Prelude: Ordinary reality

 
In which we look at our ways of working on the world, and discover the common and confusing state of being stuck



It's a real world we live in. And the multitude of ways in which we work on it and in it we give a single name: technology.

Technology is everywhere: we can't hide from it. But that's nothing new: it's always been around us. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with technology, either: we can never have too much of it, or too little of it, because it's the sum of all the ways in which we relate to the world around us. What we do need to do, though, is to understand our technology well enough to use it properly -- rather than let it use us.

Our technology is how we make happen what we want to happen in the world. Whilst we might tend to refer to it as 'applied science', that definition tells us nothing about how we actually apply that science, or how we create the science to apply in the first place. Unlike some of the concepts of science, we cannot describe technology in isolation from us as people: in fact it would be more accurate to say that it's 'applied people' than 'applied science'. Technology is concerned with far more than mere machines: literally, it's the study of techniques, how we use them, how we work. So without people like us to apply our involvement and our skills, there would be no technology -- no reason for it to exist, for that matter.

And in several senses, we could also describe technology as 'applied magic' -- not least in the sense of Arthur C. Clarke's famous dictum:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

But there's more to the magic than that. Like magic, we use technology to create our own world from next to nothing, using skills of hand and mind; and, like magic, much of it is beyond definition.[note] Whatever kind of work we do, we make imaginary things real -- quite literally, we 'real-ise' our ideas -- and that process we can surely only describe as magic. And to watch someone apply a real skill is like watching a magician at work; the magical process of creation. In that sense, we are the magic in technology.

Everything that we think of as technology was once only imaginary: it's all been real-ised, like magic, out of thin air and hard work. We dream up some kind of project, we imagine something that we want to happen or that we want to make: which could be a meal or a movie monster, a bit of carpentry or the kind of computer program that helps me write this book -- anything at all. And then, with a certain amount of application and a certain amount of skill -- the appliance of science and something else -- we real-ise those images and dreams, we create them, bring them into existence in this world we share with everyone else.

We all do it: so, in a sense, we're all magicians. Through us, technology can be magic: technology is magic is technology. At present, though, our experience of technology is often anything but magical! Like the tale of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, we have to be very careful what we do with our magic: given the kind of chaos which we tend to create with our current technology, we all too obviously need to do it better. And to do that, we equally obviously need to understand it better. So what's wrong with our present understanding of technology? Why doesn't it work? For that matter, how do we apply science -- or anything else -- to create a new and better technology?

Dreams and nightmares

If technology really was just applied science, everything would be so easy. Everything would work. Machines would never break down. Everything would come together just as we planned it; everything would be predictable; nothing would ever go wrong.

Nice dream. Though a little boring, perhaps.

But the world we actually live in, no matter how much we might prefer it to be otherwise, is nothing like that tidily simplistic dream. Reality Department is far more interesting, though it can be more like a continuing nightmare if we're not careful...

At the surface, technology does appear to be applied science, applied analysis, putting the laws of science to practical use. Science analyses reality and reduces it to a predictable order: technology then makes use of it. That's what we learnt in school; that's why we spent all that time learning scientific laws about everything from physics to psychology -- how to lever objects or lever people. And it's true that for much of the time that kind of analysis does appear to work, and work well at that -- it does help us to predict what will happen in given circumstances, with remarkable clarity and superb precision.

That's what we learnt in school: science predicts everything. It makes everything neat, tidy and certain. The catch is that analysis is only reliable when every circumstance is known -- which is rarely the case in the real world. An analytic 'applied science' does work, after a fashion: but in practice it can never quite work well enough, because reality is never quite predictable enough for it to work.

Despite the elegant logic of those textbook laws that we learnt so diligently, they don't actually work in practice as laws. They do work well as guidelines, but they're not laws as such -- and they never can be. They can't predict what always happens, but only what usually happens -- and the difference is often crucial, as we know only too well in practice.

