The Persistence of the Square

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After my run of four unusual big dreams, I took a break from the Tattva Experiment. But the yellow square of Prithvi persisted in planting itself in my mind in unseen ways.

Back when I was researching for Mind in the Gap, I watched an insightful TedTalk about string theory and how we could visualise 11 dimensions. In it, there was reference to 1884 book Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. Flatland is the story of a two-dimensional world occupied by geometric shapes, in which the protagonist – a square – is introduced to a sphere and consequently the third dimension. I’d heard of this before, on a podcast though I forget which one. On both occasions I took note, but didn’t go out of my way to know it in detail. Then, a couple of weeks after my last Tattva dream, Flatland was mentioned again, this time on Rune Soup by guest Christopher G White. He is the author of a book called Other Worlds, which explores the overlap of modern day science with spirituality. I bought it immediately based on the fascinating conversation with Gordon White, and was fully absorbed from the introduction.

The first chapter of Other Worlds is almost entirely about Flatland. It forced me to contemplate it in ways I hadn’t previously. I read that chapter just before bed one night, and my head was spinning with thought. Then, the yellow square approached me. I could sense it on the peripheries of my mind: that magic realm of subconscious acknowledgement and hypnogogic suggestion. I didn’t attempt to commune with it, but in a way I realised it was unnecessary: my conscious attention, and the method previously employed in the Tattva experiment, had been bypassed.

That night, I had another of the big dreams. It went like this:

There’s a film over the world, like a piece of semi-opaque paper or plastic. It hurts the muscles in my eyes when I try to focus on whatever is behind it. I can’t make out the outlines defining objects but I’m forced to look anyway. There’s no way around the film: it covers everything. Then lines begin to appear on the film. They join together forming strange sigils, overlaying the objects in the space beyond. I’m looking at the world, but can only process it by way of interpreting the sigils.

When I woke up, my first thought was of language and the way it informs how we understand the world around us (Danny Nemu wrote an excellent book on that subject if you’re interested). I think I was partially right with this initial assessment, but there was more to come.

I had a word in my head. Gestalt. A thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. I brushed it off for a couple of days, but it got my attention once more when I saw it appear in relevance to quantum cognition: something I had begun to research for my next book.

A thing is different to the sum of its parts. Not greater, just different. According to Kurt Koffka, who coined the phrase in German, that is the more accurate translation.

The world we perceive is something different to the world in itself. It’s a gestalt. And we each have our own, which is necessarily built from our unique qualia: the way you understand ‘yellow’ is subtly different from the way I understand ‘yellow’. The way I connect a ‘square’ to my experiences is different from the way you connect it to yours.

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Our consciousness is an integral part of our gestalt worlds, as are the stimuli we connect with. For that reason, we are incapable of seeing the world as it really is beneath our processing of it. Dream number five was a convenient visual representation of that idea. Whether we are observing the moon or the tiniest of particles, the perception contains an element of us. And that includes any ‘objective’ measuring equipment we choose to use. Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? Kind of like the ground-breaking slot experiment in quantum physics, in which a particle is also a wave until observed, at which point it becomes ‘fixed’… Quantum theory and gestalt psychology are not considered to be one and the same, but it’s difficult to deny their isomorphic nature.

This line of thought also brought to mind the concept of the absolute square of a wave function: the probability of a particle being found at a specific location in space and time. The persistence of the square indeed. And therein lies a rabbit hole I won’t go down today. But, these concepts are weaving themselves together in my mind, building a layer of personal gestalt as thin as a spider’s web atop all the others I have collected, and through it, I will perceive the world from here on, sharing the new narrative as I see it.

Because that’s what we do: we create narratives. The world is different to the sum of its parts when a conscious mind looks upon it, because it becomes a narrative. What do I do as a writer but connect disparate ideas to make and share new gestalts? Call the process art, philosophy, magick, psychology or science. In my work they all come together. I’m all the time creating my own map: my own frosted plastic layer embedded with sigils to place over the world.
Post Script 1: The nature of the Tattwa experiments as prescribed by The Golden Dawn are such that the practitioner necessarily builds up a gestalt layer to associate the symbols with a specific meaning, so that he may later manipulate or learn about those things in conjunction.

Post Script 2: With no knowledge whatsoever of what I was working on, my husband used the word ‘gestalt’ within a half hour of me finishing these musings. I note once again that so very often synchronicities cluster around personal thought developments.

Post Script 3: When I was writing Mind in the Gap, the parts assigned to M came to me very intuitively. At times it was as though she knew far more about what she wanted to say than I did. Here she is, talking to her companion Zane:

“Whether something is fake or not largely depends on which filter you are choosing to look through at the time. The territory is not the map.”
“You mean the map is not the territory.”
“It’s the same thing, isn’t it? I’ve always thought maps were more interesting than territories. You can do more with an idea than a fact, and more with a mind than you can a brain.”

And by the same token, as I turn my attention back to the draft of my next book, I realise I have been writing about a gestalt therapy of sorts all along. The unconscious mind – our personalised map – is a wonderful thing.

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