“In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.” – Wikipedia
Yes, I believe everything has consciousness from the tree behind my house, to the hummingbird sitting in the tree, to the rocks lying at the base of the tree. Nothing else makes sense to me. Long before I heard the Huna phrase “there is nothing that is not God,” I saw the view outside my window as “God’s thoughts.”
Rather than focus here on a philosophical discussion for which nobody that I know of can prove one way or the other, I’ll just say that my view of the world has played hell (figuratively speaking) with the placement of my books and stories into one genre or another.
So, I tend to say that I write magical realism because that covers just about everything I want to do without having to argue about whether or not a thinking rock is a fantasy or realism. I consider thinking rocks to be real, but the publisher usually doesn’t. But magical realism, well, that’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I believe the landscape is, in fact, magical. So, if I place my books in the magical realism genre, I can say what realism won’t allow me to say.
Someday down the road, all of us will probably have to re-define what’s real and what isn’t real. As of now, in spite of what Quantum physics is telling us, we’re still trapped in a nuts and bolts version of reality insofar as publishers, governments, and news organizations are concerned. Basically, saying that I write magical realism has kept me out of the asylum because people who think trees are conscious are usually placed on the shortlist for shock treatments and straight jackets.
Since I think we create our own reality, it’s natural for my characters to have the same belief. My beliefs about this are quite literal. Most people see the matter as figurative, having more to do with attitudes about what’s happening rather than causing what’s happening. Here’s the good news. If I say all this in a story, I’m not picked up by the Feds and put in a home. Call it my artistic license.
I say what I’m writing is true. Publishers and most of my readers think it’s fantasy or magic. I’m okay with that because I know that once a reader reads it, s/he can’t unread it (so to speak). There will always be that nagging idea in readers’ minds that just maybe the stuff is real. Yes, it is. But there’s no rush to believe it. One day you will.
“Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination, and of the heart.” – Salman Rushdie
When I was a child, my grandfather told me my mother walked in her sleep when she was a child. He put a stop to this by scattering peanut shells outside her bedroom door.
My mother remembered the peanut shells only because she had heard the story. All she knew for sure was that she hadn’t sleepwalked since she was a child, reasoning that she simply grew out of it.
Were there ever any shells on the floor?
Within the story, the shells were real. In reality, they may not have been real. It doesn’t matter. The peanut shells exist simply because the story was told, and re-told, and told again. Many of our “realities” seem to originate in this way.
The storyteller knows this. In his bad of tricks, he has an infinite supply of once-upon-a times, ready made like rare medications, dangerous drugs, curses, and miracles to unleash upon your life when you’re ready for his cure to what ails you.
As Gordon Lightfoot sang in “Minstrel of the Dawn,” released in 1970, “And if you meet him you must be the victim of his minstrelsy.” We are our stories, true or not, and they sustain us for better and/or for worse.
Most people I know asked their parents and grandparents to tell them stories and to be read a story before bedtime. These stories morphed into dreams and ways of seeing the world.
These days, people try to kill the storyteller by claiming to be offended. All they have to do is stop listening or stop reading if the story isn’t to their liking. There’s not much opportunity for growth in that approach, but we can approach truths that way. After all, ignorance is the last bastion against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
One day, we might wake up when we step on a peanut shell we didn’t believe was there.
The bar room response to statements like “Some scientists say we know little to nothing about reality” is, “How would we know?”
As an author, I’m very conscious of the reality I create when I write a novel. What the readers see and when they’re allowed to see it via a biased or unbiased character is closely orchestrated.
Author Zadie Smith (Swing Time) said in a recent interview, “People want to control how they are perceived. On Facebook or Instagram, you show others what you want them to see. My experience, though, is there is a lot more going on in the interior. You find out who you are by the things that you do, and it’s not always a pleasant discovery.” In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut said it this way: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
I “love” novels that claim to be based on true stories. My response is often, “so what?” Looking more closely, I want to ask, “based on whose perception of that purported true story?” Who told the story? Why did they tell it? Which witnesses or historians were the most accurate? How did the author adjust story events and characters to make a more exciting novel?
