Do you, as I do, have rows of old notebooks, going back years and years? I once used the yard of adolescent diaries to make a novel called The Unremembered Joke, thinking I’d be able at last to throw them all away; the joke is that, though writing the novel helped me to deal finally with things that had bugged me from the past—to put them in their proper place—after I’d put it all into book form I couldn’t manage to let go of the physical books so they still clutter my shelves. Time will tell…
Once upon a time I used to teach what were euphemistically called ‘Time Management Courses’ to people from ‘industry’. I always used to start off by saying, “There’s no such thing as time—it’s a human invention…” This was intended to SHOCK the delegates, who, in conventional office jobs, were used to living by the clock; the poor ‘delicates’, as we once used to call them, thought that they might be able to do so even more efficiently by attending my course. My intention was to move them by shock tactics into the possibility of a totally different way of thinking about the conventional idea of time and therefore its possible management..
Most of us at some ‘time’ or other, find the concept of Time fascinating, wondering perhaps where all those damned years have gone, amazed at how what we call Time can seem to proceed at different rates depending on—on what? mood, state, attitude, relationships, how the weather is, anxiety, personal decision, age and so on.
Nowadays, for instance, as things seem to go faster and faster towards extinction, I have a ritual that from the making of my bed in the morning to throwing back the covers at night takes me through a whole lifetime in every day, rebirth to death; this seems to work.
Apart from anything else, it releases me from the curse of ordinary tick-tock time so that I am the measure of my own internal clock.
‘Time is breath’ says Mr Gurdjieff—that is, maybe, something other than Merciless Heropass. But ordinarily, we are lumbered with the concept ‘Time’—there’s a word therefore it must exist. Of course, ‘unicorns’ must exist for the same reason. The results of track events at the Olympic Games are measured in terms of 1/1000ths of a second. Absurd—no longer the possibility of a dead heat like there was in my schooldays long ago.
I think I was probably in an ur-state of self-remembering when I first read, in AJAyer’s Problem of Knowledge, fifty-odd years ago, at about 4 o’clock one sunny afternoon in a railway carriage full of light, the Old French proverb: Le temps ne s’en va pas mais nous nous en allons... Time doesn’t move—we do. (Brown-edged now page 153—I just looked it up…)
…Events are not in themselves either past present of future. In themselves they stand in relations of temporal precedence which do not vary with time; if one event is ever earlier than another, it is always so. Or rather, since the position of events in time is fixed by their temporal relations, it makes no sense to apply temporal predicates to their possession of these relations themselves. What varies is only the point of reference which is taken to constitute the present. Every past event has been at different times both present and future; every future event will be present and then past; and every present event has been future and will be past. But these facts are not a source of contradiction, as some philosophers have supposed: nor are they an excuse for nonsensical talk about a multiplicity of temporal dimensions. The explanation of them is just that the point of present reference, by which we orient ourselves in time, the point of reference which is implied by our use of tenses, is continuously shifted. It is this shift of the point of reference in the direction of earlier to later, not any change in the temporal relationship of events, that constitutes the passage of time…
This is the build-up in Ayer’s excellent book to the handy apophthegm Le temps ne s’en va pas mais nous nous en allons…
Time is an integral part of us, time is breath. By an effort of being perhaps we can get rid of the concept of time or shift into a different dimension, a different way of thinking. At the very least it might prove possible to grasp the general relativity of time—which gets us to ask whose ‘time’ are we talking about? Mountains, whose ‘day’ lasts thousands of human years, or little day-insects with the long name—ephemeridae? The ultimate aim might be to be able to get on to the trans-space ship Omnipresent!
We are mechanically locked into a notion of time that is a human invention. A Influence time perhaps it could be called. Stop watches, public clocks, diaries, schedules… Records, histories… And our language follows suit: Time is Money, investment of time, time as a commodity… Ambition, anxiety… By identifying with all this, we forget ourselves in the cultural construction of time—the 3-D world moving along in conventional time. ‘Our way of thinking is moulded on this reality which is evident to our limited senses…’ and helps to maintain Personality… (Maurice Nicoll Commentaries p943)
The question is How to get out of the mould? How to shuffle off the way that all our upbringing has programmed us?
