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Soul of the World: Unlocking the Secrets of Time

by Christopher Dewdney

In Acquainted with the Night, poet and non-fiction writer Christopher Dewdney explored the nighttime realm through the complementary lenses of science and art. Now, in Soul of the World, Dewdney brings this two-pronged approach to bear on the slippery subject of time.

From the history of film to “time cones” to retro fashion revivals, Soul of the World investigates the ways in which the fourth dimension shapes, and is shaped by, us. Dewdney notes, for example, that our very experience of time is highly subjective. The Aymara people, for example, “unlike any other language group on earth, think of the past as being in front of them, with the future behind them.”

The most interesting facet of this book is its blending of artistic and scientific perspectives. Dewdney embraces both traditions: quantum theory holds even position with the arrow paradox of Zeno, the ancient Greek philosopher. Given our contemporary tendency to treat science and art as mutually exclusive, Dewdney’s perspective is refreshingly holistic.

But banal ruminations often bring the book down. What are we to make of the author fretting over his tan: “I figured I’d sun myself for a half-hour, and, since I wanted to tan evenly, I knew I’d have to turn over at least once in that time, after fifteen minutes. But that would neglect my sides.” The passage may illustrate how an hour cannot be evenly divided into eighths, but it has soporific side effects.

There are other such indulgences. Dewdney, overexcited by his subject matter, often launches into quasi-philosophical reveries only to end up coming off  sounding like a stoned college kid. There are no penetrating revelations from Dewdney himself here, but the book functions well enough as a survey. It’s definitely not a waste of time.