META-I : TIME-LINES & WRITING HUTS
This afternoon (28th May 2020) one of my ‘I’s suddenly had the idea that perhaps Meta-I could step outside of tick-tock time. It had been reading JBPriestley’s account in Midnight on the Desert (1937) of the moment in America when he chanced to find in a secondhand bookshop a copy of Ouspensky’s New Model of the Universe which he’d been after for some time. He had read Dunne & others and went along with the idea of our being a series of observers and wanted to follow up with Ouspensky’s account of multi-dimensionality.
Cognate with the general concept of I-tags or Multiple-I’s – shifting into another dimension…
Observer One is watching a ‘dog-fight’ up above the place where it knows London is – English & German planes chasing one another with a view to extinction; it’s standing exactly in the place where so many photos have been taken down the years (a great clump of golden rod used to grow there…). This one might well represent Observer One (not the first but call it that)…
Or it might depict Observer Two fantasising about the whereabouts of its father who sent foreign things to his son such as a mango seed from some swamp in Burma. The wooden gate and hedge existed to prevent him from going further down the garden to fall in the pond.
Hundreds of Observers, millions all in their own time. I can step into those sandals now; you can step outside what we call NOW back into the ‘past’ where all these Observers are left seemingly stranded but accessible even in conventional 3-D tick-tock time. You can step outside ordinary time – it’s just one dimension amongst many. Time is breath, says Gurdjieff – every breath a new time. You can always go back & forth on your time-line to take another breath; it’s always there, timeless. Priestley writes:-
We may be doing two things in this life: playing a part in the ever-enduring Time One [tick-tock] drama of the world, and shaping our fourth-dimensional body, perhaps assembling the raw material – scenery, properties & characters of the drama – to be used in future lives…
Then there’s a fifth dimension and so on. Multiple-observers, Multiple-I’s, this one looking at that one and so on.
Sometimes, when I have talked about Meta-I in the past it has been suggested that, since we can never extract ourselves from the character or self that we pretend to be (so they said), it can only be another ‘I’ – one that masquerades as something superior, out of the habitual rut; they said you cannot possibly leave all those so-called inferior ‘I’s behind you – your ‘Meta-I’ is just one of them, a hierarchical invention, like all hierarchies. Though I often tinkered with the residue of the argument, even seeming to have had the experience of being in Meta-I while doing the tinkering, I pushed the argument to one side.
But here I am in the spring-cleaned summerhouse, writing the foregoing in an ‘I’ that bears a distinct likeness to Meta-I, capable of observing in an objective kind of way that last paragraph, reading it over, uncommittedly, but thinking about the absurdity of it all.
Here I am sheltering from the heat in the summerhouse, making up for lost time… Can one ‘lose time’ if there’s no such thing as time, as I used to be fond of teaching to scare people who’d come on a Time Management course? The fact is that I haven’t used my ‘writing hut’ as much as I should have done; it’s been in this corner of the garden for twenty years (‘lost time’?) but the lure of the computer keeps me in my ‘study’ upstairs in the house. However, now I’ve cleared the steps down to the summerhouse of invasive deep-rooted weeds and spent several days finishing them off by cementing rocks around them in a mountain-like disorder, as my father might have done, it feels good to be here; it’s as if I’m carrying all twenty years on my shoulder into its shade, outside time, timeless. Otherwise, being regretful is giving way to nostalgia or wanting to re-write the past, ‘filling the heart with bubbles’ – futile occupation.
And this is Meta-I, standing quietly outside time, aware that Writing-with-a-fountain-pen-I is working away to be its mouthpiece. There are other ‘I’s floating around, Multiple-observers: Lamenting-the-death-of-grass-I wishes this heat-wave could be soon dissolved, Feeling-the-approach-of-evening-I puts a pattern on the day that it didn’t have a few minutes ago. The ‘I’ that suddenly had the idea that Meta-I could step outside tick-tock time is jumping around to have a further say, together with Reading-Priestley-I and a Having-been-reminded-of-other-writing-huts-I… But now, this is Meta-I, timeless, getting the lesser ‘I’s to stand up straight in a line, considering the whole great gestalt. Meta-I asseverates that this Observer-I has got outside of time into the fifth dimension, into some place of its own, mysteriously comfortable & familiar; behind, all the other ‘I’s continue in tick-tock time – it’s possible to visit them any time…
Other dimensions? Well, three of them are obvious – they exist physically in the outside world – length (a straight line, for example), height (a square), and depth (a cube). But dimensionality is also about different angles on what we perceive to be ‘reality’: we observe objects through a fourth dimension of time.
Time, like space, has three dimensions of its own: our fourth dimension is time; the fifth dimension, at right angles as it were, to time is timelessness, eternal now; the sixth dimension is the line of actualisation of all other possibilities contained in a single moment now. Thus Priestley on Ouspensky, who goes on to hypothesise that the sixth dimension is imagination & infinite change which is pretty well what the controversial Superstring Theory suggests now going even further in the stacking up of dimensions. Maybe, since it says at the end of The Kybalion that ‘the All is Mind’, it might be useful to consider the whole thing as a system:-
Start with the obvious and never finish at the inconceivable.
