This book is essential, first and for all because of the picture on the cover, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. That’s the most folkloric and anecdotic aspect of the book. It is all based on some famous and important places and monuments in Spain and only Spain, with a fair share in Catalonia, which is Spain. I will not enumerate all the places. There are too many apart from this church in Barcelona, but let me give the second most important place, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Let’s say here that, if we only look at the touristic places covered by and described in the book, then we will fall in the touristic trap this aspect constitutes and then the book is no better than a guide for uncultivated people to whom a benevolent author is providing some cultural enrichment. The book is so much more than that, even if it is that too.
This novel is entirely centered on the Roman Catholic Church and its renegades of the Palmarian Church, a sect of some sort that was born in Spain, rejects the Roman Popes and pretends to retain the true Catholic if not Christian faith. They are extremely sectarian, a band of fundamentalists who believe science has to be rejected and destroyed because it destroys faith and God himself. At the same time, they are mostly survivors of the Franco era, more than conservative, actually advocating violence against the non-believers.
So we are not surprised with the reference to Churchill understood as meaning Church [on the] Hill on the model of Montjuïc understood page 444 as meaning either “Hill of the Jews” in Catalan or “Hill of Jove” in Latin. And this explains the meaning of the email address of the clandestine and anonymous informer all along, firstname.lastname@example.org, this time in Spanish meaning the church on the hill. This can even go slightly farther with the reference to the Jews in Catalan. Edmond Kirsch, the mad scientist or technician of the book, has a name that is very important because it has two meanings again: “Firstly, it may be of German origin, being either a topographical name for someone who lived near a cherry orchard or a wild cherry tree, or it may be a metonymic occupational name for a gatherer or seller of cherries, or it may be a nickname for a person with a ruddy complexion, all deriving from the Germanic Kirsh (Baum) meaning cherry (tree). Secondly, it may be of Hebrew origin being an Askenazic ornamental name, one of the many taken from words for trees and other features of the natural world.” (http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Kirsch#ixzz4yLqLqorn) When we know the importance of trees, forests, woods, real or manmade like the forest of columns in Sagrada Familia, we are not surprised by the Jewish connection, especially since page 452 Dan Brown refers to The Singularity without naming the main name attached to the concept, Ray Kurzweil, who is a Jewish inventor and developer who dedicated a lot of time and energy to write about that magic moment when machines will be more intelligent than men and he calls this moment with a mathematic concept, The Singularity.
A last note on this Edmond Kirsch, with the meaning of the word given by the Urban Dictionary: “A Kirsch is usually very ambitious, funny, and happy. They are easily stressed out, though. If you are a Kirsch you are often creative, smart, and witty as well: That kid is way too smart! Obviously, he’s a Kirsch.” (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Kirsch)
That naturally leads us to the very beginning of the book as much as to the very end.
The most surprising element at the beginning is that Parliament of the World’s Religions in which Edmond Kirsch invites himself to meet three representatives of three religions: Bishop Valdespino, Rabbi Yehuda Köves and Allamah Syed al-Fadl, the Catholic religion, seen as the only Christian religion, the Jewish religion and the Islamic religion that we can consider Sunni. These three religions all started in Palestine. They are the three Semitic religion by their origins. The book is clear on that point. Page 87–88, Edmond Kirsch mentions the other religions of the world that are all disappearing or have all disappeared, and among these, he lists Hinduism, a polytheistic religion that does not seem to be vanishing, and Buddhism that is even less vanishing than all other religions since the Buddhists are reaching out to the whole world. And these two living religions are lost in a list that contains the old Egyptian religions, the old Greek religions and the old Roman religions, all polytheistic. With that reduction of the religions of the world to only three, even if we take into account the various variants within each one of them, we are far from covering the whole humanity and Asia is particularly rejected out of humanity. That is West-centered and particularly NOT postcolonial. It is in fact a good old neo-colonial approach, especially since both the Rabbi and the Allamah are assassinated by the only assassin in this book, the Regent who is slightly excused at the end for several of his ordered assassinations, including that of Edmond Kirsch himself and those of Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal, future Queen of Spain, and these last two assassinations failed due to a pure miracle, what is called a Deus ex Machina in good old dramatic technique, something totally impossible in real life. But that Regent is not excused at all for the Rabbi and Allamah’s deaths. A shortcoming, you say? Oh yes, there are several, including twice the mention of the President of Spain page 139 and 140. I would have sworn Spain had a King as head of state, and since the king and his son are central in the whole novel, how could a President pop up in those two pages?
