The Demon-Haunted World

Science as a Candle in the Dark

Carl Sagan

Summary: A great book by a great scholar. I expected more science and less politics, but still, great reading.

Score: 90 / 100

How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life, by Thomas Gilovich,

The method of science, as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem, is far more important than the findings of science.

Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge.

science has built-in, error-correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science.

One of the great commandments of science is, ‘Mistrust argu­ments from authority’.

sifts the wheat from the chaff.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blowup describes another.

I reject the notion that science is by its nature secretive. Its culture and ethos are, and for very good reason, collective, collaborative and communicative.

We’re more closely related to chimps than rats are to mice.

Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

published in the March 1945 number of the pulp fiction periodical Amazing Stories.

folie a deux - a shared delusion in which, generally, the submissive partner goes along with the delusion of the dominant partner.

The capacity to establish and maintain clear distinctions between the life of dreams and life in the outside world is hard-won and requires several years to accomplish, not being completed even in normal children before ages eight to ten.

The demonic seducers of women were labelled incubi; of men, succubi.

Loftus argues that ‘memories of an event more closely resemble a story undergoing constant revision than a packet of pristine information’.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Sherlock Holmes, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia (1891)

It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources . . . Repeated questioning may lead individuals to report ‘memories’ of events that never occurred.

The startle reflex, it’s called. Perhaps it’s left over from when our ancestors slept in trees.

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. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so. The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.

If it is to be

Most of the ideas never make it to the outside world. Only those that pass a rigorous self-filtration make it out to be criticized by the rest of the scientific community.

Among the best contemporary scientist-popularizers, I think of Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas and Richard Dawkins in biology; Steven Weinberg, Alan Lightman and Kip Thorne in physics; Roald Hoffmann in chemistry; and the early works of Fred Hoyle in astronomy. Isaac Asimov wrote capably on everything. (And while requiring calculus, the most consistently exciting, provocative and inspiring science popularization of the last few decades seems to me to be Volume I of Richard Feynman’s Introductory Lectures on Physics.)

different amounts of melanin in the skin;

‘There is no national science,’ said the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, ‘just as there is no national multiplication table.’

‘A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.’

published: 2015-10-01
last modified: 2023-09-19