Sat at this old desk (what they called ‘the bureau’) in the summerhouse, I am exactly where my mother was sitting one sunny summer evening early in the 1940’s with my little five or six year old self standing to her left. She was pulling open this drawer – I do it now, see – to get out her accounting book to enter the day’s expenditure (perhaps she had to keep an account of household expenses to continue to get my father’s army pay…?) All of eighty years spill into a single dot of time now. A Meta-I perspective.
Sometime in the early sixties my father built a garage where apple trees & pear trees had been all during my childhood; here he is flattening the base in his amazingly concentrated & crazy sort of way…
Once the garage was built the bureau was relegated there, a decaying piece of trash. (Or, since he didn’t bonfire it, was it something my father wanted to hoard – something precious to him from before the war? – I’ll never know…) Being an Enneagram 5 hoarder, I rescued the bureau when my mother sold the house in 1984 and it went to Bedfordshire and then here by The Wash it lived upstairs for a time, finishing up in my Writing Hut bringing more or less eighty years with it. I wonder if it was old when my parents acquired it.
Not a summerhouse but a Writing Hut! When you have a Writing Hut you’ll be sure to do a lot of writing… I go off into a Writing Hut Trance – Writing Huts I’ve seen:-
And one I’d like to have seen:-
The whole universe is a mental construct, a great collection of Writing Huts. We get dragged into the great lie of tick-tock time by the scruff of the neck.
If I sent a message back to my mother as she was that sunny summer evening would she get it? Would it now change the course of her life to know that here I am writing at the same fold-down flap of the bureau, my notebook, Priestley’s book and The Kybalion open on it rather than her account book, with Bertie the cat observing me from the top of the steps and Gurdjieff looking down at me from the wall? Anything is possible in the sixth dimension.
Back in the 1940’s standing here to the left of my young mother, of course I know I’ll be sitting in my Writing Hut at the bureau, reading Priestley, quoting from The Kybalion and making notes about Meta-I.
Priestley concludes his account of the thinking provoked by New Model of the Universe thus:-
This universe of Ouspensky’s is at least grand, rich, mysterious. I applauded him when I found him blandly dogmatic on a point that had entered my own vague and rather wistful speculations. It is this. For a long time now the astronomers have described to us the terrible emptiness of space, in which the suns and circling planets are like a few peas thrown across Paddington Station. But this is merely to take a three-dimensional cross-section of the planetary systems, which are actually so many elaborately interwoven spirals. If we ourselves were sufficiently enlarged, these spirals might present to us hard surfaces and appear impenetrable. Those immense spaces would have vanished. Science itself admits that is possible, because it tells me that the table on which I am now writing is mostly empty space. A particle of matter is not unlike a miniature solar system. Our idea of the stars and our idea of the atoms are both conditioned by our own size, which also enters into our perception of dimensions. Giant suns appear to us as points, without dimension. If we begin to theorise about the atom, at the other end of the scale, even four dimensions will not satisfy us. There may be much wild speculation here, but it is evident that, to say the least of it, we are living in a very strange complicated universe, not at all like the colossal steam engine that our scientific grandfathers showed their startled clergy. And its six dimensions may well have the character, for us, that Ouspensky says they have. This seemed to me his most fertile and satisfying thought. What we call Time or the fourth dimension is the line of actualisation of a number of possibilities. The fact that at certain moments there are many different possibilities is one that has always fascinated me, and I once wrote a play on the theme, called Dangerous Corner, in which the characters took one line and then returned to where they started from and finally took another line. The fifth dimension considered in temporal terms might easily be, as he suggests, the infinite extension of all present moments, the Eternal Now. And I find something deeply attractive in the idea of a sixth dimension that is in effect the final thickness of all things, the welcome reply of the universe to our creative imagination.
Movement along this last dimension would mean the actualisation of all possibilities, the possible changing of the Past, the production in the end of the perfect drama of this or any other lives. I remembered sitting on deck late one night in the middle of the Pacific, when the wireless officer was talking casually about the passengers he had known. “We had a professor here once,” he remarked idly, “who told me that it might be possible for a number of people, working together, to change the Past.” That was all. I never learned who this professor was or how he thought this miracle could be performed. But it is strange how the thoughts of men, linked in Time, but widely separated in Space, will begin to wander and stray and then run all in one direction. Along what dimension do they travel? I think I knew then, even while I was staring, half bewildered, half entranced, at A New Model of the Universe, with the desert of Death Valley round me like a very old model of this world, that I would never write my little book on Time. I did not know enough. I had not the right kind of mind, because as every new and fascinating idea presented itself, this mind of mine did not carefully consider it but immediately conjured it into strange new tales and dramas.
Apparently I could not resist running up and down the sixth dimension. If there was one, and this was not all moonshine. But why, I said to myself, should I not believe in this enchanting universe of many dimensions, in which we shall come at last, after much conflict and sorrow, to work every thing out right, as we try to do in our novels and plays? If some of my friends speak the truth when they tell me that we only exist for a brief period, reproduce our kind, and are obliterated by death, then it only means that one night I shall go to bed still exploring this enchanting universe of many dimensions, then fall asleep in it for ever. If they are right, I shall not wake up from that sleep to go on exploring my universe, but I shall never know that they were right and I was wrong, and during my midget life under the sun I shall have known a better universe than they do or than nature and reality know how to make.
JBPriestley’s Man and Time was published in 1964.
All these dimensions, not to speak of the multi-dimensionality associated with mere personal existence in time & space:-