out how bad the education system is, he tries to get people to understand how important science is, he warns us not to watch so much crap on TV, go out and get some real-life experiences and he warns us about the government abusing the bill of rights. Well it looks like everybody has ignored him, if fact to me things feel worse, education is still really bad (always with the cutbacks) in the UK the classes can be huge and kids can get ignored. The rubbish that is on TV is so bad that I have read over 100 books this year, the first time this has ever happened to anybody since the TV was invented (True fact!) and as for the government, at least they are working hard protecting the rich. Carl has written an interesting book here, he has a brilliant sense of humour and having a chapter in the middle with some of the letters he got from his "fans?" was a touch of class, just lightens the mood a bit for the second half, I do find it amazing that some of these people were actually able to write. This is one of the most thought provoking books I've had the pleasure to read, Sagan (autocorrect changes it to Satan... Interesting) has taught me all about the baloney detector and that Jesus is conspiring with Aliens to eventually take over the world. (True Fact)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Sagan shows why learning to think in a contingent universe is ... well ... absolutely necessary. My reaction first reading the book was, "I've known for a long time that something's wrong. Now I know what." The discussions the author engages in in the book are eye-openers. I cannot recommend this book to those who are highly sensitive about their credos, but on other hand, I don't think more open-minded religious people will at all see this as the scathing attack many opinion-makers have attribut Sagan shows why learning to think in a contingent universe is ... well ... absolutely necessary. My reaction first reading the book was, "I've known for a long time that something's wrong. Now I know what." The discussions the author engages in in the book are eye-openers. I cannot recommend this book to those who are highly sensitive about their credos, but on other hand, I don't think more open-minded religious people will at all see this as the scathing attack many opinion-makers have attributed to it. If you really want to read scathing breakdowns of religious assertions, any philosophy book in the past 250 years will give it to you better that this comparatively sympathetic author, whose main interest lies in the psychology of our beliefs, rather than their truth-values. I note this in order to draw attention to the real nature of Sagan's book: It's a rare and public advocacy of the power of scientific thinking to change our lives for the better. How poorly understood that project is in our nominally scientific age is the actual thrust of the discussion. The content, then, is the unique contribution this book makes. I'd characterize it as an exaltation of scientific humanism. I gave it five stars for its approachability and novelty.

  20. 4 out of 5

    May 舞

    As expected, this book was very interesting, insightful, and relevant to our world today. I felt Sagan's passion emanating from the pages, and it has given me even an even greater motivation to pursue the goal I've been chasing for the past 3 years, which is to be educated, willing to question authority whatever form it takes, and to engage my critical faculties and be able to form my own opinions. It was Carl Sagan that showed me the path in 2016 when I read his book Pale Blue Dot, which was th As expected, this book was very interesting, insightful, and relevant to our world today. I felt Sagan's passion emanating from the pages, and it has given me even an even greater motivation to pursue the goal I've been chasing for the past 3 years, which is to be educated, willing to question authority whatever form it takes, and to engage my critical faculties and be able to form my own opinions. It was Carl Sagan that showed me the path in 2016 when I read his book Pale Blue Dot, which was the first science book I've ever read, and now, three years later, I know more about the world around me yet I am acutely aware of how ignorant I am and always will be. I wish that more people would read this book. Ethnocentrism, xenophobia and nationalism are these days rife in many parts of the world. Government repression of unpopular views is still widespread. False or misleading memories are inculcated. For the defenders of such attitudes, science is disturbing. It claims access to truths that are largely independent of ethnic or cultural biases. By its very nature, science transcends national boundaries. Put scientists working in the same field of study together in a room and even if they share no common spoken language, they will find a way to communicate. Science itself is a transnational language. Scientists are naturally cosmopolitan in attitude and are more likely to see through efforts to divide the human family into many small and warring factions. 'There is no national science,' said the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, 'just as there is no national multiplication table.' The bits about Thomas Jefferson were new to me so I am going to make sure I read some of his work. "Jefferson was a student of history - not just the compliant and safe history that praises our own time or country or ethnic group, but the real history of real humans, our weaknesses as well as our strengths. History taught him that the rich and powerful will steal and oppress if given half a chance. He described the governments of Europe, which he saw at first hand as the American ambassador to France. Under the pretence of government, he said, they had divided their nations into two classes: wolves and sheep. Jefferson taught that every government degenerates when it is left to the rulers alone, because rulers - by the very act of ruling - misuse the public trust. The people themselves, he said, are the only prudent repository of power. But he worried that the people - and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle - are easily misled. So he advocated safeguards, insurance policies. One was the constitutional separation of powers; accordingly, various groups, some pursuing their own selfish interests, balance one another, preventing any one of them from running away with the country: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches; the House and the Senate; the States and the Federal Government. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over. Here's how he put it in Notes on Virginia, stressing how the powerful and unscrupulous find zones of vulnerability they can exploit: In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved . . ." Recommended for everyone.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    My first Sagan book was Cosmos, which led me to this one. While Cosmos was good, this was great. It really opened my eyes to how important science is, and the underlying principles of science, and simultaneously how organized religion is virtually 100% philosophically opposed to science. Religion: Don't think, don't reason, don't use logic. We'll (religious leaders) tell you what to think, what our god(s) wants you to think/do. Our holy book written centuries ago by primitive tribes with no knowl My first Sagan book was Cosmos, which led me to this one. While Cosmos was good, this was great. It really opened my eyes to how important science is, and the underlying principles of science, and simultaneously how organized religion is virtually 100% philosophically opposed to science. Religion: Don't think, don't reason, don't use logic. We'll (religious leaders) tell you what to think, what our god(s) wants you to think/do. Our holy book written centuries ago by primitive tribes with no knowledge of science is the last word on everything, even if there is overwhelming scientific evidence today at odds with it. Science: Think, reason, gather scientific evidence via repeatable experiments. Question, demand proof, but accept all the evidence, and the conclusions that follow, even if it overturns your most cherished prior beliefs. I will always be grateful to Carl Sagan for opening my eyes. The world is a lesser place without him.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    After reading a credulous book about demons, I turned to a scientific one. Carl Sagan was one of the most gifted science writers of his day. This is an enjoyable collection of what might be better termed essays than a long disquisition. Sagan has offered here a strong case for not only science, but for education in general. He frequently makes the point that scientists are portrayed negatively in the media, although from the outside it often appears to be the opposite. Perhaps it depends on your After reading a credulous book about demons, I turned to a scientific one. Carl Sagan was one of the most gifted science writers of his day. This is an enjoyable collection of what might be better termed essays than a long disquisition. Sagan has offered here a strong case for not only science, but for education in general. He frequently makes the point that scientists are portrayed negatively in the media, although from the outside it often appears to be the opposite. Perhaps it depends on your point of view. Sagan was more open-minded than many others in his field. He at least admitted the possibility of many things mainstream scientists dismiss out of hand. Always urging skepticism, but with an open mind, this was a rare intellect indeed. One of the more disturbing aspects of the book—written well before the present political climate—is his prediction of how lack of science and devaluing of education would lead to totalitarianism. He saw that it could happen here. We have seen a secretary of education trying to dismantle that very subject and facts have come under fire from alternative facts. Skepticism is leveled toward science itself rather than toward such alternative facts. This was clearly a fear Sagan had and he has, unfortunately, proven prophetic in it. The book argues that science is the candle in the dark that is otherwise populated with demons, witches, and gods. He notes there is no scientific evidence against these things, but read correctly the evidence points away from them. Many scientists would simply shut them out. Sagan notes that they should be considered, but put into place against better hypotheses. An appropriate magnum opus for one of the great minds of the last century, this book stands as a testament to skeptical but not close-minded thinking. It is a rare thing. For those interested, I've said a little more about this book