No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Mentalities I Respect

Alex, RIP.

Danica signs her book at the Grove on Wednesday.

Combining death and books, I finished reading Carl Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience, which collects the Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology, which he gave in 1985, following in the footsteps of folklorist and fairy story author Andrew Lang, Stokes, Royce (yes, fellow Bruins, that Royce), William "Varieties of Religious Experience" James, Frazer, Eddington, Haldane, Whitehead, Dewey, Schweitzer, Niebuhr, Bohr, Penrose and Walter Burkert, who would appear to be the only Gifford Lecturer I've ever chauffered in my car.
Anyway, the book provides an interesting historical snapshot, as well as a good, condensed picture of Sagan's thoughts about the nature of religion, science, the universe and the gods. In many of his other works, he shied away from directly confronting some of these issues, but these lectures go to the heart of the matter, couched in his characteristic style. The lectures also had time for a Q&A period, and these are transcribed [as well as possible] in the back of the book, and it's quite interesting to see the interplay of ideas.
If the book has a fault, it's that Sagan is dead and speaking from the past of two decades ago. I'm sure we'd all prefer him alive and writing a new book, but this one talks perhaps overmuch about nuclear war. Certainly the threat and danger of nuclear weapons hasn't vanished, but the situation has greatly changed and I wonder if younger readers can even picture life in an era when "Mutually Assured Destruction" was conceived of as a solution rather than a problem. Also, particularly jarring on this day of all days, there's an unfortunate reference to the World Trade Center in a passage describing the destruction of NYC by nuclear weapon. In today's world, we have new bugaboos to make our governments do awful things.
Tags: book, news

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