Ann Druyan – Science, Wonder, and Spirituality

September 15, 2006

Ann Druyan is a renowned author, lecturer, and television and motion picture writer/producer whose work mostly explores the implications of science and technology for our society. She is the widow of the great Carl Sagan with whom she was a co-writer of the Emmy and Peabody Award winning television series Cosmos. She served as Creative Director for the NASA Voyager Interstellar Record Project that included music and images on the Voyager Spacecrafts that serve as a greeting to possible alien civilizations. She co-created and co-produced of the Oscar nominated movie Contact starring Jodie Foster, which is based on the novel of the same name that she co-wrote with Carl Sagan. She is also the author or co-author of several other books, including A Famous Broken Heart, and Comet, which was on the New York Times best seller list for two months. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, also written with Carl Sagan, was another New York Times best seller. Druyan has a new book out in November entitled The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, which explores her and Sagan’s views on science and religion.

Druyan is co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios, which produces science-based entertainment across many types of media. Since 2000, Cosmos Studios has produced four documentaries, including “Cosmic Journey” which was nominated for an Emmy for the best nature/science documentary. She is also a Fellow of CSICOP at the Center for Inquiry.

In this discussion with DJ Grothe, she stresses the point that people can have a sense of awe and wonder about the universe without having to believe in God or the supernatural, discusses the work of Carl Sagan and his lasting impact, examines the growing need for scientific literacy in our society, and shares why, despite the current cultural war against science, she is optimistic about the future.

Also in this episode, Carl Sagan’s last public address for CSICOP, from its conference in Seattle in 1994, is presented in its entirety. In this keynote, entitled “Wonder and Skepticism”, Sagan eloquently conveys prescient insights about the future of science and technology, argues why science is the best way of looking at the world, shares almost prophetic statements about the cultural war against science in America today, passionately calls for tempering skepticism with a humane understanding of why it is so easy in our society to not be skeptical, and encourages the listener to foster such appreciation for this kind of skepticism especially among young people.

And in addition, Lauren Becker shares a moving piece entitled “The Gifts of Carl Sagan.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, September 15th, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe key point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., in addition to 11 cities around the world. Every week on this show, we try to look at some of the most fundamental assumptions of our culture through the lens of science and critical thinking. We focus mostly on three research areas. First, there’s pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we look at alternative and complementary medicine. Third, we explore secularism and religion, the intersection of science and religious beliefs in our society. We look at these three research areas by drawing on SIFIs relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, social critics and thinkers, public intellectuals and renowned entertainers. This week’s point of inquiry is special, and it’s extra long. We have Andrian, the widow of the great Carl Sagan, as today’s guest. And we’re also going to present Carl Sagan’s last public address for PSI Cop, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. One of the organizations headquartered here at CFI, I should say, it’s been raining a lot here in Buffalo and we’ve been having problems with the copper phone line. So I apologize in advance if the sound quality is not up to par. But before we talk to Andrian and share that talk by Carl Sagan, Lauren Becker is here to talk about the gifts of Carl Sagan. 

When I was 10 years old, I’d lay on the floor of our family room on Sunday nights watching Carl Sagan’s astronomy series Cosmos, barely blinking, barely breathing. My whole family sat transfixed by the images and the music. But mostly we were awed by the science. My interest in astronomy came early in life. My older sister thought space was cool. And since I wanted her to like me too. I started reading about planets and stars. And then came Mr. O’Hara, the astronomy teacher at the Deputy Woods in High School Planetarium. My elementary school was within walking distance of the high school. So every spring our little class would venture out to buy two, following in line on our trek across the soccer field, down the big staircase, across the bridge and along a creek to the school of the big people and the best show of the year. Now, there are times when even third graders perform a kind of cost benefit analysis. The big halls of a high school are incredibly intimidating to a little kid. Only the promise of beautiful space and stars could have compelled us through such a phalanx of teenagers. Mr. O’Hara showed us moons and planets, constellations, nebula and galaxies. He made this guy move. This is when I first learned that the pursuit of science would not always be easy, but it would always be rewarding. There’s no more literal way to broaden your horizons than to observe the night sky. So even as a little kid, each trip to the planetarium expanded my vision and it expanded my comfort zone, too. It turned the unknown into the familiar sitting there tilted back in those weird seats with red vinyl cushions, the vast emptiness of space soon filled with wonders and red giants and became as recognizable as the faces of friends and family. I became one acquainted with the night. And then there was Sagan’s Cosmos. It’s one thing to see what the universe looks like at a planetarium. It’s a completely different thing to know how you look to the universe. And it didn’t take but two minutes of that spacey music and those amazing opening images to realize that the universe wasn’t looking at me. It didn’t care about me. It didn’t even know that I existed. Lots of people get very disturbed by the idea that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. Confronted by the vast emptiness of space, they start to question. Where did I come from? Why am I here? They must not have seen Cosmos. Carl Sagan had the answer in one word star stuff. As he explained it, every atom in my body originated deep in the processes of stellar evolution. Cool. I made out of stars. Those stars way out there across millions of miles. That’s the same as me as a kid lying in bed at night in the dark. I was sure I could see rays of light beaming from my fingertips. This was a gift of Carl Sagan. He gave me the perspective I needed to be comfortable with my place in the universe. And not only comfortable. I’m thrilled to be here. Everyone knows that Carl Sagan was an inspiring science teacher and communicator. But there was another aspect to his work that was equally, if not more important. I was not aware of it as a child, but Carl gave me another gift, one that would bring profound meaning to my life as an adult. In the book Carl Sagan’s Universe, Andrian tells a story about the time General Aleksey Leonov, the first human ever to walk in space, was introducing Corales talk to the Society of Space Explorers in Washington, DC. Do you realize the debt that you owe to Carl Sagan, Leon, of asked. He came to Moscow, to the Central Committee, and he briefed them on nuclear winter after he left a dozen men on the general staff looked around at each other and they said, well, it’s all over, isn’t it? The nuclear arms race doesn’t make any sense anymore, does it? We can’t do this anymore. The threat of massive retaliation isn’t credible anymore. It jeopardizes too much of what is precious to us. Another time at the height of the Reagan Bush Star Wars hysteria, Karl stood before a slew of military contractors and the top brass of the Department of Defense and fearlessly without anger. Ad hominem attacks, strawman or rhetorical tricks debunked the Star Wars scam on its merits. Tough crowd. He got a standing ovation. These actions and countless others remind us that not only did Sagan have something to say about our place in the universe, he had very strong ideas about our place in the world. This pale blue dot, the spaceship Earth. While many have decried science and its discoveries for removing humanity from the center of the universe. Carl had a different take more than most of us. He was familiar with the loneliness of space. He spent a lifetime searching for evidence of life on other worlds and never found it yet. He reveled in the wonder of the unknown, and he came to a profound conclusion. Clearly, humanity is insignificant to the universe, but by the very nature of our unique existence, we are clearly significant to each other. Carlin, An, often spoke about the great emotions, the many scientific discoveries that expanded the distance between man and his special status as a divine creation. They often had to answer questions from people who believed these emotions somehow made their lives less important. Their reply was consistent and concise. If you wish to be important. Do something important. Tilted seats, Spacey music and Starry Night School, a long way toward inspiring US children of Cosmos. But it’s not enough to just personally marvel at the vast emptiness of space. We who love and study the universe have valuable skills and information that is vital to the well-being of our world, and we are obligated to act. We probably won’t ever have the opportunity to stand before Russian generals or the Department of Defense. Or perhaps we will. But we must stand. Nevertheless, we who stand on the shoulders of giants. Every day we have a chance to use the methods of science, the lessons of science, to do something important to contribute to the lives of our significant others. Sagan taught us that we need to take that chance. Andrian tells another story about a porter at Union Station who stopped Carl from trying to give him a tip. He said, Put your money away. Dr. Sagan, you gave me the universe. Now let me do something for you. Thanks, indeed. Dr. Sagan, thanks for doing so many things that were important. We are inspired and we will stand up and try to take it from here. 