Since I was very young I can remember saying to myself at not necessarily very significant events, “I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life!” I suppose it was the success of this mantra in fixing recall that encouraged me to do it all the more so there is a great chain of moments plucked out of time, timeless. It might have just when standing by a pond or cycling past a field full of red poppies somewhere in Dorset, being with my father on the side of Box Hill one rainy afternoon around 1947. These were, I think, examples of imprinting my self on a scene or in an atmosphere, primitive states of what I would later come to recognise as ‘self-remembering’. In self-remembering there seems to be a total absence of ‘time passing’. Or there is a ‘feeling of eternity’ where I suppose we’ve all been if only ‘very briefly’… The brain stores all these moments and makes them into a tight-knit community free of time & space. Think of one of them and the brain cannot tell the difference between the dream and the reality: I passed an idyllic sunny afternoon in August 1955 at Stourhead in Wiltshire.
I spent a while in the pantheon just visible beyond the bridge doing an improvised whistle, leaning into the notes as they came back to me as echo. The young chap I was then is here now typing at what would have seemed miraculous at that time—to be able to see the words you type appear illustrated on a screen in front of you.
Maurice Nicoll represents the difference between two concepts of time by the symbol of the Cross. The horizontal is tick-tock time, linear time; the vertical line represents ‘eternity’ (expanded or annihilated time?); the point of intersection is perhaps ‘simultaneous time’ or, maybe the highly desirable state of Nothingness. Whenever we ‘successfully’ self-remember we cease ordinary registering through the senses and get the food of pure impressions—this-right-now. ‘Self-remembering is out of time and Personality…[and into essence]…’ (Nicoll)
Going through time, adhering to the dictates of diaries & schedules, takes us away from ourselves, gives us wrong feeling. Conventional time sustains personality in its honest efforts to earn a living and support a family. The force that comes from the vertical line of the Cross renders Personality passive. Being in time-now gives us a tiny bit of eternity, endlessness, Nothingness.
So what happens as we achieve many more moments of self-remembering? And then begin to collect up all those brightly remembered events from ‘the past’ (the sunny railway carriage, standing by a pond, with my father on the side of Box Hill, cycling past a field full of red poppies, whistling in Stourhead pantheon) threading them all together? Is that an expansion of time sense? Breaking through into BEING rather than being locked in time, I like to think: Time no more…
The Box Hill of the brain; Stourhead in the mind.
A Long Ago Farrago—the Notebook
Seven years ago I set off to motorcycle round the whole of the coast of England, Scotland and Wales.
Heading north from The Wash flying over the glorious Humber Bridge, I spent the first night in a B&B in Skelton-in-Cleveland near Middlesborough where the old lady went to bed early and got up late in order not to have to experience the whole length of a day: her husband had died nine years before; she was not yet over his non-existence. I contrasted that with my habit of leaping out of bed before dawn in order to grasp the day, sniffing the air and opening my book to read some more.
I took the Beethoven string quartets with me on the trip and listened to them of an evening—another way of getting out of time. ‘Napoleon is dead but Beethoven lives forever’ said Bruno Walter. Every note just right—the propulsion of them.
Also for reading, I took Man and Time by JBPriestley, great Gurdjieffian. Full of interesting things about Time.
When mechanical clocks were first invented they were a lot less reliable than the sundial in a garden on which might be inscribed:-
Amend today & slack not
Death cometh and warneth not
Time passeth and speaketh not…
Hazlitt quotes the Latin tag: Horas non numero nisi serenas—I will not count the hours unless they are serene.
There were plenty of serene hours on that jaunt: looking at every little sketch, occupying no more ‘time’ than 20 minutes to do, takes me back now to the very experience of sitting to make them happen, annihilates what we choose to call ‘time’—the entity that appears to interpose itself in some dictatorial fashion between that moment and this.
figures on the beach
appear and then disappear
in the white breakers
It is the precise nature of a haiku to tag moments of perception without comment, reflection or expression of emotion; they record moments of self-remembering. “I shall remember these moments for the rest of my life…” You cannot do true haiku unless you find your self in a moment of self-remembering. In Zen this is called a moment of satori—momentary awakening.
two crows fly off
where this field meets sky
lone walker with dog
Our purpose is to rise above the Vanity of Time; and then to rise altogether above Vanity into a state of something infinitely larger than self. Nothing but wind & rain, hills & sea & wood-pigeons.
These little sketches are my own way of emulating the sumi-e scribblers—visual haiku. The notebook was made of Indian hand-crafted paper and every so often a flower petal appears in a painting—I thought that was rather charmingly accidental.