Science assumes that all events can be reduced to a form of order: but in practice it's highly doubtful whether reality can safely be handled in such a cavalier fashion. There are in fact some well-known mathematical proofs that suggest reality is infinitely complex: everything is in some way caused by and affected by everything else.[1] Nothing ever quite repeats: but science's laws depend on repeatability to be usable. Without the certainty of easily-isolated cause and effect, we cannot apply science in any truly predictable manner. So until science really can show us a way to overlay infinity with order -- which seems extremely unlikely -- Reality Department will always be full of chaos, confusion and uncertainty. And unlike what currently purport to be scientific 'laws', that really is a law:

The First Law of Confusion: Most things work mostly the way we expect:
but nothing ever works quite the way we expect.

When things don't work the way that we expect, we get stuck. We don't know what to do. In fact that's how we get stuck: hooked up by our own expectations.

And we do get stuck a lot.

If we're honest, we'd have to admit that we're stuck most of the time. When things are running smoothly, when they actually do work according to expectation, according to the predictions of 'applied science', we don't need to bother about them. But however well we plan things out, we hit unexpected changes, technical difficulties, bugs, glitches, anything you care to name. And dealing with those, or re-planning around them, is where most of our working time is spent. We're always fixing, moving from one minor crisis to another.

There are times when things run smoothly; and there are times when nothing seems to work. It seems that it's especially when things do seem to be working well that, without warning, all hell breaks loose and we have to start all over again. It is, by its very nature, unpredictable; but it does have a certain eerie -- if ominous -- certainty about it all:

The Second Law of Confusion: If something can go wrong, it probably will.

This is, of course, better known as Murphy's Law (or Sod's Law, in some places). Note, though, that the word 'probably' is essential to the Law's meaning. Without it, in the usual phrasing of "if something can go wrong, it will", it's too deterministic: it's a law precisely because it's uncertain, not in spite of it.

We will find much more in this law later -- in fact it turns out that, far from being pessimistic, it can be seen to contain an immensely optimistic undertone. It all depends on how you look at it; and it all depends on what you mean by 'going wrong'. We often have real difficulty in distinguishing between wrong as 'unexpected', and wrong as 'not a good result in the long term'. An apparent disaster may well turn out to be a valuable lesson -- and cheap at the price, in an overall context. Hence:

The Third Law of Confusion: Sometimes things are going more right when they're going wrong.

In principle, we can't know which we're seeing: right according to expectation, or right in a wider context. And yet, somehow, we often can: at times we can indeed have an inner sense of knowing, an inner certainty about the likely outcome of events, quite different from the usual rightness of logic and analysis.

We can't reach that clarity through trying to plan for everything, to allow for every possible variation: analysis -- certainly analysis alone -- is not enough. The First Law of Confusion, with its infinite regression of causes endlessly looping back into themselves, makes that quite impossible. In fact, despite the popular notion that technology is a purely analytical application of the laws of science, we don't actually work much that way ourselves in practice:

How do you originate new ideas in your work -- especially when you're stuck?

If your answer to that kind of question is that you do solve every problem by a formal analysis, you're either working on a really simplified technology in some kind of protected environment isolated from Reality Department -- such as in school, for example -- or else you haven't been looking closely enough. It's true that we do indeed use a great deal of analysis as we work, to test a series of guesses or hypotheses as we go along: but the process by which we build those hypotheses is hardly rational at all. The rationality of logic always depends on assumptions for its validity: yet those assumptions ultimately come from something beyond logic. Somehow, those assumptions have to be rooted in Reality Department: logic itself cannot provide that link. Without that, we're stuck: endlessly frustrated, endlessly adrift in a sea of academic exercises, unable to anchor ourselves to reality.

Science provides us with the logic for applied science: it's through this 'something else' that we find our ideas of how to apply it. If we can improve how we use this 'something else', we'll certainly improve our technology.

We call this 'something else' by various names -- inspiration, intuition, awareness or whatever -- but naming does not of itself help us to understand it, or use it. In fact, the closer we try to analyse it, the less we understand about the whole process: trying to grasp it is like trying to catch hold of a shadowy nothingness. It even seems to be beyond definition: we can analyse exactly what analysis is, but the meaning of intuition, it seems, we can only intuit. Like magic: now you see it, now you don't.

