Deep Thought: Don't Panic About Reality

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Deep Thought: Don't Panic About Reality

Angels spreading from one computer screen to another. In the Library of Congress.

I've just finished reading a wonderful book called The Vertical Plane. I was hoping to get a Guide Entry out of it, and I did: it's called 'A Tale of Poltergeists, Time Slippage, and Talkative Tachyons'. It's by an Englishman named Ken Webster. In the 1980s, Webster had a wonderful adventure with his BBC microcomputer. He started getting messages from the 16th Century, which was even weirder in 1985 than it would be today. His computer didn't even have a modem. It's riveting reading. I stayed up late to find out what happened to all the people, past and well, recent-past.

I was still thinking about it when I went to bed. I have my own theories, of course, about what may or may not have transpired. Be honest, you would, too. In the middle of the night, I woke up with an epiphany.

You do realise that formatting the spacetime is a group effort, don't you?

Of course you do. That's why we argue about it constantly. That's why there are 'culture wars'. That's why the pastor has picked up the word 'worldview'. (I wish he would put it back where he got it because I don't want to explain what that connotes in German.) It's why people are being 'woke' or trying to 'own the libs'. It explains every pub quarrel and online flame war.

People are vying to control the spacetime.

This also explains why people freak out when something inexplicable happens – like words appearing on a computer without anyone typing them. I watched a 'documentary' film about the incident. The explanations for how the 'hoax' worked were an insult to the intelligence. In the book, the Society for Psychical Research studied the problem when it was ongoing. They couldn't figure it out at all, but they labelled it a 'hoax' and ran like heck for the nearest exit.

That's what we do when we can't explain things. We panic. Why? Because we don't want to lose control of our mental picture of the world. If we do, we might lose our (often tenuous) connection to the shared spacetime. Even the thought of that triggers an existential crisis in most humans.

This is more important than you think. Sure, nobody really cares whether Virginia Tighe was the reincarnation of Bridey Murphy. Or whether a Chester economics teacher was talking to a Catweazle in 1546 and some chatty tachyons from another dimension. It doesn't affect the price of hog futures on the Commodities Exchange. But if stories like this don't unsettle us, we may have a far worse problem than a lack of curiosity.

We may find ourselves prone to seizing upon preposterous excuses for maintaining our personal belief systems. That's not good for our brains at all. And it could be dangerous going down the road, like the philosopher in Douglas Adams' tale who became so puffed up by his own logic that 'proved' black was white, only to get run over at the next zebra crossing. Don't be that guy.

In his very inspiring series of books, the late Carlos Castaneda talks about the problems of the 'first attention'. The 'first attention' is what people use to interact with spacetime in their everyday lives. According to Carlos Castaneda's mentor Don Juan (who may or may not have existed and wouldn't have had it any other way), if something happened that would force people to re-examine their ideas about the world, the 'first attention' came to their defence and explained it away.

You saw a UFO? Swamp gas. Disturbing questions about the 'official story'? A conspiracy theory. You see where this is going.

Young women complaining about sexual harassment? Overwrought, and probably some psychological condition. Your son thinks he's gay? Take him to a psychiatrist. Or let the pastor talk to him. Gender confusion? Probably something in the water.

It's really obvious why our species has this coping mechanism, this 'first attention.' We have to live in a shared reality. Otherwise our world would resemble a short story by Freewayriding. (That's not intended as an insult.) But we need to be careful: our desire for a manageable reality can turn toxic at the drop of a printed baseball cap.

To misquote Douglas Adams again, we really need to demand areas of doubt and uncertainty. We need to learn to live with ambiguity. We need mental tolerances that accommodate more heterodoxy and greater room for speculation. And we need to look at each other without praise or blame. Stop accusing. Stop virtue-signalling. Just pay attention and listen.

In spite of what your innate sense of panic might tell you, reality isn't going to dissolve around you if you entertain a radical thought once in a while.

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