Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Blending science, philosophy, poetry, and personal experience, Sagan presents a series of essays kaleidoscopic in style and tone. He explains that, 'this book is a book of science, but it is also one of philosophy.' Both are evident in his explorations of life, death, and the universe. Replete with quotations from everyone from Galileo to Dr. Seuss, his writing is often arcane, with sentences the length of which would delight a German philosopher, and he expects the reader to be familiar with the intellectual background of his musings; for instance, 'The death wish...stems from this protosemiotic or ur-semiotic drive to return to equilibrium.' Later, he states, 'The reintroduction of function the reunion of ontos and telos with bios is as empirically valid as it is spiritually salutary.' Sagan is of noble scientific pedigree his mother was evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, and his father astronomer Carl, of whom he shares warts-and-all remembrances though in his essay on sex, readers will learn more about the habits of crabs and slugs than they may like. This is not a book to read quickly or to swallow whole, but for those who are intrigued by the great imponderables of existence, Sagan offers tasty morsels to savor. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Utterly astounding . . . there’s hardly a paragraph that couldn’t spawn a scholarly conference. Or a sleepless acid night." —David Lenson, author of On Drugs
"Profound, elegant, and funny, Cosmic Apprentice is a treat for anyone who likes to think—that is, for any true member of the Craniata, equipped with both brains and backbones!" —Greg Bear
"A brief read through the dedication and I was hooked! A first taste on the tongue of the delicious menu of science, philosophy, and just plain astute observations of Life in the Anthropocene found within. Part poet, part class clown, and part magician, Dorion Sagan spreads his prose before us like a gourmet chef of thought. He is a worthy differentiated clone of his parents, but more critically he is a highly original microbial colony in his own right." —Penny Boston, New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology and the National Cave & Karst Research Institute
Refreshingly nonconformist and polemically incisive, Cosmic Apprentice challenges readers to reject both dogma and cliché and instead recover the intellectual adventurousness that should—and can once again—animate both science and philosophy. Informed by a countercultural sensibility, a deep engagement with speculative thought, and a hardheaded scientific skepticism, it advances controversial positions on such seemingly sacrosanct subjects as evolution and entropy.
About the Author
Dorion Sagan is a writer, editor, and theorist. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of numerous books, including Lynn Margulis: The Life of and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel and Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Condensed—The Questing Spirit
Part I. From Protozoan to the Posthuman
1. The Human Is More Than Human: Interspecies Communities and the New Facts of
2. Bataille’s Sun and the Ethical Abyss: Late-Night Thoughts on the Problem of an
3. The Post-Man Already Always Rings Twice
Part II. Stardust Memories
4. Stardust Memories
5. A Quick History of Sex
6. Who Is I?
7. Of Whales and Aliens: The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth
Part III. Gaia Sings the Blues
8. Thermosemiosis: Boltzmann’s Sleight, Trim’s Hat, and the Confusion concerning
9. Life Gave Earth the Blues
Part IV. Closing the Open Circuit
11. Priests of the Modern