here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    I don't feel hyperbolic saying this is one of the best and most important books ever written. I can only kick myself for having left it on the shelf so many years. In his characteristic congenial, non-threatening, well-studied, literate and abundantly clear way, Carl Sagan explains the importance of critical thinking, science and education. Sagan is a master of succinct conveyance, ever-shifting the reader's perspective to a better vantage point from which to understand a concept. That he manage I don't feel hyperbolic saying this is one of the best and most important books ever written. I can only kick myself for having left it on the shelf so many years. In his characteristic congenial, non-threatening, well-studied, literate and abundantly clear way, Carl Sagan explains the importance of critical thinking, science and education. Sagan is a master of succinct conveyance, ever-shifting the reader's perspective to a better vantage point from which to understand a concept. That he manages to do so with humility and wit is all the more impressive. So much ground is covered, looking in turn at every aspect of belief, psychology, biology, ethics, technology and social structure, with examples still relevant twenty years later. The Demon-Haunted World is dense with meaning, and is not the sort of fare one chews lightly. I spent a long time in this book, and each page presented at least one brilliantly-stated quotable (many of our favorite Sagan-isms originate here): something to stop and think about, or a topic I needed to look up in more detail. I made the initial mistake of taking a highlighter to this book, only to realize I'd end up highlighting half the words. It's that kind of book. One cannot help but occasionally hear Carl Sagan's friendly, sedated-Kermit-the-Frog voice reading various passages - especially the ones heavy with philosophical import or gazing with us in awe at the wonders of the cosmos. I can't think of anyone I would not recommend this to. Please read it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Every human should read this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I hesitated to mark this as "Read" because I couldn't actually get through the whole thing. I was SO excited to read this book: I was under the impression that Sagan systematically explained in reasonable and scientific terms some of the myths and phenomena present in Western culture, and I thought it would be interesting to see how these things came about. That's not what it is. From the first about 100 pages, I gather that a) Sagan is reeeaaallly in love with science, b) he's not unconvinced th I hesitated to mark this as "Read" because I couldn't actually get through the whole thing. I was SO excited to read this book: I was under the impression that Sagan systematically explained in reasonable and scientific terms some of the myths and phenomena present in Western culture, and I thought it would be interesting to see how these things came about. That's not what it is. From the first about 100 pages, I gather that a) Sagan is reeeaaallly in love with science, b) he's not unconvinced that there are aliens out there and c) he has a grudge against nonscientific discussion of space, astronomy, aliens, and other related things because he feels it ought to be investigated properly, and fears that wild claims of UFOs turn it all into some silly game. It would be fine if UFOs and aliens were one phenomenon he was going to debunk - or, if not debunk, at least caution against believing without further scientific proof - but that is the whole book. Sometimes he veers a little bit toward some other interesting phenomenon or belief...but it always veers back to aliens. In addition, his veneration of science and the scientific process are to be applauded and imitated, but it gets tiring to hear in every single chapter about how great science is. It's tiresome. Anyone reading that book already respects science; no paranormal who doesn't understand the concept of experimental proof is going to pick up a book about how experimental proof is the only way to know something. Sagan may be a great scientist, but he's a terrible writer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I’m not sure what potential audience Sagan had in mind for this book, and I’m doubly unsure if I’m in it. I doubt you will be sure, either; and this tension is one that runs through the whole of the book. Perhaps this is unavoidable. For, when a popular scientist writes a book, his readership is more than likely to consist, in the main, of reasonable and skeptical people; thus, when he spends the entirety of the work attempting to inculcate the scientific attitude, he is in the position of a mus I’m not sure what potential audience Sagan had in mind for this book, and I’m doubly unsure if I’m in it. I doubt you will be sure, either; and this tension is one that runs through the whole of the book. Perhaps this is unavoidable. For, when a popular scientist writes a book, his readership is more than likely to consist, in the main, of reasonable and skeptical people; thus, when he spends the entirety of the work attempting to inculcate the scientific attitude, he is in the position of a musician performing at a music school—most of the audience will consist of other musicians. So we may ask: are the ones likely to read The