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Non-Fictional Prose Course

TyL's picture

Practicing What You Preach

 Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World is constantly exhorting its readers to exert skepticism, considering everything through the lense of scientific enquiry. But he does not, however, turn science under this same exacting microscope. He takes cheap shots at pseudoscience (aliens, witchcraft) that are easy to identify with--of course, says the rational reader, those things are ridiculous (no offense meant to Jackie). Ha ha ha! Silly pseudoscience. He also takes shots at religion, although he doesn't seem to be considering so much the modern iteration as the medieval church (he speaks of demons and darkness and people blindly following crazed demagogues, and while we have these things today, they are far less prevalent. We call them cults).

platano's picture

Thoughts on The Call of Stories

Sagan and Coles both admit that everyone is fallible. They both however seek the truth, and learn to do so despite the blurs between reality and fantasy. Although, most of Coles' colleagues encourage him to use categories and to detach himself from his patients stories, he ends up recognizing the power of those stories. There's something collective about the way that we share stories that allows us to move past those categories. It's interesting that Coles' supervisor tries to advise him to bring together two realms of thought knowledge and theory but to be careful not to confuse them. It seems that in listening to the stories that his patients share with him, and providing that as background/evidence for his claims, then he is avoiding making up stories or stretching the truth.

SandraGandarez's picture

science and religion

I found an interview between Bill Maher and Dr. Collins who led the Human Genome Project about his religious beliefs and how a man of science could believe in religion. In the video there's a statement that 93% of scientists in the American National Academy of Scientists are Atheist or Agnostic. This not only surprised me but suggested a correlation between the two. They are most likely firm Sagan believers and feel that if they cannot prove something then they do not believe it, which would account for the lack of religion. Religion is after all based on belief and not evidence.

Smacholdt's picture

The Appeal of Stories

 I think that part of the reason that we enjoy stories so much is because we all have a fundamental need for understanding and human connection. We want to know that someone else has gone through what we have. A student that Coles talked to put it well: “we’re all in trouble, one way or the other.” Everyone has their own problems and it is easy to find comfort in telling your story to some one else, especially if you find that they have gone though a similar situation. People need stories to make sense of their lives and experiences.

EVD's picture


After reading the "Stories and Theories" portion of Call of Stories I was interested in finding out a little more about Coles' background as a psychiatrist. I found a really interesting commentary on Coles' writing (particularly about Children of Crisis) in a book called Intellectual craftsmen: ways and works in American scholarship by Steven Weiland (find it on google books). He writes "some distortion is perhaps inevitable given Coles' method and purposes and the expectations of his readers.

veritatemdilexi's picture

Standing Up When The Plane Is Landing

 I actually do have a nonfiction story from break that applies to class, especially after today's discussion.  The person sitting next to me on a flight home who attended another institution of higher learning was reading a book entitled: "The Bedside Baccalaureate: A Handy Daily Cerebral Primer to Fill in the Gaps, Refresh Your Knowledge & Impress Yourself & Other Intellectuals".  This sounds like nonfiction prose at its best, and it had to be engaging because this person did not lift their eyes from the book.  I don't know how I feel about a book such as this-"Daily Cerebral Primer" makes the human brain sound like a car that has to be serviced everyday.

Anne Dalke's picture

Towards Day 25: The Call of Stories


EVD's picture

Being a Skeptic

After class today I was thinking about how I might apply Sagan's skepticism to my life. I consider myself a pretty skeptical person, especially of authority, but I was trying to think of instances when I might not be skeptical...When I go to the doctor's office and my doctor diagnoses a sickness I might have, I never question her diagnosis as long as I have been thorough in telling her my symptoms. But when I take my dog to the veterinarian I ALWAYS question the vet's diagnosis and course of treatment because I have been a vet tech and know that vets make mistakes and there are always several diagnoses and courses of treatment that a vet might make. The vet could also prescribe treatment just to make extra money.

platano's picture

Science as an Authority vs. The Value of Faith

Our second class discussion on Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World allowed me to further develop my thoughts on my situation, although I'm still not closer to a resolution. In class someone brought up the fact that there has been a shift in authority. For years religion has had the authority, but as we have began to question and seek "facts" about the world, we have given the authority to Science. Scientists are the people that have cultivated the potential that we all have to be skeptical about things. What bothers me the most about Carl Sagan's writing is that he seems condescending to those that believe in something without evidence (i.e. God). This goes back to the last paper that I wrote about changing someone's reality.

platano's picture

Reflection on my belief

Last class we began to think about the relationship that science has to our personal lives. I began to think a lot about religion. Science has often been used to disprove the belief that God exists, as we have gained more knowledge about the world and our relationship to it. However, this idea of asking questions is fairly new compared to religion's history. I find myself caught between God and the facts that science presents. I always resent the arguments used to convince me that God doesn't exist because I feel like someone is trying to take away my belief which in the past used to be firm. Although I was never deeply religious (i.e. not an avid church-goer), I feel guilty that my belief is not as firm, and sometimes I feel like I've completely lost it.

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