I can well imagine the idea of feeling the emotions, the thoughts, the innermost secrets of a person, perhaps long gone or merely far away, through the handling of an object they have touched or been connected to is a fascinating thought. Picture what we, as individuals, would be able to do in our lives if, by simply taking a letter someone had written, say, a thousand years ago and focusing on the person who held the pen which transmitted their thoughts onto paper and through the centuries into our hands and we saw, in this brief moment, their entire lives, thoughts, feelings, emotions. We would have their loves and their losses within us, be caught in the threads of their daily lives as much as within the realms of their dreams, their fears, their delights and fetishes. I’m not sure that the average person, attempting to cope with the complexities of their own lives, would be able to handle such a massive assault on their mind, or even be capable of holding the lived life of another separate from the experiences of their own days let alone memories of past times in their lives.
I suspect this is one of the reasons why Hollywood, when they tackle the theme of telepathy, the recalling of spirits, the seeing of past lives, tend to make it in a light-hearted manner, carefully ensuring that there is plenty of brain and eye candy – such as Jennifer Love Hewitt – on show to distract from thoughts which might otherwise scare a person to death or, at the very least, across the thin line between sanity and the dark side. The idea of being able to view the life of another person through the touching of an object they have also had contact with, or the viewing of a specific event amongst thousands which could have taken place in the same room, the same house, with that same object, is one fraught with problems but, of course, they are laid to one side when it comes to a good story which should make money on the big or small screen. A house, for example, that is one hundred years old will contain – if you wish to follow this train of thought – the memories of not just one incident, not just one love, life, death, but all of those that have taken place within this walls. There will also be the connections within those memories to all the other memories each individual person, each object, each part of the structure of this building have experienced outside the static position it now occupies. And then, going deeper, the memories contained within the land in which this house has been built – Amityville, a house built on an ancient Native American cemetery comes to mind here.
Of course, we all assume that the person who is doing the reading, who is receiving these transmitted memories from an object, or a house, or a place is capable of separating all the different memories and vibrations emanating from within the object in a matter of milliseconds, and finding exactly the memory, the conversation, the important clue from among millions without any effort at all. There are, to be fair, a few broken bits and pieces here and there, and it is never made too easy for the person doing the reading, but, even so, it is always only the information that they are going to need which is transmitted. Reality would be completely different to this Hollywood ideal. In truth anyone such as Jennifer Love Hewitt, faced with a communication from the Afterlife, from a person who has been dead for two or three decades, from an inanimate object which happens to fall into her hands, would be dumbstruck – and here I am assuming that the message they receive is exactly the one which is needed and no other. They would probably drop the item, or ignore what they had ‘seen’ as a daydream and leave it at that. In reality, there would be no single message coming across the ether, it would be a whole mess of images, of thoughts, of memories piled one on top of another, intertwining, so mixed that no single idea would be on the surface long enough for anyone to appreciate its presence, let alone understand it.
The idea, though, is wonderful. The idea that I could reach over to one of my bookshelves, as being the nearest viable objects I have, take down a volume and feel, or visualise, those who had owned it before. That I could ingratiate myself in their memories, perhaps from three hundred years ago, and feel their emotions even for a second, live their momentary life as transmitted by this book, this object which connects us over the centuries.
I’m not so sure that I would like to experience this sort of communication with a living person, at least, not one who I do not know personally and feel an affinity for. Being able to enter the deepest thoughts, the hidden secrets of someone by merely touching them, shaking their hand, grazing against them in passing, feels dirty in some way. On the other hand, it would also be exceptionally disappointing, lacking in any personal feeling or emotion. I am reminded of a film with Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock called Demolition Man from 1993. Here the hero – Stallone, of course – is awoken from a prison sentence where he has been held in limbo or suspended animation for a number of years. He comes across Sandra Bullock who, as with all things Hollywood, is sexually attracted to him and decides that the two of them should have sex together but, with the passage of time, sex is not what it used to be, it is only virtual and not physical. I’m thinking of that level of disappointing. I can imagine it would also be something which exhausts: when you are suddenly confronted with all the memories of a person, both good and bad, along with all the things they have done in their lives, all the little arguments, the get-togethers, the lies and secrets, your mind is going to be hit with a sledge-hammer like no other; it is hard enough, at the best of times, to comprehend what is happening to us on a day-to-day basis, never mind assuming everything from another life in one go.
If we now take the other proposal you make, or wish: to be able to impregnate inanimate objects with sensations which would then be passed on to another person. I can see one or two problems with this, especially if everyone was capable of doing it: how many bad thoughts would be passed on to enemies; how many sexual advancements would be made to those with no desire for such a move; how many conflicting attempts would there be to sway one or more people one way or another religiously, politically, commercially? If, however, you say that only a select few should have this power, yourself being one of them, then you’d need to limit those who are capable of receiving the message too. If not then it comes right back to the problem of one person influencing many to do their bidding in a manner which might not be legal, might not be desired, and is certainly not exactly ethical.