Hi, I’m Barry Carr, executive director of Psych up here at the Center for Inquiry. We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, making the world safe for science and skepticism and dealing with fringe science and paranormal claims. We publish what I think is an essential magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer. This is the magazine for Science and Reason. The July August issue is now on shelves at better bookstores and can be ordered online at W w w Saikat dot org or by calling our toll free number one 800 six three four one six one zero. We are open Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 Eastern Time. Subscribing to the Skeptical Inquirer helps us continue to advance science and reason in our society. And so sure that you love this magazine that I want you to have a complementary issue to see what we’re all about, to get your sample copy. Just call one 800 six three four one six one zero. I mentioned the point of inquiry podcast and ask us for your free copy. We’ll get it right out to you and you can begin and join the Skeptical Inquirer. Thank you. 

It is a great pleasure for me to have today’s guest on Point of inquiry. Andrian is an author, a lecturer and a TV and movie writer and producer. 

Most of her work explores the implications of science and technology for our society. She’s the widow of the great Carl Sagan, with whom she was co-writer of the Emmy and Peabody Award winning television series Cosmos. I think it’s still the single most watched documentary in PBS history. And she’s also served as creative director for the NASA Voyager Interstellar Record Project, that golden record that’s on the Voyager spacecraft that includes music and images, kind of that greeting card to possible alien civilizations. She coauthored and produced the movie Contact, which is based on the novel contact that she wrote with Carl Sagan. She’s also the author or coauthor of several other books, including A Famous Broken Heart and Comet, which was on the New York Times bestsellers list for two months. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, also written with Carl Sagan, was another New York Times bestseller. She has a new book out later this fall called The Varieties of Scientific Experience A Personal View of the Search for God, which I’d like to let our listeners know can be preordered through our Web site. Point of inquiry, dot org. Green is co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios, which produces science based entertainment. Across many different types of media. Since 2000, Kosmo Studios has produced four documentaries, including Cosmic Journey, which was nominated for an Emmy for the Best Nature or Science documentary. She’s a fellow of psychology. In her writings and talk, she stresses the point that people can have a sense of awe and wonder about the universe without necessarily believing in God or the supernatural. And that’s one of the things about which we’ll be speaking today. Annie, welcome to Point of inquiry, Dad. 

Glad to be here. I admire the show. I think it’s a choice of a good point of inquiry. Is the kind of parenting, stimulating show that I would like to see imitated throughout the country everywhere. 

Well, thank you very much for saying that. You are one of the most passionate and moving promoters of the scientific outlook out there. Let’s start off by asking kind of the basic question, why science? I mean, you seem to have the gall to think that science is for everybody, not just for the people in white lab coats with their test tubes and their beakers. 

Yeah, the of the story how I feel, because I really want to know before I die how things seem to be, where they came from and what the true nature of the universe is. And I know that we have this kind of tendency to lie to ourselves and to lie to each other. It’s because if you could be a primate, not even to see you that are primates deficit so that if they had to overcome it. So I look for these error correcting mechanisms in order to find out what’s really there, because I have tremendous company. And so I figure if I can get myself the mind of myself, that that same system deluding myself. And we have some kind of mechanism for 30 years for things that I want to do that may not be true. 

And the things that other people want me to be there. I have a shot at finding out what reality TV is. And so that’s why I love it to be so democratic. I think it’s so authoritarian because, again, it’s the mechanism by which he said it has a shot at creating something that they want to live. 

But, Anna, you yourself, you’re not a scientist. You’re a science advocate, a science spokesperson. You stir people up about the wonder of science, this amazing universe. I’m curious, why didn’t you ever become a scientist? 

By the moment? The brass point moment of my life, which set me on a different pathway, is immortalized in the novel context for this. It’s when little Eleanor Airway, as a junior high school student, suddenly grabbed the power of reality. That high is a formula for a circle, but not a circle. But for every circle being formed, actresses enter this kind of religious experience for a great for Gandhi said to Mrs. Ramirez. My Queens, New York City, your high school math teacher, you tell me that this ratio is the same for every single everywhere there is and humidity and they you don’t have to be trusted. All right. This is here cynical. I read the the the highest high school classroom. 

And what was your Premal turned off of math and science for years to come. Combat this humiliation was too painful. It wasn’t until you were a college student. And I began to discover the priest had a philosopher, visited a priest to effectively invent a sign that I realized that science was really for me after all. 

And you’ve spent decades now popularizing science not just because it’s for you, but it’s for everybody. Question. Do you think it’s easier to popularize science today than ever before to communicate the wonder of science to the public? Is it easier these days because of new forms of media? Or is it harder than ever because there are so many world views competing with the scientific outlook? 

But, you know, I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. 

I do know that it’s easier for scientists to popularize science now, mostly because of her work. Carl Sagan, did you know when he began his career, his very first experiences in setting up a public meeting on the subject of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? Was in the early 50s. He was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and he thought that if his professors would be thrilled that he’d managed to get the Chicago Tribune and other major local media to cover the meeting because after all, no university science meeting had ever been covered, put forth. And when he got back to Earth, to his department, he was greeted by one of the professors who looked at him with his, whether he there and said, oh, we’ve been following your career in that class. And it was a rebuke at Carr. Of course, it took a lot of heat from the scientific community for being such a indefatigable popularizer educator, public educator of science. And I think that he broke down many walls in that respect. I think the number of outlets makes it easier to some degree to connect with people about science. 

But I think that we will only connect with people about science if we keep the skepticism of science always united is one of its revelations. And I think one of the sense of the other is he’s always a mistake. But one without the other, it is. You know, it’s much less than what the public requires in order to become engaged in science. 

Wonder without skepticism, your global skepticism, without wonder, your kind of cynical, hard-hearted, cold hearted, whatever. 

Yeah, it’s kind of deadly, boy. And I think my theory is to see a science curriculum that begins in early childhood, perhaps in preschool or kindergarten in which every child is. He does he is wonderful gateway to the mystery of life. And it’s done not as a whole if it’s 20 minutes, three times a week, tried by someone who feels completely out of their depth. But he said the notion of science as a way of seeing absolutely everything is a way of thinking as opposed to a jumble of facts that used to be memorized. That’s my dream. And I think until we begin to completely revamp the science curriculum and instead treat it as the soaring rhetoric, toy experience, the discovery that science really should be one less about, you know, you can. Or is it a canoe in the water? What is the amount of pressure that needs to be like that kind of thing? I think effectively destroys the natural born scientist in Oliver. 