Police claim eye witness accounts are usually unreliable. Other than lying or supporting one agenda or another, an eye witness seldom sees an entire event. Without knowing it, his brain fashions the probable scenario for the things he missed and then he believes his entire account. And, a lie detector won’t catch the unintentional fabrication. Think of all the eye witnesses to historical events, the things covered on the nightly news, and other “true stories.” What did they see as opposed to their brains’ versions of what they think they saw?
Perhaps evolution’s to blame
According to some scientists, the reality problem is worse than we think it is. Donald Hoffman’s use of evolutionary game theory suggests that that our perception of reality is an illusion. According to his models and research, this happens because our evolution has created us to “see” what aids our fitness and safety more than an accurate picture of what’s in front of us.
“Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be,” Hoffman says.
Many gurus from the often diverse worlds of science and spirituality have long claimed that reality as we generally view it is an illusion, our own dream perhaps, or maybe the universe’s dream, or the result of our brains’ algorithm for converting what is–in actuality–energy into physical stuff.
I have always believed we create our own reality via our thoughts. I can’t prove that any more than I can say whether or not Hoffman is correct or way off course. I’m fairly certain about the truth of Zadie Smith’s view. As a writer, I delight in the chaos and uncertainty of all this, because it makes storytelling such a powerful reality-generating art. Those of us who write novels are very similar to those who are good at spinning yarns around a camp fire with versions that differ from one telling to the next. We see reality as fluid like a mixed drink that one bartender makes one way and another bartender makes another way, often depending on what s/he thinks the customer wants or his/her general mood of the moment.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Snape said, “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper on death.” He did this with potions. Writers bottle truth, brew reality, and manage births and deaths with words. Enjoy it all, but don’t for a moment think it’s anything more than an illusion.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,”FREE on Kindle December 9, 1o, and 11.
Life in Truth (as opposed to the “life actual” world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.” – Jane Yolen in “Touch Magic”
When we wake up from a dream, we’re aware of the fact that we didn’t realize we were dreaming while we were dreaming, but accepted what was happening as real no matter how improbable it seems in the light of day. Daydreams are somewhat the same. We’re imagining surfing in Hawaii or climbing Mt. Everest when somebody says, “you look like you’re a thousand miles away.”
Authors hope readers will react to their books like this. We want the reader to step into the story and, as the words flow forward along the pages, believe a little or a lot that the story is real. When a book is compelling, readers are often startled when the phone rings or somebody knocks on the front door and they find themselves back in “life actual” in somewhat the same way they react when they wake up from a compelling dream.
It’s said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested that when stories contain human interest and a semblance of truth, readers will temporarily suspend their judgement about the implausibility of the plot, setting and characters. Readers willingly suspend their disbelief and see the novel, short story, play or movie as life actual rather than life in truth.
A general fiction author will take us to a real place, or at least a realistic place, in our own comfortable domain of life actual (sometimes called “consensual reality”) and tell us a story that could happen (or might have happened) in the “real world.” (I put “real world” in quotation marks because both Quantum physicists and spiritual gurus have called into question whether the world we perceive as real is real.)
Contemporary fantasy authors will take you to a hidden place within the world we know where magical events occur. The Harry Potter series is a good example of this. Most of the magic within Rowling’s books was confined to Hogwarts and other magical locations. The consensual reality at Hogwarts was different from the consensual reality in London, and both readers and wizards knew that they were traveling between parts of the world with different rules.
Magical realism authors bring magic into the world we know. In a magical realism story, the magic is part of the characters’ everyday life and is accepted as just as real and viable as the cars they drive and the pots and pans in their kitchens. The characters don’t see magic as something with the world “maybe” attached to it whether that magic comes from the land, from ancestors or spirits, or from the spell casting or innate abilities of the people involved.
