The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven is an interesting read. I had not read this book until it was selected this month for our book club. Here’s some of the background from Anderson Smith:

George Orr is tortured by his dreams because sometimes they come true. The world he wakes up to has changed into the world that he dreamed, sometimes radically, sometimes violently. As a teenager he dreams the death of his aunt and he awakens to finds that she was killed in a car accident six weeks before. He is horrified, and attempts to control his dreaming, but over the years some of his dreams and nightmares come true. Finally by the time he is thirty (in the year 2002) he is becoming psychotic and he contemplates suicide but then turns to pep pills to stay awake to prevent dreaming. When he nearly overdoses, his landlord calls a medic who saves him but turns him in for illegal drug use – a minor offense that requires psychiatric therapy.

So begins the story and the many sessions with Dr. Haber, a psychiatrist who ends up attempting to manipulate George’s dreams to better the world. We had a good discussion about several of the major themes, including efforts to improve the world we live in without fully understanding the implications of doing so. It was compared at one point to some of what we saw in the movie Bruce Almighty. Who hasn’t thought they could run the world better than it seems to be run – in terms of putting a stop to suffering – and the implicit challenges to God that come along with it?

We also discussed the role of progress and scientific advancement. There is a strong warning in this book against doing something simply because we have the capability to do it. This is especially concerning when we do not have a working ethic for why we are doing the things we are doing. We can see this in medical ethics/bioethics and the challenges we face balancing ethical implications that are part of the opportunities to make advancements to better humanity.

There’s an exchange between George and Dr. Haber in which they are debating this issue of doing good for the world. Dr. Haber admits he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he wants to do it anyway:

I freely admit that I don’t know, about eight-five percent of the time, what the hell I’m doing with this screwball brain of yours, and you don’t either, but we’re doing it – so, can we get on with it?

That about captures the moral and ethical dilemma found in so many advancements today.

So the book is a good read if you like science fiction. Also, PBS made The Lathe of Heaven into a movie in 1980, and that is entertaining at some level – if you can handle the acting and special effects…

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