Science and fiction

In a post over at the Writer’s Guild, entitled Science in plays, I came across this link to a new play by Paul Brok:

In The Financial Times, Chris Wilkinson looks at how play­wrights tackle sci­ence and maths.

The best example of how a play can com­mu­nic­ate a par­tic­u­lar sci­entif­ic idea is London’s Soho Theatre’s recent pro­duc­tion On Ego. Born of a col­lab­or­a­tion between its dir­ect­or Mick Gordon and the neuro­psy­cho­lo­gist Paul Brok, it seeks to explain “bundle the­ory”. This is Francis Crick’s “aston­ish­ing hypo­thes­is” that we are “noth­ing but a pack of neur­ones”. Or as Alex, a char­ac­ter in the play puts it, our con­scious­ness is made up of “noth­ing but mater­i­al sub­stance: flesh and blood, bone and brain… There’s no one there, no essence, no ego, no ‘I’.” The play works, not simply because it explains these ideas, but rather because, in the rela­tion­ship between Alex and his brain-dam­aged wife, the huge implic­a­tions of this the­ory are graph­ic­ally demon­strated for us. The very struc­ture of the play reflects the emo­tion­al and psy­cho­lo­gic­al dilemma that such an appar­ently coun­ter­in­tu­it­ive the­ory poses for us as human beings.


If the play matches the qual­ity of Brok’s pop­u­lar sci­ence volume ‘Into the Silent Land’, then audi­ence should brace them­selves for a treat. I haven’t seen the play, of course, but Brok’s prose was a curi­ous blend of dead-on sci­entif­ic con­cep­tions and enthralling descrip­tions of the effect of brain dys­func­tion on every­day life. In all, an excel­lent book.

I men­tion this because my own can­on of nov­el­ist­ic fic­tion makes an attempt to deal with some of the philo­soph­ic­al aspects of memory and iden­tity too; though not, it must be said, with the pan­ache of Brok.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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