Broca's Brain (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
In 1880, a French neurosurgeon and anthropologist named Paul Broca died. His brain was carefully removed and preserved in a bottle which is still housed in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris among countless other brains Broca had collected and studied during his successful anatomical career. Bypassing the irony of Broca’s final repository, Carl Sagan uses this brain as a starting point and thematic symbol for his collection of articles, Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. Having dealt with the evolution of our species in his 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Dragons of Eden, Sagan here reveals his appreciation for the inner genius of mankind and its outward manifestation in the exploration and description of our world.
Carl Sagan is a respected astronomer whose work has won numerous scientific awards and has been translated into many languages. He is also becoming respected by the general public for his ability to share his scientific knowledge with the lay person while conveying his enthusiasm for the joys of discovery and creativity. The subtitle of this book clearly defines its pervasive theme. To Sagan, the pursuit of knowledge is exciting and exhilarating in every field, and his goal is to strike a responsive chord in the reader. In five main sections, he discusses intellectual explorations in astronomy, pseudoscience, cosmology, and religion, along with minor excursions into science fiction, psychology, extraterrestrial life, government-policy, and popular beliefs and customs.
Despite the impossibility of fully understanding the entire universe of knowledge, this volume celebrates the attempts of scientists and other creative thinkers to unravel the laws of nature and the universe. This search for knowledge means that each new theory or idea must meet the tests of scientific inquiry before it can be fully accepted. Scientific knowledge develops in stages. The discovery of factual information is an important step, but we also depend upon the synthesis and development of theories to explain the relationships of those facts to one another. The testing and retesting of facts and theories as new discoveries are made is essential to the growth of knowledge. Once a theory is accepted without such testing, growth stops. To demonstrate this tenet, Sagan gives numerous examples of how various missions into space in recent years have confirmed previously developed theories of cosmologists. With some clear, specific evidence, these scientists can now proceed with more assurance than was possible before. This type of proof is as necessary today as it was for Galileo in his struggle to prove the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.
Theories which cannot withstand continual close scrutiny in the light of new discoveries should be dismissed. A major section of Broca’s Brain, “The Paradoxers,” is an exposé of popular and scientific theories which fit into this category, such...
(The entire section is 1246 words.)
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