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The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark

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 institutionsCasting 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


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    I sit before my computer typing out a review of what is my favorite book I’m daunted by the magnitude of this task having just finished the book for the fourth or maybe fifth time I wish I could remember when I bought this book likely close to a decade ago but I’m sure that I must have been awestruck to discover a book written by a man who has influenced my life and my interests to such a great extentOne of the great memories of my early life was that of waiting to plop down in front of the TV set for a few Sunday nights in 1980 as our PBS station aired a thirteen part series called Cosmos Accompanied at the TV by my mom and grandmother Cosmos captured my imagination in ways that will last my whole life It was a series not merely discussing outer space but in fact it addressed the history of humanity’s understanding of our place in the world the universe and in life Why is the memory of a TV show so incredibly dear to me? I could say that the show opened my mind to concepts and philosophies and possibilities that I never imagined and that’d be a fair and true statement What really makes the series so pivotal in my life though is that I shared such a formative experience with my mom and my grandmother two people to whom I owe my life my intelligence and hopefully without too much hyperbole my essential spirit At the age of nine it’s not very likely to imagine that I would have planted myself in front of a television tuned to PBS on a Sunday evening but the patient guidance and love of my mom and grandmother gave me the gift of knowledge and wonderNeedless to say I’ve always been partial to the works of Dr Carl Sagan Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark is the first work of Dr Sagan’s that I’ve read as an adult and in the many years I’ve owned this book I’ve read it at least four times Why re read a book so often? The answer is found in my reverence of the book’s message its point and its passion Not only have I read it often but I have made an irregularly observed tradition to start each new year with a fresh reading At least three times I’ve picked the book up within hours of watching the ball drop in Times Square heralding in the new yearMany who know me already know this is my favorite book but I’m deeply challenged when I’m asked what the book is about and several paragraphs into my review I’m probably overdue in attempting to answer this exact question In this book Dr Carl Sagan tackles one of the key problems facing our time as well as repeated throughout the history of our civilization and that is the propensity for humanity to delve into our darkest superstitions and most bleak behaviors when our knowledge or ego is challenged It seems that throughout the history of our species we’ve turned our backs on critical thought and skepticism at times when those with claims to power and zealotry and wealth have found it advantageous and profitable to subvert the masses Why discuss witch burnings and crop circles and claims of government coverups of alien abductions from 50 years ago? The answer lies in the here and now At a time when every facet of our daily lives revolves around technology when each and every human being lives under the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons when communications are global but subject to being monitored in violation of the founding documents of our nation granted this is a problem that would occur years after Sagan’s death yet it’s exactly the type of behavior Sagan speaks of we find that critical thought wanes in the population of our own nation not to mention that of the entire world Credulity and old habits creep into our consciousness Our world our freedoms and our lives come under attackGo to the movies and watch ghosts haunt a house or watch the undead torment campers in the woods Turn on the TV and you’re likely to find tales of alien spacecraft being hidden by the government You’re equally likely to channel surf past a shopping network selling new age crystals But where on broadcast television are you likely to find a substantive debate on issues of education or technology? Where do you see educational programming talking about the technology that engulfs our very lives? As Sagan points out imagine the irony that kids can watch a cartoon about a prehistoric family with a dinosaur for a pet I actually protest I enjoyed the Flintstones but may never have the opportunity to watch a show about the invention or technology of television itselfAt what cost to our freedoms will we accept great claims without great proof? What decisions do we as a world culture need to make to grow and prosper and what can we learn from our history replete with credulity and domination and fear mongering?Should we shrink from the challenges of education and critical thinking what price will we pay? Will it be our personal or national economic stability? Will we see our freedoms curtailed as if we haven’t witnessed that already? Or will we pay with the extinction of our species?
The thesis of this book as I understand it is that we as a culture and society may be repeating a common mistake of our history accepting a diminution of our critical thinking skills at our own distinct peril Because of the threats we face though this time we stand at these crossroads at possibly the least opportune of times Throughout history those in power or those who seek it have abused our fears and used them to control the masses to their own advantage or profit This book begs to serve as a wake up call to anyone willing to accept the challenge not only to read it but to deeply ponder each of its points and positions It offers the methods of critical thought as the grand lighthouse by which we can safely steer our course through the treacherous times and malevolent forces we face Dr Sagan true to the book’s title offers the methods of science as a candle in the darkness in men’s soulsThis book occupies a special place in my life as I’ve stated I believe that this is a book of such enormous importance that it should be required reading in every senior level high school class in the country It may not be comfortable reading and Dr Sagan wrote on such an astronomically high reading level forgive the pun as Dr Sagan was of course a world renown astronomer that it may take weeks or months to fully drink in the material but the discussion that Dr Sagan presented is vital The arguments he presents are vital to our intellect our freedom and our humanityFor making me think and contemplate reading after reading this book scores five stars