Humans are subject to mass hysteria, optical illusions, and hallucinations. We are error-prone and influenced by the actions of others. We reject unpleasant evidence and have fallible senses. We'll pick the world-view that gives us the warmest, fuzziest feelings. We are easily fooled. But, when we know our limitations, when use the tools that are at our disposal, the human mind can go a long way to cutting the chaff from the wheat. For Sagan, the tool to use is, of course, science.
Science will cut the fiction from the fact, the drivel from the data. It provides a way of critical thinking, a unique world-view that is self-correcting, self-critical. It takes into account the fallibility of human sensation by relying on peer-review and skeptical thinking.
Pseudo-science, on the other hand, does not stand-up to skeptical analysis. It is not reproducible. It does not rely on wishful thinking. Science never claims to be inerrant, while pseudo science often hides behind hand-waving and misdirection.
Sagan bolsters his thesis with many examples of human self-deception and silliness, such as crop circles, UFO abductions, astrology, witch hunting, demonology, and many more. Critical thinking, an examination of the facts, and a reliance on science as a tool shows all of these things to be with little merit.
Often Sagan's message is one of education in scientific thinking. He argues strongly for skepticism and critical analysis in the classroom and in popular media as the best way to maintain a technologically advanced society. Without it, we are subject to mass delusion, uninformed decisions, and just plain stupidity.
This is a great book, and I recommend it. It makes the reader think and that is never a bad thing.
Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong