Friday, 8 February 2013

A Little Bit of Woo

I was reading Joanne Harris' book Runelight when the mad old woman character was talking about the old stories and how they had been corrupted. She was talking about how the land of Roast Beef was a corruption of the land of Bif Rost the land beyond the bridge (p229). She also talked about the world serpent curled with its tail in its mouth (p220). It was one of those moments when I felt inspired and I realised that perhaps we always need a bit of woo to inspire us and give us intuition.

One of my heroes of science Conrad Waddington used the symbol of the snake swallowing its own tail in an article in Towards a Theoretical Biology. But he was not thinking of the Norse Gods, he was thinking of the Egyptian, then Greek and Gnostic legend of the Ouroboros. Then that connects in my mind to Red Dwarf. So Waddington definitely had a few woo ideas.

I had also recently read a Schumacher Briefing by Meyer on Contraction and Convergence and then I went to the website of the GCI the organisation that he founded. Just look at the publications page for the worst case of inappropriate woo I have seen in a long time. This geometrical craziness undermines the sense of the contraction and convergence arguments, but the author felt the need to make the connection. Why did he do that?

This got me thinking. Newton was obsessed by alchemy, Einstein believed that God did not play dice, Lovelock's Gaia has too much association with Earth goddesses, Bohm was also a very spiritual physicist. There is a need for a bit of woo in many scientists because they want it to make a great story and to be at least a little poetic and illogical.

In film Terry Gilliam makes this argument against the pure logic and reason of the "Enlightenment" in both Baron Muchausen and The Brothers Grimm (Jonathan Pryce gets to play the evil forces of reason in both cases). Stephen King makes the same attack in The Stand where Randall Flag is the force of blind science and inhuman reason while Mother Abigail is the earthly ecological spiritual leader for good. In Star Trek we all prefer Captain Kirk to Mr Spock because too much logic makes hus inhuman.  We do not live by pure reason.

All of these stories can also be connected to the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail - of the Hero with a thousand faces and the Masks of God by Joseph Campbell (another inspirational book I read as an undergraduate). These in turn were the inspiration for George Lucas to write Star Wars and to create the character Darth Vader - the one who balances the force. This is the Yin and Yang the dragon swallowing its tale again.

No comments: