Monday, August 6, 2018

Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World

            The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan is a very interesting book on skepticism and the idea that people are more willing to believe in fantastic or unexplainable pseudoscience instead of real, studied science. The book begins with a story about a man claiming to be very interested in science, but turns out to be interested in pseudoscience when he starts to talk about the lost city of Atlantis. The man was very disappointed to find that there was no evidence to support the existence of the lost city, and Carl Sagan begins his commentary on the willingness to believe in legends when there are totally reasonable explanations. He goes on to discuss aliens and how easy it is to spoof a UFO, as well as a chapter on hallucinations and how those who believe they have been abducted by aliens likely hallucinated the encounter. An interesting chapter that shared the same name as the title of the book discussed how throughout our history we have been obsessed with demons and oftentimes they were used to explain strange behaviors and to shame them. 
            The second half of the book deals with what Sagan calls the Baloney Detection Kit as a way of sorting through the “baloney” by using critical thinking tools that are easy to use and require no education. Sagan hopes that his kit will allow people to dig deeper and inquire into what they hear and see because we can’t take everything at face value. Sagan also addresses an idea he introduced in the beginning about skepticism and how there should be a balance between skepticism and wonder and those who support superstition or pseudoscience are simply trying to understand the world too, and may not know how.  The final chapter of the book discusses how the United States was established by those who wanted to make revelations and new scientific discoveries and today many people don’t know what rights they have, or what could happen if these rights were no longer protected.
              My favorite part was the chapter on skepticism and wonder because I think it is extremely important to compassionately approach people when you are skeptical of what they are doing or what they believe because you can easily alienate someone or a group if you don’t approach them with some understanding and respect. Sagan discusses the idea that we avoid breaking the borders between myth and science because we don’t want to hurt the beliefs of others, but then the science isn’t complete. Skeptics have to avoid polarization, which Sagan calls the “chief deficiency” of the entire movement. In order to do this, they have to realize that science must involve critical and creative thinking in order to find new ideas and to determine what else needs to be looked into. I think if I had learned this in high school or if there were courses on how to creatively think about science I would’ve enjoyed science more because it would encourage new ideas and it would be more interesting. I also found a great video on being a skeptic that I will link at the bottom of this post.
            This course relates to this book because there were a lot of chapters based on pseudoscience and that discussed topics we covered including alien abductions, witch trials, and subliminal messaging. I think the way the author discussed these topics was very compassionate and he brought them up in a way that didn’t ruin the hopes of the person who believes in Bigfoot but explained that if you think and analyze long enough, you can find more logical answers. 
            I think everything Carl Sagan discussed in this book should be used to address real world issues, especially his ideas on slow thinking and encouragement of critical thinking. An issue that this would really help with in today’s world is the hot topic of global warming. Many people don’t believe in global warming despite the evidence and studies compiled over the years that declare it to be a huge issue that is even affecting us right now. More and more often our world and even our country are being hit by more extreme weather patterns, like wildfires and hurricanes, but many don’t see the connection to global warming. Less people today than years past don’t believe in climate change because some of our world leader’s, including president, do not believe in the environmental issue. I think critical thinking and skepticism would help people to see past the idea that climate change is a hoax.
Here is the video on skepticism; it is part of a series if anyone is interested: 

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