The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

by Carl Sagan

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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307801043
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 111,738
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Carl Sagan served as the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo spacecraft expeditions, for which he received the NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service.
His Emmy- and Peabody–winning television series, Cosmos, became the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. The accompanying book, also called Cosmos, is one of the bestselling science books ever published in the English language. Dr. Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize, the Oersted Medal, and many other awards—including twenty honorary degrees from American colleges and universities—for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment. In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honor, the National Science Foundation declared that his “research transformed planetary science . . . his gifts to mankind were infinite." Dr. Sagan died on December 20, 1996.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet it is the most precious thing we have.
As I got off the plane, he was waiting for me, holding up a scrap of cardboard with my name scribbled on it. I was on my way to a conference of scientists and TV broadcasters devoted to the seemingly hopeless prospect of improving the presentation of science on commercial television. The organizers had kindly sent a driver.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he said as we waited for my bag.
No, I didn’t mind.
“Isn’t it confusing to have the same name as that scientist guy?”
It took me a moment to understand. Was he pulling my leg? Finally, it dawned on me.
“I am that scientist guy,” I answered.
He paused and then smiled. “Sorry. That’s my problem. I thought it was yours too.”
He put out his hand. “My name is William F. Buckley.” (Well, he wasn’t exactly William F. Buckley, but he did bear the name of a contentious and well-known TV interviewer, for which he doubtless took a lot of good-natured ribbing.)
As we settled into the car for the long drive, the windshield wipers rhythmically thwacking, he told me he was glad I was “that scientist guy”—he had so many questions to ask about science. Would I mind?
No, I didn’t mind.
And so we got to talking. But not, as it turned out, about science. He wanted to talk about frozen extraterrestrials languishing in an Air Force base near San Antonio, “channeling” (a way to hear what’s on the minds of dead people—not much, it turns out), crystals, the prophecies of Nostradamus, astrology, the shroud of Turin … He introduced each portentous subject with buoyant enthusiasm. Each time I had to disappoint him:
“The evidence is crummy,” I kept saying. “There’s a much simpler explanation.”
He was, in a way, widely read. He knew the various speculative nuances on, let’s say, the “sunken continents” of Atlantis and Lemuria. He had at his fingertips what underwater expeditions were supposedly just setting out to find the tumbled columns and broken minarets of a once-great civilization whose remains were now visited only by deep sea luminescent fish and giant kraken. Except … while the ocean keeps many secrets, I knew that there isn’t a trace of oceanographic or geophysical support for Atlantis and Lemuria. As far as science can tell, they never existed. By now a little reluctantly, I told him so.
As we drove through the rain, I could see him getting glummer and glummer. I was dismissing not just some errant doctrine, but a precious facet of his inner life.
And yet there’s so much in real science that’s equally exciting, more mysterious, a greater intellectual challenge—as well as being a lot closer to the truth. Did he know abo ut the molecular building blocks of life sitting out there in the cold, tenuous gas between the stars? Had he heard of the footprints of our ancestors found in 4-million-year-old volcanic ash? What about the raising of the Himalayas when India went crashing into Asia? Or how viruses, built like hypodermic syringes, slip their DNA past the host organism’s defenses and subvert the reproductive machinery of cells; or the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence; or the newly discovered ancient civilization of Ebla that advertised the virtues of Ebla beer? No, he hadn’t heard. Nor did he know, even vaguely, about quantum indeterminacy, and he recognized DNA only as three frequently linked capital letters.
Mr. “Buckley”—well-spoken, intelligent, curious—had heard virtually nothing of modern science. He had a natural appetite for the wonders of the Universe. He wanted to know about science. It’s just that all the science had gotten filtered out before it reached him. Our cultural motifs, our educational system, our communications media had failed this man. What the society permitted to trickle through was mainly pretense and confusion. It had never taught him how to distinguish real science from the cheap imitation. He knew nothing about how science works.
There are hundreds of books about Atlantis—the mythical continent that is said to have existed something like 10,000 years ago in the Atlantic Ocean. (Or somewhere. A recent book locates it in Antarctica.) The story goes back to Plato, who reported it as hearsay coming down to him from remote ages. Recent books authoritatively describe the high level of Atlantean technology, morals, and spirituality, and the great tragedy of an entire populated continent sinking beneath the waves. There is a “New Age” Atlantis, “the legendary civilization of advanced sciences,” chiefly devoted to the “science” of crystals. In a trilogy called Crystal Enlightenment, by Katrina Raphaell—the books mainly responsible for the crystal craze in America—Atlantean crystals read minds, transmit thoughts, are the repositories of ancient history and the model and source of the pyramids of Egypt. Nothing approximating evidence is offered to support these assertions. (A resurgence of crystal mania may follow the recent finding by the real science of seismology that the inner core of the Earth may be composed of a single, huge, nearly perfect crystal—of iron.)
A few books—Dorothy Vitaliano’s Legends of the Earth, for example—sympathetically interpret the original Atlantis legends in terms of a small island in the Mediterranean that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, or an ancient city that slid into the Gulf of Corinth after an earthquake. This, for all we know, may be the source of the legend, but it is a far cry from the destruction of a continent on which had sprung forth a preternaturally advanced technical and mystical civilization.
What we almost never find—in public libraries or newsstand magazines or prime time television programs—is the evidence from sea floor spreading and plate tectonics, and from mapping the ocean floor which shows quite unmistakably that there could have been no continent between Europe and the Americas on anything like the timescale proposed.
Spurious accounts that snare the gullible are readily available. Skeptical treatments are much harder to find. Skepticism does not sell well. A bright and curious person who relies entirely on popular culture to be informed about something like Atlantis is hundreds or thousands of times more likely to come upon a fable treated uncritically than a sober and balanced assessment.
Maybe Mr. “Buckley” should know to be more skeptical about what’s dished out to him by popular culture. But apart from that, it’s hard to see how it’s his fault. He simply accepted what the most widely available and accessible sources of information claimed was true. For his naïveté, he was systematically misled and bamboozled.
Science arouses a soaring sense of wonder. But so does pseudoscience. Sparse and poor popularizations of science abandon ecological niches that pseudoscience promptly fills. If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience. But a kind of Gresham’s Law prevails in popular culture by which bad science drives out good.
All over the world there are enormous numbers of smart, even gifted, people who harbor a passion for science. But that passion is unrequited. Surveys suggest that some 95 percent of Americans are “scientifically illiterate.” That’s just the same fraction as those African Americans, almost all of them slaves, who were illiterate just before the Civil War—when severe penalties were in force for anyone who taught a slave to read. Of course there’s a degree of arbitrariness about any determination of illiteracy, whether it applies to language or to science. But anything like 95 percent illiteracy is extremely serious.
Every generation worries that educational standards are decaying. One of the oldest short essays in human history, dating from Sumer some 4,000 years ago, laments that the young are disastrously more ignorant than the generation immediately preceding. Twenty-four hundred years ago, the aging and grumpy Plato, in Book VII of the Laws, gave his definition of scientific illiteracy:
Who is unable to count one, two, three, or to distinguish odd from even numbers, or is unable to count at all, or reckon night and day, and who is totally unacquainted with the revolution of the Sun and Moon, and the other stars … All freemen, I conceive, should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as pleasure and amusement … I … have late in life heard with amazement of our ignorance in these matters; to me we appear to be more like pigs than men, and I am quite ashamed, not only of myself, but of all Greeks.
I don’t know to what extent ignorance of science and mathematics contributed to the decline of ancient Athens, but I know that the consequences of scientific illiteracy are far more dangerous in our time than in any that has come before. It’s perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth. Jobs and wages depend on science and technology. If our nation can’t manufacture, at high quality and low price, products people want to buy, then industries will continue to drift away and transfer a little more prosperity to other parts of the world. Consider the social ramifications of fission and fusion power, supercomputers, data “highways,” abortion, radon, massive reductions in strategic weapons, addiction, government eavesdropping on the lives of its citizens, high-resolution TV, airline and airport safety, fetal tissue transplants, health costs, food additives, drugs to ameliorate mania or depression or schizophrenia, animal rights, superconductivity, morning-after pills, alleged hereditary antisocial predispositions, space stations, going to Mars, finding cures for AIDS and cancer.

