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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Origin by Dan Brown

My Review: 3   3.5   3/5

'The dark religions are departed and sweet science reigns' 

A great concept but a very lame plot! With the show of hands, how many people found this novel conflicting? This book, supposedly a graduation gift for me didn't turn out to be as good as I expected.
So, let's settle down for a talk in detail.

CONCEPT:   
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?
 

The answers of these two mysteries lie at the heart of the human experience. Science vs. Religion has mostly been the theme of Robert Langdon. In this story, he finds himself strangled in the maze of his dear friend, who is also a genius scientist, Edmond Kirsch. Mr Kirsch doesn't agree with Church who says human came from the God and they are going back to the God. So, he tries to find an answer himself. Finally after years of hard work, Kirsch discovers a ground-breaking theory that can change the whole world. He finds the answer to the questions; where do we come from? And where are we going? 

So, Where do we come from? 
During 1950s, scientists Miller and Urey, rejecting the idea that God invented the life, decided to do the experiment in the lab to prove that some chemicals are enough to make the earthy atmosphere to create lives. After a long experiment, they found out that their chemicals had produced several amino acids. Nothing else interesting happened during the course of their experiment and Of course, just amino acid is not a solid evidence of existing of life. 

Fast-forward, after more than 50 years, comes our genius, Edmond Kirsch who declares that Miller and Urey were not patient enough to wait required amount of time and even if they had waited, the changes couldn't have occurred during their life-time. Then he introduces the same test-tube Miller and Urey were working on and declares that Miller's student continued this experiment and did all the test and analysis with the sophisticated techniques to find out that the chemical fluids now contains the building blocks of RNA, which could eventually become DNA. I must say this totally blew me away and I was so excited. While I am writing this, I remember how excited I was while reading this part. So, let me change my score from 3 to 3.5 stars. After all, I was enjoying it.  

So, all that experiment was lacking, was time. It took 50 years of mark to create RNA. How long more would it need to create DNA and eventually living organism and from that to people like us? Don't you find that fascinating? Isn't it exciting? You know what? I am going to upgrade my score to 4 stars now.

Since I am also a scientist, I got even more excited to discover what exactly was happening in that little test-tube during this 50 years? The magic word we are looking for here is 'Entropy'. And what exactly is the Entropy? It is a measure of disorder in microorganism. The law of entropy states that things fall apart. Let’s think about some examples. Imagine you work really hard to make sand castle. Seconds later, a wave comes in and washes away the castle. But have you ever seen while you are just relaxing in the beach, minding your own business, all of the sudden wave comes in and deposits sand in the shape of a sand castle? No right? This is what I am talking about. Here is another example. Someone makes you a really nice cup of tea. Then you forget to drink it and after a while it becomes cold. That is entropy. It makes hot tea cold but it doesn't reheat your tea or ask your friend to do it. Ok, enough examples. But wait, I forgot what I was talking about.  

Oh yea, the thing is we live in entropic universe. Ok, everyone got it but how can lifeless chemicals magically organise themselves into complex life-forms? As it turns out, life is not the only example of the universe creating order. Non-living molecules organise themselves all the time into complex structures. Look at the examples of a tornado vortex, a snowflake, a rippled riverbed etc. etc. So that means sometimes the universe does organise matter-which seems to be the exact opposite of entropy. So which is actually true? Does universe prefer order or chaos? Nature!-in an effort to promote disorder-creates little pockets of order. Hmm. makes sense that means your friend will never reheat your tea.

So what does entropy have to do with the origin of life? As turns out, life is an exceptionally effective tool for dissipating energy. All living organisms-including humans-which consume organised matter as food, convert it to energy, and then dissipate energy back into the universe as heat. So that means, the life indeed spontaneously emerged from lifeless matter as result of nothing more than the laws of physics. Then Edmond shows the stimulated Miller-Urey's amino acids in millions of years turning into DNA. Just wow! 

and  Now let’s talk about Where are we going? 
Here just for reference, let’s imagine humans are the result of some law of entropy of non-living things. After millions of years, some living organism are formed then comes Darwinian evolutionary theory (survival of fittest), and fast-forward we are in present world. So what’s next? Are we going back to being non-living stuffs at some point? Here is the clue- have you discovered anything unusual in last decade? 

