Book Reviews

Dan Brown's 'Inferno'

Thoroughly enjoyed reading Dan Brown’s novel, “Inferno”. The title does full justice to the terrific tale brilliantly spun by Brown against the backdrop of the great master’s classic poem.

The story is staged in the cities of Florence and Istanbul. Both the cities are described in graphic detail making the book a tourist’s treat. The tempo of the story never slackens with nonstop action and drama.

All the characters are etched with impressive truthfulness - be it the Harvard professor Robert Langdon, a famous symbologist or Dr. Sienna Brooks, or the bright geneticist Bertrand Zobrist or Sinskey or all the rest.

It is a gripping story about a very pertinent problem the human race is facing now. The controversial nature of a viable solution is the theme. All its aspects are discussed in detail. A vivid flashback of Black Death bears relevance to the theme.

Overpopulation is seen by the geneticist, Zobrist as the danger of human race’s evolution and wellbeing. And he comes out with a smart and ruthless solution for decimating one third of the world’s population. The novel is full of surprises and suspenses from the beginning to the end, Zobrist’s master plan being the icing on the cake.

The subject of the novel is very thought-provoking and the arguments and explanations through the mouths of the leading characters are excellent. I want to quote a few excerpts:

“His (Zobrist’s) essay declared that the human race was on the brink of extinction, and that unless we had aastrophic event that precipitously decreased global population growth, our species would not survive another hundred years… … It was astark thesis. The predicted time frame was substantially shorter than previous estimates, but it was supported by some very potent scientific data. He made a lot of enemies by declaring that all doctors should stop practicing medicine because extending the human life span was only exacerbating the population problem… Zobrist was immediately attacked from all sides-politicians, clergy, the World Health Organization-all of whom derided him as a doomsayer lunatic who was simply trying to cause panic… .

Over a few short years Zobrist went from being the toast of the medical world to being a total outcast… It’s no wonder he snapped and killed himself. Even sadder because his thesis is probably correct… ..speaking from a purely scientific standpoint-all logic, no heart-I can tell you without a doubt that without some kind of drastic change, the end of our species is coming. It won’t be fire, brimstone, apocalypse, or nuclear will be total collapse due to the number of people on the planet. The mathematics is indisputable… I’ve studied a fair amount of biology, and it’s quite normal for a species to go extinct simply as a result of overpopulating its environment. Picture a colony of surface algae living in a tiny pond in the forest, enjoying the pond’s perfect balance of nutrients. Unchecked, they reproduce so wildly that they quickly cover the pond’s entire surface, blotting out sun and thereby preventing the growth of the nutrients in the pond. Having sapped everything possible from their environment, the algae quickly die and disappear without a trace…

A similar fate could easily await mankind. Far sooner and faster than any of us imagine… But that seems impossible. Not, impossible, Robert, just unthinkable. The human mind has a primitive ego defense mechanism that negates all realities that produce too much stress on the brain to handle. It’s called denial… .

In ancient mythology, a hero in denial is the ultimate manifestation of hubris and pride. No man is more prideful than he who believes himself immune to the dangers of the world. Dante clearly agreed, denouncing pride as the worst of the seven deadly sins and punished the prideful in the deepest ring of the inferno… ..Robert, look, I’m not saying Zobrist is correct that a plague that kills half of the world’s people is the answer to overpopulation. Nor am I saying we should stop curing the sick. What I am saying is that our current path is a pretty simple formula for destruction. Population growth is an exponential progression occurring within a system of finite space and limited resources. The end will arrive very abruptly… .

