Media Commentary

Tonight will be the premiere of a new TV series called Flashforward, based on a novel with a plot that involves the Alice detector at CERN. CERN has put up a web-site about this, to reassure people that CERN isn’t about to change time around. The web-site is along the same lines as the one they put up about Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, to reassure people that CERN wasn’t producing quantities of antimatter that could be used in a bomb.

Dan Brown has a new novel out this week, entitled The Lost Symbol. The plot evidently revolves around a researcher in “Noetic Sciences”, who is quite the expert on “What the Bleep” pseudo-science, as well as string theory. Here’s where she learns that string theory was known to the ancients:

…I want to study cutting edge THEORETICAL physics. The future of science! I really doubt Krishna or Vyasa had much to say about superstring theory and multidimensional cosmological models.”

“You’re right, they didn’t.” Her brother paused, a smile crossing his face. “If you’re talking superstring theory …” He wandered over to the bookshelf yet again. “Then you’re talking about THIS book here.” He heaved out a colossal leather-bound book and dropped it with a crash onto the desk. “Thirteenth-century translation of the original medieval Aramaic.”

“Superstring theory in the thirteenth century ?!” Katherine wasn’t buying it. “Come on!”

Superstring theory was a brand new cosmological model. Based on the most recent scientific observations, it suggested the multidimensional universe was made up not of THREE … but rather of TEN dimensions, which all interacted of vibrating strings.

Katherine waited as her brother heaved open the book, ran through the ornately printed table of contents, and then flipped to a spot near the beginning of the book. “Read this.” He pointed to a faded page of text and diagrams.

Dutifully, Katherine studied the page. The translation was old-fashioned and very hard to read, but to her utter amazement, the text and drawings clearly outlined the EXACT same universe heralded by modern superstring theory – a ten-dimensional universe of resonating strings. As she continued, she suddenly gasped and recoiled. “My God, it even describes how six of the dimensions are entangled and act as one?!” She took a frightened step backwards. “What IS this book?”

Her brother grinned. … “The complete Zohar.”

(Thanks to Greg Sivco for the transcription).

Perhaps CERN-TH may want to put up another Dan Brown web-site at CERN to reassure people that the strings in 10d stuff has nothing much to do with reality and isn’t likely to lead to whatever trouble it leads to in the novel.

For more on this, Salon has a book review entitled Dan Brown swaps pseudohistory for pseudoscience.

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16 Responses to Media Commentary

  1. Chris Oakley says:

    Oddly reassuring that. The next time someone tries to convince me that Dan Brown’s writings are based on fact, I will be able to point to this. I suppose the story must have a counterpart to Silas (the Opus Dei fanatic in The Da Vinci Code). Who could fulfil that role, I wonder?

  2. jpd says:

    “the complete zohar” is that a new saying,
    similar to “the whole enchilada” ?

  3. Greg Sivco says:

    Thank you, Peter.

    Dan Brown is a highly intelligent man and a product of one of the Phillips Academies and Harvard and that is was vexes me … that he should have read more and not promoted a theory that is quite obviously: dust … save for Susskind, Polchinski, Witten (diplomatically), Motl, et. al. .

    The quote Peter mentions is a “flashback” when Katherine was 19 (she’s 50 in the “real time” of the novel, heh, not far off from Peter and me), so doing the Arithmetic (not even Math), the year where that conversation goes down is 1978. Whatever. QCD was the sex then, and QCD was the first thing that kicked ST to the curb.

  4. roland says:

    Man, Dan Brown. That is so lame.

  5. This sounds utterly unreadable. People interested in history probably feel the same with the other books

  6. Chris W. says:

    Michael Crichton has a similar pedigree, and also produces schlock for mass consumption. I think they both know what they’re doing, even if their readers don’t. Indeed, Crichton wrote a piece for Science a few years ago in which he responded to scientists’ complaints about how they’re portrayed in the movies by saying, in essence, “Just get over it; you can’t expect anything better from this medium. That’s not what it’s about.”

