Arthur's Reviews > The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
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M 50x66
's review
Feb 21, 08

bookshelves: science
Read in February, 2008

I wish I could give 6 stars to this book (but I guess that just indicates that I give 5 stars too easily). Carl Sagan covers a lot of ground in this book. One of his most important themes is that the scientific method is the best tool we have for separating fact from fantasy. He laments that a general lack of skepticism leads many people to believe in superstitions that can be easily explained. He devotes several chapters to the widespread belief in UFOs and a government conspiracy to hide the "truth" that we are being visited by aliens in flying saucers. He explains the history of the crop circle hoax that began in the United Kingdom and was quickly copied by hoaxers in other parts of the world. He explains how Europeans in the middle ages frequently believed they were visited by demons (a succubus coming to seduce a man and an incubus coming to seduce a woman). Nowadays, however, the demons don't visit us anymore. Instead we are visited by aliens. He explains how both of these common beliefs can be explained in terms of complex psychological factors. He also talks about how memories can be altered, and how unreliable eyewitness accounts can be, in particular if they seek therapy with hypnotherapists who help them remember the alien abduction.

Sagan devotes an excellent chapter in the middle of his book to the basic toolkit that one should use to analyze an argument for intellectual integrity, describing the most common fallacies that can sidestep the basic requirements of argument and cause an argument to seem much more convincing than it actually is.

He discusses the modern trend to distrust science, and he discusses some of its causes. For example, he talks about how many people today view scientists as "nerds" and don't see why governments should support "curiosity-based research", thinking that they should focus on specific technological research rather than purely scientific matters. To argue against this idea, he discusses how a specific discovery by a physicist named Maxwell (the idea of electromagnetic radiation, i.e. light, and a few related ideas) allowed later scientists to discover radio waves, one of the single most important discoveries in history. But Maxwell had no idea where his discovery would lead. Rather, he was pursuing a purely scientific question.

In addition to the UFO myth, he discusses the televangelist faith healers and other people who take advantage of a general lack of skepticism for their own gain.

One of the parts of the book I appreciated most was Sagan's conclusion that since today's technology has so much potential for either disastrous or wonderful consequences, it is necessary for scientists today to have much higher ethical standards than ever before. He talks about some scientists who have been influential activists for social change, and other scientists who have been ruthlessly unethical, in particular the scientist whose pet project was the invention of the hydrogen bomb, which Sagan calls the single most odious invention in the history of the world.

I highly recommend this book, especially to people who think that science is overrated or want to get a glimpse into the mind of a scientist.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jodi (new)

Jodi Sounds fascinating, but may be a bit too deep for me. I may be better suited to listening to this on CD. Thanks for the great review.


message 2: by Julie (new)

Julie Just to explore further; i know people that have had succubus & Incubus's experiences, so explain that... Or this : http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ct0XaP7lUvQ


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