The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

4.4 75
by Carl Sagan, Sagan

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How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don't understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience, New Age thinking, and fundamentalist zealotry and the testable hypotheses of science?

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies as

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How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don't understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience, New Age thinking, and fundamentalist zealotry and the testable hypotheses of science?

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies as witchcraft, faith healings, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning, with stories of alien abduction, "channeling" past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists' pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England's wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions. (Feb.)
Library Journal
A Pulitzer Prize-winning astronomer argues that scientific illiteracy and our new-found suspicion of the rational threatens democratic institutions.
Donna Seaman
Sagan has devoted himself to the noble mission of rousing us from our stuporous neglect of science. His accessible and passionate books about the cosmos, our origins, and space exploration ("Pale Blue Dot" ) open doors of perception into exciting realms many nonscientists simply avoid. In his newest book, Sagan conducts a vigorous inquiry into why science is so "hard to learn and hard to teach" and asks why so many people embrace the sort of "pseudoscience" associated with New Age beliefs or served up in the pages of tabloids. Widespread scientific illiteracy and a dearth of critical thinking are "perilous and foolhardy," Sagan tells us, and that's obviously true. To show us just how deluded we can be, Sagan tackles the popular belief in extraterrestrials and alien abduction stories, debunking a number of half-baked but commonly held assumptions simply by asking commonsensical questions. He moves on to the whole "recovered memory" debacle, then segues into a very convincing discussion of hallucinations. Ultimately, he links today's aliens with yesterday's demons in this lithe, well-supported, sometimes quite wry, and altogether refreshing performance. Stick to the facts, Sagan tells us, "There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any." There are wonders within, too, all we need to do is learn to use them.

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.45(d)