  7. H-I-G-G-S says:

    Michael Crichton had. Not has.

  8. Yatima says:

    Dan Brown. Pah! Lovecraft was there first ..

    “A room was easy to secure, for the house was unpopular, hard to rent, and long given over to cheap lodgings. Gilman could not have told what he expected to find there, but he knew he wanted to be in the building where some circumstance had more or less suddenly given a mediocre old woman of the Seventeenth Century an insight into mathematical depths perhaps beyond the utmost modern delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and de Sitter.”

    Not half bad for a story written in 1932.

  9. Jeff McGowan says:

    I believe Brown went to Amherst, not Harvard, FWIW. Probably only means something to those of us who went to Hampshire 🙂

    I tried to read a page of Da Vinci code, yow it was painful. Actually beyond the “so bad it’s funny” level of bad, which I guess is some sort of accomplishment…

  10. Unfortunately, it means something to those of us who went to Amherst as well.

    I had hoped that the long delay between books meant that someone was forcing Brown to, you know, check facts and stuff. Guess not. Yow.

  11. Arun says:

    Its a work of fiction!

  12. Greg sivco says:

    Very good Jeff and David, quite correct he graduated Amhurst in ’86. His chief protagonist is Robert Langdon, Professor in “Symbology” at Harvard.

    TLS IS a work of fiction, an action-adventure treasure-hunt thriller in the traditions of the films “Indiana Jones” and “National Treasure” and the Bond films. Brown however emphasizes a higher degree of Intelligence from the reader, such that those of average IQ who complete the book will feel themselves so much smarter than “scientists.”

    Because “real” scientists reject Noetic Science, and Brown makes them feel smarter for having read the book. I mention the book because with 5 million copies in the first printing (which I do believe they will sell), I fully expect the book to be the most read in the next month, and just wish to prepare us for having this book and its conclusions brought up at dinner parties and other social get-togethers in the next month or two.

    Among the odder “Noetics” in the book is an experiment to measure the mass of the human soul. A dying man is put into an adult sized incubator similar to one we use with premature babies, with a highly sensitive scale. After he passes, his weight noticeably decreases by micrograms as his soul escapes. So says Noetics.

    I have finished the book and like it for what it is … fiction. Brown himself is no conspiracy theorist … the Scottish Rite Masons come off rather well except for the villain, who is mentally ill but sane enough to do great damage. The best part for me are the many puzzles it presents, most of which I could solve before Brown spills their beans 2 chapters ahead. The worst part for me is the New Age-presented-as-fact stuff. But in order to criticize I feel it important to read the book.

    “Truth is stranger than fiction; Fiction has to make sense.” … Leo Rosten

    Not necessarily.

  13. Vronsky says:

    An appropriate comment on the Dan Brown comments.

  14. Janne says:

    “Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.”
    -H.P. Lovecraft (The Dreams in the Witch House: And Other Weird Stories)

  15. Chris Long says:

    Look mac, these ain’t just higher dimensions, they’re wider, more luxurious dimensions. You interested? Best you’ll find on the black market.

  16. Ken McKenna says:

    The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר‎, lit Splendor or Radiance) is the central work of Kabbalah. It is a commentary on the Torah, written in medieval Aramaic. The Zohar is not one book, but a group of books; these books include scriptural interpretations as well as material on what some of its adherents term theosophic theology, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. Its scriptural interpretations have been described as an esoteric form of Midrash (Rabbinic commentary on the Tanach), a description that is consistent with the view of many Kabbalah cultists that it is the concealed part of the so-called “Oral Torah.”

    In its own weird way the Zohar advances a view of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of “true self” to the “light of God,” the relationship between the “universal energy” and man, and God-knows-what-else. In short, the “Complete Zohar” is a really rich literary and religious compost.

    But there’s no string theory there. A pity, that. Otherwise, I suppose, Madonna might be a string theorist. And while she may be a bit over the hill as an entertainer, her involvement might have really livened things up.

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