For many, 2016 was a year to forget – a year when people eschewed the views of somehow maligned “experts” in favor of soundbites and populist rhetoric. If only we’d seen it coming, eh?
Well, it turns out that the late astronomer Carl Sagan may have predicted this era of distrust in authority figures – of sorts. As a number of people have picked up online, Sagan made an eerie prediction in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark that seems to echo the events of the past year.
Here’s the quote in full:
“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
Sound familiar? Thought so. In addition to this, Sagan also made some similar comments (around the 3.50 mark in that link) in an interview with Carlie Rose in 1996:
“Science is more than a body of knowledge. It’s a way of thinking. A way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, who comes ambling along.”
As Matt Novak notes for Gizmodo, though, predictions like this can often be molded to fit a particular narrative. Indeed, later in his book, Sagan talks about how the media of the time (1995) seemed relatively shallow.
Still, it’s hard to deny his comments do seem to ring true somewhat. But perhaps, as Uproxx says, we should do more to change the state of things, rather than sit back and accept the inevitable.