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Cosmic Apprentice

Dispatches from the Edges of Science

2013
Author:

Dorion Sagan

Cosmic Apprentice

A renowned writer takes us on an intellectual thrill ride to challenge scientific and philosophical dogma

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.

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

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.

Cosmic Apprentice

Dorion Sagan is an award-winning science writer, editor, and theorist. He has written or coauthored more than two dozen books on culture, evolution, 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, Times Higher Education, Smithsonian, and Cabinet. He is the son of the astronomer Carl Sagan and the biologist Lynn Margulis.

Dorion Sagan is an award-winning science writer, editor, and theorist. He has written or coauthored more than two dozen books on culture, evolution, 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, Times Higher Education, Smithsonian, and Cabinet. He is the son of the astronomer Carl Sagan and the biologist Lynn Margulis.

Cosmic Apprentice

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

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

As if to define what science is and what philosophy is weren’t hard enough, to delineate how the two fit together appears a formidable task, one that has spurred rather intense opinions. But that’s precisely what Dorion Sagan, who has previously examined the prehistoric history of sex, braves in the introduction to Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science. The essays in Cosmic Apprentice go on to explore such inevitably captivating subjects as our sense of identity, the nonlinearity of time, and the ethical dilemmas of biopolitics.

Brain Pickings

It seems that Dorion has inherited his father Carl Sagan's talent for popularizing scientific ideas, and his mother Lynn Margulis's genius for rethinking the science of life. Cosmic Apprentice is a brilliant piece of science writing, weaving together many of the themes that Dorion has explored separately in earlier books: life as gradientfeeding negentropy, the promiscuous hospitality of symbiosis, the question of where science ends and philosophy begins, the whys and wherefores of sex, and how life shaped and colored earth.

The Kevin Barrett Show

In the pursuit of knowledge, Dorian 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.

Magonia Books

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

Sagan knows his way around words, and the book is a cornucopia of interesting and challenging ideas. . . this book will urge its relevance into any curious reader wanting to understand a little more of who we are, where we come from, and how much we share with other beings, human and nonhuman.

PsycCRITIQUES

Cosmic Apprentice

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
Life
2. Bataille’s Sun and the Ethical Abyss: Late-Night Thoughts on the Problem of an
Affirmative Biopolitics
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
Entropy
9. Life Gave Earth the Blues
10. Mousetrap

Part IV. Closing the Open Circuit
11. Priests of the Modern Age: Scientific Revolutions and the Kook–Critic Continuum,
Being a Play of Crackpots, Skeptics, Conformists, and the Curious
12. Metametazoa
13. Kermitronics
14. On Doyle on Drugs

Conclusion: Floating into Spinoza’s Ocean
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

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
Life
2. Bataille’s Sun and the Ethical Abyss: Late-Night Thoughts on the Problem of an
Affirmative Biopolitics
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
Entropy
9. Life Gave Earth the Blues
10. Mousetrap

Part IV. Closing the Open Circuit
11. Priests of the Modern Age: Scientific Revolutions and the Kook–Critic Continuum,
Being a Play of Crackpots, Skeptics, Conformists, and the Curious
12. Metametazoa
13. Kermitronics
14. On Doyle on Drugs

Conclusion: Floating into Spinoza’s Ocean
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Cosmic Apprentice

UMP blog - On star stuff, 'Science's Unruly Earth Mother,' and the scientific art of empirical rebellion

Cosmic Apprentice is dedicated to my parents, the pioneering biologist Lynn Margulis and the famous astronomer Carl Sagan. Although they divorced when I was three, and I heard gossip in 2002 China that my mother somehow sabotaged my father’s career, and more recently, on new atheist evolutionist Jerry Coyne’s blog that my father would be embarrassed by my mother’s ideas, the truth is that she more than he was ahead of her time. Not only have I fulfilled the maudlin fantasy of a child of divorce by putting them together again in my book but I would argue that certain tribal but anti-science forces have worked to marginalize my mother’s work relative to my father’s.

Read the full article.