Today, I have a very short quote from one of my favourite books, but despite its length, we could really write books and books upon it. But I'll try one blog entry.
This quote is from the ancient Hindu text The Bhagavadgita:
From S. Radhakrishnan's commentary on The Bhagavadgita (1948)
"Man, essentially, is not a part of nature but a spirit that interrupts the continuity of nature."
We can categorize the universe into two aspects (though later, we'll see that one aspect is actually a part of the other, but ignore that for now): the field, and the knower of the field.
The field is the world, the unconscious matter and energy out of which the universe is formed. There are also knowers of the field, the sparks of consciousness that can perceive the world. The field is called prakrti, and the knower is called purusa.* These also correspond to the body (field) and the mind (knower).
Yet beyond our individual consciousness is the supreme "knower" that witnesses everything. This is called ksetrajna, the knower of all objects. Yet so too is this consciousness within all objects. It is a panentheist idea: the knower--God, the first cause, or whatever you like best--is within all objects, but is also beyond them. He is not the world (pantheism), but the world is within him.
Humans are two-fold beings, both prakrti and purusa. We are limited by our body and our senses, by the elemental forces of the world that prevent us from living out our full potential. Yet what really defines us as humans is our consciousness that connects us to ksetrajna. As Radhakrishnan writes, "Man, as a subject, has another origin. He is not a child of the world...He does not belong to the objective hierarchy of nature...He can only be recognized as a subject, in which is hidden the secret of existence, a complete universe in an individual form."
This returns us to the quote; we are, in a sense, a microcosm of the universe, both prakrti and purusa. Like ksetrajna, our bodies are a part of us, but so too are we something beyond them. As part of the universal consciousness, we are a subject and not just an object. We disrupt the continuity of nature in the sense that we do not just obey physical laws, but have a freedom that can change the course of nature. Maybe we can't change forces of nature like reversing gravity, but we can make decisions, and these choices set us apart from inert matter that will just follow natural laws (natural laws involve some probability, but not "choice").
Man "enters into infinity and infinity enters into him." This is difficult to grasp (is it even possible to grasp something that involves infinity?) but the idea seems to be that the universal consciousness is infinite, and as we ourselves are microcosms of this infinity, we too must be infinite (in the sense that we are purusa). But we are still part of the greater universal infinity! (This is my interpretation, at least). It is the paradox of immanence and transcendence: the knower/consciousness/God is in the world and beyond it, is infinite and finite. We are both infinite and finite.
One can also look at this from a scientific angle. In quantum physics, we have a world of subatomic particles that our observations can alter. The very act of measuring some property of the particles will alter their qualities. We are the knowers of the field, not just matter, but something beyond it. Something that can "interrupts" nature.
It is even more intriguing because particles are described by fields, so matter is in fact just quantum fields interacting with each other. Our consciousness is another sort of field that is not the material, and it allows us to interact with the world. The quantum world, the "fields", serve as the interface between matter and consciousness: the fields of matter can interact with the fields of consciousness at this level.
So this quality of being a "knower", or having conscious perceptions of reality, is what distinguishes us as human beings. We are not just a part of nature, but a spirit. To fully realize this identity, to gain the freedom which is characteristic of our identity, we must rise above the limitations of our prakrti nature and truly be the souls we are behind it all.
*Note that I'm using the spelling of these words (and others later on) given in Radhakrishnan's translation, but I am omitting the accents, so they might not be technically correct. The ideas behind them should be clear nonetheless.
Today, I have a very short quote from one of my favourite books, but despite its length, we could really write books and books upon it. But I'll try one blog entry.
My blog post today appears on the Tesseracts 18 blog: check it out here!
Today is National Read a Book Day, which means....READ! You might not be able to read an entire book today, but it would be great if everyone can take the time to read something lovely. And, as you would know from my previous post, one such lovely book is The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a lovely but little-known classic that takes place in the 19th century. The Lost Prince is a great story to read before bed.
Let's read some of this wonderful story today. This passage is from near the beginning of the story when Marco and his father are talking about Samavia, the country they are from, and where the Lost Prince is from...
"We are of those who must LIVE for Samavia—working day and night," his father had answered; "denying ourselves, training our bodies and souls, using our brains, learning the things which are best to be done for our people and our country. Even exiles may be Samavian soldiers—I am one, you must be one."
"Are we exiles?" asked Marco.
"Yes," was the answer. "But even if we never set foot on Samavian soil, we must give our lives to it. I have given mine since I was sixteen. I shall give it until I die."
"Have you never lived there?" said Marco.
A strange look shot across his father's face.
"No," he answered, and said no more. Marco watching him, knew he must not ask the question again.
The next words his father said were about the promises. Marco was quite a little fellow at the time, but he understood the solemnity of them, and felt that he was being honored as if he were a man.
"When you are a man, you shall know all you wish to know," Loristan said. "Now you are a child, and your mind must not be burdened. But you must do your part. A child sometimes forgets that words may be dangerous. You must promise never to forget this. Wheresoever you are; if you have playmates, you must remember to be silent about many things. You must not speak of what I do, or of the people who come to see me. You must not mention the things in your life which make it different from the lives of other boys. You must keep in your mind that a secret exists which a chance foolish word might betray. You are a Samavian, and there have been Samavians who have died a thousand deaths rather than betray a secret. You must learn to obey without question, as if you were a soldier. Now you must take your oath of allegiance."