Such small mistakes are small and can be neglected but they are bizarre since this book was supposedly edited by a real editor. I guess that editor did not know Spain does not have a President but the head of the government is a Prime Minister. Mariano Rajoy is the President of his own party but has as such no official role in the country, certainly not that of a person who could officially reject some allegations leveled against Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal, not to mention Prince Juan, the future King of Spain.
But let’s get to more serious things.
The vision of the emergence of Homo Sapiens is totally erroneous. Once again all that is more or less attributed to Edmond Kirsch, but we know he is a character and the author behind should have been more cautious and not take Edmond Kirsch’s word for granted, true, undebatable, or Dan Brown could have enriched his character by updating his views on many subjects that are at least superficially covered by this technician who is no real scientist except in computing technology. Homo Sapiens started emerging at least 300,000 years ago. The book says 200,000 BC (page 406). The fable of a human leap at 65,000 BC or years ago is also a myth because Homo Sapiens started moving out of his nest or nests in Black Africa at least 180,000 or 200,000 years ago to Northern Africa. He was attested in the Levant up to 80,000 years ago, retired from the Levant then and was only to return 35,000 years ago. This is essential because all Homo Sapiens going through the Middle East to move essentially to Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia met Neanderthals in these out of Africa regions and started mixing their genes with them there. On the other hand, some other Homo Sapiens that migrated through Pakistan and directly to Asia met Denisovans in Central Asia and mixed with them genetically spreading their genes along with their migration right through to Melanesia and maybe beyond.
We are dealing here with migrations that occurred from at least 180,000 years ago to 45,000 years ago or slightly later, definitely before the peak of the Ice Age in 19,000 BC.
But this mythical vision of the emergence of Homo Sapiens asserted by Edmond Kirsch as absolutely true goes even farther in this line of impossible improbability and today this has been proved over and over again. Page 404 Edmond Kirsch, or Winston, his Artificial Intelligence being, or Dan Brown present the filiation of Homo Sapiens in one sequence: Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Sapiens and a visual chart shows them directly one skull after another. This is absolutely false.
Homo Faber or Ergaster was already a migrating species who left Africa very early to go quite far since some of his bones were found in Northern Caucasus. That explains why three species evolved from the same base but not at the same time and not in the same place. Homo Neanderthalensis evolved from Homo Faber in the Middle East and moved to Europe long before Homo Sapiens was out of Africa. Homo Denisovan evolved from Homo Faber in Central Asia, Mongolia, and Siberia, and though recently discovered and identified, this species is not directly descending from Homo Neanderthalensis or vice versa. They are two branches evolving from the same trunk, Homo Faber. These Homo Denisovans moved into Siberia and Asia, though we do not know how far. Homo Sapiens evolved long after these first two species, and evolved in Africa, in fact in what is today black Africa and they moved out of this Black Africa, first to Northern Africa and slightly beyond like Crete where some Homo Sapiens remnants have been found dated to 160,000 years ago or BC. At that time the waters were very high and that is quite a nice distance from Libya to Crete. Starting around 100,000 or 120,000 years ago the next migrations out of Africa went essential from the Horn of Africa, along the Southern Arabia corridor to what is today Ormuz, Iran and Pakistan, a first migration moving up to Central Asia and then the whole of Asia, meeting Homo Denisovan, then a later migration around 70–60,000 years ago moving to the Middle East where they met with Homo Neanderthalensis. It is the first wave of this later migration that will go to Europe and a second wave slightly later will remain mostly on the Iranian plateau and will only move after the Ice Age, west to Europe, the Indo-Europeans, and East to India, the Indo Aryans. In both cases, they found Homo Sapiens populations that were from previous migrations and had arrived or migrated there long before them and before the Ice Age anyway.
