Science. Nonfiction. HTML:A prescient warning of a future we now inhabit, where fake news stories and Internet conspiracy theories play to a disaffected American populace “A glorious book . . . A spirited defense of science . . . From the first page to the last, this book is a manifesto for clear thought.”—Los Angeles Times How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions. Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms. Praise for The Demon-Haunted World “Powerful . . . A stirring defense of informed rationality. . . Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing.”—The Washington Post Book World “Compelling.”—USA Today “A clear vision of what good science means and why it makes a difference. . . . A testimonial to the power of science and a warning of the dangers of unrestrained credulity.”—The Sciences “Passionate.”—San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle.
This is even more
This is essentially a collection of essays setting down the authors views on the human condition and in particular our proclivity for self deception. Fascinating stuff from a man opted into official government committees on UFO's, a renowned space scientist at the centre of the Mars landings and an inspiration to millions.
Just as applicable to today's world as it was when published ten years ago.
This book should be on the to read list of anyone who is human and who thinks humans are interesting.
I don't rate things five stars on principle. I hope to live a good few more years yet and reserve the right to re-rate my books on my eightieth birthday. At that point with a lot more reading under my belt the odd five star may sneak in. It is therefore only my hopes for longevity which prevent me giving this book five stars.
I have have had, for the last decade or so, what I'll call panic attack triggers. They're not full blown attacks, but they are, uncontrolled, the start of them. They are the feeling of shock and breathlessness that comes when you decide to jump off the swing-set and knock the air out of your lungs and for a moment wonder if you're ever going to breathe again. Mine are rooted in a feeling of guilt and extreme fear that comes with no longer being a Christian but having had the "fear of God" put into me as a child. I can usually logic myself out of them, reminding myself that my beliefs are much more reasonable than those I learned as a child, that it's ok that I just seem incapable of faith, and that if, on the outside-chance that there is Christian God, that He would not have created me as myself and then punish me for it. It takes a few minutes, but they go away and I forget about them until the next time. I know what thoughts trigger this feeling and, in the past I have avoided those thoughts, but while reading The Demon-Haunted World I realized that some of my trigger-thoughts were being addressed directly and that I was being supplied with tools to shore up my reason. I wasn't feeling triggered. It is an incredibly freeing feeling.
I'm not saying I'm cured or fixed by this book, but I am saying that if you are lost in the sea of religion/philosophy and need primer in navigation, this is a good one, no matter what religious persuasion you are.
This book has more than that, though. The above anecdote was inspired by a few of the chapters, but there a lot more chapters that talk about basic skepticism, how to approach non-skeptical people, and the role that science has played and does play in society. I highly recommend it.
As a non-scientist I really enjoyed this book; I read excerpts from it for a class a year or so ago and finally got around to reading the whole thing. Sagan presents scientific thinking as an approachable and practical alternative with something for everyone, rather than some elusive concept achievable only by brainiacs and nerds. His writing style is personable, easy to read, and even funny; his explanations are easy to follow, without sacrificing accuracy.
Highly recommended to scientists and non-scientists alike. Even if you already understand and agree with the arguments presented in this book, Sagan will help you formulate the idea much more clearly.
Sagan addresses here a number of commonly-held, but false, beliefs -- alien abduction stories, crop circles, faith-healing, and the like -- and shows where these fall down in the face of examination. It really is surprising how many people continue to believe in such things, even when fraud is admitted! You can analyze such stories yourself. You don't need Sagan to do it for you, but, in one very valuable section, he provides the tools you'll need, what you need to do, to look for, to develop the ability to think skeptically. They bear repeating, so I will summarize:
1. There should be independent confirmation of the "facts".
2. Substantive debate by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view should be encouraged.
3. Spin more than one hypothesis, and test them.
4. Don't get too enamored of your hypothesis.
5. If what you are explaining as some measure or numerical quality, it's easier to discriminate among competing hypotheses.
6. Every link in the chain of argument, including the premise, must work. If you are going from A to G, and there's a hole between B and C, you can't get there.
7. Remember Occam's Razor (if two explanations fit the data equally well, the simpler is probably the true one).
8. Ask whether the hypothesis can be falsified. You have to be able to check things out., using carefully designed and controlled experiments.
Much of what you need in what Sagan calls your "baloney detection kit" can be learned in any basic logic course. Unfortunately, logic isn't taught in the schools anymore.
Sagan also addresses the disturbing trend in the U.S. (one that hasn't changed since the book was published nearly fifteen years ago) of attacking science, of making policy decisions relating to science based on political considerations rather than the facts. He points out that our founding fathers had a strong belief in science, that Thomas Jefferson, in fact, described himself as a scientist, not as a planter or a politician. These men read, they studied, they argued, they delved into the world of science. That has not been the case in recent decades (there may be some hope, though, in the appointment of a Nobel laureate in physics as President Obama's Secretary of Energy!).
It is, however, in discussing politics that this book is weakest. Sagan's attacks on Edward Teller, while perhaps warranted, seem a bit over the top, and so one naturally questions the objectivity of some of his other political statements. This is, however, a minor part of an otherwise excellent book.
The pity is that the people who ought to read it, won't.
Similar, though much
It is a shame, because in our age of youtube pundits and Q cults a handbook for critical thinking is more necessary than ever.
This book is very readable. It does not require a deep understanding of science. Sagan writes in a way that is easily understood, while not becoming overly simplistic. He does not use jargon and, not surprisingly, presents evidence in a logical manner. He provides helpful analogies and treats his audience as bright and capable of understanding. He shows how scientific advances are fueled not only by hypothesizing, rigorous testing, and analysis of results, but also by curiosity and imagination.
I was surprised by how many areas outside the specifics of scientific inquiry are covered in this book, including literature, history, politics, religion, communications, education, economics, ethics, social norms, culture, and more. Science touches on almost every aspect of our lives but is largely ignored by many. Saganâ€™s subject matter includes debunking of such issues as crop circles, alien abductions, ancient astronauts, ESP, UFOâ€™s, astrology, New Age mysticism, and the like. He reminds us of the importance of not confusing cause and effect, questioning claims that cannot be tested, requiring evidence to support assertions, and remaining skeptical about authoritative statements, especially if monetary gain is involved.
We are bombarded daily with outrageous claims (click bait, anyone?) urging us to simply believe without scrutiny, so healthy skepticism is becoming increasingly more important in our inter-connected world. Carl Sagan died in 1996, when the world wide web was in its infancy. One can only wish he were around today to help refute todayâ€™s absurdities, which are so obviously spurious in origin. I know I am â€śpreaching to the choir,â€ť since avid readers regularly engage in evaluative thinking. Even though some of the references are dated, this book contains an important and still relevant message on the value of critical thinking skills. I found it fascinating. Highly recommended.
Seances, tarot reading, psychics, etc., are sought out by people who need answers to unanswerable questions that science can't answer. So large numbers of people turn to the paranormal, or para-science, which, over time, can degrade the scientific method and people start to regress intellectually, scoffing at science. This book was written to remove those "demons" of anti-science, made to be read by a large audience in order to encourage people to be skeptical.
I encourage people to both read this book and watch Carl Sagan's final interview. In both, he's trying to teach us to question everything, to be curious, to explore, and to call b.s. on the charlatans who want to bamboozle you. His career of being both a scientist and a educator was to teach us to question, and at the end of his life he was seeing people fall, again, into the allure of the pseudosciences and the charlatans, and this book was written to help people see through it all.
A great book, highly recommended.
A great book which totally debunks some of the lunacies alive in the world.
Also a great book to point to when people
The must read book 0voted in the Top 20 skeptic books, Sagan writes to be read by many. Many chapters are essays of their own only linked together for the book. Bits tell Sagan's own story, all are from his experiences. He tells us about his parents and how they taught him
Well, while much of the book is true to form, in parts I was a little disappointed. For the first time, and maybe exactly because of his own dreadful circumstances, Sagan allows himself to stray from his stock material, - matters scientific and logical, where he's pretty unarguably right - to matters where, to my mind, he isn't - matters moral and political. So his chapters on the crises facing the world, all of which start out nicely enough, start introducing solutions which have a cloying, left wing, aroma to them.
To my reading of it, Sagan's basic thesis is that we (the proles) can't sort out the world's problems by ourselves, so we need a panel of wise men to legislate them away for us. That's a pile of old rope. Frankly, I have yards more confidence in the judgment (collectively) of the "man on the Clapham omnibus" than of any politicians (and I don't think the latter in any meaningful way represents the former), so I don't buy Sagan's argument at all.
But what bugs me is the unspoken intellectual imperialism of it. "Not only are there Wise Men who must make critical decisions for you", implies Sagan, "but they are people like Me." Well, sorry, but as anyone who has done a Bachelor's degree will know, the only people worse equipped than politicians to make judgments on behalf of the rest of us are people who spend their lives hanging out at places like Cornell University.
As a result Sagan starts sounding less like the completely dispassionate scientist and more like your common or garden sci-fi writer - his conceptions of how useful an idea government is aren't far off the loopy ones Arthur C Clark used to trundle out in his potboilers: you know, where, in five hundred years, finally the human race will Get It Right and we'll all live happily ever after.
Call me cynical, but it don't work like that. Given the history of science, a scientist of Sagan's calibre ought to know that.