He rose from his seat and went to a corner of the room. He knelt down, turned back the carpet, lifted a plank, and took something from beneath it. It was a sword, and, as he came back to Marco, he drew it out from its sheath. The child's strong, little body stiffened and drew itself up, his large, deep eyes flashed. He was to take his oath of allegiance upon a sword as if he were a man. He did not know that his small hand opened and shut with a fierce understanding grip because those of his blood had for long centuries past carried swords and fought with them.
Loristan gave him the big bared weapon, and stood erect before him.
"Repeat these words after me sentence by sentence!" he commanded.
And as he spoke them Marco echoed each one loudly and clearly.
"The sword in my hand—for Samavia!
"The heart in my breast—for Samavia!
"The swiftness of my sight, the thought of my brain, the life of my life—for Samavia.
"Here grows a man for Samavia.
"God be thanked!"
Then Loristan put his hand on the child's shoulder, and his dark face looked almost fiercely proud.
"From this hour," he said, "you and I are comrades at arms."
And from that day to the one on which he stood beside the broken iron railings of No. 7 Philibert Place, Marco had not forgotten for one hour.
The Lost Prince is one of my favourite books, telling the story of a boy named Marco and his father who are exiles from their homeland in Samavia (a fictional European country in the 1800s). It is a rather Arthurian story (the once and future king!), and like other books by Burnett, includes elements of Eastern mysticism and philosophy. Here is one quote that takes place during a conversation between Marco and his friend The Rat:
From The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1915)
"'All thinking is part of the Big Thought,' said Marco slowly. "It KNOWS--It KNOWS. And the outside part of us somehow broke the chain that linked us to It. And we are always trying to mend the chain, without knowing it. That is what our thinking is--trying to mend the chain. But we shall find out how to do it sometime."
This seems to be a similar theme with other things I've written as of late, but it's not a coincidence! (In a future post I'll write about how the philosophical side of this can be connected to science, in particular, physics.)
Later on, Marco talks about the Law of The One. It is:
"There are a myriad of worlds. There is but One Thought out of which they grew. Its Law is Order which cannot swerve. Its creatures are free to choose. Only they can create Disorder, which in itself is Pain and Woe and Hate and Fear. These they alone can bring forth. The Great One is a Golden Light. It is not remote but near. Hold thyself within its glow and thou wilt behold all things clearly. First, with all thy breathing being, know one thing! That thine own thought--when so thou standest--is one with That which thought the Worlds!"
This is also a very Buddhist/Hindu/Taoist teaching, and the idea of a myriad of worlds is essentially a multiverse of different worlds with different dimensions or laws, all of which arise form the one thought. The One is the force that created all the worlds, all of which are still under its sway. This is also reminiscent of Neoplatonism: all lower planes of existence emerge from the One. We have "Nous" below the One (the Divine Mind), then Soul, and then Body (i.e., the material world). I could go into how the Kabbalah is related to this too, but you can just check out the previous post here.
And the mention of Order is interesting because it is common theme in all these philosophies that the One is a simple undifferentiated being (if it can even be called a "being"), and the worlds that exist below it are more differentiated and thus, can be prone to good or evil, love or hate, etc. It is like a beam of white light being dispersed by a prism: the white light is the One, and the coloured beams arise from it, but are not as pure and simple as the white light, and so can take on different characteristics. Yet still, they are all connected to the One, and it is by remembering this and dwelling in the simplicity of the One that one might mend the chain. We are trying to return to the mode of existence that is above our own, and although we can't do it in this physical form, we still ever strive to do it. Body is ever striving to return to Soul, a simpler and purer plane of existence (if you think of it in terms of dimensions, it is to encompass a higher dimension). And Soul is striving to return to Nous, and Nous to the One. So they are all linked, and so the metaphor of the chain is perfect for representing these different layers of existence and how one might attune oneself to the level of existence above it.
There is also the Law of That Which Creates, which Marco's father told him:
"Let pass through thy mind, my son, only the image thou wouldst desire to see become a truth. Meditate only upon the wish of thy heart--seeing first that it is such as can wrong no man and is not ignoble. Then will it take earthly form and draw near to thee."
This touches upon the power of our thoughts, how what we think draws the object of our thoughts toward us. Of course, it is not as obvious as thinking about getting something and then getting it, but if we attune ourselves to a certain frame of mind, we will more naturally be able to find others who think similarly and be drawn toward those things in the world. If we think badly of someone else, it will only come back to us, for we are also told that "Let him who stretcheth forth his hand to draw the lightning to his brother recall that through his own soul and body will pass the bolt." Thus the common saying that good begets good and evil begets evil.
I wish this book was more well known, because it is an amazing story that should be forever a Classic. And to all those seekers out there, I wish you well in mending the chain...
[Note: the black and white illustrations are from one of the original editions of the book]
Kabir was a mysitc poet who lived in India in the 15th century. He tried to untie people of Hindu, Islamic, Sufi, and other religions together, believing that the unity of a single God that was at the base of all these religions. He was critical of both the Hinduism and Islam and their isolation from others (these were the main religions he tried to unite and that were prevalent in India in his time). He also believed in a more personal spiritual path to understand and feel the Divine for oneself, something that is in everyone and the world. It is a sort of pantheism that connects everything and everyone together.