The authors of general fiction (or realistic genres), contemporary fantasy, and magical realism all want readers to suspend their natural disbelief in the reality presented in the novel, and accept it as real in the same way they accept dreams and daydreams as real. In some ways, readers are like those who go up on stage during a hypnotist’s or magician’s performance and say, “Yes, I’m willing to be hypnotized” or “Yes, I’m willing to be fooled by your illusions.”
Perception is Reality
Storytellers, hypnotists and stage magicians (illusionists) can place you into somewhat of a dream state in which you accept what’s happening as real because we believe that perception is reality in one or more of these ways:
Psychologists might say you see the same reality as everyone else, but are impacted by it differently because of how you feel about it or yourself.
Quantum physicists might say that reality is more than we perceive with our physical senses and that our thoughts or our presence impact it in ways we may not realize.
Those who study and accept what used to be called “new age” belief systems will say that our perception and our thoughts create the reality we experience and that we can be taught how to do this consciously.
And others will say that our perception of what is real can changed temporarily due to hypnosis, strong emotions or other traumas, alcohol or drugs, or some other life actual cause.
When it comes down to it, most authors don’t think about “perception is reality” while they’re writing. Learning one’s craft brings authors the techniques they need to tell a page-turning story that readers perceive as real while they’re reading it. Most of us want to be tricked one way or another when we watch a hypnotist’s or a stage magician’s performance. We don’t usually think about being tricked or enchanted or hypnotized when we pick up a novel, but that’s what happens if the story on that novel’s pages is well told.
Magical Realism or Just Plain Realism?
I see the world as a child of the new age. I’ve had arguments with publishers about whether my novels and short stories should be called general fiction or magical realism because I believe everything in my stories is real. But, publishers, bookstores and readers tend to like seeing the genre labels because those labels help them choose the ways they like being hypnotized or enchanted (in a magical sense) by an author.
I’ve always written about the world I perceive. Until others pointed it out, I didn’t realize I was writing magical realism. I had to ask, “What makes my stories fit into that genre?” Publishers, editors and writing gurus kept telling me, “You and your characters. . .”
View the spell for creating a pillar of fire or jinxing a troublesome neighbor as no different than a recipe for mac and cheese.
Assume haints and other spirits are just as likely to be in the forest as deer and raccoons.
Give myths and legends just as much credence as recorded history–or suggest they’re more accurate
Think trees, rocks, storms and the land itself are conscious.
I said, “Yes, of course I perceive everything that way. Doesn’t everyone?”
As it turned out, most other people don’t share my perception of reality in their day-to-day lives; however, enough of them like being lured into short stories and novels with that kind of perception to make magical realism a popular genre.
I think I was the last to know.
The world as we know it draws lines between our dreams and our waking hours, between illusion and five-senses perception, between magic and non-magic, and between life actual and life in truth. Magical realism takes away all those lines.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button for a list of other blogs in the hop. Links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.
Johannes Eriunega, an Irish theologian and philosopher who lived in the 800s, said, “All that is, is light.” Niels Bohr (1885-1962), a Danish theoretical physicist who developed the foundation mathematics for Quantum Mechanics, said, “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
In between the 800s and today, sages and physicists have said many things about the illusory nature of the reality we perceive with our physical senses. Goodness knows, those of us whose writing is characterized variously as science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism have put our spin on the large gap between consensual reality and the actuality behind the veil.
I used the NASA photo above in the header of my Facebook author’s page because it not only fits the fiction of a writer of fantasy and magical realism, but defines the belief behind my stories. I am not only a star gazer, but am also graced with occasional glimpses of our shimmering, star-spangled crystal-colored world as it actually is.
You can be, too, if you haven’t already discovered that the vision of the Large Magellanic Cloud in the NASA photograph–or the night sky when the gods allow you to see it without interference from man-made light–is very much the same as an atomistic view of a rock or a person or a table, play with the exercise below.
