Ann Druyan gives the 21st century a much needed gift of another book by Carl Sagan. It is based on the talk he gave at the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, in 1985. Druyan’s introduction alone is a beautiful piece, and contains one of my favourite quotes:
“My variation on James’s title is intended to convey that science opens the way to levels of consciousness that are otherwise inaccessible to us; that, contrary to our cultural bias, the only gratification that science denies to us is deception.”
She explains that her title for the book is a “tip of the hat” to the Gifford Lectures—William James, an American psychologist and philosopher, compiled a book on his Gifford Lectures entitled The Varieties of Religious Experience. Sagan’s talk outlines his ideas on the relationship between religion and science, as the subtitle of the book describes; “A personal view of the search of God.”
Readers of Sagan’s previous works will be familiar with his assertion that science and spirituality can and should be deeply connected. It is a mistake to separate the two, applying each arbitrarily to different areas of navigating through life. If we are serious in our search to understand the cosmos and our relationship with it, we would be wise to listen diligently to what nature tells us. Nature has been willing to give up its secrets to those with the discipline to learn the language of science.
As always, Sagan’s arguments are beautifully crafted in style to be both concise and poetic. He continues to articulate reasons why we should use a scientific and rational mind-set to view the world—among many, how else are we to avoid the dangers in mixing ignorance with power? But, more than that, he offers insight for those who are searching to be connected with God, no matter what kind of idea one attributes to that word. We can do better than blindly follow our feelings.
Sagan is always eloquent and never condescending, even when urging us to consider the many ways in which we project our emotional predispositions onto the universe. If we have the courage to take these ideas to heart, we will find it is our own intuitions—our own blind trust in our emotions—that prevents us from knowing how the universe really is and, therefore, reconciling that knowledge with a genuine feeling of connectedness to it.
If none of that convinces you, I present my Google image search findings–which, on the first page of results, includes a goofy picture of myself and this awesome photo of Kirsten Dunst: