Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Demon Haunted World

The book I chose for my report was The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. The first chapter starts out with the author being picked up at the airport and discussing "paranormal" topics with his driver. Initially I thought Sagan came off a bit arrogant in his appraisal of his driver’s topics of discussion. Then as I continued, I realized it wasn’t disdain for the driver’s beliefs but rather a frustration at the lack of importance our society puts on scientific theory and critical thinking skills. It wasn’t that the driver discussed aliens and crystal energy. He was quite “well read” according to Sagan. It was the lack of thought and unquestioned belief he had in them. This book is about the need to look at things with a skeptical eye and apply scientific testing to things and look for concrete answers instead of blindly believing in things. He speaks of the “dumbing down” of our schools systems and the lack of critical thinking in everyday society. Science isn’t just a job, it should be incorporated into life.
My favorite chapter was The Face on Mars. People believe that the face on mars was built by aliens. Rational questioning of things like the Face on Mars, should be done before jumping to those types of conclusion, don't you think? We humans have a desire to reason, to quantify and classify. But instead of utilizing the scientific process, theorizing then proving or disproving, we create explanations for things without any proof to back it up. The face on mars is clearly the results of matrixing, or as Sagan describes it, “the pattern-recognition machinery in our brains is so efficient in extracting a face from a clutter of other detail that we sometimes see faces.” He describes the same phenomena when talking about the man in the moon. The capacity for the human mind to correlate information and reassemble it into something it can comprehend is amazing! To know this means we should use that information when using critical thinking as applied to questions such as, did ancient aliens build the face on mars?
As much as I agree with the themes in this book, I still believe that some things cannot be explained. To believe that we know, or CAN know everything is too simplistic. He uses an example of a dragon in his garage. Sagan has a counter argument for every line of questioning and testing, and says what is the difference between “an incorporeal, floating dragon who spits fire and no dragon at all?” He states that claims that cannot be proven are worthless. This crosses over into philosophical territory, in my opinion. What of the old saying, if a tree falls in the woods? Science tells us it makes a sound. But if there are no ears to hear the vibrations as it falls, and no brain to convert that data into a corresponding sound, does it actually make a sound? What qualifies as a definition of sound, if there is no one to hear it? Just a thought…

Yes, I agree with Carl Sagan that we should question everything, look for proof, or rational explanations to explain the world around us. This world is too big and beautiful, and there are so many mysteries out there we haven't even encountered!! But, and this is my personal belief, when you're done theorizing and testing, and you don’t have an answer,  it doesn’t necessarily invalidate the existence of the paranormal. We may just not have the “science” to prove it yet!

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