Technology has overcome people. This is the age of Industry 4.0. People talk about digitalisation, personalisation. They are hugely dependent on their laptops and smartphones. Even my 7 months old niece gets really excited when she sees phone :0. The point here is, human has become machine dependent. There will be a time (in less than a century) when human will be entirely swallowed up by machine. This doesn't sound too vague when people are talking so much about artificial intelligence (AI) now. People are even talking about in-coupling AI into human brain. Who we kidding right? So, Edmond says that if it runs like this at some point, there will be only machines in this world and extinction of human, just like a fate of dinosaurs (scary enough!). 

STORY: 
The good thing about Dan Brown's book is, you cannot rest until you finish it. I was so hooked up in the book that I was happy that I was finishing this 500 pages book fast but also sad thinking it will be finished soon. If you are familiar with Brown's book, you know by now that he takes you to different cities, goes deep into the meaning of some churches or buildings, there will be codes and puzzles Langdon has to break to solve the mystery that will eventually save the world or himself. These codes are always fun and interesting. Every time new series of Robert Langdon comes, I am more looking forward to new codes and countries he takes us.

BUT...... Let’s talk about 'but' now.

A very famous scientist Edmond Kirsch is about to make a world-changing announcement of Where do we come from? and Where are we going? 
The announcement is assisted by soon to be Queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal (but she is completely unaware about the content of his announcement). I guess it is about time that I should announce Edmond Kirsch is so genius that he has programmed a virtual artificial assistant, Winston. He is programmed to behave like human and understand their emotions. As a matter of fact, Winston knows everything about Kirsch apart from the discovery itself and a password that can access to the discovery Kirsch made. 

On the night of the discovery, while Kirsch was about to announce his discovery, he gets killed. Now the whole world watching and more curious about his discovery, Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal with the assistance of Winston has to track down the password of Edmond Kirsch's discovery so that they can make it public. It’s a huge suspense but you know what I guessed the ending miles away (I guess I am reading too much of Robert Langdon). 

Take home message? 
For me, so many things didn't make sense. 

1. Winston declared that he killed his own creator Edmond Kirsch in public to enhance the public interest of his discovery. Winston thought that it was for his own good but you know what? It totally didn't make sense. Winston killed Kirsch before the discovery was announced and without Langdon to track down the codes to find his password, there was no way discovery was getting public. The discovery would have been lost if Langdon was not there. 

2. I don't understand the role of Ambra Vidal and her connection with Edmond Kirsch. The world renowned genius scientist Kirsch secretly creates Winston using supercomputer and keeps it secret from everyone and even programmes it in a way that it permanently shuts down the day after he dies. He makes this world-changing discovery that he doesn’t tell anyone and is very sceptical about. Still, he tells Ambra how to unlock his home's door and that the password to his discovery is the 47 characters line of one of the poems of his favourite poet, which happened to be in his home library. This doesn't make sense. 

3. I still didn't get who killed Saed al-Fadl and Rabi Yehuda Köves. Was it again Winston? But Why?

4. At the end, it shows Bishop Valdespino and the king of Spain are gay couple. This totally doesn’t fit into the story and Love is a private thing. The world doesn't need to know every detail. 

As I said, the concept is good. Dan Brown talks about the AI, the recent control of human life by new technology and how fake news are weighing as much as real news in today's generation but I strongly feel that Robert Langdon didn't come that powerful this season because in previous seasons, I was so used to Langdon being the main focus in everywhere. He solving all the mysteries and it was like, without him nothing else happened. There were no loopholes and loose ends. The funny thing is, you know I was like damn! he forgot to mention his Mickey Mouse watch this time. I was like noooooo..... but it was there towards the end.  While I am thinking about that, I realised the role of Ambra Vidal is even more dreadful. She didn't come across as smart and active as other females in previous series. You know what I am going to change my score back to 3 stars. 

Oh well, The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons are still my favourite Robert Langdon series.