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Demon-Haunted World 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is absolutely one of the finest works demonstrating the difference between the process of science and the body of knowledge we have gained through its use. Sagan uses the phrase 'baloney detection toolkit' several times in this book, and it applies wonderfully across the spectrum of experience in our lives. When applied to the claims of various types of cultural environment, the practices he points out can easily help individuals see through the fraudulent claims of those who would pretend to use 'science' to 'prove' their pet theory. As a walk through history, this book also shows how people have been misled terribly by persons whose vested interest lies in such deception. For this reason alone it is worth reading, as the similarities between many of those past situations and those occurring today do show that history certainly does have a habit of repeating itself. This book is a wonderful tool for developing the one thing that will help you throughout your entire life: a skeptical mind. Not a cynical one, a skeptical one. I can't give this book higher ratings - or I would. I try to always keep two extra copies around to give to friends who might appreciate it. Do yourself a favor, and pick it up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books. This is truly a manifesto on clear thinking. A book which clearly explains what science is truly about. Something people are very confused about especially when they are constantly being bombarded by unreliable information through the media and when new age and irrational thinking continue to thrive and even be 'trendy'. As Einstein said (and Sagan quoted): Science as child-like and primitive as it may be, is the most precious thing we have...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most refreshing and interesting books I've read. Throughout the entire book Sagan eloquently explains away many ideas that run our lives. The massive amount of rhetorical questions are the icing on the cake. Sagan's skepticism and ability to 'detect baloney' are qualities that are greatly needed in our society. Sagan is MY candle in the dark.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must say that this book changed my views more than any other book. There is a noticeable rise in irrationalism and pseudo-science in our times, largely promoted by the media (esp the TV). This phenonmenon, if unchecked will totally destroy the younger generations' ability to solve their problems using a rational, logical and scientific means. Instead, they will view mystical, religious, ritualistic means as effective means to solve human problems. The rise of such irrational views will undo human progress and civilization. Making Carl Sagan's book, esp. the Demon Haunted World a required reading in schools, will counter this current rise of irrationalism. If you are a media personnel and if you care about the human race, you should stop promoting stupidity and instead promote a scientific view and propounded by Carl Sagan in this book.
Fraktal More than 1 year ago
Sagan is a generally good writer, and in this now-classic book he penned a strong and usually compelling defense of the skeptical paradigm. The book is replete with good examples, and has several chapters well worth reading for those who are either budding skeptics, or are interested in learning about how to think critically and scientifically. The man, to be sure, understood science and was a solid critical thinker. Unfortunately, the organization of the book is somewhat lacking. Sagan touches many of the classic pseudoscientific bugbears like alien abductions, UFOs, hypnotic regression, and prophetic visions, but he bounces from one to the other, never really spending enough time on one topic in concert to make it feel as though he has thoroughly covered the material. Make no mistake, by the end much of it has been thoroughly covered -- especially UFOs and abductions -- but the coverage is disjointed. He seems to have done this to show the reader the common threads to many of these concepts, but the effect is to produce a lack of organization in the narrative. He would have been better, I think, with a more classical organization, covering each topic in a single, coherent chapter. The book is well worth a read and has kept me interested throughout, even though I have read or heard most of these ideas from skeptics in the recent past (many, I realize now, borrowed in whole or in part from this book, which came out almost 15 years ago). And some of Sagan's quotes are priceless. It just lacks a little in organization.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whenever I am asked that impossible question 'What is your favorite book?' This is THE book that I have settled upon as my answer. It is a sorely needed dose of medicine for our collective minds. The one unfortunate thing is that those people who might benefit most by its reading, are the ones who will likely be busy reading exactly something else instead. Excellent Job Carl...we miss you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One often finds themselves asking the questions that plague the minds of people both educated and uneducated. These are the questions of pseudoscience and mysticism. Carl Sagan, one of the premier scientific writers of the 20th century analyzes the world of pseudoscience and why people believe these ideas. One of the main "phenomenon" that Sagan analyzes is that of extra-terrestrials including UFO's. This is because this is one of the most widely believed and reported pseudoscientific phenomenon. He discounts the experience of alien abduction as a sleeping disorder known as sleep paralysis, discounts UFO's as hundreds of other logical explanations ranging from hoaxes to photographic anomalies that occur naturally due to reflection of light inside the lens. Also he reinforces the government explanation that the Roswell incident was caused by a weather balloon, which were widely used in the day to spy on the Soviets. The underlying theme of Sagan's novel is his powerful love of science, it is his religion and what he considers to be the only hope for the future. The fact that the common person knows more about the world of pseudoscience than that of actual science which relates to every facet of their life. He warns against a future in which all other countries of the world have surpassed America in science and technology and we become too far behind to catch up. This novel is an excellent look at science from the inside, and from common culture from the outside. Sagan also criticizes the scientific community for its wasted energy on military and destructive sciences such as the hydrogen bomb and chemicals like Agent Orange. Sagan expalins how the gulibility of the masses plays an important role in how these phenomenon have become so widespread. In all of this Sagan maintains his fluid and comprehensive style. This is such an important quality in a scientific book because the people he wants to read this novel are the ones who do not usually understand scientific material. These are the people who embrace pseudoscience as fact and spread it to others to distract them from the real world, who flock to the people who claim to have mystical powers of premonition, or those who can heal with a touch. The problem is that people find these things which are probably not real more interesting than the real scientific advanvcements that are made every day. The Demon Haunted World is an excellent book that looks at the scientific world in a different light and discounts many of the pseudoscientific phenomenon in our world.