One of the most effective ways of communicating that wonder of science you’re talking about was the documentary series that you co-wrote with Carl Sagan. Cosmos, as listeners heard and Lauren Becker’s piece earlier this episode, Cosmos has been well, it’s been a life changing experience for a lot of people. Why do you think that even today. Twenty six years after it first aired on public television, why do you think it still resonates with people touches, people like that? 

A very baby on it. This is the part that is reality. His work is joy. It created the wonder that science and the wonders of the innovative nature that science has revealed. Another is that we were unafraid to include the wonder that we thought that the wonder would be a big part of it. So people read on the cosmos. As silly as you see, there is a void that I see virtually all of us themselves at one time or another. But some of us conventional would be traditional, would no longer satisfied, and that we could take the deep inside of the really behavior firm ideas traditional great book. But the fact is, is that they speak of the B word, a one word firm. They speak of a life, a history of life that’s very brief and true if they build something. The title is taking that original really good. Imhoff, another step further and say, OK, now we’re grown up enough to see our path, our parents, our home, not as the it’s the personally like fate, that stuff, that entirety. But as it does, we’re able to look very squarely at the reality of our ROIC and the reality of our true circumstances in the universe. And we see that the kind of ties that the university lives, that it is not a story of the creation of the world, but its joy of creating a 400 billion fine in this looking way galaxy alone in the universe. So that that it can take billions to such galaxies. And so the centrality of human beings and the geocentric, the great center this is of our ancestors, no longer has the same credibility that it once had. We don’t even have the scientific revolution for 400 years. They retire 40, 50 years. Nothing in 30 billion a year. History of cosmic evolution with a four billion year history of life on Earth. And so, you know, it gives us another and a new level of spirituality. Now, if we say it’s a bear to be very, very small because bear that we’re not centered at anything, but they are good enough to ask questions and to be brave enough to ask BB&T. Even when you’re not telling us what we want to hear, there’s a kind of stretch. Look at the message that if they say science, they give it to its customers. It’s theory, cognitive. Have you ever wanted it? Depakote. And I think that’s one of the reasons why every single day I receive messages from people from all over the world, mostly very outspoken or even alive or country where the cosmos was expressed by cats and to them to this that void that ethnological use has been left tragically untreated. And we need more controversy, I think, to satisfy that money. 

And you spoke earlier about science being a way of seeing absolutely everything, and you’re talking about a spiritual hunger that Cosmos tapped into. Let’s talk about science and religion. Scientists sometimes get a bad rap for being elitist, know it alls who go around debunking people’s views about religion, the most kind of cherished beliefs that people have, whether maybe it’s not just religion. It could be ghosts or, you know, whatever closely held beliefs. Scientists are the ones in our society who go around saying there aren’t any ghosts. Fairies don’t exist. Maybe even God doesn’t exist. Do you think that that’s the job of science? Should scientists be treading on this turf? I mean, some people have argued that science and religion have different truths to tell humanity, that science is about the facts, not about spirituality, not about the meaning of life. And they say science and religion have different truths that tell humanity and that they are not at war, that they don’t have anything to say to each other. 

But I disagree with that with all my heart. Because for one thing, the people who say that religion is not about that natural reality say they weren’t saying that back before we realized that the natural reality proposed by religion was untenable. 

To me, the things that we hold sacred, those truths that inspire with love and are. 

And when you use the sacred from nature, from the truth for a true, because the quick fire is to never get an ultimate truth. We can’t even. And that’s the hope. How exciting is that? It always subject to revision. It is permanent revolution, which to me is the most dynamic spiritual revolution in our history, because it say we are very young. 

We are very eager. We can only be happy. We seem to be fueled by the assets of 5000 years. If you take a scientific view, we’ve only been at this for perhaps five hundred thousand years. Any in any way. 

And that a very broad, general way and in a of focused way. We’ve only been at this for 500 years. And Murphy. And this is State of the Union. And so it’s just personally, I think it’s cheating to say that you can have a religious belief which simply has to be about the sacred about it. Just really social organization. The way to keep people alive or is the creating value for us not to be afraid of death, not to be afraid of the danger. 

So if if religion is to be taken seriously and I do take it seriously, then that means that I want to have to have certain expectations of the liberty of credibility, because otherwise, if it’s not rooted in truth, it’s just really therapeutic. And then that’s what another branch of human enterprise, which is perfectly valid and good for what it is. But it’s not fair to go to the university. 

If you wanted to outlaw the truth, if you’re outraced, go to, um. Should I say, be fearless. Unafraid to find out. To be arrested. Not created for you. 

Hey, when we talk about the love that we feel for each other. If we love someone but we don’t want to know what they’re really like. What kind of love is that? You have to ask yourself. So we can read the ability of science. It is a religious impulse at its highest level of expressing it, say. I know the universe was not created. I don’t want to be a spiritual narcissist and pretend that I’m at the center of the universe. 

But in fact, everything that I’ve been able to find out about my true self and sentenced to death. Now, isn’t there a sense there but if there was one, I wouldn’t be there. So, you know, I. I feel that what’s really sad is that and this is largely a shortcoming of a community. Why is the LDS kind of priesthood? Time has long been which suited women with asserted the nine year fear. I think that’s the tragedy of science and science. Who has to answer for that? For the ways with it was not inclusive. And it was not respectful of the traditions on which it built. But if you want to feel one with all of the nation from the cosmos, then the best way to get that feeling is through science. Because the essential if there is an overarching revelation, it has been the one of all faith. And we, as Carl said it so perfectly, we are told that every atom within us was originally performed in the fiery explosion. Assistant Da Da, is that a better story than the traditional story that we’ve been given by the various cultures? I think it is. I think it’s a magnificent story. And I have to say that one of the first things that turned me off conventional resistance was when I first began to understand human reproduction and realize that when two people are in love with a time when they come to each other as physically close as they possibly can, as an ecstatic going of the general of the two of them, which stretches back literally more than four billion years to create a new life and a new thing that is a complete combination of those two things. Let me ask you. You don’t think that’s more spiritual than an immaculate conception, which is more like what the title says? No. When they first understand human sexuality and they go, oh, maybe your can do that, but not mine. You see, there’s a kind of there’s a kind of spiritual liberation that comes from science which appeals to me. So believe me, it wasn’t the math because I’m not good at math and it wasn’t cold kind of clinical. You saying it was the key. 

Too many ethical issues raised by the discovery that science gives us and and also the ethics, the heart of science, which is we could be wrong if we had that. We are all religious and political walks of life, we would have far fewer casualties to the brutality that, in fact, this planet and our species. 

So I don’t think that science is virtually second to any other ideology that I’ve ever come across. 

In that sense, it sounds like you’re arguing that spirituality, even that religion and science are not incompatible. 

Religion and science are not compatible. That’s spiritual story, feeling that we all come to reality for they you are not compatible. But science is incompatible with fundamentalism. 

It’s incompatible with faith, with a belief in the absence of evidence, it’s incompatible with those seats. I think that’s the balance. I think a lot of people face it without wishful thinking. Because I have a spiritual experience. But I would pretty much say that Chris Mooney the greatest spiritual experiences I’ve had have come were from an understanding extremely early in the discipline of science. 

