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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 08/26/2002
Volume 2, Number 46

Thongden is Real, not fictional!

I've decided to take the bull by the horns. This time, once and for all, I'm going to deal with it. And the ones I have to deal with are mostly my friends, as well as those many reviewers who praised my book AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, while, at the same time, they seriously questioned the reality of my main character, Thongden--the tulpa! You all remember, Thongden, I'm sure. How could you forget him? But for a lot of you, he simply couldn't have been any more than a character in a novel, albeit an interesting novel.

Now hear this. Thongden was as real as you or I. The book was NOT a novel. It was a memoir. In short, the events described in it really happened. What's more, things like that happen to people all the time, but such events don't fit into any category of what most of us regard as normal, so we brush them aside, we forget them, or we tell about them in such a way that they get squeezed and distorted into a pattern that somehow fits in with everybody else's.

Having explained that, I now intend to show everyone just exactly how and in what way Thongden was not a dream, not an imaginary encounter, not an invention of mine but real. A real personality! A living, thinking, effective and thoroughly remarkable being who was created by thought instead of being born in the usual way, viviparously. I'm also going to refer to some good scientific sources here to enable everyone of you skeptics to look them up for yourself. This is not light reading, since it requires a way of thinking you may not have used for a long time. But, as simply as I can, I'll lay it out so you'll know what I'm talking about and then, given some references, you'll be able to check it out yourself.

First, you need to become familiar with the distinguished English biologist, Rupert Sheldrake who has written several books on "morphogenetic fields." By that I mean a field very much like an electrical or magnetic or gravitational field. Except that a morphogenetic field is one created by constant thought, repetitive behavior or habit--or -as in Thongden's case, by meditation. As Sheldrake shows, his concept of such a field can far more easily explain what we call evolution-as well as a whole host of strange behaviors and events for which there's otherwise no rational explanation. To swallow the currently accepted neoDarwinian explanation, you'd have to posit an earth incalulable billions of years older than it is, even if you believed in Stephen Jay Gould's "Punctuated Equilibrium."

There really isn't room here to present all the detailed material, but I recommend that my skeptical friends get a copy of THE PRESENCE OF THE PAST by Rupert Sheldrake. Or if that's too heavy a book to read in the midst of your busy lives, try his simpler one, SEVEN EXPERIMENTS THAT COULD CHANGE THE WORLD (Riverhead Books, NY) It's simpler, smaller, cheaper and might really give you a huge appetite for more.

"Fields," says Sheldrake, "are not material objects but regions of influence." I once used this same quotation to show how the comic strip character Superman became, in his way, a region of influence. But today, our subject is Thongden, the mysterious tulpa who presents himself to me in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. Think of Thongden as a field, a region of influence personalized by the individual mind's need to create an "I" interacting with another "self", the way personalities are created by channelers, for example. Channeling, for those unfamiliar with it, is mostly seen as a form of "mediumship" that brings in another, non-earthly personality. This is not quite accurate. While there are indeed all sorts of fake channelers around, your true channeler is someone who goes through a long process of meditation that gradually gives shape, meaning and purpose to an intelligent reality whose methods and means are essentially human, although these intelligences need not have lived on earth or anywhere else before.. In fact, they are very likely shaped and to some extent created by the energy (not the mind) of the channeler. A tulpa, as Tibetan tradition has it, is usually shaped by focused meditation, either group or individual. That, at least, is the tradition. But-once created, they acquire an independence that varies with the level and quality of the meditation that produced them.

A kind of energetic genome, if you like.

Now, so far, this is a superficial, externalized explanation. It doesn't go far enough. To do so, as I went through my own tulpa experience, I had to ask myself the question: What is a "self?"

Here I turn to a man named Francisco Varela, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists. He and a biologist named Humberto Mataruna, his teacher, essentially founded what is known among academics as "the Santa Fe School." Chileans both, they have had a profound influence on cognitive studies both in academia and elsewhere. Now, let's consider what Varela has to say about "self." "I see the mind as an emergent property. . ." Varela says.

I have already discussed "emergent properties" in these columns, pointing out that certain new traits or qualities or functions emerge as complexity increases.

Consider from this idea that emergent properties are the means through which auto-poesis (self-creation) takes place. Here is Varela again: "My sense of self exists because it gives me an interface with the world. I'm "me" for interactions, but my "I" doesn't substantially exist, in the sense that it can't be localized anywhere... You can never say, 'this property is here; it's in this component.' In the case of autopoiesis, you can't say that life, the condition of being self-produced, is in this molecule, or in the DNA, or in the cellular membrane, or in the protein. Life is in the configuration and in the dynamical pattern, which is what embodies it as an emergent property." (Francisco Varela 'The emergent self' as quoted in John Brockman's The Third Cukture, Simon & Schuster NY 1995)

Now, if you're still with me, go back to Prophet and examine the meditative efforts that went into the creation of the tulpa, Thongden, and note particularly how Everett shows the emergence of a will and a discrete independence as the meditated forms begin to grasp themselves. What you are witnessing is in fact the process of auto-poesis, a process, incidentally, which is a major area of study for contemporary cognitive scientists.

I do not expect by these statements along with specific referrals to reading matter that you'll be able to cast aside your doubts in one fell swoop. Consider how difficult it must have been for "flat earth" believers to accept the new paradigm of a rounded earth. It went against all common sense. To Einstein himself, as most of us know, the new paradigm of quantum physics also went against common sense. Einstein dismissed it at first by remarking that "God does not play dice," a reference to the purely chance, statistical nature of quantum events. It rests, like the cast of the dice, on sheer probabilities.

I should explain that in grasping the whole idea of self creation, Varela,when he first wrote the words above, was thinking of a flesh and blood self, with a nervous sytem consisting of feedback loops. As he thought further about the idea, he gradually abandoned the flesh and blood self and took up Buddhism because he had arrived at the Buddhist conclusion that there really is no self. This, for Varela, was the inevitable outcome of observing that "my sense of self exists because it gives me an interface with the world." I admire Varela, and I acknowledge his important contribution. But I do not believe the self has no existence. Neither mine nor Thongden's. But, if my readers can put up with more of this, it will be for another column. So let me know if you want to get into selfhood more deeply. As Hamlet said: "There are more things under the sun than were ever dreamed of in all your philosophies, O Horatio."

In any case, I want everyone to understand that Thongden is truly one of those things "under the sun" and not a fictional character.

--Alvin

<< 08/19/2002 | 08/26/2002 | 09/02/2002 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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