The late John Braithwaite, the last professional telescope maker in Scotland, used to say that the Great Question, the one which nobody could answer, was ‘Whatever happened to the tea-money?’ That’s not one I usually got from school classes, in the North Lanarkshire Astronomy Project where my colleagues and I did 450 such events, almost all in primary schools. But after, ‘Have you been in space?’ and ‘How do astronauts go to the toilet?’, I could count on being asked, ‘What is outside the Universe?’ That usually was the point where the teacher would intervene, saying, ‘They won’t be able to understand the answer’, and I would reply, ‘Let me try’. To the class I would say, ‘I’m going to explain this by stages, so if there’s a bit you don’t understand, stop me and ask’.
Picking up an object, I would show that for me to be able to do so, it had to have three dimensions – length, breadth and depth. But it also had to have duration – if it was only there for a millionth of a second, we couldn’t see it, much less pick it up. H.G. Wells made that point in The Time Machine, and from then on people began calling time ‘the fourth dimension’, which gave us the idea of ‘the space-time continuum’. Albert Einstein hypothesised that there was a fourth spatial dimension, in which the continuum was distorted by the presence of mass, and Eddington demonstrated it with the famous ‘eclipse experiment’ of 1919. (I usually had to go over that bit more than once.) Many hypotheses in modern physics postulate that space-time has more dimensions than five, possibly as many as eleven, and some esoteric ideas suggest even more.
So that brings us to the idea that space-time has a shape, even if we can’t perceive it with our senses, and therefore the whole of space-time has an overall shape, however many dimensions it has, ‘finite but unbounded’. If we could see it from ‘outside’, if there was an ‘outside’ from which we could see it, we could see it all at a glance, in the same way that we can look at an LP record and ‘see’ the whole of a classical symphony at a glance. And that shape would contain everything that ever exists, and all the events that ever happen. What lies outside are the things that never exist, and the events that never happen. The present king of France is outside the Universe, and so is the world in which Germany won the Second World War.
(I tried to avoid the further complication that there could be a ‘Multiverse’ in which all those other possibilities co-exist; and to swerve round that common grammatical error of calling them ‘alternate’ universes – first one and then the other – rather than ‘alternative’. Still more to be avoided is the common reference to ‘another dimensions’ when what’s meant is another set of dimensions, another space-time continuum altogether. One has to draw the line somewhere!)
In general, I found that primary 6 and 7 classes could accept the explanation above, and it got them past the idea that the Universe ‘must’ have a boundary, and there ‘must’ be something else beyond. But of course it’s an oversimplification. Last week in ‘Cosmology’, I introduced the late Prof. John Wheeler’s concept of ‘superspace’, a manifold which would contain all the possible but separate space-time continua. And, believe it or not, it is possible that superspace has occupants, beings who could look at those continua from outside, and intervene in them, as we might damage an LP or try to smooth out a scratch, in the analogy above.
In August 1994 ASTRA, then Scotland’s national spaceflight society, had two distinguished visitors from the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow. They were the Assistant Director Mikhail Lisun, who had been Commander of the prime crew for the Salyut 5 military space station, but was dropped when his co-pilot suffered a nervous breakdown, and Igor Popov, Business Manager of the Museum, who interpreted. During their visit they were Guests of Honour at ASTRA’s Annual Dinner, at the Uisge Beatha, Woodlands Road, Glasgow, where Mikhail Lisun proposed the toast to the memory of Yuri Gagarin, whom he knew well.
Igor Popov brought us copies of a 1992 commemorative issue of the venerable Russian magazine Aero, which he had edited, and it included an extraordinary article by A.I. Veinik entitled ‘A Delusion Called UFO’. Veinik belonged to the school which believes UFO phenomena are psychical in nature, but his thesis was intended to explain the entire range of phenomena which we call ‘paranormal’, such as teleportation. “Certain cases are absolutely fantastic, for example, when authentic information is suddenly transmitted from the future, unexpected appearance and disappearance of objects, penetration through the walls or other obstacles. These facts… testify to the fact that these phenomena belong to the world existing beyond the time and space, the superdelicate, extrachronous and extrametric world defined by us as the phemtoworld. Phemto-objects perceive the representatives of our chronometric world as an integral system, where our past, present and future are presented simultaneously.”
In physics the prefix ‘femto’ denotes a factor of 10-15, and a femto-second is the characteristic time of a quantum tunnelling event, a form of matter-transmission which can occur in nature at the subatomic scale. Presumably that has some wider significance in Veinik’s theoretical concept, not explained in the translation. Philosophically, the phemto-world seems close to what Immanuel Kant regarded as noumena, things-in-themselves, which exist outside time and space and are hidden from us by the barriers of the senses and the limitations of the mind. We perceive only their representations as phenomena, things-in-appearance. But what Veinik describes is a world of noumena which is inhabited – by ‘phemto-objects’ (he avoids calling them ‘beings’) which could never be perceived by us except by the results of their interference with objects in our world.
“It is these very objects that provide us with the relevant information. The extrametric existence of phemto-objects makes them devoid of mass and dimensions. They can transfer these qualities to the objects of our world in a rather simple way, which is described below.
“We are well familiar with the notions of screening and insulation. Insulation of an electrically charged body with a dielectric makes it unable to manifest electrical properties in the environment, though the properties of the body itself remain unchanged. It is evidently possible to insulate with a special envelope any body from penetration of any substance. All the intrinsic properties of the body remain intact, including the ones inherent in the specific substance, but their exterior manifestation becomes impossible… Consequently, extrachronous and extrametric insulation of a common body of our world makes it unable to manifest its dimensions and mass in the environment, though inside the insulation envelope the body retains all its former properties. Such a body will act in the outer world as an extrachronous and extrametric one and will be able to penetrate any obstacle. Proceeding from the above, we may forward a supposition that if an extrachronous-extrametric object (phemto-object) concentrates around a body, thus forming the necessary insulation, the body will remain unchanged inside the insulation, whereas outside it will possess neither dimensions nor mass and would easily travel in space and penetrate any obstacle. A possibility surpassing all imagination! The science-fiction writers call this phenomenon ‘teleportation’…”
Indeed we do, when we’re talking about moving objects by the power of the mind. ‘Phemto-objects’ would be sentient, at least in our terms, though what they experienced and thought, and what would motivate their actions, we can talk about only in analogies. If such beings existed they would have some of the attributes of divinity; they would for example be omnipresent, since the entire space-time continuum is accessible to their awareness, but not omniscient – there’s no reason to suppose they could read our thoughts or imagine our mental processes in any more detail than we could theirs. Perhaps they would be seen as operating in our Universe by manipulating probability – in other words, what would seem to us to be paranormal events. We couldn’t guess what their motives would be when they move things around in ways ‘impossible’ to us, but the operation would be analogous to rock gardening, moving a stone from one place to another because it looked better in the overall pattern – and that suggests some specific examples.
In his book, Stone Circles of the Peak (Turnstone Books, 1978), John Barnatt drew attention to a remarkable feature which he called ‘the Great Triangle’, actually a lozenge of triangles, and which he suggests could be the basis for a ‘Zodiac’ dividing the Peak District into twelve arcs of equal area. The figure involves the Neolithic stone circles of the Bull Ring, Wet Withers and Arbor Low, and Win Hill, on the line from the Bull Ring to the Hordron Edge Circle. The principal axis of his figure, the line from Wet Withers to the Ringstones farm, and the line from the Bull Ring to Win Hill, all meet at the Peak Cavern, which is one of the sites which features in the mediaeval mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit, on which I have a book about which I’ll talk later.
“Faced with this evidence, notably the large distances and non-intervisibility, it is inconceivable that prehistoric man designed and constructed these triangles, at the same time it is very unlikely that they are coincidence because of the geometric perfection which links the most important circles in the Peak with some of the more prominent natural features. The ‘Great Triangle’ is a classic case where the only plausible alternative is that the geometry is a natural phenomenon. One important question is how far were the builders aware of its existence. If this triangle is the most potent in the Peak District as is suggested, it follows that the largest circles would be built where they are by detecting the centres of power at intersecting points…”
We are faced here with the notion that the landscape has been shaped by powerful forms of energy, unknown to science, which modern man has lost the instinct to detect. It’s a notion I find very hard to accept. If there was only one such site, it might be easier to believe. But the grids of supposed ‘ley-lines’ and the so-called ‘Glastonbury Zodiac’ are well known; the late Jean Sendy drew my attention to another Zodiac supposedly built into the gardens at Versailles, and according to Gérard de Sède, in Les Templiers Sont Parmi Nous, (J’Ai Lu, Paris, 1962) it’s a model for a larger Zodiac encompassing all France and centred on Versailles; my friend Tony Crerar found so many astronomical alignments at sites in Wales that he could only conclude some force had shaped the landscape to generate them; and another correspondent, Gordon Harris, believes that extraterrestrials have shaped the whole land surface of Britain, perhaps the world, into straight-line patterns radiating from ‘nodes’. Many of these issues were examined at a conference on ‘Heresies in Archaeoastronomy’ which I organised for the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 1996, with a sequel in Glasgow the following year.
If any of these are true, do we have to accept they’re all true? That would be planetary engineering orders of magnitude more subtle than the creation of habitable conditions on Mars, for example. Only Veinik’s ‘phemto-objects’ would have the ability to impose their designs on the world in such a way. For instance, according to the late Matt Ewart, who made a detailed study of the Rennes-le-Château ‘Temple’, not only is it built around a natural pentagram of mountains, and the Paris meridian, but it involves churches and other buildings positioned to within a foot or so, some on the very edges of precipices which have to be exactly in the right place to receive them.
