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Author Topic: The Demon Haunted World  (Read 593 times)

Beasho

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The Demon Haunted World
« on: April 06, 2021, 07:52:46 AM »
I found this book after a few battles over data on topics ranging from wave speeds and distance, covid statistics, and machine learning.

Written in 1996 Carl Sagan's A Demon Haunted World rings more true today than ever.

Excerpt from chapter 1:

A Candle in the Dark is the title of a courageous, largely Biblically based, book by Thomas Ady, published in London in Science and Hope 1656, attacking the witch-hunts then in progress as a scam 'to delude the people'. Any illness or storm, anything out of the ordinary, was popularly attributed to witchcraft. Witches must exist, Ady quoted the 'witchmongers' as arguing, 'else how should these things be, or come to pass?' For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with its unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror.
 
Science is an attempt, largely successful, to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get hold of ourselves, to steer a safe course. Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.

Ady also warned of the danger that 'the Nations [will] perish for lack of knowledge'. Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our ignorance about ourselves. I worry that, especially as the millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience 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.

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 08:00:35 AM by Beasho »

Beasho

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2021, 07:53:10 AM »
On Science: P29

. . . The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don't conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fit the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything - new ideas and established wisdom. This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 08:02:10 AM by Beasho »

Beasho

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2021, 07:56:34 AM »
Doing work with Machine Learning people ask "Why" the result was what it was.  I found Sagan's description of quantum mechanics to be salient.

P 249 Quantum Mechanics: As synonym for AI Replace Quantum Mechanics with AI or Machine Learning

Imagine you seriously want to understand what quantum mechanics (Machine Learning) is about. There is a mathematical underpinning that you must first acquire, mastery of each mathematical subdiscipline leading you to the threshold of the next. In turn you must learn arithmetic, Euclidian geometry, high school algebra, differential and integral calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, vector calculus, certain special functions of mathematical physics, matrix algebra, and group theory. For most physics students, this might occupy them from, say, third grade to early graduate school - roughly fifteen years. Such a course of study does not actually involve learning any quantum mechanics, but merely establishing the mathematical framework required to approach it deeply. 

The job of the popularizer of science, trying to get across some idea of quantum mechanics to a general audience that has not gone through these initiation rites, is daunting. Indeed, there are no successful popularizations of quantum mechanics in my opinion, partly for this reason. These mathematical complexities are compounded by the fact that quantum theory is so resolutely counterintuitive. Common sense is almost useless in approaching it. It's no good, Richard Feynman once said, asking why it is that way. No one knows why it is that way. That's just the way it is.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 08:08:34 AM by Beasho »

PonoBill

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2021, 08:43:24 AM »
I understand that all too well. I've tried to make up for a late start by making my way through the Kahn Academy math classes but it doesn't stick as well as it might if I used what I learn daily, and even when it does I can't really apply what I've learned. It's like learning the syntax and vocabulary of a language and hoping it will let me write like Hemingway. I might have managed to create a weak foundation to advance my understanding of physics, but I can't build much on it. So I'm stuck with, at best, the more challenging popular accounts, where the authors aim is teaching the underpinnings of the thought processes of science and applying them to form some consistent theory of life and how we fit into the universe.

In some ways, that's more frustrating than staying completely ignorant. On one hand I watch people with minimal understanding of even the simplest things leap to conclusions with no evidence and hold their convictions with certainty. On the other I realize I form my opinions based on only a moderately deeper understanding, and I really can't separate two conflicting ideas based on technical understanding. 
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jondrums

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2021, 09:42:09 AM »
thanks for this recommendation - was looking for the next good read and based on your excerpts this is what's up next!

PonoBill

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2021, 12:11:57 PM »
I read a lot of Richard Feynman's writing, if only because I go through Feynman's Lectures on Physics every few years. It's tough sledding, but worthwhile. Volume 3 is a killer, I have to just let it wash over me without trying to really dig into anything. One of his friends, I think it was John Wheeler, said attending a lecture by Feynman was like Chinese food--"you think you understood everything but half an hour later you're dumb again."

There are some popular explanations that are pretty good. Anything by Carlo Rovelli, Sean Carrol, David Deutsch, Lee Smolin, Heinz Pagels, or Martin Bojowald will at least explain the issues. Carlo Rovelli's "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" is remarkably clear.
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Dontsink

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2021, 01:43:17 PM »
I read "Demon Haunted World" ,"Cosmos" and "Pale Blue Dot" back when i was twenty.
Completely changed my perception of...everything really,for the better.They felt like turning the light on after stumbling in the dark.
They also led to other science divulgators like Dawkins,Jared Diamond etc...

Beasho

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Re: The Demon Haunted World
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2021, 02:49:09 PM »
I read "Demon Haunted World" ,"Cosmos" and "Pale Blue Dot" back when i was twenty.
Completely changed my perception of...everything really,for the better.They felt like turning the light on after stumbling in the dark.
They also led to other science divulgators like Dawkins,Jared Diamond etc...

My first of this genre was The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins in an evolution course in college.  Mehhhh.  Then a few years later I asked my former professor for any other reads and he suggested The Selfish Gene also by Richard Dawkins.

The Selfish Gene - One of my top 5 books of time.  I remember reading it, stopping, backing up and rereading the passage again because the content was so rich.  If you haven't read Dawkins he is effectively the modern, living, version of Charles Darwin. 

Growing up in Ithaca, NY Carl Sagan was a folk hero.  He lived in Ithaca and taught at Cornell.  I feel like I must have watched all the Cosmos series BUT it is probably worth reading Cosmos directly and the rest of Sagan's books.  I read Pale Blue Dot 10 years ago - Excellent!!!!  Dawkins lifted 50% of his book The God Delusion from Pale Blue Dot.

Few people realize that the word MEME was invented by Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene.  I told a millennial this a while back and it pissed him off which was funny.     
« Last Edit: April 06, 2021, 02:51:22 PM by Beasho »

 


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