Voices from the past

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Rudston Church, East Yorkshire, England

It is both surprising and stunning. As you come around the edge of Rudston church, there is the monolith, the tallest in England at 7.6 metres, with reputedly the same length buried under the ground.. It is so unexpected that the stranger can only stop and admire. Of course it predates the church by many thousands of years, and it’s presence says something very clearly. This is a holy site, and has been for millennia. It is one of many henges, standing stones, circles and tumulus that still litter the landscape, that speak of a past now lost to us. Their silent witness tells of people who cared enough to put huge effort into constructing and erecting monoliths such as this one. But why? We can only speculate. Speculate not only about the purpose, though that is grand enough. But who organised the fetching of the stone that forms it? Who fed the labourers, who had the knowledge and skill to erect a structure that has lasted thousands of years? They clearly had the leadership, resources and committment not out of place in a modern company. Reflect on the fact that the monolith weights some 26 tons, and was transported a distance of 10 miles to its present site, and ask yourself the question, how far have we really progressed today?

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Magic or Medicine?

Writing “The Wisdom of Rhiannon” was a test of my beliefs. I was trained as a physicist which fashioned me to see the physical world in which we live in a certain way. So I was challenged in trying to determine what “powers” did the Druids have; any, or was it trickery, or a good knowledge of the natural world, for example, in predicting eclipses?  What was the nature of ancient knowledge?  Certainly there is evidence of quite remarkable medical knowledge, for example, trepanation, a delicate surgical technique for making a hole in someone’s skull, with evidence that the technique dates back as far as 6500 BC, with plenty of people recovering from the operation.

And this was my difficulty.  How did ancient peoples “know” what to do, let alone the Druids?  Where did their knowledge come from?  And what was the extent of it?  My scientific training taught me that observation, experimentation, theory, and more experimentation were the only ways to classify and understand the world.  But then there are people like Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist, who talks about morphic resonance, fields which reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force.

Could the Druids, amongst others, “know” when to trepan, could they “know” which herbs to collect, how to prepare medicines from them, see into the future, could they perform “magic”?  But at that time I decided this was a step too far for my rational mind, so the Druids in my book are broadly simply clever people who are well read and educated.

And I think I was wrong!

If I had read Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s book, Extraordinary knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable, I would have changed my mind, just as she was forced to change hers, moving from a hard scientific paradigm to a much more open minded view.  In a book full of challenging examples to the rational of conventional science, there was one example I really liked.  The very successful brain surgeon who waited by the head of the patients he was scheduled to operate on until he “saw” a white light; it might take minutes, or hours, but when he saw the light, he knew his operation would be successful.  His difficulty was, how to teach the technique to medical students and other surgeons, so he didn’t, because he would have been laughed at, ridiculed, after all, everyone knows that medical science doesn’t work like that!

Or can it?

The archer, the arrow and the target are united in the “dance”.

I based a chapter in my book, the Wisdom of Rhiannon, on the famous book by Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery.  As a Western visitor to 1930’s Japan, and a lecturer in Philosophy, Herrigel found it almost – but not quite – impossible to learn the Way of the Archer.

It involves not using the mind, not taking aim, but instead stilling the mind, holding the bow steady until “it”, as Herrigel’s teacher called it, determined when to let the arrow fly.  At that point, and only at that point, did the archer, the arrow, and the target become one.  To Herrigel’s frustration, his attempts to hit the target by improving his technique, the strength in his bow arm, and his concentration, all failed, and only resulted in his Master’s increasing ire.  Always the guidance was to wait until “it” determined when the arrow should be released.

And then comes this passage toward the end of the book:

“Do you now understand,” the Master asked me one day after a particularly good shot, what I mean by “It shoots”, “It hits”?

“I’m afraid I don’t understand anything more at all,” I answered, “even the simplest things have got into a muddle. Is it “I” who draws the bow, or is it the bow that draws me into the state of highest tension? Do “I” hit the goal, or does the goal hit me? ….. Bow, arrow, goal and the ego , all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate has gone. For as soon as I take the bow and shoot, everything becomes so clear and straight-forward, and so ridiculously simple ..”

All is One!

A 2000 year old coin

coinsIt sits on a shelf, in a little pill box.  I rarely look at it, yet somehow I am always aware of its presence.  Not in a good or a bad way, but as though gravity is slightly heavier near to it.  Tonight I took it out of its box, and viewed it again.  Compared to a modern coin, it’s tiny, light and not well finished.

Yet what holds me is that 2,000 years ago, someone minted this coin, someone carried this coin with them, perhaps it changed hands many times, and I guess someone lost this coin, who knows,  and somehow, it found its way to my shelf.  In geographical terms, a short journey from Norfolk to Yorkshire, in terms of time, a journey that few artefacts survive.

Certainly the kingdom of the Catuvellauni, whose coinage it was, has long disappeared in the sea of history, and of those who live in its lands today there will be few who will have heard of this long lost kingdom.  Yet a coin survives to tell a tale and to speak of people who lived, loved, fought wars, and vanished, although no doubt the children of their children’s children still live, love and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

And the coin?  Does history, or time, imbue it with a power, a presence, or is it my imagination?

 

Tabby’s star

I rather like it when scientists come up against something they can’t understand.  Tabby’s star is one such conundrum.  It’s behaviour is – pun intended – out of this world.

One of the ways in which astronomers search for exoplanets is to see if the brightness of a star dips as a planet moves in front of it.  Such dips are quite small and quite regular, matching the orbit and size of the exoplanet. Except for Tabby’s star. Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered by this method, and they all display the nice regularity I’ve described.  Except for Tabby’s star.

It’s light dips massively above the 1% a Jupiter sized planet moving in front of it would cause; as much as 15% and 22% have been recorded. The equivalent of something massive enough to obscure half of the surface area of the star. And when it does brightens again, that too is not as expected. Instead of the dip and the rise being the same shape, as current theory says it should, they do not match.  Furthermore even the occurrence of these dips is irregular, and difficult to explain.  Finally, to add to the mystery, apparently Tabby’s star has been getting progressively dimmer over the last 100 years or so, (the star was first observed in 1890).

The name “Tabby’s Star” or “Boyajian’s Star” refer to the initial study’s lead author, Tabetha S. Boyajian. The star’s proper nomenclature is  KIC 8462852.  It didn’t show up in a computer led search for exoplanets, and was found by good old fashioned humans.  These same humans have come up with many explanations for the behaviour of the star, including of course, aliens at work.  But currently there are no explanations that fit the observations.  Although there are a lot of astronomers working on the puzzle and trying to come up with said explanations.  Just google “Tabby’s star” and see.

Which I rather like! One little pointer to the fact that we still have a lot to learn about this Universe that we live in!!

Begin it now.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment that one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.  Begin it now.

Attributed to Goethe.

Entanglement

If anyone wants proof that we have a long way to go in understanding the way the Universe works, look no further than entanglement. Einstein hated it.  He called it “spooky action at a distance”, trying to prove with others that it was a flaw in the theory of quantum physics.

But it does work.  And it has been proved to work time after time. And not only that, it works instantly, over vast distances.  Entangle or “link’ two particles, change an aspect of one, and the other changes – instantly.  Even though as Einstein showed, you cannot travel faster than the speed of light, disruption of entanglement is an instant process.

And physicists can’t explain it. Well, that’s not strictly true.  There is one explanation, but it’s such a mind boggling explanation, that most people shy away from it.

The explanation – that everything is already connected!  You, me, the stars, every atom  in the whole Universe.

I rather like it!