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Another Letter…

… one which I liken to a pebble tossed into still water… the ripples spread wide, beyond the  confines of the book and let me see things I had not seen before. The letter is from Brett Shand.

***

Hi Phil,

Just some random thoughts. Memories, ideas and dreams triggered by your book. I’ll read it again soon and things will no doubt things will become clearer.

So … I’ve just finished reading ‘The Disestablishment of Paradise.’ I like it very much. It is a tale, almost a myth, for our times and one that still, may the gods help us, needs to be told over and over again. A while ago I travelled to choir practice in a car with a man who was very loudly telling everyone how everything about climate change was a lie, a conspiracy of the lefties, that there were twenty-thousand research papers to prove his point. You have no doubt heard him. The sadness was that his strident opposition made his terror that his safety and his world were dissolving about him very clear. My heart broke for him; what a way to live. He needs this book. We all do.

For me, you have waded into deep and dark waters. Many years ago now an Anglican minister said to me (and others) that the great division in the world was between those who needed beliefs and those who wanted faith. That rang bells with me. To hold a set of beliefs and not become a “true-believer” is very difficult; to not step over the line that divides “I believe” and “My beliefs are right and therefore you are wrong” and so enlivening all the evils that spring from that. Faith requires doubt, because it is doubt that keeps faith a living thing, constantly changing and responding to us and our world and the universe. But to live in that space of faith and doubt is also very difficult. The ambivalence and the ambiguities that are there make it a place where great courage and compassion (especially for ourselves) are needed. Which brings us to the book and me. Over the years, starting from when I was about two, I have had a number experiences that have left me with a deep feeling of connection to … what? Your ‘Paradise’ explores that ‘what.’ The faith – along with the deep and sometimes agonizing doubt I have – that everything is connected. The “deep root” of Paradise is the way I want things to be but I am not at all sure that it is. Ah, the troubles I construct for myself. So it is a comfort to find that there is at least one other (two, if you count Ursula Le Guin as I most surely do) who shares the same faith. The faith that we are wanted children of the universe; really, how could it be otherwise?

Angelo (Pioneers), Marius Thorndyke (Eye of the Queen), Jon Wilberfoss (Wulfsyarn) and Hera Melhuish from this book, are all chips off the same mystical block. The person of deep faith and the sceptical scientist battling it out in there, just like me. How I resonate to their struggles and their doubts. And out there is Paradise gradually becoming sentient and absorbing the violence and cruelty of its human inhabitants and their love and hope. (By the way I loved the story of Sasha getting her man. Deeply touching and hilarious at the same time.) And Paradise slowly turns on it’s human inhabitants almost in spite of itself. Is the Earth (and the Universe?) going to shrug too? I think maybe it will. Or is.

The Reapers are spread over the Paradise’s mountains like spiral arm galaxies with the Reaper itself like the black hole at the centre. Maybe Paradise is a symbol for our relationship to the whole universe as well with its great stream of pre-ethical love and healing pouring in. Ah, I hope it is so. I used to work with men like the demolition boss, Mack, so he is familiar to me. I once worked with a gravedigger who left home at twelve with his swag to help build the Otira tunnel. He used to quote Henry Vaughan to me as he dug.

“I saw Eternity the other night

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright,”

was a particular favourite as I remember. I had never heard of Henry Vaughan at the time which puzzled him because I was a “college boy.” He said he lived entirely on whiskey and condensed milk sandwiches. A hard but gentle man who said he’d never had a job that wasn’t on the wrong end of a bloody shovel. There is often a deep certainty in men like Mack which I admire, but it gets them in trouble too. Mack and Hera dividing the Dendron. Oh my! What a story.

So anyway, I liked the book very much. I liked and believed in the characters. The
narrative thread was strong and convincing. I read the quote below in the Oct-Nov 2012 edition of The Catholic Worker. It comes from a man writing an obituary for another much loved and very private man. How do you write an obituary for someone without invading their privacy? He was by Frank’s side when he was dying and had an epiphany:
“On that night, Frank led me out of the cave of illusion, took me by the hand, and guided me into the sunshine where I could see the shadow cast by the face of God. Aristotle claimed that a friend is another self. Frank is much more than a friend …. His love became the gateway through which transcendence became immanent for me …. The story isn’t about [ourselves]. This story is really about that One whose name cannot be uttered ,whose mystery cannot be comprehended, only felt.”

So it is with books, with this book.

Brett

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The Disestablishment Of Paradise
by Phillip Mann
Gollancz.

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

***

The Disestablishment of Paradise is a stunningly brilliant novel.

Things are going wrong on the planet of Paradise. Crops are failing and the indigenous plant life is changing in unpredictable ways. And so the powers that be make the decision to close the planet down, to cut their losses and leave the place to itself. Paradise will be disestablished.

The book is supposedly written long after the disestablishment has taken place, and the events are recollected with the benefit of hindsight. The person most closely involved was Hera Melhuish and her story is told by her biographer, a sometime fiction writer called Olivia. This distancing device is a very clever literary strategy on Phillip Mann’s part – Hera is quite an unpleasant person, stubborn, reckless, often stupid and hopelessly naïve. Seeing her through the filter of Olivia’s eyes makes her a little more bearable. Indeed, Olivia often interrupts her own narrative to remonstrate with some of Hera’s more outrageous or peculiar attitudes.The major strength of the novel is the wonderfully imagined world of Paradise itself. Phillip Mann has always had a genius for creating alien life and never has it been better exemplified than in this book. There are no animals, birds insects or fish on Paradise. All ecological niches are filled by plants such as the ubiquitous Tattersall weed, the dangerous Michelangelo-Reaper and the fabulous Dendron Peripatetica, long thought to be extinct until the last one in existence walks into Hera’s life. In the body of the book, Hera and her companion Mack are often threatened by the flora of Paradise, but appended to the narrative are historical documents from the early years of settlement which show that the planet was once a much more benign place than it is now. Its name was aptly chosen. This too is a very clever literary strategy and I would have liked to have seen many more of these early documents. They definitely add a rich dimension to the story, though it is depressing to realise just how much things have changed on Paradise.

It quickly becomes clear that there is a psychic undertone to the events on Paradise. And again the cleverness of the literary structure that Phillip Mann has imposed on the story comes to the fore. Hera, despite having had extensive scientific training and experience, descends into mysticism as the psychic aspects of the connectedness of life on the planet become clear to her. Many of her colleagues argue against this mumbo-jumbo and even her biographer Olivia is extremely sceptical, though Hera seems to find it transformational. Such appeals to the numinous are perfectly legitimate literary devices for a science fiction novel to indulge itself in (Arthur C. Clarke, for example, did it all the time). Indeed, you can easily argue that this is a major reason for having science fiction as a literary form in the first place – we all like to try to explain the inexplicable and science fiction does that better than any other medium. However it is all too easy in a book like this to stray over what is often a vaguely drawn line in the sand and descend into claptrap. But by presenting both argument and counter argument as he does, Phillip Mann generally avoids this and the story is much stronger as a result.

