Finding yourself in The Lost Symbol
How would you feel if you woke up one morning to discover that you were the lead female character in the most highly anticipated popular novel of the year? That’s what happened to Marilyn Schlitz when Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol appeared to much fanfare on Sept. 15.
Schlitz, an anthropologist, is president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), a nonprofit research group in California. By no coincidence whatsoever, Katherine Solomon, the heroine in Brown’s sequel to The Da Vinci Code, is also a researcher at IONS. Her esoteric knowledge comes in handy for hero Robert Langdon as he battles a cabal of rogue Freemasons.
As Schlitz read The Lost Symbol, she grew increasingly amazed at how much IONS research figured into the plot — and how accurate Langdon’s description of it was. Schlitz told NPR she recognized at least 10 real experiments, including one involving an electromagnetically shielded laboratory.
Brown never contacted IONS during the research and writing of The Lost Symbol. But on the day of publication, Schlitz says, she received “a very sweet email” from Brown saying he was a “big fan” of IONS, but had been constrained from alerting her earlier because of security surrounding the book.
“But he was hoping we were enjoying the attention,” Schlitz says.
That would be an unqualified yes. Traffic at the IONS website is up 12-fold, reports NPR. Membership is up, too.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences was founded in 1973 by astronaut Edgar Mitchell and businessman Paul Temple. Its mission: “Advancing the science of consciousness and human experience to serve individual and collective transformation.” In other words it tries to apply “scientific rigor” to the study of human consciousness and potentiality.
That means experiments in things like meditation, remote healing, biofields, integral medicine, ESP and more. “Noetic” comes from a Greek word, “nous,” which the IONS website says refers to “inner knowledge” or “a kind of intuitive consciousness — direct and immediate access to knowledge beyond what is available to our normal senses and the power of reason.”
Skeptics mock IONS as a New Age outfit lacking in the very scientific rigor it extols, but Brown, obviously, thinks highly of its work.
Schlitz, who has lectured at the Smithsonian and taught at Trinity, Standford and Harvard, says Brown takes IONS’ research into the realm of science fiction. She says IONS certainly hasn’t answered such big questions as, “Is there life after death,” as Katherine Solomon does in the book.
And while Brown gives Solomon an academic and professional history very similar to Schlitz’s, he takes certain personal liberties. Solomon, for example, is described as a “Mediterranean” beauty at 50, with “smooth olive” skin and long, “thick black hair.” Schlitz is fair-skinned with short, red hair.
“Short of long black hair and olive skin and a wealthy family,” Schlitz tells NPR, “there were a lot of similarities in terms of the research. Maybe not so much my looks.”