Whatever it is, the true magic of technology lies in intuition, which exists in us and through us. In a way, it is us. And if we fail to include intuition in our technology, we are left with that all-too-common feeling of being unwanted and irrelevant, of being excluded from the workings of the world -- a feeling which is, once again, anything but magical.

But if intuition underpins analysis, analysis is surely the wrong way to try to understand it! By its very nature, intuition is paradoxical, elusive, difficult to comprehend directly: it does not, in fact cannot, be controlled in the way we can with analysis. Like magic, it simply disappears when we try too hard to control things -- or people. But whilst intuition may be beyond any tidy system of control, neither is it haphazard or random: as with certain kinds of mathematics, behind its apparent chaos is an even eerier kind of order. Intuition is indeed beyond our control, in the usual sense of the word: if we try to pin it down to an absolute control, we can guarantee that sooner or later things will go wrong -- the origins of Murphy's Law. Yet we can learn how to direct it: by making conscious use of our intuitive awareness in our work, and watching how we do so, we can learn to know how to let things go right.

Most things do work mostly the way we expect: but nothing ever works quite the way we expect. That's Reality Department: full of paradox, chaos and confusion. Once we accept that reality is like that, and go with its weird ways rather than fighting against them, we can put intuition to practical use in the way we work. By studying the ways we can apply our intuition -- paradoxical though they often are -- we can build a quite different kind of technology, one that actually is of use in the real world. Intuitive technology allows us to reach the real magic of the mind -- with consequences that can indeed be magical, in every sense of the word. We could, in fact, answer Arthur C. Clarke by saying:

Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. [2]

That's intuitive technology. It's the other side of the toolkit of technology, the other side of the mind.

Two sides of the mind

'The appliance of science' has played a very large part in the process of realising technology, but we need to remember that ultimately it's people, in all their complexity, that have made it all real, in a magical act of creation. This is true of science itself, of course, as Ian Beveridge makes clear in his now-classic book The Art Of Scientific Investigation:

Elaborate apparatus plays an important part in the science of today, but I sometimes wonder if we are not inclined to forget that the most important instrument in research must always be the mind [of the researcher]. It is true that much time and effort is devoted to training and equipping the scientist's mind, but little attention is paid to the technicalities of making the best use of it.[3]


In other words, in order to work real magic with technology, we need an inner technology, a technology of mind. ('Technology of mind' is another name for magic, of course.) One that combines the clarity of logic and analysis with a wider intuitive awareness -- an intuitive technology that works smoothly with the subtle twists of reality rather than trying (and failing) to overcome them by brute force.

The key point is that while the outward form of the technology will change with each application, this inner toolkit, 'the technicalities of making the best use of the mind', remains much the same for all. As Beveridge -- or, for that matter, any of those books on 'Zen and the Art of This-That-And-The-Other' -- implies, the inner core of every skill is the same: yet only in a way that is confusingly subtle and paradoxical. This inner core of skills is a skill in itself: by learning it and understanding how it can be used -- accepting its paradoxes and treating it as a technology in its own right -- we can apply it to any outward technology, any practical skill in the real world.

One place to start is with how we interpret reality as we see it. Strictly speaking, every event is simply a coincidence -- a 'co-incidence' -- from which we derive meaning according to how we see it and choose to interpret it. There's a fundamental paradox -- Gooch's Paradox -- which goes:

Things have not only to be seen to be believed<br/> But also often have to be believed to be seen.[4]

For convenience as much as anything else, the level of science presented in schools purports to define a fixed and objective view of reality; but the definition of 'objective reality' has changed dramatically over the centuries, and clearly will continue to do so. Science itself has undergone radical changes, scientific revolutions, that have changed our entire perception of reality. [5] Even now, our view of reality can change from day to day -- as an example, watch your own changing reactions to some political event (such as, at the time of writing, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall) as it unfolds over a period of days and weeks. You'll see that to a very large extent, we choose what is 'real' -- or possible -- and what is not.