However even Homer nods – Mack uses a dowsing pendulum to track down the Dendron (at one point the pendulum is referred to as a “precision instrument” – humph!) and Hera laments that if only Galileo had spent as much time studying Earth magic as he spent studying maths and optics then the world would have been a very different place; a statement that, quite typically for Hera, makes no sense whatsoever.

Mack’s dowsing ability is not an outgrowth of the ever stronger psychic influences of Paradise – I think I would have accepted it more easily if it had been. It is clear from context that this is a power he has used throughout his life. In terms of the novel it’s simply a rabbit pulled out of a hat, a deus ex machina called into play out of nowhere to resolve a knotty plot problem. Such things never satisfy.

But in the final analysis, none of this matters. What matters is the tremendous and wonderfully sustained and consistent vision that is Paradise itself, that beautifully imagined world which the book brings so vividly to life.

Let me end as I began. The Disestablishment of Paradise is a stunningly brilliant novel.

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I have just received the following letter from a friend whom I have known for most of my life. He is a scientist, an adventurer, a walker undaunted by distance, a wind surfer, as well as a shrewd and passionate critique of the political world… and much more.  Suffice to say that he is a man whose opinion I listen to.

I was thrilled that he and his wife enjoyed the book and that it prompted his memory to tell the kind of story that we should never forget. The world is often stranger than we can imagine. It would also be nice if his final wishes came true.

***

Dear Phil,

Anne and I have just read your new novel, “The Disestablishment of Paradise”. We have not been able to do much else these past few days, even reading it on the toilet! We think it is the best thing you have ever written and that it should have many readers in future years.

Lots of good ideas, few digs at things of which you seriously disapprove and some splendid images – I particularly liked the picture of a seagull sliding effortlessly across the wind.

The story was gripping and sounded plausible, even though we knew it to be fiction. But I admire your desire to deal with the basic problem of an alien culture – that of communication.Humans, and for that matter, many other living things, are bad at communicating with other species on Earth. I am reminded of a story told by the lone sailor, Bernard Moitessier. He was in the southern ocean, steering a course that would clear the summit of an underwater mountain he knew was two days ahead, when a family of dolphins came alongside his boat, Joshua. They turned on their side and looked up at him and when they had his attention the big male swam out in front of the boat, looked back and then veered to the right a small amount. Meanwhile the others banged the left-hand side of his boat. Nothing. Big male swims back, looks at Gilbert for a while and repeats his manoeuvre. Eventually he understands they want him to  follow them so he decides to do it, even though he is convinced they will maroon him on the mountain.

Two days later there is no sign of the peak and they smile their dolphin smiles and leave him. At this point he realizes that the mountain had been marked in the wrong place on the chart and that the dolphins had guided him away from certain disaster. They knew two days ahead. They must have thought he was a slow learner since it took them so long to convince him what they wanted him to do.. Lots of other aliens on our planet, and we know so little about them,  though I suspect they know quite a lot about us….

  I do hope you are able to glean some rewards from your new burst of creative energy and that someone with money can see the possibility of turning “Disestablishment” into a film, where it would be sure to find a huge audience.

                                      Yours,

A and M xx

***

Bernard Moitessier was a renowned French yachtsman and author of books about his voyages and sailing.

A personal Note

With the help of my son, I have set up an Authors Facebook Page to coincide with the release of my latest book The Disestablishment of Paradise . Feel free to ‘Like’ the page, make suggestions, leave comments and share your thoughts

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Phillip-Mann/145385802288735

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My new Facebook Page

Hi Everybody,

With the help of my son, I have set up an Authors Facebook Page to coincide with the release of my latest book The Disestablishment of Paradise . Feel free to ‘Like’ the page, make suggestions, leave comments and share your thoughts

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Phillip-Mann/145385802288735

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      The following are my replies to questions put to me for inclusion on the Gollancz website to coincide with the publication of the book.

*

How did the idea of Paradise come to you?

    Like many people, I have the sense of a time, long, long ago, – so far ago indeed that it blurs into mythology – when man lived in harmony with Nature. To live then was to live in Paradise. Nowadays, this is a somewhat misty ideal, obscured by the reality of what we have done to this lovely earth of ours, but potent none the less because respect for Nature is the foundation of all our ethics. Love and nurturing are as real in their own way as birth and death.

    It was thoughts such as these which were in my mind when I came to write The Disestablishment of Paradise. Undoubtedly my own love of Nature informs this alien world, but I was reaching to go beyond Earth. I wanted to discover a new place which, while it may resemble Earth superficially, is profoundly different in all the ways that matter. I had no idea at the outset that the story would become so complex, and it is, in some ways, the most satisfying book I have written. I enjoyed the freedom of writing about so many different lively characters and in creating so many strange creatures!

    My desire as a writer, was (as ever) to entertain, to carry the reader into this new world, and reveal, the truth of things as I see it. The name Paradise bothered me a bit, but it seemed the right name. However, I wanted to avoid any too direct biblical associations as they would be misleading. Nor is the book an allegory, at least not consciously, though it may be seen as a warning.

    Paradise is both a name and an ideal. At its simplest, it is just the name given to the planet by the people who first discovered it and signifies little more than a pleasant and stimulating place to live, though there are people, mainly women such as Hera or Sasha, who sense a deeper reality. Paradise satisfies some of their deepest spiritual yearnings.

    As an ideal, Paradise relates to our present situation on earth. We are, in a way, disestablishing our own Paradise. The sad truth is that our world is already damaged and polluted: this is evident to anyone who reads the news or walks along a beach. We live with the monstrous threat of climate change hanging over us. Of course, the climate has always been changing as the world shifts from snow ball to desert and back again, but it is the speed of change that matters. I do not think there has ever occurred before as radical an intervention in Nature such as we provide – unless one includes the earth being hit by a large meteorite. (See end note)

    On a physical level, the planet Paradise has great similarities with the deep green native bush of New Zealand. When you walk there, especially if you are alone, you can feel the immense presence of Nature. It is present in the bird song, in the creak of branches, in the smell of gum and the constant presence of water, whether in a tumbling stream or a quiet lake. The mysterious North Yorkshire Moors where I grew up are also present in the book, as is the desert in the heart of Australia. The truth is, of course, that you can encounter Nature almost anywhere where you can be alone and able to listen, as it were, to the silence. However, lest all this seem too fey, let me add that I am quite down to earth and scientifically minded – I have a microscope beside my desk and that is a constant source of wonder and inspiration, whether I am studying the sting of a wasp, a torn leaf or the fleas from my cat. At day’s end, it is the mystery of it all that intrigues me most…. and that I try to communicate.

