Monday, October 05, 2009

The Lost Sentience

I think Adam Gopnik is right:

And that may be the secret of [Dan] Brown’s appeal: his books are as sweet-tempered as they are secret-minded. Langdon exposes horrible conspiracies, but it turns out that, with the exception of a few homicidal hotheads, who have maybe let the thing run away with them, decent, well-intended guys run even the weirdest cabals. Brown’s repeated point is not that we are mired in ancient conspiracies but that ancient conspiracies anticipate modern opinions. What is “coded” in “The Da Vinci Code” is that the ancient Christians were modern feminists; Jesus was a loving husband who deferred to the wisdom of his wife, Mary Magdalene, the Hillary Clinton of Galilee. When we come to the end of this new book, we discover that what the Masons were really practicing was a neat kind of cognitive science. The old codes of the pyramid are merely the newest discoveries of psychology, a thought that turns the text once again toward italics: “ ‘The Bible, like many ancient texts, is a detailed exposition of the most sophisticated machine ever created. . . the human mind.’ She sighed.”
And that's precisely why I don't like Dan Brown's work and, not coincidentally, basically gave up on science fiction, especially "hard" science fiction, which I gave up early on. Life is far more interesting and complicated without me at the center of the universe, and we are not contemporary geniuses who see farther and understand better than any of our ancestors possibly could have. In the face of our ignorance our only response should be humility and open minds, waiting to be educated. Modern science may have more facts at its disposal than Aristotle ever dreamed of, but how many scientists alive today have Aristotle's reasoning power, even with computers to help them sequence DNA codings? Who is Socrates, Plato, Aquinas, Augustine, today? Whither Dun Scotus or St. Anselm? Who has the insight of Buddha, the compassion of Jesus of Nazareth, the wisdom of Maimonides? And frankly, what they knew is not what we are sure we know, and perhaps they were right, and we are wrong.

Perhaps. It is a point worthy of consideration. It is a place, even in a "godless" age, even in an age which has "abandoned religion" (no, it hasn't; but the same minority which thought we were all dancing to disco in the '70's, had all turned on, tuned in, and dropped out in the '60's, or were all headbanging to punk rock in the '80's, have now convinced themselves are are all "godless" in the 21st century), even in this age where we complain of the results of our technology even as we look to it to save us from ourselves ("O machine! O machine!"), it is a starting point for humility.

And humility is always a saving grace; but a damned hard practice.

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