Thomas's Rant

Story, myth, writings

The Magical Sci-Fi Vortex of Power

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Magic is just for children, apparently. Except no. Feel free to read on.

First, an often overlooked scientific fact: We cannot know what any thing really is. The scientific method systematically experiments with phenomena. Doubt is part of this method. The proven theory is given credence only until the exception or contradiction is discovered. Any theory begins, “Given that” – and these “givens” are not total absolute facts, only, for the moment, proven facts, within certain specific conditions.

The case in point: what is wood? What is the chair you are sitting on? It is made of wood, or plastic, or some hideous new moulded fibreglass-like substance bought from Ikea and made cheap to look appealing but will probably fall to bits in less than a decade. We think we know what wood is. It comes from trees. But what is this apparently hard, grainy, fibrous substance hiding beneath the bark of trees? What IS this – in itself?

As we deconstruct our world, into the microscopic domain – and beyond – science, that reliable, staid, dependable source of knowledge, becomes shall-we-say, a little abstract. We are taught at school that an atom has a nucleus – protons neutrons and electrons and all that. And yet, “As our mental eye penetrates into smaller and smaller distances and shorter and shorter times, we find nature behaving so entirely differently from what we observe in visible and palpable bodies of our surroundings that NO model shaped after our large-scale experiments can ever be ‘true’… The … shapes displayed in these pictures are not anything that could be directly observed in real atoms. The pictures are only a mental help, a tool of thought, an intermediary means… Notice that we prefer to say ADEQUATE, not TRUE. For in order that a description be CAPABLE of being true, it must be capable of being compared DIRECTLY with actual facts. That is usually not the case with our [atomic] models.” (Erwin Schrodinger)

In other words, we may form hypothetical models of what any thing is on the most basic level, but we cannot know for sure. “A completely satisfactory model of this type is not only practically inaccessible, but not even thinkable,” writes Schrodinger. “Or, to be precise, we can, of course, think it, but however we think it, it is wrong…” Every thing is made of miniscule cells, atoms, particles that behave in a way that is not solidly conceivable or knowable in ‘big world’ terms that have a clear meaning for us.

We are all connected to the outside world by our senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch – but that is all. This is so obvious, we easily overlook the idea. The desk-top feels hard because our sense of touch tells us so (and because the cells in our hands will not penetrate the atoms of the desktop). When in perfect health, we may feel the wind on our face, hear the sounds of a busy street, make eye-contact with a friend, taste that burger and smell the oily grease but our senses constrain as well as free us. They free us to experience the world but they constrain us within their limitations.

We can invent devices that will monitor levels outside the range of our perception. Dogs can hear a higher pitch of sound. There are birds that can see into the ultraviolet spectrum which humans cannot see. All these instances give us a hint as to how broad and deep the spectrum of ‘ultimate reality’ really is, abstracted from the ‘limited range’ of our senses, outside the grey-edged box in which our senses imprison us.

But what is this ‘ultimate reality’ which is all around us and in which we unknowingly reside? What guides the planets and causes iron filings to move about inside a magnetic field (whatever that really ‘is’)? Is it even possible (or meaningful) that an objective absolute reality really exists without someone to conceive and experience it? We have here left the bounds of science. For science can only deliver knowledge and cannot comment on experience.

We will now ask, what is it that is looking out, what is making use of these senses? Who is it that looks out of your eyes and who is it that returns your gaze from across the room out of similarly-formed eyes? Who is looking out of the portals? Well, of course, it’s you and your attractive other. Yes, you can’t know what in fact you are either.

“I am the knower of my body, therefore I am not my body.” Then: “I know my thoughts, therefore I am not my thoughts.” Next: “I know my feelings, therefore I am not my feelings.” And then the Buddha comes along and adds, “You are not the witness of these things either. There is no witness.” So where are you now?

This is not a proof of your nothingness. This is a line of thought in aid of awe – the world around you, as seen through your senses, is not quite as inert and clearly-defined as our consciousness – our knowledge – would have us believe. In fact, the world is suffused from the inside out with mysterious powers that rival the magical powers of the wizard’s staff, the nixie’s wand or the science-fiction space-traveller’s ‘force fields’ in wondrous inexplicability.

What makes an experience – something alive – different from a theoretical model of something alive? What makes the model of an atom different from an actual atom? This comes down to the problem of what any thing actually is once more. For looking at a thing and being a thing are very different experiences.

Being inside our bodies has conditioned us to experience the world using the senses. Likewise, the species has developed to attribute significance to certain qualities that can be seen, heard, tasted, smelt or touched. The atoms are not experienced in themselves. Hence their meaning is cut off from us, like the theoretical hypotheses that Schrodinger has described.

But, taking this a step further, what ‘attributes significance’? Makes our ‘big world’ mean something to us? The ‘real’ world outside of us seems to have an underlying structure that can be guessed at, that we can produce hypothetical models for, but which we cannot intuit clearly – like the atom. Yet this mysterious microscopic world supports everything ‘big’ which we see and which we are.

