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Cosmologist and science educator Carl Sagan made his name in popular culture as the host and author of the television show “Cosmos.” More than a dozen books Combining the differences between the scientific complexities of the world and the people who live in it. Intelligent and eloquent, he had a way of making science popular with the common man, always advocating healthy skepticism and the scientific method to find answers to questions about our world.

But Sagan also had a broad understanding of the human experience, which was part of what made him such a popular communicator. In addition to science, he wrote about peace and justice and kindness. He does not shun spirituality as some skeptics do, but says he finds science to be “a deep source of spirituality.” He admits there is much we don’t know but is determined to defend what we do.

Now, a quote from Sagan’s 1995 book, “The Demonized World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.” People are talking about his amazing ability to look into the future. His prophecies did not come through supernatural means, but rather through his powers of observation and insight into human nature. Still pretty scary though.


I have a preconceived notion of America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; As almost all manufacturing industries fled to other countries; When amazing technological powers are in the hands of a few and no one representing the public interest can understand the issue; When the people lose the ability to set their own agenda or question those in power with knowledge; As our critical faculties decline, we are unable to distinguish between what feels good and what is true, and we unconsciously revert to superstition and darkness.

And at a time when America’s anger is most evident, the slow decay of content in the most influential media, 30-second audio bites now down to 10 seconds or less, very low-key programming, credible approaches to pseudoscience and superstition. But especially a celebration of ignorance.

The words seem prophetic in a world where under-qualified people rise to the highest levels of power, and often people rise to the highest levels of power, defy the broad scientific consensus on everything from climate change to public health, and complain with loud voices on social media. More and more extreme views that are bare and uncomplicated.

What annoys them the most is that people who are caught up in conspiracy or take extreme positions based on illogical rhetoric do not see their own ignorance. They were told. They are. deep thinkers, They are. Knowledgeable only because they question authority (in contrast, the “…ability to intellectually question those in power” that Saga refers to is not the same).

“When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse expectations and reality, we slip into pseudoscience and superstition,” Sagan wrote. We watched this game in America during the pandemic. We see it on both ends of our politics every day. One thing Saga doesn’t see in social discourse, especially online, is that ignorance, pseudoscience, and superstition are rewarded by the algorithms that determine what we see on our social media today. A cycle that can sometimes feel irreversible.

However, Sagan offers a hopeful reminder that the people who are attracted to marketers who push “alternative facts” for their own gain are people who have an interest in understanding the world we all share. They warned against being unkindly critical, reminding us that being human doesn’t come with a set of instructions or an innate understanding of how things work.

“Sometimes, in the way skepticism is applied to public affairs, there is a tendency to belittle, denigrate, whether or not the proponents of superstition and pseudoscience are real people with feelings. “The skeptics are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be,” he wrote. “If their culture doesn’t give them what they need to carry out this great mission, let’s temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.”

It is not always easy to distinguish truth from lies, fact from fiction, science from pseudoscience, and it is not a challenge to educate people to develop this ability. Taking a cue from Sagan, we can approach education with rigorous scientific standards but with curiosity and wonder as well as kindness and humility. If he was right about the direction America was headed 30 years ago, he was probably right about the need to understand what led to that direction and the tools needed to right the ship.

You can find a lot more in Sagan. “The Demonized World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.”over here.