Yet the Paris meridian was defined with reference to the Seine, and laid out by Jean Dominique Cassini, the Italian astronomer who became the first Director of the Paris Observatory under Louis XIV, and discovered Saturn’s moon Iapetus and the largest gap in the ring system. (The orbiter which reached Saturn in 2003 was named after him.) The map of the landscape forms the underlying construction of several classical paintings, ‘Les Bergiers d’Arcadie’ by Poussin and Holbein’s ‘Annunciation’ among others. As a classically trained artist, Matt verified that by his own analysis; yet the paintings date from more than a century before Cassini and his son decided where the Paris meridian was to be – and then changed their minds, moving it to its current position, around which the paintings and the huge pattern in the landscape are laid out. If the pattern around Rennes-le-Château isn’t an enormous coincidence, it could only be created by entities which could mould landscape like plasticine, with results of which the Cassinis and the artists were consciously or unconsciously aware.
As Matt himself conceded, “Sacred Geometry is nothing if these guys can move the bloody mountains”. We could picture them drawing a web of the forces they supposedly command over a planet, so that as it evolved through time it would always present a surface pattern which they found appropriate, or pleasing. When our astronauts talk about the view of the Earth from a distance, it’s interesting that they always compare to it something manufactured, like a ballroom globe or a Christmas tree decoration, or artificially shaped like a jewel. One of astronaut Alan Bean’s paintings, of the Earth from the surface of the Moon, is entitled ‘Too Beautiful to Have Happened by Accident’ (in Byron Preiss, ed., The Planets, Bantam, 1985). And yes, because they would operate from outside time and space, we could detect those forces only intuitively or by their observed effects.
The hallmarks of the phemto-objects’ intervention would go much deeper into the fabric of the world than Slartibartfast’s signature on the glaciers, in The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Pan, 1980). It’s a beauty of Veinik’s hypothesis that it does provide an intellectual handle for discussing such things as Barnatt’s Great Triangle, which otherwise appear to be impossible, however impressive the maps. But that level of speculation is far beyond the scope of this article: Veinik himself warns strongly against it, “just as dangerous as playing with black magic. Paranormal schizophrenia, demonolatry or even suicide is or has been the end of those who try.” It’s a great deal easier to believe that all we’re seeing here is the extraordinary human ability to perceive pictures and geometric patterns, even in random alignments, as we do in the night sky and the embers of a fire. But, out of curiosity, if we developed a matter-transmitting device, how might the phemto-objects view a rock which apparently moved by itself?
If the phemto-objects could see the whole space-time continuum in detail that would mean the Universe is deterministic, that every event is preordained, that free-will is an illusion. Yet we know that on the sub-atomic level, at least, the Universe is governed by probabilities, not certainties, and in our own actions we believe that we have a large measure of choice. Veinik allows phemto-objects to change things when he talks of them bringing information back from the future, so changing it at least to some extent. So the rock-garden analogy gives way to a department store, or a multi-storey museum building, in which only phemto-objects have the keys to the elevator. And when they made changes the effects would run both ways in time, as (Sir) Fred Hoyle envisaged in The Intelligent Universe (Michael Joseph, 1983). Their view of our Universe would be strangely blurred, not the sharp perspective of omniscient gods, and when they intervened, they would see the results spread out in space-time like ripples in a pond, into the past and the future as we perceive them, though we would rarely if ever be aware of the change – perhaps not unless it proceeded like a wave, moving at different speeds in different locations, as Prof. Archie Roy envisaged in his short story ‘King of England I Will Die!’ (see below.) The paintings centred on the Paris meridian before it had been defined would be a classic example of ‘backward causation’. If, for example, the phemto-objects ‘decided’ that the war against the Nazis was the definitive one, to the extent that by focussing on it they determined its outcome, then the causes and outcomes of all other wars before are after, like the Thirty Years War or the invasion of Iraq, would become strangely blurred.
A matter-transmitter would mimic the ‘natural’ powers of the phemto-objects. It would be as if people started using the elevator without permission, moving objects from floor to floor, disrupting the tidy arrangement the supervisors took such pains to achieve. The masters might not like it. They might even stir up the Sun a little, to make things difficult for the ‘illicit’ users – but that touches on the mystery of the Green Children and is, once again, a story for later.
(‘King of England I will die!’ by the late Archie E. Roy is included in Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers, the first of its kind, edited by Duncan Lunan for Orkney Press in 1989. The book was republished in paperback with updated introductory material by Shoreline of Infinity in 2018, and is available from the publishers, through bookshops and through Amazon. Details of Duncan’s other books are on his website, http://www.duncanlunan.com.)