Wednesday, August 10, 2016

[Book Report] Carl Sagan - The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

This book was written by Carl Sagan who is a professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and the Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University as well as co-founder and President of the Planetary Society – which is the largest space-interest group in the world.  In the book, he emphasizes how people who believe suspicious things like UFO’s, ghosts, demons, etc. allow themselves to be conned into believing it and he uses logical reasoning to invalidate numerous claims of pseudoscience by adopting and using tools such as rationality and critical thinking. For example, things like the face of the Virgin Mary on a tortilla or an eggplant that closely resembles Richard M. Nixon lead people to believe that it’s a divine extraterrestrial intervention, but it’s not. It’s just that there are so many eggplants that one is eventually going to resemble a face, even one in particular (Sagan, p. 47). The book also talks about how American’s believe that aliens come and visit earth pretty frequently and that approximately more than three million American’s believe they have been abducted by said aliens. The problem with this is that the pollsters never asked anyone if they were actually abducted thus the conclusion that millions of Americans were abducted is based on careless experimental design (Sagan, p. 64). Sagan also writes about UFO gullibility and the weather balloons deployed by the Air Force in the 1940s through the 1950s that were used to spy on the Soviets and the balloon that crashed near Roswell. Most of the evidence regarding the crash points to the high-altitude classified balloons but the press released that it was a spaceship from another planet (Sagan, p. 81, 82). Sagan also discusses hallucinations, gullibility, and paranoia. He uses bizarre ads placed in UFO magazines as an example of audience gullibility and continues to disprove other topics and emphasizes that people should become less gullible and more skeptical (Sagan, p. 94). When it comes to my favorite chapter, I was torn between “The Demon-Haunted World”, where Sagan write about demons such as the incubi and the succubi (Sagan, p. 111) and “No Such Thing as a Dumb Question”, where Sagan talks about how ignorance feeds on ignorance and that our species needs and deserves a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works. Ultimately, I’ll have to go with the latter because This really impressed me when I read it. I can’t help but agree with him. He concludes the chapter by explaining just how important science is to society and how it is an essential tool for any society with a hope of surviving well into the next century (Sagan, p. 308, 316, 317). In regards to relatability, the text can be related to the slides on UFO abduction that stated that those that believe typically have the other esoteric beliefs, report having the experiences during sleep or sleep deprivation, have higher rating of fantasy proneness, and more instances of sleep paralysis.  Overall, if you like science, I think you’ll love this book. Personally, I think the book can help people become less susceptible to believing hearsay beliefs within pseudoscience and adopt critical thinking as a tool during times of uncertainty. 

Here is a video of an interview of Carl Sagan on extraterrestrials: 

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