*

Did you sit down and work out all of the details before writing, or did you see what your mind came up with as you were working, and then tidy it all up afterwards?

    The book is revealed in the writing. My starting point is always an event which, for some reason – not always clear – matters to me. This event might later prove to be the climax of a novel, but is always a turning point in the narrative to be. It is, in a word, crucial.

    In the case of The Disestablishment of Paradise, there is a moment when Mack and Hera are looking for the Dendron and they finally see its footprints in the desert sand. That event, which occurs about halfway through the book, was one of the starting points. The question I faced (and always do in my novels) was how do the characters get to that point, and what happens then?

    Incidentally, that event also occurs in a short story that I wrote many years ago and that I put away in the drawer unfinished, and never thought about again. I was not ready to embark on a book such as the D of P at that time, and timing is important. As with athletes wanting to run a marathon, so writers too have to build up their experience in order to write a big book. Well, I re-discovered the story just a few months ago, and there, staring at me was the name Dendron, and the footprints in the sand made by a creature in need, and a human being, a man, who was prepared to risk his life to save it. So, the imagination and the memory work in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.

    Years after writing that incomplete short story, the time was right for me to have a go at writing the novel with the footprints in the sand. The idea which they express became very important to me, very passionate, very alive.. As Hera says, when she is talking to Mack and trying to persuade him to stay with her and help save the Dendron: “Well… there may be one such creature still alive. One. One only. ONE in the whole of the entire universe. ONE. Think of that. One. The last. The only. The never, ever, ever to be repeated. And you and I are here to help it.”

    So, the starting point is an event which (for whatever reason) matters to me. The next thing I discover is the first line which is more or less a gift. I have no idea where it comes from. But one line leads to another, and suddenly I find that incidents are taking shape and new characters are suggesting themselves or even marching boldly into the story and demanding to be heard. At times the writing can be like taking dictation. It is as if the story has started to tell its self.

   I know this may seem a strange procedure, but this is more or less exactly how my novels are made. Of course there is a controlling intelligence (mine) and I am very strict with myself and I do a tremendous amount of research… but the novel-to-be generates its own momentum. After a certain point the shape of the plot becomes very clear, and that is when I begin to make notes to myself. Ideas about the future development come thick and fast, but there is always an element of the unknown, and the unpredictable.

    Two last things. First, I do not believe in making plans and character sketches etc. I did once try to plan a novel and it just did not work, it felt like trying to do a painting while wearing a straight-jacket. Second, (and here my practice is at variance with the ideas taught in writing classes,) no matter how long it takes I do not leave a chapter unfinished before moving on to the next one. If I hit a problem, I never say “I’ll come back and sort that out later.” Just occasionally I have to go back and start again, but not often. Some writers I have talked to write drafts which they then correct when the book is finished. I can not do that. If I were to do that I would end up writing a new book.

    In the D of P, I found myself completing chapters and then turning aside and writing the sections which I have called “Documents” These were written in different voices. So the novel grew in a strange way. I once watched someone making a carpet. They did not do the whole thing from bottom up, but worked in different blocks of colour. Well my practice resembles that. My ideal and my practice is to have, at the end of a day’s writing, several pages that are more or less finished. The next day I read them and tune in to the novel. It is not unusual for me to forget exactly what I have written on the previous day – which is a bit strange, I admit, but is something to do with concentration, I think. The novel takes place in a world of its own, and one gets back into this world by reading the last few pages one has written. Then I place the pages face down to one side – and I take pleasure in watching the little pile grow as the weeks pass.

    To me it is important that I do not think of my pages as temporary or incomplete – for me they are building blocks and they have to be finished if they are to take the weight. As a consequence it takes me quite a long time to write a novel, but I rarely have to make major changes… that is until the editor gets to work.

*

Would you like to live on Paradise, or in the future you’ve invented?

    Yes. I would love to have lived on Paradise in its early days, especially if I could have someone like Sasha Malik to guide me… but I have lived there in a way. The imagination can be very real and it is not unknown for writers to fall in love with their characters. It would be nice to bathe in that warm sea and hitch the occasional ride on a passing Dendron or watch a Michelangelo Reaper perform its magic – from a safe distance of course.

    However, I could not survive in the world which Paradise becomes. It is a catastrophe. I would be torn apart in minutes. It is what happens to civilization (or innocence too) when things break down, when the tipping point is reached, when sanity gives way to madness.

     I have no idea what is happening on Paradise right now. I can tell you that a battle is raging. It is tragic really because the roots are now polluted and harmony has become chaos

    The question you pose is intriguing. It is tempting for a writer to create happy endings, or false endings to give a sense of completeness or hope. But it is a temptation to be resisted. While writers may fall in love with their heroes and villains, and the imaginary worlds they create, at the same time, they must be ruthlessly objective. Ultimately, we are always writing about the only world we really know – our own lovely Earth.

    Make no mistake, to be in love and objective at the same time – that is hard but  necessary. No wonder some writers are a bit dotty.

*

Dr Hera Melhuish is a complex and sometimes difficult character. Do you think you would like her if you met her in real life? If she lived in 2013, what would she be doing?

    Yes I would like her very much. She has endured a great deal of sorrow, and yet she retains a ready wit and a sharp intelligence, a bold spirit and a capacity to love unconditionally. Such women have much to teach us and I would have lots of questions to ask her.

    It intrigued me when I was writing the book that it was becoming a book about and by women. They are the main characters. In fact there is only one man of substance, Mack, and he is important but he does not drive the novel. It is the women who make the hard decisions and who live with the consequences. This was not planned, but it is what happened. And I was very happy about that.

    When I was writing The Disestablishment of Paradise, I read a wonderful book called Man on Earth by Jacquetta Hawkes. That book influenced me greatly and I can not recommend it too highly. Jacquetta is (was) well-known as an archaeologist – she died some years ago – and in her book she speaks of the wonder of life and the achievements of our finest artists and thinkers. She was married to J. B. Priestly. I did not realize it at the time of writing, but I think Jacquetta’s bigness of mind influenced my portrayal of Hera. Both are women of great intelligence, great wisdom and great passion.

    If Hera were alive now she would either be a leader in Greenpeace battling to save the whales in the Antarctic ocean or a doctor caring for children caught up in any one of the many wars taking place round the world at present. She would also have a house with a splendid untidy garden and high walls behind which she could retire and let her hair down when exhausted.

*

What brought you back to prose writing? Do you have any plans for the future?

    I have had three careers which have sometimes existed simultaneously: as a theatre director, as a teacher of drama and as a writer. My four books Escape to the Wild Wood, Stand Alone Stan, The Dragon Wakes and The Burning Forest each of which is an episode in a tetralogy called A Land Fit for Heroes had emptied me of ideas. I actually felt empty when I finished the last one. All my knowledge and feelings had somehow been poured into those books. For a while, I thought I had nothing more to say. I was also saddened that those books had not do not been widely read even though they were well reviewed. Perhaps their day will come. If readers enjoy The Disestablishment of Paradise, then I am very sure they would enjoy A Land Fit for Heroes.

