Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who ~Involution – An Odyssey reconciling Science to God by Philippa Rees.

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who ~Involution – An Odyssey reconciling Science to God by Philippa Rees.

Over several weeks, my reading matter was something totally out-of-the-ordinary, and I’d like to share with you the review I wrote for Amazon:

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who. That’s the only comparison I can make for the reading of Involution. It’s a wild ride across Time and Space (inner and outer), and the author accompanies you with the same infectious enthusiasm and love for humanity that the Doctor expresses. You are treated to the same expectation that you can and will keep up with the Doctor’s energy and understanding but also with the acceptance that at times you simply won’t be able to and it doesn’t matter as long as you are enjoying the ride and trust that you’re going in the right direction and experiencing the right things. There is also a LOT of wry, dry and self-deprecating humour as well as the same gentle, loving mockery of the foibles of the human race that the Doctor often expresses.

Yes, Involution is a poem and poetry has become something of an alien experience for many of us. I read almost all of it at the gym, while either on a treadmill or a static cycle because the rhythm of reading poetry is aided by physical movement. My favourite part was Canto Nine, where the great Serpent, personification of DNA, narrates and speaks directly to the reader. It’s a very profound feeling, as if the alien we feared turns out to be the saviour of the world, for most humans fear snakes and even loathe them.

The footnotes are very worth reading, especially if there were many parts of the book that had you thinking, I ought to know that but I don’t. They’re an education and a mind-expanding read in their own right; don’t miss them out as there are plenty of Aha! Moments there.

If you have read the other excellent reviews, you may find yourself feeling a little nervous of tackling a book that is often described as being erudite (and other similar epithets). Don’t be. Yes, the erudition is there, but no one is going to make you do an exam after and part of the point of it being in poetic form is that you absorb the key ideas simply by experiencing the poem. The people who will enjoy Involution most are those who, if the Doctor landed the Tardis in their garden and he came out and said casually, “Fancy a trip?” would say yes (with or without hesitation, it matters not; we’re only human and fears and doubts are part of that humanity) and head out to explore. This is not so much a book as a exciting adventure that only asks that you come along and see what the Universe has to offer.

You can find Involution at Amazon here: INVOLUTION

You can find Philippa here  at Twitter and at her blog 

Brave New World- a novel that can still shake the soul

 

Brave New World- by Aldous Huxley

There are books that have a long lasting and distinctly subversive effect on the psyche and it’s still a mystery to me why this book, Brave New World ended up on the ‘O’ level curriculum back in the 1980s. I read it first aged 14, and reading it again thirty years later, things I didn’t understand then have become much clearer. It’s in some ways a far bleaker book than Orwell’s 1984, which it often compared to for its futuristic slant and in other ways a much more hopeful depiction of the future of mankind.

The author was from a well known and talented family and with that sort of background, it seems inevitable that he would follow in a similarly gifted way. Published in 1932, when Huxley was 38, Brave New World has a visionary glimpse into things that were only barely becoming realities when I first read the book. Test tube babies, that exciting misnomer of the late 70s, are a reality in Brave New World; viviparous birth is a thing of the past. All babies are conceived and grown artificially; society is divided into a genetic caste system from conception. Not only your heredity determines who you are even before you are “decanted” (born) but in vitro conditioning controls a whole host of factors. Those who are to work in the tropics are conditioned from conception to cope with heat and are inoculated in the bottle against tropical diseases. If you belong to any caste below Beta, you are poisoned both by alcohol being added to your bottle(womb) and by having restricted oxygen. Social control is all about people loving what society wishes them to love, and what the society wants most is for people to be happy in their station in life.

Cloning(something that had been dreamed of when I first read the book) has become the norm for lower castes and twin groups of up to 96 identical individuals swarm around happily fulfilling their preordained roles. Sex is so far beyond the 1960s free love free-for-all; child sex is encouraged (“erotic play”) and monogamy is a dirty word. Contraception is everywhere, and many outwardly female people are actually Freemartins (guaranteed sterile and “apart from the slightest tendency to grow beards,” structurally normal.)

The first part of the book overwhelms with its vivid and plausible New World, where everyone is happy and clean and poverty and sickness are eradicated. I was utterly mesmerised and read it in one sitting, arriving at the shocking conclusion at about 2am, unable to sleep and since this was decades before the internet, with no one with whom I might discuss it. The central characters are introduced within the first few pages: Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne, and their friends and co-workers drew me into their world effortlessly, but the most important character does not appear until almost half way.

Bernard, the non-comforming Alpha plus, takes Lenina, his Beta squeeze of the moment on a week’s holiday to a Savage Reservation, a place in New Mexico where life is back in the stone age pretty much, with Indians living as they lived for thousands of years, maintained as a sort of museum and that is when the world really starts to unravel when they meet John (Savage), son of a “civilised” woman who got left behind some twenty or so years before, pregnant and without means of escape. Linda somehow managed to raise John amid the squalor of her surroundings but John can never fit into the society because he is white and considered the son of a whore. He is enchanted when he meets Bernard and Lenina and is allowed to return to civilisation with his mother. John learned to read from snatches of the Bible and a tattered copy of the complete works of Shakespeare and from these lost and now forbidden volumes learned all he believes about morals and ethics and life.

Returning to modern London proves to be an appalling ordeal, and at first John plays along with Bernard showing him off at parties, becoming more and more disenchanted with the brave new world(his words are Miranda’s from The Tempest) and the people in it. His unhappiness spills over and events unfold with the power and inevitability of a Greek tragedy. I sat and shook when I came to the end, disturbed beyond my teenage mind’s capability of articulating, and as a mature woman, I still feel something similar.

One of the central themes is social control. All people are conditioned from conception, and through childhood (with hypnopaedia, sleep teaching) to be happy with who and what they are and their role in life, and yet, even so, with the unlimited food, recreational drugs (soma) sex without taboos or commitment, there is a core of individuals, almost always those from the top caste of Alphas who find themselves feeling alienated from the values and the practises of the society. This is not dissimilar to 1984 but the world of Brave New World is centuries ahead in time and those who fail to fit in are exiled to islands (aside: this was the first time I had heard of the Falkland Islands, and within a short time, the Falklands War had broken out) to govern themselves and explore everything denied them in mainstream society, from pure sciences to philosophy to poetry and forbidden literature. There is no return from an island, because those who are sent to them are deemed disruptive elements. My feeling is that those Alphas sent away probably achieve a greater measure of happiness being square pegs among other square pegs, but also, the fact that a society with rigid social controls allows such people to live gives me hope, even within the confines of a novel, that greater things may await those ill fitting few when removed from the need to pretend that they conform. There is a great release of energy that comes when we are able to say, “Hell, no, that is not me. I will follow my path, not yours!”

This is a totally absorbing novel that is unputdownable even today and is filled with images that will haunt long after you have finished it. I can guarantee that having read it, you will look at our modern world with different eyes, because the seeds that Huxley saw lying dormant in the 20s and 30s and wove into the vision of the novel have begun to sprout at surprising speeds. Science is not the demon at work here, but something much subtler and more sinister.

I shall leave you to find it for yourself.

Lazy Science

I did a spell late last year of some tutoring in maths and science, which I enjoyed but found myself convinced that except for the biological sciences I was not cut out for a career in science, ever.

This poem I wrote today in celebration of this personal discovery. Enjoy!

Lazy Science

 

The mysteries of the universe

Are best explored by means of verse

Where stars that rise and stars that fall

Remain within the reach of all.

Science sometimes can be too much

For those of us who are out of touch

With latest theories and jargon cool

Or things we’ve all forgot since school.

Sometimes those wonders best remain

Unexplained, like summer rain.

Stillborn Dream

 

Stillborn dream

 

Last night I dreamed I bore a babe,

Born twenty weeks too soon: and dead.

I grieved awake as much as if

I’d truly born a child that day.

The day went on, I soon forgot

The heat of loss, the chill of grief.

But underneath the wound was deep

And I’m still weeping in my sleep.

 

We’ve all had dreams like that where we wake and feel awful for the whole day afterwards, the contents and the mood of the dream putting a heavy downer on the day.

A few nights ago on BBC2 Horizon, the popular science programme,  devoted a whole programme to dreams and dreaming, focussing largely on why we dream.  I’ve always believed that dreams are vital to us and in many ways and the new research backed this up.

Until quite recently it was thought that we dream only during REM sleep but it has since been discovered that we do dream in nonREM sleep too. They found this out by the process of wiring people up and then waking them during different sleep phases and asking them if they were dreaming! Now the clever part of the experiment was that when people were woken from both REM and nonREM sleep, they were asked to immediately fill in a questionaire that consisted of completing words for which only the first three letters were given. A lot of number crunching went on and it was discovered that those woken from non REM sleep generally produced words that were positively rated and those from REM sleep, chose words that were negatively rated. For example a REM waker would complete INT as intolerable and a nonREM waker the same letters as interesting. I don’t recall the exact figures but I seem to remember that 80% of the REM wakers’ responses were negative words, and about 20% of the nonREM wakers’ words were negative. 

Now, this is the part I got quite excited about!

They continued the experiment and incorporated volunteers who were suffering from depression as well as those who were not. Because they could study people in sleep, it was discovered that those with depression had more periods of REM sleep than those without; the cycle of REM/NonREM was totally different and usually ended with a REM cycle immediately before waking.

I was staggered by this. If they could find a way of rebalancing the cycles, then surely the depression would ease? My own experience of the kind of questions asked by psychiatrists to assess depression is that they always ask whether you wake in a low mood and then get slowly better or vice versa. If clinical depression (that is non reactive depression) is caused by an excess of REM sleep(and dreams) then this would account for the fact that in the last fifty or so years, there has been a steady rise in cases of depression at the same time as a steady drop in the average number of hours we sleep. Maybe we need more sleep and less alarm clock calls, to let our bodies reset their natural pattern.

It’s worth thinking about.

 

by Viv