Today that finally changed. Spurred on originally by this video, various articles I've read on digg and reddit, my anticipation of relocating to Ocala and re-embracing astronomy (one of my childhood passions), and most recently the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, I picked up The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan. I read the first half of it today and will finish it this week. I do believe I will read most of his other works, or at least:
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
My favorite quote in The Varieties of Scientific Experience so far is when Carl Sagan is discussing Erich von Däniken's belief that various accomplishments in human history (such as the construction of the Pyramids, the statues of Easter Island, etc) had been aided by extra-terrestrials. Von Däniken published a very popular book in the late 1960s stating as such, and in analyzing its success Sagan asks:
How do we understand that so specious an argument could have been so wildly successful?
I think the answer is absolutely clear. The emotional appeal of von Däniken made perfect sense. It was the hope that extraterrestrials would come and save us from ourselves. The hope that if they had intervened many times in human history, surely in the present time, a time of great crisis in the 1960s and '70s and manifestly clear today in an age of fifty-five thousand nuclear weapons, that the extraterrestrials would come and prevent us from doing the worst to ourselves.
What he says next struck me as relevant today, where religious fundamentalism seems to be so deeply entrenched in society and our government, as when he said it in 1985.
And in that sense I consider it an extremely dangerous doctrine, because the more likely we are to assume that the solution comes from the outside, the less likely we are to solve our problems ourselves.