Always asking the key questions: who am I? what am I doing here? I looked into a mirror on the morning of the third day out and couldn’t see the wood for the trees: I thought about the way one is constructed by circumstances and then mistakenly seeks to live up to a wholly imaginary picture of self. All an invention that slips between the interstices of events.
Forty years ago there was a favourite English tutor who, in spite of being a died-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, ash on his forehead when lecturing on a certain Wednesday, was very keen on the idea of everything being an invention—except God, of course, indisputable reality just as it was for Descartes who set out with the aspiration to doubt everything. One must stick to one’s guns, go the whole hog: if it’s all an human invention, then it’s ALL an invention without exception, never mind the ‘spirituality’ of it, which is altogether another interesting story
And my self, the invention I’m closest to, seem to have most understanding of on occasion. But the question is always which self, which ‘I’ is ‘it’ thinking of—so many to choose from…
On the road to Kirkaldy I chanced upon an old man with two unwieldy boxes of pigeons. I had stopped in a layby to look back the way I had come: across the misty blue Firth of Forth I could see the volcanic protuberances around Dunbar miles away where I’d spent the night.
Above us, there were two large birds circling round under the clouds just waiting, as he thought, to swoop down for the pigeons if he let them go—so he waited too.
“They’re buzzards, not hawks,” he said. “Buzzards aren’t so bad…” As if they’d heard him, they proceeded to spiral off into the clouds.
“My brother’s 85. He started with pigeons when he was 12. Now he’s just the medical man; I train them. These are young ones…” I helped him balance both crates side by side on the roadside wall. The side lids had to go up simultaneously so all the birds would know what they were doing. A quick flap and they were all off as a flock south then west as though they’d been taught to do a smooth curve in air together.
“Seventeen miles in twenty minutes and they’ll be home…” Like taking the dogs for a walk.
His eyesight was bad and he relied on me to tell him when they’d finally gone out of sight. What a shame, I thought, not to be able to see the whole flight for which he’d trained them as he would have been able to do when his brother started 73 years ago. Five years before I was born…
Consider you are not yet born, that you are already dead, that you are a baby, a young person, that you in a world beyond any world you imagine… All at once and all at the same time. Then what?
Saturday 16th July 2005 At Pitmedden
in an argument over
a heap of old sticks
Staying in this moment now—in this grotty hotel-room—one of a long string of moments with sea & sky & fields & field smells. Just me now escaping into the present.
break in the clouds
as the sun floods the window
Time—the abstraction of one mode from our experience of succession which we turn into a vast container—we seek to measure and analyse a ghost-container. JBPriestley Op Cit
Thinking about time, says Priestley, is like being ‘…a knight on a quest, condemned to wander through innumerable forests, bewildered & baffled because the magic beast he is looking for is the horse he is riding…’
the Tay Bridge solid—
no wobble as I cross it
All knowledge wobbles—it is always a provisonality. The aim for Certainty is complete folly—Uncertainty is more certain than anything. The landscape out there from Land’s End to John o’Groats is all provisional. The uncertain haze on a Sunday morning through which it’s possible to discern islands that for the moment define the horizon.
sunlight comes and goes
silver-grey then green
Never either one thing or the other; one model simply provokes another, doh, re, mi…
The first three notes of the octave—thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Plato has it that essence precedes existence; Sartre takes the opposite point of view. Fundamental Being has existence which tends towards corruption and the emergence of Personality which we need to lead a resourceful life but which can soon becomes corrupted by squabbles, competition, warfare, schism into what Gurdjieff calls False Personality which promotes self-justifying and the making of accounts…
You can fruitfully use the pendulum to get to a reconciling point of anything; it works best if you make yourself into an actual pendulum, feeling the opposites and all they entail and then settling to a reconciling which will turn out to be whatever it is for you.
Balancing the need to get on and out of a cold afternoon with the urge for a painting. At Ardmuir, going down to Ullapool after worrying about running out of petrol across the top of Scotland on a Sunday afternoon.
The attempt to avoid all presuppositions gets you closer to being able to notice possible intense patternings of things through close callibration with events.
After all the years of focussing on building Personality, for the sake of certification, getting a job, paying the mortgage, surviving the vicissitudes of life, bringing up a family and so on, just how do you get back to Essence? What do you have to drop? I have always been struck by what Ouspensky said: that the Fourth Way was not about acquiring anything but about finding out what is unnecessary to your life and then learning to divest yourself of it. Letting go relationships, possessions, tasks, beliefs, opinions—anything that’s been stuck on you: favourite things, ways of doing things, dogma certainly…
Detachment from all these things is easy while I’m on the move, burning up the miles. Peaceful detachment. Infinite peace and a joy that goes a long way towards ecstasy for which I need nobody. Stay just there and check it out. I could easily be a hermit.
At this moment I found a delightful B&B on the top of a bank on my right; in an open space at the end of the drive there was a comely woman sitting in a deckchair reading in the sun as though she was waiting for me. She didn’t budge as I motorbiked up her drive, simply pausing to acknowledge my presence. It was as though she had to drag herself unwillingly from the book she was reading
In a hermit life there would be no voices either accepting or carping—but at this very moment I knew the pleasure of warm human company.
Otherwise there’s nothing like the voice of Beethoven (Opus 132 for example. It’s just there at the end of a wire, no self-justifying, no making accounts. I do not have to respond unless I choose and when I do it’s because I’m self-remembering, focussing on the interplay of notes which is entirely on Beethoven’s terms. I make no response; I sink my self in the music. I choose.
No repercussions. No huge baggage of money, possessions.
Becoming the music while it’s playing is something I’ve done for a very long time: The Laughing Policeman, Puccini Pot-pourri, One Fine Day, Your Tiny Hand is Frozen… These were old 78’s that I played in the 1940’s on an old windup gramophone. How can you tell the dancer from the dance or the listener from the music?
Ten years later, cycling down to Blandford Forum when all life was in front of me was a perfect time. I can be there now and it feels just like yesterday as I rode down to Ullapool except that I know that the lovely old market town of Blandford Forum has been destroyed by the ‘developers’…
From the bathroom of The Old Manse:-
In the 15 minutes while I was painting the scene changed from a general greyness to being flooded with sunlight.
They built a house in the middle of the woods. They decorated it together; dug & grew the garden; listened to the birds in the early morning trees; went for walks over the hills and returned to a log-fire in the evening.
One day the Earth took a turn for the worse and the house disappeared down a sink-hole and he was left dawn-demented on his own in the middle of the woods where nettles grew.
This was to be something in the future being looked at by himself aged 14.
After a Monday battling with rain during which I went round Wester Ross, I dropped the bike from exhaustion while wheeling it into a prospective B&B and the right brake lever snapped off. The rest of the journey was in doubt but during a fitful night’s sleep at another place when all sorts of fantasy solutions suggested themselves—glue, string, a wooden spike—I decided to test the possibility of going on with just the back brake for the remainder of my trek (another 1000 miles or so!). This was at Laggan between Lock Oich & Loch Lochy
Article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
There was a study done in collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas, that looked at the way a bit of remembering can be reactivated by stimulating ‘the parts of the brain that were engaged during the original perceptual experience. Researchers found that vivid memory and real perceptual experience share ‘striking’ similarities at the neural level, although they are not ‘pixel-perfect’ brain pattern replications…’
“When we mentally replay an episode we’ve experienced, it can feel like we are transported back in time and re-living that moment again,” said Dr. Brad Buchsbaum, lead investigator… “Our study has confirmed that complex, multi-featured memory involves a partial reinstatement of the whole pattern of brain activity that is evoked during initial perception of the experience. This helps to explain why vivid memory can feel so real.”
But things are not as simple as that: the brain can be fooled into a feeling that what it imagines is the real, external world which ‘offers a very powerful clue that the two cognitive operations don’t work exactly the same way in the brain’.
…patterns of distributed brain activation during vivid memory mimicked the patterns evoked during sensory perception .. The so-called ‘hot spots’, or largest pattern similarity, occurred in sensory and motor association areas of the cerebral cortex—a region that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness…
During reconstruction of remembered moments things change a little.
So here am I at Laggan 18th July 2005 looking out at what appears to be cloud rising to reveal a chink of blue sky but not enough to raise my spirits. Not even the Opus 30 String quartet could do it! That feels real enough; something in my brain is mimicking my remembrance of that time & day.
I read while listening to the string quartet.
JBPriestley on Virginia Woolf and escape from familiar ideas of duration in time:-
We are magically transported into another & very different [sense of] time, one that is not only moving very slowlybut it is also small scale and very private far removed from public events and history. This slow motion and intensely private time can be used to create a certain strange beauty… it is a revolt against the tyranny of passing time…
So was my motorbike trip and so is my recollection of it now—it happens in slow motion in spite of the huge eating up of miles and miles of road. Intensely private… A very strange beauty—mountains, lochs, clouds, misery, ecstasy, joy all mixed in together. Time all to myself.
Very organic the search for Truth. Perhaps it’s just a feeling or a series of signposts or a light to dance in and out of…
Truth-seekers consider all things with equal weighting and accept the contradictions with equanimity; they take them in their stride. Unthinking people make a profession out of being inconsistent; they have no way of making informed judgements, no yardstick, or a yardstick that’s so fixed that they are tethered like goats going round in a circle.
Neither the ‘reality’ of my long bike-ride nor its recollection will be of great interest to others I suppose. But something I find fascinating to me now emerges as I contemplate Laggan that year now.
The Laggan Principle
Broken brake lever, enthusiasm-damping rain, uncertainty. I did not realise it at the time (I was not conscious of it) but, because I have the Pendulum inside me, feel it in the muscle, it informed my whole thinking process in the following way. This is now an account of how the works as a practical tool for thinking.
Say you are flummoxed and desperate, as I know now I was then. This is how it was for me:-
No = denying; Yes = affirming. These were the alternatives I was swinging between. By making myself into Pendulum Thinking I was able eventually to stop myself leaking energy and subsiding into irreconcilable misery, and settle to at least a temporary state of equanimity: I determined to make tracks taking special care; that’s what I did for the rest of the journey.
The Pendulum is a tool for thinking; it can be used any way you like so long as somehow your thinking fits the pattern:
For instance, two further oppositions that were working in me that morning in Laggan were two things that were upsetting me—the broken brake lever and the incessant rain, which give the appearance of being both negative; pondering for a bit I realise that there’s another way of interpreting these oppositions—one is contained in Thinking Centre the other in Feeling Centre: thinking about what to do about the brake lever and feeling that I can’t stand the idea of another day of rain:-
By literally physically swinging between what are apparently two negatives, I eventually come to the conclusion that I’m moving between two Centres, Thinking and Feeling, and the bottom, reconciling, part of the swing has to be located in Moving (or Doing) Centre. None of this occurred to me till I climbed on the pendulum.
It’s possible to get stuck between thought and emotion; the way out is through taking action.
The Phantom Brake Lever
Once or twice during the rest of the journey I went for the phantom brake lever but it was only in towns and villages that I was very conscious of the problem. I went very slowly when the road dictated that I should; having only one brake soon became part of my general strategy.
JBPriestley talks about ‘time-haunted people’: Virginia Woolf, Proust, Faulkner, himself… People who are always aware of the passage of time one way or another but not as those who wear watches or who are obliged to clock-watch are. The time-haunted keep track of time and wonder at its passing. They memorialise, note dates and anniversaries; try to stem its flow; worry about what metaphor to use for it. To most people it matters not what metaphor is used or else they spend time wishing their life away.
The time-haunted try to create a permanence of some kind for themselves: ‘I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life’ was always my mantra: so many permanences down the years. A very special seatrip in the ferry crossing from Dunoon to Gourock; this time it was the black waves, silver sun, swooping clouds over the hills where I had been. “This is me here now being me here now…” Such moments become a possession; something you hold on to as memorials, a counterpoint to to all the rest of life.
Whitejacket’s Almanac! I crossed that bit of sea for the first time in 1983 with my son Simon as part of a long cycle ride. I went in the reverse direction by bicycle en route to stay with a special friend Chris in Ford with whom I lost touch—by report his wife died and he wound up demented in a home. These occasions, with one or two others join into something that runs parallel to ordinary being.
At Laggan Farm in Ballantrae the beautiful wallpaper in the dining-room had been up for twenty years.
In Kirkcudbright I asked the woman in the Tourist Information Office if Kilquanity House School still existed. I wanted to visit after nearly forty years. She knew of it. It closed 3 or 4 years ago and, “John Aitkenhead died about 18 months ago…” Oh the time-haunted…. The end of a great experiment run on ASNeill lines.
I lament now and again that I didn’t have the courage of my convictions back then (1968) to go for a job there—after I’d interviewed the Headmaster as a contribution to a long essay I was writing at the time when I was being trained as a teacher. A nonsensical if-only which does not carry a lot of weight with me now! Just a little tiny regret which came alive briefly that day in 2005.
While I was interviewing John Aitkenhead, the headmaster, a little boy of about 8 or 9 bowled into the room without knocking and said, “Hey, John, where’s the football?” This abiding memory always expressed for me a whole statement about how education should be—simply a continuing negotiation between people equal as human beings who always had things to exchange in terms of experience.
My long essay quoted from what I found at the school (and others) and was called ‘Ill-tutored for Captivity’ (Wordsworth). Unaccountably it’s the only essay that’s missing from my records of that era. But the word ‘Kilquanity’ remains an anchor for all that could be good about education that is not about brain-washing kids into becoming work and cannon fodder.
I found the pedagogic snags with carrying out my project when I taught in a secondary school but by persisting in the face of hostility I developed really good friendships with many who I helped to ‘find the football’.
John Aitkenhead summed up his educational philosophy thus: ‘I let things gravitate to order’. Admirable!
Field Close Guest House Allithwaite
the man in the corner
starts to hum
in no standard key
man with a dog
whistles a sad song till
he hears me whistling too
across this sunlit morning
makes the fields more real
Great Time v Passing Time
I paused at The White Horse near Chester for the weekend…
There’s a splendid book by Stephan Rechtschaffen called Time Shifting. Opening it at random I find:-
When I go to a Caribbean island for two months each year, it is always an opportunity for me to slow down and therefore feel more connected with myself. There is a deeper rhythm in operation, arising from inside me, a basic rhythm that, too often, my work …compels me to reject…
Recently I stopped at the top of a hill to watch the sun set and a full moon rise. In the distance, I could see many islands in the dark emerald sea, each a slightly different hue, and I sat quietly on a stone wall off the road, drinking in the magic of the sight. Soon a couple drove up in a car. She jumped out to get a quick picture, while he stayed in the car with the motor running—they were gone in a flash…
There are plenty of simple exercises in this book that demonstrate the ease with which one can address the idea of changing the concept of what we call ‘time’…
The notebook of the 2005 jaunt seems now to encapsulate a moment of time that, then, seemed to go on forever.
JBPriestley talks about The Great Time as opposed to the really puny thing we operate with in what we like to call time in ‘the real world’. B Influence Time rather than A Influence Time—that which governs work schedules and mortgages and party dates and so on.
The Great Time is ‘everything all at once’ rather than one thing after another; it’s the ‘time’ of myths & legends, of the gods and spirits and all the great creators, of Beethoven & Mahler, of Ben Nicolson & Paul Klee. Everything all at once. So the Great Time ‘contains’ all archetypes, all the memorable events that have made themselves into frameworks of belief, of reference to things you feel you always wish to go back to. Fixed on celluloid, Humphrey Bogart is ageless and, for me, enters thus into The Great Time.
Eternity—just an endless quantity of ordinary time stretching on for ever and ever?—that’s a false notion of eternity. Real Eternity is the Great Time.
It never stays long, at least for most of us, but if we’re fixed in our attention to… [A influence time] we cease to be conscious of this something else, this bonus from the unknown, really arriving from another mode of Time, we begin to feel stale and weary… we are beginning to lose interest [in this world], for the scene is flat and its colours are fading. To die is not to close our eyes when we come to the end of [A Influence time]: it is to choose to live in too few dimensions. JBPriestley
We can catch glimpses of it in dreams or as an experience depicted by others in works of literature; we may even find ourselves attempting to express a hunch about it in a poem that seems to bubble up out of nowhere.
I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower alone, looking down upon myriads of birds all flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds. But now in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort? As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, not one of us all, had been born, if the struggle ceased for ever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy. But now the gear was changed again and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate rate, that the birds could not show any movement but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; and as soon as I saw it I knew that this flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real, but this quivering and hurrying lambency of being. Birds, men, or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so far as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought was tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such deep happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds… JBPriestley
Sunday 24th July 2005
There were martins swooping round a green field.
Early afternoon and it was dark and pouring with rain so I just kept my head down as I headed west towards the top corner of Wales. No chance to consult the map. A fast road between hills and the sea. Before I knew where I was I had gone over the Menai Straits and on to Anglesey with the impression that the island was floating away from all that I’d ever known.
