The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a 1995 book written by astrophysicist Carl Sagan. This book’s purpose is to inform and educate people on how to use science to think skeptically and critically, and why it is important to do so. Throughout the book, Sagan writes about topics such as pseudoscience, UFO’s, religion, ghosts, hallucinations, witches, and telepathy, as well as many others. He offers insightful invalidations of pseudoscience, and logical reasoning for claims that are made involving the supernatural. Without criticizing the opinions of others, he objectively sheds light on the lack of evidence of many common beliefs. In this book, Sagan teaches the reader how necessary it is that in order to truly understand the world for what it is, rather than how we would wish it to be, one must be able to differentiate between the myths of pseudoscience, and scientific truths.
I actually enjoyed this entire book so much that it was hard to choose a favorite section or topic, but if I had to pick, I would go with the chapters “The Most Precious Thing,” and “Therapy.” The Most Precious Thing” is the first chapter and it is a necessary basis that one needs to understand in order to thoroughly comprehend the rest of the book. Sagan begins by relaying his conversation with a driver, who had a good amount of “questions about science”…he was wondering about extraterrestrials, sunken continents, etc. Sagan then states how those questions aren’t about science at all, and how upset the driver looked after he told him that there isn’t any evidence for those things. Then, he goes on to explain how even though those myths aren’t real, there is so much in real science that is actually more exciting and mysterious. It set the tone for the entire book, and enticed my curiosity to read further.
Sagan writes about how science can help, where pseudoscience cannot, “We can pray over the cholera victim, or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every 12 hours.” (9.) He writes about the importance of science and how ignorance serves not one of us any purpose. Sagan claims that “pseudoscience is based on insufficient evidence [that] ignores clues that point the other way.” (13.) After reading this chapter, I was easily able to tie it in with concepts we have learned in class. Our lesson on “Ways of Thinking” is so closely related to this chapter; the difference between fast and slow thinking, and the elements of thought that are necessary in order to think critically are prevalent throughout the entire book, and are introduced in the first chapter. Sagan exemplified being a fair-minded thinker by showing empathy for other people’s points of view, but also showed intellectual integrity by explaining that facts are necessary in order to believe certain things.
I also greatly enjoyed the chapter “Therapy.” In this chapter, Sagan explains how some memories of rape and childhood sexual abuse may be disguised as an “alien abduction,” where the rapist represents the alien. He relates sexual abuse to alien abduction and explains how therapists can spend up to years trying to encourage their patients to remember being abused for each of those topics. He also writes about how it is difficult to distinguish real and false memories, and includes a 1993 statement by the American Psychiatric Association,
It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources… repeated questioning may lead individuals to report “memories” of events that never occurred. It is not known what proportion of adults who report memories of sexual abuse were actually abused… A strong prior belief by the psychiatrist that sexual abuse, or other factors, are or are not the cause of the patient’s problems is likely to interfere with appropriate assessment and treatment. (157.)
I found this interesting because it goes to show that the therapist’s beliefs of the patient’s past can either cause the patient to repress a memory further, or to recall a false memory. In class we learned about the results of the Florence False Interpretation Study, which showed that a therapist can make people believe they have had experiences they never had through dream analysis. The study also showed that clinicians can have a strong suggestive influence on their clients, and that an early hypothesis adopted by a therapist can be detrimental to the client.
In Elizabeth Loftus’s Ted Talk, “The Fiction of Memory” she talks about a man who was wrongfully convicted due to a false accusation made by an eyewitness. A rape victim who was trying to identify her rapist looked at a few photos of different men, pointed to one picture and said, “he looks the closest.” When that man was brought to trial, the girl said she was absolutely positive that he was the rapist. Loftus’ speech ties in perfectly with what Sagan writes about in his book— although repressed memories are real, false memories and confabulations do occur. Sagan ended this chapter wonderfully, with a sentence that encompasses the ideas of this chapter and leaves the reader wondering, “Why should we suppose that, of the vast treasure of memories stored in our heads, none of it could have been implanted after the event—by how a question is phrased when were in a suggestible frame of mind, by the pleasure of telling or hearing a good story, by confusion with something we once read or overheard?” (168.)
I recorded a vlog explaining an experience I had with an issue that is repeatedly talked about in this book
Sagan, Carl, and Ann Druyan. The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print