The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an introduction to clear, rational, scientific thinking, The Demon-Haunted World succeeds. As an exploration of one man's passion for the scientific search for understanding, only Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth is comparable. Clearly presented here is a staple of rational inquiry; 'Occam's Razor', a theory of parsimony that can be applied to critical thinking in general, showing that the scientific method has application beyond laboratory use.
Sagan fascinates with his exploration of the roots of "Ufology", which he presents as a case of the hyperactive minds of our species infused with Cold War paranoia. The famous astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson once remarked humorously on the logical leap made by a hypothetical observer of mysterious aerial phenomenon. He pointed out that this observer first must admit that he has almost no understanding of said phenomenon, and promptly proceeds based upon ignorance that it must be alien technology. "Hey, this is beyond my comprehension and I have no idea what this is, ergo alien spacecraft!" The influence of Hollywood cannot be said to be absent in this blatant violation of Occam's Razor.
I feel the overused and often arrogant cliche, namely that "this book should be a part of the education of every child" is going just a bit too far. I will take a step back and say that this is a book that I would insist my children would read. Critical thinking is a tool that is not stressed with the vigor that it's historical effectiveness demands, and Sagan's Demon-Haunted World is as good a light introduction as I have read.
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