Monday, September 21, 2009

Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol"

Don't worry, this will post isn't a matter of spoilers and inside info for those who haven't read the book yet, but it is a musing on some of the notions that have been put forward by the publication of such a book, by such a very popular author. No major plot revelations will be unveiled, but there will be some affectionate examination of key concepts. All good? Then let's go!

Most people have likely never heard of Noetic science, which has only recently gelled into a coherent scientific discipline, but more than a few of us drifting along the fringe of scientific and spiritual thought have already run into many of the precursors and crude early experiments that eventually blossomed into Noetics.

Mr. Brown, by virtue of his popularity, has achieved something very like one of the experiments put forward in his book. He has released a concept into the minds of a wide audience and, simply by introducing millions of people to Noetic science, he has altered human consciousness by a very small degree, with results that we can only guess at as time moves on.

If thought possesses mass, even though that mass may be so small as to seem inconsequential, then it certainly interacts with its environment in accordance with measurable laws that haven't yet been fully determined. What impact will millions, or tens of millions, of people have, when all their minds are trained upon the same concept for the first time? And how much of a difference will it make, when people realize that thought really can have a measurable impact on themselves and the world around them?

Ours is a world split between the rational and the instinctive, the Id and SuperEgo, the spirit and the flesh. Superstition routinely trumps science, especially among those who need a less complicated way to make the world an orderly and understandable place. Science can be damned complicated, and speaking frankly, most people will never be completely comfortable with science, because the technical language and the frustrating requirements for neutrality don't sit well with minds that want a simple answer.

People want a side to choose, a team to play for, a country to belong to and a way of life that ideally suits them. What people don't want, in general, is brutal self examination and introspection. Naturally, being a contrary sort of person to begin with, I went for the hard route.

Long before Dan Brown's novel, for which I am grateful, and long before I'd ever heard of Noetics, I studied the religions of the world to find answers to my own questions. I was searching for common truths, things that spoke to the heart in every language and every culture. I wanted to bridge the gap that seperates one religion from another, and understand what motivates people to divide endlessly even while they all move toward the same expression of truth.

I studied religion, and non-religion, Thomas Aquinas and Bertrand Russel, philosophy and non-philosophy, The Blue Rock Record and Neitzsche, science, psychology, poetry, art, history, myth and legend...always searching for the same underlying truths.

What gratifies me now is this: that in an information friendly age, others like me have been inexorably moving toward the same conclusions, and that, leaving aside good stories with secret societies and winding plots, the long work of moving into a state of being where we accept that science and religion are simply faces of the same coin, the search for truth and understanding, and that we are capable of changing our lives and our environment through the power of our collective will, is stronger than ever.

I don't have a monopoly on truth. I have no wisdom that can't be found elsewhere. I do have a few good ideas, and some gut instincts that haven't failed me yet, so here are just a few thoughts that might strike a chord with others.

There is only one road...and everyone is on it whether they like it or not. Everyone is born, loves or hates, laughs or cries, and dies. The beginning and ending have no exceptions, everything in between is up to us. We are all in this together...and we are all ultimately alone. You will have no peace outside yourself if you have no peace within. We're all flawed...including you, including me...get over it and just do your best. We're all special and unique...but not so special or unique that we're excused from the laws of nature, so be special and unique...but do it with humility and grace instead of naked arrogance. Things happen...most of them you can't control, but how you deal with them is entirely within your power, so don't shortchange yourself with reactions that only make things worse. Do as little damage as possible along the way, and you can be nearly certain about looking back at your life with fewer regrets. Enjoy being alive while you won't last as long as you want. Indulge...but in enough moderation that you don't make a fool of yourself. Tell the ones you love what you love about them...and try not to concentrate on the negative, trust me...they'll appreciate the effort

And read more books. I've never been sorry for reading a book that was good enough to keep me reading to the last chapter.

If you're inclined to read a book by Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol has twists and turns and an underlying truth that is important to us all, and if you aren't...that's okay too. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Remembering The Future

It's startlingly easy to let my natural cynicism overwhelm me, since we live in a world almost deafened by a cacophony made up of angry voices. We are scared of the future, and what it might hold for us, or for our children, or for their children. War is an everyday fact of life, impoverishment and disease are just as problematic as they were decades ago, and it isn't hard to look at declining opportunity and standards of living and feel that our greatest days as a nation are behind us.

Not long ago I experienced something purely incidental, an accident of timing that made me feel a sense of what is possible even in an era of limited prospects and diminished hope. I thought it would be well worth mentioning, because it's exactly the kind of thing that happens every day, all across the country, in every town and city, but goes unnoticed precisely because it IS the kind of thing that happens everyday, everywhere.

I was on the way to work, and I parked outside the downtown building that contained the client's apartment. It was a Sunday afternoon, and a cloudy, grey one at that. Rain was falling, more of a soft patter than real drizzling rain, but it was still kind of day you wanted to spend indoors if you could.

When I got out of my truck, I couldn't help but notice one lone figure on the local high school's track field. Out there, in the rain, on an unremarkable Sunday afternoon, there was just one lone teenager running hurdles.

There was no one cheering him, and no one watching him that I could see in any direction. He was alone and had to move the hurdles into position on his own, and put them back into position whenever he knocked one over. There were no coaches and no parents, no pressure to achieve from any angle. It was just a kid who was willing to spend his weekend afternoon alone, in the rain, striving to be better, to be faster, to be more ready to compete against his peers.

If that spirit is alive in just a few people in every town and city in this country, then I know that whatever comes, politically or socially, can be dealt with in good order. In that kid lived proof that there are people who are unafraid of hardship to achieve a goal. People who are dogged and determined, require no pushing from others to achieve great things, and who can rise above petty interests to reach toward victory.

That young person was the face of the future I sometimes forget. It was a sobering reminder that the torch is always in the process of being passed, and that it never remains still. As I am aging and growing slower, another generation is at its peak, and yet another is only just beginning to hit its stride, and another, younger still, is preparing for a time when the torch will begin to pass into their hands.

If we turn away from the television and the computer, shut off the dizzying, deafening thunder of our media, and look to our own cities and towns, it is there that we will find the future, struggling in the face of adversity, silent, stoic and brave. It is not televised or sponsored, not advertised or ballyhooed, and oftentimes it isnt even rewarded with praise. It isn't a product or a dogma, and it can't be counted or quantified in convenient formulas, and so it slips past us, largely unnoticed, while we glumly assume that the world is doomed for lack of capable hands to manage its future.

I'll rant and fume another time, but I will remember the future, and remember that somewhere, someone is ready to take up the tasks that will face them, and I will be at peace.