"The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by Mustang, May 17, 2012.

  1. Mustang
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    Mustang Gold Member

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    Nonfiction
    480 pages
    First Published in 1995 by Random House Publishing Group


    When I got this book, I thought it was going to mostly be about debunking pseudo-science and other modern-day nonsense masquerading as truth. I was up for that. And while there is a fair amount of that in the book, the book transcends the practices of Harry Houdini and James 'The Amazing' Randi (who's in the book, by the way) in the unmasking of charlatans.

    The book spends a great deal of time covering the so-called 'alien abduction' phenomenon. But surprisingly, aside from the charlatans who prey on the weaknesses and gullibility of others, Sagan is actually pretty forgiving of the people who make these claims. Many of them, he believes, either suffered childhood abuse or experienced hallucinations, either while asleep, or awake. In fact, in one of the more uniquely interesting aspects of the book, Sagan draws a correlations between modern-day alien abduction stories and the stories of the Incubus and the Succubus from medieval European times. He says he thinks that they bear a striking resemblance in terms of how people used the culture of the day to try to explain phenomenon they did not understand. Hundreds of years ago, it was demons. Today, it's aliens.

    The second part of the book has more to do with the scientific method, America's increasing ignorance on matters of real science versus pseudo-science, the falling educational standards, and the subsequent threat to America's democracy if the trend is not reversed.

    While it's alluded to, Sagan never really comes out to state it openly that knowledge can be lost. Obviously, it can't happen like it did in the Dark Ages (and even before that) because it's all written down somewhere, Sagan is generally concerned that our country (and the world) is easily falling victim to ignorance and superstition. And naturally, there are plenty of unscrupulous people who are willing to make a buck by encouraging other persons' superstitions.

    Frankly, in my opinion, one of the most shocking parts of the book was chapter 20 (House on Fire) where Sagan reprinted letters he received from 10th graders (replete with their spelling, grammar and punctuation errors) responding to one of his Parade Magazine articles.

    Near the end of the book, Sagan recounts what tortures accused witches endured (I had never heard the specifics before). He also recounts some interesting stories about scientific discoveries going back to the 19th century, and some of the history of America's founding.

    Sagan was basically hopeful of the future, but I think that his hope was hanging by ever fewer threads as time went on. This book, which was published in 1996 (the year he died) was probably his desperate attempt to reverse an education and intellectual decline he saw happening in this country which be believed was gaining momentum and would continue unless we, as a country, took active steps to reverse it. He also worried that powerful people (like unscrupulous politicians, certain fundamentalist religious leaders, and wealthy well-connected people and corporations) had an interest in keeping people ignorant, ill-informed, and unable to critically evaluate ideas on their own.

    Despite the fact that the book was published 17 years ago, it's still relevant today. Hell, it's probably MORE relevant now that it was back in the late 90s. And despite Sagan's occasional awkward writing and punctuation-challenged sentences, it is a very good read and well worth the time.
     
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  2. Truthmatters
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    the power brokers have a vested interest in seeing education fail.
     
  3. Mustang
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    Mustang Gold Member

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    Why would that be?
     
  4. Truthmatters
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    erasing history
     
  5. Truthmatters
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    When you keep people uneducated you make them powerless and plyable
     
  6. Ragnar
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    Ragnar <--- Pic is not me

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    Great book. Very down to earth and philosophical. (compared to say, Stevie Hawking lol) Very readable for laypeople though much more advanced than his Cosmos series from way back when. (old PBS series aimed at Jr. High kids)

    It's been a decade and a half since I've read it though I still remember being moved maybe most especially from the chapter on "Newton's Sleep". House on Fire and other chapters written by Ann Druyan were very good as well and kept entirely within the spirit of the book. (I'm sure Sagan's hand and mind were at work in these chapters too)

    It's been a bit to long since I've read it to say the book has kept up with the times but I'd guess that it holds up quite superbly: books of this type usually do. I would definitely second any recommendation to read The Demon Haunted World. Heck, maybe it should be put on my list to read again.
     
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