Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book Report for The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

I have read some Carl Sagan before, specifically Contact and Pale Blue Dot and I’ve always loved his writing. So when we were given the option to read another Sagan book, I was really excited. The Demon-Haunted World  was very different from the other Sagan books I’ve read. This one was all about the difference between scientific fact and pseudoscience and I thoroughly enjoyed something a little different. While Sagan has always advocated for the belief in science, this book took a different approach by pointing out the complete fallacies in pseudoscientific thinking. He explained that while we tend to sway towards pseudoscientific thinking because it’s mysterious and enjoyable, we get too caught up in it and forget to look at the actual scientific facts.

Sagan spent a lot of time talking about aliens and UFOs in this book, which was enjoyable and similar to his other space-themed books. In Chapter 4, Sagan touches on his own belief of UFO’s as a child and how he came to the realization that people were not looking at these flying objects through a skeptical mind. He explains that despite the fact that no one could come up with an explanation of why they were there and for what these “aliens” were looking for, people still chose to believe in them. I find it fascinating that people are so quick to believe what they are told, but as Sagan explained it, it’s something called confirmation bias. It’s easier to believe what you're told than to question it simply because it takes too much time and brainpower to think skeptically.

In another chapter, Sagan uses an example of an invisible, floating, heatless, fire breathing dragon to explain the idea of pseudoscience. With every question he is asked about the dragon, he comes up with some excusable explanation for why that question is invalid. He does this to show how easy it is for skeptical people to be swayed away from trying to find the scientific truth in odd testimonies. He tries to explain that even by trying to invalidate a hypothesis, you still cannot make it true without hard evidence that it is in fact true. This is a form of scientific thinking that is often misused by pseudoscientific thinkers because they believe that if you can’t DISPROVE an argument, then it must be true. But in actuality, you must prove the argument for it to be true.

Science is so broad and so difficult to understand that too many people take the easy way out and just believe everything they see and hear. No one asks questions because they’re more afraid of the answers than they are of the thing they are asking the questions about. This is one of Sagan’s main points throughout The Demon-Haunted World and I personally think he did a wonderful job at getting that point across. There were some slower points throughout the book and a lot of repetitive themes, but his point in trying to make people see that pseudoscientific thinking is wrong was presented very well. When the world learns how to become more skeptical and less scared of science and fact, so much pseudoscientific thinking will be revealed and so many odd, mysterious theories will be truly understood.

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