Monday, October 5, 2009

The Science of The Lost Symbol

Like Dan Brown's other books that creatively use scientific ideas within the storyline, in the end "The Lost Symbol" is a work of fiction, and so is most of the science it contains.

Dan Brown's latest book, "The Lost Symbol," is woven with a maze of secretive plots, conspiracies, symbols and codes. "Symbol" is another thriller by Brown that draws inspiration from a mixture of science and mysticism.

One of the main characters is a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution's vast support center, a location that is off-limits to the public. The real science in "Symbol" takes a turn toward fiction when Brown suggests that noetics -- a metaphysical discipline that attempts to examine the connection between human and supernatural intelligence -- will revolutionize human knowledge. The "research" is based on the work of institutions that were formed in the late 1970s, during the height of New Age mysticism.

The researcher becomes interested in noetics when her brother mentions that many ancient texts contain ideas that could be considered similar to the discoveries of modern science. Modern ideas such as quantum entanglement, string theory and multiple universes are presented as parallel to content mentioned in the writings of early philosophers. The book repeatedly tries to connect actual science with mysticism, even weaving in Albert Einstein's thoughts on cosmological religion.

The fictional Smithsonian lab that Brown creates is a sleek and full of modern, cutting-edge technology. Hydrogen fuel cells power the vast dark space of the archive, and data is stored via holographic servers.

Most of these advances are at least plausible. Holographic data storage is not yet financially feasible for conventional computer markets, though it has been produced commercially for limited applications. Hydrogen fuel cells exist and can store power-making components longer than chemical batteries can, but not for the hundreds of years suggested by the book. "Symbol" cites a few real scientific treasures housed by the Smithsonian, such as a Mars rock meteorite, a 40 foot giant squid, and some of Charles Darwin's original collections.

But like Brown's other books, while creative in their use of science and scientific ideas, "Symbol" is, in the end, a work of fiction, and so is most of the science it contains.

By Martha Heil
Inside Science News Service
Community News You Can Use
Follow us on Twitter: @gafrontpage

No comments: