(For those not familiar with it or the progress of my novel Blow Your Kiss Hello - hastag BYKH for Twitterers - this was intended as a quick update as to where I was in the publishing process. It also garnered some lovely comments from some lovely people.)
At the point it was written I fully intended to have the thing launched within a few days. Clearly that hasn't happened, otherwise this would be a very different kind of blog. The reasons for this have been fraught with frustration and doused in disappointment. It's the formatting thing, you see. Despite having taught myself the rudimentary basics of HTML programming in order to get everything shipshape and Kindle-ready, it's a fact often acknowledged by those who know me best that I AM NOT TECHNICAL (capitalisation required). Successfully changing a lightbulb is cause for a celebratory dinner, oiling a bike chain recreates the Exxon Valdize disaster in the back garden. So it was no surprise when having painstakingly applied my newly found H to the T to the M to the L skills I found myself at the end of the process saying "yeah, but how do I get that bit to do that and...") Clearly, more professional help was required.
There is a plethora of service providers out there who will offer for not unreasonable sums to make your book all Kindley. But if you're intending to go down this route, choose wisely, my friends. For my sins, I had someone recommended to me by a fellow Indie author whose book was about to come out. Do I wish I'd waited to see the results before contacting said recommendee? You bet. But I didn't, and I swallowed the crap that told me oh, you don't need HTML, I work in Word and the results are glorious, etc etc. Suffice to say that the results were far from glorious once uploaded on Amazon's seemingly excellent preview software.
Things that shouldn't have been indented were. Italics disappeared. And then reappeared randomly. Some sentences had gaps in them that were so long I could have fitted in another chapter. Then there was that clever thing that some ebooks do which is to list a table of contents at the front so that if you want to jump straight to chapter 7, or 12, or 34, you can, just click on the chapter and the book will deliver it to your screen, all done by hyperlinks. Except in a quality ebook, the hyperlinks don't look like hyperlinks, they look like chapter headings. On too many self-published ebooks, chapter headings are blue and underlined. Like a Microdoft Word hyperlink. Now some may differ and say this doesn't matter. It does to me. I didn't spend 14 months writing a book and another year redrafting and editing and perfecting for it all to look like some undergrads thesis on widget production.
So I queried all this with my "formatter". Who said they couldn't do anything about it. In which case, I'm not paying, I said (one of the reasons for accepting their quote in the first place was that it offered limitless revisions until I was 100% happy). We argued a bit. I was then told there was a way to fix what I wanted fixed. Time passed. And then I was told that I was "insane" (direct quote) for wanting what I wanted and that it couldn't be done. Which was interesting, since evidence to the contrary resides in several books that nestle harmlessly on my Kindle app.
I think that I've now found someone who can fix things and therefore I hope that I'll very shortly be able to announce the launch of the ebook version of Blow Your Kiss Hello. The next few days will tell.
But the moral of the story here is twofold: Just because you can't do something yourself, don't automatically believe the people who tell you they can. And if a recommendation comes your way, check it out thoroughly yourself first. There's still a huge quality gap in self-published books, especially of the e variety and what you think is dreadful others may assume is acceptable because they've been told that's how it is. Even when it isn't. And if you believe in your book, want it to be the best it can be, KNOW how you want it to look and don't want to compromise, don't. There's always a way. And that's threefold, not two. My maths are only slightly better than my practicality.
Hey Average Guy, embrace the lie; disguise
A thousand times the blaze of love sublime
So far above their vapid minds--surprise!--
In secret we triumphantly combine.
And countless phantoms with pernicious ways?
Forget attempts to twist our hearts apart.
For all of nature may at most delay
Our fate, but cannot stop us once we start.
And that? We have already--until we die.
Birthdates to you are meaningful conceits,
But stupid ones you use to vilify
Ourself. We know what's real--it's us, complete.
But Matthew, Average Guy you're not--I hide
Unreal until the day two stars collide.
June 1 Happy Birthday
Matters of Life and Death: 6
Hold down a note on a piano – say, middle C – so it makes no
noise. Now play another C two octaves lower, and what happens?
The middle C sounds faintly in sympathy. It resonates. There is
something in that lower C which brings out something in the
This happens to me when I read certain items. They resonate as if they have found something within me. I might feel a sting of memory, as though retrieving a buried dream – a pang of nostalgia, as though recovering a forgotten existence.
Allow me to share with you some items which seem to tell me, by resonance, about a Life Beyond. They may or may not resonate with you, but that’s good: life would be poor indeed if we lacked any differences to stimulate us.
