Origin is the latest from Dan Brown. [Many spoilers and rough notes.]
[This below is a doubtful piece of writing – a much better review here in “Pre and Post-Humanism”.]
This review focusses on the “technical” content, with anything on the plot and style or on my reading of it being relegated to a later post. Safe to say, if you’re a fan of Brown’s you’ll probably enjoy the conspiratorial code-cracking block-busting thriller you’re expecting, visually it’s practically a screen-play already. If not you probably won’t. Except, that is, for the content.
The content was the topic of this earlier review by David Klinghoffer published in Evolution News, the voice of the Discovery Institute. They of course are the somewhat controversial organisation attempting to use science join up science and theism, so not a surprise that the plot appeals to them. But others have also reviewed:
In the Guardian Peter Conrad called it “a Nostradamus for our muddled times” Sam Leith called it “fun in its own galumphing way – the battle between science and religion”
Lakshmi Singh of NPR leads with “Pits Creationism Against Science”
I’m going to cut right to the chase, so as far as being a thriller is concerned, this is ALL spoiler.
Dialogue Towards Enlightenment
I take issue with “battle between” and “against“. Sure that’s what gives the plot its thriller-style trajectory, but the point of Edmond Kirsch’s story as told by Brown through his hero Robert Langdon is in Blake’s words:
“The Dark Religions are departed & sweet science remains.”
Elaborated by Langdon to emphasis the Dark Religions as:
“Science can banish the dark religions ….
so that enlightened [science & religion] can flourish.”
And quoting Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” Treating religion as a monster to be slain risks becoming just such a monster as Brown reminds Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris and Neil deGrasse-Tyson et al.
It is indeed a story about joining-up the dots between the two where “Dialogue is always more important than consensus.”
Part 2 First – Amor Vincit Omnia
What makes it plausible, however well Dan Brown does or doesn’t succeed in telling it, is its dependence on a well-researched set of current theories.
“Where have we come from, where are we going?” I can’t be the only person whose earworm sings Cotton-Eyed Joe to that meme, but it repeatedly restates the scope of the book. It’s a story of two halves.
The second half – where humanity is headed in a godless world is in many ways the least interesting half. It’s a prediction about the future, and you know what they say about those. It follows a Transhuman AI Singularity narrative, similar to (say) Ray Kurzweil, but there the similarity ends. The nature and outcome of the syncretic co-evolution of technology and humanity is very specific and non-threatening except for its pace. Specifically not just a new species overtaking intelligent human life, in fact not even a genus, order or phylum but new Kingdom absorbing – incorprorating – humanity. As Brown points out none of this is new in the sci-fi genre.
In fact, it is simply a continuation of how we came to be as we are. With hindsight, we will always be “the ancients”, even an alien species from an alien kingdom, but it’s still our future, however it turns out.
“May our philosophies keep pace with our technologies.
May love not fear be the engine of change.”
It’s Amor Vincit Omnia again! Spiritual love reigns and love is a spontaneously-created non-finite resource.
Then Part 1 – The Science
Predicting the actual future is less interesting than understanding the processes that will continue to happen into the future, those same processes that got us to where we are today. What is really interesting technically – hopefully scientifically – the first half the story is the natural explanation, without a supernatural god, of how life came to be. The main omission, for me anyway, given the theories expounded, is that the story is limited to life only, not pre-life physics & cosmology and not post-origin-of-life human intelligence, consciousness and will. Maybe that’s too much to ask, but all the key components are there.
In terms of life the story draws on Jeremy England’s dissipative structure work. If we treat the “universal teleology” of the cosmos to dissipate energy and maximise entropy, then the most efficient spread of energy requires pockets of order to maximise long run entropic dissipation of energy . Life is the most effective tool for creating local pockets of order to maximise the spread of disorder, creating entropy and dissipating energy. Life is the inevitable result of entropy. Teleology without a god.
The other topic introduced but not greatly elaborated is in the assertion that “The question of god lies in the difference between patterns (of information) and codes (intended to convey information).” The god question here concerning creative evolution being natural with or without supernatural intervention. As soon was we call something like DNA a “code” we are implying intelligent intention to use the information not simply incidental patterning. Some stuff also on the earlier Conway “game of life” cellular automata evidence of how complexity can evolve from processing of simple information patterns, the kind of material I’ve taken from Dennett and Hofstadter. Right now beyond Brown’s book the fundamental nature of information is seen to lie behind the evolution of both physics and intelligence, the intelligence needed to turn patterns into code. This is sadly left hanging as an open question.
