Still a Demon Haunted World

Sagan Tweet

Olga’s tweet reminded me of Sagan’s very cautionary book, The Demon Haunted World, published just over 20 years ago and one of the few paper books still on my bookshelf.

These thoughts from early in the book seem especially relevant as we face a very uncertain future.

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – 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.

He goes on to address something that sounds very much like our current state of affairs.

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.

Throughout his life, Sagan freely admitted that science was not perfect and makes mistakes. But also that the scientific method of inquiry and discovery will always be the best process for leading society into the future.

Hopefully, we are not at that point where it all blows up in our faces.

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