Saturday, June 16, 2012

William C. Dell's "Time's Hidden Dimension": Book Review

This advances and expands what "Deconstructing Zen" by this same author proposed. Time as we perceive it in three-dimensional space-time opens up as we pass with it into an intersection with its hidden dimension of possibility that bursts into the infinite as quantum physics constructs, or breaks down what we know and where we live and who we are. Perceptions that expose us in meditation or enthusiasm or panic or uncertainty reveal the peripheral vision that tantalizes and perplexes our linear self and sense-based understanding. At this junction, the M of string theory beckons us.

Such encounters create power-claims and have long been disseminated or exploited by religion, first polytheist and then monotheist. But these are earlier stages on human paths to self-actualization. Now, as William C. Dell reminds us, we can take on our own awareness as liberating, and no longer must we rely on the "kingdom of God," as Jesus announced, to be anywhere else but within us. Profound yet simple, endless yet understandable: how do you condense lofty wisdom sought for thousands of years in texts and rituals into a short e-book that one can take off into a quiet sitting?

The Bhagavad-Gita, Basho's haiku, Faust's bargain, Wordsworth's lines at Tintern Abbey and his ode to immortality all demonstrate past attempts by people to make sense out of this brush with the infinite. Dell becomes neither scared nor smug about what this opportunity offers us. He urges us to stay hopeful. I finished this as I did his previous work wondering about death's seeming finalty and how this message may cheat death, but I suppose the other dimensions of M- or string theory may hold answers we can only grope towards, for now. He brings in Emily Dickinson's "I heard a fly buzz," and I admit that's one poem that's always unsettled me, even though I've taught it in class!

I also wondered how the "bulk" or origin of the brane speculated about in "Deconstructing" might play into recurring multiverses or Buddhist concepts of cyclical renewal, religious concepts of a "uncaused cause" or creator deity, and how astrophysics and religion might agree at last on what was incomprehensible remaining such (forever?) or becoming less so. Let alone problems of dark matter, dark energy, and entropy. How we outwit mortality eludes my weak grasp. The fact a brief study sparks such great wonder serves as its own recommendation. I predict any reader will find a series of such questions to muse upon. As science opens doors to awe, we can adapt its explanations and combine them with the poetic and spiritual pioneers who've directed us towards vast horizons.

Diagrams, from the kind of knack I imagine Dell's decades as a humanities professor have sharpened, show such examples as how to compare and contrast a poem by William Carlos Williams, a painting by Monet, and a surrealist version--all of the same (or not) cylindrical figure. Such visual aids, as with those on time plotted in the e-book, enhance the reader and viewer's comprehension of what can often be engaging but erudite and fast-moving, allusive lecturettes. Reflections gleaned from Dell's years as a meditator and poet glisten, as hints of autobiography and his personal quest enrich the narrative. Chapters continue to fill every sentence with considerable weight, but the feel of the overall series of short essays remains more gently burnished, perhaps due to letting this all sink in.

Many of the same philosophical themes, literary citations, and scientific dimensions repeat from his earlier book--this shows signs not of lassitude or laziness but how a teacher ponders his subject, one term to the next, and repeats its core content without duplicating a particular lesson, as the class and the season and the mindset all shift, and the core texts remain the same, but differently analyzed, more or less so. He revamps the very complex ideas he's mapped out, in a streamlined revision.

In my review of "Deconstructing," I noted how within the elegance of that discussion, some knotty neurological details merited more elaboration. Also, the final literary explications might have been directed back to support the scientific and spiritual ideas so compactly explained in the rest of that book. That book sought to pack so much into a hundred tersely written pages that the poetic voice of Dell fought for space with the scholarly tone, and for both, a reader such as me wanted to hear more. I recommend both works, but this newer one might be a better way in to the condensed matter in "Deconstructing," which spins fittingly back to the themes herein while remaining less personalized.

Therefore, in "Time's Hidden Dimension," the author's two intellectual outlooks--even if the e-book is shorter--feel more relaxed in the telling of another chapter in this ambitious tale of how our small lives might leap--somehow? how?-- into the beyond. Teilhard de Chardin might play off this material, it occurs to me. The pace and mood are well tempered by Professor Dell's reflections on his life, whether on a boat at the end of a day in dock, his uncle's mysterious brush with death in a train tunnel, or a hummingbird's attachment to its human rescuer. Such anecdotes work well to balance the denser presentations of scientific material, such as microtubal neuron networks and the origins of consciousness within a quantum model, which necessarily challenge even the most learned among us. I still insist there's far more Professor Dell can tell. Perhaps this and its companion study are but introductions for a longer work, delving into the intricacy of such verses and the visions once again. (Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy of the e-book: Amazon US 4-13-12)


Tony Bailie said...

Will order this one John. Is it coming out in print version do you know or just in e-book format. I haven't made the leap to kindle yet, although Sinead has one so might ask her to order it for me.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Tony, talk about timing. Today, Layne surprised me (I don't get myself gifts anymore!) with a Kindle. If you have one, or Sinéad, I think I can share for 14 days a title with another Kindle user--this e-book (only) could be read easily then. Let me know if this is possible. The only snafu is that there are restrictions galore as I am not "registered" with the same account as L. bought me it and it's in her name and account; my version came on a Kindle-for-PC workaround version, but I can try sending that on. P.S. You and S. may want to check to see ahead of time the pros/cons of account making with two Kindles if you stream videos or have "Prime," as checking the help forum today to work out some "fine print" with Amazon I found lots of confused consumers. It's not crystal clear what happens when accounts are made vis-a-vis Kindle registrations and how much latitude one has then on. P.P.S. Check back at my Vargas Llosa Amazon review of "Dream of the Celt" for a pair of comments.

Tony Bailie said...

Great find John. Bought both titles and have finnished Time's Hidden Dimension and just started into Deconstructing Zen, though suspect I will be rereading both. Thanks for pointing me towards Dell.