Monday, July 18, 2011

Seat of the Soul, first two pages review

Today's post is a cheap one. I'm going to point out an easy target, and pick it apart like it's an important thing to do. I guess you could call this post a book review, but I'm only reviewing the first two pages. Let's get on with it.

Gary Zukav is a popular new-age author. I became familiar with the name a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine reccommended to me the book Dancing Wu Li Masters. She said it was amazing. You may know, by the title of this blog, that a book called "Dancing Wu Li Masters" is not really my cup of tea, unless maybe, it was in the fiction section. But probably still no. I was at the used bookstore one day, a place I really appreciate, and I glanced through the five-foot-wide New Age section, and I saw Seat of the Soul. It was "The New, Innovative and Thought-Provoking work by the Author of Dancing Wu Li Masters." I gave it a try.

I'm going to admit something. I did not read this whole book. I actually got as far as the top of the second page, I think. How can I tell anything from a book after one and a half pages? "Not much," I would have told you before starting this book. Afterwards? "Enough."

I'm not a mystical guy, but I truly don't belive that my discarding of this book had much to do with me not being a mystical guy. If I read a skeptical book that said something very ridiculous, I would send it right back to the bookstore. Likewise, if I read a mystical-themed book where the author seemed to have a grasp on simple scientific ideas, I might read the whole thing.

Excerpt from page 1:A fish is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a sponge; a horse is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a snake; a monkey is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a horse.

My immediate thoughts: This was right out of the gate, the fifth line down on the first page. Mr. Zukav sets up evolution like a linear journey. To read this, you might expect that one main species has been evolving throughout the millenia, from a sponge, to a fish, to a snake, to a horse, to a monkey, leaving behind species, frozen in progress, every step of the way. Of course, this doesn't happen.

Is a monkey really more evolved than a horse? It's more intelligent, but it's a common mistake that, over time, species are developing to become more intelligent, and more human-like. What if you valued speed and size, instead? The horse would be more evolved. What if you valued poison, and the ability to eat no more than once a month? The snake is now our most evolved animal, leaving even humans in their dust. Humans have big brains, but we're largely feeble in every other way.

In reality, none of these creatures is more evolved than the others. Evolution doesn't just stop for a species, whether it's a sponge, or a snake, or a monkey. And if we're all descended from a common ancestor, then we've all had the same amount of time to evolve. Some of us evolved into sponges, some into snakes, some into people. Snakes aren't waiting for the cosmic force of evolution to turn it into a monkey. Being a snake works great for snakes. That's why they're snakes. And they're perfectly as complex as horses.

Page 2, near the top: This definition is an expression of the idea that the organism that is best able to control both its environment and all of the other organisms in its environment is the most evolved.

Wow. This paragraph following the other one was like a one-two punch. The kind of thing that can make me choke on my own spit. The kind of thing that can make me exclaim out loud in the library.

The more a species controls (not effects, controls) its environment, the more evolved it is. That makes things simple. Humans are most evolved. Beavers are second most evolved. Everything else comes in third.

In general, animals don't go out of their way to control their environment. Woodpeckers peck holes, which are surprisingly big inside, but I'd hardly call that trying to control their environment. Horses poop all over the place, which... is... pretty irrelevant.

Nonsense. A trend of nonsense.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. This is how I can, must, for better or worse, discard a book after two pages.

I don't want to be a dick to Gary Zuckov. He's a successful author. But I can't honestly not call his explanation of evolution garbage (ooh! A double-negative). A garbage understanding of evolution is, of course, only to be expected in today's environment of garbage-science in films and television, and our population who go to work and go to sleep and make the kids dinner and do just fine without any deeper understanding of the world. But it should not make it into a non-fiction book, and, it should not make it through the editorial process, the fact checking process, and past all of the people that a book has to pass before it ends up in print.

If I read a paper, or a book, by, say, Dean Radin, I might not agree with his conclusions, I might take issue with his experimental setup, but at least I know that he's very intelligent, and he does know what he's talking about. When I pick up a book like Seat of the Soul, though, and I feel like the author is counting on me to be ignorant in order to make his point, I get sad that this is landing in front of thousands (millions?) of people, some of whom haven't given the subject of evolution enough thought to notice the incongruancies in the writing.

If you don't understand the science, don't write it as if you do. And if you do, don't make it fake in order to screw a few people out of a few dollars.

I should read the rest of that book sometime.


  1. I got this book for a quarter at a used book sale - I thought it would be akin to 'Care of the Soul', which I actually found helpful (emotionally, spiritually) at some points in my life. 'Seat of the Soul' not so much - waste of 25 cents. Crazy talk.

    PS - just found your blog when I googled 'time travel proof', killing time with the amusing tales - a great find. Thanks.


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