Dispatches from the Edges of Science
Publication Year: 2013
In the pursuit of knowledge, Dorion Sagan argues in this dazzlingly eclectic, rigorously crafted, and deliciously witty collection of essays, scientific authoritarianism and philosophical obscurantism are equally formidable obstacles to discovery. As science has become more specialized and more costly, its questing spirit has been constrained by dogma. And philosophy, perhaps the discipline best placed to question orthodoxy, has retreated behind dense theoretical language and arcane topics of learning.
Guided by a capacious, democratic view of science inspired by the examples set by his late parents—Carl Sagan, who popularized the study of the cosmos, and Lynn Margulis, an evolutionary biologist who repeatedly clashed with the scientific establishment—Sagan draws on classical and contemporary philosophy to intervene provocatively in often-charged debates on thermodynamics, linear and nonlinear time, purpose, ethics, the links between language and psychedelic drugs, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the occupation of the human body by microbial others. Informed by a countercultural sensibility, a deep engagement with speculative thought, and a hardheaded scientific skepticism, he advances controversial positions on such seemingly sacrosanct subjects as evolution and entropy. At the same time, he creatively considers a wide range of thinkers, from Socrates to Bataille and Descartes to von Uexküll, to reflect on sex, biopolitics, and the free will of Kermit the Frog.
Refreshingly nonconformist and polemically incisive, Cosmic Apprentice challenges readers to reject both dogma and cliché and instead recover the intellectual spirit of adventure that should—and can once again—animate both science and philosophy.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Introduction: Condensed - The Questing Spirit
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RECognizing itSElf in the aqua facade of a planet cloud swirled and sur-rounded by the immensity of space, living matter is a message with no discrete meaning. Its message is more the possibility of meaning. Cycling its matter, life is open to its surroundings. It spreads into them, extending its genetic helices and proteins. Building machines, it moves into space, ...
Part I: From "Protozoan" To Posthuman
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Chapter 1: The Human Is More Than Human: Interspecies Communities and the New Facts of Life
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...“This universe,” says the physicist Richard Feynman, “just goes on, with its edge as unknown as the bottom of the bottomless sea . . . just as mys-terious, just as awe-inspiring, and just as incomplete as the poetic pic-tures that came before. But see that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. No one who did not have some ...
Chapter 2: Bataille's Sun And The Ethical Abyss: Late-Night Thoughts on the Problem of an Affirmative Biopolitics
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...nazism treated the german people as an organic body that needed a radical cure, which consisted in the violent removal of a part that was already considered spiritually dead. From this perspective and in contrast to communism (which is still joined in posthumous homage to the category of totalitarianism), nazism is no longer inscribable in the self-preserving ...
Chapter 3: The Post-Man Already Always Rings Twice
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...“Today” I received this strange news item, but it had no address on it, so I am passing it on to lucky you. By post-man I will have meant (mostly) The first ringing is literal and refers to what comes after humans in evolution. The first ringing announcement that the posthuman has arrived has to do with speciation, guesswork, machines; with loose pre-...
Part II: Stardust Memories
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Chapter 4: Stardust Memories
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QUAntitAtiVElY, dust refers to solid particles with diameters of less than 500 micrometers. A micrometer, also known as a micron, is a millionth of a meter, or 0.000039 of an inch. The eye of a needle is 750 microns wide, enough to get some camel dust through. The diameter of the pe-riod that ends this sentence is about 450 microns—it would make a nice ...
Chapter 5: A Quick History Of Sex
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...in HiS Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, Lord Chesterfield, the eighteenth-century British statesman and man of letters, offered the following concise account of sex: “The ex-pense is damnable, the pleasure momentary and the position ludicrous.”Despite the droll nature of his quip, Chesterfield’s observation high-...
Chapter 6: Who Is I?
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At tHE EnD of the year last, in a party diverse with ethnicity and artistry, not to mention anarchists, a question was asked of me by none other than myself. Yet, as it was done in company, I credit the question as much You see, after I described some of my political views, mentioning the strange question of the status of the Federal Reserve as a private corpora-...
