"I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges near, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir."I began making a list of quotes from the book as I was reading it (a few of which you can find on this page), but I soon realized that I would be copying about half of the book in so doing. I gave up that task and just went on reading.
This book should be on everyone's shelf. It should be required reading before kids can graduate from high school (and for adults before they decide to raise their children up in any given religion).
Sagan does a masterful job of explaining what science is and what it isn't. He clearly shows that the wonders of science are just as interesting (and far more reliable) than the wonders of other disciplines which rely on tradition, superstition, myth, or ignorance.
The chapters range in content from debunking UFO and alien abduction stories to calling for a higher realm of ethics for those who are scientists. In between are a couple dozen chapters that touch on a variety of issues that everyone should appreciate. The book is devoted to ridding the world of non-existant demons and allowing us all to experience more light and knowledge.
Especially useful to kids and to adults who haven't let go of superstition is Sagan's baloney detection tool kit. Given the current widely held beliefs (regarding UFOs, the face on Mars, an afterlife, religion, etc.) that are on the rise due, in part, to the soon ending of the century, this tool kit should be implemented by all people to help see the light of day rather than the darkness and ignorance that seems to loom in the minds of so many.
Sagan is practically prophetic with regard to the recent case of the Heaven's Gate cult.
Go find this book, and read it so you too can enjoy a life "obsessed with reality".
Sagan's book ends with this reminder:
"If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in
the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness."
For those who enjoyed this book,
Why People Believe Weird Things : Pseudoscience, Superstition & Other Confusions of Our Time
should be next on your reading list.