Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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

Carl Sagan's, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark discusses such topics as UFO's, "channeling", witchcraft, faith healing, ghosts/demons, and hoaxes such as (crop circles, spoon-bending), possession, and reincarnation. He goes into detail about the importance of knowing 'real' science from pseudoscience, and the reprecussions that could ensue from a lack of knowledge. Sagan takes a good look at the topics mentioned above and does not dismiss them, he lets the reader look at the reports, and claims from actual believers. The presentation of these claims allows the reader to make their own decisions about the topic, and supplies the reader with scientific facts that either support or disprove the phenomenon.

The author went to great lengths to gather as much information about the topics presented in order to be objective. I think it is important for those who either believe or do not believe in different paranormal or pseudoscientific phenomena to read this novel, as it presents two sides to each subject. With a rich background in science, Sagan allows the reader to understand the science behind different phenomena in simple terms.

In the novel several chapters discussed the topic of UFO's, UFO abductees and their claims, compared these abductees' testimonies to those individuals that had been sexually abused. Starting with the belief in UFO's, Sagan presented a plethora of information about sightings, abduction and abuse by extraterrestrials. Sagan lists numerous claims and testimonies in which each of the proposed abductees gave their stories. Abductees along with those individuals that have been sexually abused truly believe in their stories. The comparison deals with therapy and interaction with UFO psychiatrists, and how abduction victims and sexual abuse victims can sometimes be led on or influenced by their doctors about the contents of their stories and experiences. This same topic was discussed in Chapter 6 of the text, in terms of suggestive interviewing and leading questions.

The main concern taken from these two sets of seemingly different individuals is the amount of trust these patients have in their psychiatrists, and how they can easily be taken advantage of. These abductees and victims come into the office of these proclaimed UFO doctors with full expectation that they can trust them, and help them move forward. Suggestive interviewing and leading questions are two techniques that sometimes occur consciously or unconsciously by psychiatrists and can cause confusion and sometimes belief in something that never happened. These techniques can be in the form of subtle words, body language or repeated scenarios that are internalized by the individual. After this internalization of these scenarios, the individual may begin to use these 'planted ideas' as their own when telling their story.

The novel illustrates very clearly that victims of sexual abuse and alien abduction may be similar, in that victims of alleged abduction may not have been abused by aliens but by the guardians or parents who we are raised to trust. The realization that their parent or guardian have sexually abused these abductees may come to a shock to some, but it seems clear that it is a makeshift defense mechanism. In blaming an UFO or extraterrestrial, the individual does not have to face the possibility that they have been betrayed or hurt by the person they are supposed to trust and look to for protection.

Staying on the topic of UFO's and abduction, the next thing discussed will be the story of Betty and Barney Hill, who were the first couple to report an alien abduction story back in 1961. The couple was driving home, on a lonely stretch of highway when they sighted a bright glowing object, afraid of injury the coupld decided to take back roads to their home. After arriving home, much to their suprise they realized it had been much later than they anticipated in getting home, by two hours. Where did the lost time go, Betty read a novel about UFO abduction, which she shared with her husband and friends, and so their story became legend. The following video shows the story of the Hills.

The novel describes clearly and precisely numerous paranormal and pseudoscientific phenomena, with they use of biological sciences and a large selection of testimonies, articles and history. I feel like the novel has the potential to support the sciences and the importance of learning about 'real science', according to Sagan, and not believing in unsupported data without justifiable proof. Further, Sagan advises that individuals should learn to admit when they are wrong, and look for ways to get proof through proper 'scientific research.'

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