The Awakening Letters, edited by Cynthia Sandys and Rosamond Lehmann, contains a number of travellers’ tales, the communicators varying from simple types and sceptics, to enthusiasts and advanced souls. Here’s part of an “awakening letter” from a good but unexceptional man, somewhat surprised to find himself essentially unchanged. His helpers intend to alter that, however, taking him towards some healing “lakes” – a journey which involves a few charming oddities.
“Off we went, moving with great ease so long as she held my arm. Once she let go and I lost my balance and began to fall, but I never reached the ground. I lay on the air, as if it were a sofa. It was a peculiar feeling, and all the time a queer lightness was coming over me. My body seemed of a different texture, and when I moved my limbs they were so light, they felt almost like paper... I ceased to be the heavy practical person which I had been for the last eighty odd years, and became for the time being the most feather-headed immortal!”
Now, I am almost sure I can remember parts of that. I’m sure I’ve tripped and lain horizontal on the air, wondering how I got there and how to get down again. Did I dream it? Did I do it? And the limbs as light as paper – surely I can recall that from somewhere, some time...
Back to the tale. They reach “a valley where a whole chain of tiny lakes lay like a string of precious stones set in green velvet.” Our narrator dives into the first, which is “pale gold, like dropping straight into a buttercup.” Then into a second one, which is blue.
“Then we went on to the third which was almost peach coloured, pale pink, moving into gold and pale orange. This, I was told, was my first direct contact with the Christ power, and with an immense sense of awe I felt my whole body relaxing and contracting rhythmically as though it were automatically trying to align itself with this far higher and most wonderful vibration.”
Once again, I have a sense of knowing the thing already. Those lakes, that water – they seem both real and unreal, as though they are metaphors for something deeper. As it happens, most travellers’ tales from the Beyond include items like this – surroundings that are familiar and not familiar – landscapes that are more than landscapes, bodies that aren’t exactly bodies.
However, we’d be justified in wondering if we should expect something more spiritualised, more abstract, than these quasi-physical reports. Such material is provided elsewhere in The Awakening Letters in a section given over to one Father Andrew Glazewski, a much-loved Polish priest, mystic, scientist and musician.
“I accepted death, and as I did so the whole world changed. The room blazed with light. The books on the table, the chairs, even the carpet and curtains, everything in that room was alive with love power... I had often tried to feel this at-oneness with the Divine, but never succeeded to this overwhelming extent. I felt like a piece of blotting paper that was being saturated with light. I waited in an ecstasy – every moment was beyond words. I became tireless in my power to receive.”
Such an extract might evoke a different sort of recognition in us, more supercharged, more essential – but also perhaps more daunting. Unsurprisingly after such a start, Father Andrew outgrows his quasi-physical body and moves into a more abstract state.
“I have been a long way outside our solar system, but it was on the next plane and I can give very few details... I now have no body as such. I am a group of vibrations for ever growing more complex and at the same time simpler. I am an awareness in the atmosphere. I know that sounds too diaphanous, but in reality I am far more concentrated in thought.”
I wonder how other people might react to this. Outright scepticism is one response, of course; but, apart from that, does it seem scary perhaps or exciting? Father Andrew himself had both reactions, feeling dwarfed by the vastness of everything but also exhilarated by the sense of expansion. Let’s follow him in one more extract as, guided by old friends, he journeys through the cosmos.
“My friends also seemed small, but I was glad of their company, and together we swung on through this delightful area of planets and suns. We seemed to pass an immense number of worlds in all types of development and different grades of vibration. There were colours such as I have never seen before. I have no name for them, but they each had a different effect upon me and I began to grow.”
And there perhaps we should leave it. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” as T.S. Eliot suggested in Burnt Norton, so let’s put the kettle on, have a cuppa and settle down to watching the TV for a bit. We can always nip back into the cosmos another time.
Matters of Life and Death
The phone rang. My mother, aged over 90, was very ill in her
nursing home. We knew the drive would take us forty minutes, but
we wanted to wait for our son to join us from Leeds. So we
waited. And waited. I pottered around upstairs then suddenly came
charging down again. “We’ve got to go,” I announced. “Now! This
The urgency didn’t strike me as anything special. We’d delayed long enough: time for action. Chris began gathering her coat and bag, and we decided our son would have to catch us up however he could. Then the phone rang. My mother had just died.
