Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Old Review - Lyall Watson – “Lifetide”

Publ: 1979 (read 1990) ISBN: 978-0340416686
Rating: **** 4 stars

'Lyall Watson is a biologist who writes with captivating skill, bearing the reader along in his tidal flow of ideas, imagery, and observations into contact with the deeper forces he believes underlie life. Again we have the phenomenon of an English sensibility describing personal experiences of the paranormal, at the same time discoursing in a purely rational mode on DNA, immunity, perception, evolution, and the behavior of assorted vertebrates and invertebrates he has observed at first hand. He takes off with the Hoyle hypothesis that life was seeded on Earth from space....
But at times utterly beguiling, as in the description of the aesthetics of bower birds, the chilling encounter of the wasp and the tarantula, and the odd waking-sleep-like cycle of a fish "with the splendidly salacious name of slippery dick." To be read for the writing - even by the most hardened reductionist.' Kirkus Reviews
I read this book in August 1990 and it seemed to me the rather Taoist philosophy of the first sentence below was quite pregnant and poignant in view of the then current Kuwait oil crisis and the possibility of it precipitating oil crises or world war. in practice the war was confined to the Gulf!

“This is not a time for certainty. We seem in recent years to have grown through the emotional confident adolescence of science into a philosophical maturity, prepared not only to admit our ignorance, but to come to terms with the fact that there are some things we can never know. And that it doesn’t matter. Armed only with the principle of Uncertainty and a host of hidden variables, we seem to be better equipped than ever before to break through some of the misty fringes on the edge of the unknown. Not in search of knowledge, for we can now see that was some kind of conceit, but in the humble hope of more clearly defining an area of understanding.”

The book skilfully tells stories of his observation of animals and the conclusions he reaches as a result. For example, in the story of the ‘hundredth monkey’ he tells of a number of macaque monkeys washing sweet potatoes in the sea, ignored by the remainder of their group When one more monkey also started washing sweet potatoes, all the rest took to doing just that. He thought this could be because once the potato-washers assumed a "critical mass", the washers changed the behaviour of the whole group.

LYALL WATSON, born Malcolm Lyall-Watson, (he later dropped the first name and the hyphen) was born in South Africa on April 12 1939 and died in Australia on June 25 2008. In between he travelled the globe as a botanist and zoologist. Watson joined BBC TV as producer and reporter on Tomorrow's World, and also founded and directed zoos in South Africa, operated a safari company in Kenya and began a marine national park in the Seychelles. He became director of Johannesburg Zoo at 23.

He was the author of new age books like 'Supoernature' (1973) which Mum introduced me to and which were the unofficial 'set-reading' of a generation of students. Lyall Watson combined idiosyncrasy of ideas with the appearance of an elegant action man, dressing in immaculate white linen suits for daring explorations of the Amazon or when taking an active role as a demonstrator against whaling.

He wrote 25 books on a wide variety of topics, of which Supernature (1973), Lifetide (1979) and Gifts of Unknown Things (1976) are among the best known. It took him two years to interest a publisher in Supernature, a questionable, modish exploration of such phenomena as ESP, psychokinesis and telepathy in nature. Once published it went on to become an enormous bestseller.

He had a flair for vivid phrases, and, in particular, a sharp eye for the paradoxes of life. He once remarked that "if the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't."

1 comment:

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