Horatio…

ghostAre there ghosts? According to one statistic, 45% of Americans believe there are. If they are correct, what are ghosts?

Throughout history, the common belief is that ghosts are the trapped souls of the deceased. Most often the trap represents something unfinished. What if that’s not exactly the case?

I’ve recently heard a theory that equates ghosts with a fading body of memory. A friend has made a distinction between ghosts and haunts, the latter being more echo than spirit.

Ghosts appear in either evil or good roles. What if they, like the living, can alternate between these two (or any two other) states. In nature, fluids flow around objects – sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right.

CapeVerde.A2005005.1225.250mFlowing fluid sometimes creates what’s known as a Kármán vortex street†. In addition to some oddly organized cloud patterns when winds are disrupted by a particularly tall structure or mountain, the same aspect of fluid dynamics can cause singing cables (vortex-induced vibration).

Vortex-street-animationWhat if something comparable is part of the cause of what we call ghosts? Or, to be more precise, around and “downstream” from each ghost. The key question might then be – “What is the fluid?” The most common answer, I could predict, would be æther. A century± ago the answer might have been ectoplasm. Ghosts are traditionally associated with a specific location but appearances do not occur on a reliable schedule. This could mean that the ætheric flow rate is not a constant.

This is, of course, not to say that there hasn’t been some attempt at science vis-á-vis ghost phenomena. Beginning in the Victorian era, and lasting well through both World Wars, many celebrated minds and names were engaged in the study — perhaps most famously the Doyle camp vs that of Houdini — but that is another story.

doylehoudiniSome who report sensing ghosts claim to see them. Others hear them. These variances could suggest either different fluids or they might depend on the relative “shape” of the ghost involved. There are a fair few TV shows about detecting ghosts with indistinct recordings (both audio and video) offered as evidence. These shows are ultimately unsatisfying from the perspective of what hauntings may truly be, how they’ve been caused, and what to do about them. Perhaps ghost hunters and –busters is the wrong calling.

I’m fairly certain the term “ghosts” does apply to something real and observable – given the proper circumstance. I’m not as certain about why they exist or what causes them to do so. Is there something we should do? Is there an opportunity to learn something useful? The terms in use for millennia could be profoundly wrong. If there were real science being applied to this field of study, we might find reason to compare current belief and theory to the differences between astrology and astronomy, alchemy and chemistry.

Recall the Indian parable of the blind men and an elephant…


† named for Theodore von Kármán, engineer.

Note: The animation above is part of the wiki entry for Kármán vortex street and was designed by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira. The aerial photograph is from NASA. Use here implies neither ownership nor credit.
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Separated at birth…

Questions raised by science fiction – good or bad – include “Where do we come from?” and “Where might we be going?” Sci-fi may also ask for a definition of humanity, particularly when at its best. And much of the genre is a depiction of the Cosmos, its possible meaning, and our role within it – if any.

When ΨΦ (psi phi) interprets humanity as a specific code of behavior or paints the Cosmos as demanding such adherence, all of this together begins to resemble religion. I have been developing a science fiction story that treats on some of this territory. During this musing I find myself wondering why science fiction usually tends to wheel away from religion.

There are exceptions, of course. For most of the ‘90’s both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 dealt with religious beliefs while telling sci-fi stories. In the following decade-plus, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica did so also. But that’s not quite the point aimed at here.

A religious story set within a sci-fi universe or a sci-fi plot with the trappings of belief goes only half way. I’m newly fascinated by the concept of a novel that is truly about both – or at least sparks a debate about which kind of tale it may be.

All We Now Hold True” is the working title for my offering to Star Trek readers – both old and new. In addition to an attempt to build the bridge alluded to above I seek to build a bridge between original and relaunch.

The Vulcan Language Dictionary (VLD) lists nearly a dozen deities from the pre-Surak period. In pre-Reform Ancient Vulcan a pantheistic society is shown in several existing novels. The planet giving rise to that culture is generally painted as a global desert. Measured by their gods, the Vulcans are obsessed with the dichotomies of war and peace and of fertility and death.

The presumptive answers they might give to the foregoing questions are: “We come from conflict. We may never truly escape it. At our best, we can survive as long as possible. What else can be done?”

In short, an environment of severity will raise severe people.

But what if that’s all not the whole truth? Some personal experience denies this being a reality. My premise and hope within fiction says otherwise, too.

kau

Please Note: This entry is a day late in terms of my normal posting schedule. I’ve spent most of the day easing the transition of the pet cat I’ve had since 1999. The premise of this entry was planned before I knew today would be Lily‘s final day with me. I find it strangely fitting that her passing raises a few questions related to those I’ve mentioned here. But the corollary of this post’s title is an intentional reference to how much I’ll miss her.

Paradox need not apply…

Ordinarily, this blog updates once a weekon Monday. I didn’t think it was fair to stretch The Three Laws of Magic over most of April. Next week’s post may be delayed by a day or two.

