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The Demon-Haunted World

Science as a Candle in the Dark

By Carl Sagan
18-minute read
Audio available
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World (1995) helps the reader distinguish between dangerous pseudoscience and real, hard science by exploring the critical-thinking tools scientists use to make their discoveries. The author argues for science’s place in education and popular culture, and offers his advice on how we can incorporate more critical thought into our society.

  • People interested in science and the methods of science
  • Anyone who wants to learn the difference between astronomy and astrology
  • Critical thinkers who want to improve their analytical skills

Carl Sagan was an American scientist who mainly specialized in astronomy and the search for extraterrestrial life. He also wrote a number of popular science books, including Broca’s Brain and Pale Blue Dot. Sagan achieved worldwide recognition as an advocate for science education with his television series, Cosmos.

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The Demon-Haunted World

Science as a Candle in the Dark

By Carl Sagan
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
Synopsis

The Demon-Haunted World (1995) helps the reader distinguish between dangerous pseudoscience and real, hard science by exploring the critical-thinking tools scientists use to make their discoveries. The author argues for science’s place in education and popular culture, and offers his advice on how we can incorporate more critical thought into our society.

Key idea 1 of 11

Scientists rely on skepticism and critical thinking to understand how the universe works.

When you look at the moon, what do you see? Throughout human history, millions of people believed they saw a face. Today, however, we’re quite sure that the “man in the moon” isn’t really looking down on us. Rather, it’s we who are looking at nothing more than 4.5 billion-year-old craters.

But how do we know there’s no man in the moon? Well, because scientists disproved that hypothesis by using powerful telescopes to carefully examine the moon’s surface.

Science is generally open to all ideas – even that of there being a man in the moon! – but it tests them rigorously. Scientists look for explanations of how the world works, and try to consider every single idea that might explain any given phenomenon.

Then, through the process of critical questioning, careful observation and repeated experimentation, they try to discern the explanation that is most probable.

For example, if you were to explain your burnt finger to a scientist by saying it had been roasted by a dragon’s fiery breath, you would have to demonstrate that there were no other more probable, more valid explanations for your burn.

Otherwise, your theory simply doesn’t hold up to the scientific method, and will remain just another unsubstantiated claim.

The scientific method is fortified by a constant skepticism that jettisons bad ideas and singles out good ones. And because scientists know better than anyone that human thought is fallible, they constantly challenge one another’s explanatory models.

It is this skepticism that helps them find and correct errors even in well-established scientific theories. Copernicus did exactly that when he flouted centuries of scientific thought by proposing a heliocentric, as opposed to a geocentric, astronomical model – that is, that the earth orbits the sun, not the other way around.

By maintaining a stolidly scientific skepticism, only the best explanations survive, which ensures a deeper understanding of the universe.

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