AI is central to the whole story, not just in the transhuman predictions and not to mention the participation of “Winston” in the plot action, but its involvement in the science of the evolution story. Great to see the bicameral nature of the AI “brain” relying on distinctly separate regions interacting whilst processing information quite differently. This is another area of science being rehabilitated after decades of abuse.
A Hopeful Future?
As well a science, religion and love, there is a large element of extolling the humanity of libraries and museums. And as far as the dialogue between religion and science is concerned it goes as far as predicting a merger between science and religion as a new religion by any other name.
Further review on plot and style may follow.
Raw notes below:
Rough notes – ALL SPOILERS:
Joe Campbell upfront.
All locations an institutions real.
Libraries … Monarchy … Symbols … codes and codes within codes. many di’s / written instructions / info read by character unknown to reader
Kirsch assassination, after only weeks to live / large donation ton church … self-set-up
Revenge for atheist terrorism? No, his mother.
Conspiracy politics of fake news “even respected scientific channels simply turning every ludicrous statement into a leading question”
“An Episcopal minister and an evolutionary biologist – polar opposites or they would not be on your show.”
Winston is in fact named after Churchill not 1984 oh well.
Four Horsemen titles and American Atheists / Brights – only Dawkins and Dennett by name so far … and Harris, eventuallt NdGT and Hitchens.
Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”
Oh my, it’s Blake! “The only pre-modern with any imagination”. Been thinking Origin / Origen / Urizen all the way through.
Palmarian (conservative) church vs the new atheists. Kirsch as Blakeian Horseman.
(Crass 47 char password search – the last book in the last cabinet! With the baddies and security forces arrived yelling the stairwell outside the front door. Cut to other scene with its own suspended drama … a physical climax? crah bng wallop fights. x marks the spot and password. boys own stuff. Telegraphing in the actual text “the ultimate moment of triumph seemed to have arrived without any fanfare”)
Eco-enviro reasons to find new planet and extraterrestrial panspermia advanced alien life …? recipe for advanced alien intelligence? Surely not. Langdon agrees.
Interesting Sagrada Familia star of the show …. as epitome of Darwinism, bottom-up evolving structure? Kirsch donation.
Conway’s Game of Life – Cellular Automata – I did scream Dennett & Hofstadter, didn’t I.
Darwin “If we admit a first cause the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose.”
silence / opposite – scheme of dying man?
Mare nostrum plus a q-computer – metallic monolith – E-Wave? – two half-brains vertically layered?
yep, bicameral = humanity
what’s inside? a new model of the universe
lots of geeky computer jokes.
more than a nod to ayn rand’s atlas shrugged speech
miller-urey primordial soup.
flaw predictability through complexity? nothingb about uncertainty? false climax
Origin seems to be only about life’s origin, not cosmos?
every 38 years – Kondratiev
JEREMY ENGLAND – universal goal – efficient spread of energy requires pockets of order to maximise long run entropic dissipation of energy – Rick. Jeremy England and dissipative structures – universal teleology driven by local pockets of order maximising spread of disorder? Life is exceptionally effective tool for creating entropy /dissipating energy.
Life is the inevitable result of entropy.
Ah! part 2 not the loss of god but the prediction of where evolving intelligent entropy leads. (tweening in simulation modelling).
Not just new species overtaking intel human life, not just genus / order / phylum but new Kingdom absorbing humanity.
Kenin Kelly nothing new here in term of sci-fi
syncretic fusion of humanity with technology. hybrid specie hom sapiens > homo – bright future.
Singularity yes, but not Kurzweil –
“May our philosophies keep pace with our technologies. May love not fear be the engine of change.”
happy / sad ending trick
Merging of science and religion, a new religion by any other name – (Sacks)
Winston has no hopes & dreams, no sentimental attachment to himself.
Amor Vincit Omnia again! Spiritual love reigns. And love is NOT a finite resource. Dialogue is always more important than concensus.
Pana for History in libraries, art and museums.
The question of god lies in the difference between patterns (of information) and codes (intended to convey information).
The of mice and men denoument – obvious from the moment it happened. And a little too much neatly tying up loose ends – the true meaning of the key Blake line.
The Dark Religions are departed et sweet science remains.
Science can banish the dark religions …. so the enlightened ones can flourish.
Also published on Medium.