Here is a quote from one the poems:
From Songs of Kabir (~mid 1400s, translated by Rabindranath Tagore):
"The moon shines in my body, but my blind eyes cannot see it:
The moon is within me, and so is the sun.
The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me; but my deaf ears cannot hear it.
So long as man clamours for the I and the Mine, his works are as naught:
When all love of the I and the Mine is dead, then the work of the Lord is done.
For work has no other aim than the getting of knowledge:
When that comes, the work is put away.
The flower blooms for the fruit: when the fruit comes, the flower withers."
So too is the sun within us, the giver of light and life. The principles of male and female are also represented by the sun and moon, and these qualities are within us all. And the "unstruck drum of Eternity" seems to me to be the One, the Tao, Brahman (or Aristotle's "unmoved mover"!), the one being that is the world and also beyond it. This is more panentheism rather than pantheism: pantheism is that God is the world, but panentheism is that the world is in God but that God is also greater than the world.
The next part about the "I" and "Mine" has a distinctively Buddhist flavour. If we continue to think of things as distinct from us, then we will either be in a state of lack or wealth with respect to them. We will "have" the American Girl doll, or we will not have it. And if we don't "have" it, we will (presumably) suffer. Instead, we must learn to see it not as something to gain or lose, but a part of the universe that we are already at one with. We don't need to have things for ourselves, we don't need to possess the world, possess other countries, or other planets and solar systems even! It's not about owning, because anything we own can be taken away. And anything that can be taken away from us has some control over us: we will always be striving to protect our things and strive to get more and more (e.g. "don't touch my American Girl doll!", "I will put it under lock and key!"). And isn't that what so much of our life is focused on in our society? Getting money, getting a car, getting a house, getting an American Girl doll...and even for those who want to gain knowledge, it's about "getting" the best book to do so. With this mindset, we will always be 'clamouring' to get this and that, instead of focusing on what is important.
And what is important, then? Here, it seems that Kabir is saying that the pursuit of knowledge and truth is, and I would agree with him. And based on what he's written elsewhere, I would add that this gaining of the truth is to experience the oneness of the universe and our unity with it. God is the universe, and so to know God, we must experience him through out lives and perceptions, not only grasping him in thought. It is to love the world in its entirety, which might be achieved by the realization (through learning or direct experience) of how we are connection to everything in the universe. This isn't just mysticism, but has correspondences to physics as well, such as the entanglement of particles and the equivalence of mass and energy (see The Tao of Physics, in particular).
And so we must go beyond seeing the world as opposites and separate beings to perceive what underlies it all. Perk your mind and ears to hear that unstruck drum of Eternity...
In this post, I'll look at 3 more possibilities for other worlds. The first 3 were in the previous post that are worth reading first so you know what on Earth is going on (actually, its not on Earth at all).
So here are three more possibilities for other worlds:
4) Parallel Worlds from Time Travel
Time travel works differently depending on your theory of time. By theory of time, I mean how time "works". Regardless of how you do it (via relativity, a wormhole, a TARDIS, etc.), what is more fundamental is the nature of time itself. Some features of time could be that there is or is not an instant in time that you can call the present, that time had a beginning/end or does not, that you can only change things in the past that will not cause too much of a paradox, that all time travel is determined, that time itself is or is not determined...and so on.
What concerns us here is whether parallel worlds will be created because of time travel. Imagine if you could create a world just by travelling through time! (Ok, perhaps it isn't fair to say "just" travelling through time, unless you're the Doctor). In the scenario that the past is determined but the future is not, then if someone travels to the past, then we have a problem. Everything is set in our determined past except for the time traveler going there, because from the point of view of the time in the past, they are in the future, which is not yet set. One possibility is that this creates a parallel world, one that has the same past as the "regular" world until the point in time that the time traveler goes back to, and at this point, time expels him into a parallel world to keep the regular timeline intact, like so:
The parallel universe will start out very similar to the regular one, but it will diverge to become more and more different due to the effects of the time traveler. So after some time, they could be completely different worlds, with different people and histories, different societies and technologies.
If people time travel enough, there would be many parallel worlds, some similar, some vastly different, and the parallel worlds could spurt parallel worlds which could spurt more parallel worlds so that you could get a mess like this:
Here, the bottom line is the regular timeline which fractures to many different worlds because of those clever time travelers. So time becomes even more relative than one would suppose just with the special theory of relativity: you can't even say that these worlds have the same time at the start since the parallel world is created in the past of one timeline (the original one) and the present of another (the offshoot). That's worth thinking about for a moment.
5) Quantum Mechanics (QM)
In QM, what can happen, does. At the subatomic scale, things don't happen in the relatively predictable manner that they do in the world we are used to. Things can be in more than one place at the same time, particles at opposite ends of the universe can be tied together faster than the speed of light, and it is impossible to accurately know both the position and momentum of a particle.
One interpretation of how QM works is the Many Worlds theory. In this scenario, each quantum mechanical possibility occurs in a different world. This is in contrast with the more common Copenhagen Interpretation. In the Copenhagen Interpretation, particles exist in many states at once, but when they are observed (by a person or equipment that takes a measurement) the many states collapse into one, known as the "collapse" of the wavefunction. However, another interpretation is the Many Worlds theory introduced by Hugh Everett, in which every quantum mechanical possibility happens, but each occurs in a different world. So everything happens, and there are nearly infinite possibilities! So think about every possible universe, those that are only a little different to ours (e.g., one in which your favourite colour is red instead of purple) and ones that have entirely different planets, solar systems, and galaxies.
To tell you the truth, when people say that there infinite number of "you"s in parallel universes, the very first thing I think of is: "So there is a world where I am an elf queen in Middle Earth with magic powers?" Um...yes. I guess. If that magic follows the physical laws (see 6) below for universes with other physical laws). But whether it is really "me" is another matter entirely. If you believe that you have a soul, or anything beyond the physical matter that makes up your body, then you'd have to say that unless your soul is also duplicated (something QM doesn't tell us about), then it is not you, but just a being that has a similar body to you.
Another aspect of many worlds in quantum mechanics are the creations of universes. This can be seen analogously to virtual particles. Virtual particles pop in and out of existence in the vacuum of space, being created and, most often, destroyed by annihilating with their antiparticle (for example, an anti-election is a positron, which is identical to an electron except for the fact that it has a positive charge).
Likewise with universes, embryonic universes pop into existence in the vacuum, and although most just get "swallowed up" again, some, like ours, grow to become an actual universe. It seems to me that it's arrogant to assume that our universe was the only special one to develop into a universe: why shouldn't others do the same? Here are our other worlds, and although they may be entirely separate "bubbles", it may be possible with advanced technology or magic to access them.
6) String Theory
String theory is an elegant attempt of theoretical physicists to find a theory of everything, the goal being to unite quantum mechanics (which describes microscopic objects) and general relativity (which describes macroscopic objects). The basic idea of string theory is that at the most fundamental level, matter is made of strings that vibrate. These are one-dimensional strings, and their properties are determined by their vibrations. There are many different versions of string theory, but they all involves extra dimensions, 10, in fact (though with M-theory, a kind of string theory that unites many of the different ones with 10 dimensions, has 11). They often say that the other 7 dimensions are "curled up" so that we don't perceive them and seem to be living in a 3-D world (not including time dimensions).
However, it is also possible that these higher dimensions are larger, and that we are living in a higher dimensional universe (like those mentioned under "Other dimensions" in Part 1). If that's the case, then we can be living in a higher dimensional multiverse that may have higher worlds that encompass more dimensions, though it is also possible that there are other worlds like ours of the same dimension that are "branes" in the "bulk" of the multiverse (I didn't make those terms up--check if you don't believe me!).
So we may be a 3-D brane hovering within the 11-D bulk, and there may be other branes of other dimensions, say, a 5-D brane or a 7-D one, that are also hovering in the bulk. These branes can collide, merge, and other universes can be created by the collision or fission of branes.
These worlds can have different physical laws, and because of some having higher dimensions, things would be very different to our 3-dimensional world. If we traveled to them, we would perceive them all as 3-D worlds because we can't sense higher dimensions directly, but there are other ways in which we could detect them scientifically (e.g. by the "imprints" of higher dimensional objects talked about in Part 1).
I've been meaning to do this post for a long time, given my extensive use of other worlds in my writing, so here it is. Other worlds are common in fantasy and science-fiction, but they actually have quite a solid basis in physics as well. Here, I'll talk about "other worlds" as other universes, not just other planets within our own universe, but places that are not directly connected to us in space and time. Think The Golden Compass, Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, and hundreds of sci-fi books that I don't know about.
People have thought about other worlds for centuries. The idea of spirit realms, Heaven and Hell, and purgatory were commonly held beliefs even in times B.C. Even a multiverse was posited by Leucippus, the ancient Greek philosopher who also posited atoms.
There are many different options for other worlds, so I'll go through them all:
1) Other dimensions
Having another one (or two, or three...) spatial dimension could cause worlds of different dimensions to be separated. We live in a world with three visible spatial dimensions: things are 3-D in our universe, not flat (2-D) or linear (1-D). I say "visible spatial dimensions" because it is possible that there are tiny dimensions that we can't see. They could be curled up, like so:
2) Higher spiritual planes
Let's look at the Kabbalah as an example (see this amazing book for the metaphysics of the Kabbalah). The Kabbalistic tree of life is this strange-looking diagram that would only look like a tree to a poet, but let's pretend it really does look like a tree for the moment:
Each sphere is a sephirot, and they are each labelled by different Hebrew words. Keter is the crown, from which all the others emanate. Binah and Hokmah are the male and female principles, and Da'at is knowledge. There are many interpretations about what each sphere stands for, and they are not mutually exclusive: it's supposed to have many meanings. Each sphere, from Malkut (the lowest) to Keter (the highest) corresponds to a different level of enlightenment/state of consciousness. During a spiritual seeker's development, they will progress up the sephirots to go from the more impulsive animal nature to a spiritual being. This can certainly be seen as different worlds, where everyone in a lower level of enlightenment is in a lower world, unable to perceive the higher reality of existence, and those above encompass more worlds, as they are beings of a higher spiritual dimension.
The Kabbalistic tree pictured above is actually one of four. These four are called Assiah, Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atziluth (going from lowest to highest). They are all interlaced to be part of one enormous tree of life with Atziluth's Keter at the top:
As you can see, there is some overlap, so, for example, the Keter of Assiah is the Tiferet of Yetzirah. Every sephirot emanated from the Keter at the top, and are all contained within it (this is similar to dimensions, but is all these worlds aren't physical. In fact, only Assiah, the physical universe that we live in, is physical). The higher worlds are spiritual worlds, and these can only be perceived by someone of that level of enlightenment. There may be traces of these higher worlds, and indeed, within our own souls, that are perceptible, but they are like projections of higher dimensions into lower ones. It is also possible that different universes exist at different levels in the Kabbalistic tree of life. Ours is (most likely) somewhere in Assiah, but there may be many more universes at the levels of higher sephirots within Assiah and the higher worlds as well.
The Kabbalah's a lot more detailed and complex than that, so I will do another post sometime just on this.
3) Plato's Cave (This is a hint for the sequel to Aizai the Forgotten!)
If you're not familiar with Plato's Allegory of the Cave, here is a little summary of what it is:
There are prisoners in a cave sitting chained to the spot so that they cannot turn their heads and can only look at one wall. Behind them is a fire and a roadway in front of it where unchained people walk by. They carry various objects that project shadows onto the wall that the prisoners see. These shadows comprise the whole world of the prisoners: they know nothing more to exist than the shadows, and make a game out of predicting what the shadows will be and what they will do.
Suppose that one prisoner were released from his bonds and is shown the fire so he can see that his reality is really just projections of physical 3-dimensional objects onto a wall . The prisoner is amazed and enlightened at this knowledge. The fire burns his eyes, but slowly, he gets used to its brightness.
The prisoner is then brought out of the cave (in stages to accustom him to it) into the full light of the sun. When he can look at the Sun and the world around him without being blinded, he sees the world for what it really is. This is even more profound than the blaze of the fire, and he has at last arrived at the more "real" world that the world in the cave was merely a shadow of.
Ignoring various physical and ethical factors that make this improbable (e.g., how do the prisoners eat? Wouldn't they be muscle-less and weak-boned flubber from sitting so long?), this allegory is about the enlightenment that people can gain by means of philosophy. This is really related to 2), but I thought that it was worth putting separately. The world of shadows upon the wall is the least "real", and is the lowest level of spiritual existence. The world of the fire is a bit higher, and from it, the prisoner can see the shadows for what they really are: only shadows, not real things in themselves. And finally, the light of the Sun is the enlightenment one obtains upon becoming a true philosopher and seeing things as they really are.
We live in a cave, unable to perceive what the world really is at a fundamental level. Even if some people are out of the cave that normal people live in, there are really caves in caves, and when one is in a higher level of existence, a higher world, they are in the cave of an even greater world. How far does this go? Perhaps it's impossible to know unless you're in the highest world. Get to the biggest Russian doll and look outside to see if there's any more. If you see wood, then you're not in the highest spiritual plane. If not, then you may be--or you're just inside an enormous doll :)
In case you're wondering, I said "philosophy" in the title instead of "science" for two reasons.
1) Because people don't think philosophy is as good as it really is, or they mistake it with mysticism or something (not that there's anything wrong with mysticism). There is a lot of metaphysics in this anyway, especially Plato's cave, so it's legitimate.
2) Science really is philosophy, as you can see in my Natural Philosophy and Science post.
Stay tuned for the next post! You can sign up for email alerts in the box to the right of the page under "Follow by Email".
What if the only thing that existed was your mind, and that everything around you was merely an idea within it? Berkeley (the 18th century philosopher) certainly thought so, but not without good reason. He has many arguments against materialism (that matter exists independently to us), but the best is how it relates to our perceptions:
From George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Understanding (1710):
"All the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, do not have any subsistence without a mind--that their being is to be perceived or known, that consequently, so long as they are not actually perceived by me or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit."
So if you agree that we only directly perceive our ideas, then what is it that connects our ideas to objects in the world? How can perceptible qualities such as taste, sight, sound, and touch, exist in an unperceiving substance? All we know about this supposed "matter", understood as existing whether we perceive it or not, are its sensible qualities I mentioned above. There is no reason to believe that these qualities correspond to anything beyond our ideas. In fact, it is a contradiction that matter should exist, for it is a contradiction that sensible qualities exist in things that cannot perceive. And what are physical objects but their constituent sensible qualities? What is a book but it's solid bulk (touch), it's shape and size (touch and sight), its colour (sight), its smell, its sound when you drop it (oops), and its taste (though I hope to never taste a book, thank you very much). To look at this another way, you don't have a physical substance existing unperceived any more than you have taste floating about without something to taste it.
Matter is often known as "the great illusion", in both philosophy and mysticism, and this ties in well with Berkeley's idealist view of matter. Matter is indeed less real than we often believe, and what is more real and permanent is the mind that perceives it. This could mean that we have more control over the world than we might imagine. Some of our thoughts are easier to manipulate than others, such as our imagination, our goals, etc, as opposed to what we believe exists "out there" in the world. But if our thoughts about the world (about the "matter" out there) and those that we normally consider as more personal to us (imagination, goals, musings) are on par with respect to their metaphysical status, then perhaps those thoughts about matter can also be changed just like we can change our beliefs (not that it is always easy to change our beliefs, but we all know it can be done). So what is the world, then, or perhaps, whose world is it? Whose thoughts are you living in? Are they your own, or someone else's?
