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Sing it, Carl

Blake Stacey has a good quote quoted at Science after Sunclipse:

The business of skepticism is to be dangerous. Skepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of skeptical thought, they will probably not restrict their skepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials, and 35,000-year-old channelees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?
— Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, Chapter 24.

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Comments

  1. chigau (違う) says

    Then where would we be???
    Chaos, I tells you!
    Cats sleeping with Dogs!!

  2. Stacy says

    If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of skeptical thought, they will probably not restrict their skepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials, and 35,000-year-old channelees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions.

    Butbutbut…that would be mission drift! Social justice warriors would start imposing their ideologies on the skeptical movement! Next thing you know, dogs and cats, living together, etc.

    Seriously, if Skeptics can’t see that there are more important uses for their skills than debunking woo, they’ll continue with what they’ve got: a little club on the margins of the culture. Maybe that’s all they want. I want a movement for real change.

  3. Stacy says

    @chigau, I didn’t see your cats and dogs reference when I posted mine.

    Dang it!

  4. Subtract Hominem says

    Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?

    Cats and dogs liv- oh, nevermind.

    But seriously, having a few people skeptically questioning those in power has seldom actually led to getting any answers so far. Does there need to be some sort of critical mass of critical thinkers (a critical² thinkmass?) before it becomes effective? Let’s run that experiment.

  5. F [is for fluvial] says

    Boy, is Carl ever in trouble with the status-quo set of atheists and skeptics.

    And here I thought I was going to get some new auto-tuned Sagan song.

  6. timanthony says

    That Sagan quote can be interpreted as upholding the nobility of skepticism, OR as pointing out that skepticism will not be allowed to gain following by the same powerful institutions one seeks to question. But not really both because that would be a less-than-consistent position. Very un-Sagan-like.

    I read it the second way. Sagan was smart enough to see the issue through to its logical conclusion, plus the inherent nobility of skepticism is self-evident anyway.

  7. madscientist says

    I dream that people would question the legal pyramid scam known as the stockmarket. I’d be surprised if any economists or politicians would admit it’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme which governments have been propping up the past 20 years by coercing people into putting money into it.

  8. says

    Man, I would so love to see the Skeptic and Atheist communities get fully on board with and throw their formidable weight behind asking the not only awkward, but even unmentionable, questions regarding the absurdity of trying to maintain an economic system based entirely on infinite economic growth on a finite planet. The only way we are going to make a successful and less painful transition to a steady-state economy is if we involve every rational person and community in these complex multiple dilemmas that are going to have to be managed and navigated in the coming few short years we have left to affect the outcome of this inevitable reckoning with the Laws of Thermodynamics.

  9. John Morales says

    lehman, the planet may be finite, but it’s big — and there is an entire Solar system to exploit!

    As technology progresses, humanity can do more with less.

    (Your reference to the “coming few short years we have left” is pessimistic and premature)

  10. says

    Seriously, if Skeptics can’t see that there are more important uses for their skills than debunking woo, they’ll continue with what they’ve got: a little club on the margins of the culture. Maybe that’s all they want. I want a movement for real change.

    I second, third, and quadruple that emotion, Stacy!! Thank You, Ma’am!!

  11. says

    lehman, the planet may be finite, but it’s big

    It may indeed be big, John, but one cannot maintain an industrial economic system whose socioeconomic and financial institutions are inextricably linked to the exponential growth made possible by cheap oil… which we are now at the peak of. Volume is great, but cannot in itself fuel an industrial civilization such as we have built.

    and there is an entire Solar system to exploit!

    Indeed there is, Sir!! And we had damn well better accelerate our efforts to utilize the energy and material resources out there if we wish our descendants to be able to have them make an appreciable difference in their standard of living! That part of this endeavor is going to take a rather long while to get off the ground in any meaningful physical measure.

    As technology progresses, humanity can do more with less.

    Indeed, and we’re going to have to, Sir. With or without the progress of technology.

    (Your reference to the “coming few short years we have left” is pessimistic and premature)

    Well, I meant the time frame more in the decadal sense, not just like 3 or 4 years. More like 20 or 30 (to someone of my age, 20 years really doesn’t seem that short a time to me). If we aren’t able to transition to a terrestrial SSE and begin big-time space industrialization by then we may as well throw in the towel on this whole industrial civilization thing. The Laws of Thermodynamics are rather strict in these matters.

    As far as being pessimistic, I am one of the most optimistic people I know who is talking about the issues in my OP. Most folks I know are convinced that there’s really no hope in convincing the large numbers of people necessary to raise the level of national conversation to the magnitude needed to affect structural systemic change. I have a lot of hope where a growing number of observers’ is diminishing rather rapidly.

  12. John Morales says

    lehman, I am probably older than you, but I’m no Sir! :)

    Seriously, I do get you — and I do support your general thesis, but I think you need to work on your framing.

    PS have you ever read The Godwhale? I suspect you might enjoy it.

  13. says

    lehman, I am probably older than you, but I’m no Sir! :)

    Please take no offense, John, I address everyone in that manner, regardless of age. It’s an old ingrained habit from childhood that has been impossible to excise. And I’m 54, just fyi… still a youngun’ AFAIAC, really :)

    Seriously, I do get you — and I do support your general thesis, but I think you need to work on your framing.

    Thank you, and I couldn’t agree more, John.

    PS have you ever read The Godwhale? I suspect you might enjoy it.

    I have never heard of it and will make sure to check it out – - thank you, Sir!

  14. David Marjanović says

    a pyramid scheme which governments have been propping up the past 20 years by coercing people into putting money into it

    Governments?

    Only in America.

  15. says

    Hahaha, I love it, theophontes! Great work, Sir/Ma’am – - you are a tardigrade afficionado as well, I see! Yet another Acolyte at the Altar of the Water Bear – - our efforts to further their plans for the eventual takeover of the entire planet is proceeding apace – - excellent!

  16. DLC says

    Sagan was brilliant, concise and believed in what he said. More, he never came off as talking down at people, but at conversing with a friend.