Episode 2: Change in fantasy, climate, religion & death

The lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia.  Photo taken in C. S. Lewis Square, Belfast, Northern Ireland by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.  Aslan is a very important character in the Chronicles of Narnia

Can cancer, and the knowledge that the end is near, sharpen our perspectives on change? Is war ever glamorous? Should an enemy continue to be an enemy after a war? Might our thoughts be clouded when trying to picture a near future that we might never see? Is there a role for creative visualisation in changing the outcome of change? Do we need technologies not yet developed to contain climate change? Can science fiction throw a light on changes that might happen or have already happened? What’s Adam and Eve got to do with how a Christian perceives death? Was it stifling the expression of my brother’s feelings to show concern that I might be upsetting him with the way our conversation had gone? (Photo of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash)

Episode 2 of Time is Sliding raises these questions and I hope the answers are apparent to listeners too. The episode is framed around the second and final part of a discussion with my brother, Phil. I recorded it almost exactly three months before he experienced the biggest change that everyone will experience: the end of life. It can’t have been easy for him to look into a future that he was not expecting to reach. Perhaps his love of science fiction helped him.

Full transcript available here.

The conversation with Phil reveals him shining through the fact that he was very ill, tired and weak. Sadly, I will never know how he would have reacted to the finished episodes of the podcast. However, it has been an important way for me to honour Phil and the commitment he made to our discussion. Editing and narrating the recording has been a ‘labour of love’ and has often made me laugh out loud with Phil’s humour. It has kept Phil alive for me. It’s not just a memento like a photo on the wall.  It’s an essence of him but it has made it very hard for me to rationalise the fact that I will never be able to spend time in his physical presence again. 

I described Phil and the background to our discussion in Episode 1 of Time is Sliding – Time sliding away: viewing change from cancer’s helter skelter and the accompanying episode notes/blog. That episode, and its writings, also covered the changes imposed by illness along with changes in attitudes, technologies, behaviour, music, entertainment, punishment, choices and the environment. 

02:55 A visit to the past and forgiving opponents

During episode 2, Phil talks about the glamour and fearlessness of pilots in the Second World War as exemplified by The Last Torpedo Flyers. The True Story of Arthur Aldridge, Hero of the Skies, a book by Arthur Aldridge with Mark Ryan published in 2013. Linked to this, Phil mentions a war film called Midway, 2019. This leads to thoughts on how some participants in war will never forgive the current citizens of the opponent countries whilst others do. 

Letting go of the past resonates with the core message of Eckhart Tolle’s 1997 book, The Power of Now. Tolle tells his readers that there’s no point dwelling on the past or worrying about what might happen in the future. The only reality is the present moment. Whilst I agree with the thrust of this, climate change will be much worse in the future if we ignore the science and don’t take decisive action now.

10:02 Imagination, Narnia and Careful with that Axe Eugene 

One of the moments that makes me laugh a lot is when Phil considers the origins of his good imagination. You’ll have to listen to the episode or read the transcript to find out what that’s about but the Chronicles of Narnia have something to do with it. Phil also talks about Narnia as his choice in a personal Desert Island Discs session with his singing tutor and his singing partner.  

axe, fantasy, goblin, monster, shield, warrior,  vector graphics, illustrations,

Desert Island Discs is a long-running BBC radio programme and podcast in which each episode’s guest chooses eight recordings/pieces of music that they would like to have with them if stranded on a desert island. The guests are also asked what luxury and book they would like to have in addition to the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible or other religious/philosophical tome. In addition to The Chronicles of Narnia as his book choice, Phil refers to his musical choice of Careful With That Axe Eugene , a moody and dramatic piece by Pink Floyd. Phil’s other choice of Desert Island Disc, Allegri’s Miserere, was mentioned in Episode 1. Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

14:21 A visit to the future, technology, working at home and climate change

As I was editing the episode several months after the recording, I wondered if Phil could have changed the way his future was to unfold had he been able to project his mind forward 6 months. Creative visualisation is a technique through which a person uses imagination to form vivid mental images of what they want their future to be. Its advocates say that it can change emotions as well as make the desired future more certain to happen. I do believe that the mind can help overcome physical challenges having grown up with the phrase mind over matter.  I’ve included some links to resources on creative visualisation below. I’ve also included a link to a Four Thought podcast episode that is not directly about creative visualisation but it’s not far off.  It certainly provides a valuable insight into how to, and how not to, engage with the sick.

