Imagination is the key

If you can't see it, but you know that it exists, will it bend your mind?

If you can't see it, but you know that it exists, will it bend your mind?

mike hutcheson idealog democritus column​Just imagine for a moment that our thoughts and memories don’t only reside in the grey matter of our brains, but could also be influenced or triggered by all-pervading forces of physics that we’re only just beginning to understand. For instance, imagine that the sub-atomic particles envisioned in String Theory – the massless particles of quantum mechanics – aren’t just the basic building blocks of the physical universe, but are also germinators of intelligent thought. To illustrate, let me start with a story.

Some years ago I was in the UK, visiting friends who lived in Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the Scottish/English border. I’d taken the train from King’s Cross – the trip to Berwick takes about three and a half hours. A few miles south of the town the track comes out close to the coast. As it does so can you see Holy Island, Lindisfarne, in the near distance, just offshore.

After a few hours of listless gazing at passing paddocks, scruffy suburbia and detritus of dark satanic mills, I sat up with a start as the island came into view. I felt a palpable shock of recognition in the pit of my stomach. It was

a deep sense of knowing the place. Not just of recognising it, but of knowing it. A few days later, back in London, I rang my mother for her birthday – and relayed the story to her.

She told me that in a family history, written recently by my uncle (a retired headmaster and amateur genealogist) the first known account of a family member had been in the Borders region. My mother’s family name is Beatson, but in medieval times it was variously spelled Battison or Batison. It was recorded in a local court report that one Thomas Battison was hung for stealing sheep in 1532. He was probably a Border Reiver, one of the larcenous Scotswho regularly strayed across the border into England in search of something to roast for dinner.

I later learned there’s a plaque to a Thomas Battison on the island. No doubt someone other than the thieving Tom – who hardly deserved a memorial – but evidence none-the-less that the family had been in the region for a long time.

I’m an atheist, not into spirits, new-age channelling, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, astral projection or crystal-gazing, but the strength of the feeling I had made me ponder what other influences could be involved.

I’d had a similar experience when visiting Hiroshima in 1988. On a clear and sunny morning I walked through the Peace Park toward Ground Zero, the spot below which the first atom bomb exploded on August 6, 1945. Near the statue of paper cranes I was paralysed with an overwhelming sense of sorrow and started crying uncontrollably. There was a lead weight of lamentation in the air.

Relatively recently, scientists like Michio Kaku, author of Hyperspace and ParallelWorlds, have pursued a line of enquiry that,
if nothing else, has set fire to a body of sci-fi books and movies, ranging from 2001, Space Odyssey through Close Encounters of The Third Kind, to The Matrix. Kaku is a theoretical physicist and a prime proponent of String Theory, the branch of quantum physics that postulates that infinitesimally tiny strings, vibrating at different frequencies, correspond to certain sub-atomic particles, which exist in multiple dimensions and at higher levels are held to be the building blocks of matter. 

We know that only about three percent of the universe is composed of material we can touch, feel and see – the visible universe – whereas 97 percent is mysterious dark matter and dark energy that behaves in very strange ways. We know it’s there otherwise the universe wouldn’t exist, but we don’t know exactly what it is or what it does. What we do know is that millions of tiny sub-atomic particles are variously hurtling or drifting through us all the time. We know that the neutrinos constantly bombarding the Earth are so miniscule they can pass right through the planet without hitting anything.

Imagine these strings and particles not only have an influence on matter, but also on our thoughts. They have no observable mass, so they don’t exist in a measurable form. But neither do our thoughts, yet we know they exist. Perhaps it’s the same state? Perhaps these tiny particles that randomly come in and out of existence hang around the places where they first emerge, transmitting their very existence in ways that are able to be sensed by our brains. There’s no scientific proof of this of course, any more than there’s scientific proof of love – but we just know it’s there.

Imagine if some things we innately sense and think are supernatural, such as belief in life after death or reincarnation, or ghosts and gods, or spirits and saints, or avatars and angels, are just constructs that we have created in our ignorance to explain the unfathomable.

By thinking deeper and applying Occam’s razor, the complex mythology we overlay onto what we don’t understand is better explained as natural phenomena we aren’t yet able to prove. As the good book says ‘For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face’. Or as Einstein said:

“I am a deeply religious nonbeliever – this is a somewhat new kind of religion”. 

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