Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
The Demon-Haunted World / Carl Sagan
Reviewed by Tal Cohen Saturday, 12 July 1997
(From the book) We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

The Demon-Haunted World is part of a fight against pseudo-science, a fight held by Carl Sagan, D.R. Hofstadter, Martin Gardner, Richard Dawkins, L. Sprague de Camp, Stephen J. Gould, Marvin Minsky, and the many other members of CSICOP: the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (the name is read “Sci-Cop”, as in “Science Cop”. The March/April 1997 issue of the CSICOP magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer, was dedicated to the memory of Carl Sagan, which passed away in late 1996).

In this book, Sagan systematically shows the foulness of most claims for paranormal and unnatural events, including UFOs, future-telling, alien abductions, and others. As a “skeptical”, most of these were not new to me: I never did believe in UFOs. (My home town, Netanya, was once excited for a week due to “UFOs”, flying objects with blinking lights appearing every night in the sky, and seen by dozens of people. IDF Airforce planes detected nothing in the area. Local newspapers went mad. Eventually, they found the teenagers who flew some kites with blinking lights on them.)

(From the book) I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science 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.

However, in addition to the common aspects of pseudo-science, the book points to another foul practice. Generally considered a science, I now consider it to be illegitimate pseudo-science: psychoanalysis (at least in the way it is currently practiced). Sagan shows how therapists use suggestive methods to convince their clients of things that never were, and blames this “science” for many of the alien-abduction (as well as child abuse) stories. Some of the facts he presents are really shocking.

Another good thing about the book is that it provides solid answers, for people who disbelieve in UFOs and suchlike, that they can use whenever arguments arise. It is quite hard to contradict “proofs” like video-films of “surgeries in alien bodies”, and similar “indisputable evidence”. Sagan pinpoints the faults of most of these “evidences”.

But the greatest weakness of the book, I’m afraid, lies in the fact that it will convince very few believers of pseudo-science to abandon their beliefs. While The Demon-Haunted World is a good reading for serious people, few of the reckless “new-agers” will take it seriously.

(From the book) The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

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