Demon-Haunted World the people who Sagan intends to reach? Perhaps I’m wrong; I hope so. I’d like to think that this book fell into the hands of several UFO enthusiasts and believers in the supernatural, and that Sagan was able to convince them. When he is debunking UFO sightings, Sagan is awfully convincing; considerable mental defenses would be necessary to block out the assault of reason and evidence Sagan presents. Yet here we face a particular irony: Sagan is attempting to inculcate a certain type of skepticism—the skepticism towards claims based on insufficient empirical evidence—but his message will likely be blocked out by a different type of skepticism: the skepticism towards those in authority. How easy it would be to dismiss his arguments with “he’s just pompous,” or “science is narrow-minded,” or “he worked for the government, so he’s just part of the cover-up.” The human mind is not, unfortunately, a truth-seeking machine; as Benjamin Franklin observed: “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” We see this very thing play out in Chapters 10 and 11 of this book. In Chapter 10, Sagan vigorously attacks the evidence presented in favor of flying saucers from other worlds. Then, in the next chapter—after having publishing the previous chapter in a magazine—Sagan includes response after response from readers. The result is no surprise. Those who were already skeptical about aliens tell Sagan he’s right on the money. Those who already believed in intelligent aliens (and several stranger things), on the other hand, tell Sagan he has no idea what he’s talking about, that they have seen the aliens with their own eyes, and that they are still in contact, communicating telepathically. Not a single solitary note says something to this effect: “Wow, Carl, you really convinced me! I believed in flying saucers before, but you made some excellent points!” This is an example of what one might call the Paradox of Belief: believers who are open-minded enough to be convinced are the least dangerous to society; believers so closed-minded as to never be convinced, on the other hand, are the real trouble. So what's the point of proselytizing? What rational argument would convince an extremist? What empirical evidence would dissuade a fanatic? What, in short, is the point of this enterprise, since the open-minded moderates aren’t a societal hazard, anyway? Alright, I know: I’m simplifying things. Sagan does include much sensible advice on wider issues—advice on topics ranging from education reform to new ideas for science programs. He isn’t putting all of his stock into his books. Sagan would have more science in the classroom, in the government, on television. If science was built into our education and our entertainment, if the scientific attitude pervaded society, it would have a better chance of reaching children early, when they're still open-minded; science would be too ubiquitous to ignore, too commonplace to avoid. In fact, Sagan treats the scientific attitude as a sort of panacea for all the world’s ills. For Sagan, science engenders both wisdom and knowledge, it inculcates both free-thinking and caution. Science, with its heavy emphasis on checking and re-checking, on independent and repeated verification, takes full stock of human nature. We are, sadly, an errant and erring species; progress, in both science and—as Sagan goes on to say—government, depends on checks and balances, on emphasizing evidence, on distrusting authority and trusting facts, on a community of independent thinkers rather than a unified hive-mind. And, I must admit, imagining a world where even 5% of people were more familiar with the scientific attitude—that strange mix of curiosity and skepticism—fills me with excitement. I can hardly imagine how credulous I might have been if science wasn’t a part of my education from an early age. Despite my sympathy for Sagan’s goals, I can’t help but think Sagan’s urgency comes as much from his wisdom as from his paranoia. Perhaps spending too much time thinking about massive meteors or talking to congressmen gives one a sense of impending doom. Whatever the reason, Sagan often gives the impression that he thinks the end is nigh, that humanity’s survival is standings on the edge of a knife, and that urgent action is necessary now, immediately, without further delay. Don’t get me wrong: I think Sagan was often right, even prescient. Even so, it’s hard for me to take his idea seriously that developing the technology to deflect an asteroid might inadvertently give some lunatic the power to destroy the world. For somebody who is so keen on being reasonable, this level of fear strikes me as at least a bit unrealistic. Of course, I might be the unrealistic one. So, to repeat myself, I’m not sure this book was meant for me. I needed no convincing from Sagan to disbelieve eyewitness reports of supernatural phenomena, nor did I need any reminding that the human species is prone to folly and superstition. I doubt I'm unique in this respect. Yet I still can’t help admiring a man who worked so hard to convince us that ignorance is as dangerous as evil, and that skepticism is as necessary as knowledge. Sagan wasn’t like me: he had no time to be a fatalist. He was too busy trying to save the world.