Saturday, January 7, 2012

An old dream about science fiction writers and Jesus

An old dream about science fiction writers and Jesus

A few months ago, I found myself eating beef brisket and drinking beer
in a barbecue place in Memphis, with one of the world’s top cognitive neuroscientists who happened to be a Christian as well. After a bit, I ‘fessed up and told an old story… and they said I had a duty to jot it down somewhere. OK. Here it is.

‘Way back in the 1970’s (1972 to 1978), I had a habit of experimenting with things
like “out of body travel” (which I concluded is quite real but quite different from what most people imagine it is). Some friends had pointed out a book called “Sanctum Celeste” in French, which proposed a particular meeting place “in the astral plane” where, they said, one could learn more about these things. if only one could get there. So one day I decide “OK, why not? I’ll try.” It involved visualizing a place a bit like a cathedral in appearance…

And so… it seemed I was floating through a kind of space, and entered
a vast unearthly cathedral. But no… not exactly what I had imagined.
As I drifted forwards, I mainly looked at the big guys moving in the opposite direction (towards the entrance to the cathedral), about twice my size, who
had warped themselves (flattened and stretched) to where they almost looked like
walking crosses with relatively small appendages for feet, hands at head,
and expressions on the face like some of those paintings of Jesus with a void
look on his face… stigmata and all that.

This wasn’t the kind of place I had intended to go to, but I kept moving forwards.

As I did so, and approached the area where one expects an altar in a Catholic cathedral… I noticed a funny little door to the left, in a wood paneled wall.
Out of some kind of curiosity… or light feeling… I decided to check it out,
open it and look to see what it was. As I opened it, a friendly voice spoke:

“Hi! I’m Jesus. I’m happy to see you. I don’t get a whole lot of visitors here these days. All those big guys out there are really too interested in themselves and their own thoughts to pay much attention to me, so I’m really glad when someone stops by.

“So let me see… how can I help you? I see you read a lot of science fiction. OK, I have some recommendations for you. Four authors… let me show you… and try to remember…

“OK, have a nice day..”

Of the four, I am most certain two were Dan Simmons and R.A. MacAvoy. I’m pretty sure Orson Scott Card was one, too… but I totally forget who was fourth.

The funny thing is… when I checked…. There were no books at all by R.A. MacAvoy
or Simmons which looked like what he showed me. That was disconcerting to me, since it seemed so real. But in fact, those books did come out in the coming years.
And they were worth reading. (For MacAvoy, it was the Damiano series; for Simmons
it was the entire Hyperion series, though I would view his Muse of Fire as
inspired too.)

I also felt a shiver up m spine when I heard the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “The Cathedral,” which sounded like the same kind of experience. I played that album a number of times when I was going to bed for awhile after I heard it.

Card’s series “Song of Earth” reminds me a bit of the major tome giving policy
for the Mehlevi Order of Sufis, which I received as a gift in the one time I went to
Istanbul a year or two ago. Among other things, it mentioned the age-old belief that certain kinds of abilities seem to run in families… to have a genetic component.

That kind of belief is easily (even routinely) abused. (I think of some of the well-meant work of Katherine Neville.) Western traditions have stressed how anyone can develop any capabilities, given the right time, motivation, preparation and effort – and that, after all, we all have souls, not only us humans but other mammals at least.

Yet at that time in Istanbul, I had been revisiting that assumption, in part because of discussions with Kurweil people. I had asked… suppose I build a computer which not only had mouse-like intelligence plus the mirror neuron kind of capabilities we see in humans… but also add second-generation quantum computing abilities… would such systems really “have soul,” really interface with what we call “spiritual reality”? It seemed unlikely… which suggested that the good old physical plant we use does have something to it… not unlike Card’s description… and not unlike those old folk beliefs we do seem to see at work.

The Mehlevi Order position now is that those who inherit such things simply do not need their training and support, because “they already have it,” while others do.

But I think this is a mistake, like the belief that those with natural talents in mathematics “will do fine anyway, so we don’t need to bother about them.” In actuality, there are cases I think of… where there WILL be an impact, yes, because of people’s inheritance, whatever that be… but the SIGN of the impact depends a lot on the environment.

I am reminded of this today, because of a guy in his 40’s who is complaining about what my generation (baby boomers) have done to the world, and is gloating about what his generation will do.

But in fact… yes… baby boomers and their thoughts have had decreasing influence since a peak somewhere between Kennedy and Clinton… but it never was 100%..
and the 40’s guys are very much on their way out too.

We made a hell of a lot of mistakes… yet in the larger history of the world, I can think of only two periods of 40 years or so of comparable peace and prosperity –
the famous “Pax Augusta” period (when Jesus was alive) and the latter nineteenth century maybe 1870-1910 or so.

What happens now?

With the new generation… the teenagers… I am reminded of the part where Jesus says something like: “When you see a lowly person or beggar, beware! It may be me
in that guise, testing you. Ask yourself how you would treat them if you knew it was me, and if you knew you were supposed to treat them as you would treat me.”

The recent Republican primaries do give some feeling for the lack of determinism,
and the groping… of the same generation which chose Obama over Hilary Clinton…

And it is coming to their turn.

Best of luck to us all…


Added later:

I can imagine some folks asking "Hey, what was Jesus like in this dream?
Why did you tell us about the books and not about Him?"

Fair enough.

I talked mainly about the books because that is where he was directing my attention.
He wasn't sitting there saying"worship me, worship me." In fact, he was standing pretty much the whole time, after I came in the room.

Yet... I do have something of a primary memory of him, still, even after more
than thirty years.

He was a very normal guy. In fact, he was so normal than most of the fancy folks
in Washington or on the boards of big corporations probably would filter him out, and not remember. In fact, he was so normal that it's almost strange... most people have some kind of visible abnormality, like worries or defense mechanisms. Maybe it's my own filters speaking... but he seemed unusually sane (a topic discussed at great length in my 2012 paper in Neural Networks). No weird expression of
self-flagellation (as in some of the imaginary paintings) or suffering or even distraction, nor the opposite kind of unhealthy fuzzy pleasure. Unusually clear eyes,
colored by a clear kind of benevolence and benign sense of humor. And focus on
how he could be helpful.

He was certainly friendly and inviting... but he did not have the kind of probing forceful expression of warmth that I have seen at times in the eyes of Karl Pribram.
(I remember going to a restaurant with Karl Pribram and Sam Leven and others...
and Sam later saying with great glee "There he is, this 70-year-old man, not misbehaving in any way.. and when he just LOOKS at the females in the room, they just melt all over him...the intense projection of love from his eye..." Well, that isn't
what I saw here, under these conditions... though I sense that he could have done that if he felt it would be helpful... )

In a way, he reminded me of some engineers and designers I have known, who are not ego driven but driven to try to produce things really useful to people... or to keep their companies productive despite the best efforts of some upper management to drive them into bankruptcy.

That reminds me of the question: "What WAS the fourth book he recommended?" But I don't remember...

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