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Quotes that demand to be mentioned

#136: Feb. - Mar. 2015 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Quotes that demand to be mentioned

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We read and discussed this book back in 2003 and then had a live chat session with Ann Druyan. We've decided to pull this discussion out of the BookTalk.org Archives and give the book a second reading/discussion and chat with Ann Druyan. Ann has agreed to another live chat too.

Below you can read the older posts. Just look at the dates on each post to see if they are from the original discussion or the current discussion. Many of the members from 2003 are still members now so don't be shy about responding to their posts.

-- Chris O'Connor


As we read this book we will all come across particular sections, paragraphs, sentences that are really powerful or exciting. I thought it would be nice to start a thread for sharing these points.

From the very last paragraph of Ch. 2:

"An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth - scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books - might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?"

There have been so many things Sagan has said that deserve to be in this thread, but I just got the idea of creating this thread as I finished Chapter 2. I'll add more quotes and may even head back through the first two chapters to pluck my favorites out. I hope others join in and share the parts that you appreciated the most too.

Chris
Thurkon17

Another Quote

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"My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method."

I just love the phrase "uneasily cohabiting". It is too easy to give in to one or the other of these two modes of thought, and either resort to merely jaded cynicism or irrational fancy. It is the balance that truly merits worth. It is this balance that the best thinkers and scientists in our world practice.

Imagination and the need to find wonder are a huge part of our humanity. How much of our appreciation of beauty is credited to this? Yet, much of pseudoscience is due to this insatiable need to find the wondrous in our lives. Truly, fear in itself drives superstition and pseudoscience...but so does wonder and the imagination. Those who unquestioningly believe in Bigfoot, UFOs, and the like seem to want to find the fantastic despite all evidence to the contrary.
greg in the machine

Re: Another Quote

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I think people who unquestioningly believe in things like UFOs and Bigfoot are simply taking the easy road to fullfilling their sense of wonder. Finding and striving to understand those things that are genuinely wonderous - like SETI and paleolithic anthropology, to give counter examples of those above - requires patient study and vigorous critical thinking. Developing a real sense of wonder can be hard work.

Pseudoscience is "fast food wonder" (cheap, easy to find, and bland enough for any palate) while science is "seventeen-course gormet wonder" (expensive, in need of being searched out, and requiring critical & disciplined taste).

G
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Re: Another Quote

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By and large, scientists' minds are open when exploring new worlds. If we knew beforehand what we'd find, it would be unnecessary to go. In future missions to Mars or to the other fascinating worlds in our neck of the cosmic woods, surprises-even some of mythic proportions-are possible, maybe even likely. But we humans have a talent for deceiving ourselves. Skepticism must be a component of the explorer's toolkit, or we will lose our way. There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any. -pages 58, 59

Well put. There is so much in reality to explore and learn that a person could spend their entire life devoted to understanding and still not come close to knowing it all. Why waste time and confuse ourselves and each other with mysticism? There are a lot of people who enjoy astrology, psychics and the like even though they claim to not actually believe in it. I don't get that. It seems like a total waste of time to even think about it.

Cheryl
Thurkon17

Astrology

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I agree completely, Cheryl. The frustrating part is when you know someone you admire who entertains such things, even in entertainment. My wife is an intelligent woman...an environmental lawyer with years of education under her belt...and she reads the horoscopes in Cosmo. We've had many discussions about it, so now when I catch her she simply looks up at me and says with a bemused smile:

"I don't even want to hear it, Jim."

She says she likes to read them but doesn't wholeheartedly believe in them. On the other hand, she admits that in the back of her mind she sometimes wonders if there's "something to all of it." Her mother (another lawyer) and her sister (a doctor) also enjoy reading the horoscopes and discussing them together.

