Saturday, August 8, 2015

Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World

For my book report I chose “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan for a few different reasons – one being that I was able to find it for free online, and the second (and more important reason) was because it features many different topics of discussion; all of which, as it turns out, are easily presented by Sagan with undertones of humor. Carl Sagan opens the book with, what I think to be, a great story about his discussion with a driver: the driver asks Sagan about various pseudoscience topics (aliens, prophecies, astrology, etc.) to which Sagan responds with “ …the evidence is crummy.” Sagan follows up in the book by saying “…there’s so much in real science that’s equally exciting, more mysterious, a greater intellectual challenge – as well as being a lot closer to the truth.” This is a key idea in The Demon Haunted World, the idea that actual science can be just as exciting as pseudoscience and the passion for real science is quickly fading under the shadow of pseudoscience. In many of the chapters Sagan builds on this idea, arguing that pseudoscience is much easier to understand and present to the general public, it appeals to powerful emotions of the unknown and grandiose lives other than our own.
               While it is difficult to choose a single part of the book as my favorite, I really enjoyed the chapter on aliens.  The idea of extraterrestrial life is a topic that has always been a huge interest of mine, ever since I was a little kid and would look up at the stars.  It’s a topic that has been a huge spotlight for different outlets over the past few decades – movies, television shows, news reports, talk shows, the list goes on. Sagan approaches the topics in a scientific manner stating that “…everything hinges on the matter of evidence. The evidence must be airtight. The more we want it to be true, the more careful we have to be. No witness’s say-so is good enough. People make mistakes…”(p.68). He argues that most, if not all, UFO sightings are anecdotes – and even the many anecdotes don’t follow a uniform explanation, they feature very diverse observations.  Sagan also brings up the topic of false memories and the idea of suggestive interviews with regards to alien abductions – a topic that was discussed in the lectures of class.  He does not say that aliens do not exist, or that there’s no possibility, just that we must remain skeptical of sensational accounts.  He ends the chapter by saying that we as a general population should utilize the tools of skepticism when dealing with things such as aliens and UFOs.
               Carl Sagan’s book really ties in with almost all aspects of the class with regards to pseudoscience. He argues that the scientific method is one of great importance when examining things of scientific nature – something that pseudoscience rarely, if ever, does. He discusses the concept of correlation does not imply causation, as well as absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  As a reader, you can extend what you learn from this book into real-world problems and current issues – to look at an issue with skepticism and not rush to an emotional conclusion on a topic without all the information.

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