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Demon-Haunted World 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is absolutely one of the finest works demonstrating the difference between the process of science and the body of knowledge we have gained through its use. Sagan uses the phrase 'baloney detection toolkit' several times in this book, and it applies wonderfully across the spectrum of experience in our lives. When applied to the claims of various types of cultural environment, the practices he points out can easily help individuals see through the fraudulent claims of those who would pretend to use 'science' to 'prove' their pet theory. As a walk through history, this book also shows how people have been misled terribly by persons whose vested interest lies in such deception. For this reason alone it is worth reading, as the similarities between many of those past situations and those occurring today do show that history certainly does have a habit of repeating itself. This book is a wonderful tool for developing the one thing that will help you throughout your entire life: a skeptical mind. Not a cynical one, a skeptical one. I can't give this book higher ratings - or I would. I try to always keep two extra copies around to give to friends who might appreciate it. Do yourself a favor, and pick it up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books. This is truly a manifesto on clear thinking. A book which clearly explains what science is truly about. Something people are very confused about especially when they are constantly being bombarded by unreliable information through the media and when new age and irrational thinking continue to thrive and even be 'trendy'. As Einstein said (and Sagan quoted): Science as child-like and primitive as it may be, is the most precious thing we have...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most refreshing and interesting books I've read. Throughout the entire book Sagan eloquently explains away many ideas that run our lives. The massive amount of rhetorical questions are the icing on the cake. Sagan's skepticism and ability to 'detect baloney' are qualities that are greatly needed in our society. Sagan is MY candle in the dark.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must say that this book changed my views more than any other book. There is a noticeable rise in irrationalism and pseudo-science in our times, largely promoted by the media (esp the TV). This phenonmenon, if unchecked will totally destroy the younger generations' ability to solve their problems using a rational, logical and scientific means. Instead, they will view mystical, religious, ritualistic means as effective means to solve human problems. The rise of such irrational views will undo human progress and civilization. Making Carl Sagan's book, esp. the Demon Haunted World a required reading in schools, will counter this current rise of irrationalism. If you are a media personnel and if you care about the human race, you should stop promoting stupidity and instead promote a scientific view and propounded by Carl Sagan in this book.
Fraktal More than 1 year ago
Sagan is a generally good writer, and in this now-classic book he penned a strong and usually compelling defense of the skeptical paradigm. The book is replete with good examples, and has several chapters well worth reading for those who are either budding skeptics, or are interested in learning about how to think critically and scientifically. The man, to be sure, understood science and was a solid critical thinker. Unfortunately, the organization of the book is somewhat lacking. Sagan touches many of the classic pseudoscientific bugbears like alien abductions, UFOs, hypnotic regression, and prophetic visions, but he bounces from one to the other, never really spending enough time on one topic in concert to make it feel as though he has thoroughly covered the material. Make no mistake, by the end much of it has been thoroughly covered -- especially UFOs and abductions -- but the coverage is disjointed. He seems to have done this to show the reader the common threads to many of these concepts, but the effect is to produce a lack of organization in the narrative. He would have been better, I think, with a more classical organization, covering each topic in a single, coherent chapter. The book is well worth a read and has kept me interested throughout, even though I have read or heard most of these ideas from skeptics in the recent past (many, I realize now, borrowed in whole or in part from this book, which came out almost 15 years ago). And some of Sagan's quotes are priceless. It just lacks a little in organization.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whenever I am asked that impossible question 'What is your favorite book?' This is THE book that I have settled upon as my answer. It is a sorely needed dose of medicine for our collective minds. The one unfortunate thing is that those people who might benefit most by its reading, are the ones who will likely be busy reading exactly something else instead. Excellent Job Carl...we miss you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One often finds themselves asking the questions that plague the minds of people both educated and uneducated. These are the questions of pseudoscience and mysticism. Carl Sagan, one of the premier scientific writers of the 20th century analyzes the world of pseudoscience and why people believe these ideas. One of the main "phenomenon" that Sagan analyzes is that of extra-terrestrials including UFO's. This is because this is one of the most widely believed and reported pseudoscientific phenomenon. He discounts the experience of alien abduction as a sleeping disorder known as sleep paralysis, discounts UFO's as hundreds of other logical explanations ranging from hoaxes to photographic anomalies that occur naturally due to reflection of light inside the lens. Also he reinforces the government explanation that the Roswell incident was caused by a weather balloon, which were widely used in the day to spy on the Soviets. The underlying theme of Sagan's novel is his powerful love of science, it is his religion and what he considers to be the only hope for the future. The fact that the common person knows more about the world of pseudoscience than that of actual science which relates to every facet of their life. He warns against a future in which all other countries of the world have surpassed America in science and technology and we become too far behind to catch up. This novel is an excellent look at science from the inside, and from common culture from the outside. Sagan also criticizes the scientific community for its wasted energy on military and destructive sciences such as the hydrogen bomb and chemicals like Agent Orange. Sagan expalins how the gulibility of the masses plays an important role in how these phenomenon have become so widespread. In all of this Sagan maintains his fluid and comprehensive style. This is such an important quality in a scientific book because the people he wants to read this novel are the ones who do not usually understand scientific material. These are the people who embrace pseudoscience as fact and spread it to others to distract them from the real world, who flock to the people who claim to have mystical powers of premonition, or those who can heal with a touch. The problem is that people find these things which are probably not real more interesting than the real scientific advanvcements that are made every day. The Demon Haunted World is an excellent book that looks at the scientific world in a different light and discounts many of the pseudoscientific phenomenon in our world.