    Anyway….  It took a while before I felt the urge to write again. I went back to working in the theatre. At the same time, I read widely and voraciously. Wrote some poems. Taught creative drama. Fiddled in the garden… and was on the whole, happy. But then, little by little, ideas started to come to me. I was worried about climate change and the seeming inability of our governments to deal with it effectively. I was horrified at what was happening to our wild-life especially the wanton killing of animals such as elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns. I thought about the death of species. I remembered the image of a lonely creature blundering into the desert, leaving only its footprints…. And then one day I simply started to write again. It just happened. I probably thought it was another short story starting up – but the writing took off. I actually began at what is now Chapter 2 of the present ms. at the point where Hera is on Paradise and planting at sea.

    Quickly the story became complex, and the voices of the characters became clear. The story outline developed. I decided to use a story teller as I had done in The Eye of the Queen and Wulfsyarn, A Mosaic and this seemed to make the telling easier. I also had the idea that I wanted to write special ‘documents’ to make the story more plausible. Almost without knowing it, I was writing again and very happy to be doing so. Simple really… well not quite. But that is another story.

    For the future: I have found that the ideas I developed in The Disestablishment of Paradise remain very strong in me. As a result, I have written a version of the story for younger readers called The Paradise Mission. The story is told by a young woman called Hetty, who is an Explorer. She has arrived on Paradise to look for a young man called Crispin. He was the first human to reach Paradise, but has now gone missing. It is her mission to find out what has happened to him and to rescue him if possible. In fulfilling her mission, she encounters Paradise in all its wonder, danger and exuberance. What happens to them is, for the time being, a secret – but I hope the story will be published soon.

    I am also at work on a new novel – a dark comedy called The Headman – but there is not much I can tell you about that except that the story keeps changing. It has not yet found its form and seems to be quite different to anything I have written before though the theme of renewal is familiar. I bring back to life some very misty characters from mythology.

*

End note. One of the finest texts I have read on the topic of climate change is the recently published Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs. Pantheon Books New York. 2012. The book is both an adventure story and a scientific report documenting the author’s travels to some of the  most remote and extreme parts of our planet, in order to find out what is happening. His conclusions have as their backdrop the history of our ever changing, ever ending and renewing world. Beautifully written.

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Today is rather special for me.

Today Victor Gollancz have published my latest novel  The Disestablishment of Paradise. It has been a long  journey for me – indeed: it is 12 years since I published my last book, The Burning Forest, and that is a long time in any writer’s life. I hope that any of you reading this will take a look at the small section of The Disestablishment of Paradise that I posted on this site some time ago: I hope too that some of you will be moved to buy it.

I am not being unduly mercenary in saying this. The fact is that if a book does well, or even reasonably well, it gives the publisher confidence to go on with that writer. It was the catastrophic ice-age which descended on me after I had written A Land Fit for Heroes that almost ended my writing career. That tetralogy was described to me by one editor as a ‘catastrophe’ even though it had been very well reviewed. What the editor meant was that the book had not sold well. And why had it not sold well?   Opinions differ. In one view, Gollancz was in turmoil. It had been sold and on-sold and my work belonged to the old days. In another view, it was simply that the final book in the tetralogy, The Burning Forest, was not really given  support in publicity or distribution. Why? Well. publishing was in the doldrums and middle list authors such as myself – that is authors who are well reviewed but who have never had a block-buster success – were being squeezed out of existence.  “Write a best seller” I was told. To which I could only reply, “I would if I could.”

To this day I remain convinced the four volumes of A Land Fit for Heroes are among my best works. It is an epic tale  and   in some ways it is even more apposite today than when it was written.  Its day will come  – hopefully before I am pushing up daisies. Looking back on it now, I can hardly conceive how I managed to write it… but I did, and it still makes me laugh.

This new book, The Disestablishment of Paradise, has a special place in my mind because I enjoyed writing it so much.  In part this was because I was returning to the kind of experiences which I tried to convey in my first book, The Eye of the Queen – the discovery of new worlds, a challenging environment leading to deeply personal discovery – but with one significant difference: whereas in The Eye of the Queen, all the main characters were male; in the Disestablishment of Paradise, all the main characters are women. This was not intentional – it just happened, and I am glad it did.

So: the new and the old. Here is a memoir of how I got started more than 30 years ago, and how I got started again, today.

Look at this photo.

I am indebted to  Andrew W. MacDonald  (www.zardoz.net)  for permission to use this photograph. 

It shows the sad state of this famous publisher’s house as it was in the Nineteen Nineties after the departure of Gollancz and before the building was upgraded. The figure asleep on the curb side reminds me of one of Gollancz’ most famous authors, George Orwell, who wrote a memoir in 1933 called Down and out in Paris and London this being his first full length work.  In this he detailed his own experiences of poverty in the two named cities.

Today, 14 Henrietta St, retains its façade, but the interior has been completely stripped and refurbished. Now the building serves as a modern conference and meeting centre. How different to the busy, cluttered, Dickensian building I recall! I hope some of the old ghosts remain.

***

It was 1980.

I had returned to England after spending two years working in Beijing as an English ‘polisher’ for Xin Hua Shi – The New China News Agency.  In my luggage I carried the ms. of  a novel  called Thorndyke which I had written during  the daylight hours when I was working night-shift in Beijing: this being the first time in my life that I had enjoyed the kind of job that had fixed hours. At Xin Hua Shi you worked, and then you stopped: there was no possibility of  slipping-back-to-the-office to finish a piece of work.

Night shift was special – always exciting and the news unpredictable – and it led to a new pattern of life for me. In the mornings I slept late. In the afternoons,  I  wrote. And when I was not writing, I explored the narrow back-streets and lanes of Beijing on my old sit-up-and-beg woman’s bike that I had inherited from the artist Frank Wylie. In the evening and well into the night I was at my desk ‘polishing’ the English for news broadcasts to the rest of the world.  Increasingly, however I found myself  writing more and more in the afternoons – and thus the hours and days slipped away and the seasons changed.

When I came to what proved to be the final full stop, I felt empty.  True  I had satisfied a private ambition and had proved to myself that I could write over 100,000 words on one theme: but that hardly seemed important. As I was soon to discover, the thrill of finishing a book is short-lived, and it is the next one that suddenly comers knocking at the door, demanding all one’s attention.

If this seems a bit naive, it is because becoming a writer was never my ambition: it just happened, and I am wholly self-taught. However, let me not give the impression that I was a complete neophyte when it comes to writing. I was 38 years old. I had travelled widely.  I had written many short stories that had been well received, and I had completed plays. More privately, I  had managed to keep up a steady flow of poetry but without ever seeking to publish it.

***

So, with China behind me, I eventually found myself  back in the North of England, close again to the rough North Sea and the wild Moors that are filled with so many happy memories.  My mother still had a little flat in Scarborough (“Just so there’ll always be a roof over your head, lad.”) The big question was to whom  should I send the manuscript of Thorndyke.  I did  not know any publishers in England. I had shown the ms. to one publisher in NZ, who had told me that there was not much market “for a work of speculative philosophy.”  That had rather dampened my ardour.

At my mother’s suggestion, I nipped down to Scarborough library to borrow a copy of  The Writer and Artist’s Handbook. The Library building has a lot of history for me as it was here that I had first encountered the Theatre in the Round under the direction of Stephen Joseph. I was also reminded as I strolled beside the shelves of the times my mother had come home, staggering under the weight of books she had borrowed, many of which had a bright yellow cover. Indeed, that yellow dust-jacket, the trademark of Victor Gollancz books, had figured prominently in my youth as a symbol of excellence. I had never read a disappointing book with that cover and I associated it with SF writers such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Clifford Simak. 

The Gollancz entry in the Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook, proved very tempting. Unlike many publishers, Gollancz were prepared to accept submissions directly from writers. In other words, you did not have to have an agent.  That decided me, even though I thought I was walking with giants.  “After all, “as I explained to my mother, “there’s no shame in being rejected by the best, is there?”

“It’s the only way,” she replied. To this day I have no idea what she meant.

***

So, following the directions in the handbook, I composed a letter explaining (briefly) the plot. I enclosed a copy of the  first few pages as well as a stamped self-addressed  envelope for return of the pages, and dropped the small package in the post. Then I did the best I could to put the matter out of my mind. Some days later I received a note from Gollancz stating that the pages had been received and inviting me to send the rest of the text, which I duly did.

Being asked to send the rest of the book had a strange effect of me. I realized that I would not mind being rejected, for I knew that was the fate of most new books, but I was pleased that at least the book would be read. I was warned in the note that the process could take some time. “Take as long as you want,” I thought.

***

The weeks passed. I wrote a play (since lost). I composed some short stories (also lost). In short, I got on with living. After about 6 weeks I received another formal post card saying the book was still under consideration. This arrived shortly before I was due to return to NZ. I did not read anything special into this post card. As far as I was concerned, Gollancz was behaving as a decent publisher should: keeping one informed, but without creating false hopes. I certainly did not get very excited but I did think that when the book was finally rejected, I would receive a decent critique explaining where I had gone wrong. That alone would be encouragement.

***

I returned to New Zealand. I had been invited to direct Nicolai Erdman’s superb play The Suicide (1928), described in Wikipedia as, “a spectacular mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime”, and “universally recognized as one of the finest plays written during the Soviet period.” Indeed it is. Originally the play was banned by the Soviet censor.  It was only after the great Constantin Stanislavsky had written a letter to Stalin in person, pointing out the virtues of the play, that permission was finally given for a performance … only for that to be withdrawn again just before the opening night. Those were sensitive days in the Soviet Union with many writers, artists and musicians bullied into submission… or worse. Erdman survived – he died in 1970 – but many who had collaborated with him such as the brilliant director Vsevolod Meyerhold and the playwright/poet Mayakovsky did not. Thus the play had  a significant theatre history which I wanted to honour. But I digress…

I more or less forgot about Thorndykemy attention being focussed on the hurly-burly of rehearsals.  I did receive another post-card more or less saying the same thing as the earlier one, and, as before, I assumed that this measured pace was how things were done in the publishing world – quite unlike the back-stage frenzy I was used to. The opening night of The Suicide was approaching rapidly.

It was the night of the technical rehearsal… For those of you who do not know, let me just say that this is arguably the most stressful rehearsal in the whole production process. At Downstage in Wellington we had a three or four-day turn over between plays.  During this period, the set from the old production was dragged out and the new set shifted in; the lights were stripped, checked and re-hung in their new positions; the dressing rooms were cleaned; costumes completed etc.  The whole production comes together at the ‘technical,’ and if there are problems, they have to be fixed on the spot, and with the clock ticking.

Let me just say that I have been through far worse technical rehearsals than the one we had for The Suicide. I think I was quietly confident that the production would ultimately come together – though I would never say that! We had a fine cast and crew.  I trusted we would have a good dress rehearsal and then… well, no-one will predict the opening night. In fact one does not talk about it. As Hamlet said,  ‘the readiness is all.’

It was well after midnight when I finally got home from the tech. rehearsal. I was surprised to find that my wife was still sitting-up. Normally, I prefer to come down from the tension of a ‘tech’ alone, except for a beer or two – and she knows that.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Not bad,” I replied. “What are you doing up?”

“There’s a…”  She paused.

“Well go on. There’s a what…?”

“There’s a call coming in from England.”

“Oh heck. Is it my  mam? Has something happened?”

“No. No. She’s fine, as far as I know. It’s something else.”

“What?”

“I’m not telling you.”

“Oh for f….” and at that moment the phone rang.

I picked up the receiver, all the while staring at my wife who was looking on with a mock-surprised, innocent, “I know nothing” look on her face. “Hello,” I said, and in reply I heard this rich, sporty, Oxbridge  English voice say, “Hel-low. Is that Phillip Mann, the writer?”

“Er… Yes, its Phillip Mann.”

“So glad. John Bush of  Victor Gollancz here. We’ve been trying to reach you. We rang your mother but she said she didn’t  know where you were.”

“What?”

“Yes. We want to publish your book. We love it.”

“You… you’re not joking are you?”

Unbelievable as it may seem, I actually said that. I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought a friend was pulling my leg, though it would have been a cruel thing to do. John Bush was clearly a bit surprised by my question.

“No, not at all. We love it. Is that all right? We’ll get a contract to you straight away if you will give us your address.”

“Yes. Yes. That’s…. fine.”

He then went on to mention a few more things, but my memory is hazy. He was wonderfully cheerful, I recall. He told me the editor, Malcolm Edwards had some suggestions and that he would be in contact with me shortly. And that was that. I put the phone down.

I didn’t get much sleep that night, I can tell you. But I did one thing. I rang my mother.

“Mam. Mam. “

“Oh  hello Pip. What’s up?”

“Mam. I’ve just  had a man called John Bush on the line from Victor Gollancz. They want to do my book.’

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“Yes but he said he’d rung you, and you’d told him you didn’t know where I was. What the hell were you playing at?”

“Oh, it was him was it? I thought it was the police, so I wasn’t going to give you away, son.”

!!!!

Thus began a steep learning curve.

It was an epiphany of a sort. For the first time I came face to face with the challenge of what it means to write, to be taken seriously, to go public. It began as self-examination. When the ms. of what was now called The Eye of the Queen (Malcolm Edwards came up with this title,) was returned to me,  I was horrified to see the spelling mistakes, the poor punctuation and the cramped style on almost every page. The mistakes glared at me, as too did the careful corrections and the little note suggesting that I should use more commas in future.

