Yesterday was the first day of the new academic year. Suddenly the university was full of new students. Some people might think this a bad thing - "Oh, the university is a great place to work - apart from the students! HA HA HA HA!" - but personally I think the place comes alive during the term. Some people talk about the importance of research, but students are a university's lifeblood.
The frightening thing is that some of the new intake are born in in the nineties. I'm sorry but I'm going to have to call the police. That is quite clearly ridiculous. I've said it before and I'll say it again - they put the twenty-first century on at the wrong speed. Hang the DJ.
Freshers' Week seems a lot more exciting now that in was in my day. Everyone just seems a hell of a lot cooler and there are marquees everywhere. If you buy The Guardian you'll probably get a free mug, DVD of Bend it Like Beckham and a cranberry juice box. If you go to the Freshers' Fair you'll come away with more free pads, pens and coasters than you can shake a stick at - and all made from recycled CD cases.
And everywhere there's music, music, music.
Hang on. That's different. Some of the music the students are playing these days is stuff I was listening to before I went to University. And yet they're enjoying it. "It Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It" by Fun Boy Three and Bananarama came out in 1982. Students at a 2009 Freshers' Week dancing around to it is the equivalent of me dancing around to something from the late fifties - well, I wouldn't have been seen dead. Nor would any of my peers; we turned our noses up at anything from before 1976.
These days it is hard to imagine just how much of an influence those funny old butter-advertising punks had on the landscape. It was a revolution, a watershed in music. Maybe we all had our blinkers on, but we weren't going to listen to T-Rex or the Rolling Stones, Grandad! The engineering students had to listen to Supertramp, King Crimson and Fleetwood Mac secretly in their bedrooms.
Of course a lot of post-1976 stuff got lumped in with punk and listened to even though in all honesty it wasn't that good.
This attitude started diffusing by the early nineties. The spectrum of cool music was becoming ever wider and some of the leading lights were wearing their pre-76 influences on their sleeves. The Britpop Revolution took down the 1976 Wall and people were free to enjoy what they liked without risking ridicule.
Well, up to a point. I'm not sure anyone should ever enjoy The Eagles without feeling embarrassed.
Kids these days... have the full gamut of music to play with. It's just a shame that the tradition of bands playing the college circuit seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur. I can't recall any major gigs at the university since I've been working here; as a first year student we had Killing Joke, Spear of Destiny, Amazulu and ... er... China Crisis. The Smiths played down the road at Brighton Poly.
Eighties nostalgia seems to be a big thing these days - so let's bring back live music.
Yesterday was the first day of the new academic year. Suddenly the university was full of new students. Some people might think this a bad thing - "Oh, the university is a great place to work - apart from the students! HA HA HA HA!" - but personally I think the place comes alive during the term. Some people talk about the importance of research, but students are a university's lifeblood.
I haven't yet read enough to start wresting with my consciousness again this morning, but rest assured I will. However, whilst reading and rereading what I have so far, it's interesting to note the differences in attitude between people on different sides of the debate.
In the red corner we have the Dualists who believe that the mind and the body are separate; that the mind is in some way an incorporeal entity which is currently occupying the body. And in the blue corner we have the Physicalists who believe that you are your body alone and that the mind is simply a property or even just a byproduct of an operational brain. Seconds away, round one.
I quite like getting splinters in my bottom so I'm still sitting on the fence. I find the Dualist stance more interesting and appealing, but as someone with a scientific background I can't help feeling that the Physicalist position is far more likely.
The way they behave whilst arguing their corner also tends to sway me towards Physicalism. If they were political parties, I'd say that the Physicalists were better at oration and spin. Plus they seem so confident. They've got possession of the intellectual high ground and by non-existent-God they know it. If you take issue with anything they say you can't help but feel you're being stupid, immature or gullible. Only from these lips come truth.
Unfortunately for the Dualists they're inextricably linked to believers in Weird Shit like leylines, the resurrection, crystals, transubstantiation, seances and salat. Instantly this makes the intellectual high ground hard for them to even contemplate. As a result they tend to express their views in a very defensive and neurotic manner; you almost get the impression that they're having to try hard to convince themselves, let alone any of their readers.
Both attitudes may be more to do with the culture we're living in rather than being privy to any universal truth (or not). This is the Rational Age; Science in the ascendant. Remnants of the previous age, the Religious Age, are still around, but their achievements are nothing compared to the marvels wrought by the technocrats of the modern era. Man on the Moon, the Internet, the Large Hadron Collider... a veritable Sistine Chapel Ceiling of achievement.
But is this actually The Way Things Are or simply The Way We Are Looking At Things At the Moment? Is the New Atheist Technocracy really the highest form of intellectual achievement? From many of the modern Secular Texts you get the impression that most things are now known; all that remains is for us to do in science is dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s:
"In this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes."The above description of physics is by physicist Philipp von Jolly in 1878. Oops.
Unfortunately the scientific method means that radical ideas are invariably lumped in with the Weird Shit. Heresy in other words. Perhaps it is time for me to recant any consideration of Dualism and the like... and yet...
It still moves.
photo by Konrach
Is anyone else bothered by the fact that they might not exist?"For all I know I'm probably at one. My body, that is. It goes to a lot of parties without me. Says I only get in the way."Douglas Adams, HHGTTG Secondary Phase
I used to suffer from blackouts when overindulging in alcohol. Thankfully this hasn't happened to me for quite a while and I'm hoping to keep it that way - it's always massively disquieting.
The odd thing about these episodes though was that when I next saw the friends with whom I'd spent this lost time they more often than not say how much fun I was being, how witty I was and how it was good to see me relaxing and letting myself go once in a while. (Occasionally they'd say I just started slurring, stumbling and then fell asleep in a corner, but let's not go into that).
But what I want to know is who was in control during these times? Who made the jokes, who relaxed and let himself go? Not me, that's for sure. I'd have remembered that.
That is, unsurprisingly, the key to the matter. Memory. I suspect we only have a sense of self, of consciousness when both long and short term memories are intact. Perhaps during these blackouts the long term memory stops being recorded (someone pressed the pause button by accident) with the result that the machine carries on as normal but without me actually being present in the normal sense of the word.
I find rather worrying that my body can have a great night out and be the life and soul of the party without me.
During the above description, I've been using terms implying that someone else can be "in control", that "I" can be absent. This is a linguistic throwback to dualism - imagining that the mind and the body are separate entities, a theory generally frowned upon from a great height these days. Modern thinking implies that we are our bodies and nothing more, that consciousness, the sense of self, is an illusion caused by the way the brain works. There is no Cartesian Theatre (a term coined by philospher Daniel Dennett in his book Consciousness Explained a book which I will have to attempt to read again in order to get it straight in my head) where you sit inside your brain watching and listening to the news reports from your sensory organs and making decisions accordingly.
This kind of makes sense - if human consciousness is explained by a homunculus sitting in the Cartesian Living Room with his Cartesian Remote, then how do we explain the homunculus's consciousness? It's just moving the problem, in the same way that saying god created the universe moves the problem of creation one step further away (i.e. so who made god?). Perhaps these problems don't exist. There's no god, there's no human mind.
In that case, who's writing this? What makes me me? Am I the sum of my memories in a very literal sense - take away the long term memory and I'm no longer conscious? I don't exist?
Cogito Ergo Non Sum. I think this biological mechanism is going to have to do a bit of reading.
If you think back to when you were taught English at school, if anything at all stuck with you - apart from the constant punches to the arm from that bastard at the next desk when Mr Hartley wasn't looking - it was this. Similes and Metaphors - specifically the differences between them. The former is saying that something is like something else; the latter is saying that something is something else.
However, saying "David Cameron is a human being" isn't a metaphor. It's a statement of fact. Similes and metaphors are both describing something by comparing it to something it's not - they're not facts. "David Cameron is a weasel" is a metaphor; "David Cameron is like a weasel" is a simile - as far as I'm concerned they're both descriptive of Cameron's demeanor, and the only discernible difference is that one sentence has the word "like" in it.
Why do English teachers bang on about it so much then? It's not just at school. I seem to remember the topic coming up during the Creative Writing course I was on recently. Surely teaching this nugget of wisdom should take all of ten seconds and only involves the identification of the word "like"? Both are the act of describing something by comparing it to something that in reality it is not.
I'd rather my time was spent learning something more useful. For instance one thing constantly hammered into me was how dreadful adverbs were. One of the pleasures of writing this blog is that on the whole I don't have to go back through it picking out the adverbs and finding different ways to express something. I can see the point of course, adverb-heavy prose is clunky and amateurish, I just wish that the adverb-police came up with a few suggested alternatives I could use. Usually an adverb cull just ends up with an increase in the word count; "said Genie angrily" becoming "said Genie with an angry expression on her face".
Maybe this is why bestsellers these days are such doorstops.
Another thing drummed into you is "show, don't tell". You want me to draw a picture? The whole point of writing is telling stories. I do know what it means of course and on the whole it's good advice. It has to be used carefully though - if you take it too literally it becomes very difficult to work out what's going on. Personally I find it hard to get by without doing the occasional bit of telling. It takes a genius to do without it all together - China Miéville's recent novel The City and the City is a masterclass of showing rather than telling.
Often though "show, don't tell" becomes nothing more than just another stick for the lazy critic to beat you with.
The alarm clock failed to wake me up this morning. Then again is that entirely fair? The alarm clock is either switched on or off - I do that. If it's switched on it will ring at the time for which it is set. By me. So if I don't wake up it is entirely my fault. The clock didn't fail - it's an inanimate object, it can't fail. I failed. Then again as an inanimate object it doesn't need people to be "fair" to it either.
I don't have an alarm clock, by the way. I use the alarm function on my mobile phone. But my original point still stands.
Inanimate objects, no matter how much it may seem otherwise, are incapable of behaving in a passive-aggressive manner. In fact they're incapable of behaving at all - that's what inanimate means. When it seems as if everything is ranged against us, it's usually a reflection of our own state. We are disorganised, unprepared; our own inadequacies are flinging obstacles in our path.
I don't know why I'm saying "we" here when I'm actually talking about myself. I'm probably trying to involve others by association to spread the blame. Whilst I am sure other people do behave like this, I can only speak for myself.
It's probably part of some kind of victimisation response - rather than acknowledge the flaws in our own characters, we end up blaming this alarm clock, that mobile phone and the other computer; we become Basil Fawlty giving his car a damned good thrashing. Sometimes it is important to admit "I fucked up."
It's very difficult to do so; behaviorally, it goes against the grain. It's likely that evolution selects against it rather strongly; any early humans predisposed to admitting their guilt probably got smacked round the head with a bone club and thrown to the leopard. As a result the human race evolved into a species consisting mainly of passive-aggressive and plain-simple-aggressive members.
Now we're fighting to unlearn that behaviour, to unpick those genes.
Sometimes I feel suspicious of the term "passive-aggressive". When I'm in a distrustful mood it feels to me as if it was very likely coined by a bully to justify their persecution of victims, but then again that's probably me being passive-aggressive myself, hitting out at the identification of a behaviour that might be applied to me.
However I do think that a related term, "malicious compliance", was coined by those who've fallen foul of it. What it boils down to is doing as you are told even if you realise it's a bad decision. Apparently this is being malicious. That doesn't sit right with me. In many situations, rule number one is do as you are told.
This does sound very much like superiors attempting to shift the blame downrank. Imagine, in wartime an officer orders his men to go over the top, with the result that ninety percent of them are killed. A bad decision by the officer? No, the dead men were clearly all being maliciously compliant.
It's been a while since I've been anywhere with really dark skies. There's too much light pollution around. Sometimes when I've been up in Scotland the skies have been moderately impressive, but I haven't seen terrifying numbers of stars since being somewhere on the Norfolk Broads in the mid-nineties.
Do you know what I mean by terrifying stars? Too many to count in a pitch black sky; the Milky Way as plain as a pikestaff. It's deep space and it's right there. It makes me want to rush inside to hide and yet at the same time it's strangely compelling - I want to lie flat stare up into the sky and go mad. It's almost like Asimov's Nightfall.
