Stephen Farrington, MS, PE -- World News Trust
Feb. 13, 2018
Dear readers, I want to talk with you today about something Carl Sagan wrote in his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, published 21 years ago this month.
First, a Little Background
Our individual understanding of science divides us into two categories: those who understand science as a process for discovering truth (that is, as more than the body of knowledge discovered by that process), and those who don’t.
Before I get attacked for being a godless atheist, let me assert that science only concerns itself with falsifiable theories about the predictability of the observable universe. This is not a conversation about faith or spirituality. Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. I’m not attacking anybody’s religious faith.
Back to science as a process for discovering truth. Those in the first category of people, those who "get" this about science, will immediately understand what Sagan was worried about when we get to his words below.
Those who haven’t developed that understanding may struggle to recognize Sagan’s concern.
Understand Each Other
Whichever category you are in, I hope that everyone reading this will seek ways to discuss the subject with friends, family, and co-workers who are in the other category. Because what Sagan had to say has affected everyone in both categories.
And it’s through engagement with those whose ways of thinking are different from ours that we develop mutual understanding, appreciation, and I daresay mutual benefit in moving beyond the world in which we now find ourselves.
Here is what Sagan wrote (the emphasis is mine):
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking.
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest-common-denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers.
The plain lesson is that study and learning -- not just of science, but of anything -- are avoidable, even undesirable.
This is serious stuff. Climate denial. Fake news. The widespread renewal of astrology. All symptoms of a cultural shift away from the objectivity of truth; the abandonment of evidence-based reasoning.
Sagan’s prescience is astounding. He saw 21 years into the future with miraculous precision. He absolutely nailed the disastrous impacts of abandoning evidence-based reasoning on our economy, our political system, and the control we have over our own lives. He did this with science as his informant.
I feel as though nothing less than the future of our nation, perhaps the future of humanity, depends on all of us understanding what Carl Sagan understood 21 years ago.
Please engage with others on this subject.
Let’s try to reach shared understanding of each other, and eventually of science as a process of discovering truths that serve each of our own self-interests. And also, that science and religion are not in opposition.
Stephen Farrington, MS, PE. Entrepreneur, Engineer, Scientist, Deep Generalist. Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Consultant.
I’m on Twitter as @sfarringvt.