Non-fiction 06 Sep 2004 12:23

Broca’s Brain

coverBroca’s Brain
Carl Sagan

Reading a Carl Sagan book is always refreshing, because he was an optimist. This was a scientist who truly believed in the power of science and of the scientific method, and had big hopes for the future of humanity because of the power of science. By the way, Sagan is probably responsible, at least in part, for my interest in science and astronomy; I still remember waking up early on Saturdays to watch “Cosmos” on TV, when it was broadcast in Brazil (in the early 1980s, I believe).

In this one can see the beginnings of another great book, “The Demon-Haunted World”, where Sagan tries to show how much more sense a rational view of the universe makes, and tries to dispel some of the myths that people pass around and believe in. There is some of this in “Broca’s Brain”, but not much.

Most of the book is dedicated to the future of science, and where it is leading us; special attention is given, of course, to astronomy and space exploration. Since the book was written in the late 1970s, much of what is there seems quaint and outdated, but much of it is surprisingly current. Sagan mentions, for example, research on sending automated rovers to explore the surface of Mars (and possibly other planets), something that was first achieved in 1996 (and again, spectacularly, earlier this year). The Galileo mission to Jupiter is also mentioned, as are his fears for its success (related to budget, not to science and engineering).

In general, it is a very good book. The one thing I didn’t like is the inordinate amount of space given to rebut the theories mentioned in a book called “Worlds in Collision”, by some guy named Velikovsy (or something similar). This guy claims, among other things, that the planet Venus is actually a comet that was ejected from Jupiter and, in the process of getting to its current orbit, grazed (literally) Mars and Earth more than once. And all this in historical times! He claims these events explain many of the biblical events described in Exodus. I honestly don’t think this kind of idea deserves any serious consideration, especially not in a book and by a scientist like Carl Sagan.

Other than that, this is a very enjoyable book, and written distinctly in Sagan’s style.

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