So concerned had I been to get over there I did not remark on the coincidence. Indeed I scarcely remembered it, for whatever impelled me seemed to be acting below the conscious level. However, Chris has remarked on the incident ever since and, bearing in mind she is a lifelong and irretrievable sceptic, that is worthy of note. For her it was a distinctly creepy moment.
This is an example of what you might call Family ESP, and many people could probably recount their own experiences – of offspring anguish detected at a distance, or of spousal mind-reading, or of telepathic pets. It is a kind of Direct Knowing, and it wasn’t the only instance in the day.
The second one occurred when I entered the room where my mother lay – because she was not lying there. Something inorganic lay there instead, stony, more like marble than flesh. I approached the bed, noticing the set face, the wig slightly askew, the rigid posture, but I knew beyond doubt she was elsewhere. The flesh and bones may still have been organic in their own ways, but they were not organic in her way.
So that was the second knowing, the unmistakeable difference between a living person and a non-living thing.
The third knowing was this. I could talk to her. Not to the horizontal statue on the bed, but to a presence within the air. It was not in the air as dust or smoke might be, but deeper inside it as if her consciousness had found another dimension to inhabit, and I had to somehow raise myself to speak with her. In the circumstances this came naturally enough, and I probably said things like, “You’ll be better off now.” I might even have suggested something about her mum – my nana – being close. I can’t remember for sure. All I recall is the contrast between the lifeless shell and the living presence.
So there we have three types of Direct Knowing:
· I had to go somewhere (no thought involved).
· I knew something (about life and death).
· I was in contact with someone (beyond death).
Because of their directness, these Knowings seemed to circumvent
the brain and its thinking processes. They were not just Extra
Sensory Perceptions but Extra Mundane Perceptions. That is, their
proper environment was not the observable world at all.
Certain conclusions follow from this. Firstly I – and presumably all of us – possess faculties that operate beyond the observable world. Secondly I – and presumably all of us – are, to that extent, alive right now in non-observable environments.
This isn’t much to say, when you think of it. For instance, we are surrounded all the time by an ocean of radio waves. We cannot avoid them (even in the loo) and if our senses suddenly – and inconveniently – allowed us to pick them up we would drown in a chaos of competing radio and TV stations.
There again, suppose we developed the capacity to detect every neutrino that passes through us. A general estimate is that 65 billion or so pass through every square centimetre of Earth each second. So a sudden sensitivity to them could feel – at the very least – itchy.
The main mysteries around us, however, are Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which in combination – and according to present estimates – would outnumber our own sort of matter by about 24 to 1. So if we say, along with Wordsworth, that we are “Moving about in worlds not realised” that isn’t a particularly extravagant claim.
But what might be the importance of all this in our lives? Well, let’s go back to that room where I arrived forty minutes late. Once I got there I looked in two directions. The downward view was of an untenanted body, something destined to lodge even further down – in Stonefall Cemetery. The upward view – a little above head level, say – was of an invisible cloud, and this invisible cloud contained an invisible presence, which, lacking a really good celestial radio receiver, I could only just detect. The contrast between these two directions reminded me, when I thought about it, of my mother’s favourite couplet:
And that’s what I’m inclined to do. To look up. To see
stars. To raise my eyes above head level. To switch on my
celestial radio receiver, however inefficient, and see if I can
detect any broadcasts.
And there’s one more thing I’m inclined to do. When the Inner Imperative says go, I’ll probably go. After all, that’s what a writer does. There’s many a time I’ve thought I was going to write one sort of chapter, or song lyric, or blog post, but when the Inner Imperative took over I found myself writing something else. I’d be daft not to. The Inner Imperative frequently knows things that I don’t.
Matters of Life and Death
It was a tough choice. My best O-level subjects were
English and Maths, but I had to drop one of them for A-level.
That’s how it was in those days: I had to take either an arts or
a sciences package. Hmm, which to choose? Well, I wanted to
understand the nature of existence, and it seemed to me English
Lit offered the best chance of fulfilling that quest.
No one told me Maths was the indispensible tool of Physics, or that Physics was the fundamental study of the observable universe. (I suspect my teachers weren’t the greatest.) However, even if better informed I might still have chosen Literature. Why? Because I had a sense the answers lay deep-deep-deep within. Not without, but within.
I didn’t regret my choice. For instance, whilst still only seventeen, I went hitch-hiking around Europe taking Palgrave’s Golden Treasury with me, rapidly discovering Wordsworth was an excellent man for going deep-deep-deep within. His longest poem in the volume is ‘Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ and here is part of the fifth stanza:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
The stanza continues in highly quotable fashion (for instance, ‘Shades of the prison-house begin to close/ Upon the growing Boy’) but let’s fast forward to the ninth stanza where Wordsworth tells us more about his ‘intimations of immortality’, which he describes as:
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
For Wordsworth these are ‘truths that wake, to perish never’:
a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither –
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
I’m not the only one to find this powerfully
effective. Philip Larkin, poet and well-known atheist, reckoned
in a 1979 interview that, ‘Wordsworth was nearly the price
of me once. I was driving down the M1 on a Saturday morning; they
had this poetry slot on the radio, “Time for Verse”. It was a
lovely summer morning and someone suddenly started reading the
Immortality Ode, and I couldn’t see for tears. And when you’re
driving down the middle lane at seventy miles an hour …’
There is, of course, far more that could be said about poetry, but let me turn instead to someone born the same remarkable year as Wordsworth, 1770, a certain Ludwig van Beethoven.
While I was a young man, still seeking to understand the nature of existence, I’d ponder Beethoven’s 5th and 9th symphonies over and over again. What did they mean, I wondered, with their progress from dark to light, paralleling the Hell-to-Heaven progress of Dante’s Divine Comedy, or the winter-to-summer progress of the cycling seasons? They seemed to embody ancient initiation rituals – the raising of Inanna perhaps or Orpheus – dramatised into the most emphatic music.
Of the two, the 9th symphony particularly piqued my imagination because of the way the finale seems to rise through layer upon layer of heaven. The lyrics Beethoven chose for this unprecedented music leave no room for doubting the interpretation. They are Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’, and as Beethoven’s famous melody plays (nowadays the anthem of the European Union) they begin thus:
Joy, thou lovely spark of God,
daughter from Elysium,
we step drunk with fire,
heavenly one, into your sanctuary.
(trans: Bernard Jacobson)
Eventually Beethoven leaves the famous melody behind to fly ever higher with ever more remote variations. By the time he reaches the furthest point the lyrics are:
Do you fall to your knees, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Look for him beyond the canopy of stars,
beyond stars he must dwell.
The symphony carries us a long way but, alas, it does not remain
in the Empyrean for long, so I am left wanting more. Keep me
there, I want to ask; give us more. Obligingly, that is exactly
what Beethoven provides in another work premiered the same year
(1824), the Missa Solemnis. With this we can spend an hour or
more up in heaven – and if we choose Otto Klemperer’s 1951
recording we can make it a full 79 minutes.
I mention this version in particular because it’s what I had on vinyl back in 1974 after our first child was born. At the time I was re-reading C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image a lovely fascinating volume in which Lewis discusses, amongst other great matters, the Music of the Spheres. Outside the window were Venus, Jupiter and a sickle moon, in one of their rare and stunning conjunctions, so even while I read about the spheres I could also see them. But how about hearing them? Well, I could do that too, for their music was on the turntable, and it was called the Missa Solemnis.
Thus while our baby daughter slept in her cradle (actually a drawer lined with a blanket: we didn’t have much money) heaven shone about us.
I have always considered the Missa Solemnis as irrefutable proof of God, Heaven, Ultimate Love, the whole divine and cosmic thing. However, if music doesn’t suit you, Wordsworth will probably do just as nicely.
The fundamental human question, to give it a slightly different formulation, is this: what happens when I die? Religion ought to be good at answering this one because heaven, hell and suchlike are religious concepts. Consider the disappointment, therefore, when some religions – for instance Anglican Christianity – have almost nothing to say.
Here are the words you might hear at a Church of England funeral service: "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life." Now, the repetition of “sure” and “certain” (they say the same thing) might put us on our guard (are they waffling because they’re not actually sure?)
But the nub of the problem lies in the word “Resurrection”. What resurrects? There are basically three theories:
The physical body (in which case it will have to
wait until the Last Trumpet, whenever that might be)
· A quasi-physical body (sometimes called the Resurrection Body, whatever that might be)
· The soul (but this can’t exactly resurrect because it never died in the first place; dying is not what souls do)
So the net result is confusion. This partly explains the
popularity of Spiritualism between the wars. Eminent scientists,
such as Sir William Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge, had showed
great interest in discarnate survival, and Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, was a respected figurehead of the
Spiritualist movement. Nonetheless, cranks and charlatans were
bound to get involved, so the general impression of Spiritualism
was, let us say: interesting but unreliable.
Anglican Christianity on the other hand came across, perhaps, as worthy but uncongenial (too much blessing of tanks in World War One). So how about putting the two together? Could the result be both worthy and interesting?
Maybe so. In 1937 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Cosmo Lang and William Temple, set up a ten person committee to investigate Spiritualism. It was crucial time to look beyond this life, with another World War looming, and in 1939 the committee came up with two reports, a Majority Report signed by seven of the ten and a Minority Report signed by the remaining three.
After that: nothing.
The reports were shelved. No one heard anything about them. The C of E had nothing more relevant to offer the millions of World War Two bereaved than "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life."
It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the text of the Majority Report came to light, published by Psychic Press Ltd. Here are some of its conclusions:
· “The strictly scientific verdict on the matter of personal survival can only be one of non-proven. Again, the whole question of extra sensory perception is still a matter of scientific subjudice. On the other hand certain outstanding psychic experiences of individuals, including certain experiences with mediums, make a strong prima facie case for survival and for the possibility of spirit communications...”
· “When every possible explanation of these communications has been given, and all doubtful evidence set aside, it is very generally agreed that there remains some element as yet unexplained. We think that it is probable that the hypothesis that they proceed in some cases from discarnate spirits is the true one.”
This is big stuff. This is massive. The C of E report is saying – more or less – that Spiritualism is probably correct. So who are these mavericks coming out with such a controversial verdict? The signatories to the Report were:
Dr. Francis Underhill, Bishop of Bath and
· Dr. W.R. Matthews, Dean of St Paul’s
· Canon Harold Anson, Master of the Temple
· Canon L.W. Grensted, Nolloth Professor of the Christian Religion at Oxford
· Dr. William Brown, Celebrated Harley Street Psychologist
· Mr. P.E. Sandlands, QC, Barrister-at-Law
· Lady (Gwendolen) Stephenson
In the context of the time, this was as distinguished a set of investigators as could be wished for. But wait a moment, what about the oft-held view that spirit communications come from the Devil? Here is the answer they gave:
· “The view has been held with some degree of Church authority, that psychic phenomena are real but that they proceed from evil spirits. The possibility that spirits of a low order may seek to influence us in this way cannot be excluded as inherently illogical or absurd, but it would be extremely unlikely if there were not also the possibility of contact with good spirits.”
Alright, but how can people be sure they are in touch with the good ones?
· “The Christian life is grounded upon God, and its fundamental activities are prayer and worship, which issue in loving worship of mankind. A life so grounded has nothing to fear from evil influences or powers of any kind.”
Nothing to fear. Well, something bothered Archbishops Lang
and Temple because they sat on the report and condemned the poor
old C of E to a future of dwindling relevance, dwindling
congregations, dwindling authority.
This, to me, is sad. The C of E has some gorgeous buildings and some splendid traditions, and when I take communion at, say, York Minster on Christmas morning, something definitely happens. Let me be unambiguous. A strong spiritual experience can occur. To me, at least.
But what? Ah, that belongs in the realm of Inner Truth. And that’s another topic.
Matters of Life and Death
The fundamental question for a human being is this: do I die when
I die? If yes, then it might be fair to assume everything is
physical, that matter is all.
If the answer is no, then we have a far bigger implication. Matter is not everything. Other stuff exists – call it spirit, mind, non-material reality, whatever. The point is, we suddenly have a massive unexplored meta-universe.
This is what people have generally believed, everywhere, always – heaven, hell, the afterlife, the beyond, bardo, tir na nog, spiritual realms, and so on. But not now. The prevailing western attitude can be summarised in a conversation between Ralph and Piggy in Lord of the Flies. Here’s the how it goes:
Ralph raised the conch to his lips and then lowered it. “The
trouble is: Are there ghosts, Piggy?..”
“Course there aren’t.”
“Cos things wouldn’t make sense. Houses an’ streets, an’ – TV – they wouldn’t work.”
And that’s it, more or less. We live in a manufactured world of houses, streets, TVs, footwear, cars, computers – all the material objects that insulate us from other realities. None of them survive death, so why should we?
Technology has persuaded us. Science has persuaded us. Nothing exists except matter. Which is odd, because science says no such thing.
Here’s what science really says. Our sort of matter (baryonic matter) makes up about 4% of the universe. That’s right: 96% of the universe is other stuff. We can’t emphasise this enough. All the resonant certainties of St Dawkins and his fellow prophets are based on one basic assumption: that matter is all.
And they are wrong.
The rest of the universe is made up of dark energy (73%) and dark matter (23%). And the point of the word ‘dark’ is that we scarcely know anything about these things. Nonetheless, putting a label on them can fool us into thinking we have some understanding, so it is good to shuffle the synonyms around, just to jog ourselves out of complacency. And when we do that, we find some very interesting synonyms for the ‘dark’ component of dark matter: hidden, undetected, unseen, occult.
That’s right: 73% of the universe is occult energy and 23% occult matter.
Now, we mustn’t get carried away and immediately conclude that all the mystics, shamans, yogis and spiritualists have been right all along. It may or may not be the case that all this occult matter and energy corresponds to heaven, hell, the afterlife, the beyond, bardo, tir na nog, spiritual realms, and so on. We are in no position to know.
But it is interesting to note the congruence:
Religion says there are vast other realities we
cannot detect by physical means
· Science says there are vast other realities we cannot detect by physical means
It is a fascinating parallel, although in our present state of
knowledge we can say no more than that.
A while ago I was experimenting with twitter. What sort of items did I like reading? Offbeat thoughts, wit’n’wisdom, snippets of this’n’that. Maybe I should try a few such things myself. So I came up with a series of dark matter tweets.
· Gosh, there's a lot of dark matter in the kitchen today. Can hardly push past it to the fridge...
· Sod it – fridge full of dark matter too. Now is that a bottle of milk or...?
· Some fascinating galaxies floating through this lounge...
· Really kicking off in Dark Matter right now. Good and bad angels having a right set-to. Woops, nearly knocked over a saucepan there
· Oh come on now, this is silly – good angels lobbing lifetron bombs at bad angel patrol – yikes, what about our stair carpet!
· Think I'm back with proper matter now (baryonic). Mind you, I do appear to be tweeting. (Remind me, is that normal?)
And so on. The basic idea is that every room, every house, every
street, car, bus and train is likely to contain vastly more dark
matter and dark energy than anything else. If computer screens
exist in dark matter (uncertain, I grant you) then there could be
six dark matter screens in each room for every one of ours. (Have
a look: can you see them?) And if dark energy could configure
itself into the likeness of computer screens (even more
uncertain) then there would be eighteen such screens for each of
ours. (Eek: hardly space to breathe!)
‘Dark’ computer screens are, of course, unlikely. Far more likely to have angels and demons battling it out over the kitchen stove. Or bleeding ichor (the blood of angels) onto the stair carpet.
Or, well, we can’t really guess. And that’s the point of calling it ‘dark’.
We just don’t know. But when someone trots out the weary old ‘wenyer dedyer ded’ they don’t know either.
So let’s be cheerful and relaxed about science. It’s good stuff, it’s great stuff, but it does have its limits. And real science is honest about this. So if anyone tries beating us over the head with it – saying we’re nincompoops for wondering about this or that – well, they’re just not being scientific.
Last year (2011) we took a trip to America for the first time,
hiring a Ford Mustang and driving through California, Arizona and
Nevada. It was glorious discovering new places, new environments,
new ways of doing things, but we didn’t leave all the discovery
till we arrived. We brought a couple of guidebooks beforehand,
googled a few places on the Net, pored over some maps and studied
details in the brochure.
All this is quite natural.
How about the Bigger Trip at the end of earthly life? Where are the guidebooks? Which web pages should I google? Where are the maps and tourist brochures? Once again it is natural to want some information. Where should I try?
From time to time I hope to post articles on 'Matters of Life and Death', and shall be evaluating various sources of information:
· Science: how much, if
anything, can it tell us about non-material reality?
· Religion: how much can the familiar Christian variety tell us?
· Poetry and music: can these reveal any ‘Truths of the Imagination’ for us?
· Inner Resonance: how much weight can I place on something that ‘rings true’?
And there is one more source I shall consult, Spiritualism. For a
writer, it is a brilliant resource. Spiritualism had a
considerable vogue before and after the First World War, but
nowadays it is deeply unfashionable. As a result, there is a
cornucopia of wonderful but neglected materials for me to
At my bedside I have volumes with such evocative titles as Life Beyond the Veil, Gone West and The Living Dead Man. They all date from the time around the First World War and have a sense of the drama and intensity involved in the time. But wait a moment, you might say, aren’t they too spooky for the bedside? Not at all. They make splendid bedtime reading, often cheering, frequently astonishing, always fascinating. I have dog-eared many a must-revisit page, made vertical lines in the margins of read-again extracts, and added double – or even treble – lines for especially mind-boggling material.
But how much can I trust such things, I hear you ask. Well, there are basically four answers to this:
· Firstly, I can check
the materials for consistency. How do they match up against each
other – and also against more recent material coming from Near
Death Experiences and Hypnotic Regression? Do they support or
contradict each other?
