A number of people have told me that Requiem of the Human Soul reminded them of the movie Avatar. So I finally got up my courage, put on the 3D glasses and went to see for myself.
I loved the special effects, and like so many others, I got caught up in the Pocahontas-style storyline. But now, what’s that all got to do with Requiem? Well, of course there’s the obvious fact that in the late 22nd century world of Requiem, everybody uses virtual reality in the same way they do in Avatar. My vision of 22nd century virtual reality is similar to James Cameron’s, but in my technology, you put on a kind of diving suit with millions of little electrodes, so when you want to move your avatar, you don’t just think about, you actually move your hand or foot and the avatar’s hand or foot moves with you. Here’s a link to the novel website that describes Requiem‘s virtual reality in more detail.
But, I think when people compare Requiem to Avatar, it’s the vision of the world-spirit, the animistic sense of connectedness that they’re talking about. Avatar offers a beautifully blended metaphor of a plugged-in universe, where technology, environment and spirituality all fuse together. I’ve published a post on the companion blog to this, Tyranny of the Prefrontal Cortex, called “Avatar: A 21st Century Aspirational Cosmology,” where I suggest that part of Avatar‘s popularity arises from it offering an easy techno solution to our modern spiritual longing.
In Requiem, though, things aren’t quite as easy. The Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist, Julius Schumacher, discovers that the human soul is interconnected through our DNA with all other life on earth. It’s a moment when science and spirituality have the potential of coming together in a way where they can infuse meaning in each other. Here’s how his protege, Brian Chang, describes it:
“You know Julius’ analogy about the soul, how it’s like an orchestra?” Brian started speaking after lots of humming and herring and clearing his throat nervously. “You know, how over five hundred million years of evolution, as life on earth began branching off into plants, reptiles, mammals, a shared harmony existed between the DNA of every living object on earth?”
“And as creatures became more diverse, the harmony between their DNA and the DNA of other creatures became more complex, but it never disappeared.” Brian’s voice was taking on more authority with every sentence. “Julius theorized that the soul is not something that can ever be tangibly identified, but it exists as a series of relationships, patterns, vibrations, between different elements of a living creature’s DNA and RNA.”
“So Julius saw the origins of the soul to be the Earth itself. The relationship between man and the Earth is integral to the existence of the soul. In fact, Julius believed this was the basis for the immortality of the soul.”
But in Requiem‘s 22nd century world, this didn’t lead to the happy harmony of Pandora. Instead, genetic engineering may have destroyed the soul, like changing the shape a musical instrument would destroy the music. The thing is, even without genetic engineering, the human race hasn’t done such a good job of exploring its connectivity with Nature. On the contrary, we’ve spent at least two thousand years pulling it apart. In the novel, Julius founds a Humanist community, where a century later, Eusebio Franklin, the novel’s hero is born. But the Humanists remain a small, isolated, group in an increasingly genetically-optimized, soulless world.
Avatar may be a lot of fun to watch, but I think part of its popularity arises from its vision of an easy techno-organic solution to our world’s problems. Sorry guys, but Requiem doesn’t offer that solution. It might, however, help you to see some of the real issues we face as we go hurtling through this century of climate change and unsustainable onslaught on our so-called natural resources… and as we pursue our intimations of immortality through genetic engineering.