Monday, December 7, 2009

A book review, and a brief reflection on the science of web.

My goals for my day off were to finish the book I was reading, and to pen a new blog post. Let's kill two birds with one stone, shall we?

First, the book, whose tedious final pages went down this morning with a cup of coffee.

As a staunch Robert Langdon enthusiast and, to be quite honest, a sucker for the occasional mindless read, it pains me to say that I was pretty disappointed with the latest installment from Dan Brown. The Lost Symbol was predictable, and lacked the nail-biting, page-turny awesomeness that Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code brought to my bookshelf, and my poolside lounge chair, for that matter. Set in Washington,  D.C., around various national monuments, the plot is moderately interesting, but the cookie-cutter template more than resembles its predecessors. Without revealing any detail, the book doesn't quite live up to the hype.

Sorry, Dan Brown. I still love you. Angels and Demons FTW.

However, I wouldn't count the read as a total loss. In typical Dan Brown fashion, the story incorporates elements of a science that allows our symbologist hero to come to terms with whatever he happens to be interpreting at the time. In this case, he's tackling the Noetic Sciences, or study of the mind and intuition, and the quantifiable measurement (for real) of the energies that the mind possesses.  To quote our heroine, "We have scientifically proven that the power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought."* Difficult to believe, but interesting stuff, to be sure.

And now, the post.

While Brown's character is referring to exponential growth of measurable thought energy,  her quote strikes me as a spot-on description of today's web communities, and perhaps explains some of our fascinations with the social web. With the various social communities we've adopted en masse, we have created a living experiment in the pluralistic aspects of Noetic Theory. And, by putting them on the web, we've created a permanent archive and searchable data mine of the pass-along power of human thought. We are able to quantify the effects of exponential thought-power on something as seemingly trivial as branding, via web analytics and beautiful, glorious infographics. It's what makes the interwebs webby, and frankly, interesting.

I know the Noetic stuff seems like total bunk. But, it's cool to see old-as-dirt theories and off-the-wall scientific subject matter being reflected and perfected in the technologies of the here and now. I just hope you won't think less of me for trying to pull thought-starters from the bowels of a sub-par novel.

*Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol, Doubleday, 2009, p. 504

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