VA_Reader More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I checked out from my college library. I absolutely devoured it within a few days. The illuminating essays, observations, analogies, and experiences Sagan offered would influence the way I viewed the universe, the preciousness of life, and the importance of being a skeptic and critically thinking. To say that Carl Sagan was one of the most important scientists and popularizers of science would be a gross understatement. What you should also know is that he is an excellent writer, able to weave complex science into entertaining and easy to read essays about the natural world, human psychology, and more. The Demon Haunted World offers both education and entertainment, insightful debunkings of pseudoscience, and reflections upon concepts such as faith and nationalism. I keep two copies of this book in my library at any time. One for my own re-readings. The second to gift to others that I think could use the illuminating essays to expand their horizons. If you haven't read this book, I suggest that you give it a serious consideration.
BrownAlyson More than 1 year ago
Pseudoscience: Cultural Wrong, Science Needs Refreshing. An ethnography is done by studying a certain culture, recently I have been exploring the culture of haunted houses. Not literally haunted, but the commercial haunted houses that relate to people’s fears. Carl Sagan debunks a few of the fears that are put in the haunted houses such as witches, ufos, and actual hauntings. It helped me make ground in my ethnography and made me want to get to know more about the haunted houses and why people are actually frightened when science shows that it is pretend. This book is eye opening to how susceptible the world is to believing fables and myths. He speaks of how knowledge is important when he quotes Edmund Way Teale and said, “It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.” (12.) In a way this says that people only care about money no matter how they get it and no matter what it is saying, as long as it helps them they will spread it. Saying that in this day and age science is just an after thought. He created a list of many superstitions that are present everyday, to list one that caught my attention was, “the belief that 13 is an “unlucky” number (because of which many no-nonsense office buildings and hotels in America pass directly from the 12th to the 14th floors - why take any chances)” (221.) I really felt that Sagan remarked on all of the major superstitions and opened my eyes to the fact that I believe those rumors and what is popular belief. Sagan makes me want to be learn more and not just accept the bare minimum. I would recommend this book to people who actually want to have their mind blown but if you are a person who is stuck in their ways and isn’t open to new thoughts then this book isn’t for you. This is a long read but very captivating and unlike anything I ordinarily read. I love the skepticism and all that science shows in the universe. Really well done for only 400 pages.
Doctor_Tungsten More than 1 year ago
A classic that should be in every skeptic and scientists' library.
AirScottDenning More than 1 year ago
One of the last books of Carl Sagan's life, this is an important defense of reason and the scientific method against pseudoscience and antiscience in modern society, especially as seen against the backdrop of medieval and early-modern witch hunts. But it's also a deeply personal meditation on the meaning of human existence in a cosmos without magical divine intervention, written as Sagan fought the illness that would claim his life in less than a year after its publication. I personally found the early chapters on pseudoscience (UFO abductions, especially) tedious and overdone. But as a scientist and lifelong fan of Sagan, the book was an engaging and sometimes inspiring look into his brave spirit.
CarolynLovesAPLang111 More than 1 year ago
Sagan's writing style can be appreciated throughout all sections of The Demon Haunted World. His unique flow of words helps you better understand the complex ideas he is trying to present, and he is able to make you fully understand many odd concepts that you have probably never thought of prior to reading this. Instead of criticizing the beliefs of others, Sagan simply states his ideas and presents solid theories without sounding biased or condescending to those who may feel differently. The point of this book is to inform readers about the many things they believe in without explanations. Sagan accomplishes this thoroughly without stepping on anyone's toes, and it is for this reason that this book is so well respected. Throughout it, Sagan brings light towards the many things people believe in without scientific proof or logical explanation. Reading this, one may think a lot about religion, where is comes from, and what its purpose is. Sagan's connection between pseudosciences and religion is excellent and very scholarly as well. Although many people say they do not believe in the unexplainable things mentioned in this book (such as UFO's and ghosts,) many believe in religion; something so common, yet lacking in scientific explanation and proof of existence. This book is an eye-opening piece of literature that will keep you thinking for days.