It all depends on our point of view -- how we choose our point of view, how we choose our mode of interpretation. So how do we choose how to interpret events?

In a way, we could quite literally say that we're always in two minds about this. According to one well-known (if sometimes over-extended) model, the two sides of the brain operate in startlingly different ways -- the two hemispheres of the brain acting almost as two different personalities, two sides of the mind, interpreting reality quite separately, and comparing the results through a link-structure (the 'corpus callosum') across the middle of the brain. The left-hand side of the brain (which, because of 'cross-wiring', primarily controls the right-hand side of the body) interprets events in a structured, mainly logical way; the right-hand side interprets more intuitively, through association and analogy.[6] The right-hand side of the brain controls the left-hand side of the body: hence the association of the left hand with things strange and sinister (the Latin word for 'left'), such as art and dreams and, of course, intuition -- all those things that are not quite right to those who'd prefer their world to be neat, tidy, ordered, structured, consistent.

Preferences or not, we do in fact have both sides of the brain -- both sides of the mind -- within each of us. But if we rely too much on the structured mode of the left-hand side of the brain -- a common tendency with our present worldview and its dominant style of training -- we get lost in logic, in 'scientism', preferring structure to reality; and if we overbalance the other way, the tendency would be to prefer dreams over reality (typified by the excesses of the much-hyped 'New Age' movement). The trick in our 'technology of mind' is to keep the two modes in balance, to put each mode to effective use at the appropriate time -- to know when, and how much, to use each, and when to switch from one to the other as the dominant mode.

To illustrate this, imagine a mapping in which the two modes -- the analytic and the intuitive -- can be shown as two bars on a bar-chart, overlaid on top of each other. At each moment the effective, although constantly shifting, interpretation of reality -- part analytic, part intuitive -- can be shown as a pattern on this plane. For example, there's a common expression that describes well our overall experience of the changes of the modes of the mind:

Technology is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

Analysis provides the hard work, the part of technology that we can most easily see; but without that small, almost invisible 'one percent' of intuition to provide the inspiration that shows us what to do, nothing would happen. Every technology does use 'rule-following' analysis intensively, but we also occasionally need the wider intuitive awareness to show us how to get unstuck, to show us what to do, and when, and why. On the bar-chart map, we could show this relationship with the intuitive mode as a dot barely visible on a line representing the dominant analytic mode:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 1 inch]]

[[CAPTION 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration]]

[[END FIGURE]]

There are times, though, when the intuitive mode can, and does, come to the fore: when we're stuck, we need a great deal more than that mere '1% inspiration'! And there are other times when our usage of the two modes might almost exactly match each other -- sometimes leading to a certain amount of confusion as to how best to interpret what is going on, though.

Using the bar-chart mapping, we could model these changes -- rotating from analytic mode as dominant, through neither dominant, then intuitive dominant, back through the balance-point, and back to analytic again -- as a graphic sequence something like this:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

[[CAPTION Changing modes of the mind]]

[[END FIGURE]]

As we look at the different aspects of intuitive technology, the inner core of skills, we can use this as a map to show the changing modes of the mind at each stage -- each stage being one of the twists and turns of our other map, the labyrinth.

Round the bend

Learning a new skill is a confusing maze, a labyrinth -- it has so many twists and turns that it can drive you round the bend if you're not careful. And as you might expect, most of our usual training does everything it can to prevent us from getting things to work. According to what we learnt in school, learning a skill is simple linear process: you learn a bit of information, then you apply it; then you learn a bit more, and apply that; then a little more; and so on. In other words, it's supposed to be 'applied science' again: theory first, then practice, in a smooth upward progression of control.

The reality is rather different. It's true that we do usually need to go through some stages before we can reach others -- such as developing hand-eye coordination before we can use a pen, for example -- but the whole learning process is anything but smooth. There's the familiar beginner's-luck phase, in which we can get remarkable results without knowing much about the skill at all; and there's the all-too-familiar phase that follows directly after beginner's luck, in which nothing works at all. There are times when things work well; and times when they get noticeably worse, even in the most experienced hands. Masters make mistakes that not even a rank beginner would do; apprentices produce momentary masterpieces in the midst of months of monstrosities more typical of their expected level of skill. If we're going to understand the learning process, the background to our intuitive technology, can't just dismiss these strange variations as irrelevant 'noise': we need a model which can include them as part of the overall pattern.