I vowed then and there, that I was going to learn to write properly and I would never submit a manuscript in that state again. This was, of course, before the advent of spell-checkers. Over the following days, it gradually dawned on me that if I wanted to write seriously – and I did – I would need to learn about and ultimately take responsibility for, the English language. I know that sounds a bit grand, but it is not:  it is actually the acknowledgement of an apprenticeship, one that has no end. It does not mean using long words or being pedantic, or clever, or erudite: but of finding the right words so that finally the words begin to disappear as the story comes alive.

One of my first acts was to buy a good dictionary, the best: The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, a giant of a book, published in 2 hefty volumes and with a magnifying glass in a little drawer – necessary since the print is so small. Nowadays this dictionary is available on a DVD, but in 1980, the act of looking up a word was a physical adventure. One does not use this dictionary for spelling – though one can – but more to discover the meanings of words, their etymology, and how they have changed over the ages, and how other writers have used them. Just to use a book like this makes one feel better.

One of my second acts was to buy a little book on punctuation. I was astonished to discover that punctuation is both simpler and more flexible than I had imagined, but vital if one want’s to make one’s meaning clear.

A third conscious act, and this is ongoing to this day, was to read critically in order to observe the craft, the style, the economy and the diversity of a text. This led me back to Herman Melville, whose prose rolls like the sea he loved; to Charles Dickens who can put more energy into a sentence than some writers achieve in a paragraph; and, last but by no means least, to Eric Arthur Blair  whose intelligence and wit is only matched by his social conscience. I mean of course George Orwell. These are just three names. I have plucked them out because they mattered to me at that time – and still do. All writers need other writers under whose shadows they can grow.

I could go on – and perhaps one day I will for the act of writing remains a mystery – but I now look back on those days while The Eye of the Queen was in preparation as a turning point in my life, and I have no regrets. I knew I had a second book to write, and I was hungry… so very hungry, to learn by doing.

***

The Eye of the Queen was published and received good reviews, especially in the Times where mention was made of C.S. Lewis and H. G. Wells. That was in the days when the Times ran a special column devoted to SF and their reviews could shape a book’s destiny. I was a bit out of things as I was in New Zealand.  Later I returned to England and was invited down to visit the Gollancz publishing house in Henrietta St and to meet Malcolm Edwards who had looked after the whole thing, and who – as I was later to discover – had plucked my book out of the slush pile. In the course of correspondence we had discovered a shared passion for cricket.

Why I mention these things now, apart from rambling down memory lane, is because history has repeated its self. Let me explain. I started this website, not only because I had a lot to say, but because I wanted to feel that I was still a writer. The rejection of my work had hit me hard and undermined my confidence. I know the wise people say “never give up” but it is hard to be a story-teller when no one is listening. I never expected the Website would become a two-way communication – but that has proved to be the case and it is lovely to receive reactions to the material on the site.

One day, I received a message from, of all people, Malcolm Edwards. He had left Gollancz in the late 1980s, but was now involved again in a management role. He had heard that I had died  – from whom or from what I had no idea – but was glad to know that this news was ‘greatly exaggerated’.  He told me about SF Gateway and wondered if I would be interested. I certainly was as I had been thinking about e publishing for some time, and we agreed to meet when next I was in London. At the meeting I tentatively mentioned that I had a new book; that I had already submitted it to Gollancz once and it had been turned down, but that I had reworked it again and would like to resubmit it. He looked at me a bit strangely. Evidently he did not know I had written a new book – and that is a bit strange since he had edited and help shape my first four books and one would have thought that normal courtesy would have meant that he was informed of a new work, even if he was not going to edit it.

To cut a long story short, I did resubmit the book. It was handed over to the new editor Marcus Gipps who liked it well enough and there we are: the process began. It is not quite how it was in the old days, but that does not matter. Words can not really express my delight in being published again… but I want to state my gratitude to all who have had a hand in this.

And lastly, I hope that you, the readers, will like the work too. You can let me know… via this website.

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THE SCIENCE DELUSION

or Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry

by Rupert Sheldrake.

I have just finished reading Rupert Sheldrake’s most recent book The Science Delusion.

In this remarkable work, Sheldrake calls for a greater openness of mind in scientific research and an abandonment of the dogmas – and indeed the metaphors – which inhibit or give a particular bias to scientific thought. Equally, he reveals exciting avenues of research which are not followed at present either because they are not well-known and not well-funded or because they do not fit the current materialist paradigm.

For a multitude of reasons, I feel this book deserves to be widely known. It is controversial in the best way – being both provocative and positive – and addresses issues that are rarely raised in formal scientific discourse or, when they are raised, are treated in a derisory manner. Hence this brief essay.

At the same time, while conducting research for this article, I have been astonished at the rudeness which this book has been received in some quarters, and at the way Sheldrake has been treated by a major disseminator of knowledge – the BBC .

I feel I must speak out.

[NB. The page numbers at the end of the quotations are from the Hodder and Stoughton hardback copy  2012.  

ISBN 978 444 727 092]

File:An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768.jpg

Experiment with a bird in an air pump.

This complex and beautiful picture by Joseph Wright of Derby (1768) shows a natural philosopher using the Boyle air pump to deprive a bird of air.

The bird is dying, and the expressions of the onlookers tell us a great deal about their feelings. These range from the dispassionate philosopher who stares out at us, somewhat challengingly, from the canvas to the interested father who is calmly explaining to the members of his family what is happening. The family are singularly thoughtful, intrigued,  distressed, or preoccupied with other thoughts – of love perhaps..

The painting can be viewed at the National Gallery inLondon.

In his introduction, Sheldrake makes his intentions clear. “Science is being held back by centuries-old assumptions that have hardened into dogmas.” (p 6) At the very core of these dogmas lies an entrenched belief in materialism, a vision which both directs and restricts scientific enquiry.

Contemporary science is based on the claim that all reality is material or physical. There is no reality but material reality. Consciousness is a by product of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Evolution is purposeless. God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads.

These beliefs are powerful, not because most scientists think about them critically, but because they don’t. The facts of science are real enough: so are the techniques which scientists use, and the technologies based on them. But the belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a nineteenth-century ideology.

This book is pro-science. I want the sciences to be less dogmatic and more scientific.  I believe  that the sciences will be regenerated when they are liberated from the dogmas that constrict them. (pp 6/7)

In this extract from Sheldrake’s Introduction, you will have noted the presence of the words, ‘Evolution’, ‘God’, ‘ideology’ and ‘faith’ – provocative words given the fierce contemporary debate: Creation versus Evolution. Even if the title of the book has not alerted you, echoing as it does The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, you will be aware that Sheldrake’s book is a polemic. It is not greatly concerned with the Creationists or with religion for that matter. It enters the debate on its own terms and its main target is science’s  failure to live up to its own ideal of being a dispassionate search for truth.

