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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/31/1999
Column 3

Particle physicists are more and more coming around to the idea that anytime anyone begins to theorize about the existence of a certain type of particle, almost invariably, that particle is found. Similarly, the chaotic state of the world in 1938 may have had its own influence on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster without their necessarily being aware of it, and so led them to create Superman. If Superman had not been an idea for which the time had been calling just then, it could not have been so remarkably successful. Think of the implications.

But the major demonstration of the ideational basis of reality is the theory that forms the foundation of quantum mechanics, the most successful scientific theory since science as we know it began. I'm referring, of course, to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Or the notion of complementarity. That simply says that if you measure the speed of a particle, you cannot measure its position. If you measure its position, you cannot measure its velocity. Why? Because the very process of experimenting influences the experiment in specific ways. To express it more simply, there is no such thing as an objective, outside observer. There is, indeed, no outside which we can use as a vantage point to objectively study what's inside. This further means that the answers we get are only the result of the kind of questions we ask. The question shapes the answer. In other words, thought creates the things we discover and then come to regard as "objective" reality.

I have gone into all this also in order to show why it's perfectly possible for the main character in my memoir, An Unlikely Prophet, a tulpa like Mr Thongden, to have been created by meditation or thought, as effectively and as literally as atoms, electrons, protons, the whole endless array of quantum particles out of which matter itself is formed. All are in fact products of thought. Or as the distinguished physicist Eddington once said: The universe is a single thought.

All right, so Thongden is really a tulpa. But, some readers have asked: How is it possible to carry that one step further and make Superman so real that, as my book describes, I am able to encounter Superman and, in fact, be rescued by him. Did this really happen? And did I really, literally undergo a transformation from an octogenarian to a young man? How much is memoir and how much fiction?

The answer, once more, lies in the question of so-called objectivity as I've just described it. I suggest that each of you look back and consider various strange events that have no so-called rational explanation that I now know everyone from time to time experiences. I've had my share of them outside any Superman context, inexplicable events of all sorts. Like everyone else, I usually attributed them to coincidence. Or because our notions of reality are so ingrained that I simply let them fade away into forgetfulness. As an ancient Hasidic rabbi remarked: The dust gathers on the dishes every night. It's up to us to be watchful, and keep those dishes clear of the dust that gradually clouds our vision. And don't fall for the coincidence trap. Examine the experience far more carefully, without any prejudgment. You might be astonished at the results. But this is a vast subject and hope you will take advantage of our message board to ask questions and make comments. I look forward to hearing from you, and especially from those of you who actually remember your own unexplainable experiences.

In an upcoming segment of this column, I will discuss how the invention of the Superman comic strip had its own positive effects on our everyday reality.

Alvin Schwartz

<< 05/24/1999 | 05/31/1999 | 06/07/1999 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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