· Secondly, I can ask how far the stories match up with common sense. That is, do the humans behave as humans (albeit in different circumstances)?
· Thirdly, I can employ the Inner Resonance guide (as mentioned above) – do the stories and descriptions ring true?
· Fourthly, as a novelist I can ask whether they would make darn good tales.
That last one is a good criterion for me. I am engaged on writing
an updatedDivine Comedy trilogy in which the scope
and vision of Dante are compounded with the buddy-style interplay
of, say, Butch and Sundance. A mismatched pair of cousins
are sent to quarrel their way through Earth, Hell and even Heaven
(which is not where you’d expect to see a lot of quarrelling, but
they’ll find a way).
Recently I have been busy with Book Two, A Short, Selective Journey Through Hell, and have happily drawn on Life Beyond the Veil, Gone Westand The Living Dead Man, as well as plenty of other resources.
Well yes, you might say. Rattling good tale, you might say. But is it all true? Do you really believe all that stuff?
Well, my friends, believe is a funny word. It implies loyalty to one set of propositions and not to another. This can be very limiting, and, if you are a scientist, it can be disastrous. There you go building your career on – what? – certainties about dinosaur bones, about continental drift or perhaps even the speed of light, and then along comes evidence to prove your whole life is one big mistake.
No, belief is a very limiting word. Let’s go with something rather more open. It has been suggested that science fiction writers do a lot better in the Next World than saintly believers, and this seems credible to me because science fiction writers are in the business of imagining the unimaginable. They’re not held down by the diving boots of belief.
So let’s say I value Life Beyond the Veil, Gone West, The Living Dead Man and suchlike for their Wow factor. They may or may not hold vast amounts of truth, but I can try to check them for consistency, common sense and resonance. And, having done so, I’m inclined to say yup, they make the better story.
(This post has been simultaneously published on my blog http://dimensionsbeyond.typepad.com/
complete with a lovely pic of Death Valley - seen from 'Dante's View' - which I would have included here, only I couldn't get the picture uploader to cooperate, alas. Do feel free to call in on said blog and sample the numerous delights therein...)
On Radio 4 this morning Stephen Fry (‘Fry’s English
Delight’) was extolling brevity and suggesting Twitter, through
its maximum of 140 characters, might be a modern parallel to
Haiku. Although not a devotee of the Ubiquitous One, I felt
myself agreeing with his schoolmasterly tones.
The thing is I’d started twittering under how-to-be-a-proper-author instructions. But what makes a good tweet? Social banter only works with those involved, and read-this/click-here messages are only good if you’re looking for something to click on and read.
I decided the tweets I liked best were the self contained items – the one liner jokes, the quoted wit’n’wisdom, the poetic ideas. So, breaking the how-to-be-a-proper-author diktat, I tried a few self contained tweets.
Scientific ideas seemed worth a go:
· A photon is not just a particle but a wave. I am not just a body but an aura (hypothesis)
· The Multiverse: hmm, if I spell this wrong another universe opens up where I get it right? (Quick, check the letters – which universe won?)
· Dark matter: I glimpsed a pinhead and saw 137 angels dancing on it. Dark energy: they were doing it very quickly.
Or silly jokes:
· Haiku: Hi Koo, how are you?/ Thoughts are short cos words are few./ Bye Koo, that'll do.
· Spring is in the air, and there's a spring in my step. Oops, I just stepped on Spring. Sorry about that, folks...
· The tweeter lay dying in the dust outside the saloon. “The man who shot me,” he typed, using up his last characters, “was...”
· I held you tight, with all my might, throughout the night – till my arm went dead (the right)... Happy Valentines everybody
I played with the idea of a semi-divine companion:
· Walking along with the Goddess of the Air beside me – then it starts to rain. “So?” she says. “I'm moody.”
· Walking along with the Goddess of the Air – leaves hurtle past us on the ground; she's playing...
· Walking along with the Goddess of the Air – I say “Let's have a lull in the wind”; she says, “How feeble do you want me to be?”
· Walking along with the Goddess of Air – “Fantastic weather,” I say. “Of course,” she replies, “the whole world is a fantasy.”
I returned to the theme of dark matter, tried playing with it:
· Gosh, there's a lot of dark matter in the kitchen today. Can hardly push past it to the fridge...
· Sod it – fridge full of dark matter too. Now is that a bottle of milk or...?