At this B&B, the husband had been round the world in six weeks; was back the day before I arrived and sounded as miserable as sin, swearing a cursing while he thought I couldn’t hear! It was such a nice place…
JBPriestley talks about ‘Ancient Haunting Ideas’ which cannot feature in profane passing time where there is no strength or courage. ‘Ancient Haunting Ideas’ exist in the Great Time. With Jesus Christ history was invented and we date ourselves from the moment of his birth; part of the myth is that Time was switched on at the Creation and will be switched off sooner or later at the Second Coming or the Day of Reckoning whichever comes sooner.
While I was in Anglesey there was a news report about an innocent man shot five times in the head by the police at point blank range on the London Underground. The end of civilisation can’t be far off.
Christianity, says Priestley, got itself entangled in a world of stubborn facts in common or garden time. ‘It denounced knowledge it could not afford to understand… lived without the old myths… gilding & lighting up any old rubbish…’ that suited its empty rituals. Exoteric Christianity became ‘an Onward rather than an Inward religion…’
So Often Retracing Past Steps
On Monday 25th July 2005 all the way down the coast of Wales—267 miles
headlands in sunlight;
the day’s long horizon
coasting in blue
Annihilation of self in sea and sky, fields and long content.
Down to The Old Smithy in Pembroke…
under the table
the old pub dog
thumping his tail
wide open window:
soft night sounds begin
trees & sky merge
Out of Wales across Gloucester & into Somerset—another 267 miles!
Strange to recognise suddenly bits of road I’ve travelled before, often by bicycle.
Merry Farm in Basonbridge
towards its night
Poem constructed from page 137 of Priestley’s book, constant companion:-
a magic place
out of time—
a kind of outpost of eternity
deep inside some forest
or at the end of a forgotten winding road
maybe behind the door in the wall
we see only at certain moments
it has no temporal measure
but a kind of bright day
and it laughs heartily
every so often
And that’s my recollection of Merry Farm
Down into Cornwall heading for Land’s End but it rained and rained so I turned back east and spent the night in St Austell.
Pessimist or Optimist?
Are you with those who believe in ‘Progress’ or with Carlyle & Dostoievski who found Time roaring in their ears as it raced towards catastrophe?
In the 20th Century, writes JBP, ‘the clock struck more often and ticked more loudly.
In the bedroom in Allithwaite (which seemed like weeks ago) there was a fancy clock on a bouncy pedestal with a very loud tick. I moved it to the bathroom and closed the door but I could still hear the tick. I shut it in a wastepaper basket, wondering if the tick would just be amplified, and closed the bathroom door again… Silence. Death of the clock…
Bodmin moor in cloud
on telephone wires
Quick sprint along the southern main coastroad to Bournemouth and Worthing—calling in at so many places I’ve been to before. Nostalgic trip.
The B road to Weymouth (cycled the other way in the dark once (1976?)—aware of the sea in the darkness, night full of sea-sound…)
Abbotsbury along the way
mist & rain
over the distant hills
grasses stood tall
Chesil Bank—a tidal build-up of pebbles part of what in 1976 created the sea-sound of a long bicycle ride in the dark….
And then to Worthing. Ah Worthing! The first long cycle ride undertaken with my father (1952) ; set the pattern for all my long journeys. Going a Journey—an Ancient Haunting Idea in the Great Time.
The End and the Beginning
My notebook disintegrates into nostalgic musings: …bits of road from time to time: running down to Dunoon; heading for St David’s; Forth Bridge, Humber Bridge, Tay Bridge, a toll bridge with wooden planks; bends in the road; old houses at the end of organised vistas; the places where I stayed the night—a pattern of havens; views from their windows; rain, sun & cloud; and, above all, the sea; long views back across bays—Cardigan Bay; just the journey. The totting up of miles—over 3500 miles in three weeks.
How often this joy at coming to the sea—the first sight of it after following the signs ‘To the Beach’. The beaches of our existence; the tide at the boundary (Ancient Haunting Idea).
Passed many old chaps on bikes or walking who looked as though they’d been on the road for years and years never stopping, never content except perhaps in their vagabond self.
We hold a mirror up to ourselves…
No Such Thing as Time
My very good Internet friend, James Taylor, posts articles from various ‘scientific’ journals. One such that he posted recently was called ‘The Biocentric Universe Theory: Life Creates Time, Space and the Cosmos Itself’. Shades of Bishop Berkeley… The idea is based on Quantum Physics.