The supposition that the Earth might be spherical was being examined at least 2,500 years ago. It took 80% of that time for circumnavigation of the planet to become possible. It is now commonplace. If satellites in orbit are included, it’s a constant. Nevertheless, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat.

Despite some progress, some of which includes true high points in thought, our oblate spheroid planet still harbors a discouraging spectrum of prejudice. In 1941, some American leaders believed that the Japanese were too inferior to Caucasians to have successfully attacked Pearl Harbor. Clearly, they’d have required the help of the Germans. That was nearly 75 years ago – but embarrassingly recent.

Religious and gender-based prejudice is not new. Laws that attempt to control the behavior of “The Other” have existed since there have been laws. The timeline for one side being brutal to another side – of any stance or argument – is incredibly long. Do we have to share a world with luddites and bigots? Probably. And I will probably (and ironically) continue to look down on them. There is, however, no excuse for We as the Whole to give up trying. The weakest link in our enlightenment chain might always be our education system. Good enough is not good enough.

All this to introduce the Third Law of Magic. If you’ve recently been following this blog you know the First Law is that “Magic is a personal force”. At the most basic level, that means that magic begins with a single person’s energy. The Second Law is that “All magic is permanent.” Multiple layers of permanent magics may have a range of results.

Magic becomes a force unto itself.

Laws of MagicNone of this is supposed to be science and this musing of mine is background material for most of my fiction. That said, we do have it within our power – with care and consideration – to improve our thinking. It may be true that ill-conceived notions are cars that never leave the racetrack. Accepting it as a truth makes it a foregone conclusion.

There have been a few novels I’ve read and slowed my reading pace when there were just a few pages remaining. When a good story is about to present a hopefully good ending, I like to savor right up to “The End”.

I’d like that to be more readily possible in the non-fiction section of the Corpus Humanum. As I mentioned in this blog on Feb. 2, “…centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.” The word “impossible” should be reserved for violations of the Laws of Physics.

Please consider yourself invited to Comment, Like, and/or Share.

The Laws of Magic…

got-magicIs it fair to suggest that we each have an innate desire for life to be worthwhile? The possibility that we might waste our finite time with something inconsequential is irritating. To find ourselves so considered is infuriating. Are we born to the search for meaning or do we learn to seek it?

Regardless of its source, that need may be the origin of the concept of fate. The idea of having a destiny (and presumably a good one) appeals to our sense of making some sort of difference. A fate simultaneously helps us feel more secure about our future and our mortality. Without specificity, however, it also can aggravate our fear of the unknown. We want to be optimistic and so we hunt for data.

Our collective sense that the Cosmos can be known – or, at least, better understood – leads us to communication and quests for experience. It’s a far better motivation than merely alleviating boredom. And whether the alchemy that transforms experience into wisdom results from quiet contemplation or by a more public affinity, it is that magic that matters. How we share with a community, and it with us, is less important than the sharing itself – the act and the content.

Some believe that anything described by the term magic is evil. To an extent this view can be understandable (but not justifiable). Magic can both hearten and unnerve us. Emphasis on the latter, particularly when combined with ideology, can lead to book- and witch-burnings. The burning of a book that is believed to “teach” magic is in and of itself a ritual practice.

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet: Act II, Scene II. William Shakespeare

Others dismiss magic as being a primitive or irrational belief. Science, in effect, sides with religion in wanting to drive away the magical.

But what magic is and does depends on what we think. If I were going to propose that there be Three Laws of Magic, the first would be “Magic is a personal force.”

In my fiction, fate and magic play key roles. I have been wondering why. Having been a scientist, the answer is suddenly obvious only as I write this post: it is part metaphor and part escapism. Magic in my fiction has nothing to do with what I really believe and practice day to day. Outside of writing, were I to actually define my magic, it would probably be closer to the following:

that which contributes to understanding and/or ameliorates negative emotions (including fear of the unknown) especially if sudden inspiration is a factor.

Hey Presto!

Do I believe in magic? I do in mine.

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Exorcising the Geist from the Zeit…

Depending on who it is speaking – the world is in poor shape. The cynic in me sees too many politicians seeking to sow fear and harvest votes. Similarly, the objective of advertising could be seen as the manufacture of a sense of need or want. These are symptoms. Pointing to them in cynicism does not mean I agree about the state of things. If one isn’t careful, however, the provocation to apathy based on futility could really grow discouraging.

I refuse to believe there’s nothing that can be done and no one to do it anyway. I reject ennui. It just doesn’t have to be that way.

Some years ago I praised a good friend for being on his best behavior as a general stance. I observed that many people are rarely on comparable footing – unless called to it specifically. Part of my hope in writing A Song Heard in the Future is that it may be seen as an invitation in the present. Perhaps if there is a more frequent call to being better the reminder might result in more evidence of good, including from myself.