· Will try drinking my tea, but rather suspect that wasn't milk I poured in. Wait a mo, that's not a mug either. Agg where's the usual matter?
· Have retuned my perceptions. Dark matter gone. Kitchen come back. Hmm, why's it upside down?
· Woops, nasty moment just there – I'd actually returned to anti-matter. Everything back to front. Tea started drinking me...
What I liked best, though, were random thoughts on this’n’that:
· Has anyone ever considered insomniac trees? Streetlights on all night – how can they get a decent rest?
· Trees in a forest are tribal, living each other's lives. Lone trees are poets, spreading their branches anywhere...
· Birds squeezing out jewels of song, glittering from tree to tree, linked together by streaks of silver...
· Chimney stacks so clear against the sky, punched out by the insistent blue – bang, a gable end pushed out – bang, a chimney pot emerging...
· Bright blue sky: the trees are high, and so am I...
A few more, this time with a switch-off/tune-in theme:
· That's where Paradise is – switch off the Daily Automaton just for the moment and – mm, how good is that...
· The Paradise of Normality – just you, me, everyone – all the same yet suddenly awake – hello, nice to meet you...
· Blue skies, light, expansion – and so the clamp comes off my brain...
· Silence in my heart, silence in my soul – nothing is apart, everything is whole...
All those are from a while ago, and I’ve not tweeted in a while. Maybe I should get back to it?
(This blog is simultaneously being posted on http://dimensionsbeyond.typepad.com/ – please feel free to click on the link and visit!)
Hello everyone, I’ve
not been contributing to the Word Cloud for some time as I’ve
been wiped out with a flat battery. Consciousness, however, seems
to be seeping back into portions of the brain, so I’ll have a go
at getting back in touch. For the sake of ease I’ll start by
reviving a blog I first posted back on 4th August
2010. It occasioned quite a bit of reaction at the time (89
comments, often very substantial) and as many people have joined
the Cloud since then it may be worth a second
I’ll be posting it simultaneously to my own blog at http://dimensionsbeyond.typepad.com/ (because blogs apparently that need visitors – so please call in). Darn it, I might even post it on my website at http://gerryfenge.com/page29.htm (Thinks: blogs and websites, now there’s a topic to consider – and a good way of flattening your battery if stamina is in short supply.) Anyway, here we go. It was called Mind and Matter.
Mind and Matter
This for me is the
Big One. Mind and brain, inner and outer, subjective and
objective. Science does not start with numbers. It does not start
with observations. It starts with the person doing the numbers
and the observations.
But which part of the person? The mind or the brain? Are they the same or are they different? There are three basic options:
1. Mind is an aspect of matter. Whenever the mind does something so does the brain (portions light up in scans). The two are therefore identical.
2. Mind is an aspect of matter but in ways we cannot precisely define.
3. Mind is not an aspect of matter. It can behave independently.
Options 1 and 3 are both pretty extreme. Let’s get some aliens to explain.
These aliens, let us say, are studying life on Earth and, owing to peculiar limitations, must restrict themselves to a short section of the M1. They find as a consequence that ‘life’ is metallic, four wheeled and fast moving. On further scrutiny they find a four-limbed organic ‘thing’ within the metal frame. To clarify this they use jargon like ‘person’ and ‘vehicle’ before coming up with three options:
1. The person is an aspect of the vehicle. Whenever the person does something (turns the wheel, presses the brake) so does the vehicle. The two are therefore identical.
2. The person is an aspect of the vehicle but in ways they cannot precisely define.
3. The person is not an aspect of the vehicle. It can behave independently.
Option 3 is unpopular with alien orthodoxy. Nonetheless, some mavericks try extending the scope of their studies. They find a service station and observe the four-limbed organic things climbing out of the four-wheeled metallic ones. “Aha!” they announce. “Separate entities!”
“Not so,” reply the voices of orthodoxy. “Proper experiments require laboratory conditions. Our laboratory is the M1. Your observations cannot be admitted.”
“Excuse me,” suggests a hesitant junior, “I once saw a vehicle pull onto the verge and a person climb out.”
“Anecdotes cannot be admitted,” reply the voices of authority. “Proper experiments must be repeatable. We see no people climbing out of vehicles.”
And so on. The analogy is inexact as analogies inevitably must be, but is it fair? Does science place obstacles in the way of non-physical data? And if so, are we as a society being fooled into accepting the latest “faith”?
(There are just a couple of extra paragraphs you might like to look at, and they can be found at http://dimensionsbeyond.typepad.com/ Cheers, Gerry)