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Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 6

Continuing with excerpts from Tobias Green's forthcoming book:

Letter # 5, June 2nd, 1948

Dear Son,

What then have you learned so far?

The Dogma of the Five Senses tries to limit your comprehension of the world around you to that which can be seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled. Not to restrict you in this way shakes the foundations of the civilisation in which you live, which rests upon those five pillars.

The perception of Time as linear means that your experience of Life is one of constant forward motion or inertia, like being trapped on a speeding train. You possess not the luxury of leisured inspection: before one moment has gone, the next has arrived, like stations along a manic line.

Your attention is disproportionately fixed upon a narrow range of stimuli, partly through the confinement to five senses and partly because of the apparent speed of your motion.

Were it not a somewhat incredible analogy, I might ask you what the difference is between what you call ‘living’ and the experience of sitting in a fast-moving fairground ride. You are strapped into a seat on such a ride for safety’s sake; your attention is focused and guided towards a narrow scope of prompts or sensory targets; and then you are moved through this apparatus swiftly, without the option to slow down or change direction. The purpose of the fairground ride is to stimulate the nerves, to create a rush of feelings, to ‘have fun’.

Many people emerge from such rides unable to stop laughing, smiles beaming, and with a strong willingness to go back and ‘do it all again’. Were they to be told that, while on the ride, all knowledge of an existence outside it would be removed, in order to intensify the sensual experience of the thing, some might agree to go along with it. Certainly, while on it, all else seems drowned out. Always, though, the duration of the ride would be finite: eventually, after what might seem to be quite a short period overall, the passenger would step down from the trundling seat into which he or she had been strapped, giggling and breathless, in part relieved that the whole thing was over, in part already missing the wild parade of sensations it brought with it.

In those first few moments, as the individual became re-orientated to the world outside the hurried experience of the ride, he or she might look back at the seat to which they had clung so tightly, of which they had been so briefly fond. How would it appear? In the speed and thrill of the ride, the seat might seem a point of stability and security, something to which one might cling with some assurance that one would be safe. But afterwards? Such a shallow, tinny thing, frail and possessed of no real substance, its significance lost against the backdrop of a much wider reality. On it would move, its corporate parts re-used by others, as the body decays into constituent chemicals and minerals and dissolves into the physical world. One might have fondness for it momentarily, and it would be an authentic feeling — but the meaning of the body is intimately connected with the experience it provides in context, just as the fairground seat is only significant in its narrow role in the ride.

Most people report, after bodily death, that their bodies seem like poor, shrivelled and ephemeral things. The sphere into which they have entered might be interpreted to be the zone of all knowledge, purity and simplicity — or so it would be seen from an earthly perspective, as here the Dogma of the Five Senses no longer applies. That which can be seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled is relegated to the ‘fairground ride’ of mortal living; instead, the individual can perceive without eyes, understand without ears, feel without touching, sense without tasting or smelling. Earthly senses are a shadow of unearthly ones, it might be said: one’s mortal eyes are fleshy lenses through which to perceive a tight band of light; one’s bodily ears are clumsy instruments through which to pick up low-level physical vibrations; one’s nerves and tongue and nose are tools through which the person navigates the blunt physical world. These are all gone once one steps off the ‘ride’. It is not as though the disembodied spirit moves to look upon objects, or seeks to hear voices, or desires to touch solids: objects, voices and solids are part of the ‘ride’ and can only be experienced directly when one is strapped into one’s seat on that ride. What makes up those material things — their component parts — is something hard to describe in a mortal context, in the same way as it might be hard to explain a reality outside a fairground ride to someone who has spent their whole existence on it. How does one expound upon the fields and streets and hills and townships of reality to someone whose only measure of perception is the trundling seat inside a fairground amusement? The shallow painted colours on the walls of the ride, its loud but limited noises, its scents and sensations, are all poor images of the existence possible beyond its confines. Colour has more vibrancy when lit by the sun rather than the flickering bulbs inside the ride.

Outside your body, the foundations of mortal civilisation can no longer wall you in; instead of experiencing Time as linear with its disorientating inertia, you can now pause and examine, dwell upon or delight in what previously rushed by so fast you barely took it in; now, in the place of fixated attention, is an enormously wide span of contemplation, responsive to your own wishes. There is more truth here. The things of the world are no longer dashing by to confuse you.


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