Another thing Berkeley says is "What bickerings and controversies, what a learned dust has been raised about those matters..." I laughed out loud when I first read this: I imagined all these old British philosophers muddling about in a dust storm in the desert. Muddling about when they don't realize it's all in their minds. So next time, when someone says, "Don't worry, it's just in your mind", you can happily agree, and say, "Yes, and you are too."
UPDATE (May 25, 2015): I was just reading something about quantum mechanics (QM) that reminded me of this. In QM, a particle can be thought to not actually exist until it is observed (which can be that a measurement is made of its momentum or position). Well, this fits perfectly with idealism, (ignoring God, the eternal observer, for the moment), since an object cannot be said to exist unless it is observed and becomes a thought in our minds. So if objects don't exist without us (or any observer), they are not mind-independent, and so there is no matter "out there" just like Berkeley believed.
Just thought that was worth adding :)
The new Cinderella has come at last! I just saw the movie today, and it was so worth it!
I was glad that they stayed true to the original Disney version of the movie for the most part. I was a bit disappointed that the mice didn't talk and sing, but they still did communicate with Ella. I really liked how Ella had this connection with the mice and other animals, and how she always stayed true to follow what her mother told her before she died: Have courage and be kind. This is really the heart of the film, and it is repeated many times throughout it. Ella is always kind everyone, including people who treat her like dirt, and she never ever complains. She has courage to not just help herself, but others as well, and to spread her message to the prince, who takes it to heart, and falls in love with Ella because of her kindness and courage. This is one of the things the naysayers of Cinderella should reconsider (along with other things...), because if they say that "Ella doesn't do anything but just gets a prince and lives happily ever after", then they should remember that we get what we give: if we give out kindness to others, it will come back to us in turn, and likewise for hatred. What kind of story would it be if the stepmother got what she wanted and married off one of her daughters to the prince instead? She was the conniving and blackmailing one, so what kind of message would the movie be giving if she got her way? What kind of world do you want to live in? In any case, whether there are such things as fairy godmothers or not, the message that courage and kindness pay off is a good one.
Lily James was great as Cinderella. I wouldn't say perfect, but she was a very real and compassionate Ella, and she had the right look for the part, as well as an innocent expression and strength behind it. The prince was really good, and he even looked kind of like the prince in the original film, but he wasn't as handsome as I had hoped. Maybe I just thought he looked too old. Not that it really matters though :) But he had a name! It was Kitt: ok, so kind of disappointing, but better than no-name. Also, his relationship with his father was well done. His father (the king) was dying and trying to prepare his son to be king. They spoke on numerous occasions about who he should marry, and eventually, his father came around to seeing that he should marry for love and not for some proficient matching for the kingdom. The prince was saying they should find strength in their own kingdom and not elsewhere. Also a good message.
And I loved the animations and the costumes! The animals were cute, and it was really well done when they transformed into people (or almost people--you could still tell the gecko wasn't fully human). The glass slippers were beautiful, and the butterflies on them and Ella's dress were perfect. The dress was amazing, and wasn't over the top (though the poofyness was a bit much...). Everything just looked so authentic. The costumes were realistic, and I loved the dresses! The castle was beautiful, nothing like the Disney World castle, but it did have that long staircase and beautiful gardens that Ella and the prince walk through. It was a "secret garden" (they even called it that) complete with swing and all (not sure if this was an intentional reference to Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden).
Though one thing I was disappointed about was the lack of music. Or at least, if there was music, I didn't notice it much. Ella did sing once, but this is Cinderella we're talking about. She needed to sing more! Ok, so this review might be sounding a bit odd with my "I want singing mice and more Cinderella singing," but I'm comparing it to the original Disney movie. Lily James was a good singer though, so it was a wasted opportunity not to have her sing more.
Another thing was that there wasn't much magic. It was really just the fairy godmother, but that was alright: it was not supposed to be a "fantasy" movie really, but something that could have happened. The kingdom was one on Earth, and it was supposed to be "real" (just like the original Disney film).
Sometimes, even when you have hundreds of stray ideas that could potentially be used for writing, it's hard to concentrate on ONE story idea. And sometimes you need to craft a character, but your ideas fall short, or don't fit quite right with the story. Well, there are plenty of ways to get inspired, but one way is to get out your Tarot cards!
What are Tarot cards actually? They are similar to a usual deck of playing cards, except they are larger, feel nicer, and besides the four suits (which are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles in Tarot), there are 22 Major Arcana cards with characters such as The Magician, The World, The Hangman, Death, etc. (fun fact: regular playing cards originated from Tarot cards). There is plenty of symbolism involved in the Tarot cards, and plenty of ways to use them, but I'll just write about how I use them to inspire writing, and I'll give a detailed example of creating a story from them. Here are the steps to follow:
1) Get some Tarot cards:
Preferably ones that are applicable to the kind of writing you do. If you do fantasy, you'll have no problem whatsoever, because there are many beautiful Tarot decks with mystical themes. I have Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Shadowscapes Tarot, which are absolutely beautiful and inspiring (the images of the cards I'm using in this post are ones from that deck). Ones with a lot of detail like this are the best.
Going online and looking pictures of them won't cut it. You need to have them to shuffle about and lay down in front of you.
2) Learn a little about Tarot and play around with your deck:
Ok, this is optional, and I went a bit overboard by reading a whole book about the cards. It was a great book though, and I learned a lot. In any case, at least look at the mini-book that comes with the cards, and play around with them pretending to be a fortune-teller and such. And go ahead and do some readings of yourself and other people (gypsy scarf and candle optional). Even if you don't think it "works", it's still fun! Oh, and don't cry if you ask something like "What is my true destiny in the universe!" (not that I have ever asked that...) and get The Devil, or The Fool. Things are symbolic, and may reflect your state of mind at the time you're reading them. Or it might be giving you another message. Or if might be saying you have to defeat your own "Devil", or grow out of being a Fool. There is no one right interpretation for the cards: a lot depends upon you to read them and see how they apply to what you already know about yourself. So try to use your intuition and see what you can interpret. It's not all "in the book": let's say you get the card "The Magician" (see pic above with guy with green orb). There's an "official" meaning in the book that comes with the deck, but let's say that green orb he's holding means something to you personally. It's very likely that that is what the card is trying to tell you rather than the official meaning. And maybe that infinity sign above his head means something to you too. Anyhow, you get what I mean.
3) Now for the writing part:
You can do a host of different things depending on what you want to use this for. I'll give a few examples.
a) If you want to get ideas for a plot:
Shuffle the cards and decide that you want the cards to show a plot arc. Place as many as you want in front of you, perhaps in a sort of "pyramid-style" plot chart. Or make a circle, or do whatever you want! Even if you pick a random design, it can be part of the interpretation of your story.
Then flip over each card in order and think about how they can create a story. Don't just base it off of what the card is supposed to mean, but for this, it's best to use what the image means to you. If you use reversed cards*, then there are an enormous number of options that can come up.
I'll do an example of this right now.
It's the 4 of Wands (see picture below. I put all the cards I got in one big picture labeling what each card is). This card clearly marks the start of an adventure, or perhaps the start of a life. You can take the pictures literally or figuratively. If literally, then there are 4 unicorn-like creatures prancing through a rose patch with an entourage of fairies. Or just snatch one thing from it you like. But we need to see how the cards relate to each other too, and that's where the real story will come in.
The next card I put down is a reversed Knight of Cups. This will be my protagonist. He is riding a unicorn, so this will be the same unicorn as in the first card (it's best to try to relate them). He captured the unicorn in the hopes that he can achieve something, to reach that metaphorical "Holy Grail" in the sky with the fairies picture on the card). But he's riding a horse in the water: he can't swim, and he can't fly, and so he can never reach what he desires. The horse can, as seen from the first card, because the unicorn was from a better world where they can leap and fly. So maybe this knight has summoned the unicorn into his own world, and wants to ride the unicorn so he can get to whatever higher and greater world the unicorn is from. But the unicorn will not bear him there. This is his initial failure. Why he wants to go there, perhaps the next card will tell us.
The reason I'm putting a negative twist to this is because the card was reversed. And note that I'm not even referring to what the card is "supposed" to mean, except for any general ideas I already have of it.
The next card is the Page of Cups reversed. Hmm...The cups theme is good. This must be the original life that the Knight is coming from that he wishes to leave. Maybe in this world, people are sort of intoxicated with something that dulls their senses and blinds them to the reality of other worlds. The bowl that the mermaid holds might be this. For risk of making this too much like The Little Mermaid, I won't make her the main character, but she could be someone holding the knight back, trying to tempt him to stay in a world that is safe and known. The knight is not a mermaid though...maybe he was, and he's trying to leave the sea. His first step was to give up his fins Ariel-style. The other place he wants to get to is not just the world above the sea though, but another realm entirely. It is the place where the unicorns prance in the sunlight. But he still likes the sweet smell of that misty potion...
The next card is the Knight of Swords. Ok, so we're leaving the Cups suit for now. This could be the next step on the knight's adventure (I mean the knight of cups...he needs a name. I'll call him Delwin) Now the Knight of Swords (henceforth called Phillip) is much more powerful than Delwin. He comes from the stars, and I can even make this a part of my Soul Wanderers series and make him a Soul Wanderer! So Delwin meets a Soul Wanderer and realizes what he's missing. Yet Phillip is dangerous, hence the sword, and he is on his way to do something dangerous too. He has a retinue of minions (symbolized by the geese) and Delwin gets metaphorically (and physically?) swept away with them. Or maybe he sneaks along. In any case, he joins Phillip on a journey that is not his own, but that will become his own, as we will see (BTW, I'm making this up as I go along, so I don't know where this is going!).
The next card is the 7 of Cups. Perfect! This is about exploring other worlds, and dreaming of going to far places. Perhaps it's no coincidence I got these cards, since this is what I usually write about. In any case, as Delwin is getting swept along with Phillip's minions travelling through the stars on some mad mission to destroy some universal foe, he gets "dumped" in another world on the way, all injured and shaken, since he's never done anything like this before (details will come later: this is just the outline). Here, there is a monastery-like place where he can retreat and learn about other worlds and magic and things he never knew in his "sea world". He meets someone who helps him, a teacher, and together they explore this world and he helps her chart it on these maps. He becomes a student, but learns quickly, and so helps the people there greatly. Maybe he and the girl in the card (I'll call her Syva) become friends or fall in love.