That explains then how primitive Edmond Kirsch is in his programming of his computer transformed into a virtual time machine. The parameters quoted page 404 are the size of the brain, spatial recognition, range of vocabulary, long-term memory, processing speed. This is not Homo Sapiens. It is a mechanical reduction of a human being to a robot that can be programmed. Spatial recognition is essential but has little to do with temporal recognition and there is no memory, especially long-term memory, if temporal recognition is not reconstructed into temporal awareness, just the same way as spatial recognition has to be reconstructed into spatial awareness, both being abstract architectures. How is that possible? It is possible because of what Edmond Kirsch does not understand, i.e. that the brain is nothing but an organ, with its architecture that enables man to process sensations into perceptions and into recognition or identification of patterns. And that is where the most important element is neglected, overlooked, reduced to the range of the vocabulary. That is not human language which is articulated, has three articulations, a lexicon for sure based on vowels and consonants, but a whole categorial and syntactic architecture abstracted from the communicational situation Homo Sapiens is in from the very start, from the moment he is becoming a bipedal long distance fast runner, which takes him out of the primeval forest and this is only possible because of genetic mutations that little by little makes him what he has become, a bipedal long distance fast runner with a deep larynx, a rich innervation of the subglottal area, a complex coordination of various bodily functions and organs, along with all types of sensors to enable him to run upright. This means the smaller brain of Homo Sapiens is in fact 11% bigger than the brain of Homo Neanderthalensis when compared to the mass of their bodies, what we call EQ. Hence language is a side effect of this transformation but it can certainly not be reduced to a lexicon of any size at all.
A last remark on this unrealistic vision of the past when Edmond Kirsch pretends: “This leap in quality is akin to the three-thousand-year evolution from cave drawings to Michelangelo’s masterpieces.” (page 402) The attested cave paintings that have survived because they were or still are in caves, hence in some protected environment (all that was on less durable media or in less protected areas has, of course, disappeared, implying that this artistic dimension of Homo Sapiens probably started a long time before these attested cave paintings), are dated as starting ALL OVER THE WORLD between 45,000 and 35,000 BC, hence the leap to Michelangelo is not three thousand years but at least 36,500 years. Such mistakes discredit Edmond Kirsch or his doppelganger Winston, the AI ghost of his master, or Dan Brown who should have corrected the erroneous assertion.
Sorry, Edmond Kirsch, even if your name refers to a tree, a cherry tree among other big trees, you have a name similitude with the German “Kirche” and you sure are a scientific fundamentalist. In fact, a technocratic computerizing fundamentalist mind. And that makes your prediction of the future absurd.
First, you speak of life but for you, life is exclusively human life. You only mention non-mineral and non-human life forms page 408. All along you only speak of at best animal but in reality human life. Page 408 you quote the six kingdoms of Life from Animalia to Fungi, but you forget the cosmic and geological lives. The cosmos is alive. The mineral world is alive. Mountains grow up because of cosmic forces and mountains grow down because of erosion and decomposition. All that is pushed aside. The questions you ask are simply absurd. Page 53: “where do we come from and where are we going?” Page 187: “Why is evolution happening and how did it all start?” And you mean the evolution that produced us after vegetal an animal life appeared. The rest is reduced to some kind of primeval soup that is going to produce life and thus is seen as NOT alive. Page 237: “Gauguin. D’où venons-nous / Que sommes-nous / Où allons-nous. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” The references to Nietzsche and Blake are just circumstantial since neither is a scientist of any sort. It is true William Blake provides the final liberating password that enables the second part of the presentation to be released to several hundred million listeners. But it is not science. It is poetry. It is good suspense in the story but no real argument.
The prediction from Edmond Kirsch is similar to that from Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity. It is a redigested or regurgitated vision of the Messianic Jerusalem that we find in the Old Testament as a promise that will never be fulfilled, in the New Testament and the Book of Revelation as a promise that will only come on the basis of the full destruction of this world, and of course in Karl Marx with his description of communism. Page 411–412 we have the same vision as in Kurzweil’s The Singularity and in Karl Marx:
“A future where technology had become so inexpensive and ubiquitous that it erased the gap between the haves and the have-nots. A future where environmental technologies provided billions of people with drinking water, nutritious food, and access to clean energy. A future where diseases like Edmond’s cancer were eradicated, thanks to genomic medicine. A future where the awesome power of the Internet was finally harnessed for education, even in the most remote corners of the world. A future where assembly-line robotics would free workers from mind-numbing jobs so that they could pursue more rewarding fields that would open up in areas not yet imagined. And above all, a future in which breakthrough technologies began creating such an abundance of humankind’s critical resources that warring over them would no longer be necessary.”
