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Last Updated 2/15/2004 by dickdiamond.com


Sagan's Legacy

I don't know why I find it so difficult to like Ann Druyan. I agree with 90% of what she says, which has to be damned near a personal best for me. And yet there is something about her approach, something about the way she attempts to get her message across that just grates on me. I used to think it was all in her physical presentation. On the Cosmos DVDs she comes across as dour, exhausted, and just a tiny bit whiny. Now I encounter this transcript of a talk she gave at the Center for Inquiry in L.A. and I find that she comes across the same way even in print! Still, my personal prejudices aside, this is worth a read. She's so damned right on every point.

I think we still have an acute case of post-Copernican-stress syndrome. We have not resolved the trauma of losing our infantile sense of centrality in the universe. And so as a society we lie to our children. We tell them a palliative story, almost to ensure that they will be infantile for all of their lives. Why? Is the notion that we die so unacceptable? Is the notion that we are tiny and the universe is vast too much of a blow to our shaky self-esteem? (link)

This is particularly interesting to me right now because I've been thinking a lot about the failure of my science education. I took a lot of compartmentalized science courses, which purported to teach me about the natural world. But what was missing was the most basic philosophy of science: the scientific method, skepticism, the idea that, as Druyan puts it, "in the absence of evidence, we must withhold judgment." It's only through my own reading and experience that I learned these things. Why is it, I wonder, that we don't teach the most basic techniques of scientific thought? Why did I, as someone who took college-level classes in philosophy, psychology, science and logic, have to come upon the true lessons of thought the hard way? Why is it that we're not giving high school, even grade school students the philosophical toolbox they need to understand the world? I'm not talking about anything so dense as the writings of "great thinkers." I'm talking about the straightforward, easily distilled knowledge of things like logical fallacies, like the fallacy of false cause or the danger of anecdotal evidence. Awareness of these pitfalls and the other aspects of critical thinking are the tools adults must use every day in order to understand the world. So why do you have to be a voracious reader, receive an Ivy League education and/or work for a management consulting firm to ever even hear about them?




<-- January 2004


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