Phil was more comfortable looking further into the future. He seemed optimistic that new technology and practices would reverse the climate crisis after it gets worse. Over the last 30 years, many politicians have expressed faith in technological fixes being available in the future when they don’t want to take immediate action. I don’t think Phil was in that same mindset and I hope that the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, isn’t either – despite what he told the BBC in May 2021. 

John Kerry, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations, General Assembly hall, April 2016,Paris Agreement,Earth Day 2016, Signing Paris Climate Change Agreement on behalf of the USA with granddaughter on knee

In an interview with Andrew Marr, John Kerry said “I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to net zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.” I don’t know which scientists Mr Kerry had been listening to but David Attenborough summed up the truth when he told the Group of Seven (G7) leaders in June 2021: “Tackling climate change is now as much a political and communications challenge as it is a scientific or technological one. We have the skills to address it in time, all we need is the global will to do so.”  

Image: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, with his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson on his lap and United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon looking on, signs the COP21 Climate Change Agreement on behalf of the United States during a ceremony on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, at the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York, N.Y. [U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

In addition to deploying, in all aspects of human activity, the technologies that we already have to contain climate change, everyone will need to make changes in their diets and modes of travel. Contrary to what many think, including John Kerry, these changes offer the opportunity to improve quality of life for people as well as for the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. Improved health, more comfortable homes, lower energy bills and access to more nature to enrich us are just some of the improvements to quality of life if humanity takes adequate action now. Sadly, pledges made, and not made, by governments in preparation for the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021 show that they are not treating climate change as the emergency that it is. I give more information about this in the podcast.

During our conversation, Phil, his wife Jane and I touch on how the Covid 19 pandemic has probably made a permanent reduction in the need for face-to-face meetings and medical appointments. The Polish National Centre for Emissions Management has calculated that the average greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person attending a 12-day international conference like COP 26 would be 2,300 kg, that’s 2.3 Tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents and about the same as a return scheduled airline flight from Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, to Glasgow. It’s also about the same as the carbon dioxide emissions of the average Indonesian for a whole year. Given that there are expected to be around 30,000 delegates attending COP26, that adds up to a huge amount.  In contrast, a similar conference undertaken on line would result in emissions averaging 36kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per person. That’s less than 2% of the average for a physical conference and includes emissions associated with gas and electricity consumption at home, computer manufacture, networks and data centre usage.

There’s a link below to the source of this information and another link to an assessment that the carbon emissions associated with a remotely attended one-hour meeting is equivalent to driving a car just 0.58 kilometres.  There aren’t many face-to-face meetings that near to most people.  If there were, walking should be the only way to get there for health, as well as environmental, reasons.  

What do you think life will be like in 2050? What will have changed to deliver a liveable future for the generations that follow you and me? Please let me have your thoughts as part of a review of the podcast. Alternatively, please share them via Twitter and copy to @TimeisSliding.

26:00 Science Fiction, psychohistory and predictive psychology

Below you will find citations for the sci-fi books that Phil talked about. I love Phil’s comments about how Frank Herbert’s Dune series started off well but lost its way.

When Phil was talking about Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, he referred to psychohistory. He describes it as the ability to predict the behaviour of populations based upon previous indices. I presume that means what they’ve done before. Psychohistory was the invention of Asimov’s fictional character, Hari Seldon but Phil suggests that this is similar to real-life predictive psychology. Indeed, a search of the internet reveals a Wikipedia page that describes psychohistory as an “amalgam of psychology, history, and related social sciences and the humanities.”  It seeks to understand the past and current behaviour of individuals, groups and nations but critics have called it pseudoscience.  

Dr. Isaac Asimov, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. Published in 1965, this photo also appears on the jacket of the Doubleday first edition of Nine Tomorrows so date of creation can be no later than 1959.
Photo of Isaac Asimov no later than 1959 : Phillip Leonian from New York World-Telegram & Sun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an International Psychohistorical Association and its slogan is “Understanding the Past, Shaping the Future.” If it really does do that, it might help in understanding humanity’s predilection for self-destruction and how to counter it.

34:56 Death from a Christian perspective; expressing feelings

As mentioned in episode 1 (Viewing Change from Cancer’s Helter Skelter), Phil had a strong Christian faith that was well-informed by his reading of the Bible from cover to cover. During episode 2, he refers to the story of Adam and Eve and their eating from the tree of knowledge. Phil explains that the resultant fall from grace is why God does not intervene to prevent people from having terminal illnesses or cure them. To God, Phil explains, it is not a matter of whether someone deserves to die of cancer, or not. Humans decided to take over control of their lives and so must live with the consequences. He adds that Christians say that Jesus died for us and so Christians are saved anyway. Therefore, in Phil’s words: “it doesn’t really matter that I’m ill, because it’s just a transition.”  I wish I could believe that.