VA_Reader More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I checked out from my college library. I absolutely devoured it within a few days. The illuminating essays, observations, analogies, and experiences Sagan offered would influence the way I viewed the universe, the preciousness of life, and the importance of being a skeptic and critically thinking. To say that Carl Sagan was one of the most important scientists and popularizers of science would be a gross understatement. What you should also know is that he is an excellent writer, able to weave complex science into entertaining and easy to read essays about the natural world, human psychology, and more. The Demon Haunted World offers both education and entertainment, insightful debunkings of pseudoscience, and reflections upon concepts such as faith and nationalism. I keep two copies of this book in my library at any time. One for my own re-readings. The second to gift to others that I think could use the illuminating essays to expand their horizons. If you haven't read this book, I suggest that you give it a serious consideration.
BrownAlyson More than 1 year ago
Pseudoscience: Cultural Wrong, Science Needs Refreshing. An ethnography is done by studying a certain culture, recently I have been exploring the culture of haunted houses. Not literally haunted, but the commercial haunted houses that relate to people’s fears. Carl Sagan debunks a few of the fears that are put in the haunted houses such as witches, ufos, and actual hauntings. It helped me make ground in my ethnography and made me want to get to know more about the haunted houses and why people are actually frightened when science shows that it is pretend. This book is eye opening to how susceptible the world is to believing fables and myths. He speaks of how knowledge is important when he quotes Edmund Way Teale and said, “It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.” (12.) In a way this says that people only care about money no matter how they get it and no matter what it is saying, as long as it helps them they will spread it. Saying that in this day and age science is just an after thought. He created a list of many superstitions that are present everyday, to list one that caught my attention was, “the belief that 13 is an “unlucky” number (because of which many no-nonsense office buildings and hotels in America pass directly from the 12th to the 14th floors - why take any chances)” (221.) I really felt that Sagan remarked on all of the major superstitions and opened my eyes to the fact that I believe those rumors and what is popular belief. Sagan makes me want to be learn more and not just accept the bare minimum. I would recommend this book to people who actually want to have their mind blown but if you are a person who is stuck in their ways and isn’t open to new thoughts then this book isn’t for you. This is a long read but very captivating and unlike anything I ordinarily read. I love the skepticism and all that science shows in the universe. Really well done for only 400 pages.
AirScottDenning More than 1 year ago
One of the last books of Carl Sagan's life, this is an important defense of reason and the scientific method against pseudoscience and antiscience in modern society, especially as seen against the backdrop of medieval and early-modern witch hunts. But it's also a deeply personal meditation on the meaning of human existence in a cosmos without magical divine intervention, written as Sagan fought the illness that would claim his life in less than a year after its publication. I personally found the early chapters on pseudoscience (UFO abductions, especially) tedious and overdone. But as a scientist and lifelong fan of Sagan, the book was an engaging and sometimes inspiring look into his brave spirit.
CarolynLovesAPLang111 More than 1 year ago
Sagan's writing style can be appreciated throughout all sections of The Demon Haunted World. His unique flow of words helps you better understand the complex ideas he is trying to present, and he is able to make you fully understand many odd concepts that you have probably never thought of prior to reading this. Instead of criticizing the beliefs of others, Sagan simply states his ideas and presents solid theories without sounding biased or condescending to those who may feel differently. The point of this book is to inform readers about the many things they believe in without explanations. Sagan accomplishes this thoroughly without stepping on anyone's toes, and it is for this reason that this book is so well respected. Throughout it, Sagan brings light towards the many things people believe in without scientific proof or logical explanation. Reading this, one may think a lot about religion, where is comes from, and what its purpose is. Sagan's connection between pseudosciences and religion is excellent and very scholarly as well. Although many people say they do not believe in the unexplainable things mentioned in this book (such as UFO's and ghosts,) many believe in religion; something so common, yet lacking in scientific explanation and proof of existence. This book is an eye-opening piece of literature that will keep you thinking for days.
avistrat126 More than 1 year ago
I was initially quite hesitant to read a book written by a scientist. I feared that it may be just like any other dry, lengthy textbook just spewing out facts and information. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sagan is not only a highly intelligent and passionate scientist, but also a talented writer. He conveyed knowledge in an eloquent, clear way. He drew a distinct line between what science is real science, and that which is fostered by the media and mass culture. It was intriguing, if not gripping read, and I have a great respect for Sagan's point of view and his assertions of truth.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
This is the best and the first book of the scientific method. This book was written and successful at it's primary goal in letting you learn how to fact test, and reality check. This book will arm you with process of science. We can not always defend ourselves from those who seek to persuade or influence what we think. This may not give you the courage to defy those who what to control what you express as what you think or believe, but it will arm you with what you need to build the strength to hold fast to what you want.
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Danm it it doesnt work
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A thoughtful look into human beings and their "Bogie Men" of times past and present. He tries to show how critical thinking and testing hypothesis are the way to explain things, not stuff that has no proof or is mystical. It can get a little preachy and at times he over examines things, but it is still thought provoking. Be warned however, if you are a true believer religion and especially the Catholic church, you will probably find a few areas offensive.
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Occasionally the book goes off on tangents, but it is largely on topic and when it is it is well argued and well researched. Sagan was a smart man and a good author. It is easily accessible regardless of the readers foreknowledge.
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