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Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science

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

By: Dorion Sagan(Author)

University of Minnesota Press

Hardback | Apr 2013 | #204118 | ISBN-13: 9780816681358
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NHBS Price: £18.50 $24/€20 approx

About this book

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.


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

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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.

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