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Anne Dalke's picture

varieties of scientific experience

When Paul said yesterday that the picture of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field was "his favorite picture in the whole world" (sic), I thought that was because it was so filled with so much space (sic), so much room for (and such an invitation to) further exploration. I also thought of the work of Carl Sagan, who died ten years ago, and was a well-known champion of science's duty to probe and question--> without any limits.

I was reminded of this in an article in yesterday's Times, in which Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, spoke about the spiritual implications of the scientific revolution: "I know of no other force that can wean us from our infantile belief that we are the center of the universe." Motivated by her impatience with religious fundamentalism, she has just published a book of Sagan's reflections on the relation between science and religion, called The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (the title is a play on William James's famous Varieties of Religious Experience).

Much of what was excerpted in the Times article has resonances for our recent discussions about authority and skepticism, about comfort and discomfort. For instance, Sagan wrote, "I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.....[The search for who we are] goes with a courageous intent to greet the universe as it really is, not to foist our emotional predisposition on it but to courageously accept what our explorations tell us."

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