Jeff Hoke | The Museum of Lost Wonder

Hoke disdains hundred-page musings on theorems for the simpler pleasures of cut-and-fold cardboard models.


book_hokeWeiser Books; 176 pgs; $49.95

It is virtually impossible to compare the Museum of Lost Wonder to any other reading experience, save one: Douglas Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. "Ah…," sigh the devotees of the latter volume, "now that shit tripped me out."

GEB was a brain-melter. It probed the unexpected linkages between math, music, and art, and in its way, fanned the flames of wonder.

Jeff Hoke, a museum-exhibit designer, is determined to arouse that same sense of awe for readers, but with fewer equations and mental calisthenics. Like Hofstadter, Hoke gets his jollies from the biggest questions: Where does creativity come from? What are the limits of human potential? Is passing time some sort of illusion? Where is the soul? What is reality?

Hoke disdains hundred-page musings on theorems, though, for the simpler pleasures of cut-and-fold cardboard models. The weighty book comes complete with the build-it-yourself "Theater of the Mind" and "Path of Destiny Peep Show," plus five other papercraft projects intended to encourage various strains of philosophical probing.

Between the models, Hoke waxes forth on (take a deep breath) quantum physics, alchemy, phrenology, Buddhism, Kabbalah, astrology, semiotics, dream interpretation, Greek philosophy, paradigms, memes, optical illusions, zoetropes, memory, epiphanies, the power of humor, chakras et alia. It's a mishmash of mystical mumbo jumbo, but if it gets your mind a-wonderin' amidst the clouds, then it's done its job.

The wide-ranging discourse is peppered with nifty illustrations, and the "Museum" itself, a metaphysical structure that contains the fruits of all this navel-gazing, is a gorgeously rendered agglomeration of fire pit, aquarium, soaring ceilings, skylights, solarium, etc. (The Web site offers an excellent flash-animation "tour" of the book.)

Museum is also a workbook that encourages you to conduct experiments, like using a sleeping bag as a means of sensory deprivation, or noting the pre-images of the moments just before sleep.

The Museum of Lost Wonder, in the best of all worlds, is a book discovered by someone spending a week staying at a friend's apartment. One night, the guest finds himself alone. He gravitates to his host's bookshelf. He pulls down a big hardback. What's this? It's heavy. It has gatefold illustrations, too. No—those are…cut-out models? Wild. The explorer falls asleep reading, and his dreams make everything clear.

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