The Demon Haunted World

The book club meeting held on November 8 began with the video above. The book discussed was The Demon Haunted World- Science as a Candle in the Dark written by Carl Sagan. Sagan was an astronomer born in 1934. He worked on NASA projects and wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Cosmos, that turned into a thirteen part television series that aired in 1980.

Science as a Candle in the Dark is a collection of Sagan’s articles and essays over a few decades. One of the points highlighted in the book is the effects of scientific illiteracy. Science and math are subjects most students are not excited to learn in school. Because of this, people take scientific assertions as facts when there is no proof of these assertions being true. A topic mentioned was UFO’s. Many people wrote to Sagan asking him to verify the existence of UFO’s. He could not say they existed, nor could he say they did not. However, he did think this was a hallucination.

One of the people who wrote to him said, “Your conclusion that large numbers of people in this country, perhaps as many as five million, are all victims of an identical mass hallucination is asinine.”

After the video, the moderator Dr. David Allard, Professor of Biology, opened the floor for discussion about the book and Sagan’s ideas.

In the book, Sagan discusses alien abductions and the people who claim to be victims.

“Carl Sagan talks about how he can hear his dad every once in a while in his head. He lived with his dad for so long and every once in a while he could hear ‘Carl’. Technically, that is a form of hallucination, auditory hallucination,” said Dr. Angela Sikorski, Associate Professor of Psychology.

After she said this, there was discussion about sleep paralysis, which Dr. Sikorski confirmed is real. Sleep paralysis has been a theory behind the stories of alien abduction for years. Sleep paralysis occurs when you are falling asleep or waking up. The mind is awake and fully aware of what is going on, but the body is asleep. You are unable to move or speak, but you are mentally aware of the sounds around you because you are awake. In this state, it is very possible to begin having visual hallucinations.

Dr. Dayna “Joy’ Goldstein, Assistant Professor of English, chose this book for discussion and said, “He touched my life as a scientist I could relate to and I watched the Cosmos series and he inspired me about the meter of the universe.”

A moment when Sagan inspired Dr. Goldstein was when she was at a point in her life when she was questioning religion and her beliefs. Sagan’s own religious beliefs were debated and he was not a religious man.

“As a person who never had a strong interest in math and science, I found the book very interesting and entertaining. Sagan was able to explain science in a way that made sense for the average person. The book was not full of confusing scientific jargon, but was written in a conversational tone.”

As someone who does not have an extensive background in science, the book was not difficult to follow. Sagan explained his thoughts in a tone that did not belittle the reader and was very interesting to read. He used examples and stories from real people to emphasize his points.


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