Magazine article The Spectator

The Distressing Truth about Our Nocturnal Lives

Magazine article The Spectator

The Distressing Truth about Our Nocturnal Lives

Article excerpt

Much of last week's flatteringly widespread media coverage of The Spectator's change of editor assumed that one of the purposes behind it was to increase the magazine's production of scoops - i.e., exclusive stories worth following up by the daily newspapers. Examples from the past were given of what these critics had in mind: in particular, the famous interview about Germany with the late Nicholas Ridley, then a Cabinet minister, as a result of which the poor man was forced to resign, and the scarcely less famous one with the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, out of which the old dear came sounding gaga and rather unpleasant. More of these, the media critics cried.

I disagree. At least some Spectator readers buy it in the hope of escaping through its pages into a different world from the one encountered in the daily press; a world more of thought than action, more of ideas than sensations, more of argument than assertion. For such readers, I believe, an article of continuous prose enabling the important person to give considered opinions is more valuable - if much less readable - than off-the-cuff clangers dropped in the course of lunches or dinners. I know the results would be infinitely less likely to attract tabloid notice, but a failure in that respect should surely redound more to the editor's credit than discredit.

So my particular plea is that the new editor should put a notice above his desk saying: `Dare to be dull'. In the present climate, there could be no more heroic course for him to take, by comparison with which defying the Official Secrets Act, for example, would be the cowardly option. Who am I to give this advice, having never actually practised it myself -- until now? For my column this week is indeed going to be dull. It is an attempt to explain a revolutionary new theory of consciousness, recently published in a small book of 150 pages, which just might prove the keynote scientific work of the millennial year. Being a scientific illiterate I have no way of knowing whether the theory stands up, any more than I would have had any way of knowing whether Einstein's theory of relativity did. But what has convinced me of its authenticity is the quality of writing, which has an angelic innocence about it that invites belief.

So here goes. Several decades ago the author, Paul Ableman, awoke one morning and recalled that in a dream he had been able to see himself from a point of view outside his own body. Having once perceived that this rather uncanny perspective is possible, he later found that this kind of dream occurs quite often and not only to him, but to many of his friends. For example, he might wake up and remember that he had just dreamed that he was eating a meal in the company of several other people; and seeing himself at the table along with the other diners. In other words, in the dream he had managed to be both himself and the observer of himself, something which in waking life is possible only by using mirrors or other optical devices. Gradually, and over a period of years, these recurrences of the out-of-body point of view acted on his curiosity, and one day he put to himself a crucial question: `If some of my dreams seem to involve two quite separate and distinct "Is" - one of whom is the observer of the other - then which is the real "I"?' This question immediately suggested another which had rather an eerie tone to it: assuming that one of the Is is the real I, then who exactly is the other?

It took Ableman five years to learn enough about mind and brain function to find the answer. …

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