Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol:
(A Discussion of the underlying spiritual and scientific ideas in the book)

Dan Brown’s new best seller, The Lost Symbol (Doubleday, 2009) displays Brown’s usual fast-paced cliff-hanger plot. It also is filled with edgy references, direct and indirect, to many subject areas of New Age philosophy and quantum physics research. Given that the plot centers on the well-known influences of Freemasonry on Washington, D.C. architecture and city planning, Brown also provides a fairly complete explanation of the Masonic traditions woven cleverly into the story so that it isn’t just a didactic discourse.

My only complaint about Brown’s novels is that he doesn’t provide a bibliography of his sources, and quite obviously he has many. A few times he mentions authors and their works in his books, but not often. Many of his references to new thought, philosophies, and science are brief and so cleverly interwoven with the plot, most readers unfamiliar with the subjects will just gloss over them. On the other hand, millions of readers will, with these mentions, get somewhat acquainted with topics they might not have previously discovered.

In this discussion I would like to provide some sources for these ideas and topics that float through The Lost Symbol. Some are clearly ones that Brown has used in writing this book. Others may be similar sources that readers might like to peruse on topics that seem interesting to them. I’ll do this presentation by quoting briefly the Brown reference with page numbers, and then I’ll note one or more sources that relate to that reference. For a few topics I just make some additional comments. Note: when I use italics within a quotation, they are the author’s.

This might be a good place to note that when the first hints of Dan Brown’s forthcoming book leaked out about five years ago, various authors wrote books presenting background they expected Brown to use. Also they thought the new title would be “The Solomon Key.” One of the best such books is:
DaVinci in America: Unlocking the Secrets of Dan Brown’s The Solomon Key by Greg Taylor (Daily Grail Publishing, 2004).
For an overview of much in this book that refers to the “Ancient Mysteries,” there is no better source than the encyclopedic work:
The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall (Jeremy Tarcher / Penguin, 1988, 2003).

First, I would ask readers to notice the name of the villain of this book: Mal’akh. The root “mal” is easily recognizable as the word suggesting evil, as in words like malice, malevolent, and malefactor. “Akh” is an Egyptian root referring to a dead spirit. The name reinforces the character’s evil malevolence throughout the book.

Brown makes several references to astrology in his story. He notes that “the Capitol cornerstone [was] laid while Caput Draconis was in Virgo.” (29) “Caput Draconis” is Latin for what astrologers call the Dragon’s Head or the North Node. There is no need to give long explanations here beyond the fact that the North Node in a horoscope indicates, for spiritually oriented astrologers, what the individual, place, or nation, is destined to move toward in its most positive evolution or development. Clearly, the founders of the United States of America were concerned with positive future outcomes for the nation’s Capitol. Brown, through his main character, Professor Robert Langdon, notes the “coincidence” that the “cornerstones of the three structures that make up Federal Triangle—the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument—were all laid in different years but were carefully timed to occur under this exact same astrological condition.”(29)

This comment refers to facts presented in great detail in a book, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital: The Masons and the Building of Washington, D.C. by David Ovason (Harper Collins, 2000). In that 500-page, highly detailed book, readers learn that images of the astrological sign of Virgo dominate in the city of Washington, D.C. Author Ovason concludes that ancient ideas associated with Virgo—the Virgin, Vestal Virgins, Isis, and the Virgin Mary—all hark back to a “vision of a civilized mankind.” (Ovason 377)
His argument is highly complex, but quite fascinating. How strange, for instance, that the cornerstones of the Capitol, the White House, and the Washington Monument were all laid when either the Sun was at 23 degrees Virgo or when other planets were in that degree. Without doubt, whoever was directing the planning of Washington, D.C. not only had a considerable knowledge of astrology, but also had a vested interest in emphasizing the role of the sign Virgo. (Ovason 65)

