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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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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