So are you speaking metaphorically? I’m not trying to get you on the hot seat, but a lot of our listeners would consider themselves, let’s say, skeptics of claims about God’s existence. But you hardly seem like some shrill atheist who goes around just decrying the widespread belief in God. 

I’m an agnostic through and through. We know virtually nothing about the universe. We’re just finding our way in the beginning stages. And the little we do know is wonderful. But it’s very little note that the universe is yet to be good. And we’ve only actually come to explore the tiniest part of it. So I feel my point of view is I know nothing. I don’t know. How do you read came to be. I don’t know if there is a God. I am skeptical, deeply skeptical of the notion of a God who is the trajectory of human beings, white, male and sky, as Paul used to say. He carries the fall at every step that God I find hard to believe in because it’s so nakedly selfish. On the other hand, Harvey, it’s the need to tell anyone what the nature of the actual nature of the universe is, because we’re still exploring. 

See the search for God? What were the origins of the university, if you prefer? 

What is sacred? The search is sacred. No step along the way. No. No discovery along the way. It’s safer because we have to pay part of the life very light. 

So in that humility, which is fundamental to the kind of science that Carl Sagan popularized, the kind of science that you promote that outlook of science? Well, in that humility, can we actually say that there’s anything wrong with people believing in things for which there is no good evidence as long as it gives them some sense of purpose or meaning or some sense of spiritual fulfillment? 

I believe completely freedom of belief, imagination. The only place where I say there is a problem is by the people who believe that to try to make other people believe them or other people act as if they believe them. And I think that the more that one, if you know, is moved to do that, you know, the more insecure you you are in what you believe. If your security, your belief that you don’t going to impose belief on anyone else. 

And that’s why I think that at the heart of fundamentalism is a deep my fear that I’ve got three. 

I think you only want to kill somebody for God. If you are really not really sure that God exists. Because why? Why would you want to kill him if God is all powerful? 

God can take care of himself and your will visit whatever punishment you know is imagine. It is just on the person who we do. 

I could say that we try to live in a democratic society. 

We aspire to have a democratic society in a democratic society. It can’t be a democracy if it’s society. And I think it’s the separation of church and state is absolutely critical to have a democratic society. And once you erode that separation, there’s no question in my mind that you diminish the democratic capability of the society. So that’s very important. But the other thing is that magical thinking, you know, belief in the absence of evidence to bring with it constantly of problems. So it’s not a defeated departmentalized. Your belief that it would be to have one here and maybe one part of your faith in me about magical? Where is it? Without evidence. Without, you know, certainly values you could have won. Unfortunately, as you say, this is this is unscientific, the extreme. Maybe it’s my bias, but it seems to me that when people start thinking magically, it’s not just in their prayer, it is to bubble over in two ways that is excite each other and the way that they conduct themselves. 

And Dad and I am, if I have to say that it’s honestly sharing this predator together and we have this terrible military capability which be unable to control. 

I think it typifies magical thinking. I are engaged to. 

But I was the last person to say that someone shouldn’t believe. But I believe. 

You’ve said that today more than ever, there appears to be. You’ve called it a great turning away. 

It’s a turning away from what you’re turning away from the basket. 

No, there was when I was growing up in the 1960s, there was an embrace of the masses because ill feeling was that we were stepping out into the cosmos and see if we could go to the moon. We could be things. We would continue to build on this great adventure and come to know the Enderbury you very much could have. So was a Star Trek. And so there was Poppea back then. And then I think pretty much like a toddler who learns out from their mothers and makes a little foray into the larger world. And then suddenly realizes that the mother is not there. We come scurrying back to the mother in and we had a kind of failure of nerve. I am really surprised. And I think there was any way that I could ever communicate with car again. I think you look at the baffling that we’ve taken in the last few years. It’s just that we feel the idea that you can. You’ll have to be slightly intelligent design battle with that. Carl referred to it 20 years ago as the kind of hydra that reappears every five, 10 years. 

And then everyone has to spend their energy to get down again. And so finally, it goes into retreat only to reassert itself as it has in the last three years. 

I think the systematic erosion of separation of church and state, the undermining of human rights, the sort of religious revival that we’ve seen in the last 10 years, I think in some ways it’s very much symptomatic of a kind of loss of no. The good news to me is that I think you see the term a swing like the pendulum and I ethically maybe swinging back the other way into a more enlightened period. 

But I couldn’t help it say that he feels that this information that our government gave us leading up to the war in Iraq and a lot of the things that have happened have been of a piece. I don’t know scientifically how they relate to it. But I have to say that they seem to go together and know, really hope that current trends seem to indicate that we are coming back to where we were and to be, as I hope that’s true. 

And so that’s where you get your optimism from. It’s it’s a pretty bleak picture when you list all the woes in our society that are a result of the public not understanding science or there being a lack of scientific literacy. But you’re optimistic. It’s because you think it’s the pendulum swinging. Where’s that optimism coming from? 

Did this come from the fact that reality is very feisty and it reasserts itself time and time again? 

And so even though you can get entire civilizations wrapped up in the thrall of a delusion that ultimately when people come to their senses sometime after a terrible toll, it’s been taken. But ultimately, we have a kind of error correcting mechanism where suddenly people begin to how the scales fall from their eyes and they see, you know, how they’ve been manipulated or how they’ve been lied to. I am. I have faith for a lot of reasons, but not the religious type. I have confidence in the future. 

One is that, you know, we’ve been in human history. We’ve spent. 

Century, these artists, you within moments of life. Alternating with protracted period of darkness, and then we seem to come back to reality. 

Also, I see a global community coalescing on the Internet, for instance, where there’s a huge community of people around the world who understand how tiny the planet is to understand the fragility of our resources and our ecological systems. And if you are really focused now on trying to do something about it. And then, of course, the fact that, you know what I am, I’m really struck by how. 

We don’t have. A part of the fantasy of the future is lost that we haven’t had that since I was a teenager. I don’t know exactly why that is. But we have to reclaim. And I think a lot of us are working on. This is what that could be. In addition to that, it seems to me that when people are imagining the future in science fiction, it’s a pretty striking thing. 

How the vast majority of Lebanese life on other worlds or life on this world is a picture. They don’t have a lot of conventional religious views in that area. And there’s definitely not a shred of conventional religious. 

Well, Gene Roddenberry Star Trek was kind of a humanist vision for life and space. 

Exactly. And he was very much of that same generation has. And there was like a good friends. They had tremendous mutual respect. Yes. They kind of very tolerant. 

Accept a. Anti fundamentalist, anti absolutist view of a vast database with infinite variety. 

So I have a lot of hope, I look at my kids and see what’s promising human, maybe they are how productive and creative they are and their friends, then I can’t help but be helpful, Annie, to finish up for now. 

What’s one thing that our listeners could do if they’re persuaded by what you’re saying right now, if they want to advance the scientific outlook in our society? What’s one thing they can do? Is it just a matter of learning more about science or is there something more than that? 

