Monday, October 24, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour - October, 2011, Day Two

The Bone House, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Stephen Lawhead includes a short excursus at the end of his book titled, “Quantum Physics and Me.” In it, he comments on Thomas Young, a 19th century scholar who has a significant role in this second book. Thomas Young was truly a phenom of his day, of any day for that matter. Would that I had a tenth of the brain he did.

Young proved light had the characteristics of a wave, which countered Isaac Newton’s prevailing theory that it was a particle.

It was an experiment of classical simplicity. He [Young] made a small hole in a blind and placed it so sunlight would pass through onto a card with two pin holes. The light from the pin holes formed an image on a screen behind in a series of curved bands. This was proof that light had acted wavelike and had spread out or defracted. If light had been a particle stream then only two spots of light would have appeared on the screen. [1]

In another experiment, Young proves how the eye focuses:

At the time, there was considerable dispute on whether the eye focused through the cornea or the crystalline lens. Young reasoned that if the eye is immersed in water, we no longer see clearly because there is liquid both inside and outside the cornea and it ceases to function as a lens. He found that if he placed a lens of equal power to the cornea in front of his eye he could see clearly under water. By this very simple experiment he had proved conclusively that it must be the crystalline lens that does the focusing. [2]

What is so remarkable is the simplicity of these experiments; so simple, they could be performed by any one of us. The lack of modern day technology did not stop men like Young who not only evidenced their genius by their ability to contemplate and deduce, but also to demonstrate it so that the man on the street can understand the principle through an experiment that uses equipment he is perfectly familiar with. I suspect that all men of such great genius are able to do that. Einstein is reputed to have said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." Not sure about that, but I get the point. We should strive to reduce demonstration to its most simple elements without destroying its ability to demonstrate.

The novelist to some degree or another is faced with the same problem. Not that he is necessarily trying to prove or disprove something, but he is trying to make a point. If there is no point behind the novel, I’m not sure it is worth writing, and I’m definitely sure it is not worth reading.

I’m referring to something more profound than the simple point to entertain. Certainly, entertainment is an element that every novel must have, but that is not the point of the novel. Its point is to convey an insight about something the reader has an interest in.

What does The Bone House do in this regard? Well, for one it brings to life Dr. Thomas Young and places him in a believable situation. By believable I mean, as an example, he is engaged in archaeological work, which is an enterprise that can be believed in. Granted, the object of search is a thing of fantasy, but the endeavor to find it is believable. What Stephen Lawhead has done for us is to make it a point to flesh that out with as much authenticity as possible so that we get a feel for what is involved without being bored with mundane detail.

I think this was accomplished with the movie, Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark. I was so awed by the movie that I saw it on the silver screen eight times before it went to the second-run theaters. The romantic element, that is, the notion of an intellectual with a PhD taking on the quest for the fantastic and elusive in the context of pending world war was irresistible. But it wasn’t just the romance. It was the raw truth that there is discoverable stuff out there to be discovered. I suspect this planted a seed in some scientists today who may look back on that film as the point where their journey began.

This was the experience of Carl Sagan, who devoured science fiction early on. At the age of ten he read Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Princess of Mars. I'm not claiming a one-to-one correspondence between me and Sagan, but I read Burroughs’ novel The Gods of Mars at age eleven. Obviously, either Burrough’s stories didn’t have the same impact on me as it did Sagan, or I didn’t have the intellectual prowess of Sagan; most likely, both are true. Sagan did become dissatisfied with the science fiction of his youth because much of it was written with disregard to actual science. I suspect that his novel, Contact, was written not only to make the point that extraterrestrial intelligent beings plausibly exist, but also to rectify a trend in science fiction which ignored science.

Stephen Lawhead has devoted time to making his story authentic by not ignoring the science that is behind archaeology and even the fringe speculation of ley travel (that is, the concept of more than one universe). Rather, he exploits it liberally. One has to tip his hat.

[2] ibid. 

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Bone House on Amazon

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Bone House for review on the October, 2011 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I enjoyed all the facts and correlation to the book.