Sheldrake identifies ten core beliefs which, he claims, most scientists take for granted. Each of these provides the substance for the main chapters. In summary, these core beliefs are:

1.    That everything is viewed as essentially mechanical including living things. Dogs for example are seen as complex mechanisms. Even people are seen as machines and Sheldrake reminds us of Richard Dawkin’s famous reference to humans as being “gigantic lumbering robots” in his book The Selfish Gene. A bit theatrical perhaps, but ominous all the same, because metaphors matter.

2.    All matter is unconscious. Human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activity of the brain.

3.    The total amount of matter and energy in the universe is always the same.

4.    The Laws of Nature are fixed being the same today as they were in the beginning – ie. after the Big Bang – and as they will continue to be.

5.    Nature is purposeless and evolution has neither goal nor direction.

6.    All biological inheritance is material and carried in the genetic material and the DNA.

7.    Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains.

8.    Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.

9.    Unexplained phenomena such as telepathy are illusory.

10.  Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.

Stated baldly like this, one sees the immense chasm that has opened up between the beliefs of materialist scientists and what, for want of a better phrase, I must call ordinary people… and I do not mean creationists. Many people – scientists included – have a sense that life has meaning, though they may be at a loss to describe that meaning. Equally, many people may be reluctant to accept the explanations offered by established religions preferring something more personal and (yes) anecdotal, unprovable and mystical. Sadly, we lack a ready vocabulary with which to explain our intuitions.

As one turns the pages of this book, one becomes aware that the materialists seem to have constructed a philosophical box of their beliefs. Having entered it, they have then closed the lid, refusing to acknowledge that there is anything outside their philosophical box. In a way, The Science Delusion can be seen as Sheldrake’s attempt to lift the lid a little. He wants to show that there is much more to be discovered than the materialists allow in our strange and complex universe. He provides evidence that the materialists may be at best simply prejudiced, and at worst, wrong. Hence, the box they have constructed is not a box in reality, any more than the emperor’s new clothes were actually clothes. The problem is in the mind set and hence the metaphors.

Reading the book, I found myself wondering how many scientists actually hold such extreme views. Or to put that another way, I wondered how many scientists maintain such strict attitudes simply as their professional creed rather than as a heartfelt belief. Is adherence to this creed just the way things are done: the proper attitude, the modus vivendi of contemporary science, donned in the morning with the white laboratory coat? I do not know, but I look forward to the debate – the reposts and affirmations of atheism, as well as the plaudits which I am sure Sheldrake’s book will provoke.

In the main body of the work, Sheldrake examines the ten ‘core beliefs’ quoted above and demonstrates effectively why, if seen as metaphors they limit our understanding or, if seen as real, they can only be maintained by ignoring data which does not fit the current model or consensus.

Expanding core belief number one – that everything is mechanical – Sheldrake turns the statement into a question: Is Nature Mechanical? As he demonstrates, the problem resides in the metaphor. What does it tell us about life, other than those physical parts which are clearly analogous to mechanical operations? [A ball and socket joint springs to mind – my example.] Beyond that, the metaphor misdirects us.  If we try to think of Nature as mechanical then we miss the very things which characterize Nature – the creativity and the complexity whereby the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Sheldrake quotes the  philosopher David Hume, a religious sceptic if ever there was one, to good effect.. [See Wikipedia – Hume > Religion – for a brief commentary on Hume’s religious beliefs.] Published posthumously in 1779, Hume said, “The world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable than it does a watch or a knitting-loom… And does not a plant or an animal which springs from vegetation or generation, bear a stronger resemblance to the world than does any artificial machine, which arises from reason and design?”

Could it be that the materialist scientists themselves have, in a way, designed rather than discovered the universe they perceive? Has a particular philosophical predilection become defined by mechanistic metaphors – ‘stumbling robots’ and their like? Certainly, if we change the metaphor, we change the message!

Here is Sheldrake again, concluding his discussion of ‘core belief’ one.

In recognizing the life of nature, we can allow ourselves to recognise what we already know, that animals and plants are living organisms, with their own purposes and goals. Anyone who gardens or keeps pets, knows this… Instead of dismissing our own observations and insights to conform to a mechanistic dogma, we can pay attention to them and try to learn from them.

In relation to the living earth, we can see that the Gaia theory  is not just an isolated poetic metaphor in an otherwise mechanical universe. The recognition of the earth as a living organism is a major step towards recognising the wider life of the cosmos. If the earth is a living organism, what about the sun and the solar system as a whole? If the solar system is a kind of organism, what about the galaxy? Cosmology already portrays the entire universe as a kind of growing super organism, born through the hatching of the cosmic egg.

And  in his summary, he states.

The Mechanistic theory is based on the metaphor of the machine. But it is only a metaphor. Living organisms provide better metaphors for organized systems at all levels of complexity, including molecules, plants and societies of animals, ….

In the light of the big bang theory, the entire universe is more like a growing, developing organism than a machine slowly running out of steam.

I wonder how many of you felt a sense of surprise allied to excitement or perhaps relief, when you read that phrase ‘a growing, developing organism.’ It is us. We are it, and we are part of it. A vast new future of possibilities opens up and with it a whole new range of questions.

Among the things I noted was how the bleak materialist metaphors have become – almost without our being aware – the background to our thinking. Books such as When the Clock Struck Zero by Professor John Taylor, in which the future of humanity is contemplated amid the wreckage of traditional beliefs, have had their dark effect on us,  making us almost ashamed of any feelings that life has meaning. Taylor is talking about people when he says on his final page, “They may still believe in religion, being unable to accept the ultimate lack of meaning to life shown by science.” He then goes on to talk about, “The fear of suicide of the human race as it comes to realize the apparent meaninglessness of life.” True, he tries to put a positive gloss on this suggesting new kinds of fulfilment will arise, but it will be a world without philosophic depth or purpose. Fortunately, this prediction is not the absolute and final truth – it is merely a nightmare of the materialist mind.

Replace the metaphor. See, rather, humanity as part of an evolving universe and with powers as yet undreamed of but already latent within us. That vision is actually closer to the truth of our experience than the image of meaningless existence. Think how different things would have been if, instead of a ‘Big Bang’ – a logical impossibility as sound does  not travel in a vacuum – we had  ‘The Great Birth’. That is an equally acceptable metaphor, but with this difference, that it contains the ideas of growth, evolution and consciousness. We would still have discovered quarks, but we might have been more cautious about deciding that space was empty when it is actually alive (note the metaphor) with particles, fields and energies of all kinds, mostly unexplored.

What is more, there is some evidence that science as currently understood is starting to crack at the seams because it can not adequately explain the phenomena it is discovering at the micro level of the quantum and the macro level of the cosmos. The box is breaking of its own accord.