The labyrinth, the traditional unicursal maze, provides us with exactly that sort of model:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

[[CAPTION The labyrinth]]

[[END FIGURE]]

Variants on this pattern can be found all over Europe, as rock-carvings, as turf mazes, even as patterns on cathedral floors; and it can be found in many other places in the world, from the coins of Minoan Crete (the original labyrinth, perhaps) to traditional drawings by the Hopi Indians of Arizona.[7] What it meant, or means, to each of those cultures is still obscure; but for our purposes it works well as a map of the labyrinthine process of acquiring new skills.

There's only one path in the labyrinth. So in principle, all you have to do to get to the middle -- to mastery of the skill -- is to keep going. Simple enough: but it's not as simple as it looks. (In skills, nothing is ever as simple as it looks.) And it's a much longer journey than it looks at first sight, too. You have to keep your wits about you the whole time in the labyrinth: it looks simple enough, but it's easy to lose your way even on the diagram above, let alone in the real thing. Just like in the real world, there are times when you move closer to the centre; and then the next thing you know, you're further away from it than when you started. Or if you try to cheat by jumping over one of the walls, you'll find yourself moving outward instead of moving in -- short-cuts often turn out to be the long way round in the maze as in reality.

In this version of the labyrinth -- one of the most common -- the path makes seven turns, seven partial circuits, before reaching the centre. We can map these circuits as different stages of the learning process; and we can label these stages as a succession of layers of progressively greater awareness and ability:


[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

survival; self; control; caring; communication; mind; meditation

[[CAPTION Layers of the labyrinth]]

[[END FIGURE]]

We have to pass through each of these stages to achieve mastery of the skill -- a nice simple sequence of survival, self, control, caring, communication, mind, mastery. Simple enough: except that, in the labyrinth as in real life, we actually encounter them in the wrong order. Nothing is quite what it seems. Once we commit ourselves to the skill, we start almost in the middle and work our way outward: from beginner's luck to what looks like control, then an awareness of where we ourselves fit in, followed by a steady collapse into chaos where what skill we have seems to be fighting for survival, actually further out than where we started. Then there's a kind of breakthrough point, to which the key is trust and caring about what you do and how you do it: this leads directly to something that looks, even feels, outwardly at least, like mastery, though it's more accurately a kind of meditative state in which we learn to let things work. But once again there's an outward movement, a re-loosening of control, as we try to understand in our minds -- creating a science, a structure of knowledge -- about how we do what we do; and it's only through communicating this to others that we finally let go into a state which links all of these stages together and which truly could be called mastery.

Intuitive technology, our understanding of the nature of the maze, is like Theseus' clue of thread in the original Labyrinth of the Minotaur: it provides us with a way in -- and a way out when we need it. There are twists and turns, just like a maze, but if we just accept it for what it is, and keep going, we'll get there easily enough in the end.

Threading the maze

The only part of the sequence of the learning process that's presented in conventional training is the outer section: survival, self, control. That's assumed to be all you'll need to know: after all, the rest is 'applied science'. The inner section of the maze is sometimes allowed for in traditional apprenticeships, as something you learn it 'on the job': caring, communication, mind, mastery. But what both styles of education seem to have missed is that the sequence is not linear, not a simple progression. What we actually experience is a quite different sequence: control, self, survival; then caring, meditation, mind, communication; leading to a kind of mastery that links all of them together. And at each stage, each turn in the maze, there's a change in which mode of mind is dominant: sometimes we turn to the left, to the precision of logic, and sometimes to the right, needing a wider awareness. The whole labyrinth is a process of learning to balance the two: thinking narrow, precise, yet being wide open and aware.