‘Inside’ matter, that is, inside our bodies, there is a similar layer of mysterious supporting powers. These are experienced ‘inside our heads’ as emotional reactions. It is these reactions, when linked to the world we see with our senses, that ‘attribute significance’, that is, make the world mean something to us. But from where do these emotional reactions come from?

Once again, there is not a clear answer to this because we cannot conceive of where (presumably somewhere in the brain) nor can we guess what these things are – but neither can we be sure what my cup of coffee ‘is’. In other words, the internal world (inside our minds) is just as mysteriously inexplicable as the outside world.

Yet, and here I am approaching the point of this essay, we do no consider emotional power in quite the same way we do magnetism or atomic power. This is only natural. Science is constantly ‘verifying’ the natural powers but rarely comments on the inner powers. This is not to say they don’t exist (we can see any time we are frustrated or happy or sad or in love that they DO exist), but they are mostly beyond the scope of science because these powers are inside. We can barely locate what we are to measure let alone how.

CG Jung suggested in one of his essays that these two types of powers may possibly be the same. That is, what we know as magnetism or gravity or even wind may be the same sort of power as anger or depression or hilarity – it is only that we examine and hypothesize about the former and are inside the latter. Or, if this is stretching the conceit, at least that what we see as instincts in animals certainly have some marked similarity to the emotional reactions in a human being.

What are the ‘atoms’ of emotional energy? Jung called these hypothetical sources ‘archetypes’. These are structures of our consciousness that are ‘built in’ to the organism that we are. What they are, we cannot say – but they are the basis of a structure, as the atom is the basis of the larger structure of a slither wood. The archetypes act upon our consciousness in the same way that a magnet acts upon iron filings. They are a force to be reckoned with.

Knowing about magnetism can help explain some of the bizarre behaviours of natural phenomena – we can compensate for an expected magnetic force – and we can put this power to use for developing technology. Similarly, knowing about the power of the archetypes can help us to understand ourselves and to compensate for a strong archetypal force (emotional reaction) rather than blindly denying these powers even as they have us in their grip. In fact, their denial leads to a perceived increase in their power.

But because these powers come from inside us, they are not quite so apparently settled or predictable as natural outside-world powers. That is not to say they are flighty and entirely unpredictable – the archetypal forces all come from the same basic blueprint in different individuals; they are patterns of the species – but the particular formation of the archetypes is differently realised in each separate person because each of us has had slightly different childhood conditioning patterns and deviations to the basic blueprint of the physical body (rather like how we all have noses but they are not all exactly the same nose). For example, our sense of smell is affected by the shape of our nose at birth, and what happens to our nose as we grow up – if our nose is sliced off due to an unfortunate accident for instance. Both these qualities affect the structuring patterns of our archetypal powers – (1) our capacity at birth and (2) how this capacity has been repressed, moderately developed or fully developed by our personal histories.

Jung proposes there are certain set types of archetypes that we are all likely to have – such as a mother archetype and a father archetype. Conditioning tells us we are all likely to have a mother and a father (even if through accidents of history we may not know them) and an emotional (archetypal) reaction to these figures. This is not to say that our bodies ‘know’ what our mother or father look like – in fact, it is impossible to have a set picture of any archetype – only that the archetypal powers tend to gather around, latch onto and structure themselves through the apparent image of a mother and father form.

It makes evolutionary sense that the emotional powers should do this. The infant is entirely reliant upon the parents for the first 13 or more years of its development. It both cannot help and needs to feel something towards these figures. Likewise, there are archetypes that latch onto certain conditioned sexual imagery – which means we find someone attractive; they match like key and lock the archetypal structures in our minds.

Now to science fiction, the harbinger of this discussion. If we can have a laser rifle such that when we pull the trigger, a great force or power sends a projectile in a certain direction, then there really is nothing inherently fantastical about firing some magical ‘love ray’ or ‘anger missile’ in a fantasy or science fiction story. There is nothing inherently ridiculous about this in the sense that the concept is not entirely without real-world correspondents; it is not an escapist delusion.

For the real world is full of objects brimming with emotional power – that is, our archetypal powers are released by encounters with people and symbols that activate our personally configured archetypes. In other words, love, attraction, revulsion, happiness, elation, expectation, irritation – anything we feel – are REAL powers. Cupid’s love arrow is therefore a representation of an energetic force just as Einstein’s E=MC squared is a representation of another form of energetic force.

So the apparently ridiculous and ludicrous ‘magic’ of a ‘love potion’ in story is not to be scoffed at, provided it is presented consistently and as sensitively as a representation of a special kind of inner force should be. In this way, all that fascinates in science fiction, fantasy, myth and even religion may not be quite so stupid or impossible as first thought. Closing your mind to inner forces may be as foolish as denying the outer forces, perhaps even more so – for it is your own inner sense of meaning, your own inner emotional connection to the outside world, that is, by so doing, being ‘unplugged’ and denied, and dammed up power will build up to a destructive explosion.

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Written by tomtomrant

22 May 2010 at 10:36 pm

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