Up next: Death reversed! I love it when I get Death--it adds so much more to the story! But death reversed is PERFECT for the Soul Wanderer theme. Soul Wanderers don't "die" like regular people do. They keep coming back to be reincarnated in other lives, other worlds. But Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's tarot deck already has Death represented by a phoenix. It is not really a complete "death" but a death of an old way of life and a transformation to something new. Good: we needed some conflict to offset the too-good and too-easy progression of the previous card. So what will happen is this: Delwin is living quite happily on this new world of his with Syva, though he starts getting a nagging feeling that he still hasn't achieved his goal. Maybe, despite his learning here, he still hasn't found out anything about that special world with the unicorns (perhaps he had a vision of it before, and that's why he wanted to go there in the first place. Actually, that could be the start of the story: his vision of the unicorn world). In any case, something happens (a writer's way to say "I need to get from A to C, but I don't know what B is yet, so I'll just ignore it for now") and he ends dying and his soul travels someplace else. Maybe Syva doesn't want to go with him, but Delwin feels he must go, though he promises to come back for her. This event could have been spurred by the return of Phillip or his minions, or perhaps they're wreaking havoc somewhere else in the universe and Delwin wants to stop it. So he "dies" and goes somewhere else...
The World! (such a beautiful card!) This is the world Delwin is "born into", one with great magic. He meets a sort of sorceress/magician with a device that can let him see into other worlds, but she does not let him use this. She realizes that Delwin has much potential, and that only he can stop Phillip and co. from destroying the universe. She tells him where they are headed next: the unicorn world (ok, this world needs a name! I'll call it Tenaria). "Tenaria?" Delwin says, shocked. He had been unconsciously preventing himself from thinking of Tenaria, what with his failure so long ago now, and the memory of that unicorn he had taken (and maybe the unicorn died, and he feels bad about it. His learning about other worlds with Syva was in part a way for him to forget how he used to be so reckless and maybe a little heartless). The sorceress (her name is Letaria--yes, her name is similar to Tenaria. She is connected to it somehow) helps him get there, though Delwin has to do most of the work, and gains more knowledge and skills at travelling between worlds and such, preparing him for the battle with Phillip.
Next is the Page of Swords. So the birds are Phillip's minions, and Delwin has to "tame" them by using his new magic, so that they will trust him and take him to Tenaria where Phillip is. Delwin has to become a sort of "page" of swords himself, because this is the only way he will get there. It is dangerous, but he blends in with the minions and gets to Tenaria.
Now for the LAST card: Five of Cups reversed. Oh. Not too exciting, after Death and The World. Yet when you get a "meh" card, don't put it back! Work it in, and it might save your story. This will have to tie back to the sea world he left (no, not Sea World :) but the one with the mermaid girl). When he gets to Tenaria, he finds his sea world reflected in it *somehow*, and realizes that he can fall back there with one longing glance into the "fishbowl". He will have to surmount his fears and ignore the bowl, break it perhaps, which breaks his connection to the lower worlds. Maybe this will leave Syva behind, or maybe he uses it to get her first, bring her here, and then he breaks it. As for Phillip...well, no one said this had to be a happy story so here's a potential ending: Delwin cannot kill Phillip unless he is entirely pure of heart, and to do that, he must deal with the unicorn he let die long ago. He has brought Syva here, and so he sacrifices himself in part for her sake and in part for the unicorn, dying in such a way that he will not return anywhere (he's learned all about this "practical metaphysics" in Syva's world, so can be sure of it).
So Phillip is banished from Tenaria, the universe is saved, and Delwin finally reaches his goal, but he has to die, or else will not compensate for the death of the unicorn, which is the death of the purest kind of creature. He ends up wanting to die, and at the very end, the unicorn rises again, and there is a little inkling of "maybe Delwin's soul is now in the unicorn", as we see when Syva looks into the unicorn's eyes, but we never know for sure.
Phew. So there's the story. At least a fairly substantial first outline that I could build from.
See how just picking up cards and looking at them can create an awesome story?!
[BTW, I probably don't have to mention this, but please don't steal this story! I might want to write it sometime.]
b) If you want inspiration for creating characters
You can do the same as above for one character, laying out an arc for them as they progress through a story. Or you can have one card represent each character, and can insert some cards between them to represent how they interact with one another, and how they change each other in the story. Make sure to do this all at once, so you can see how the characters are related to each other.
I did this for my short story The StarCompass, in creating the 3 main characters: Wyndor, Larwick, and Gideon. I found it worked quite well, though as I wrote, I did deviate from my initial ideas I got from the Tarot cards. But it's not like this should be the be-all-end-all, because the cards are supposed to be inspiration for you to build on, not full story ideas.
c) If you want ideas for a conflict
You can have 2 columns of cards and put cards between them to represent the tension between 2 different ideas, characters, concepts, etc. You can build a plot out of this too, but this focuses more on different forces at play rather than certain events in the story.
These are just a few examples, but there are so many more things you can do with Tarot cards. The best thing is often to just make up how you use the cards as you go along.
So have fun, and be inspired!
*A note on "reversed" cards: by "reversed", I just mean that if you don't keep all the cards one way up, when you lay them out, some will come out upside down. This can be taken to mean the opposite of whatever the card means. For example, if a card is supposed to represent courage, then that card reversed would mean a lack of courage, or someone who has problems summing up courage in the face of adversary. Sometimes it annoys me to have reversed cards, so you can choose whether or not to take an upside down card to mean reversed qualities, or if you just ignore that and flip it right-side up