Well, I think if you’re a parent exploring the scientific idea and the sciences, here are a book together with a child is a very positive thing. And have you, if you have a grounding in scientists, will be better because you can explore it together. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. I’m very lucky. I live in upstate New York. I can go where we have this magnificent I have to call the science center where, you know, you can’t get into the place because there’s so many kids there all the time. I think those are important things to do. I think critical thinking, demanding more of our elected officials, fighting for science education, for money, for science education and basic research, which has really taken a beating over the last five, six year. One of the things I was most proud of about our country was that we were on the cutting edge to science. We’re losing that. Partly because of the cultural war against science that we’ve seen over the last five or six years. But also because funding for basic science research has been flat. 

And this is definitely true in the planetary sciences, in space sciences, which is just the tragedy assistance that we would say, well, we’re tired. 

We don’t want to be in the forefront anymore. Why don’t you take over India or China or wherever else? We shouldn’t be doing this. 

We should be fighting for the best possible science, research and education in this country because that will have countless economic and national security implications in the future. 

Annie, thank you very much for being on point of inquiry. It’s been such a pleasure. I really enjoyed our conversation. 

And now for Carl Sagan’s, I think, really inspiring talk. His last public address for psychopathy entitled Wonder and Skepticism. This is from Cyclopes 1994 conference in Seattle. I think you’ll enjoy his comments about the future of science and technology and his almost prophetic statements about the cultural war against science in America today. 

Paul Kurtz, did the introduction by This is a mutual admiration society tonight. But let me point out the deep gratitude that we have to Kendrick Fraser, because in one profound sense, the Skeptical Inquirer is the heart of our movement. And his long, hard work over the years has given us a tremendous role and impact in this country and worldwide. This convention has had a good deal of attention in the national media. And I’ve been looking at the local attention in Seattle and I shudder at some of the attention because they seem to often emphasize what I consider the frivolous. One report tonight said that we were debunkers skeptics, negative critics of ufology. And it’s true. Of course, we’ve examined we’ve examined with great scrutiny the claims of abductions, as we did last night and during today. And we have examined over the years a wide range of claims. 

I think if you looked at the pages of the scuff kuffar, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of claims from psychic phenomena and faith, healing and levitation and spontaneous combustion and astrology. I won’t read the whole litany because every time I do, I get depressed. All right, fine. So that’s our our role as gadflies to keep alive the sense of critical inquiry in a free market of ideas. It’s important that the scientific critics and the skeptics have a role and there would be a great disservice to this country and indeed throughout the world if only the pro paranormals had their say and that and and the paranormal is never questioned. And so that is our role as the Socratic mission that we’re continuing. But we also have a very deep, positive role. And I think that is often overlooked in the dinner tonight. We were remarking about the sense of wonder in science and the sense of awe who needs these paranormal fantasies that are spun out of human imagination. When in contrast, the universe itself is so exciting, particularly as one launches into outer space and prose, there’s a vast universe and also into inner space and the life forms as that positive aspect. And our speaker tonight, Carl Sagan, surely stands out as one of the leading proponents of the scientific outlook and the scientific method. He’s Mr. Cosmos, as we know, because of a cosmic vision. And science does have. 

I don’t like the term vision that’s in quotation marks. Every time I use it. But there is a cosmic outlook that science provides and it competes with the metaphysical and the spiritual and the paranormal views of the universe. Carl Sagan is truly a Leonardo man of thought, and action is up to him and used to describe you, Carl. But it’s really, truly a Leighann Lord. Oh, man. Because you’ve accomplished in so many fields. Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. You also played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Galileo spacecraft expeditions to the Planets. Carl Sagan is known for his work on the massive greenhouse effect on Venus windblown dust as the explanation of the seasonal changes on Mars. The early faint sun paradox. The organic aerosols on Titan. The origin of life. And the long term consequences of nuclear war on Earth. But he’s performed so many of attacks be beyond the academic. He served as chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, President of the Planet Theology Section of the American Geophysical Union and Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And for 12 years, he was editor chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. Also, co-founder and president of the Planetary Society, Dr. Sagan is author and coauthor or editor of more than 20 books. His most recent books with Andrae and his wife, who is here today in the shadows of forgotten ancestors. A search for who we are. And there are two more in the offing, one next year and one the following spring. I don’t remember the names, but they seem very exciting indeed. And, of course, is great television series. 

Cosmos became the most widely watched series in the history of public television. Dr. Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize and he will receive tomorrow night. The Isaac Asimov Award from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. I think that we can say that his major contribution today is that he is in the public mind worldwide, the leading exponent of the scientific outlook and the scientific method. And that in a very positive sense, he’s not simply a critic of a science from astrology ufology, but is defending the profound role that science has or should have in world civilization. And there is often an insufficient appreciation for that. Now, we inside cop are very grateful that he’s been a longstanding supporter, that over the years he has, in his writings and in his talks, constantly talked about the need for a skeptical inquiry. It is a great pleasure, indeed, to introduce to you as our keynote speaker, Dr. Carl Sagan. 

Thank you, Paul. 

I’m very flattered by those words, I am myself an opponent of the idea of heroes on the grounds that there’s always the sense that the heroes are off doing impossibly great things that the rest of us can do. 

And therefore, in a way, justifies are not doing anything. 

It’s a sort of anti-democratic ideal. And so wish. 

Can you give my thanks to your friend and tell her the heroes, if they were ever here, are gone? 

And it’s a good thing. 

I’m very pleased to have been associated for a long time, the cycle. I must say, when the Skeptical Inquirer arrives, they always take it home from the office. The pore through the pages with some sense of delight about what new misunderstandings will be revealed in its pages. 

I don’t mean that the articles misunderstand. But they reveal misunderstandings. 

And I’m always amazed that there is still another area that I never thought of. Crop circles. Aliens have come and made perfect circles and in mathematical messages and so on in in weeks. 

Who would have thought it? 

Or they’ve come and eviscerated, cowers for large scale systematically. Farmers are furious. 

I’m just always impressed by the depth of inventiveness that the new the new stories that are debunked and skeptical Inquirer reveal. 

But then on more sober reflection, it seems to me that these stories are fantastically unimaginative, that compared to these stunning, unexpected findings of science across the board, they have a kind of dreariness to them, a lack of imagination, a chauvinism to them, a reflection on people who imagine that what pops into their head can be more stunning than what nature has already provided. And so in every case, I always have this this second thought about that’s all I can imagine extraterrestrials doing, making circles. 

And hey, I want in this talk to cover some aspects of the science, Paris science, pseudoscience, discussion. And I want to be sure to leave time for four questions. There are microphones in the aisles. I always find that the question first is by far the most interesting for me anyway. The most interesting part of the talk, because my larger often heard the talk before. I hope you will feel free to to ask questions on anything that’s a little on your mind, whether I’ve mentioned it or not, in the talk in the question period, if I can speak personally for a moment. 

I was I was a child in a time of hope. I grew up when the expectations for science were very high 30s, 40s. I went to college in the early 50s, got my BHB in 1960. 

There was a sense of optimism about science and the future. 

I dreamt of being able to do science. 

It came about. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I was a street kid. I mean, not homeless. 

I had a nice nuclear family, but I spent a lot of time on the streets with kids as kids did. 

And I knew everything. I knew every bush heads and street and stoop theater wall for playing Chinese handball and all that. 

