The Hidden Geometry of Life by Karen French

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The Hidden Geometry of Life by Karen French

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Category: Spirituality and Religion
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Spectacularly illustrated New-Age tract that explores shapes and patterns and their symbolic and spiritual connotations, culminating in nothing less but a new model of the cosmos, an explanation of the meaning of the Universe. Rather mad, but in an exhilarating way that has a certain appeal.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Watkins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780281087

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The Hidden Geometry of Life aims to explore the esoteric and often mystical meanings contained in shapes and patterns [that] represent ideas and distil the essence of reality. This mystical angle was a little bit of a unpleasant surprise for this reader. I should have had a better look at Karen French's Amazon pages and previous work, but I was attracted by an exciting-sounding title, attractive cover and and references to author's art.

I expected a juxtaposition of geometric shapes and rhythms created by the physical and biological world and by human cultures, an analysis of their biological significance and symbolic usages, an exploration of the fascinating borderlands between the nature and the artifice.

And to some extent, The Hidden Geometry of Life offers that: there is imagery galore as well as numerous references to symbolic and cultural usages of various shapes and patterns. The first section starts simply, with circles and spirals, progressing to the fractal sets. Apart from geometric concepts, numbers are also covered especially in their aspects relating to shapes. Further on, French talks of classic elements and platonic solid, subatomic structure of matter and string theory. The third part of the books is devoted to audible rather than visual patterns, so we have sound creation, music, sacred drumming and dance, and even the Taos Hum. This is followed by a section about light and colour (which French also manages to link to musical sounds and numbers). Finally, the last part of The Hidden Geometry of Life draws each of those rich veins of meaning together in an awed contemplation of, well, everything really: combining shape, colour and Element and leading on to a gateway to becoming (or, to give it its dues the Gateway to Becoming), a yantra that embodies, includes and transcends all that French discussed in the preceding 200 pages.

What was I to make of such a work? At first, I was appalled by what appeared to me a jumbled hotch-potch of ideas, images and misconceptions so characteristic of New-Age mysticism. Later I realised there was some method in the madness and despite being a decidedly non-mystical type of person, I enjoyed each of the titbits and factoids Karen French gathered in a New-Agey Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable kind of way.

Karen French is a joint graduate of mathematics and marketing. The relevance of the first area of study is very clear in the The Hidden Geometry of Life, but the second one also has an influence: the book actually looks like a PR or a marketing textbook, with numerous quotes, boxes, case studies and similar. On second thoughts, marketing books share these traits with self-help books, both traditional and new-age ones, so maybe this is more of the author's inspiration, but I don't think it enhances French's work. The layout is very busy, with many coloured boxes in addition to hundreds of photos and drawings, and the number of quotations is simply overwhelming. The Hidden Geometry of Life doesn't really encourage linear, focused reading which I think is a failing in a book with such a spiritual aim. Although The Hidden Geometry of Life is a very attractive book to look at, it contains an immense selection of images: probably too many images in fact. Fewer, but better selected and larger would make the result a little less chaotic.

The text itself is hard to read, rather convoluted and peppered with special Nouns that clearly deserve a Capital Letter. This convention is explained and justified in the preface but I still found it annoying and immensely distracting. As a lot of mystical, and particularly New-Age-mystical products, quite a bit of the text is rather obscure and one might suspect, rather nonsensical. French doesn't reach the abysmally crude depths that books of the kind of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne descend to, and a lot of what she says makes – in principle, at least – sense. But there are still numerous unwarranted conjectures and leaps of reasoning and plenty to entertain those that delight in the absurd: in the multi-planed Universe the blueprint for the whole remains evident in every part, even without your own body.. Scientific theories are used a little bit like ornamental flourishes, and just like the too-many pictures, there are also too-many theories and concepts presented.

Unlike many New-Age books that will only appeal to the devotees, The Hidden Geometry of Life has some attraction for anybody interested in playing with the ideas. You can dip into it, read a quotation from Plato, Lao Tzu or Goethe, read about symbolic meanings of a particular shape or form in various cultures, examine the extraordinary selection of images and let your mind wander – and wonder. Or you can get infuriated by the typically New-Ageish misuse and abuse of concepts of modern physics and cosmology. Some readers might even follow the whole sequence of ideas that culminates in the aforementioned Gateway to Becoming all the way to the spiritual illumination it seems to signify.

Not quite recommended, unless it's Your Kind of Thing, but not completely without merit either.

For a more conventional but fascinating look at imagery in science, try the excellent Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science by John D Barrow.

Shapes by Philip Ball explore patterns and geometry of living things, sand the mystical nonsense while Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman surveys the cultural use of numbers.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is still the best antidote to pseudo-science.

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