We’re familiar with hypothetical, “What If?” conjectures. What if I have to declare bankruptcy? What if North Korea attacks the United States (or vice versa)? And what if the President is impeached—what happens then?
All of these speculations, some personal, some apocalyptic, suggest a story will follow—an answer, explanation, or procedure that addresses the initial set-up in some way that results in a narrative of some kind. Science, too, has its “What If?” speculations. Albert Einstein’s famous thought experiments about the nature of light led to his general and special theories of relativity which upended previous conceptions of the physical universe.
Visionary fiction also has its “What If?” speculations. Some are narrow in scope, such as “What if I could reach my full potential as a human being?” or “What if I could see into the future?” Others have more cosmic implications, like “What if I could access higher planes of spiritual existence?” and “What if I gained the power to manipulate good and evil?”
All of these questions open themselves to “What happens next?” consequences. Unlike Science, however, visionary fiction has been dismissed as unrealistic, trivial, or simply unimportant because it (supposedly) doesn’t deal with lives as they are led in the physical, sense-oriented universe with which we’re familiar. Though magical realists such as Jorge Luis Borges and Salmon Rushdie are cut some slack in this regard, many writers who explore the realms of the mystical and the occult find their works ridiculed and/or shunted to the distant back shelves of speculative and fantasy fiction sections in book stores and web sites.
But recent developments in cosmology, neuroscience, and quantum physics question such judgments. Dark matter and dark energy, entities known only by their non-interaction with the physical, sensate sphere, are now thought to comprise 95 per cent of the cosmological universe. Neuroscience has yet to understand the workings of the mind or determine whether the basis of personality, the psyche, dies with the death of the brain or persists in some different form of existence. And the anomalies of quantum physics at the macro and microscopic ends of the universal continuum of existence continue to confound and perplex the theories of most theoretical physicists.
Most but not all. A few scientists, like theoretical physicist David Bohm and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, recognized explanations for such phenomena may lie outside the boundaries of the materialistic and deterministic thinking. Bohm with his concepts of Thought and holonomic brain theory and Penrose with his theories about the quantum mind or consciousness opened the door towards new ways of regarding the operation of our mental faculties. Anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff and roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro substantiated Bohm and Penrose’s ideas with substantive and practical theories of their own that linked human consciousness to the spiritual.
Much as George Lucas’ borrowings from Joseph Campbell form the philosophical basis of the Star Wars series, Ishiguro’s approach to robotics advances a point of view toward consciousness that differs from the Western dualistic paradigm. Instead of the Hegelian either/or approach, Ishiguro utilizes a continuum-based concept of mind wherein all objects in the universe possess some degree of consciousness. The result of this perspective has been his creation of an artificial, android robot alarming in its almost human-like presence and reactivity to exterior stimulation.
Almost but not quite. What robotics’ humanoid approximations do indicate, however, is that Western science has come full circle. Where for centuries much of Western scientific thought was dedicated to refuting the teachings of ancient idealistic philosophers as Plotinus, Heraclitus, and the Hindu and Gnostic religions, it has come to support their concept of the soul, qi, prana, elan vital, orgone or what-have-you as the basis of reality.
Such pantheistic approaches to existence underscore the importance of visionary fiction as a necessary and vital means of exploring the “What If?” implications of living within a conscious universe. Any of our fictional thought experiments has the potential to unlock the secrets of the universe hitherto hidden from us due to our rational, compartmentalized, and statistical preoccupation with the physical.
As an alternative, we must apply an integrated approach that restores the emotional, the holistic, and the intuitive to their proper places in understanding and operating within the sphere of conscious reality. Moreover, if our narratives are to be true to this new perception of the universe, they need to express a sense of respect and awe, a reverence if you will, for the force that flows within and without us and makes us one with the rest of existence.
That reverence is what my latest thought experiment, Mission: Soul Rescue, attempts to accomplish. The first in a series of novels entitled, Escape from the Immortals, MSR explores that infinitely small yet vast region between science and religion, soul and mind, the physical and the ineffable and find their overlaps. The book’s protagonist, Dr. Victor Furst, is both psychologist and shaman. Like Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, he serves as an instrument to explore, understand, and manipulate, the inner workings of the soul as the basis of universal reality. In one of his first cases back in the States, he encounters a woman diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But once he recognizes his ex-wife, Evelyn, he suspects her symptoms result not from the invasion of a virus, bacteria, or physical manifestation, but something more intentional and far more sinister.
But why? Who or what would do this? That is the mystery Furst must resolve. To do so, he will need all his psychological expertise to penetrate the defenses of Evelyn’s unconscious mind. To recover her soul, he will need all his skills as a shaman. And to restore it to health, he will need to mend all the fences he broke when he abandoned his daughter and Evelyn for his shamanic studies in the Amazon.
Inspiration for this story originated out of questions associated with my wife’s studies for her masters degree in nursing. Specializing in a holistic approach to health care, she extolled to me the powers of ancient, non-Western forms of treatment such as reiki, meditation, acupuncture, and other forms of alternative medicine. In the course of our discussions about efficacy of such therapies to positively facilitate the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms, I wondered about the harm the negative application of such powers could have on the individual. Admitting she didn’t know, my research revealed that few practitioners claimed understanding or familiarity with the negative side of the forces they used in treating their patients.
One group of therapists who did claim familiarity with these negative forces were the shamans, non-traditional, ethnic practitioners around the world who reached altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with benevolent and malevolent spirits in healing the maladies of their patients. Their abilities combined with my own interests in the mind, death, and spirituality provided the stimuli for my latest novel. The questions these factors inspired shaped the structure of its narrative. And the thought experiments which explored the interactions between conscious reality and our collective unconscious place it solidly within the purview of visionary fiction.
A former English instructor and academic librarian at the University of Minnesota, William is a grandfather and avid if erratic golfer residing in south Minneapolis with his wife and black Norwegian forest cat, Selene. His two previous novels, Penal Fires and Metadata Murders, explore the shadowy intersection of American culture, crime, and technology. Mission: Soul Rescue adds the paranormal and cosmic unconscious to the mix.