Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book Report: The Demon-Haunted World

As I was choosing a book to read for this class, the only author I was familiar with was Carl Sagan. For this reason I decided, like many other students here, to read "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as Candle in the Dark." The book focuses on disproving paranormal claims using science, explaining why such claims exist in the first place, and how they can be prevented using Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit". The main topic discussed us UFOs.

One of the most interesting chapters was chapter 7 which focused on demons, witches, incubi and succubi. The main point of that chapter was to show that today's belief in UFOs, is extremely reminiscent of the medieval belief in witches, demons and other religious elements. For example, claims of communicating with aliens are very similar to medieval apparitions of Mary. Likewise, eyewitness accounts of UFOs are very similar to accounts of witches, where in colonial times some people claimed they have seen flying witches blot out the sun. I liked this chapter because it showed that despite being a relatively new phenomenon, the underlying idea behind UFOs has been there for ages.

I also found it interesting how it is not always UFO victims/witnesses who are to blame for this pseudo scientific phenomenon. Therapists often encourage such ideas and in some cases even implant false memories of abductions. Sometimes the reason for this is the philosophy that a therapist should never question their patients, as Sagan wrote about this, he showed how this philosophy can harm people. Sagan gave a great critique of such therapists and showed many examples where the therapist was to blame for UFO belief.

Another interesting bit of the book was when Carl Sagan explained why federal documents about UFOs were often kept classified, or released with partial censored. Likewise, this also included secretive alleged UFO crash sites. He explained that such censoring was not a part of a global conspiracy but in the interest of protecting secrets from other governments. Sagan writes that requesting a document about Elvis Presley would contain just as much censored information as UFO documents. Interestingly, nobody thinks that Elvis is involved in a government conspiracy.

Lastly, I enjoyed reading chapter 11 which contained letters written to Carl Sagan by UFO believers that have read his critique of the belief. The reason why I enjoyed them was that they were funny. It must have been tough for Sagan to read such letters after presenting such an elaborate argument against UFO believers.
(a very shortened version of Sagan's argument)

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