avistrat126 More than 1 year ago
I was initially quite hesitant to read a book written by a scientist. I feared that it may be just like any other dry, lengthy textbook just spewing out facts and information. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sagan is not only a highly intelligent and passionate scientist, but also a talented writer. He conveyed knowledge in an eloquent, clear way. He drew a distinct line between what science is real science, and that which is fostered by the media and mass culture. It was intriguing, if not gripping read, and I have a great respect for Sagan's point of view and his assertions of truth.
Anonymous 4 months ago
e.krepska on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carl Sagan's 'The demon-haunted world' is a book that describes author's view on, in general, science against the "real" world. It consists of 25 chapters, 4 of them coauthored by his wife, Ann Druyan. Some parts are hilarious (eg. "you are obsessed with reality"), some insightful (eg. how maxwell unknowingly lead to the invention of television), some just good life advice but never preaching, rather explaining that it is the only behavior that makes sense (eg on racism, sexism). The best part must be The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, but I don't want to spoil it for you! On the negative side - I have previously read 'The Varieties of Scientific Experience', and I found a bit of repetition and I would like this book to be more concise. But to be fair, they are supposed to be essays and not scientific articles. Overall - a great book to read on vacation.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Have you ever read something that filled you with such furvor that you wanted to write your own thoughts along those same lines, but whenever you tried you found you did nothing but repeat the original article?That's been me all over the place with The Demon-Haunted World. I want to ramble about the wonder of science, the importance of skepticism, the fact that school all but completely robbed me of any desire to learn, the dangers of pseudoscience, the intrinsic value of basic research even if it doesn't lead to a specific application right away...but Sagan says it all, and he says it better than I ever could. This is one of those amazing books that made me think long and hard about a lot of things. It made me want to know more about the universe, to revisit old assumptions and condescensions, to step back a moment and drink it all in.Sagan speaks as one with a giddy love for the scientific process, one whose healthy skepticism does not make him stodgy or closed to new ideas. Much of the first half of the book is spent more or less on aliens - not only explanations for much of what is attributed to extraterrestrial activity, but why people assume aliens at all. He does grump a little about the dumbing-down of American entertainment and its lack of accurate science, but coming from someone who prizes knowledge so highly, I can understand his disappointment at the popularity of shows like "Beavis & Butthead" and "Dumb & Dumber." Likewise his unhappiness with dwindling popular and government support of science research and education.This book is absolutely astounding. It's one of the few that I recommend to anyone, even (and perhaps especially) if it challenges some of your closely held viewpoints. It did mine.
ChristopherTurner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've always had similar thoughts to what the books overall permise is about - the ease at which good people can descend into irrational mobs - but never had I articulated them in quite this way.I think this should be required reading for every lynch mob or talk-show host wannabees - think before you judge. An intense dislike of someone isn't enough to pour hot lead into the "shoes" that someone's feet are locked into. We all think that "oh I wouldn't behave that way" but the social toxin that is "False accusation" never seems to take a vacation and we all have to be viginant, no matter what the times or circumstances.Echoes of this book can be found in every election, or every vote about who's popular at work and who isn't. There are Demons that haunt the everyday world of victims everywhere.
literarytiger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a classic must-read for anyone interested in science and skepticism or anyone who has ever found themselves asking questions in the face of broad claims which we are expected to accept. It was Sagan's final book, and it is full of musings and questions which ensures his ideas will continue into the future. I loved how Sagan's mind worked and although I found him a little too placatory to people who may not have deserved it at times, this style ensures that he will be accessible to all readers, not just those who share his beliefs.
sgerbic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed Aug - Sept 2001 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 to love science even through they new nothing about it themselves. He has broken the book down into in the Moon, Face on Mars, Aliens, Therapy, Visions, Witchcraft in medieval times and modern, hallucinations, scientists and nerds as well as several chapters telling us why science is exciting and how to get others to think critically. Four chapters are more political and written with wife Ann Druyan. I loved the chapter with the dragon in the garage and found his stories about witchcraft very creepy. Not lunch time reading material. Tons of quotable material lies between pages, this is surly a great reference book for us all. 16-2001
Robin_Goodfellow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
you should carry this around in your pocket and keep reading it.