Throughout his early chapters Brown takes pains to explain facts about Masonry for his general readers. He does this via a lecture, recalled by Langdon, that includes a discussion with Langdon’s students. The general myth about the Masons is that it is some kind of cult-like secret society. Brown puts that idea to rest with his explanations. Most general readers may be surprised to discover that so many of our honored forefathers were Masons, including the Father of our Country George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and the architect designer of Washington, D.C., Pierre L’Enfant. (Chapter 6) Professor Langdon emphasizes that “Masonry is open to men of all races, colors, and creeds, and provides a spiritual fraternity that does not discriminate in any way.” (32) He compares this
to our current age “when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better.” (31) Readers will find many books about Masons available at any bookstore. A classic book about the Masons and Washington, D.C. is:
The Secret Destiny of America by Manly P. Hall (The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. (1944,1972).

Brown makes an indirect reference to the Mayan Calendar and all the current concern about the significance of 2012 (53-54). He notes that “now, as has been prophesied, there was a change coming . . . . This moment had been . . . prophesied . . . by the primeval calendars, and even by the stars themselves. The date was specific, its arrival imminent. It would be preceded by a brilliant explosion of knowledge.” (53-54) Readers can find an endless number of books on the subject of the Mayan Calendar and the year 2012. Some are listed below:
Apocalypse 2012 by Lawrence E. Joseph (Morgan Road Books, 2007).
Fractal Time: The Secret of 2012 and a New World Age by Gregg Braden (Hay House, 2009).
The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness by Carl Joan Callerman, Ph.D. (Bear and Company, 2004).
The Mayan Code: Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind by Barbara Hand Clow (Bear and Company, 2007).
The Mayan Prophecies by Adrian G. Gilbert (Element, 1995).

One of the main characters in The Lost Symbol is Katherine Solomon, who is identified as a “Noetic Scientist.” Brown reports “the basic ideology of Noetic Science [is] the untapped potential of the human mind.” (55) Later he defines noetic as “translating roughly to ‘inner knowledge’ or ‘intuitive consciousness,’” (74) He makes direct reference to the real-life Institute of Noetic Sciences (founded by ex-astronaut, Dr. Edgar Mitchell) in California and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab (PEAR) and their studies that “had categorically proven that human thought, if properly focused, had the ability to affect and change physical mass.” (55) These experiments proved that “our thoughts actually interacted with the physical world, whether or not we knew it, affecting change all the way down to the subatomic realm.” (56) This proves (to Prof. Langdon) the old idea of “mind over matter.”

Readers can learn more about IONS at their website:
Subscribers to their monthly e-zine would discover that in the October, 2009 issue, IONS writes enthusiastically about Dan Brown’s discussion of noetic science in his new book. They expect that “the field of noetic science will receive considerably more scrutiny than it has in the past” and they are happy about that. They also note numerous television programs, such as on NBC Dateline (Oct. 16) and Discovery Channel will focus on the symbolism in the book and will feature IONS scientists in the discussion groups. Below are two excellent recent books based on the research programs at IONS:
Living Deeply, edited by Marilyn M. Schlitz, Ph.D., et al (New Harbinger Publications and Noetic Books, 2007).
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer (New Harbinger Publications and Noetic Books, 2007).

Readers might also like to check out the website for the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research program. See:
Their website notes that the PEAR program “has completed its experimental agenda of studying the interaction of human consciousness with sensitive physical devices, systems, and processes” and is moving into the “broader venue of the International Consciousness Research Laboratories (ICRL).

