Gerald Heard on J.W. Dunne’s Theory of Time

HEARD16Found – the typescript of a review by Gerald Heard of J.W. Dunne’s The Serial Universe (1934). Dunne proposed that our experience of time as linear was an illusion brought about by human consciousness. He argued that past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality and only experienced sequentially because of our mental perception of them. He went further, proposing an infinite regress of higher time dimensions inhabited by the conscious observer, which he called “serial time.” In his time Dunne’s work was highly influential, Aldous Huxley (a friend of Gerald Heard) J.P. Priestley and T.S. Eliot all used his ideas in their work. Gerald Heard is sometimes cited as a proto hippie or father of the ‘New Age’ movement. Wikipedia writes: ‘His work was a forerunner of, and influence on, the consciousness development movement that has spread in the Western world since the 1960s.’ He also wrote several still rated supernatural fantasies. This typescript was probably published in a newspaper at the time.



The Serial Universe. By J. W. Dunne.
(Faber. 10s. 6d.)

Reviewed by GERALD HEARD

  In pre-Nazi days in Germany there used to be a popular print. It showed one of the great German philosophers walking along the main street of his home town with his manuscript under his arm, on the way to the printers. He keeps close to the wall because down the street's centre dashes that dreaded black travelling carriage inside which can be seen Napoleon, Europe's tyrant, rushing from-one battlefield to another.

  That romantic and probably apocalyptic comes back into one's mind on reading Mr. Dunne's latest book. Keats, on looking into Chapman's Homer, could feel that he was looking at a new ocean of imagination. On reading Mr. Dunne's books anyone, mathematician, moralist, psychologist, or politician, must realise that he is looking not at a new world of imagination—indeed, it is unimaginable—but, if it is true, a world more real than that one of commonsense which up till now we have called reality.

  Malebranche, the philosopher, is said to have remarked when he looked down that new instrument the microscope for the first time, "This is an end of size." Reading Mr. Dunne one must feel that here is an end of time as we have thought of it.

Experiments in Prevision

  As nearly everyone knows, Mr. Dunne published in 1927 a book called "An Experiment with Time," an odd title for an odd story. He told with great lucidity the story of some experiences he had had in prevision; how he had found that he dreamt quite frequently of the future and how he had taught a number of his friends to recall their dreams, with the result that they, too, found that they had previsionary dreams. Not content with that, being a mathematician, he went on and made a theory to make what was obviously impossible to commonsense agreeable to advanced science. Mathematicians do not seem wholly agreed that his theory does fit in with the multidimensional universe which physicists now accept, but quite a number of people who spoilt their sleep by recording their dreams have confirmed the fact he stated—that queer, confused but unmistakable evidence of the future does come to many people in sleep.

  Since then the number of such cases has increased, and other studies have been made of prevision. It still seems doubtful whether anyone can, in a fortnight, by noting their dreams, obtain evidence that some faculty in them foresees the future. But the evidence does grow that some people have this faculty. And the resistance to the evidence on a priori grounds weakens. The multidimensional conception that space and time are really two aspects of one continuum has sunk into the layman's mind. The fourth dimension has ceased to be a joke and become a very awkward possibility.

What May Happen

  Now Mr. Dunne comes forward again with a really amazing simplicity of style and diagram, and tries to make it possible for the ordinary man to grasp what sort of universe he actually lives in. In his theory of Serial Time it is possible to make prevision quite natural, to demonstrate the soul and deity.

  Surely such a cosmology will have an immense welcome. Yet doubts arise. It is not that mathematicians may challenge the mathematical reconciliation of the previsionary universe. If the evidence of prevision stands it seems a natural symptom of such a universe and the fitting in of the evidence with the theory a question for technicians. If you do foresee the future then time cannot be what common sense assumed it to be—an assumption which no mathematician, whatever he thinks of Serialism, would defend.

  There can, then, be no doubt that something of immense importance is coming to light, but doubt grows when we try to speculate as to what on earth man is going to do with this discovery. Here is our world up to its neck in its New Deals, Five-Year Plans, re-awakening armament races, its determination to shape and carve the future as no other age has cut and constructed, regardless of anything but hard materialistic fact. Suddenly all the projected lines of these hard futures begin to waver and to melt.

  It is really too much. One thing is clear. If we are going to achieve the power of seeing the future, then that is the end of an epoch, the end of all materialistic progress.

  Maybe we are about to pass a frontier of human knowledge so that those on the other side of it will look back on us as creatures so limited by their ignorance, so restricted by their fundamental illusion about time, so confined to gross and clumsy material ends that, beside their enlightened selves, there will seem little to choose between us and animals.

  But if that is the point we have reached, the gap that opens is so great that we can have no more idea what life will be like on the other side of it than we can imagine what life after death can be like, however much we may realise that it exists. All we can know is that it is Goodbye to All This.

Banned in the Future?

  That, I think, is why this idea at present is making so little impression. Indeed, one may perhaps go further and speculate that as soon as it does begin to make a difference and people began to realise what it means, governments may begin to act. It has often been speculated whether governments will ever again persecute opinions which are not political, as once theories of the universe such as Manichaeanism were persecuted out of existence. Here, maybe, lies a test case. Should Serialism, or any other system of spying and making a new use of the future, catch on, we may see the great economic-fixated states, unable to change, fighting for their lives and making it a capital offence for people to have knowledge of other dimensions. The possession of "The Serial Universe" or "An Experiment with Time" may become grave crimes.

  Such speculation may seem groundless, but if these books stand for anything, are true at all, they mean so much that the outlook of every human being can be changed, and governments cannot disregard that.

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