moonimal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sagan's writing makes this worth the read, which is more and more difficult to say about our science books. He weaves a thread of logic that pulls together religious, ESP, alien-invasion and other common myths to a single set of conclusions about the nature of being a human.Similar, though much better than, 'Why People Believe Weird Things"
Zathras86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sagan draws together history, psychology, and science in an explanation of why it is so easy for human beings to believe in the supernatural, and why we need to promote scientific thinking as a way to avoid falling into false beliefs. He analyzes our ability (perhaps even our need) to believe in the existence of everything from demons and witches to TV mediums and alien abduction, and shows us how rational thought can help us avoid the traps set by our own psychology. He does all this with great compassion and patience, and without descending into the angry or insulting rhetoric that characterizes so much of the debate between science and belief.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.
Novimarra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book begins with Sagan's personal experiences with science, and how he first came to respect it for the infallible system of truth-finding that it is (my words). Sagan denounces religious fanaticism and superstition, old and new (and growing, unfortunately) because of its fallibility and supposed doctrines which even when proven to be false are adhered to just as ferociously by their fanatics. I couldn't agree more with Sagan's ideas in this book, and I think he presented them in a relatively non-hating way - not only of religion (the non-fanatical kind) but of the human beings who practice religion and stick to traditions that are not based on scientific research and discovery. Although, he really does call out the superstitious for their supposedly impractical and useless beliefs, and while I appreciate his intentions to expose frauds, I don't completely agree that anyone who sincerely believes the world was created 6,000 years ago to be a fraud by definition, or more broadly that a world without (granted, diverse factions of) religion would be a terrific place. I think the same people who abuse religion toward their own amoral ends would also (and do) abuse science for just as sinister purposes. This idea is of course downplayed as Sagan explains that many more people have been saved by "science" than have been victimized by it - and this is probably true (there are not many footnotes, but I can use my faculty of common sense), yet we can't assume that there is a hidden beneficial purpose of the hydrogen bomb. In light of this, I found ADHW to be a little skewed not just in its humanity but in refusing to properly acknowledge the potential dangers of scientific research, which Sagan even admits is funded mostly by governments.Another theme in Sagan's book besides the de-bunking is the current path that various countries in the world are taking regarding science. The United States is the focus of this book because Sagan is an American, and he takes issue with the dumbing down of the school system, the spread of fundamentalism among mostly Christians (the Creationists) in America, and most importantly the cause of these other problems, the fall of skepticism. Sagan devotes various chapters to actual letters he's received from everyday Americans responding to an article with the same ideas presented in this book, firstly 10th graders and then parents of school-age children. The letters from the high-school students are shameful, filled with misspellings and other grammatical errors that you have to wonder if Sagan chose the absolute worst-written letters to publish here, and where he could've found so many 10th-graders who could barely read or write at a 4th-grade level. Interestingly, all of the parents' letters are grammatically sound, which begs the question of where those letters came from that all "grown-ups" in that town could be so darn smart in comparison to the next generation (aka their own children). A little bias for the sake of making a point, it seems.And the last theme I'll talk about here before giving my verdict is the future of science, as seen by Carl Sagan. He asks: "How could we put more science on television?" knowing that television, as in the 1990's at the time of this publication, is pretty much every American's golden calf. What he comes up with are, on the whole, some either naive or terribly outdated ideas for educational programming a la the following. I ask if you could possibly imagine a TV show called Solved Mysteries with its "rational resolutions" on television; or a show about "coordinated government lie[s]". Does this make the book outdated or just naive? Hard to tell, just take this part with a grain of salt.In any case, I did enjoy reading this book for various reasons: I love the way Sagan writes so clearly and, well, reasonably, that you can't help but agree with him and wonder what the heck we're doing with ourselves if not being just as reasonable. Why is science
Pferdina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carl Sagan does a great job explaining how science works and why some beliefs (such as alien abductions) may have other foundations than commonly accepted. His writing is easy to understand for the non-scientist, but good for the scientist as well.
e1da on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Within 50 pages I wanted to buy a copy for everyone I know. Sagan explains why I love science perfectly.I wish there were half stars. This is definitely a 4.5. I dropped it from a 5 just because I think some of it reads a little smug/condescending which kind of defeats the purpose of persuasion and popularization. But I also took a bunch of notes from it.