You need a lot of faith to believe this. And we can wonder why that future is described in the past tense. It does not make sense and it is even difficult to consider this past tense as some modal past, hence conditional. It would have been clearer in the future, and if the modal form of the conditional had been used, just like in the case of the use of the modal past, it would have implied that the author doubted that description very much. Does he or does he not?
But the basic question of the beginning of life, and I tend to expand the question to the beginning of the universe, is unanswerable because so far we cannot imagine that the laws of physics or chemistry or biology can bring into existence anything at all from nothing. The Big Bang is not the Big Bang of anything empty but of something we cannot even imagine, not to mention conceptualize: infinite density and infinite heat, as defined by the machines who use mathematical calculations to retrospectively reconstruct the past (page 188). Infinity cannot be conceived by a human mind or a mechanical mind. We say the universe is expanding which means the universe is not infinite though it is expanding in some void space that is seen as limitless but is it void, is it empty and what are its laws of physics? Are there such laws in such an empty limitless space in which a finite but expanding universe is growing day after day? Why is it growing? Retrospective science always comes to a dead-end in all subjects. Retrospectively we can reconstruct proto-Indo-European but the human beings who spoke that proto-Indo-European language, where did they come from and what language did they speak from which this proto-Indo-European evolved because everything evolves from something else. The book does not answer. Edmond Kirsch has no answer and his seventh kingdom of life, what he calls Technium and defines as the full merging, the endosymbiosis, the fusion of biology and technology, does not produce a new species. A man and a woman with each one 1,000,000 nanobots in their bodies can reproduce, I guess, but the child that will be born should not have reproduced the nanobots. The child might be invaded by nanobots “stolen” from his or her mother, but the child will basically be just plain human because the reproduction is genetic and only the genome of the father and the mother can join to produce the genome of the child. All the rest is romanticism or genetic manipulation, but then it is NOT the fusion of biology and technology.
The author maybe expresses a certain distance from this romantic nightmare Edmond Kirsch describes as a miracle of absolute fulfillment of everything we can dream of; when he clearly identifies the assassin as a being produced and manipulated by Edmond Kirsch’s bicameral machine; when the machine is programmed to self-destroy the para-human artificial intelligence in the machine itself supposedly without destroying the machine per se; when out of rage, fear or some divine inspiration he destroys an end-product of this technology with a stone. He destroys the icons of this modern dream that is sprouting and developing in the minds of some people who have forgotten they are just human and they will die and the machines will never do anything but obey their programs and if there are no limits on this obedience and these programs the machines may become criminal, destructive, morbid, mortiferous, lethal and many other things of the sort. And we have Terminator again.
Of course, the author will say he is nothing but an entertainer and not a seer or a prophet. That’s why we can imagine pink elephants flying in the sky. But that will not help us at all understand the relationship between someone who believes in God and this transcending concept this supernatural powerful and yet impotent character is. Dan Brown and his character Edmond Kirsch have reduced the essential human dimension required to be human, that is to say the belief in a transcendence beyond our immediate real life, to nothing but what they call a religion, or several religions whereas the modern time we are living in made it possible for this dimension to become an inspiration, a vision, imaginary creativity, a humanness more human than plain humankind. It is this Ideal of our Ego as a species, what Jacques Lacan calls the Phallus, that makes us human and makes us able to go beyond the limits we have reached which are never real limits because we can always imagine a way to go beyond them. That is God. He/she is with us. He/she is next to us. He/She is pushing us and pulling us on the road to something better than what we were yesterday, what we are today. He/she is inside us, inside our minds. In fact, we could call that religion and we would be in full agreement with Buddhism for whom there is no creator; no God seen as a creating force; no stable and immobile permanence; no stable and immobile essence of things and beings; for whom there is only change in cycles from birth to death and a rebirth that is nothing but the sprouting and growing of the seeds we left behind us when we died, these seeds being our children, our students, or simply our achievements. We do not need martyrs, as Winston thinks, as Edmond Kirsch may think. We need creative minds that target the development of their communities in peace, equality, and humanity. Killing rabbis, killing allamahs, making bishops kill themselves with morphine out of gay love does not help at all in the present situation. Modern technology requires that we should change our vision of the world and life.
But never forget the earth and the cosmos are living beings and their lives are cyclical and we do not know the operating system and the programs of this cosmos, of this earth. And we will never know it completely because we can only build a model of the real world and that model is always limited, especially when a machine that is programmed in a certain way tries to replace our imaginary and inventive mental power.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU