Thursday, 27 March 2008


Sun Storm: A Coronal Mass Ejection
Michael Francis Gibson recently pointed out that I’d been neglecting this blog over the past few weeks and offered to fill in for me for a while. I’ve gratefully accepted. Here’s his first contribution. Padraic.


Of all the marvelous institutions that have arisen lately in Gondwana, the Center for Post-Apocalyptic Studies is my favorite.

The stunning implications of its title really enchant me.
Many of us tend to assume that once the world has been destroyed, there’s no more to be said or done:
Game over!
The very name of the Center suggests otherwise. It implies that once a world has been destroyed, it’s time to build another one.
A splendid prospect, but where do we start?
Some will say: what a great opportunity!
Let’s build a new world under the guidance of reason.
But, as experience has shown, reason on its own is not enough.
Why so? Quite simply, you might say, because reason sometimes turns out to be so drearily lacking in… imagination.
The inhabitants of the Third Hemisphere (see earlier entries below) are perfectly aware of this inadequacy. Reason without imagination is lifeless, they say, just as imagination without reason is mad. Or just plain silly.
But what is the imagination, in their sight?
It’s the unique human power to shape new images in the mind’s eye.
It’s also the faculty that endlessly scans experience for meaningful patterns that feed humanity’s insatiable need for enchantment. In earliest times, too, it helped our ice-age hunter forebears decipher animal tracks in the snow.
We, inhabitants of the more pedestrian hemispheres, are not unaware of this, although we may sometimes underestimate the power and import of what the imagination has to offer.
Who hasn’t grown ecstatic in childhood at the sight of frost on the windowpane or, later in life, of galaxies slowly spooling in their flocks of stars, of leaves, ferns and flowers unfolding, of the patterns of language, butterflies’ wings and music? Even our sober scientists tirelessly scan the heavens for meaningful patterns, searching for signals emitted by some purposeful awareness nesting out there in remotest space.
And we’re not just on the lookout for patterns of this kind.
We also scan the full sweep of human experience in search of some plausible, purposeful pattern that will light our own life with… “meaning.”
It’s with patterns such as these that every society builds the great nest of its homely world.
According to the principal traditions of the Third Hemisphere, all humans inevitably live inside a picture of the world. People often mistake this picture for the world itself until it shatters under the pressure of events.
The physical world, as we increasingly realize, is full of huge invisible events that mark our lives. Sun storms sometimes get violent enough to cause geomagnetic mayhem, send orbiting satellites crashing to earth, disrupt the electric power grids, start fires, black out radio communications and, as in 2003, cause the northern lights to shine as far south as Havana.
But human history is also full of spiritual, technical and economic storms that shake and shatter our picture of the world.
This is what’s happening everywhere today and this is where the Center for Post-Apocalyptic Studies steps in with its cheerful prospects.
As I explain in my Introduction to The Riddle of the Seal (see, the Center is one of the three component institutions of the Greater Dream Project, recently set up by the new government of Gondwana, ostensibly to handle preparatory work for an international Greater Dream Congress that is still in the offing.
The first of these institutions is the Circle of Uncertainties, appointed to collect whatever questions people may currently be asking themselves in every corner of the world. A daunting undertaking. The Circle is even now sifting through and synthesizing the abundant material it has received before passing on its conclusions to two other bodies: the Bureau of Erraticities and the Center for Post-Apocalyptic Studies.
The Bureau is expected to handle matters relating to origins and causes (and hence lying within the competence of reason and of the experimental and theoretical sciences). The Centre deals with all those touching upon purpose and intent (and hence within the purview of the imagination, poetic vision and wisdom).
The distinction is somewhat artificial to be sure and members of the Bureau sometimes complain that their colleagues at the Center have all the fun because they always seem to be playing games. Those of the Center merely suggest that some people may be more gifted for fun than others.
How can I best explain the purpose of their undertaking?
Just last year, I met the analytical philosopher John Searle and asked him how he would define the main thrust of his own reflection. He replied that it touched upon the question:
"How do we reconcile our view of ourselves as human beings and what we know about the world as a collection of atoms, hormones, organisms, etc…?"
I was delighted when I realized that the underlying purpose of the Greater Dream Congress could be expressed in precisely these same terms.
To put it differently: how do we reconcile old wisdom and new knowledge?
Here, in turn, and in the simplest language possible, is what some of the philosophers of Gondwana have to say on the subject:
Reason must be encouraged to admit that the patterns, pictures and stories collected by the imagination are not mere pointless fantasies but actually and practically contributes to shaping human individuals and societies. Animal societies, these philosophers point out (having in mind bees, ants, wolves and geese, for instance), are held together by genes and pheromones. We humans are no longer comprehensively commanded by these forces. We refer instead to the pictures and patterns of the imagination.
The stories that the image-making faculty weaves shouldn’t be expected to be scientifically true because they aren’t actually meant to describe the physical world – although they try to stick to the generally received opinions of the day.
They have always been, however, and to this day remain dedicated to the description of a collective imagined world, and thanks to this they endlessly weave the guiding patterns of purpose into human societies. These allow each individual to form an idea of what men and women actually are, why they are born, why they have children and why they die.
Such patterns, our philosophers add, have always been the constellations of our inner life that guide and comfort us. Without them, our world is starless and distress sets in. We no longer properly exist as individuals and our societies are stripped of their indispensable cohesion. This was quite recently the case in Gondwana, too.
All the societies that have survived to this day have successfully mended their founding patterns as they shifted through the ages, but the present, unprecedented, world-encompassing sun storm has made this task particularly difficult – almost impossible, it would seem.
In Gondwana, however, as the device of the country proclaims: “the possible holds the real on a leash – the opposite would be unacceptable.”
Readers are invited to send in relevant comments or questions for consideration by the Center for Post-Apocalyptic Studies. I shall pass them on and we’ll see what comes of it.
An association, Friends of the Greater Dream, has been set up to relay the Greater Dream Project in the northern and southern hemispheres. Those who are interested may write to: