5 min read ⌚
Science as a Candle in the Dark
If there’s any part of you interested even slightly in astronomy and cosmology, you probably owe a lot to Carl Sagan. He popularized these disciplines as nobody before him. And in “The Demon-Haunted World” you can see how he managed to popularize skeptical and scientific thinking as nobody ever since.
About Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist and astrophysicist, and probably the man responsible for bringing these disciplines to the mainstream. His 1980 TV series, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, is the most watched scientific TV series in history, so far seen by half a billion people in over 60 countries.
He wrote many bestselling books; among them: “The Dragons of Eden”, “Broca’s Brain” and “Pale Blue Dot.”
“The Demon-Haunted World PDF Summary”
You probably think of scientists as nerdy guys in white coats who solve equations and experiment on rats. You may even think that they are working on boring stuff that doesn’t concern you.
Well, have a look around: almost everything you see was once devised by some kind of a scientist. The very fact that you’re reading this article is a tribute to the power of science.
It was the mind of a scientist where the Internet was invented, where the smartphones and the laptops were first born.
And it all stemmed from something scientists adore: skeptical, or critical thinking.
“The Demon-Haunted World” is a book which explains why skeptical thinking is practically the only actual way of thinking and how you can practice it best.
And it starts by exploring uncritical thinking.
For example, in the Middle Ages, people believed that demons called incubi entered women’s rooms and impregnated them during the night.
It’s not – because thousands of Americans report being abducted by aliens every year. Without offering a single shred of evidence for it! And millions believe that they are right. According to Carl Sagan, neither of these two groups uses its mental capacity to think skeptically.
Because, if they did – they’d understand that, by the same logic, I can claim many odd things. Such as, for example, that I have an invisible dragon in my garage. (See our “Key Lessons” section for more.)
And that’s dangerous for many reasons. What’s not – is challenging other people’s beliefs.
And that’s what science does. And, by doing it, makes humanity better. First of all, by helping it avoid dangers; then, by improving the material conditions of the poor through technological advancements; and finally, by allowing us to grapple with some of the most important questions.
But, lack of science is dangerous for society as well.
Because, then, people can be easily manipulated into believing the completely wrong things. For example, racial segregation. Concepts such as slavery (see: drapetomania) and the Holocaust happened because scientific theories were left untested.
And governements protected them.
Science makes mistakes, but it’s democratic and it’s based on few concepts democracy is also based upon. Some of the most important among them: diversity, skepticism, trial-and-error, the quest for objectivity.
It is the last which makes science wondrous and beautiful. And even more miraculous than religion. Just think about it: is it a greater miracle to be created by an omniscient being or by stardust?
Well, science says the latter is, in fact, undeniably true:
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff”
Key Lessons from “The Demon-Haunted World”
1. Don’t Hide Invisible Dragons in Your Garage
2. Learn How to Form a Good Hypothesis
3. Use Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit on a Daily Basis
Don’t Hide Invisible Dragons in Your Garage
Few centuries ago, Descartes realized that the only thing he can be sure about is his ability to question things. Sagan agrees: skeptical thinking is what has gotten us – as a species – thus far. Everything else is bushwa!
Like, for example, the invisible dragon in your garage. If Sagan comes to your house and asks for a permission to spread flour on the floor so that he can see his footprints, it’d be nice of you to allow him. Because if you suddenly realize that the dragon floats in the air, you’re just making stuff up to be right; you don’t care about the truth.
After all, as Sagan would ask, “what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.”
Learn How to Form a Good Hypothesis
As you can easily deduce from the above story, good hypotheses have few traits that other claims don’t.
First of all, they are testable. Or, in other words, if astrologers are so good at seeing the future, why don’t they predict for you the winning lottery numbers? Simply put: because you can test this. You can’t sentences such as “one beautiful summer evening, you’ll discover your strengths and talents”.
Secondly, you can independently confirm a good hypothesis. Or, to pose this as a question: why there are never witnesses whatsoever for any case of alien abduction?
Thirdly, good hypotheses are based on truths exclusively – not on half-truths. For example,
And, finally, good hypotheses take real causality into consideration. Say, you get a little tipsy from drinking a glass of half water/half wine, a glass of half water/half brandy, and a glass of half water/half whiskey, it’d be wrong to conclude that it’s the water making you drunk.
Use Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit on a Daily Basis
Sagan offers a great “baloney detection kit” for everyone to use. It consists of many tools. Never forget to use the more important ones on a daily basis.
For example, always ask about the source from where the information comes. Next, try to see if that source has some kind of an agenda; if the information works to support it, then take it with a grain of salt. Thirdly, try to falsify his theory.
Next, see if the theory explains some of the anomalies the old theories were unable to. Fifth: learn if the theory adheres to the rules of the specific field. And, last but not least, understand fallacious arguments and remember the most common types among them.
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