Although, I can understand what you mean. Sometimes I tend to look at the entire picture from an ethical or philosophical point of view, and forget that there is also a dream some people have, an ideal which works on a much smaller scale and circumvents the laws of nature and mankind, fitting in more with the ideas Hollywood – and that is not necessarily a bad thing – propounds for those who enjoy a good laugh, a bit of a scare or something to make them think. I tend to be more of a realist when looking at life, despite my philosophical leanings, and see that an object which has been circulating for three or four hundred years, such as some of my books, is not going to just give up the one memory we desire without a fight, and that fight is going to be on our side as we sift through the mass of information which could be communicated were it possible.
I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression about what I feel are the differences between intellectual and intelligent. They are two different matters entirely, but the idea that a person who performs a mundane or repetitive task over and over again cannot be either intelligent or hold an intellectual conversation, project their mind into deeper thoughts and areas outside of their day-to-day tasks, or study a subject normally reserved for those in universities and places of higher learning, would be wrong. There are times when performing the most repetitive tasks, doing the same thing over and over again without needing to spare a thought for the actions – within reason – can be a good thing: we have the time we are not using for the task, as far as our brains and thought patterns are concerned, to concentrate on other matters. Or perhaps not the time, since that is there anyway, but the mental capacity: our job is not straining our cognitive capabilities but makes use of an automatic action which we can complete without any additional mental resources, thus freeing up space to consider other things. What I was referring to, however, was more those who are stuck in one mental place, who cannot move any further, who do not have the capabilities necessary to see the next hurdle coming at them, judge it, prepare for it, and then surmount whatever is thrown at them. There is absolutely no reason why a person who is ‘merely’ gardening should be able to consider the various algorithms concerning quantum gravity – as a minor example – and form further theories in their mind for later exploration. There is also no reason why a person should be perfectly capable of removing themselves from wherever they are physically, and entering a virtual world in their own mind which allows them to follow many different trains of thought, undisturbed and, since they are doing the job assigned them, without anyone else noticing.
Telepathy, yes, an interesting idea. I would also like to be able to communicate with some people without the need to telephone, write or visit them: there are also a whole wealth of people I’d have on my block list, but that is another matter entirely. I sometimes think there are people who believe we are telepathic, when they ask why we didn’t know what they meant or, in a fit of pique, complain that we cannot read their thoughts when it comes to something minor, but they are in a bad mood and so, of course, we are the ones who take the brunt of their blame since we, the unfortunate few, happen to be there at just the wrong moment. The only thing I dislike about the idea of being telepathic is that those who are also gifted can contact me day and night, whenever the mood takes them. I might just as well have a cell phone I can’t switch off, and that would be even worse than this desperate need to be constantly in communication with the entire world twenty-four hours a day some people have, and which some telecommunications companies push upon us as being the ideal way to live.
I have few good memories of school: one of the best days of my life was when I left for the final time, and a close second was when I heard, many years later, that the school had closed down. I enjoyed my time in the library, and out on the Moors behind the village far more than being in the company of any of my contemporaries who, I realise now, had completely different interests as much as differing backgrounds and expectations in life. I went to a private school, and many in my year, in the whole school in fact, were being primed for a specific role in society, a certain job, a certain level of education which would complement the family name as much as satisfy the desires and hopes of the child. In theory. I suspect that many a child in that school was disappointed when they came out, entered the real, adult, world and discovered they had been mislead, and that there was far more to life than taking over the family business and settling down to a life governed by the same rules their parents had followed with no room for manoeuvre or exploration of self. Whilst I can’t compete with your memories of being shot in the butt, I can remember other children in my year putting toothpaste in my shoes, pouring water through the mattress on my bed, hiding school property amongst my belongings and then giving a subtle hint so that someone could find it. There were rarely any major upsets, fights, injuries, but a lot of subtle attacks, carefully hidden which, as you can imagine, probably did far more damage than if someone had been hit in the face or kicked on the shins. It is surprising, sometimes, what children are capable of.
King Alexander of Macedon once took up the study of geometry – poor fellow, inasmuch as he would thus find out how minute the earth really was, the earth of which he had possessed himself of a tiny part; yes, ‘poor fellow’ I call him, for the reason that he was bound to discover that his title was a false one; for who can be ‘Great’ in an area of minute dimensions?
I don’t think, at my age, that I’d wish a superpower of any kind, aside from the ability to see and enjoy life until the time comes to disappear. Like Seneca, I realise that I am only a minute part of a minute world which really is so insignificant compared to everything else out there, so of what use would a superpower be if it is so limited? The power of thought, however, the power to delve into the smallest thing and work through countless possibilities, follow countless paths towards a myriad possibilities, that is enough.