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Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Serial Time: Dunne’s Theory and its Implications

Paul Kiritsis - Thursday, May 02, 2013

Carl Jung’s coming to the esoteric discipline of alchemy was heralded by Psychology and Alchemy (1944), a publication that would be the first of three major works (Volumes 12, 13, & 14 of his Collected Works) attempting to understand alchemical symbolism as unconscious expressions of archetypal content projected onto matter. Towards the latter half of his illustrious career Jung recognized a faithful ally in the former which had been relegated to the dustbin of pseudoscience during the Age of Enlightenment and thus had limited contemporary appeal. After a period of examining Western and Eastern alchemical treatises he came up with the idea that alchemical operations could be deciphered psychologically, forging an interdisciplinary connection which offered a historiographical bridge between the Gnostic religions of late antiquity and his own analytical psychology.

To illuminate this conjectural position Jung collected and scrutinized dreams from one of his patients. According to the famous psychotherapist dream symbolism could be juxtaposed with morphologically similar or identical ones from ancient and medieval alchemical manuscripts to expose meaning in psychological terms. The dreams in question are intricate, complex, philosophical, and multilayered; it’s quite hard to imagine them being unconscious refractions of a rustic personality whose concerns rarely stray from necessities like food, shelter, good health, and the fortification of immediate family and possessions to facilitate a protracted, exuberant life. And we would be completely justified in thinking so, for the personal unconscious bides its time echoing a refracted continuum of conscious ruminations and anxieties. It’s far more likely that the self-conscious personality that produced these is orientated by a superior intellect deeply versed in and concerned with the structure of matter, time-space, cosmogony, and with the bigger picture in general.

Subsequent investigations reveal these presentiments to be accurate; they belonged to a pioneer of quantum physics with whom Jung collaborated on numerous occasions–Wolfgang Paoli (1900-1958). One in particular happens to be of extreme importance and relevance to the theme we’re currently investigating. Tentatively labelled “The Great Vision” by Jung the visual impression involves a three-dimensional world clock comprised of two intertwining circles, one vertical and the other horizontal, with their centres offering a point of intersection. The first is a blue-coloured face separated into four quarters of eight partitions or thirty-six parts with a single clock handle as a centrepiece whilst the second is a gold-rimmed, multi-coloured disc supporting the weight of four men equipped with swinging pendulums. From Jung’s description we can surmise that the mechanism has three pulses; a small pulse measured by the time it takes for the pointer on the vertical circle to progress by 1/32, an intermediate pulse measured by a full revolution of the vertical circle which is equivalent to the progression of 1/32 on the horizontal disc, and an ultimate pulse that equates to thirty-two revolutions on the blue vertical disc or a full revolution on the horizontal disc.

If for the moment we put aside Jung’s psychological interpretation where the horizontal and vertical aspects of the mechanism embody conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche, we end up with an extraordinary vision of serial time. As we know time is measureable through the observation of phenomena along one’s fixed cerebral field of presentation that change their position and appearance in space and sometimes evaporate from view altogether. A dialectic consequence of attributing variability and movement as an underlying agent inseparable from any law or condition is that we are compelled to introduce another ultimate standard against which the current dimension of time is measured. We could say, then, that the time dimension in which the human mind experiences a successive order of events from birth all the way to death is merely a substratum of a second time encompassing a four-dimensional field of observation. Nonlinear disparities in the latter allow for simultaneous observation of multiple states perceived as separate temporal extensions in the three-dimensional realm as well as unrealized potentialities of personal evolution, lending credence to a flexible determinism where “future” events can be altered or quashed. Owing to its expanded field of presentation, the entity confined to that four-dimensional field can redirect attention whenever it so desires and experience ‘present’ as well as immediate ‘past’ and ‘future’ temporal extensions and psychical states of the three-dimensional entity. By the same token there could be an even higher order of time operating in five dimensions with the conscious time-traveller therein acutely aware of the ‘present’, ‘past’ and ‘future’ for both the four-dimensional and three-dimensional fields. In a multidimensional arrangement of this sort, the introduction of a subsequent time dimension to quantify the one currently presiding as the “ultimate”  can go on and on ad infinutum and introduces an intellectual cul-de-sac which will be scrutinized later.