What lies beyond will still be rational – but the premises upon which its conclusions are based will be larger and more comprehensive; more open and more real.

Arguably, materialist thinking and its allied metaphors, is one of the most corrosive forces on earth, especially when it manifests itself in politics and economics. It leads to people who, in Wilde’s phrase, know ‘the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’ In saying this I am going beyond Sheldrake who contents himself with science. But the topic Metaphor into Action may be one I shall explore in a future essay.

Finally, let no one think I am anti-science. I am not. I love science, just as I love thinking and learning and feeling. Had my life worked out differently, I would probably have ended up in a laboratory amid microscopes and test-tubes rather than in dusty rehearsal rooms amid stage-sets. I am not complaining.

When you think about it in terms of discovery, the two worlds are not that dissimilar. Both partake of discovery and delight; and those make pleasant bed-fellows.

File:Flammarion.jpg

This picture captures for me the delight of science, the quest for knowledge and the willingness and bravery required to move beyond the safe and known and into the future.

The author of the wood cut is not known but he has captured a moment of time which repeats every time we push beyond our limits .

***

I wish now to echo Sheldrake’s own practice and offer you ten reasons why The Science Delusion is excellent work, well worth the reading.

1.    Good writing.

The sine qua non of all good books… and the test is that once started it is hard to put down. The writing is lucid. No matter how difficult the topic – and this book covers a wide range – he always manages to keep the reader with him.

2.    Personal

One can feel the engagement of the writer in the prose. He is there in light touches of humour: but more importantly, he is there in his conviction, in his willingness to share data and in his reporting of the way his work has been marginalized – not because it is wrong- but because it challenges some of the current assumptions of Science. However, he is not pleading for sympathy – rather the opposite. He reports things as he sees them and the tone is one of sober confidence, being intellectual but without condescension.

3.    Chapter Structure.

All the chapters follow the same pattern, except the last, and this gives the book a special kind of unity. The pattern begins with a question taken from the ten ‘core beliefs.’ An example is “Are psychic phenomena illusory?” Then follows a historical overview beginning with the earliest formulation of the question – most typically in Greek or Roman philosophy – and then showing the different stages of discovery to the present. Then the author provides an up to date analysis of the data as a means of showing that the ‘core belief’ is a misconception at best and simply wrong at worst.

In the case of psychic phenomena, much of the data is unknown because not widely publicized or else has been gathered as a result of Sheldrake’s own research.

4.    Superb bibliography. Enough reading here for a lifetime.

5.    Up to date.

The book appeared on the shelves this year. No doubt some new discoveries will have occurred since it was released, but by and large it speaks of recent developments. If chapter one is mainly concerned with showing that the belief which the materialist scientists promote as reality, is defective, then the following chapters reveal ways in which data has been marginalized or suppressed or averaged or ignored to make it fit the approved patterns.

This is not so much a matter of deceit, but of competition for scarce resources and the pressure to achieve results. Current research, especially in physics and astronomy, is very expensive. The truth is that things are not getting simpler. The dream of having a small group of equations which would explain everything, after which we could shut up shop and lower the blinds, is blindingly not true. [ En passant. Anyone who wants to get a sense of the sheer pace of change in (say) genetics research should consult The Genome Generation by Dr Elizabeth Finkel (2012  Melbourne University Press)   which shows how the confident assertions of one generation of researchers can be completely over-turned by the discoveries of the next generation. Generations in gene research last a very short time – about a couple of years. Equally, no one can tell where that research will lead,. This fact alone adds strength to Sheldrake’s argument that a greater openness to fresh ideas is necessary.]

6.    Educational value.

Closely related to above is the educational value of this book. Whether one agrees with Sheldrake or not, The Science Delusion serves as an introduction to many areas of research. On of its more charming characteristics is the absence of un-necessary jargon. And where the jargon of science is necessary to avoid confusion – for all subjects have their vocabulary – then he explains the etymology. Thus, when he talks about (say) entelechy he provides not only the definition but also indicates the roots from which the word is derived. That is a courtesy to the reader.

7.    Interdisciplinary.

The text moves easily from scientific research to conclusions from ancient and modern philosophy. Also, it is not restricted to one science but ranges from physics to botany, to the experiences of shamans, to telepathy, and yes, to religion somewhat…. Hence we gain a comprehensive picture. However, the focus never varies and we do not end up in a muddle or a conflict of intentions.. The quest is for knowledge and understanding with an open mind, but with a humanitarian conscience to guide it.

8     Challenges the imagination and evokes a world with meaning.

9     Tackles subjects rarely tackled. Telepathy, precognition, etc. 

I mention this simply because most people when asked can recall a moment in their lives when they had a psychic experience. Some people receive warnings in dreams; other people experience precognition as when they think of someone and moments later that person rings them on the telephone: some people can dowse and find water or underground cables; other people may be overcome by a sudden feeling of apprehension which makes them change their behaviour.

In today’s paper, [Dominion Post March 15, 2012} a man who had just survived a head on collision which left his car like a concertina, reported that he had a strange feeling in the morning and on the basis of this did not take his young son in the car but left him at home with a relative. The implication is that, given the damage to the car, it is likely that a young child could have been killed. But it did not happen because the man felt warned. My own belief is that a story such as this is just the tip or a very, very large iceberg. If this is so, surely it is a matter worthy of serious investigation? The implications on almost all aspects of our life could be enormous.

10   Morphic resonance.

Like a good performer, I have saved the best to last. Morphic resonance an exciting hypothesis which may, in time, be conclusively proven. Here is Sheldrake’s own explanation.

[Morph is from the Greek and means ‘form’ or ‘shape’.]

… the formation of habits depends on a process called morphic resonance. Similar patterns of activity resonate across time and space with subsequent patterns. This hypothesis applies to all self-organizing systems, including atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, plants, animals, and animal societies. Al draw on a collective memory and  in turn contribute to it.

A growing crystal of copper sulphate, for example, is in resonanace with countless previous crystals of copper sulphate, and folloss tht same habits of crystal organization, the same lattice structure. A growing oak seedling follows the habits of growth and development of previous oaks. When an orb web spider starts spinning its web, it follows the habits of countless ancestors, resonating with them directly across space and time. The more people who learn a new skill, such as snowboarding, the easier will it be for others to learn it because of morphic resonance from previous snow boarders.

What  excited my attention regarding this is that it explained the way that rehearsals for a play can suddenly come alive. I have noticed this often. At a certain point, repetition becomes resonance, and the whole play/rehearsal moves forwards with greater coherence. Actors suddenly find they know their lines and the whole emotional tone lifts. When the experience is too fragmented this does not happen.

And of course, if Sheldrake’s theory is correct, then the more people who begin to think and seek for morphic resonance, the more it should manifest.

A beautiful cosmic image to end.

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