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Chapter 1: The most precious thing 
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 Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Chapter 1: The most precious thing

Please use this thread to discuss Chapter 1: The most precious thing.



Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:06 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
"As I got off the plane, he was waiting for me....." You know you're in for far more than a discussion about science when you read the opening lines. This chapter opens like a literary tour de force. It's that first question at the beginning of the narrative that makes you want to know more.



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Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:17 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Thanks for getting this party started, JJ_Co!



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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
I haven't finished reading the first chapter (just got to the Crystal core of the earth) but it is vintage* Sagan. He has a sort of folksy manner in his prose that interprets his stylized spoken delivery. It promises to be an interesting read.


*obviously as it is vintage Sagan.


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Thu Jan 15, 2015 7:56 am
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
I'm glad you're joining us on this one, Stahrwe! :bananadance:



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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Chapter one is a frank and critical assessment of the world as Sagan observed it to be twenty years ago, does the world seem any different today? to me it seems we may be only just more aware.



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Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:55 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
I'm looking forward to seeing what tone Sagan takes in this book. Many people see skeptics in a very negative light and, yet, Sagan was so infectiously enthusiastic and didn't seem to run people the wrong way. Of course, the world seems so much more polarized now versus then for whatever reason.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Since I have the Kindle edition I can't cite a page number but in this chapter Sagan says, "We can pray over the cholera victim, or give him 500mg of tetracycline."

He continues on to refer to Christian Scientists who oppose medical treatment. This seems a bit of textual 'slight of hand.' Tetracycline was invented mid-twentieth century. By that time, very few Christian groups opposed treatment with antibiotics. So why did Sagan choose to fabricate the implied mutual exclusivity of the two actions. I can assure you that church groups invariably pray while it's members are being treated for cholera, or more likely pray for their missionary doctors and their patients being treated with tetracycline for cholera. It is not an either/or proposition.

One further comment. I frequently hear these days that Christianity is in decline in the United States as science drives God out of the gaps. So, how is it that our increasingly rational society is abandoning vaccinations?


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Thu Jan 15, 2015 8:07 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
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So, how is it that our increasingly rational society is abandoning vaccinations?


We can be increasingly rational, yet still have a large number of irrational beliefs. The two aren't mutually exclusive. What it means is that we're improving, even if we have a ways to go.

With that said, I'm not convinced we're increasingly rational. I think we just find different things to be irrational about.


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Thu Jan 15, 2015 8:45 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Without a doubt, I'm looking forward to this book, because I love Carl's works so much. One of the reasons I love his work so much is that he gives me a lot to think about, as well as one or two things to disagree about.

(Using "quick edit" I can see that most people have commented in some way about Carl's "leanings". We've all picked it up in our own ways: Interbane and the fact of non mutual exclusivity (which carl doesn't quite get), stahwe's "slight of hand", geo mentions the "tone" and how modern readers might see Carl differently from when he wrote. It was the right book to read, stimulating if nothing else.)

The preface really set the scene to chapter 1 for me. Carl came from humble origins and rose to incredible heights during his life. My successes in life are miniscule relative to Carl's. Nevertheless I have broken a few social barriers myself. Along the way, I asked why it was that all the people I knew as a child didn't also break social barriers, and get degrees, and that sort of thing. I felt as if it was my mission to tell them that they could have more from life. When I came back to earth, a decade or so later, I saw that they were happy being who they were. Meanwhile, one or two people from my town actually revolutionized their lives in ways similar to me – and I like to think that I indirectly served as their role models, and this is important in the context of chapter 1. In chapter 1, Carl talks about Buckley. He wants to lift Buckley out of pseudoscience. Because Buckley has a hunger for knowledge, only the wrong sort of knowledge. Carl wants this of Buckley, even if Buckley may not want it for himself. Or cannot get it for himself. However, something that Carl may not have realized was that Buckley was just an ordinary guy, who likely had a whole lot of family responsibilities on top of his boring work duties. For him, pseudoscience may have brightened his day, and allowed him to escape for a moment in a way that knowledge about atomic physics may not have. Sure, Carl points to some dangerous pseudoscientific practices, rare (exceptions to the rule) Christian groups that deny medical treatment, Filipinos whose medical treatment involves faith healing (again exceptions to the rule), presidents who consult astrologists. And the truth is that we need to adopt the scientific method to cut through the fog, so that we can stop ourselves from slipping into another dark ages. But I think that Carl aimed a little too high with wanting to save all the Buckleys of the world. Buckley was likely very happy being Buckley. Not everyone is exceptional like Carl. Not everyone can rise from humble origins to global heights; not everyone wants more from life. However, if Carl had wanted to inspire certain motivated individuals to revolutionize their lives and/or carry the baton for scientific methodology, he succeeded.

Carl mentions that it is the method rather than the conclusion that matters most in science. However, even Carl slips into a myth or two. The longevity myth for one. Another scientist, Kelly McGonigal, slipped into it too, in her book Willpower. (I mention Willpower only because I recently finished reading it.) Scientists love dragging out the old longevity chestnut, like we should be grateful to them for living longer lives. If Carl wanted to be one the money, he should have referred to science "decreasing infant mortality." For example, look at: http://web.archive.org/web/200707130833 ... -at-40.php

My raising this little fact isn't here or there. The reason why I mention it is because even a great and inimitable popularizer of science such as Carl can fall into the sticky trap of wanting to create a belief system of thanks around his craft.

On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, I am being just what Carl would have wanted me to be - skeptical.



Last edited by JJ_Co on Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
JJ wrote:
Scientists love dragging out the old longevity chestnut, like we should be grateful to them for living longer lives.


We do live longer than in the past. The myth is that people of yestercentury died around 40. That age is arrived at from faulty statistics, because as you mention they included infant morality numbers, which brought the age down considerably.

If an adult lived to 30 back then, he or she could reasonably expect to live to around 60. That is older than the mythical 40, but also still less than today's life expectancy. Meaning, we have greater longevity, and it is due to the advances of science.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Yes, I guess that's true Interbane.



Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:17 am
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
With that said, I'm not convinced we're increasingly rational. I think we just find different things to be irrational about.



So, let's quantify this.

TIS Total Irrationality of Society
BIG Belief in God
OIB Other Irrational Beliefs

TIS = BIG + OIB

If, according to Interbane, as atheism increases BIG decreases but OIB increases so that TIS remains unchanged, what benefit does society derive from atheism?


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Fri Jan 16, 2015 6:52 am
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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Quote:
TIS Total Irrationality of Society
BIG Belief in God
OIB Other Irrational Beliefs

TIS = BIG + OIB

If, according to Interbane, as atheism increases BIG decreases but OIB increases so that TIS remains unchanged, what benefit does society derive from atheism?


That argument cuts both ways. If TIS remains constant whatever happens with BIG, what benefit does society derive from belief in god?

I don't think TIS remains constant. Decreasing BIG does not necessarily increase OIB but it can reduce TIS.

TIS - BIG < TIS


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Last edited by tbarron on Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:05 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Chapter 1: The most precious thing
Carl writes, "Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science."

In the sense that scientific reality testing is the only way to know what's true about the universe, I would agree. However, on first reading, my response to that statement was to reflect on the loss of knowledge that took place with the destruction of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, which is mentioned earlier in the chapter. That seems like a "way back" that could happen again.


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