At any rate what I apprehend in Paoli’s vision is two heterogeneous systems of time that are united by a common centre. The blue vertical disc with its white rim and pointer symbolizes the substratum of time which we perceive as real time; the horizontal disc with its four colours, human adornments, and golden ring signifies a higher dimension of time that habitually eludes comprehension and measures our own; and their intersecting centres the fixed field of presentation appreciable to a mind that can cogitate both. (That happens to be the human mind!) The positions that the two circles occupy is also significant because it depicts a specific relationship of one time dimension to another; the vertical disc or three-dimensional field to which we’re confined with laws of spatial extension preventing the direct experience of ‘past’ and ‘future’ states occupies a different spatial position to the horizontal disc, a higher, four-dimensional field of presentation whose laws of motion project in a direction other than the up-and-down, side-to-side, and diagonal ones that three-dimensional observers are accustomed to. These incompatible differences in spatial orientation are echoed by a right-angle position inhibiting one clock face from perceiving movement on the other. It’s an arrangement suggesting that time dimensions are ordered in serial and not parallel fashion. As a final point the impression “shown” to Paoli in the dream state by the personal unconscious is a four-dimensional concept in a space of three dimensions, illustrated in the only possible way that a Platonic Idea or Form standing beyond the spatiotemporal frontiers of human experience can be lucidly grasped.

This brings us to John William Dunne (1866-1949) and his controversial argument for the existence of serial time. Dunne was a professional and had a lot going for him. As an accomplished aeronautical engineer with a special talent for designing aircraft, he demonstrated the improved steadiness of a tailless model in comparison to the standard type by designing, building, and flying a tailless biplane which he called Dunne 5. He also wrote rather extensively in the discipline of meta-psychology and specifically on precognitive dreams. After assessing the nature of his own precognitive dreams he formulated a definitive hypothetical position: the precognitive faculty wasn’t the exclusive province of genuine clairvoyants at all but a psychical ability latent in the entire population. The only reason why most people never remembered them was because they presented themselves as minute fragments in an integrated bundle of real and fantastical impressions and, more importantly perhaps, because they defied consensual agreement on the nature of causality. How is one supposed to see a phenomenon of retrocausality that is not supposed to exist? And I’m most inclined to agree with him.

Seeking validation for this hypothesis he set up a variable-controlled experiment with an orthodox method of dream recall (writing down dreams in as much detail as possible immediately upon awakening) for the sake of juxtaposing dream and waking consciousness and collecting information about recurring impressions that had initially presented themselves for observation in the former. Data gathered supported the idea that future impressions do seep into the unconscious memory train as causally proximate as a day before they’re due to appear on the phenomenal plane although most are pretty trivial and minor–phrases and words in newspaper clippings, items like stamps and seeds, the physiognomies of known and unknown individuals, and ornamental designs. Had Dunne been seeking ‘big dreams’ with detailed, comprehensive content as to what would be unfolding in the immediate future, he would have surely been disappointed. Nonetheless the snippets were enough to convince Dunne that precognition was a feature of a much wider demographic than conventionally supposed. How else could we explain that uncanny feeling of Déjà vu, the idea that we’ve experienced something identical when in fact we haven’t? Or the reality of having a familiar somebody turn up on your doorstep the day after you dreamed of him or her? Or seeing detailed features of an individual who you don’t currently know but will meet at some future time in a different country and fall in love with? Or seeing an eerie room of an abandoned warehouse in your dream and having your friend drag you to an unknown destination that is that exact room in real time the following day? To what might we ascribe the phenomenon of repeated synchronicities?  Surely these are not the progeny of pure coincidence, or are they?

Profoundly convinced that the precognitive faculty wasn’t just an egregore produced by deluded, hopeful, and corrupted individuals, Dunne was forced to reevaluate the classical proposition of time as an extension of space with length encompassing a sequence of physical states presented before an individual’s field of presentation for observation and assessment. How could time be an exclusively linear process if ‘future’ events were offering themselves up for observation in the ‘present’ moment, the now? Dunne proceeds to solve this impasse with a bottom-up approach, utilizing mathematical and physical laws to build a case for a multidimensional theory of time with properties akin to space which he labels serialism. Anybody that bothers to pick up and read An Experiment with Time (1927) will see that the reasoning employed is strictly empirical. Never at any stage do we witness an appeal or regression to transcendental mysticism and spiritualism or a digression from the fundamental laws proposed by physics and physiology. However what begins as a forward-moving express train on the parallel lines of scientific premises ends up altering course on a right-hand railway switch, taking it down a metaphysical chute of speculative philosophy that would have many physicists of our day shaking their heads in discontentment. From what we can see serialism stays faithful to the quantum approach but it further advocates that, owing to the multiple nature of consciousness which possesses corresponding ‘witnesses’ for each level of serial time, a cessation of self-consciousness in the three dimensional plane brought about by neural expiry does not connote death for the multiplex ‘observer’. As it happens the four-dimensional superlative ‘observer’ (the transcendental ego’ or higher Self) employs the generalized temporal ‘observer’ (the ‘mental ego’) as an instrument to gather information about genealogically associated life and lives on, unaffected by mechanistic and cerebral processes with which it is not directly connected. This is equivalent to an explicit declaration that humans have an immortal ‘soul’. (He actually says this in the book!).What kind of reasoning, flawed, sound or otherwise, might Dunne have exploited in surmising the existence of a ‘soul’? 