Try it by tracing the path of the maze with a matchstick -- or, if you can, draw the maze out on the ground in your backyard at full size (about thirty feet diameter is best), and run it. And compare these descriptions at each stage and each turn with some of your own experiences:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

beginner's luck; control; self; survival;

'dark night of the soul'; caring; meditation; mind;

communication; linking (beginner's mind)

[[CAPTION Threading the maze]]

[[END FIGURE]]

As you enter the labyrinth you'll find that you move almost immediately to be very near the centre. This is beginner's luck: you know what the target is, but you don't know any 'right' way of doing it -- and since you want to get there, you get there your own way, the way that suits you best.

It works, and works well, for a short while: then stops. Right, you may well say, how can I improve on this: you make a leftward turn into logic, trying to analyse what makes it work. Thinking hard, and asking around of various authorities who happen to be passing on paths close by you in the maze (but the opposite way, as you'll notice later), you try harder, trying to regain control, collecting more and more information but never quite reaching the centre.

Eventually you come round to a corner, a decision point. This way, of analysis, no longer works well, partly because it has to include you in its calculations. Hence a right-hand turn: time to look inward, to the subjective side of skill. And back round the circle, testing your subjective judgements.

Another decision point: this doesn't seem to be working well either, because subjective judgements alone are not reliable. So you make another left-hand turn towards analysis, trying out the way in which you started. But this isn't the same: the techniques haven't changed, but you have. Trying to analyse what's going on, including yourself, and chaotically flipping between one method and another, you'll find yourself actually further out than when you started: and nothing seems to work.

This seems to be a dead end, 'the dark night of the soul'. No ordinary move will break out of here. What's needed is actually a sideways move, across both analysis and intuition, very much like that strange mode of beginner's luck: one that does take a certain amount of trust. Once you make that move round that curve, instead of jumping out of the maze in despair -- and the key seems to be a peculiar kind of letting go, 'giving in-wards' -- almost immediately you're close to the centre again. (It's sudden, immediate, a kind of breakthrough point, the onset of 'second wind' -- a kind of level-jump that's difficult to show in the two-dimensional plane of the labyrinth.)

You've now done the outer work, the background: as with riding a bicycle, from now on you'll never really forget the skill. But the changes in the next three sweeps, from one mode to another, are even faster than in the outer section of the labyrinth: you need to pay attention more than ever before. First intuitively: if you don't care, involve yourself in the work, you cannot get good results in the end. Then leftward into analysis again, but in a quiet, meditative, watchful way that reacts without needing time to think.

The next move is a tight turn to the right -- intuitive mode -- but outward once more: it seems at first that we may have lost the 'almost-mastery' of the last circuit. But look again at what's asked of you: you need to pay attention to balance, both outwardly and in your inner balance of your choice of the appropriate mode of mind.

The final path probably won't feel like it, since you're quite some way from the centre now. In fact you're right next to the first path of the labyrinth -- 'control' -- and it's here that you'll be most aware of others just entering the maze. The flavour here is communication, helping others learn the maze, helping others to reach your level of skill: communication is also community, in that what you do always affects others, and is always affected by them. The catch is that, in the usual twisted paradoxes of the maze, you're here passing by in the opposite direction to them. Your own experience here and now may be more of a hindrance to them than a help: if you're not careful, you may confuse them in the process of explaining, since you're always looking outward from experience while they're looking inward without it. The frustrating "Don't do as I do, do as I say" may be about all you can say to them: but you know that you do at least have to try. To do more than that, you have to remember where at was like for you then, to remember, both in thought and in feeling, what it was like for you at that stage.

That process of remembering, of communicating, forces you to link up within you all the stages of the labyrinth, every stage of the journey and the changes that you've passed through. And without warning, the whole process completes: a kind of octave jump, in which you're simultaneously both in the centre and in all of the stages of the labyrinth. That's mastery of the skill: all the way from beginner's luck to a kind of freshness and clarity that we might well call 'beginner's mind'. It's been a longer journey than it looked at first, perhaps, but now you know: you have the knowledge of how to use the skill, of how to use you with it, through it, of how to use the modes of mind as a toolkit to work on and in the real world.

Every skill is like that. With most skills it's not so obvious as this -- there's so much mechanical detail to learn for each, so many differing physical manipulations to master, that the sameness gets concealed. But whilst the outer form changes, the inner structure, the twisted labyrinth of paradox and purpose, always remains much the same.

Out in the real world

Like every model, the labyrinth is a simplification, a two-dimensional map. In reality, the process is much more intricate and multi-dimensional: labyrinths within labyrinths, layers within layers within layers. Like the mathematical images of chaos, [8] each Stage of the labyrinth contains sub-labyrinths of its own, perhaps ad infinitum: we certainly experience the learning process that way. Simple map though it is, it does describe well the flavour of the process: so the remainder of this book uses the labyrinth as its map and its structure to explore the learning process in more detail.

But we also need something more concrete than a map: we need a real skill to learn. You'll no doubt find plenty of examples of your own as we explore each stage of the labyrinth: but for continuity we'll keep referring to two particular skills as we go along. One is very much a manual skill: juggling. And the other is a great deal more subtle and elusive, but certainly more useful: the 'inner clock', helping us to keep track of time without mechanical help.

Juggling

Juggling is easy. There's nothing to it. All you have to do is throw a ball or a bean-bag into the air, and catch it. And throw another ball or bean-bag into the air, and catch that. And another, and catch that too. There's only one problem: there's not quite enough time to do it all at once...

Like every true skill, juggling is neither as easy as it looks, nor as easy as any description can make it sound. And like almost every true skill, the way in which you learn it is rather different from the skill as finally practiced.

Try it.[9] Find or make three small bean-bags, or something else with that kind of weight that's about the size of a two-inch cube. (You need to be able to fit two of them in the palm of your hand.) Practice throwing one of them from one hand to the other, in a smooth even curve that rises roughly to chin-level:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

[[CAPTION Juggling: the 'toss']]

[[END FIGURE]]

As the diagram shows, bring the throwing hand inward in a kind of rotating motion; catch it with the other hand at the outward part of the rotation, ready to bring it inward to throw it back. Roll it from side to side, from one hand to the other, keeping the top of the throw rising to as close to the same point as you can. (And yes, most people do drop it several -- many -- times before they get the hang of it.)

After you've practiced the 'toss' for a while, try doing the 'switch' with two bags:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

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[[CAPTION Juggling: the 'switch']]

[[END FIGURE]]

As in the diagram, hold one bag in each hand: toss one up, and as it reaches its peak, toss the other upward to the same level. (You're tossing upward at the inner part of that rotary movement of the hands, and catching at the outer part, so the two bags shouldn't hit each other.) Avoid the temptation to throw the second bag across -- usually in panic, with the feeling of 'I gotta get rid of this bag before the other one lands!' -- rather than upwards, exactly as in the toss. Practice the switch for a while, first with one hand leading, then with the other, until it becomes second nature: toss one bag, toss the other as the first reaches its peak, then catch, and catch (or, more likely, catch and drop); then start again.

When you can switch evenly from either hand for several passes, add the third bag. With two bags in one hand and one in the other, toss a bag from the two-bag hand; as it reaches its peak, toss the second from the one-bag hand; then, as the first bag lands and the second reaches its peak, toss the third bag. As that reaches its peak and the second lands, toss the first back again.

One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three. Just like that.

Easy enough in principle, not so easy in practice: one-two-drop... one-two-throw-somewhere... one-two-drop...

It is possible, though it almost certainly won't feel like it when you start. It's just that everything has to be done quickly and accurately: there's no time at all to spare for the mind to get in the way. In that sense, as you'll discover, juggling becomes a very good mirror of how well you can perform the juggling-act of balancing the modes of the mind.

The inner clock

The inner clock is an even better mirror of the mind, for the simple reason that that's almost all there is to it. In fact it's very difficult to say what it is, other than a sense of time of which you learn to be aware.

