The Lost Meaning

A little bit over two years ago, I bought an iPhone 3GS and installed the Amazon Kindle app on it. Before I had the chance to, you know, try out the app itself, I bought a book for the Kindle: The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown.

Then I tried to read the book on my phone. The screen was far too small for me to have a reasonably enjoyable reading experience.

I actually got a Kindle over the holidays last month so I took it upon myself to read the book I had bought back in ’09, but hadn’t heretofore read.

Now I’d like to underscore that I’ve actually read all of Dan Brown’s books, and that I like The Da Vinci Code.

One thing that the Da Vinci Code does, is it puts forward a theory, completely unproveable, but a theory that effectively tries to fill in the gaps associated with the Biblical story of Jesus. The gaps in the story themselves are significant and require an outrageous amount of, well, faith, to accept. Long story short and simply put, relying solely on faith for the story can very easily lead someone to think that someone’s not being entirely honest.

Of course, that’s the stuff conspiracy theories are made of, isn’t it?

Even if you don’t accept the message of any given conspiracy theory (as very few such theories are burdened with, you know, actual facts), one “plus” that I have to give to conspiracy theories as a whole is that they are good at helping us find the gaps in the official story. Sometimes a gap is just a gap, and we’ll never know the full truth simply because the truth either isn’t available or it’s not relevant. Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Probably. Could he have had a conversation with someone else, that pushed him over the edge to commit the act? Sure. Why not?

Sometimes it’s not the conspiracy theory that requires our attention. It’s the gaps that are filled in by the conspiracy theory. And that’s what The Da Vinci Code did, masterfully.

And that’s why The Lost Meaning is such a disappointment. It tackles a topic that’s rife for the kind of exploration that the Da Vinci Code did: Freemasonry.

I’m not a mason and have no insight into the workings of this organization. I accept that it’s an organization with secrets (something that Brown himself underscored in one particular chapter, drawing a distinction between that and a secret society, which the Masons most certainly are not…)

Sadly, there are no real gaps in official stories that are artfully filled in, with this novel. It hypothesizes as to what kinds of secrets the Masons hold, and the net result is extremely unsatisfying: the bible as the source of some greater, as-yet-untapped truth.

To get an idea as to how silly this book really is, it tries to conflate the teachings of Buddhism with Judaism by pointing out the (English only) word “atonement” (like in Yom Kippur) with “at-one-ment” (e.g., a zen state of being at one with the universe). That wordplay trick works in English but I can’t think of it working in any other language, not the least of which would be Hebrew, Yiddish, Japanese, or Hindi…

It also delves a little bit into favoring Noetics. Now I’m no scientist but it doesn’t take much to look at the web page for the Institute of Noetic Sciences to recognize that the use of the word “science” here is by a very loose and liberal definition of the word. Specifically, it postulates that human thoughts actually have weight. If we look at the history of human thought, philosophy, and technological advances, we have almost always stood on the shoulders of those who came before us, making minor advances over what the previous giants had accomplished. Just eyeballing the contents of their web page, leaves me with a sense that they’d have a very hard time getting their research published in any scientific journals because, well, I don’t see how their experiments are repeatable and I don’t see how it can be falsified. Both of those are essential for the recognition of sound science.

So at its most fundamental level, the book The Lost Symbol asks the question: is it possible that the reason why the Bible has survived as long as it has, is because it contains some hidden message encoded in it? I have to begrudgingly answer, “Yes, it’s possible,” even though Ockham’s Razor isn’t on the side of that answer. Much more likely is the combination of people not having actually read the book, and forcing what people do know, on the next generation, telling them not to question anything.

If we strip away the metaphysical and the silly stuff, the novel is still a game of cat and mouse with a talented criminal being chased by the cops and the CIA, and every one wants Robert Langdon to help them out. Sadly, I found this part of the plot contrived and more than a little bit predictable. The moment I learned that Langdon’s friend’s son had been killed in a Turkish prison, and that the bad guy was going after Langdon’s friend, I saw where it was all going. The novel went on much further than it needed to. After the bad guy lost, it went on for too long afterwards.

And of course, every time I saw the part about the Turkish prison, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Airplane. “Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish Prison?”

I know I’m a bit late in getting this review out but I’m really disappointed in Dan Brown with this book.

Of course, I’ve heard that it’s going to be made into a movie. Like The Da Vinci Code, it will be butchered by Ron Howard, an overrated director if there ever was one.

Maybe I’m being unfair to Ron Howard. After all, I can count on one finger the number of quality movies he’s made. Maybe he could turn a mediocre book into something worthwhile. Who knows?


One response to “The Lost Meaning

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for the review. I’m actually more curious about the book, now that you have said that it’s a failure. Maybe it’s just morbid curiosity?

    Although I was raised Catholic, my best friend growing up was Methodist (she’s an atheist now.) When we were teenagers she got involved in the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls- “Rainbow Girls”. It’s a Masonic order for teenage girls and us the counterpart to DeMolay- the order for teenage boys.

    I was only a member for a few years, but the experience left me with a curiosity about the Masons and Masonic ritual. I’ve got a few books on it, but haven’t read anything in years. I think my curiosity is satisfied- mostly. But I do feel an echo of it whenever I come across a bit of Masonic based fiction.

    Anyway… It’s kind of a bummer that this one falls flat.

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