In his exhaustive study, Dunne postulates that an authentic derivation of information about future states through unconscious extension must mean that time is something more than dimensional length observed in chronological fashion by fields of observation indigenous to conscious, three-dimensional entities. This must be the case; otherwise there would be no way of explaining how a projection of mind could observe conditions and events that did not belong to the current field of presentation. Using the conclusive results obtained from the collective experiment as an empirical stepping stone, he faithfully attributes the eyewitnesses of future phenomena to a bifurcated consciousness operating as a mutually-exclusive synergy between a superlative ‘observer’ in a realm of four dimensions and a three-dimensional ‘observer’ in the phenomenal world of three dimensions.

There’s something extremely attractive about a dualistic conception of mind; it can remain faithful to the territorial map of the cosmos demarcated by anatomical physics and physiology and at the same time account for precognition and telepathic communications by stipulating that one unbounded ‘self’ surpassing spatiotemporal parameters can skip ahead in time and descry what the other temporal ‘self’ is bound to encounter. Dunne hints that the corporeal vessel is usually ruled by the temporal ‘self’’ or what psychologists call the ‘mental ego’, but in periods when the former is in abeyance (i.e. dreams and hypnotic trances) the unbounded ‘self’ or ‘transcendental ego’ can step in and take over. That’s when ‘future’ memories begin seeping into the personal conscious from a transpersonal matrix. Simple enough I guess! With a much more comprehensive field of observation than it’s inferior, the unbounded ‘self’ moves in an alternate direction to the time belt on which three dimensional objects progress. According to the aeronautical engineer, it is this second trajectory of time that encompasses and measures our time dimension. Moreover, there is a third that times the second, a fourth that times the third, and so forth. Dunne is basically saying that the ‘passage of time’ established by our star-gazing ancestors to bring order and alignment to agricultural, social, and religious ventures is only one piece of the puzzle; time is not linear but serial, comprised of just as many if not more dimensions than space with each corresponding to a level of human consciousness.

What seems to have happened here is that in proposing a multidimensional model of time to account for an authentic prophecy unique (as far as we know) to the higher-order consciousness of human beings, he’s had to introduce a secondary witness other than a mental, operative ego reliant on psychoneural parallelism to make sense out of the cosmos; a ‘dream producer’ whose projective field of observation is that higher dimension. This means that the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh time series–in fact all possible time dimensions deemed by one to be feasible–have respective witnesses or projections of consciousness. The metaphysical inferences are a necessary evil, otherwise the theory collapses in on itself and the theorist is back to square one.   

Finally, to complete this very Gnostic-tinted weltanschauung Dunne was compelled to disclose confidence in the existence of an immortal soul originating in the ultimate time that times all times and projecting along the dimensional rungs all the way down into the material world where it appropriates complex neural processes of the differentiated brain to generate the experience of higher-order consciousness. Just as a microscope or telescope is used by an eye of limited visual acuity to gather information about microorganisms and outer space, so too does the ‘transcendental ego’ exploit an embodied conscious to accumulate experiential data on the third dimension. It will observe the ‘mental ego’ through the course of its birth, development, its pains and hedonistic pleasures, its successes and failures, its death, and beyond its death even. Neural corruption is a phenomenon restricted to the third dimension and cannot extirpate beings subject to the flexible laws of higher dimensions. As one of these privileged beings, the ‘transcendental ego’ possesses a freedom unknown to embodied forms and can peruse the associational strata of memories collated by the ‘mental ego’ after the latter’s temporal expiry, pick out harmonious snippets, and contrive its own heaven. ‘A rose that has bloomed once blooms for ever.’ This makes Dunne’s serialism a natural science of the ‘soul’.

Interestingly, there is no existing incongruence between serialism and an actualized hierarchy of creative emergence seeking to compartmentalize rudimentary and more complex potentialities in physical and natural systems. If anything, serialism avidly defends the notion that transition from a lower to a higher fulcrum is epitomized by the crystallization of novel and innovative qualities in the latter. These qualities compound and augment a new scope of interactions transcending anything that synergistic activity between components in the parent fulcrum could ever produce. How else would self-reflective awareness or higher-order consciousness spawn an ontological nexus of higher-order phenomena like miraculous healings, psi phenomena like telepathy and extrasensory perception through space and time, psychoneuroimmunological effects where thoughts effect somatic systems (i.e. placebo), in fact all those characteristics which elude the integrated processes and re-entrant interactions of neural correlates in the complex human brain from whence ‘mind’ emerged from.  If the mind and brain are equivalents with the brain being ‘just’ a computer made of meat, than how could it gather authentic information about other minds and the universe from outside the correlational locality of three dimensions to which it is confined? How could precognitive dreams be possible?   

Indeed any discrepancy between serialism and the hierarchical system of creative emergence remains an unrealized potentiality until they both impinge upon the nature of higher-order consciousness. Here they settle on opposite ends of the ontological scale; one backs a multifarious representation whilst the other sees consciousness as a subjective but wholly indivisible phenomenon. So which of the two is correct? Even if our unified sense of ‘self’ were divisible into a ladder of ‘selves’ or ‘observers’ that were ontologically separable from one another on the basis of their psychic fulcrum (i.e. prepersonal, personal, transpersonal, etc.), the psyche would no doubt delimit fragmentation to minor numbers to enable a smoother (re-)synthesis at death. As to why a higher-order consciousness would unconsciously generate an infinite number of ‘selves’ to project into every single dimension of time that might exist is beyond me. Creative processes usually take the path of least resistance; not the other way around. In light of Occam’s razor Dunne’s embarrassing allusion to an infinite number of ‘selves’ must be out by a mile; there must be a simpler archetypal model able to amalgamate the known facts.

We have established beyond reasonable doubt that precognitive dreams are an ‘objective’ reality. Far too many individuals experience them on a day-to-day and week-by-week basis for the whole to be dismissed as nothing more than a quixotic fantasy. Moreover, some very conclusive evidence in support of the phenomenon has come from experiential meta-analyses. We’ll also agree that they’re a confluence of fantasy content and authentic past and future impressions flashing up before a field of presentation at a time when cerebral activity is not subject to extrinsic influence; that they’re communicated telepathically to the ‘self’ and sometimes to others, as is the case with genuine clairvoyants; and that we are the inheritors of an ‘upside-down’, inadequate perception of time. From what I can see, there are two very likely possibilities. Either the fulcrum of ‘mind’ (individual or collective) interacts with a phenomenal field of nonlocal correlations perceived to be extrinsic in a hitherto unacknowledged way, a wilful act of creatio ex materia which generates the future by externalizing powerful unconscious content, or alternatively, an aspect of ‘self’ acquires a four-dimensional field of presentation and is thus able to ‘observe’ it’s trajectory along the holographic field.

Whichever the case it appears the mind’s ability to transcend three dimensions and operate in four cannot be questioned. There may be no hierarchical ladder with integral aspects of one’s ‘self’ existing alternate time dimensions, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no timeless precinct accessible during an alternate state where information about future potential states might be ‘downloaded’ and perused. Likewise, let’s not forget that it’s very possible to discuss conscious, direct access to alternate dimensions of time and the information universe without premature recourse to an immortal ‘soul’ and afterlife. At the moment there are still too many pieces of the puzzle missing to form a comprehensive theorization regarding what might be lying behind the veil; the neural correlates responsible for higher-order consciousness have not been properly mapped and are even less understood, the endeavour of mapping psi phenomena in a scientific manner and casually linking them to microcosm and macrocosm is only just now beginning to dawn on the horizon, and supersymmetric string theories aiming to unify physical laws are mathematically formal but also speculative and they do not offer up quantifiable ,systematic predictions that can be replicated in laboratory settings. What I’m getting at is that a weltanschauung conceived from a few sparse crumbs of knowledge, however accurate, is bound to go the way of the dinosaurs in no time at all…

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