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    I consider this book to be among the most important in my library. Carl Sagan wrote it when he knew he was dying of cancer. He had an unmatched gift of conveying and explaining science to make it understandable and relevant to non-scientists. For that reason alone, it is not far-fetched to list him among the great scientific minds of the 20th century. In this valedictory statement of scientific philosophy, Sagan elevates the idea and relevance of the scientific method in our daily and public live I consider this book to be among the most important in my library. Carl Sagan wrote it when he knew he was dying of cancer. He had an unmatched gift of conveying and explaining science to make it understandable and relevant to non-scientists. For that reason alone, it is not far-fetched to list him among the great scientific minds of the 20th century. In this valedictory statement of scientific philosophy, Sagan elevates the idea and relevance of the scientific method in our daily and public lives. It is not something to “believe in,” it is a way of looking at the world with healthy skepticism and pragmatic attention to systematic, verified observation. “Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions.” (We don’t “believe in,” for example, climate change; we make decisions to accept the validity about the prevailing scientific research and interpretation of its findings.) Sagan uses examples in history including UFOs, superstitions, dragons and other mythical monsters, and a variety of other topics to explain how science has demonstrated how these things do not exist and why we should not live in fear of them. He tackles those who promote anti-science such as fake approaches to treating and “curing” diseases, how to engage in the “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” and how public figures use these things to distort pubic dialogues about policy. But the one thing that makes this book so special to me is Sagan’s connection of science to the civic education and engagement that is required of citizens in the modern world, which are essential if we are to be free. I think it worth quoting the final paragraph of this, the last book he wrote in his life, something he wrote when he knew had, at best, a few short months to live. These are quite literally the last public words of the greatest scientific communicator who has ever lived: Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen—or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness. (emphasis added)

  28. 5 out of 5

    melydia

    Have you ever read something that filled you with such furvor that you wanted to write your own thoughts along those same lines, but whenever you tried you found you did nothing but repeat the original article? That's been me all over the place with The Demon-Haunted World. I want to ramble about the wonder of science, the importance of skepticism, the fact that school all but completely robbed me of any desire to learn, the dangers of pseudoscience, the intrinsic value of basic research even if Have you ever read something that filled you with such furvor that you wanted to write your own thoughts along those same lines, but whenever you tried you found you did nothing but repeat the original article? That's been me all over the place with The Demon-Haunted World. I want to ramble about the wonder of science, the importance of skepticism, the fact that school all but completely robbed me of any desire to learn, the dangers of pseudoscience, the intrinsic value of basic research even if it doesn't lead to a specific application right away...but Sagan says it all, and he says it better than I ever could. This is one of those amazing books that made me think long and hard about a lot of things. It made me want to know more about the universe, to revisit old assumptions and condescensions, to step back a moment and drink it all in. Sagan speaks as one with a giddy love for the scientific process, one whose healthy skepticism does not make him stodgy or closed to new ideas. Much of the first half of the book is spent more or less on aliens - not only explanations for much of what is attributed to extraterrestrial activity, but why people assume aliens at all. He does grump a little about the dumbing-down of American entertainment and its lack of accurate science, but coming from someone who prizes knowledge so highly, I can understand his disappointment at the popularity of shows like "Beavis & Butthead" and "Dumb & Dumber." Likewise his unhappiness with dwindling popular and government support of science research and education. This book is absolutely astounding. It's one of the few that I recommend to anyone, even (and perhaps especially) if it challenges some of your closely held viewpoints. It did mine.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Veronica Bolts

