Where Things Move Quickly and Darkly

I came across a great article from the New Yorker with an interesting title. In fact, my interest lasted all the way to the end.

Spooked: What do we learn about science from a controversy in physics?

“Albert Einstein (Nobel)” by Unknown – Official 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics photograph. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

If you get the feeling that science is not as pure of thought and logic as it pretends to be, then you will find some comfort in Adam Gopnik’s approachable review of the deeply hidden controversy surrounding what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Spooky action is the weirdest of all science, and makes telepathy and clairvoyance seem almost banal by comparison.

In my opinion, parts of Gopnik’s none-too-technical article remind me of the quote by Dr. Jason Parker, the protagonist in the science fiction thriller, “Middle Waters“. In a supposed speech to the open-minded Emerald Path Society, Parker said, “There are regions between heaven and Earth where magic seems real and reality blurs with the surreal. It is a place where things move quickly and darkly, be they friend or foe. The hard part for me is knowing the difference between them.”

Gopnik expressed that thought more prosaically by the following: “”Magical” explanations, like spooky action, are constantly being revived and rebuffed, until, at last, they are reinterpreted and accepted. Instead of a neat line between science and magic, then, we see a jumpy, shifting boundary that keeps getting redrawn.”

Gopnik goes on to say, “Real-world demarcations between science and magic … are … made on the move and as much a trap as a teaching aid.”

To be honest, I did leave out Gopnik’s entertaining reference to Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam. Again, if you have ever been suspicious of the purity of science, the New Yorker article is well worth the read.

Unlike the concerns of Einstein, Neils Bohr and the rest of the cast of early 20th century physicists, the anxiety of Jason Parker, the fictional hero, is not cosmological; it’s personal. It’s every bit as personal as it is for each of us when we sometimes question our sanity.

Yes, real life can be like that sometimes, when things intrude into our ordered lives, as quickly as a Midwest tornado, but with less fanfare and warning. But every bit as destructive. And it is at those points, those juxtapositions with things radical, unexpected, that we end up questioning our grip on reality.

After all, what could be more unexpected and unreal seeming than the notion that cosmological matter we can’t see, dark matter, could send comets crashing into the Earth, as Gopnik mentioned, and the  Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall wrote about in her book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.

So, Jason Parker had every reason to be wary of things that move quickly and darkly. They can be a killer.

Sometimes, as in the case of Parker, those internal reflections do end up having a cosmological consequence. But even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to occasionally reexamine our lives for the things which may seem one day to be magical, and the next day to be very real.

In short, the magic should not be dismissed out of hand, because, after all, just like “spooky action at a distance” and “dark matter”, it may not be magic after all.



The Dinosaur in the Window

Result of a FreakingNews Photoshop contest. Image credit: Matro1. Click for original link.

Even a child can appreciate the strangeness of watching the broad, glistening side of a dinosaur lumbering past the bedroom window. Fortunately the creature paid me no heed; it didn’t pause to look in the window, just kept moving on, quickly disappearing from view.

I lay there, frightened I suppose, but all I remember in detail very many years later is the remarkable sight of that moving mass of ponderous flesh. I didn’t see its head or its tail, just its massive hulk of a body sliding along the side of the house as close as could be without touching the house wall, or ripping off the roof. I sensed somehow that the dinosaur was not carnivorous; likely a plant eater, perhaps a brontosaurus, and thus no immediate threat to me.

I frankly cannot tell if that image was a flash of a dream, or a waking hallucination.

I was maybe seven and much more interested in cowboys and Indians than dinosaurs. I was not a toy dinosaur collector, and neither were my friends. In fact, I think this was long before kids, or adults, knew enough about dinosaurs to be fascinated with them. And yet there it was, gliding quietly and smoothly past my bedroom window.

That image lasted maybe four seconds, and yet those four seconds have lasted a lifetime — literally.

If my brain is at all typical, then it seems to me that visual images occurring spontaneously and transiently in six and seven year olds are perhaps associated with a growing and rewiring brain. However, as an adult my most remarkable memories are of similar dreamlets, extremely vivid dreams lasting but a few seconds, just as did the imagery of the dinosaur walking past the window.

Due to my being an adult I can’t explain them by remodeling of my brain. So perhaps there is something unique about them that has nothing at all to do with age.

They are certainly varied, and seem to have nothing whatsoever in common with my actual life. For instance, one dreamlet was of launching off a tall spire in a crystal city, and gliding on wings in an obviously nonhuman form, in a non-Earthlike place. That was probably the strangest, and yet most interesting five seconds of my life.

Another dreamlet, hypnagogic in that I was falling asleep, lasted maybe only a second. In it I clearly saw a white car veer directly into the path of my car, and what had to be an unavoidable head-on collision.

For some time I was on the lookout for white cars (Do you have any idea how many white cars there are?), but years have passed since then and I am still very much alive.

I’m well aware that no one wants to hear about someone else’s dreams, unless they’re being paid to do so. But that is not what this writing is about. Instead it’s about the strange events called dreamlets, moving images that pop into our heads when we are not concentrating on anything in particular.

I suspect we all have them, but due to their brevity few people talk about them. They really aren’t open to interpretation, at least in the same manner as more prolonged dreams which have been interpreted by psychoanalysts like Jung and Freud, and a host of modern day analysts.Dr_-Charles-T_-Tart

Arguably, the most modern discussion of these dreamlets is by Professor Charles Tart who has built a world-wide reputation on such matters. And yet he, like me, is reduced to only asking questions. In a recent blog posting he mentions a few potential explanations for dreamlets, some of which would be considered bizarre by most readers, but admits that none of them seem to match his experiences completely.

What interests me about his writing, however, is the fact that what he experiences during meditation and what I’ve experienced spontaneously share points in common. That leads me to believe these events are generalized throughout the human population. In other words, you may remember events similar to the dinosaur passing by your window, and may wonder what that was about. This posting, then, is to tell you that you are not alone. Unfortunately no one has authoritative answers for you.

If you have an interest in learning more about these brief events, then you may find Dr. Tart’s blog stimulating.