What the hell? I try to explain to her that there's no evidence that the alignment of the planets and stars has anything to do with our personalities or destines...I mean, why would they? She knows this when I put it that way, and explains it's just fun. Most of the time, though, I don't think she gives that much thought to it. It's such an omnipresent part of our culture it's not hard to fall into the mindset that even if it isn't entirely true, there might be "something to it."

I think much of religion and pseudoscience are treated this way by those that...frankly...don't spend much of their time questioning it. Some of them may be unintelligent, gullible, whatever...but I think some, like my wife and her family, just don't spend that much time thinking about such things.

Jim
greg in the machine

Re: Astrology

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Thurkon said:

I agree completely, Cheryl. The frustrating part is when you know someone you admire who entertains such things, even in entertainment. My wife is an intelligent woman...an environmental lawyer with years of education under her belt...and she reads the horoscopes in Cosmo. We've had many discussions about it, so now when I catch her she simply looks up at me and says with a bemused smile:

"I don't even want to hear it, Jim."

She says she likes to read them but doesn't wholeheartedly believe in them. On the other hand, she admits that in the back of her mind she sometimes wonders if there's "something to all of it." Her mother (another lawyer) and her sister (a doctor) also enjoy reading the horoscopes and discussing them together.

What the hell? I try to explain to her that there's no evidence that the alignment of the planets and stars has anything to do with our personalities or destines...I mean, why would they? She knows this when I put it that way, and explains it's just fun. Most of the time, though, I don't think she gives that much thought to it. It's such an omnipresent part of our culture it's not hard to fall into the mindset that even if it isn't entirely true, there might be "something to it."

This is an attitude that I see too often among rationalists. I simply don't see the need to beat that degree of skepticism into another person's head. If you yourself are so vigilantly skeptical that's fine - more power to you. But why the need to piss in someone else's bowl of entertainment wheaties?

Now don't get me wrong - I'm a skeptic if there ever was one and I wholly support spreading the concept of critical thinking. And where people who are actually hurting themselves or others over silly beliefs are concerned, a case can certainly be made for starting a campaign to end their credulity. However, there are many people who do like "mystical nonsense" purely for entertainment value, and it doesn't stop with horoscopes. What about people who read fantasy novels or play Dungeons & Dragons? Certainly there's more literary mysticism in either of those pastimes than there is in reading the horoscopes in Cosmo. Does finding enjoyment in anything besides hard science make one credulous?

As I said, you'd have my support in trying to change someone's mind who was destroying their life (or someone else's) because of an unfounded belief in supernatural hoo-hah. But most people don't fall into that category; they can look at an astrological chart or get their palm read without actually altering their lives over it. I recommend leaving such people to enjoy their silly and harmless little pleasure. If you don't, atheism can start to look like a religion.

Thurkon also said: I think much of religion and pseudoscience are treated this way by those that...frankly...don't spend much of their time questioning it. Some of them may be unintelligent, gullible, whatever...but I think some, like my wife and her family, just don't spend that much time thinking about such things.

This is undoubtedly true. I'd say between 60% and 70% of the human race falls into neither the "believer" nor the "skeptic" camps at all, but rather the "I'd prefer to spend my time watching football" camp. They just don't consider issues of philosophy and science - at least not until something scares them into it. Better education starting from an early age could change this trend, but browbeating them about their intellectual laziness in the here-and-now probably won't.
Thurkon17

Re: Greg

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Greg:

"This is an attitude that I see too often among rationalists. I simply don't see the need to beat that degree of skepticism into another person's head. If you yourself are so vigilantly skeptical that's fine - more power to you. But why the need to piss in someone else's bowl of entertainment wheaties?"I agree. I try very hard not to do this when the issue is strictly entertainment. I like reading about Bigfoot and UFOs as much as anyone. Yet, I am disheartened when a person whose intellect I respect might believe that there might be "something more to all of it." I hardly browbeat my wife, but it does bother me when she, for example, looks at a bad horoscope for the month and shows slight anxiety because of it.

I won't berate her about it, but I'll try to comfort her by attacking astrology in general. I'll discuss it with her, and try to reason with her.

"However, there are many people who do like "mystical nonsense" purely for entertainment value, and it doesn't stop with horoscopes. What about people who read fantasy novels or play Dungeons & Dragons? Certainly there's more literary mysticism in either of those pastimes than there is in reading the horoscopes in Cosmo."

I couldn't disagree with you more. Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy novels, etc. don't make the claim that they portend future events, or have a true connection with the supernatural. Astrology does, and even those who enjoy such things can be gently reminded that it is nonsense if they entertain the notion that it is anything but. I would never do this with a casual acquaintance, but my wife is my dear friend. She gives me unsolicited advice all the time, so a little quid pro quo is harmless enough.

"Does finding enjoyment in anything besides hard science make one credulous?"

I never said anything remotely like this. Of course not.

"I recommend leaving such people to enjoy their silly and harmless little pleasure. If you don't, atheism can start to look like a religion."

Not sure about that...I see an increasing trend to tolerate mystics, psychics, channelers, and the like in popular media, and I'm sorry if I see it as anything but harmless. Sagan says as much in "Demon Haunted World". When these things become ubiquitous without question, especially when they honestly claim the extraordinary things that they do, they can rub off on even the most level-headed.

I'm no preacher...and I would never broach the subject with anyone but my close friends...so these anonymous message boards are an ideal forum. But I must disagree with you on this one point...there's a HUGE difference between entertainment that is meant solely as entertainment, and things such as astrology and New Age mysticism. The former makes no outrageous claims, and the latter not only does...but attempts to make money by this same spurious claim of authority.

Jim
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Re: Greg

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I agree that there is a difference between playing a game or reading a book with mystical or occult themes versus entertaining belief in astrology. I may read the little paper that I pull out of a fortune cookie because I find it amusing. But I don't think for a moment that it's actually telling my fortune. Most people who read horoscopes on a daily basis, know what their sign is, play with tarot cards and talk to psychics likely entertain some belief even if they don't plan their entire lives around it. I don't feel the need to go around telling people that I think their involvement in it is silly, but if the subject comes up, especially if their promoting belief in astrology, I do let them know what I think of it. And I agree with Jim that it would be very difficult to sit back and watch a family member engaging in these practices.

Cheryl
AckItsJamie

Re: Quotes that demand to be mentioned

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I particularly enjoyed this:

"The spontaneous remission rate of all cancers, lumped together, is estimated to be something between one in ten thousand and one in a hundred thousand. If no more than 5 percent of those who come to Lourdes were there to treat their cancers, there should have been something between 50 and 500 "miraculous" cures of cancer alone. Since only 3 of the attested 65 cures are of cancer, the rate of spontaneous remission at Lourdes seems to be lower than if the victims had just stayed home. Of course, if you're one of the 65, it's going to be very hard to convince you that your trip to Lourdes wasn't the cause of the remission of your disease."

Aside from the lack of knowledge about Science amongst the general populace, I think even a better understanding of Math and Statistics would do much to help people think more clearly.
greg in the machine

Re: Greg

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I certainly can't argue with you about how to discuss such subjects with your wife. It's your personal business and you seem to have a pretty reasonable outlook about it anyway.

I do disagree somewhat about the other points, though. There are people who will take anything "too seriously" - astrology and fantasy literature included, and I don't think they're quite as unrelated as you assume - but I maintain my trust in the idea that most people can handle either one (or any of a thousand other "petty mysticisms"). Even if they do get the idea that "there might be something to it". As long as someone isn't making major decisions based on the horoscopes (or the palm reading, or the game, or the whatever) then I'd say leave'em alone.

More than anything I guess I'm just taking a stand against proseletysing the skeptic or atheistic viewpoint. I hate when the "believers" do it to me, so I'm quite wary of letting it happen in the other direction (which I assure you it very often does).

Anyway, interesting points.

G
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