    As an ordinary non-scientific person, it is common to perceive information through a two dimension. The Demon – Haunted World on the contrary, leads the non – scientific reader to filter information through a three dimensional viewpoint. To mistake false information as valid without questioning the sources or claims being made is quite prevalent, thanks to social media. For example why do people believe in memes that circulate on the web at face value? Or another example is why do people believe As an ordinary non-scientific person, it is common to perceive information through a two dimension. The Demon – Haunted World on the contrary, leads the non – scientific reader to filter information through a three dimensional viewpoint. To mistake false information as valid without questioning the sources or claims being made is quite prevalent, thanks to social media. For example why do people believe in memes that circulate on the web at face value? Or another example is why do people believe in pseudo science like - astrology, when there is no actual proof that it even exists. And this is coming from someone who studied Astrology extensively for years, and owned quite a vast collection of astrology books, along with Tarot cards, and I Ching. But to believe in that which is false is quite unfulfilling and irrational. Carl Sagan covers the reasoning behind why our culture values unscientific rationale quite extensively. It is shocking how low Americans fail in scientific knowledge. Sagan elaborates in a nutshell that our society has potential to improve scientific comprehension but because of political reasons such as our government spending trillions on the military and close to nothing on scientific research, the field loses priority. Sagan also explains that clear scientific thinking goes hand in hand with skepticism about religion and that science can only rise with more secular thinking. I recommend this book to anyone who wants answers to why ignorance still persists and is leaning more towards critical and skeptical thinking. And the baloney detection kit will come in handy if you ever get caught in a debate with someone who makes dubious claims…I love you Carl Sagan!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Arthur

    I wish I could give 6 stars to this book (but I guess that just indicates that I give 5 stars too easily). Carl Sagan covers a lot of ground in this book. One of his most important themes is that the scientific method is the best tool we have for separating fact from fantasy. He laments that a general lack of skepticism leads many people to believe in superstitions that can be easily explained. He devotes several chapters to the widespread belief in UFOs and a government conspiracy to hide the " I wish I could give 6 stars to this book (but I guess that just indicates that I give 5 stars too easily). Carl Sagan covers a lot of ground in this book. One of his most important themes is that the scientific method is the best tool we have for separating fact from fantasy. He laments that a general lack of skepticism leads many people to believe in superstitions that can be easily explained. He devotes several chapters to the widespread belief in UFOs and a government conspiracy to hide the "truth" that we are being visited by aliens in flying saucers. He explains the history of the crop circle hoax that began in the United Kingdom and was quickly copied by hoaxers in other parts of the world. He explains how Europeans in the middle ages frequently believed they were visited by demons (a succubus coming to seduce a man and an incubus coming to seduce a woman). Nowadays, however, the demons don't visit us anymore. Instead we are visited by aliens. He explains how both of these common beliefs can be explained in terms of complex psychological factors. He also talks about how memories can be altered, and how unreliable eyewitness accounts can be, in particular if they seek therapy with hypnotherapists who help them remember the alien abduction. Sagan devotes an excellent chapter in the middle of his book to the basic toolkit that one should use to analyze an argument for intellectual integrity, describing the most common fallacies that can sidestep the basic requirements of argument and cause an argument to seem much more convincing than it actually is. He discusses the modern trend to distrust science, and he discusses some of its causes. For example, he talks about how many people today view scientists as "nerds" and don't see why governments should support "curiosity-based research", thinking that they should focus on specific technological research rather than purely scientific matters. To argue against this idea, he discusses how a specific discovery by a physicist named Maxwell (the idea of electromagnetic radiation, i.e. light, and a few related ideas) allowed later scientists to discover radio waves, one of the single most important discoveries in history. But Maxwell had no idea where his discovery would lead. Rather, he was pursuing a purely scientific question. In addition to the UFO myth, he discusses the televangelist faith healers and other people who take advantage of a general lack of skepticism for their own gain. One of the parts of the book I appreciated most was Sagan's conclusion that since today's technology has so much potential for either disastrous or wonderful consequences, it is necessary for scientists today to have much higher ethical standards than ever before. He talks about some scientists who have been influential activists for social change, and other scientists who have been ruthlessly unethical, in particular the scientist whose pet project was the invention of the hydrogen bomb, which Sagan calls the single most odious invention in the history of the world. I highly recommend this book, especially to people who think that science is overrated or want to get a glimpse into the mind of a scientist.

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