Enjoying Some Early-Autumn Kettle Corn


I ragged on Dan Brown a bit in my last mention of The Lost Symbol. After reading it, I’d like to give him props for attempting to do something extremely difficult: seek out the universal truths demonstrated within six millennia of human history and distill them into a pop-fiction adventure. I get the sense that he buys into the idea that there are absolute truths out there and that he is trying to convince his readers.

In my case, he was preaching to the choir. This is the whole purpose of my reading the canon of Western Civilization – to determine what is true and what is not. Whether I’ll find Truth is unclear, but I believe that the search itself will be life-changing. And I also believe Truth exists, whether I’m capable of finding it or not.

I want to share with you a passage that had me laughing because I’m apparently on a wavelength with Dan Brown:

“Arabic?” Anderson asked. “They look like normal numbers.”

“Our normal numbers are Arabic.” Langdon had become so accustomed to clarifying this point for his students that he’d actually prepared a lecture about the scientific advances made by early Middle Eastern cultures, one of them being our modern numbering system, whose advantages over Roman numerals included ‘positional notation’ and the invention of the number zero. Of course, Langdon always ended this lecture with a reminder that Arab culture had also given mankind the world al-kuhl – the favorite beverage of Harvard freshmen – known as alcohol.

There were more of these overlaps between what I’ve been studying and what Brown had to say. That’s really not surprising given we’re drawing from the same canon. It is fun, though.

One annoying mistake was the repeated mention by scientist characters of the “fact” that the explorers proved the earth was spherical. Humans have known the earth is spherical since ancient times. Not only did they have the always-circular shadow of eclipses to go on, but watching ships sail into the horizon makes earth’s curvature pretty obvious. First the bottom of the ship disappears, then the lower part of the mast goes, and then the sail. And they eventually come back, meaning the ship didn’t fall off the edge. Three thousand years ago, natural philosophers were arguing not whether the earth was spherical but rather the circumference of that sphere.

I’m going to assume Dan Brown knows this, which makes me more annoyed that he would perpetuate a myth – especially when he’s written a book to make us believe other myths as truths. My mind goes back to Augustine: how can you convince people that what you say is right when you cite an example that is obviously wrong?

Perhaps I am too harsh. This is genre fiction, not a revelation.

Nonetheless, it was a fun read. Formulaic and predictable, but fun. It’s definitely popcorn for the brain.

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1 reply

  1. Ah, but HOW spherical is it? :P After all, the Earth bulges slightly at the Equator thanks to that spinning thing it does…

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