Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tolkien's wager with Time



In one of his letters, J.R.R. Tolkien reports that he once made a bet with C.S. Lewis that led to a grand (but unfulfilled) literary project and what became a lifelong inquiry into the nature of time. The two great scholars and fantasy writers "tossed" to decide which of them would write a fantasy epic centered on adventures in space, and which would write a parallel epic devoted to adventures in time. Lewis got the assignment in space, and proceeded to produce the magnificent Space Trilogy of adult fantasy novels. Tolkien got the assignment in time, which he would certainly have chosen for himself, since he was always fascinated by the possibility of time travel and of slipping into the Other Time of Faerie, which he ruminates on in his important essay Of Fairy-Tales.
     Tolkien never produced his Time Trilogy. He did write some unfinished stories that center on time travel, the first of which is titled "The Lost Road." The finished works may be lacking, but it is fascinating to track where Tolkien's mind and imagination - and dreambody - traveled on this assignment. He became convinced that dreams and the practice of dreaming are the key to time travel. He was entirely correct in this. He found an exemplar in J.W.Dunne, the soldier-engineer-dreamer whose groundbreaking book An Experiment with Time remains hugely exciting, as a study of time travel through dreams that is grounded in first-hand experience.
    This note is merely to announce that I am currently tracking Tolkien's adventures in past time and Other Time. I'll post longer reports when I'm ready. Assuming that I have his blessing, since he has turned up in several of my lucid dreams, along with C.S.Lewis, with advice that I did not always follow right away...

The Shores of Faerie. Drawing by J.R.R.Tolkien (1915)

15 comments:

michaelsoucydc said...

Speaking of time travel, I had just read this article earlier today. Its about experiments that seem to show time isn't as cut and dry as we think. I'm sure you've probably seen it, but just in case...http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/01/04/132622672/could-it-be-spooky-experiments-that-see-the-future?sc=tw&cc=share

Justin Patrick Moore said...

So when is your first workshop in Iceland going to be held? I remember that your version of Tolkien wanted you to study the Eddas.

Runes could be an interesting portal for Time Travel as could be the Well of Mimir.

Robert Moss said...

Justin - Getting closer. I'm teaching at Ostersund, in the north of Sweden, in April. And I now have several translations of both the Prose and Poetic Edda.

Good luck on keeping both eyes if you want to use the Well of Mimir as a portal...

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Good point on keeping my eyes. Maybe I'll just send in Huginn and Muinn for me if I need to take a dip in that well.

Robert Moss said...

Michael - thanks for the link, not least because it contains a further link to the full text of Daryl Bem's original paper, "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for
Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect". Rigorous scientific research that passed muster with those hard-nosed peer reviewers at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and can therefore help shift the prevailing paradigms. Little by little, our science is catching up with what dream travelers have long known.

Worldbridger said...

I would say that Lord of the Rings is Tolkien's experiment in time travel.

The problem that most people have with the concept of time is the one that we have been spoon fed in school - that time is an arrow.

Tolkien understood something about myth, and especially written mythology, that enabled him to travel backwards and forwards and inside and outside of time.

There is a synchronic consistency to Tolkien's writing that transcends time.

Louisa said...

I am reading Bem's paper and find it to be an awful mess. The quality of reasoning and writing is such that at first I thought that it was a joke, like Sokal's Hoax. Methodology is sloppy and sloppily described, rules of the game change mid-experiment, stats look suspicious, and no attempt is made to interpret the results critically. The fact that this paper has trickled through the reviewers is sad, but hardly surprising, because refuting it properly requres time and competence, and most reviewers are too busy to do research just to reject a paper.

nina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Moss said...

Louisa - You have a razor-sharp mind for these things and I was going to ask your opinion of Bem's paper when I had studied it properly. You got in first, and may have spared me some frowning over some of the data. The study may be flawed, but what is your opinion about the basic hypothesis.

I am personally in little doubt that I am effected - in my emotions, in otherwise inexplicable little somatic tropes and in more important ways - by events that still lie in my physical future. I have described this, as an experiencer rather than a theorist, as the White Queen Gambit. (The White Queen screams BEFORE she pricks her finger).

Robert Moss said...

Nina - I would never dismiss a comment from you; your miniature essays are consistently wonderful and often expand the context for our discourse - not to mention our reading lists.

I have not read Selma Lagerlöf, and see that I shall no doubt be adding her to my reading as I continue to travel and teach in Sweden. My last visit brought me to Astrid Lindgren, who I missed out on during my Australian childhood; I have yet to write the essay of appreciation I want to offer to Astrid to honor how she brought a vision of death and the afterlife that is both realistic AND mythic to children (in "The Brothers Lionheart").

But life requires choices, and on this general front right now I must go further with Tolkien, and his sources.

Worldbridger said...

Good grief, I can't believe that people are still arguing as to the existence of ESP. To me it is like an argument between two people as to the existence of ultraviolet light.

No I can't see it!

Ah, but I have a machine that can!

Robert Moss said...

Worldbridger - I think you are misreading the nature of the discussion here. It's about the integrity of a study, not the reality of the phenomenon.

Worldbridger said...

"It's about the integrity of a study, not the reality of the phenomenon..."

I fear you are being too scholarly for me. In my experience when a study is attacked with this type of emotional verbiage ...

"The quality of reasoning and writing is such that at first I thought that it was a joke, like Sokal's Hoax."

... it means that the subject of the study also being questioned. I mean the lady even questioned the reviewers competence, without any real proof as to whether they were being lazy or not. I mean did she actually talk or write to any of them?

No, I don't think this is as ivory tower a you portray.

Louisa said...

I would be curious to talk to the reviewers of Bem's paper and the editor of JPSP. If I were the reviewer, these would be my main criticisms.

First, the experimental procedure was altered midway through Experiments 1 and 2, but the data were treated as homogeneous. Kaput.

Second, methods are faulty and/or improperly described. It is impossible to tell how many trials were performed, what images were shown to participants, and what data were excluded, or how the experimental space was controlled. In Exp. 1 the participants could pick their preferred style of porn, so the stimuli were not uniform across dataset. The results of priming experiments were heavily massaged, but how this was done was minimally described.

Third, statistical tests were one-tailed and not corrected for multiple comparisons. This was done to get a lower p-value and make the results appear statistically significant.

Fourth, participants were classified by levels of stimulus-seeking (being easily bored) using untested homemade scales instead of standard methods.

Fifth, Discussion makes no attempt to find alternative explanations of the results, which is a must in experimental studies.

Whoever tries to replicate this study ought to do so with greater scientific rigor.

Robert Moss said...

Louisa - Thanks for clarifying your objections to the study. I know you both as a very gifted dream traveler in the multiverse as well as a rigorous scientist, and we need both skill sets to shift the paradigms of our culture.