I am not sure why such a sight should be so alarming; perhaps it's the vast numbers and distances involved. Our minds are not accustomed to dealing with such things and now we no longer have the gods to blame everything on, there's no one in charge. Just like the very small, the arena of the very large is where the real world as we know it breaks down and once more everything becomes simply vectors and mathematics.
I think it's also the time involved that is perturbing. Due to the ridiculously low speed of light, as we look out into space we're also looking back in time. The Sun is eight minutes ago, Jupiter about three quarters of an hour ago and the various stars anything from decades to thousands of years distant. How far back can we go?
The furthest we can see with the naked eye is two million years, but telescopes have taken us much further back than that. Radio telescopes can see back to before there were any stars, back the original microwave soup - detectable now via the cosmic background radiation. It's near impossible to see any further back in time - there wasn't any time before then. Fourteen billion years is as long ago as it gets.
This is one of the areas where my lack of detailed knowledge - in this case of cosmology - lets me down somewhat. It would seem to me that this boundary in time, this age of the universe, would therefore be directly linked to the size of the universe. If nothing can travel faster than light, then even if the universe has been expanding at the speed of light since the Big Bang, no location in the universe can possibly be more than fourteen billion light years from any other, which leads us to the intriguing possibility that when looking at the edge of the observable universe in two directions 180 degrees from each other, we're actually looking at the same point...
Except apparently it ain't so. Scientists do talk about the "observable universe" i.e a bubble fourteen billion light years in radius but also imply that there are other areas outside this bubble which we can never know about as light from them hasn't had time to reach us. In which case what I want to know is how they got there without travelling above the speed of light if the universe exploded into existence at a single point.
I'm probably thinking about it wrongly, but it would kind of make sense (to me) if the speed of light was the speed at which the universe was expanding - that's why it's built into everything.
Whatever the case, I'm looking forward to the next time I can frighten myself with a really dark night sky.
Well, I did it. Instead of writing an entry in this blog, I used yesterday morning's post-sleep confusion for writing a short section of my novel. It did seem to have worked; forcing myself to write this every day has made writing in general a little easier. But I am forgetting the first rule of daily blog and will shut up forthwith.
Some have claimed that writing SF or fantasy is harder that most other forms of fiction because you have to make everything up yourself whereas writers of, say, crime or historical novels have a ready made toolkit of situations and props. They don't have to spend time making up the background; it already exists.
I'm not so sure this makes things easier. If it already exists, you have to get it right. If you don't get it right and make it into print, someone somewhere will notice. For instance in one of Glen Duncan's novels - I can't remember which one - the protagonist reminisces about being a teenager in the late seventies. The punk years. He professes a crush on the singer from Transvision Vamp because she looked "dirty". The band formed in 1986; at the time of the alleged crush, singer Wendy James would have been eleven or twelve.
OK, so maybe not that many people noticed it, but I did. Which brings us to the thing that makes writing contemporary fiction much harder than SF or Fantasy.
That isn't to say that SF and the like don't require research; I remember having to sit down with a pencil, a piece of paper and a calculator to work out how long a spacecraft would have to accelerate in order to reach Jupiter within a certain time. But generally in this genre you are world building, providing the world is self-consistent you can make up what you like. Just don't contradict yourself or make continuity errors.
The real world, however, is fraught with danger when it comes to research. My current novel has both contemporary and fantasy elements in it; it's the contemporary elements that always give me this kind of trouble. Yesterday I was trying to get the protagonist Genie through immigration in LAX. What does an iris scanner look like? I don't know - and are they for coming or going? Genie's working in LA for a few days; I've only ever been there on holiday. Would she have a different visa? What sort of questions would the immigration officers ask her? Would she queue up somewhere different?
Of course research is a million times easier now that we have the internet. How tedious it would be to have to trudge to the library every time you wanted to google something. The whole world of information is at our fingertips; the problem now is sorting the wheat from the chaff.
The term research gives the process more weight than perhaps it deserves. Visions of white coats in laboratories; librarians climbing ladders in the stacks. A lot of the time it's just a grind, but it's important to get it right
However I'll be relieved when I get back into one of the fantasy sections of the book. The only research I need to do there is on what's already in my own head.
I got a feeling of déjà vu this morning with regard to waking up in the "night" only to discover that the alarm is just around the corner. I'm therefore passing it on to anyone reading this who also read yesterday's entry - déjà vu as infection.
Except of course it isn't déjà vu as it actually did happen before. For genuine déjà vu to be declared the experience you think you've had before has to be a new one and both you and I have proof (in the form of yesterday's blog entry) that it isn't so.
Promnesia is not a rather specialised term for forgetting to go to the Royal Albert Hall, it's the scientific term for déjà vu. I like it - perhaps the scientific snob in me thinks that it somehow gives the experience more weight. And perhaps because it's easier to type. And yet promnesia is as of yet poorly understood. The interesting thing I find about it is how compelling the feeling can be sometimes - the almost-but-not-quite ability to be able to tell what's going to happen next. So much so that it almost feels as if you could make use of the experience to your advantage.
Sometimes I get it so strongly that I'm almost convinced that this time it's not déjà vu, that it actually did happen before - but as we've discovered with the writing and reading of this blog entry, when something actually has happened before it feels nowhere near as interesting or eerie.
It must be caused by some kind of memory malfunction. Perhaps the current experiences (in other words the short term memory) are being misidentified as long term memory - this would produce the detail sometimes experienced that it's not just a familiar experience but that every single thing happening has happened before, down to what she just said and the postman across the road slipping over on a banana skin.
Whilst I've never experienced the opposite, jamais vu, whereby something familiar, something that definitely has happened before, is identified as something new, I did experience something related which I don't think there's a French word for, which is ironic as it happened in France.
It was in Paris where, for various convoluted reasons too complex to go into at the moment I was (a) attempting to hitch-hike back to London and (b) hadn't slept for two nights.
The hitching-spot was where cars came around a corner near a concrete pillar holding up a section of the Périphérique. I was in an odd state of mind, but I started predicting the vehicles coming around the pillar.
"Next," I thought, "I want a red van." A red van duly appeared. "A beige Citroen." Ditto. "A coach." Right again. This went on for some time. I'm not for a moment suggesting that I had developed the spectacularly useless occult power of Vehicle Pillar Prediction; there was something clearly awry with my memory. I think once I saw the vehicles I was somehow managing to backdate the thoughts in my short term memory so that they appeared to have happened before they actually had.
It's not the only odd thing that happened during this episode; I'd recommend everyone tries sleep deprivation (on this occasion mine eventually stretched to three nights) it's interesting. I'd try it again myself but I'm very tired.
Meta-blog information - now that I'm in the habit of writing every morning I may use tomorrow's slot to continue working on the novel so there may not be another one of these until Thursday morning. I did say may though...
Waking in the night can be confusing if it's still dark. You have no idea what time it is. When you finally look at your watch it can be a big surprise. Sometimes it's a pleasant one; if you've been deeply asleep it usually feels as if you've been offline for many hours, so discovering it's still only 2am and that you've still got the whole night ahead of you is welcome relief."At night if he suddenly screams and wakes
Do they bring him only a few small cakes
Or a LOT
For the Akond of Swat?"Edward Lear, The Akond of Swat
On other occasions, such as this morning for me, the reverse is true. It will be 5.30am or something and you realise that the alarm clock is just around the corner. In these latter cases it's rare that you actually get to sleep again because you're so worried about getting to sleep again. You want to make the most of what little downtime you have left. Eventually you manage it at around t-minus three minutes.
However, a year or two ago I had an experience that was neither of the above. I mentioned before how when I was younger I used to wake from nightmares to discover things had Gone Wrong; this was one of the times that things had Gone Different.
I woke up and felt as if I was outside time. OK, I was still in bed that night, and probably somewhere in the middle of the night, but I was simultaneously aware of the previous evening hovering there somewhere up behind me; I could almost see the lightness of the sky in my brain. And there, downhill ahead of me, was the following day. I couldn't quite think how to make use of this temporal dislocation, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Of course it was probably my brain backfiring; perhaps it had woken up in the wrong order and the mental software process that dealt with time had thrown an exception and unexpectedly terminated. It was a fascinating experience though.
My sense of time is not the only thing that I've woken up to discover missing. Once I woke up and had forgotten who I was.
It wasn't remotely frightening. I felt in a default state, and the thought going through my head was "this could be anyone". It felt good. It was as if I had discovered how to experience pure consciousness without the distorting filter of all the memories and hangups that make it Chris. It also felt as if everyone was the same consciousness... I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, as they say. Anyway, I think this description is now getting needlessly mystical. Perhaps it's something I'll explore further at another time.
Whatever the cause - brain kernel crash, the discovery of the secret of the universe or simply too much cheese before bedtime, it was an intriguing and enjoyable episode.
Goo goo gajoob.
Every word I type I am adding to the sheer volume of information created by the human race and increasing the complexity of the universe.
If you look up the amount of information created and stored over the last few years it's becoming ridiculous. In 2008 a total of 3,892,179,868,480,350,000,000 new bits were created. That's brand new bits, never mind all the rest of recorded history up until 2007. Let's get that into some kind of perspective and convert into bytes. Eight bits to a byte, that gives us 486,522,484,000 gigabytes, which is still generally the largest storage unit people are currently comfortable with - although I have a one terabyte hard disk sitting under my desk.
It's still difficult to get this into perspective though. A gigabyte is approximately 1000 times the capacity of an old fashioned floppy disk, remember them? A floppy disk was approximately two millimetres thick. So, a gigabyte is approximately a two metre high stack of floppies. A terabyte therefore would be a stack two kilometres high - although it might be easier to lay them along the ground. Bypassing the petabyte we move into the realm of the exabyte - a million terabytes. Two million kilometres of floppy disks. To put the exabyte into perspective some claim that all the words ever spoken by human beings would come to five exabytes - in plain text format of course.
And yet the amount of information created last year is almost a hundred times that. Half a zettabyte. I used to know a girl called Zetta, I wonder what happened to her? Anyway, in floppy disk terms half a zettabyte is a stack a billion kilometres high, which would reach from the Sun to somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn. Once more visualisations fail us; the Solar System is very big as this to-scale web page ably demonstrates. Far too big to get a handle on.
I do wonder what counts as information though. Does the DVD of, say, Cheaper By the Dozen count as just eight gigabytes or does every single copy count? It's important to know these things - if every copy counts we could significantly decrease our digital footprint by seeking out and destroying every copy. Then again, doing that would be a good thing as an end in itself...
This information explosion shows no sign of slowing down. Will our old enemy entropy ever fight back?
Far more important than sheer information capacity is the ability to organise that information. For instance, I am sure the amount of information that makes up everything I think of as myself is well within the current capacity of today's technology. What makes the information actually me are the various ways it relates to itself; how it is organised. Once that's cracked I'll be able to escape into data and "live" forever.
Or perhaps I already did and this is merely a simulation of 2009. It would certainly explain the reverse memories and clairvoyance I was thinking about yesterday.
I just need to work out how to hack the code.
I have yet to do any research into earworms. I will do though, so watch this space. Or listen to this space.
If you look at the comments for yesterday's entry though, you'll see that the That's A Bit Hot song bears some resemblance to a song a friend in London wrote and recorded relatively recently. Coincidence, or something stranger? Generally I am a bit of a born-again sceptic these days (or skeptic as the spell checker would have it) so I would tend to put these things down to coincidence.
Coincidences are commoner than you might think. In the age of the iPod people started to notice this - they kept complaining of their iPod having "moods" when it kept picking songs by a particular artist or songs from a particular album during shuffle. This was not the birth of the arcane process of ipodomancy; iPods genuinely were picking random songs. It was just that the human brain, as has been observed before, is very good at looking for patterns and assigning them significance. It is a plain simple fact that of 23 randomly picked people the chance that two of them share the same birthday is 50%. To our brains this feels insane. But it's just cold mathematics.
In the end Apple had to tweak the code so that that shuffle felt more random to human brains. Despite the fact that this meant that it was actually less random.
I think the same thing can apply to clairvoyant dreams - we dream all sorts of stuff; random collections of mental imagery flung together from our recent experience. Sometimes this will unexpectedly match something that happens a few days later. Most of the time it won't of course, but when it does... hey presto, instant soothsayer.
And yet, and yet... Sometimes the coincidence is too much and makes me wonder. OK, so it's not going to win James Randi's $1,000,000 or give Richard Dawkins pause for though, but then again, it didn't happen to them. It happened to me.
It's not the only clairvoyant dream I've had, but it's one of only a handful that seem to have a little more to them than just random pseudo-meaningful accident. It was I suppose around nine or ten years ago; a couple of years after I'd moved down to Brighton. I had a dream. I had a dream in which I went to a nightclub (by the way, this is a real whilst-asleep dream, not a Martin-Luther-King-type dream). I was sitting there and noticed two women dancing together. After a while I realised that one of them was Princess Diana.
"That's a bit weird," I though, "Given that she's dead."
That was pretty much all there was to it. Back in the waking world I actually did go to a nightclub a week or so later. At one point I noticed a couple of women dancing together. I didn't make the connection here - women dancing together weren't exactly unusual in LowLife at The Underground in West Street. However, after a while one of them struck up a conversation with me and we went to sit down and started chatting. I can't remember what about (night club conversations rarely consist of more than just shouting anyway).
Eventually we exchanged names. She was called Diana. And then it struck me that she was the same Diana that I'd known at university whilst a student some fifteen years previously. That was odd enough but then I remembered the dream.
It's hardly proof of anything and could indeed be coincidence, but I am inclined to think otherwise. After all, I have little interest in the royal family and haven't dreamed of Princess Diana before or since. I have no idea what this means though. I am sure I'm not a prophet of any kind.
Bu no-one really knows just how the mind works and in how many dimensions. I could just have been "remembering" in the wrong direction in time by accident.
I wish I could remember next week's lottery numbers.
I've got a song stuck in my head, going round and around. It's bad enough at the best of times when that happens, but at least you can usually dislodge it by seeking it out on iTunes or youTube and then playing it a million times. This isn't the best of times. I can't do that in this case; I heard the song in a dream the other night, so it (probably) doesn't exist.
So I'm a bit stumped. The song was accompanied by a video; a punk singer with a green mohican stumbling around a derelict room as he sung. I can't remember the bulk of the lyrics but it seemed to be a bit of a list of words, six two-syllable words to be precise, something like:
"Outside, inside / Upside, downside / Onside, offside"At which point he'd open a wooden hatch in the wall and lean through into the wall cavity. The next words I remember exactly:
"Ooh, that's a bit hot"And off he'd go again. The chorus was something like:
"That's a bit hot! That's a bit hot! That's a bit hot!"Hardly high art, but then what can you expect from my subconscious? Hopefully the act of having blogged it will have expunged it from my head, so apologies if this has been rather dull. But if it hasn't worked I'm going to have to actually write the song.
Odd how some bits of dreams stick in your mind though whereas others, as discussed in previous entries, evaporate. I wonder if this is related to the way some songs stick in your head? I like the term for such songs, Earworm from the German Ohrwurm. There is an article about earworms on Wikipedia but it's not very long. If I'm going to find out more I'm going to have to dig a little deeper. I'll get back to you - by its very nature this morning blog is supposed to be off the cuff; anything requiring real research will take a little longer. But I think earworms require further investigation.
Warning! Metablog content to follow. I am at home today, so this entry is by necessity a little later than on a normal weekday, sorry. However, I am pleased that I've managed to keep it up on a daily basis thus far; nearly a month. It has definitely become an official habit burned into the neural pathways of my brain. I might take advantage of this compulsion with respect to finishing my novel - so the blog entries may become every two days. On the days off I'll be chronicling Genie's Adventures in Underland.
But not quite yet. I've got earworms to hunt.
Some days my contact lenses just won't go in. Well it's more usually just one lens that won't go in. Most of the time it's the right eye. This means, as I have different prescriptions in each eye, that over time I'm gradually building up a surfeit of left lenses. This upsets my sense of order.
Entropy again. You can't get away from it. Since yesterday's post I have been thinking more about entropy and about how it seems to go against the grain when it comes to what's happening on Earth. Now I'm no physicist and I'm sure I've already committed any number of semantic howlers when talking about things that are a bit beyond me. Please, stay your patronising little chuckles-to-self.
Just because I don't understand the intricacies of the theory doesn't mean I can't explore ideas and conduct thought experiments. For example, I'm boiling a beaker of water in a room in which gravity works in reverse. What do you mean gravity can't work in reverse? It's a thought experiment! You're not telling me you actually did lock a cat in a box with a vial of prussic acid are you?
Entropy is, I am given to understand, an agent of disorder. Perfect Internal Disorder is an odd phrase, but it describes what happens when entropy has done its job and things are as blended and as boring as they're going to get; equilibrium. The universe will end not with a bang neither a whimper but with soup. So, disorder, the opposite of order. Order's the stuff that gives us life and language.
However, Order has another opposite. Chaos. Once upon a time we would have assumed that this was also soup. However, emerging from Chaos Theory like clumsy butterflies from their cocoons come fractals.
Entropy must hate them. There's so much detail there. An infinite amount in fact. No matter how deeply you zoom into the Mandelbrot Set you never encounter soup. If you return to a certain point in the set it's always the same. And if you look closely, the detail goes on for ever.
I am assuming that the operation of fractals is built into the structure of the universe, into the behaviour of numbers. It's fundamental. But then again, so we are told, is entropy. I can't quite square these two facts in my head. Everything turns to soup and yet everything is infinitely complex.
No doubt scientists and mathematicians, in the unlikely event that any are reading, are now shaking their heads in dismay at my stupidity. But I am just imagining a scenario when some researcher is idly zooming through the Mandelbrot Set and suddenly notices something new. A grey blob of boring spreading outwards. The intricate curlicues and whorls becoming flattened out. Entropy gaining ground; in the end the Set becomes a mere oval.
Thought experiment. Story.
I've got a stiff knee at the moment. It means that for the last couple of days I have used a walking stick on occasion. This is, quite clearly, ridiculous. As I mentioned earlier I don't think I'm a proper Grown Up yet, so I can't possibly have skipped straight to Old Man.
It's probably because I'm not getting enough exercise. There were a few weeks in the summer when I was being quite well behaved and cycling to work every day. Then things like bus passes and the occasional bad weather day happened and now I find myself in the middle of a weekly saver which means I have to get the bus even if it is a nice day.
In addition if I weighed less my knee would have less stress on it so I could diet in more earnest I suppose. After all I don't have any difficulty not answering the phone any more; I should likewise be able to ignore at least some of the cold calls my stomach sends up to my brain.
Of course all this would be a lot easier if I was still young. Back then I had the energy to indulge in intensive exercise and was quite capable of forgetting about proper meals for days. So did I avail myself of this marvellous opportunity? Did I fuck. I didn't need to. I was full of beans and as skinny as a rake.
This is one of those examples of the universe getting things ass-over-tit. Or Entropy as I think it's called in scientific circles. Given the whole Earth thing, the way a huge random lump of rocks and chemicals managed in four and a half billion years to produce, amongst other things the Amazon rainforest, E.Coli, Leonardo da Vinci, termites, Twitter, the theory of imaginary numbers, iPhones and Terry Wogan (not to mention everything else there has ever been), entropy does sound as if it's on a bit of a hiding to nothing. It goes against the grain. Onwards and upwards.
But it's patient and it waits. It brings us all down one by one, a bad knee here, a wrinkle there. Oops there's a mistake in some DNA replication; might lead to cancer. Immune system gets a bit ropey. There go the eyes. What was that? Sorry, bit deaf. Oh look, a really complex system called a human brain. Whoops, not sure what I did there, it's starting to disintegrate. Oh dear, Alzheimers.
I think it's time we stood up to entropy. Time we did something about it. It is quite clearly built into the fundamental laws of the universe, but who's to say we can't change them? Let's put that Large Hadron Collider to work, I say.
Anything to avoid dieting or going to the gym.
I've always had a lot of time for the Tarot. On the one hand I'm sure there isn't literally a lot of power in them little cards, namely you couldn't put two Rider-Waite decks in an occult blender and extract enough magic juice to levitate a three pound toad for seventeen minutes. On the other hand I think they can be a very useful tool for opening a window into our subconscious."...her speech is nothing
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collections. They aim at it
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts;
Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures yield them"Shakespeare, Hamlet
It is popularly believed that the cards have paranormal significance, but for much of their existence they were simply used for playing games; it's only in recent centuries that they acquired arcane cachet. They're largely used for fortune telling now - but of course you can use almost anything that throws up random patterns for divination, reading the tea leaves for example. You could even chop up a Monopoly board into its component squares and practice a form of cartomancy. And if people stopped playing Monopoly itself the squares would start to acquire mystical significance. I see a short spell in a correctional institution in your future...
But it is of course possible that over their development they came to incorporate certain cultural and mental archetypes, especially into the Major Arcana. If this is the case then I think this is from where they really draw their power. They represent aspects of our minds and we see in them what we want to see. They allow us to look at elements of our lives in new and interesting ways and catalyse lateral thinking or uncover patterns we were previously unaware of. Fortune tellers are facilitators of this process, mental midwives.
Of course the human brain is very good at seeing patterns and often sees them where there are none. It is how we make sense of the world. We twist the world around us into significant shapes that confirm we're real, that our mind, our ME, isn't just a fleeting collection of electrical impulses. That's why I think pop music is still so popular, if that isn't a bit of a tautology.
It's the Our Tune phenomenon - the listeners read meaning into lyrics when some of the time the lyricists are just making it up as they go along and flinging random phrases together if they sound good. Lyricists also write about their own experiences, some of which may mirror those of their listeners, but not nearly as much as the listener may think.
It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with this process, this phonomancy. If people can use pop to help themselves, to find out more about themselves then that's all well and good. We could even create a special deck of phonomantic cards each containing a gnomic lyric and perhaps a photo of the lyricist concerned. Tarock 'n' Roll!
Just as long as the users don't try suing the musicians if it all goes horribly wrong. But then again fortune tellers don't often get sued do they?
There's a bit of a gap in the market there - lawyers take note.
I used to think everyone saw numbers like me; but apparently not. I've always seen them as steps, initially going from left to right.
One is at the bottom of course. They increase in height as the numbers increase, shallow as flagstones at this point. Until we reach ten.
At this point there's a hairpin bend - probably consisting of eleven and twelve. By the time we get to thirteen we're heading back in the opposite direction, steeper this time. It gets steeper and steeper as we approach nineteen, then suddenly we are on a plateau again; the twenties. The final section of this group of ten is a bit steeper than the beginning, but once we reach thirty it flattens out to a plateau again.
This pattern is repeated all the way up to ninety. There's also a gentle curve to all the numbers from twenty up to ninety-nine; a curve towards camera. By the time we reach one hundred we're somehow high above one (I realise you'd have to be Escher to make this work topologically) and the pattern is repeated.
I'm not done. As you can imagine this pattern is repeated for quite a while, but if we pull back and change scale we see a different picture. The path from one to one thousand is in fact a larger version of one to ten, with the same hairpin bend and steepening incline leading up to two thousand, and so on. I've no idea how we fit the one to one hundred shape inside each group of one hundred, but there you go...
You don't agree? How do you see numbers? I have heard that some people see them, as colours; I can't imagine that myself. My staircase scheme is strictly monochrome.
There's a similar pattern in my head when it comes to visualising years - I suppose I've mainly thought of the twentieth century in this way. It's very similar to the one for the numbers one to one hundred but there are a number of changes in point -of-view; the number steps remain the same but for some reason the camera swings around and points at them from another angle.
Up until the mid Twenties it's all pretty much as described above but then at 1928 the camera swings over the top so we're looking at 1929 from the other side and the numbers are now running right to left. There's no longer the gentle curve as described above, but more of a series of steepening arcs almost reaching vertical at 19_9 and the flattening out again at 19_0.
In the Sixties the numbers start a gentle curve towards the camera again. The camera performs another somersault in around 1973 and the numbers once more appear to be running left to right. In 1980 they begin to curve towards camera again then in 1986 there's another camera flip which is reversed in 1989. 1994 sees yet another flip so that they're heading right to left again where they remain for the rest of the century.
Time travellers during last three decades must suffer from dreadful motion sickness; no wonder Sam Tyler was so grumpy.
Does anyone else visualise numbers in this way or is it just my way of looking at it? Perhaps everyone has their own unique way of doing so, some of which make mental arithmetic easier. As it is my "stairs" are no help whatsover with adding, subtraction or long division, so I guess I'm no idiot savant.
Just an idiot...
I'm off to London for a band rehearsal in Stoke Newington this afternoon; hopefully my fingertips are still hardened from last week's experience so typing tomorrow won't be quite as sore as it was last Monday.
The rehearsal itself is in the afternoon from two until five; three hours, a reasonable chunk of time but not something that's going to take up the while day. The thing is though; it does. It's not because of the travelling to and from London either; the London to Brighton line is pretty fast as long as there aren't engineering works (and there don't seem to be today, I've checked). It's my own fault; it's the way I look at it.
Sometimes I seem to be goal oriented and as long as I get one "main" thing done per day I am, on some level, satisfied. However, on another level I just don't think that's good enough. To make the most out of days on which I'm lucky enough not be at work I really should be doing several "main" things.
Forcing myself to write this blog on a daily basis has helped. That's another "main" thing. But really I need to do something else with a visible, positive and lasting result, so that's reading or watching TV out of the window.
Given that I'm going to have to catch the train at around midday and given that it's already past nine I had better go. I have to change a light fitting. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.
I'm out of time.
It is hard to believe that I was swimming in the sea only last Monday, given the behaviour of the intervening days. Even though in theory the weather shouldn't know what month we humans call it, somehow it knows it's now September and can therefore stop making an effort.
Bloody September. There's something about early September in particular that induces depression, the early tell-tale symptoms of SAD. It's the academic year in the UK that has of course coloured my impression of this month. In general, like so many children, I loathed school with a vengeance, so it's no surprise that the approaching menace of the Autumn Term felt like the end of the world.
Dampness and dead leaves; to these add the smells of floor polish, mothballs and revolting wads of chewing gum stuck to the underside of battered wooden desks so ancient they still had inkwells. Simmer over the heat of Victorian radiators in a dungeon-like room containing thirty teenage boys; drizzle with chalk dust. This is the aromatherapy recipe for despair.
The inevitability of the autumn term made early September feel like Sunday evening writ large. Eking out the last few scraps of pleasure from those final days of freedom was the equivalent of Sunday night TV - I really didn't really get that much pleasure out of That's Life or The Waltons, but it was better than what awaited me on Monday morning.
Fortunately, the Autumn Term never seemed to start on a Monday, so I never had to suffer the double whammy. For some reason it was always Friday, although unfortunately for most of my childhood and adolescence I also used to have to go to school on Saturdays, so it's not as if it was just one day followed by a weekend to get over the shock to the system. However, I don't think I'm going to discuss school any further now - I'll save crucifying them for a later date.
All of that's behind me now, but working as I do in a university means that my biorhythms are still attuned to the academic cycle, and the onset of September still has the power to alter my mood for the worse. It's partly because its arrival means that by now the year's as good as over. There goes another sliver of my life as we fast forward into the future. As I have observed before, the 21st Century has been put on at the wrong speed, and I'd appreciate it if we could start again, or at least if it could be turned back to 33rpm.
I think the weather heard me casting aspersions - it now looks hot and bright out there. I'd better go and make the most of it while I can.
Not all nightmares are as easily described as the Dobods. One that bothered me from childhood all the way through my teenage years and (just about) into the twenties was just ... odd.
It was more a feeling than a scenario, although quite often there would be clues that one was imminent. Walking down a deserted street alongside an interminable brick wall into which every so often tiny four inch square windows were cut, revealing people's faces. Large moving machinery; often elevators large enough to contain a double decker bus. And above all, the colour.
Everything was suffused with reddish brown. The colour (I imagined) of viscera.
The main component of the dreams, though, was that things just Felt Wrong. After a while any logical components, such as walking down the street, other people, recognisable objects, broke down and I was left with just thoughts, feelings and sensations. None of which made sense. All of which contradicted themselves.
I felt enormous and weighty, constructed of massive cylinders of clay and yet simultaneously I was a tiny spun glass structure frightening in its delicacy; I was a microscopic capillary, pumping blood one cell at a time, across an enormous hot slab of muscle - which was also me. There was a voice in my ear whispering terrible secrets almost too quietly to be heard which was also shrieking at maximum volume until its throat went raw. I was many and I was one, which was also many. And one. (And many).
And what happened to time... this is the feeling that is almost impossible to put into words. I can feel it on the edge of my mind, but any attempt to put it into language nullifies it. But here goes anyway. I was aware of something that took a split second which was also a year. It had only just happened and had been in place for centuries. Someone was treating it as if it was permanent when it was fleeting.
For some reason I found this absolutely terrifying and almost unable to bear.
The worst thing of all was that upon waking, the feelings of despair and having Gone Wrong remained. I would get up, whimper, switch on the light, go to the toilet and yet the Wrongness would still be there. I would even try to read something banal to banish the spell, but it never seemed to work. I would lie back down in the dark as the distorted impression of reality played out, although by now it was a little weaker. Eventually I would fall back into normal sleep.
And I could never explain it to people. What with this and the dobods I mentioned yesterday it's no wonder that I was afraid of sleep for most of my childhood.
Eventually the fear disappeared. I'd still have dreams containing these illogical feelings but for some reason they'd ceased to bother me. After a couple of years they gave up all together. Of course I still have nightmares, but these days they tend to be banal, based on anxiety.
And I still have very odd dream experiences whilst asleep but these are interesting rather than frightening. Perhaps these are just Gone Wrong episodes seen from an adult perspective?
Gone Different perhaps.
"There's a Dobod over there
And it's coming over here
Coming to get
By far the worst were the Dobods - I suppose they were the equivalent of the Daleks in my personal nightmare canon. They had a particularly distinctive modus operandi; I'd always know one was coming because I'd hear a hollow heartbeat in the background of whatever dream I was currently enjoying. The colour would drain out of the landscape and all of the other people present would become indistinct and then vanish. If it had been day, it would now be night. The heartbeat would continue, "Dob - Od - Dob - Od - Dob - Od..." hence the name.
I would no longer be outside. I'd be in a labyrinthine wooden panelled house and I'd wander the corridors - or sometimes be swept through the corridors by a slow wind.
"It's all right," I'd tell myself, "It can't come yet, we haven't had the sawing..."
The sawing was another noise which always occurred before the climax of the dream, the sound of a hand saw slowly chewing its way through a plank of wood. After the sawing was over though, I knew I was doomed. The heartbeat would return, louder and more resonant.
"DOB! OD! DOB! OD! DOB! OD!"
I'd find myself deposited at the end of a particular long corridor. I think this one was based in reality as it has a strong association with my parents' flat in Birmingham - I think the bathroom lay at the end of it. In the dream though there was no bathroom. At the end of the corridor the Dobod itself would appear.
It was a vertical line of light, like a door into a lighted room standing ajar. It rocked from side to side in time with the heartbeat, on each beat nearer. When it reached me I'd wake up in terror.
I don't think my parents quite realised how frightening these dreams were otherwise I very much doubt they'd have made up the song with which I started this blog and sung it to me.
Were these dreams a distorted memory of being born? Whatever, after a while they began to feed back into the dream mechanism and the fact that I was terrified of going to bed in case I had a Dobod Dream affected the dreams themselves; I'd have whole dreams that consisted just of the fear that a Dobod would appear.
The dreams stopped quite abruptly. In a dream at around the age of five I discovered that if I bent my head sharply to the right I'd instantly wake up. Problem solved - I'd take this escape route at the first sign of the heartbeat. I even made up a short song to celebrate the fact:
"I'm not scared
Cause I can go
I'm back to writing this at the crack of dawn as my miniature break from work is over. Once again I had mild anxiety dreams about work last night so obviously the enforced break wasn't quite enough to relax fully.
The odd thing is that whenever I dream about work it's always completely different from reality and more often than not there are beds there. For some reason. I think it's because I am in the unusual situation of working somewhere I used to live. Sussex is a campus university; most days I walk past both York House where I lived in the first year and Norwich House where I lived in the third. So my present day Work Dreams are confused with my Dreams Of The Past, not to mention the standard Academic Anxiety Dreams.
It's not really dawn of course, nowhere near. The seagulls have been up for hours. I was interested to read that there are in fact three dawns per day. Astronomical Dawn, Nautical Dawn and Civil Dawn. The differences are all rather dull and are merely concerned with how many degrees below the horizon the sun is. Civil Dawn is the latest, which I suppose makes sense.
When I was a child I went through a phase of asking my parents if I could have a toy dawn. They kept trying to explain to me that dawn was a time of day and therefore unable to be reproduced in molded plastic in Hong Kong. I persisted in asking them for one. I had the idea in my head that dawn was some kind of dark chevron that flew slowly across the sky at the begin of the day. I wanted a toy one.
I'm not sure where this idea came from, although I have a vague memory of looking out of my bedroom window and seeing said chevron crawling across the sky roaring (probably a three-year old's early impression of a low flying military plane - where I lived as a child seemed to have a higher than normal proportion of RAF fly pasts, including scary looking Vulcan bombers). I suspect the link between this and dawn may have been one of my parents catching me up at this hour and asking me what I was doing up at the crack of dawn, which I maybe took to mean the noise made by the flying shape...
It's not the only odd thing I saw in the sky as a child. I remember coming down to the kitchen in excitement and telling my Dad I'd seen a "satellite" - obsessed with space travel as I was as a small child I had no concept of a UFO so interpreted everything I saw in terms of space race hardware. I don't know what this actually was, but it was below the clouds and slow moving, so unlikely to have been spaceworthy. A balloon perhaps.
The sky is rarely as interesting these days. I am an adult now.
I'm still on my Bank Holiday Weekend - having a bit of an extended remix. Things have been rather busy at work of late and I had a few days to use up before the end of the academic leave year, so I took the Friday and the Tuesday off as well, giving myself a five day weekend. I'm rather astonished and more than a little annoyed to find myself on the last day of it already.
Of course one of the major problems I find with working at a University is that people find it very difficult to disabuse themselves of the impression that I have the summer off. Even after I've explained that only undergraduates and senior academics disappear for three months and that in fact their absence means that the summer is one of our busiest times for me working as I do in IT seeing as it gives us time to update and upgrade... I still get people asking me when I'm going back to college, where I went away for the summer and whether I'm having a good break.
So, given that it's been so busy, it's been nice to have a few days off. I even swam in the sea for the second time this summer yesterday; something which would have been unheard of for me only a couple of years ago - and is quite unusual for a British August Bank Holiday Monday. And now that I've made a reference to the weather I'm afraid I must be put to death instantly. But given that it was Reading Festival Weekend it was unusually clement - I still remember shivering with cold, huddled around piles of paper beer cups, flyers and bits of wood from which people had made impromptu bonfires in an attempt to stay warm long enough to see Nirvana headlining in 1992. The temptation to just give up and hotfoot it to the railway station was almost overwhelming.
However, I think I'm starting to worry about being on leave for so long - last night I had a number of anxiety dreams about work. Mainly about arriving back and accidentally breaking something. Not a computer or a server for some reason - in the dream I kept breaking people's bicycles. I was only trying to help - one person's bike was really dirty so I gave it a thorough clean. The problem was this made the tyres shrivel up. Even worse, they were non-standard tyres that it was almost impossible to replace.
Another part of the dream was completely unrelated and was about Superman, Spiderman and Batman wondering how they could increase their powers. Superman was thinking about exposing himself to even more Earth sunlight and Spiderman about getting bitten by another radioactive spider. Batman was getting annoyed as he couldn't work out how he could go back in time to make sure his parents were killed even worse...
Anyway, back to work tomorrow. I should probably cycle in, but will steer clear of anyone else's mounts just in case.