Illustration showing Adam & Eve silhouettes in garden of Eden with a silhouette of the serpent wrapped around the tree of knowledge.  Eve is depicted picking a an apple.
Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

I cringe now at the clumsy comments I made to Phil in an effort to avoid upsetting him. Probably wrongly, I wanted us to avoid talking about subjects that would stir raw emotions in him… but I also didn’t want to stifle him if he wanted to express his feelings. It’s common to suggest that men have difficulties in sharing their feelings with others. Looking back through the sixty years of our times together, I certainly wish that Phil and I had shared more of our feelings. Thankfully in the podcast discussion, brotherly love, and Phil’s generous humour, overcame my clumsiness.

41:15 Phil’s favourite ceiling tile

The episode ends with a humorous account of Phil’s account of ceiling tiles in the hospital ward he spent some time in.

Resources & links

Creative visualisation 

Wientjes KA.Mind-body techniques in wound healing. Ostomy Wound Manage. 2002 Nov;48(11):62-7. PMID: 12426453.

Ranganathan VK, Siemionow V, Liu JZ, Sahgal V, Yue GH. From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(7):944-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2003.11.018. PMID: 14998709.

And of course there is Wikipedia

Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre,The Tyranny of Positivity, BBC Four Thought podcast, 28th July 2021.  In this challenging podcast, Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre argues against well people encouraging very ill people to think positively. She draws on her own experiences with cancer to support her position. Although not linked directly to creative visualisation, and I suspect few will encourage the sick to try that, the podcast provides a valuable insight into how to, and how not to, engage with the sick.

Climate change

Roger Harrabin, John Kerry: US climate envoy criticised for optimism on clean tech, BBC News web site 16th May 2021

Environmentalist Attenborough tells G7: We need the will to tackle climate change, Reuters 13th June 2021

Global Update: Climate Summit Momentum, Climate Action Tracker, May 2021

Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’, Matt McGrath, BBC News web site 9th August 2021

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, Netflix Documentary, 2021

Virtual conferences cut the cost of emissions(previously Huge carbon cost of attending conferences.  Home energy consumption rises on page 8 of the May 2021 edition of Energy in Buildings and Industry).  News item about the Polish National Centre for Emissions Management carbon emissions data associated with conference attendance.

Zoom Vs Vroom, Vilnis Vesma, 21st July 2021.  This piece concludes that remote attendance at a meeting lasting an hour is equivalent to driving a car for 0.58 km.  So virtual meetings should be here to stay if we are serious about tackling the climate emergency.

Fiction/Science Fiction

C.S. Lewis,The Chronicles of Narnia, First published between 1950 and 1956.

Jules Verne,Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: A World Tour Underwater, translated from the original French by F. P. Walter, 1869

Isaac Asimov, The Robot series & Foundation Trilogy

Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

Frank Herbert,Dune Messiah, 1969

Frank Herbert,Children of Dune,1976

Non-fiction

Arthur Aldridge with Mark Ryan, The Last Torpedo Flyers. The True Story of Arthur Aldridge, Hero of the Skies, 2013

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, 1997

Psycho history

Wikipedia

International Psychohistorical Association

Films

Midway, 2019.

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, Netflix Documentary, 2021

Music 

(Referred to but not played for rights reasons)

Careful with that axe Eugene_ from the Pink Floyd album ‘Ummagumma’ released November 1969; recorded live either at Mothers Club in Birmingham on 27 April 1969 or at Manchester College of Commerce on 2 May 1969.

Sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel

Steam, Peter Gabriel:

Radio programmes/podcasts

Desert Island Discs

The Tyranny of Positivity, BBC Four Thought podcast, 28th July 2021, Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre

Steve Jobs quote

Death is very likely the single best invention of life,” Stanford Commencement Speech 2005:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/oct/06/steve-jobs-pancreas-cancer

or 

Coming up

My next blog/episode notes will give an account of a discussion about change with Mary Clear, MBE and Chairperson of Incredible Edible Todmorden.  Incredible Edible Todmorden is a phenomenon that has been emulated around the world. It’s a community organisation that grows fruit, herbs and vegetables around the Yorkshire market town of Todmorden for everyone to share. It also runs a wide range of events that help strengthen the local community.