The idea of the skill is very simple: to know at any moment which time it is, or what season, or how much time has elapsed. Every animal has some sense of time, an inner clock: for some animals, it's much better than for others: foraging birds manage to get back to their nests at dusk, regardless of the weather or the distance they have to travel home. We have a sense of time too, apparently a good one: the trouble is that most of us have long since forgotten that it's there, and have become so reliant on mechanical tools for the job, that it's all but disappeared from under-use. But it's still there: we just have to know how to bring it out, to re-educate it -- literally 'out-lead' it -- from within us.

As a child at boarding school I often needed to get up early to complete unfinished homework: but I wasn't allowed to use an alarm-clock -- too unfair on other sleepers! I then found, like many people, that just needing to get up at a specific time seemed to set up some kind of alarm clock inside me, one that would wake me at almost exactly that time. Every now and then, though, it let me down (spectacularly so, on a couple of occasions...), as pure intuitive senses will -- it wasn't totally trustworthy. But neither is a real clock totally trustworthy: everyone's watch shows a different time, and batteries fail without warning (as happened to me this morning, in fact). And in fog or cloudy weather we can't even tell the time from the sun and stars. So what can we use to know our position in time?

One answer: look inside, as animals do. We still have no clear idea how they keep track of time: it's probably best to understand it as something that's built up from the merging and comparison of many different mechanisms into a single effective 'sense'. Mostly, the sense of time remains internal, as some kind of internal trigger: but using that idea of merging of senses as a model, one way we can perhaps get at this 'sense of time' externally is to direct it to be expressed as a reflex movement of your hand. Given that, you could, for example, hold a small weight on a string in that hand, so that this sense can move the weight to point out a direction, just like a clock:

[[BEGIN FIGURE]]

[[RESERVE 3 inches]]

[[CAPTION Using a weight as a 'clock']]

[[END FIGURE]]

Tie a small weight to a short length of thread -- ideally something like a builder's plumb-bob, but a used tag-teabag will do fine. Hold the thread between finger and thumb, and swing the weight back and forth as in the diagram. Tell yourself that the fore-and-aft swing indicates the hour mark (twelve o'clock). And ask the weight -- literally, ask it, as if it were animate -- to change its axis of swing to point out the time of hour, with the leading edge pointing to the appropriate clock position for the minute hand. Let it move, so that it feels as if it's moving of its own accord (it isn't, but don't worry about it either way). And like magic -- if you're clear about what you're doing, and especially if you don't try to control it -- it will move to point to the correct minute time.

It does work -- with practice, and if you let it do so. Don't worry about why or how: there are plenty of reasons -- almost too many reasons -- for why it should work. At this stage, just consider it as an exercise in understanding Gooch's Paradox: it not only has to be seen to be believed, but also to some extent has to be believed to be seen. That's part of the magic of this technology of mind -- and every other technology.

And at this stage, if you let it, it may indeed work very well -- as we shall see, as we now move into the 'Beginner's Luck' stage of the labyrinth itself.


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[note] Definitions, or rather descriptions, for the usage of many terms are in the Glossary at the end of the book.  [back]

[1] Examples are Godel's Theorem, or the well-known 'butterfly effect' in meteorology. For more details, and more examples, see James Gleick, Chaos[back]

[2] Richard Elen, unpublished manuscript.  [back]

[3] W.I.B. Beveridge, The Art Of Scientific Investigation, Preface. [back]

[4] Stan Gooch, in a letter to New Scientist magazine.  [back]

[5] See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and James Burke, The Day The Universe Changed, for an academic and popular discussion respectively of the impact of historical changes of 'objective' reality. [back]

[6] For more details, see Robert Ornstein, The Psychology of Consciousness -- one of the earlier presentations, but still one of the best. [back]

[7] For more examples, see Janet and Colin Bord, Mazes and Labyrinths[back]

[8] Such as the Mandelbrot set, illustrated in the colour section of James Gleick, Chaos[back]

[9] The following instructions are adapted from Juggling for the Complete Klutz, a (highly recommended) book that comes complete with three bean-bag cubes for juggling. [back]
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