The meme of “Keep Calm…” and innumerable and often frivolous permutations, and despite the commercialization, stems from good advice. The British Ministry of Information produced the original and actually motivational poster in the summer of 1939, in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Philosophically speaking, may we expect a better destiny by looking to inspire and inform? I would not presume to know the path. I can’t actually draw the actual map from here to “there”. But it seems logical that it involves beginning to turn away from doomsayers. While writing about Teiresias, I couldn’t have his prophecies be entirely of gloom and doom. Nor could his life and times be completely tragic. My motto has for a long time been, “The only raw material needed to manufacture hope is time.” The novel’s main character may prove to be of similar outlook.

I’ve long been leery of people who claim to know all of the answers. That’s not what I’m claiming here or in the novel. The first answer – the first step – is all I’ll point to right now. We have to expect better. That is one way to encourage better.

MediterraneanForgive me for not including a map to a better future. Unlike Teiresias, I cannot see it. This map represents many of his travels in my book and some of the paths followed by his three daughters.

Zup-tor vu akarshif

Five years ago, the sudden realization struck me that I did not have Leonard Nimoy’s autograph. Given what his work meant to me, this seemed to be a particularly glaring omission from my collection of meaningful mementos. I became obsessed for the next few hours and first looked up how old he’d become. While wishing that he would be free from the eventual constraints of a mortal life – I soon knew that I did not have much time to have a particular book Mr. Nimoy had authored autographed.

Ascertaining if, how, where, when and in what conditions he might be in range of my attendance became an obsession. In the end I did, in fact, get my copy of “I am Spock” signed by one of my heroes – quite probably my first hero – and was able to thank him for his work. He did tell me, “You’re welcome.”

Now he has passed and I am deeply apologetic if this posting is how anyone learns of the news. It was, of course, chiefly Spock that made his career meaningful to me. I was still of single-digit age when I realized something about life – or at least living one – did not make logical sense. I could not define the problem nor solve it. Fictional Spock was not able to explain the situation to Young Me but he did become a role model in how I might handle emotions (my own and those of others) along with handling the irrationalities of this planet’s carbon unit infestation.

I don’t mean to suggest that I adopted Vulcan ways as my own. But I do have what I consider to be a rather unique perspective on what “being a Vulcan” would mean were they not a fictional race. I have long suspected other fans of things-Vulcan might consider my views heretical. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly ironic day when I learned Mr. Nimoy was no longer with us. I still don’t know how to process it entirely nor am I sure how long that may take. I found it helpful to find a quote from the end of The Wrath of Khan. Kirk’s son tells his father, “You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.”

Dr. McCoy, later in the same film, says, “He’s not really dead. As long as we remember him.”

As I more fully invest myself in the writing career I have long-dreamt of, I do hope to have the opportunity to write at least one novel concerning Vulcans. The story does treat on the above mentioned “heresy” – and then I guess I’ll see how other fans may react.

Vaksurik rom-halan, Spock. Vaksurik rom-halan, Mr. Nimoy. I’wak mesukh-yut t’on.

The above – in Vulcan, of course – could be transliterated as, “I wish you a beautiful farewell, Captain Spock. I wish you the same, Leonard Nimoy. Time is not a single straight road.” The present is the crossroads of past and future.

The Scientific Spiritualist…

I have always been fascinated by astrophysics. Mars and Stars have been on my mind since time immemorial. One of my earliest memories is actually of wishing on a star.

Noctua copy

The career and works of Camille Flammarion illustrate that he held similar passions. His speculations on Mars and other planets – and the potential for life there – have been part of my musings for some while.

The concept that there may be life on other worlds did not originated with Flammarion. And although we have gone 24± centuries without definitive proof of extraterrestrials, there is a legitimate search for evidence that is considered under the wings of science.

Only recently have I learned that Flammarion’s study and published material also treated on psychical matters. The scientist was also a Spiritualist – for more than 60 years. He was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and they both made “pilgrimages” to renowned figures in Spiritualism, including to Eusapia Palladino. In 1897, what may be considered as the height of that movement, Flammarion’s writing turned exclusively to the conditions and environment(s) of the soul.

Having once been a scientist (chemistry), I must admit to some conflict between logic and the subjects to which I’m attracted as an author. Apart from A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress about the life of the seer Teiresias, I’ve been developing another book about the legacy of Spiritualism during World War II.

Richard Feynman – a theoretical physicist – is purported to have said, “…nobody understands quantum mechanics.” While I don’t believe that such uncertainty demands that all possible explanations are of equal potential validity, I do think there’s enough vagary to support the idea that even those who study quantum physics do not fully comprehend their own field.

The zeitgeist has seen fit to give television shows to some who think beginning presentation of any wonky theory with the phrase, “Is it possible…” is sufficient to intercept skepticism. I am and will remain far from going that far. I am much more comfortable with “What if…”, which has been the spark of every theory. Part of quantum mechanics may prove Flammarion – and all scientific spiritualists – partially right.

“The sight of my soul far exceeded that of my body, and, to my surprise, this power of sight appeared to be subject to my will.” — from Flammarion’s “Lumen”

Two dozen centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.