But there was one aspect. For some reason in that environment that struck me as funny is different. 

And that was the start, though. Even with an early bedtime in winter, you could see stars. OK, what were they? They weren’t like hedges. They were different. And so I asked my friends what they were. And they said there are lights in the sky. 

I could tell there were lights in the sky. But that wasn’t an explanation. 

I mean, what were they? Little electric bulbs on long black wires. 

You couldn’t see what they were held up by. I mean, what were they? 

Not only could nobody tell me, but nobody even had the sense that that was an interesting question. 

They looked at me funny. 

I asked my parents. I asked my parents, friends. I asked adults. I know none of them knew. My mother said to me, look, we’ve just got you a library card. Take this card. Get on the streetcar. Go to the neutral branch of the New York Public Library and get out a book and find the answer. That seemed to me a fantastically clever idea. 

And so I did. I went there. 

I asked the librarian. I was very open, are looking for a book on stars. She said sure was gone a few minutes or back. 

Gave it to me. It really I sat down, opened the pages and it was about the Veronica Lake. 

Clark Gable. 

And so I went back and explained it was not easy for me to do that. That wasn’t what I had in mind at all. But I mean, like real stars. 

And she thought this was funny. Which I. And I felt that humiliating. But anyway, she went and got the right kind of book. And I took that and opened it and slowly turned the pages until I came upon the answer. It was in there. It was stunning. The answer was that the sun was a star except very far away. The stars were suns, if you were close to them. They would look just like our our sun. And I remember I tried to imagine how far away from the sun you’d have to be for it to be as dumb as a star. And I didn’t know the inverse square law by propagation. I had not the ghost of a chance of figuring it out, but it was clear to me that you’d have to be very far away, farther away probably than New Jersey. And the idea of a universe vast beyond imagining swept over. And it stayed with me ever since it was it was an exhilarating feeling, a sense which I later in life recognized a sense of awe. And when later on, it took me several years to find this. 

I realized that we were on a planet little known himself luminous, going around our star. And so all those other stars might have planets going around Lemina planets, then life intelligence. 

Brooklyn’s who, the diversity of those possible worlds. They didn’t have to be exactly like like ours. I was sure. They seemed to the most stunning thing to study. 

They didn’t realize that you could be a professional scientist to have the idea that you’d have to have to be a salesman. And my father said that was better than the manufacturing end of things. And I would I would do science. Weekends and evenings wasn’t for my sophomore year in high school, but my high school biology teacher revealed to me that there was such a thing as a professional scientist who got paid to do it. So you could spend all your time doing it. A glorious day. 

Well, it’s been my enormous good luck. 

Just born in the right time to have had, to some extent, those childhood ambitions satisfied. I have been involved in the exploration of other worlds and in the most amazing science fiction since we actually send spacecraft to other worlds. 

We fly by them. We orbit them. We land on them. 

We control the robots and make them do things, dig into things, determine the chemistry that determines the chemistry. And for me, the book Continuum from childhood, wunder and early science fiction to professional reality has been very smooth. It’s never been oh gee, this is nothing like what I had imagined. Just the opposite. It’s exactly like what I imagine. And so I feel enormously fortunate about that. 

And science is still one of my chief joys. The popularization of science, the communication of not just the findings, but the methods of science. 

Seems to me as a result, as natural as breathing. Mean after all, when you’re in love, you want to tell the world. 

And so the idea that that scientists shouldn’t talk about their science seems to me bizarre. Now there’s another just speaking personally, another reason why why I think popularizing science is important and why I try to do it. And it’s a four mooting I have maybe ill placed of an America in my children’s generation or my grandchildren’s generation when all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries. When we’re a service and information processing economy, when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues when the people of the people I mean the broad population in a democracy where the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or even to knowledgeably question those who do set the agendas when there is no practice in questioning those in authority. When clutching our crystals and religiously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in steep decline, unable to distinguish between what’s true and what feels good, we slide almost without noticing into superstition and darkness. 

That worries me. 

And I don’t think that we have adequate protections against that. I don’t think this is just a kind of fantasy. There are reasons to worry. And you will recall. Is that cycle plays a sometimes lonely but still. And in this case, the word is right. Heroic role in trying to counter some of those trends. We have a civilization based on science and technology, and we’ve cleverly arranged things so that almost nobody understands science and technology. I know that is as clear a prescription for disaster as you can imagine. It’s a combustible mixture of ignorance and power. And while we might get away with it for a while, that mixture. Sooner or later, it’s going to blow up. The powers of modern technology are so enormous. I’ll mention in a minute an example or two that it’s insufficient to just say, well, those in charge of those powers, I’m sure are doing a good job. 

This is a democracy. And for us to make sure that the powers of science and technology are used properly and prudently, we ourselves must understand science and technology. 

The predictive powers of science. Some areas of science at least, are are awesome. And they are the clearest counterargument. 

I can imagine for those who say, oh, science is situational sciences. Just the current fashion science is the promotion of the self interests of those in power. Surely there is some of that. Surely if there’s any powerful tool, those in power will try to use it or even monopolize it. Surely scientists mean people grow up in a certain society and reflect the prejudices in that society. How would we imagine it to be to be different? So scientists have been nationalists and scientists have been racist. Scientists have been sexist. But that doesn’t undermine the validity of science. That’s just a consequence of mean humans. 

So imagine so many areas we can think of. Imagine you wish to know the sex of your unborn child. Another of several approaches you could, for example, do to the late film star who and I both admire greatly. Carrie Grant did before he was in acting. And that is in the carnival or fair suspend a watch or a plumbbob, a both the abdomen of the expectant mother. And if it swings left or right, it’s a boy. And if it swings forward back, it’s a girl. And he got it right one time and two. And of course, he was out of there before the baby was born. So there’s never any any angry customers who said he got it wrong and feel right. One chance in two is not so bad. I mean, that’s better than, say, Kremlinologist do. But if you really want to know, then you go to amniocentesis or two sonograms and there your chance of being right is 99 out of 100. It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than one out of two if you really want to know. You go to sites or suppose you wanted to know when the next eclipse of the sun is science. There’s something really astonishing it can tell you. A century in advance where the eclipse is going to be on the earth. And when totality to the fraction of a second think of the predictive power implied in that. Think of how much you must understand. So to say when there’s going to be an eclipse so far in the future anywhere on the earth for as essentially the same physics. Exactly. Imagine launching a spacecraft from the Earth like the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 and will years later. Voyager one arrives at Neptune within 75 kilometers of where it was supposed to be. Not having to use the midcourse corrections that were provided. Twelve years, five billion kilometers on target. So if you want to really be able to predict the future, not in everything, but in some areas, is only one aspect of human scholarship for human claims, the knowledge which really delivers the goods. 

And that science religions would give their eye teeth to be able to predict anything like that. Well, think of how much mileage they would make if they ever could could do predictions like that by any method other than science. 

Now, how does it work? How come it’s so successful? 

Science has a built in error correction mechanisms. Because science recognizes that scientists like everybody else are fellow, that we make mistakes, that we’re driven by the same prejudices as everybody else. And so there is self correcting machinery built into the structure of science. There are no forbidden questions or arguments from authority are worthless. Claims must be demonstrated. Ad hominem arguments, arguments about the personality of somebody who disagrees with you are irrelevant. 

They can be sleazeballs and be right and you can be a pillar of the community and you can be wrong. It’s not being a sleaze. Mold is not guarantee that you’re right. 

What’s the correlations are very weak. 

If you take a look at science in its everyday function, of course, you find scientists running the gamut of human emotions and personalities and character and so on. But there’s one thing which is really striking to the outsider, and that is the gantlet of criticism which is considered of common de rigueur. So the poor graduate student at his or her Pechiney oral exam subjected to a withering crossfire of questions which even sometimes seem hot sometimes or seem hostile from the professors who have PDG or failure in their grasp. And the students naturally are nervous. Who wouldn’t be? And they prepared for it for years. But they understand that that that critical moment. They really have to be able to answer questions. They have to anticipate questions. They have to think of we’re in my thesis. Is there a weakness that someone else might find? Because I sure better find it before they do, because they find it. And I’m not prepared. I’m in deep trouble. You take a look at scientific meetings with people yelling at each other and the chairman and trying to call for order. You find universally colloquia in which the poor speaker has hardly got 30 seconds to present what she or he is saying. And suddenly there’s questions, interruptions from the audience. You take a look at the publication conventions in which you submit a scientific paper to a journal. And it goes out to anonymous referees whose job it is to say, did you do anything stupid? If you don’t do anything stupid, is there anything in here that is sufficiently interesting to be published? What are the deficiencies of this paper? Has it been done by anybody else? Is the argument adequate or should you resubmit the paper after you’ve done the actual work that you are here speculating on and so on? And it’s anonymous. You don’t know who it is. You have to rely on the editor to send it out to two experts who are not too cool. This is the everyday expectation in the scientific community and those who don’t expect that even good scientists who just can’t hold up to the criticism are in deep trouble. Why do we put up with it is that we like to be criticized. You know, no scientist likes to be criticized. Every scientist feels an affection for his or her ideas and scientific results. Jonah. And somebody attacks them. You feel protected. Wait a minute. I know this is a really good idea. Don’t don’t attack it. But that’s not the way it goes. The idea is that the ideas that don’t work throw them away. Don’t waste any neurons on what doesn’t work, though. Both those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. Be willing to surrender your own ideas. 

There is a reward structure in science, which is very interesting, which is that our highest rewards go to those who disprove the doctrines of the most revered scientists. There’s a bonus for proving the greatest among us wrong. 

So Einstein is revered not just because he made so many fundamental contributions to science, but because he found something that Isaac Newton missed. And Isaac Newton, surely the greatest physicist before Albert Einstein. Now think of what other areas of human society have such a reward structure in which we revere those who prove that the fundamental doctrines that we have assumed are war. Think of it in politics. Think of it in economics. Think of it in religion. Think of it in how we organize the society. It’s exactly the opposite. There we reward those who reassure us that what we been told is really right and don’t have any concerns about it. And that’s why we’ve made so least a fundamental reason why we’ve made so much progress in science and so little in. Other areas. 

Another key aspect of science is experiments. We experiment. 

Scientists do not trust what is intuitively obvious because intuitively obvious gets you nowhere. That the earth is flat was once obvious and we really obvious, obvious go out on the flat field and take a look. 

Is it round or flat? Just don’t listen to me. Go through what you saw. The heavier bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious than blood sucking leeches. Cure disease was once obvious that some people are naturally and by divine right. Slaves was once obvious that the earth is at the center of the universe was once obvious. You’re skeptical. Go out. Take a look. Stars rise in the East and the West. Here we are stationary. We see them going around us. We’re at the center. They are on us. The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to get to. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But we are not the measure of what’s true. We have a method. And that method helps us determine not absolute truth. Only Assam Puttock approaches to the truth. Never there. Just closer and closer. 

Always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. When we have made tiny forays into the island on this great sea unknowing experiment, cleverly designed experiments are the key. 

Many decades ago, in the 20s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toasties. The time when people got up made a toast. OK, now you respond. Can nobody knew what they’d be asked to respond to. So it was a challenge to quick wittedness. And in this case, the toast was to physics and metaphysics. Now, by metaphysics, it was meant something like a philosophy of choosing. 

If you can get to just by thinking about wood took a second blast around him and answered along these lines. He said the physicist has an idea. 

The more he thinks that through, the more sense it makes. Then it goes to the scientific literature and the more he reads, the more promising. Does the idea seem less prepared? 

He devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are checked. Sources of error and noise are suppressed. The accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all its work, the experiment is done. And the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discarded. 

The idea frees his mind, as I was saying a moment ago, from the clutter of error and moves on to something else. 

The difference between physics and metaphysics would concluded is that the MIT physicist has no laboratory. We are fallible. We cannot foist our wishes on the universe. Let me say just a little bit, again, just to recap and maybe another couple of points about why is it so important to to have widely distributed understanding of science and technology? For one thing, it is the Goolma road out of poverty for developing nations and developing nations. Understand that because you have only to look at modern American graduate school in mathematics and engineering and physics to find. In case after case more than half the students are from other countries. I think this is this is good. This is something America is doing for the world. But it is a clear sense that the developing nations understand what is essential for for their future. What worries me is that we may not be so clear on the same subject. Another aspect has to do with the dangers of technology. If you. It’s astonishing that almost every astronaut in low earth orbit has made this point. 

I was up there, they say, and I look towards the horizon. And there was this thin blue band that was the Earth’s atmosphere. I had been told we live in an ocean of air and the air is so fragile, such a delicate blue. I was worried for it. 

In fact, the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere compared to the size of the earth is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a school globe is the size of the globe. That’s the air that nurtures us and almost all the life on earth that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun that through the greenhouse effect, brings the surface temperature of the earth above the freezing point. Without the greenhouse effect, the entire earth would be plunged 10 or more degrees below the freezing point of water and we’d all be dead. Now, that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We’re pumping all kinds of stuff up into it. And, you know, but the concern, the chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer, which certainly is the case, and that the carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming. 

A steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. And who knows what other challenges to the atmosphere that we haven’t been wise enough to foresee yet. Now, this is an area and there are many like it, but this is one that I’ve been working on. And so I’m sort of concentrating mine in which the inadvertent side effects of technology. Nothing we intend to do. The side effects can challenge the environment on which our very lives depend. Now, that means that we must understand the science and technology. We must understand a very clever way. 

Long term, the consequences, not just what’s the moral, not just the bottom line on the profit and loss column for the corporation for this year, but 10, 20, 50 or 100 years in the future. 

The timescales that we have to think are different if we absolutely stop all chlorofluorocarbons and allied chemical production right now. The Ozona sphere will heal itself about 100 hundred years from now. And therefore, our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren must suffer through the mistakes that we’ve made. That’s a second reason. Dangers of technology. We must understand them better. 

Third reason origins. 

Every human culture has devoted some of its intellectual, moral and how shall I say, poetic resources into trying to understand where we come from. We are a particular group as humans. The planets, the stars, the sun, the universe. Where does it come from? What is it all? Where is it going? Now we happen to know merit of ours just by sheer luck to be alive at a time when the answers to these questions are beginning to be revealed. 

These are goose bumps. Questions. These are questions that you’ve got to be made of wood not to be at least a little interested in. 

Let me say a word about science and pseudo science. 

I think there’s a kind of a Gresham’s law that applies here in which the bad science drives out the good in the popular imagination. 

And what I mean is this if you are awash in lost continents and channeling and UFOs and all the long litany of claims, so will exposed in the skeptical Inquirer, you may not have intellectual rooma for the findings of science. Your wonder quotient is fully occupied. There hasn’t been room for science to sneak in. 

The culture in one way produces these fantastic findings of science and then in another way cuts them off before they reach the average person. And so people who are curious, intelligent, dedicated to understanding the world may nevertheless be, in our view and mired in superstition and pseudo science. And you could say, well, they want to know better. They ought to be more critical and so on. But that’s too harsh. It’s not very much their fault. 

I say it’s the fault of a society that preferentially propagates one set of things and holds to a very small community. 

Another set of things, the last way for skeptics to get the attention of these bright, curious, interested people is to be little or condescend or to show arrogance towards their beliefs. 

They are not stupid. It’s a problem not it’s a problem of the society more than anything else. And if we bear in mind human frailty and fallibility, we will have compassion for them. 

So, for example, I have lately been thinking a lot about alien abductions and false claims of childhood sexual abuse and claims of satanic ritual abuse in the context of recovered memories and so on. 

I think there’s a lot of similarities, interesting similarities between those cases. I think if we were to understand any of them, we must understand all of them. 

But there is one thing about it that worries, and that is the tendency sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly, to say all these claims of childhood sexual abuse or are silly and pumped up by unethical therapists and all that. Well, in yesterday’s paper. A survey of 13 states reports that one sixth of all the rape victims reported to police are under the age of 12. And this is a category of rape that is preferentially under reported to police for obvious reasons. Are these girls one fifth were raped by their fathers? 

Now, that’s a lot of betrayal. That’s a lot of people. And we have to bear that in mind when we approach people who say they have an eating disorder and their psychiatrist convinced them that they were abused in childhood. It does not follow that they’re wrong because the logic seems strained. 

A lot of people have been sexually abused by parents or those who served in loco parentis. People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. Let me give another example. 

In the 19th century, it was the mediums. You go there and they would put you in touch with their relatives. These days it’s a little different. It’s called channeler, but the basic and spiritualism, I guess, back in the 19th century called the medium business. What this is basically about is attempting to deal with human fear of dying. 

And I don’t know about you guys. I find the idea of buying on. 

Plus, I would just as soon not buy. I recognize I have to, in fact, twice in my life. 

I came very close to doing so. I did not have a near-death experience. Sorry to say, but I can understand anxiety about dying. About 12 to 14 years ago, both my parents died with a very good relationship. I was very close to them. 

I still miss them terribly and I wouldn’t ask much. 

I would sort of like five minutes a year, tell them how the kids and the grandchildren are doing and how any time you’re doing. 

I know it sounds stupid, but I’d like to ask them, you know, everything all right with you? 

Just just a little a little contact for that reason. 

I do not go for it. Women who go to their husband’s tombstones and give them a check every now and then. I can understand that. That’s not hard to understand. 

And if we have difficulties on the oncological status of who it is they’re talking to. 

That’s all right. That’s not what this is about. 

This is about humans being human in the alien abduction context. 

I’ve been trying to understand and talk up the idea that humans hallucinate, that it’s a common part of human nature. Yes. Under conditions of sensory deprivation or drugs, are deprived all of REM sleep. 

But also just in the ordinary course of existence. I have maybe a dozen times since my parents died. 

I heard one of them say my name. Just single first word, Cora. I’m not surprised, but I miss them. They called me by my first name so much during the time they were alive. It has a great psychic roots. So my brain plays it back every now and then. Doesn’t surprise me at was sort of like it, but it is a hallucination. 

And if I was a little less skeptical, I could see how easy it would be to say, cool. Where are they? They’re they’re they’re here somewhere. 

I can hear Raymond Moody, who is an M.D., I think an author who spends lots of time writing innumerable books on Life after death, actually quoted me in the first chapter of his latest book saying that I overheard my parents calling me Carl say, look, even he believes in life after death. 

Missing the whole point. And if this is one of the arguments from chapter one of the latest book, how the principal exponent of this. 

I don’t think he has a good case, but still but still suppose I was steeped in the virtues of scientific skepticism and felt the same way about my parents. And along comes somebody who says, I can put you in touch with them. And suppose they’re smart. And they found out something about my parents in the past. No good at faking voices and so on. Darkened room and incense and all that I could see being really swept away emotionally. 

That’s not hard to understand now. Would you think less of me in that case? I had no background and skepticism. 

No idea of why it’s a virtue, but had the sense that it was grumpy and negative and rejecting everything that was human, wouldn’t you think that is that there’s something wrong with rejecting my openness to the medium? 

Con man or woman? 

What I’m trying to say is that the one deficiency which I see in the skeptical movement is an us versus them, a sense that we have a monopoly on the truth. Those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons and they’re. 

Or worse. And that’s it. If you’re sensible, you listen to us. If not the whole if that is none constructive, that does not get our message across. That condemns us to permanent minority status, whereas an approach which from the beginning acknowledges the human and roots of these problems, understands that the society has arranged things. 

So that kept for very good reasons. 

That skepticism is not well taught by very good reasons. I mean very good reasons for the protection of those in power. Skepticism is well understood. Then who these Yepes isn’t going to be applied to those in power. 

Those in power do not have a vested interest in everybody being able to ask searching questions. If if we understand that, then we have compassion to the abductees and those who start to come upon the crop circles and believe that they are supernatural and then we have a much better chance of succeeding. 

I think it is key for us to make science and the scientific method more attractive. 

Especially to the owner, because that’s a battle for the future. 

And as I look whose audience, I see a very nice mix distribution of ages I which I think is a very positive and hopeful sign. The sign of a dying cult is everybody is as old as I am. 

Now, science involves an amazing, seemingly self-contradictory mix on the one hand. It requires an almost complete openness to all ideas, no matter how bizarre and weird they sound. 

As I walk along, my time slows down. 

I shrink in the direction of motion and I get more massive. 

Excuse me, get crazy on the scale of the very small molecule can be in that position and that position put it is prohibited from being in any intermediate position. 

That’s wild. But the first is special relativity. The second is quantum mechanics. And like it or not, that’s the way the world is. And he always said, well, that’s ridiculous. You will be forever closed to the major findings of science. On the other hand, science requires the most vigorous and uncompromising skepticism because the vast majority of ideas are simply wrong. And the only way you can distinguish right from wrong wheat from the chaff is by testing. It is no fun. As I said at the beginning, to be on the receiving end of the test. But it is the penalty we pay for having so powerful a tool as last like. 

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Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for another discussion with another leading thinker on these kinds of issues that we all love to talk about. It’s like atheist love to talk about God almost as much as theologians. If you want to get involved with an online conversation about the topics in today’s episode, Science and Wonder and Spirituality go to w w w dot CFI dash forums. Dot org views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by going to our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded here at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Braylon. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Lauren Becker. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.