Tag Archives: John Wheeler

… speed – falling upwards into spatial & temporal bewilderment …

Always keen to bridge and connect seemingly unrelated intellectual territories, I tend to dip into essays of poet-philosophers and cultural theorists stacked near my bed.

Paul Virilio’s ‘Open Sky’ is a recent addition, translated by Julie Rose in 1997. Not an easy read, but the analysis of the social destruction wrought by modern technologies of communication and surveillance drew me in. The last chapter, Escape Velocity, relates a striking experience by Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. I share it here, within a short excerpt from the chapter, curious to discover what my readers make of it:

… Inflated to fill the dimensions of the world’s space, the time of the present world flashes us a glimpse on our screens of another regime of temporality … Outrageously puffed up by all the commotion of our communication technology, the perpetual present suddenly serves to illuminate duration. Reproducing the alternation between night and the solar day that once organised our ephemerides, the endless day of the reception of events produces an instantaneous lighting of reality that leaves the customary importance of the successive nature of facts in the shade; factual sequences little by little lose their mnemonic value …

… In his memoirs of the first moon landing, Buzz Aldrin in his own way confirms this disqualification of sunlight. Listen to what he has to say from the surface of the night star:

‘The light is also weird. Since there’s no atmosphere, the phenomenon of refraction disappears, so much so that you go directly from total shadow into sunlight, without any transition. When I hold my hand out to stick it in the light, you’d think I was crossing the barrier to another dimension.’

It is as though, for the astronaut, shadow and light were two new dimensions, inasmuch as any kind of transition no longer exists for him. The loss of the phenomena of atmospheric refraction produces a different perception of reality …

Virilio draws a comparison to a similar loss for earthlings … the different degree of illumination which, before the invention of electricity, still marked the hours of the day or the days of the year has become of diminished importance. Under the indirect light from screens and other control centres of the transmission of events, the time of chronological succession evaporates, paving the way for the instantaneous exposure time as harsh as that floodlighting of which Aldrin tells us:

‘On the moon, the sun shines on us like a gigantic spotlight.

All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission had problems after their return to earth. Spatial and temporal disorientation are not easily reconciled with one’s reality identification. Virilio writes … as for Aldrin, after two nervous breakdowns, several detoxification treatments for alcohol abuse and a divorce, he was to wind up in a psychiatric ward.

Struck by Aldrin’s experience, I thought about the increased screen time, especially now so many of us engage in since the corona virus changed our rhythm of interaction with nature, local environments, family, friends, and the wider world.

I first pondered the cultural implications of the digital advent during  a mid-1990s film degree as a mature student. For those interested – my post from 2018 gives a flavour of my dissertation – click here for ‘Body Electric- – it’s worth a visit.

John Wheeler came up with the idea of the universe as self-observing system (being.) Light travels at 186 000 miles per second. When we look into deep space we are seeing galaxies over ten billion years old. In that sense everything we see is in a past, which our observing consciousness creates. So I ask myself what realities do we envision during this surreal corona time, individually and collectively?

Is Paul Virilio’s bleak vision justified? Is the hyper centre of present time becoming the sole reference axis of worldwide activity? Is the individual of the scientific age, with diminished positional reference, losing the capacity to experience him/herself at the centre of energy?

Click here for an article from the Frieze magazine.

And if you’re brave, read this fascinating & sobering interview of Paul Virilio by Caroline Dumoucel.

Or – can we create enough pockets of stillness to counter the acceleration of the fall upwards, of progress propaganda, and instead re-connect to body, earth and roots?

P. S. All links in the post open a new window.


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… global vision & synchronicity …

Moroc, Marrakech Riad roof, golden vision - low     Less than 80 years ago, across the world, only about 200 televisions sets were in use. Today, a simulated reality confronts us with our collective mind. A click away, we sample the zeitgeist and witness some disturbing trends, like the continuous robbery of world resources.

How do we filter the mass of information? Do we shout treason when we see the failure of economic systems that allow 1 % of the population to own 40 % of global wealth, or when we discover that certain corporations privatise water –  even rainwater  –  in underdeveloped countries? Traversing from one patch of light to another, do we make connections that apply to our scope of action? Or, lacking a meaningful context, are we hypnotised by this enlarged mega-screen, the global vision of a world that can mirror our inner fragmented states  –  a world where every viewpoint exists simultaneously, that over-exposes so-called reality and blinds us? Are we ourselves living inside the screen-myth, as extras, freed into bits, a reservoir of data?

As writers, what in-forms us, what material do we disseminate? And what is it that makes choices, switches from one networks of influence to another? What guides us through the data jungle? Are there perceptions beyond our wilful personalities that determine, agencies that operate through us from beyond time and space? I’m weary of the term God. For me this agency is a consciousness composed of past, present and future intelligences, a light-wave that echoes different signals according to the receptivity and needs of each animated vessel. Humans can be dense, but a calm mind recognises clear signals of this wave, since they chime with a joyous feeling of connectedness, a larger symphony, maybe even the sense of a destined purpose.

In my experience, this consciousness operates through synchronicity. There exist conceptual similarities between the behaviour of sub-atomic particles and archetypal images, (C G Jung and Wolfgang Pauli discussed such similarities in the context of synchronicity), a striking link between mind and matter that has been largely ignored. It implies that mind and matter connect, relate, mirror each other, and reciprocate. The process is given life in the realm of the psyche as imagination, not structured by time and space, but through layers of meaning illuminated by consciousness. Psyche is the changing room between cosmos and pneuma.

Moroc, Marrakech, Riad roof, shadow - lowJung thought of archetypes not as fixed, but as changing predispositions, universal patterns inherent in the human psyche, images that comprise our collective past and future unconscious. A pattern stirred into activity by an emotionally charged event in our lives, brings home related experiences, often through meaningful coincidences in a non-linear and a-causal way.

Such synchronicities draw on a deeper life-sap, as if an eternal intelligence were at work.

David Bohm proposed that subatomic particles remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them, and that their separateness is an illusion. Here a facet of his thinking – a short first part of a 5 part series  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGyDVF8GrLk                                                                                              A great and humble man I greatly admire. He has beautiful hands  🙂

A dream, for example, can attract an outer event, a meaningful coincidence, that powerfully substantiates a message from the unconscious, often accompanied by a numinous quality. In my own life, synchronistic events have challenged my narrow reasoning at certain crossroads towards seemingly irrational decisions. Exploring a hunch, while not attaching to the outcome, often clarifies a situation for me. Consequently, I respect the unconscious, and heed my intuitions.

‘The universe does not exist, out there, independent of all acts of observation. Instead, it is in some strange sense a participatory universe.’ – John Wheeler

Just as scientist are branching out from traditional imperatives that divide the world into subjects and objects, so we all, presented with a global vision, must modify some of the archetypal imperatives, images and ideas that have outlived their use, and look for symbols that carry a fresh mystery.

Moroc, Plage Blanche sunset - low

While sun and moon are forever formative and feed our imagination, they are no more our only lights.

With new associations from science come fresh symbols and exciting probabilities, in that we can question assumptions about time and progress, about the relationship between matter and mind, about our view of social units, and even the meaning we give to gender.

‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards’. The White Queen says to Alice.

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Many of my posts here touch upon similar themes, but maybe pattern-which-connect in particular: https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/pattern-which-connects/


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