In his discussion about new discoveries regarding human consciousness, Dan Brown mentions noetic author Lynne McTaggart, author of The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World (Simon & Schuster, 2007), who claimed that “human consciousness . . . was a substance outside the confines of the body . . . a highly ordered energy capable of changing the physical world.” (56) McTaggart also sponsored a global, web-based study (at “aimed at discovering how human intention could affect the world.” (56) Readers will also learn a lot more about human consciousness studies in:
Bridging Science and Spirit by Norman Friedman (Living Lake Books, 1990).
Cosmic Consciousness by Richard M. Bucke, M.D. (E.P. Dutton, 1901).
The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav (Harper Collins, 1979)
The Evolution of Consciousness by Rudolf Steiner (Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1979).
The Field by Lynn McTaggart (Harper Collins, 2002).
Mind into Matter: A New Alchemy of Science and Spirit by Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D. (Moment Point Press, 2001).
The Spectrum of Consciousness by Ken Wilbur (Theosophical Publishing House, 1977).

Dan Brown, through the character of Noetic Scientist Katherine Solomon and her brother Peter, also refers to various aspects of quantum physics and its relation to new theories of metaphysics, such as entanglement theory (58). He notes that “subatomic research had now proven categorically that all matter was interconnected . . . entangled in a single unified mesh . . . a kind of universal oneness.” (58) A discussion reveals that ancient philosophies contained similar ideas. Katherine, at one point in the story, introduces the concept of thought as things. She says, hypothetically, “What if I told you that a thought . . . any tiny idea that forms in your mind . . . actually has mass? What if I told you that a thought is an actual thing, a measurable entity, with a measurable mass? . . . What are the implications?” (76)
Readers interested in learning more along this line could check out:
Entangled Minds by Dean Radin, Ph.D. (Paraview Pocket Books 2006).
Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality can Change Us and Our World by Ervin Laszlo (Inner Traditions, 2008).
Science and the Re-enchantment of the Cosmos by Ervin Laszlo, (Inner Traditions, 2006).
The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World by Amit Goswami, Ph.D. (Jeremy P. Tarcher/ Putnam 1995).

Art and its symbology played a significant part in Brown’s previous best sellers, The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. It turns up in several places in The Lost Symbol as well. One fascinating point begins with a pointing hand that is part of the plot. Readers learn through the main character Langdon: “This pointing-hand gesture—with its index finger and thumb extended upward—is a well-known symbol of the Ancient Mysteries, and it appears all over the world in ancient art. This same gesture appears in three of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous encoded masterpieces—The Last Supper, Adoration of the Magi, and Saint John the Baptist. It’s a symbol of man’s mystical connection to God.” (87) He refers to this symbology as referencing the idea of “As above, so below.” One can also see this in Raphael’s School of Athens. Another fascinating art reference is to the “magic square,” an ancient Suduko-like puzzle in Albrecht Durer’s famous engraving, Melencolia I (1514). (See p. 262).

It is quite fascinating to ponder that the villain of Brown’s book is intent on stopping all the change and potential progress that could follow humanity’s growing understanding of the mind, consciousness, and human heritage. He thinks,” I cannot let that happen. The world must stay as it is . . . adrift in ignorant darkness.”(100) In effect, Mal’akh becomes symbolic himself, a symbol of any force that fights enlightenment. In a later section, he worries that Katherine’s noetic experiments could answer “ancient philosophical questions” for humans and “a fundamental shift would begin in the consciousness of man.” (208) This is, of course, a reference to the predicted “shift” in the books about 2012 and the Mayan Calendar.

Ultimately, Dan Brown leaves readers with an optimistic perspective. Late in his book he refers to esoteric philosopher, Manly P. Hall, who said, “If the infinite had not desired man to be wise, he would not have bestowed upon him the faculty of knowing.” (501) Character Katherine Solomon says, “If thoughts affect the world, then we must be very careful how we think.” (501) The potential presented in the story comes from Katherine as well: “We have scientifically proven that the power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought. . . . The idea of universal consciousness is . . . a hard-core scientific reality . . . and harnessing it has the potential to transform our world.”

The idea is presented: “God is found in the collection of Many . . . rather than in the One.” (504) Aha! “E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one,” the motto of the United States of America. Perhaps it means more than a collection of states. It seems to provide something important for the author: “Hope.” (509)