Critics of Zobrist like to point out how paradoxical it is that many of the genetic technologies he developed are now extending life expectancy dramatically. Which only compounds the population problem. Exactly. Zobrist once said publicly that he wished he could put the genie back in the bottle and erase some of his contributions to human longevity… .H+ is the symbol of the Transhumanist movement. Transhumanism is an intellectual movement, a philosophy of sorts, and it’s quickly taking root in the scientific community. It essentially states that humans should use technology to transcend the weaknesses inherent in our human bodies. In other words, the next step in human evolution should be that we begin biologically engineering ourselves..Technically we have been engineering ourselves for years now-developing vaccines that make children immune to certain diseases..polio, smallpox, typhoid. The difference is that now, with Zobrist’s breakthrough in germ-line level-making all subsequent generations immune to that disease… .Normally, the evolutionary process-whether it be a lungfish developing feet or an ape developing opposable thumbs-takes millennia to occur. Now we can make radical genetic adaptations in a single generation.

Proponents of the technology consider it the ultimate expression of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’-humans becoming a species that learns to improve its own evolutionary process... Sounds more like playing God… Zobrist, however, like many other Transhumanists, argued strongly that it is mankind’s evolutionary obligation to use all the powers at our disposal-germ-line genetic mutation, for one-to improve as a species. The problem is that our genetic makeup is like of cards- each piece connected to and supported by countless others-often in ways we don’t understand. If we try to remove a single human trait, we can cause hundreds of others to shift simultaneously, possibly with catastrophic effects. There’s a reason evolution is a gradual process. We’re tinkering with athat took aeons to build. These are dangerous times. We now literally have the capacity to activate certain gene sequences that will result in our descendants having increased dexterity, stamina, strength, even intelligence-essentially a super-race. These hypothetical ‘enhanced’ individuals are what Transhumanists refer to as posthumans, which some believe will be the future of our species…

In the 1940s, Nazi scientists had dabbled in a technology they’d dubbed eugenics-an attempt to use rudimentary genetic engineering to increase the birth rate of those with certain “desirable” genetic traits, while decreasing the birth rate of those with “less desirable” ethnic traits. Ethnic cleansing at the genetic level. The most dangerous idea in the world from the sociocultural standpoint..How so? Well, I assume that genetic enhancements-much like cosmetic surgery-cost a lot of money, right? Of course. Not everyone could afford to improve themselves or their children. Which means that legalized genetic enhancements would immediately create a world of haves and have-nots. We already have a growing chasm between the rich and the poor, but genetic engineering would create a race of superhumans and perceived subhumans… … The Black Plague thinned the herd and paved way for the Renaissance and Zobrist created Inferno as a kind of modern-day catalyst for global removal - a Transhumanist Black Death-… … .

You are a member of a new breed of thinkers. You can help them understand the mind-set of visionaries like Zobrist-brilliant individuals whose convictions are so strong that they take matters into their own hands… .Every month, the WHO uncovers labs where scientists are dabbling in the gray areas of science-everything from manipulating human stem cells to breeding chimeras..blended species that don’t exist in nature. It’s disturbing. Science is progressing so fast that nobody knows where the lines are drawn anymore… ..I believe genetic engineering is just another step in a long line of human advances… .

I can’t help but question the wisdom of attempting to accelerate the natural process of evolution… genetic engineering is not an acceleration of the evolutionary process. It is the natural course of events! was evolution that created Bertrand Zobrist. His superior intellect was the product of the very process Darwin described ,an evolution over time. Bertrand’s rare insight into genetics did not come as a flash of divine inspiration, it was the product of years of human intellectual progress.And a Darwinist you know that nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check-plagues, famines, floods. But let me ask you this-isn’t it possible that found a different way this time? Instead of sending us horrific disasters and misery… may be nature, through the process of evolution, created a scientist who invented a different method of decreasing our numbers over time. No plagues. No death. Just a species more in tune with its environment… The end justifies the means, she said, quoting the notorious Florentine political philosopher Machiavelli… ..The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. In dangerous times, there is no sin greater than inaction.
Pertinent questions and treacherously convincing answers! Mind-boggling! Even scary! Anyway the book gives both pleasurable entertainment and food for thought.


More by :  Pavalamani Pragasam

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