Chapter 7: Of Whales And Aliens: The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth
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HAlf MY littlE lifE Ago, under the influence of P. cubensis—aka psyche-delic mushrooms—I, and two of my reprobate friends, found ourselves among a sea of tourists in Quincy Market. After overhearing a mini Sopranos-style imbiber declaiming loudly upon the niceties of female lace, frilly clothing, and all things that tied, we shambled on through ...
Part III: Gaia Sings The Blues
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Chapter 8: Thermosemiosis: Boltzmann's Sleight, Trim's Hat, and the Confusion concerning Entropy
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...tHERMoDYnAMiCS StARtED off bright enough, practical and blond, sav-ing the world from its limits. But then, overcome by shadows, its shiny children got dirt in their fingernails, soot in their hair; the world dark-ened with a foreboding of smokestacks. To the injury of overpopulation was added the attractiveness of thermodynamics as an incentive for geek ...
Chapter 9: Life Gave Earth The Blues
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...nAtURE iS not JUSt RED in tootH AnD ClAW but green with symbiotic chloroplasts, yellow with chrysophyte algae, and flamingo-pink with in-gested carotenoids. It is an amazing psychedelic display of spiraling fora-minifera, radiating radiolaria, and diatomaceous earth-making diatoms. It is not just hemoglobin red with the blood of animals but nacreous ...
Chapter 10: Mousetrap
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WHY ARE WE HERE? Might this all just be a big fluke? Even if evolution is, as Arthur Koestler said, like an “epic recited by a stutterer,”1 what is the plot? It seemed like God had a good idea, but then he got sidetracked. I believe the writer Kurt Vonnegut touched on the heart of this ques-tion. Before a full house of mostly women at Smith College, he first ...
Part IV: Closing The Open Circuit
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Chapter 11: Priests Of The Modern Age: Scientific Revolutions and the Kook-Critic Continuum, Being a Play of Crackpots, Skeptics, Conformists, and the Curious
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...one should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere People nowadays no longer believe in originality of single people and small groups. Everybody believes in the big group and in the joint power. We ...
Chapter 12: Metametazoa
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...liKE A gRAY gEoDE CRACKED oPEn to reveal coruscating crystals of ame-thyst, the history of science sometimes surprises. Empedocles imagined an ancient world of organs mating and merging with one another to create bizarre half-hewn beasts, the most favorable matches surviving. Aristotle, schooled in Platonic typology and sick of unlikely stories of ...
Chapter 13: Kermitronics
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The choral song which rises from all elements and all angels, is a voluntary obedience, a necessitated freedom. Man is made of the same atoms as the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny. When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones ...
Chapter 14: On Doyle On Drugs
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...i gREW UP in Timothy Leary’s old neighborhood. Newton Center in the mid-1970s was past the glory days of Orange Sunshine, but a few kids knew about it. We did all right though, with our Blotter, Microdot, and Windowpane, which catapulted me, one fine afternoon, after a whole hit and an emergency purchase with shaky fingers (I was not a smoker) of ...
Conclusion: Floating Into Spinoza's Ocean
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...g. EVElYn HUtCHinSon, considered the single most important author to understand the fundaments of modern ecology, emphasized that a sci-entific theory’s primary value was not its usefulness but its ability to produce a form of enlightenment, similar to a great work of art.1 And while Friedrich Schelling, the German idealist who tried to respond to ...
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MAnY tHAnKS to Tori Alexander, Nora Bateson, Wendell Berry, Dianne Bilyak, Dan Born, Eric Brado, Martin Brasier, Joanna Bybee, Joseph Cami, Carlos de Castro Carranza, Michael J. Chapman, Bruno Clarke, Paul Cob-ley, Trey Conner, Cristoph Cox, Kathryn Denning, Jacques Derrida, Rich Doyle, Celia Farber, Don Favareau, Stephan Harding, Peter Harries-Jones, ...
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About the Author
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Dorion Sagan is an award-winning science writer, editor, and theorist. He has written or coauthored more than two dozen books on culture, evolu-tion, and the history and philosophy of science, including What Is Life?, Into the Cool, and Death and Sex. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, Wired, Natural History, ...
Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013