According to biocentrism, time does not exist independently of the life that notices it. The reality of time has long been questioned by an odd alliance of philosophers and physicists. The former argue that the past exists only as ideas in the mind, which themselves are neuroelectrical events occurring strictly in the present moment. Physicists, for their part, note that all of their working models, from Isaac Newton’s laws through quantum mechanics, do not actually describe the nature of time. The real point is that no actual entity of time is needed, nor does it play a role in any of their equations. When they speak of time, they inevitably describe it in terms of change. But change is not the same thing as time.
…running down to Dunoon; heading for St David’s; Forth Bridge, Humber Bridge, Tay Bridge, a toll bridge with wooden planks; bends in the road; old houses at the end of organised vistas; the places where I stayed the night…
To measure anything’s position precisely, at any given instant, is to lock in on one static frame of its motion, as in the frame of a film. Conversely, as soon as you observe a movement, you cannot isolate a frame, because motion is the summation of many frames. Sharpness in one parameter induces blurriness in the other. Imagine that you are watching a film of an archery tournament. An archer shoots and the arrow flies. The camera follows the arrow’s trajectory from the archer’s bow toward the target. Suddenly the projector stops on a single frame of a stilled arrow. You stare at the image of an arrow in midflight. The pause in the film enables you to know the position of the arrow with great accuracy, but you have lost all information about its momentum. In that frame it is going nowhere; its path and velocity are no longer known. Such fuzziness brings us back to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which describes how measuring the location of a subatomic particle inherently blurs its momentum and vice versa.
…martins swooping in a field, a game of cricket, releasing pigeons from a box, riding to Cape Wrath, dogs and cats stroked, stopping in the evening, writing, sketching, listening to Beethoven’s string quartets… each moment lends a sharpness to itself while the rest of the jaunt achieves blurriness…
All of this makes perfect sense from a biocentric perspective. Everything we perceive is actively and repeatedly being reconstructed inside our heads in an organized whirl of information. Time in this sense can be defined as the summation of spatial states occurring inside the mind. So what is real? If the next mental image is different from the last, then it is different, period. We can award that change with the word time, but that does not mean there is an actual invisible matrix in which changes occur. That is just our own way of making sense of things. We watch our loved ones age and die and assume that an external entity called time is responsible for the crime.
Merely a succession of space-time events…
There is a peculiar intangibility to space, as well. We cannot pick it up and bring it to the laboratory. Like time, space is neither physical nor fundamentally real in our view. Rather, it is a mode of interpretation and understanding. It is part of an animal’s mental software that molds sensations into multidimensional objects. Most of us still think like Newton, regarding space as sort of a vast container that has no walls. But our notion of space is false: firstly, distances between objects mutate depending on conditions like gravity and velocity, as described by Einstein’s relativity theory, so that there is no absolute distance between anything and anything else; then, empty space, as described by quantum mechanics, is in fact not empty but full of potential particles and fields; and lastly, quantum theory even casts doubt on the notion that distant objects are truly separated, since entangled particles can act in unison even if separated by the width of a galaxy.
The view across the bay changes with the added miles; the jaunt becomes one thing in the old notebook that I cannot throw away. Painting-I remains a sort of constant reference point as does Haiku-writing-I—two constructs that Meta-I chooses to have as I-tags.
In daily life, space and time are harmless illusions. A problem arises only because, by treating these as fundamental and independent things, science picks a completely wrong starting point for investigations into the nature of reality. Most researchers still believe they can build from one side of nature, the physical, without the other side, the living. By inclination and training these scientists are obsessed with mathematical descriptions of the world. If only, after leaving work, they would look out with equal seriousness over a pond and watch the schools of minnows rise to the surface. The fish, the ducks, and the cormorants, paddling out beyond the pads and the cattails, are all part of the greater answer…
It creates the cosmos right down to the last atom of the most distant star in the universe just by contemplating it…
Postscript: I learn from Wikipedia that Kilquanity House School ‘…is in the process of reopening under head teacher and former pupil Andrew Pyle, with the support of a Japanese educational organisation Kinokuni Children’s Village Schools (headed by Shinichiro Hori) which now owns the premises. The first intake of 12 pupils is expected in 2013…’ I shall be arranging a motorbike visit! 4th October 2012