Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book 5: A Demon-Haunted World

A Demon-Haunted World
By Carl Sagan

I apologize for not putting a book up last week. When I started this blog I had not foreseen becoming somewhat passionate about science and was thinking my reading would involve mostly dramatic paperbacks. Mind-candy.  It was a strange form of events, from watching a video on YouTube recommended by a friend to then reading a book referenced on the site of that video, and then finally deciding to read a book by Carl Sagan, a man who was often vilified from the pulpit of my small-town church growing up.

 But then you see pictures like this: 

That little dot on the lower right-hand that band of light? That's Earth.

In 1990, at the request of Carl Sagan, NASA sent a command to the Voyager 1 spacecraft, on its way out of the Solar System, to turn its camera back towards Earth and take a picture. The above image is the result, and I get goosebumps every single time I look at it. 

I think it is very rare for a book to be life-changing, and by that I mean paradigm-changing. This blog is not to delve into my personal beliefs, so I will leave it at this book changed my paradigm, and I am so very sad that Carl died as young as he did. We need more people like him in this world lighting more candles. 

The book itself was one of the best I’ve ever read. It was entertaining and fascinating and taught much. It delved into alien abductions, religion, ghosts and the dangers of frenzied group think. A part I found particularly interesting and devastating was when he chronicled the witch hunts in Europe and America. I personally had no idea so many women and children (yes, even young girls) were killed – estimates put it as many as 2 million.

The first half of the book talked extensively about paranormal events while the second half of the book really discussed all that science had done for us as a people, how far we’ve progressed and how far we have to go. I appreciated that Carl pointed out the fact that science doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a God, I also appreciated his desire to really know, not believe, things. Carl’s enthusiasm for science is inspiring, and his style of writing is fantastic and entertaining. He quickly has topped the list as one of my all-time favorite authors. 

More than anything, the book made me think about what I want my children to know and appreciate. Geology in college taught me an enthusiasm for old rocks and dinosaurs and wildly large mammals. Now, I can add the importance of space knowledge and biology to that list. It’s the great thing about kids, you can learn right alongside them and there are so many items readily available to us like telescopes and microscopes and chemistry kits etc… ignorance does no one any service. 

One of my favorite quotes of the book was this:
“Every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.”

And really, what’s more fascinating, the idea that God snapped his fingers and we popped into existence? Or the fact that ‘all the atoms that make each of us up – the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the carbon in our brains – were manufactured in red giant starts thousands of light years away in space and billions of years ago in time. We are, as I like to say, starstuff’.

Thanks, Carl.

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