What’s really happening?

Part One

A few minutes ago, Nergal the cat decided it was time to go out into her jungle: aka the garden. So, I took her down the stairs in the block where I live, opened the back door, and out she trotted into the sunny, very green garden, her tail held high, oblivious of her human. It was her time for exploring, hunting (or pretending to hunt), and climbing up trees or on to the roofs of sheds to sit for hours and contemplate the wonder of being a cat.

Of course, I don’t really know what’s in the mind of a cat. Or, if it’s anything like my thoughts. I hope not! If I tried to write down everything that’s in my mind, in any random minute, it might make sense, but also seem too varied and jumbled to be real. Coming back upstairs from the garden, I thought about the big Rowan tree : a sprawling perfection of red and green, like a giant umbrella; and I was also thinking about Time and Space – inspired by a documentary I watched the other day called Infinite Potential; The Life and Ideas of David Bohm (a great physicist who was also interested in the spiritual ideas of Indian teacher Krishnamurti). Both these original thinkers discussed what they saw as really happening in our universe and in our minds. And, as I remembered listening to them, I was also considering if I should spend the morning writing more of my second book (‘Based on a True Story’) or my Blog, or do more wallpaper stripping whilst listening to an audiobook called A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss (and, I remembered:  I’m at 2 hours and 38 minutes of the 6 and a half hours of the audiobook). And, as if this wasn’t enough to make you want to give up reading and become a cat, I was reminding myself to look at Craig Murray’s latest online update from the trial of Julian Assange. By the time I got back upstairs to my desk, in about one minute, I couldn’t remember if I had eaten any breakfast. (I had: Apricot Wheaties; thanks for asking). I also couldn’t remember if the cat was in or out; and I was thinking about several other things too, including: What is really happening in our lives?  

Perhaps, by looking at this question, I can find out why a strange messy mind, like mine, can sometimes be a surprisingly good tool for looking at or finding out what’s really happening.

What is really happening? It sounds like a philosophical question, doesn’t it? That’s because it can be. It also sounds as if it could be a scientific question. Talking about atoms or the universe or the nature of life. It could involve those kinds of ideas. Or, stuff about brains or society. In a discussion like this, I don’t rule anything out. Whatever way we think about it, ‘what is really happening?’ is a big question. So, to start with, I want to talk about something slightly smaller – which I think about a lot, but I’ve never been sure how real it is. Not stars, or atoms, or biology, but all those little ideas in our heads which seem to be the mood music to the way we see ourselves and the world. We might call them: our subjective ideas.

Images flit through our minds all the time. A woman’s face. A cat. A tree. And with the images come ideas. She was beautiful. He was ugly. I felt sad. He was almost hysterically happy. I stood on the small wooden pier , looking out over the calm River Tay, the air smelling of endless dimming space, as the green hills of Fife gradually faded into soft black masses of time and I felt ten years old again, with my whole future faintly sparkling in front of me, somewhere out there in the  darkness.

I suppose we could call these examples of subjective ideas. The last example I’m fairly sure never happened to me; and I’ve no memory of any of the others, although perhaps I forgot. They are simply the kind of things I assume to be subjective ideas, and the kinds of things I imagine other people would also consider to be subjective ideas.

My last example:  the guy on the pier at night – the piece that seems autobiographical but isn’t, I’ve included because it illustrates something useful. It tells more of a story than the other examples. Of course, it’s longer: it uses more words. The story seems concrete, although I made it up. It seems more real than the others. Maybe that tells us something about our subjective ideas: the more words we use and the more those words are contained within a story, the more our subjective ideas may seem real. It’s probably because of the ‘real’ details: the sights and sounds, the events – all help us to see something which could be real. And, although I did not live through the exact story as told here, I have stood on a pier in a quiet evening as the world around me darkens;  and, I have felt at other times a sense of being a child again with most of my life in front of me. In a way, all of our stories, however fantastic, are based on facts we know from our own lives or from the lives of others. I make no claim for the originality of this thought.

So, in that strange jumpy way in which my posts sometimes like to go, welcome back to the point I promised to return to: my claim that there’s a lot going on in my mind at almost any randomly chosen minute; and somehow such a jumbled, messy mind may help me to understand bits of reality.

My jumbled mind is more than just messy. There is usually some kind of making or creativity going on. Often, these days, it involves writing. In that sense, my mind is a bit like a cluttered artist’s studio. Instead of blobs of paint and sketches scattered everywhere, there are lots and lots of scraps of ideas I want to write about. But the ideas are so varied, I could also describe the scene in my head as like – a cross between an artist’s studio, an engineering workshop, a junkyard, a scattering of volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica opened at lots of different subjects, and some kind of internet search engine on speed. I seem to have a mind programmed for searching all the time for a thousand needles in a million haystacks: from half-remembered dreams or songs to questions about the nature of language. In fact, my mind is so multi-level weird that I often wonder how I get anything done. 

In the next part of this two-part post, next Saturday, I aim to show how my messy mind has in the past found out bits of reality and written about them. And, I’ll also try to say why ‘subjective ideas’ matter so much to all of us, in these very difficult times we are living through.     

Harvey Duke



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