Matter is mostly empty space. When I was young and still an adamant believer in a materialistic view of matter and logic, a minister at an alternative church told me that there’s no such thing as matter. What we believed was solid, wasn’t really solid. While he was a good friend, I thought his view was absurd.
Now that I’m the age he was when he told me that, I meet with the same “are you off your rocker” comments when I say he was right.
We need our physical senses to navigate the world as we believe it to be. If your physical eyes showed you a Magellanic Cloud in front of your face, it would be impossible for you to function. However, with a bit of practice, you can see that the structure of the table in your room or the mountain outside your window–at their basic levels–looks like that cloud.
Instead of taking a journey from the Earth to the Moon, you’ll be taking a journey from the illusory world of “physical matter” to the actual star-spangled realm inside the world your physical eyes have convinced you is there.
Unlike the law of attraction and other practices that require you to believe they’ll work before your experience tells you they’ll work, you can see the stars inside your table without having to be certain there are stars inside your table.
Sit in a comfortable chair and stare at your table and consider what it might be like to shrink yourself to a creature much smaller than an electron and fly over, under and through that table. How would it appear?
Relax and then silence the constant chatter in your mind about the chores waiting for you, what you had for dinner yesterday, and everything else your inner dialogue is constantly focused upon.
Close your eyes and imagine you will soon become an a very small firefly sitting on the back of your chair.
If you don’t already have a preferred meditation technique, you can use a modified form of self-hypnosis or a biofeedback process to reduce the frequency of your brainwaves and slow down your pulse rate.
Think to yourself, “I am going to a deeper level of consciousness, 10…9…deeper and deeper…8…7…6…with each descending number I am deeper than before. . .5…4…3…deeper. . .2…1…I am now at a deeper, healthier level of consciousness.” You can vary the words you think depending on what makes you the most relaxed.
With your eyes closed, pretend you’re a very tiny firefly. Imagine yourself flying around the room to take a look at the objects in it. What do the chairs, curtains, books, TV set, and pictures on the wall look like from this perspective?
Once you’ve explored the room, consider the table. Fly around it and see what it looks like from all sides. When you are ready, think something like the following, “I’ about to fly inside the table.”
Fly up to it and stare at its “surface,” just covering there. While doing this, imagine that it’s an impressionist painter’s table, composed of flickers of paint and light. See it growing larger the way a JPG grows larger when you increase its size slowly to the point where the pixels get farther and farther apart.
Now, when the table is so large that it’s component “pixels” are so far apart you can easily fit between them. fly inside it. How does it feel? What do the different “colors” of the table appear to be when you examine them closely?
Hover in place and until everything you see appears like the night sky, shimmering and crystal colored and radiant.
Assuming you haven’t fallen asleep, fly outside the table and–in your firefly form–sit or stand on the chair you chose before you did your meditation countdown.
Think to yourself, “At the count of three, I’ll awake into my everyday reality feeling happier and healthier than before…1…2…3.” Open your eyes.
The first time I successfully did this journey, I stood up too soon and as I took my first step away from the chair, I fell. Why? The floor wasn’t there. I was still seeing things with my firefly’s eyes. So wait there a moment and make sure everything looks “normal” before you leave your chair.
Does this journey work the first time? I can’t say. Does one “see” more clearly each time they do it? I can’t say, because it’s better if you have no preconceived ideas about whether of not this exercise is easy or difficult or whether or not it takes practice or it doesn’t.
Becoming a sparkling firefly and fluttering around the living room requires a sense of play. Or, if you don’t like flying, become an ant (or whatever you prefer). This is a game of “let’s pretend” that should be relaxing in and of itself. Have fun. Sooner or later, you will realize that your let’s pretend has become real at a deeper level of consciousness.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”
In Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, my protagonist David Ward is convinced that some of the people we meet on rainy city sidewalks and between the dry-as-dust shelves in ancient libraries began their lives as fictional characters. Whether they first strayed through a writer’s thoughts as a random notion, stalked him along the boundaries of his waking world in twilight dreams, or arrived at the very moment the pen first kissed the paper with their name, such individuals are called into life because an empty space must be filled.
David claims he wrote a novel about a woman who meets his protagonist at an old transfer house where the city’s streetcar lines come together, allowing people to transfer from one city car to another or from a south side local to a north side interurban. It’s impossible to know whether Ward dreamt up a character whose depth and outlook were the very same as the depth and outlook of the soul mate he was seeking or whether his muse was moonlighting as a matchmaker.
At a time when David was lost, the fictional character appeared in his life as a living, breathing woman, and while she was in the process of saving his life, he asked how she happened to meet him by happenstance on a warm, Indian summer afternoon. She said he called her when he wrote what he wrote about the transfer house. Clearly, he needed her too much for her to live out her existence on a printed page. She is, in David’s mind, a very real woman who is filling a very real empty space.
He’s fair certain the gods tampered with the workings of the temporal world on the day when she had her first independent thought. He’s convinced of her reality, and I believe him.
As an author of fantasy novels, I can’t claim what my characters claim. I will not try to convince you that David Ward stepped out of Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, and became real, much less that a character in one of my character’s stories became real. Speculation along such lines leads to lunacy or into the “many worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics that suggests that things that can happen, do happen.
Sarabande has entered dark territory
My protagonist in Sarabande was, for the many months I was actively at work on the novel, a very strong presence in my thoughts. She had a story to tell. Like a living and breathing person, it took her awhile to trust me enough to share the most personal events and feelings that had, for so many years, lurked powerfully in her thoughts. Figuratively speaking, I followed her on her journey from Montana to Illinois and back as a silent scribe. I could not intervene because my powers as an author do not allow me to tamper with the workings of my stories.
Now, the novel has been written and published and I feel rather lost because, fictional though she is, Sarabande’s voice—as interpreted by my muse—has been a voice constantly speaking. She needed me to hear her and disseminate her story to those who love fantasy worlds that hover close enough to our world that they rattle the windows as well as our thoughts while we’re reading a story.
When Sarabande was published, Sarabande stopped talking. There was nothing else for her to say. My muse became quiet as well. At the end of the novel, Sarabande understood many things. I understood them, too. Then she stepped into a well-lighted mountain cabin with two friends and closed the door. They have much to discuss, but I am no longer hearing Sarabande’s voice. I have no idea what is being said and done on the other side of that door. In the railroad business, “dark territory” refers to sections of the line where there’s no communication between a train and the outside world. That’s an apt description for Sarabande’s current whereabouts.
Many authors feel a bit lost when the finish writing a short story or a novel. The intense focus on the story for many months or many years is rather hard to replace with the chores of a normal day. The missing story-in-progress leaves an empty space. I can understand why a reader or a writer might speculate about his characters finding the wherewithal to transition from the world of fantasy into the world of reality as we currently understand it.
Yet, Sarabande ended at a natural place. Tempting as it may be to write past that ending, I think my words would not ring true.
A friend of mine asked, “What next?” I really don’t know. Perhaps I’ll write about stone masons in 16th century France or mountain climbers on the summit of Mt. Everest. Perhaps Sarabande will ask my muse to ask me to write another story about her life in the universe next door. She’s independent of me now and, in that regard, just as real in my memory as the people I’ve met on rainy city sidewalks and between the dry-as-dust shelves in ancient libraries. I can no longer tell you what she’s thinking.
I don’t know what’s next. No doubt, there are a lot of probable fictional characters out there with stories to tell. Hopefully, there are dreamers amongst them who need a scribe who loves mixing fantasy and reality in the same glass. When one of them is ready to talk, my muse knows my phone number and we can talk about what’s supposed to follow the words “once upon a time.”