Chapter 19b




Jon inquired, “For instance?”


“Now we are getting into my field” said the professor comfortably.  Forgive me if I seem to taunt you a little.  There is a shelf of books behind me.  Do you see them?”




“Now look away.  How many are there?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t count them.”


“Count them now without looking.”


“Let’s see.  The shelves are about six feet high, at about a foot a shelf.  The shelves are about four feet wide so there are about twenty four feet of shelf space, or two hundred eighty eight inches.  One book per inch would be two hundred eighty eight books.”


“Very good indeed.  Now look again.  It looks like there is a clock on that shelf, occupying a foot of shelf space.  And look at these thin journals. A shelf and a half of journals none more than a quarter inch thick.  Did you see those things?”


“Yes, but I didn’t remember them.”


“But you can see them all now.  I mean the ones you could easily count from where you sit.”


“Yes, of course.”


“Let us test that.  Look at this computer screen.”  The professor turned a computer monitor around for Jon to see.  He punched at a keyboard on his desk and the screen lit up.  “Do you see those books?”  Little icons of books, some red some blue, were arranged in rows.


“Yes, I do.”


“How many are there?  You can look.”


“Five rows of five.  Twenty five books.”


“Good.  Now keep looking.”


Professor Scandius punched another button, and the books began do drift merrily around on the screen.  The border flashed and changed color occasionally.


After several moments Scandius went on, “Pay no attention to the flashing border.  It is only there to distract you.  It is the oldest magician’s trick there is.  Now how many books?”


“Twenty five.”


Scandius pressed another key.  The books promptly moved back in order.  There were five rows of five and one row of two.


“Twenty two,” said Jon.  “Try that again.”


Scandius started the demonstration again.  Presently he said, “I can see the change.  But of course I have watched it a thousand times.”


Jon said, “They must be disappearing behind each other.”


“No, the computer is not programmed to do that.  But tell me if you see it happen.”  He waited a bit longer and pressed a key again.  The books reordered themselves.


“Twenty five books,” said Jon. 


“Yes,” said the professor, “The test can be done in any number of ways.  But the fact is that you cannot prove you can see all the books.  The slightest distraction to keep you from seeing the actual act of vanishing, the motion, and you cannot tell whether one has come or gone.”


He switched off the computer. 


“So you see the real puzzle is not that we are aware of things without knowing it.  It is that we think we are aware of things and we are not.


“Think about the evolution of it.  An ape can travel forty miles an hour from the top of the tree to the bottom.  Every few feet he must grab a new branch.  He is not strong enough to stop himself at that speed by grabbing and holding a single branch.  So he must be working a few branches ahead, judging the size and distance of each branch, evaluating it for its position so he can get a good hold on it, estimating the degree of springiness – how far it is going to bend as he puts weight on it – and gauging the surface.  It is an incredible amount of calculation to perform at such speed.  And yet he does and does so quite accurately.”


“So we did not evolve to be able to judge the whole environment,” said Jon.


“Correct,” said the professor.  We rather evolved to select parts of the environment and judge them while ignoring other parts.  That is what our brain is good for.  You only looked at select books and the rest you just assumed were all right.”


“That’s so strange.”


“But it would have to be that way.  Like the ape with a branch, you can look at a book and at a glance gauge its heft, it’s texture, what it probably will smell like and how the pages will sound as you turn them.  To do that for the entire shelf at a split second would require a super computer.  It would be like an ape being able to judge two hundred branches in the time it takes to reach for one.  He simply has no need for that.  Your brain is bigger than that of an ape, but it is not two hundred times as big as an ape’s brain.”


“So I am really only seeing a few books.  But I swear I can see them all at once.”


“All day you live in a world full of color and detail, you are able to evaluate with great subtlety things around yourself, and as far as you are concerned the whole world in front of you is evaluated thus all the time.  But when I test for that evaluation, I cannot find it.”


“But we all know we can see all of these things.  We can agree on that much,” said Jon.


“No.  We all think we see all of the things before us, but when we do a specific test we must all agree that the perception is not there.  Your awareness, your observation of a whole world, your very will – there is no way to prove they exist at all.”


“In other words,” said Hapgood.  “Your awareness of yourself is like your awareness of God.  There is no scientific evidence for it or against it.  It is outside the world of experiment, and the evidence for the two is equal.”


“Yes, you could put it that way.  And now do you see why the world seems so spooky?”


“I certainly see that the world seems spooky.  So the bottom line is to ignore anything spooky,” said Jon.


“Not necessarily.  There are things you are aware of that you don’t know you are aware of.  They may come as a hunch or as a premonition.  It may be useful to play a hunch, to investigate it.  That is particularly true if it is a matter in which you have much interest and experience.  You may have summed up ten thousand clues into a pattern and not have realized it.  But remain most skeptical.  You see how easily your senses are fooled.  Your hunches are probably far more treacherous.” 


They left the professor and had a late lunch at a student watering place.  Some students were singing rugby songs.  The jolly undergraduates were so merry it seemed as if their lives had no other purpose.  The grand, ancient and austere colleges around them made the student company seem all the more pleasant. 


The four emerged shortly after dark.  As they approached the car Ivan said, “Get in the car fast.  It’s less than two hours from London.” 


Hapgood began to say that he didn’t think they were going to London, but the others shoved him in, and the car lurched into traffic.  Ivan drove like one possessed through the old town and finally emerged onto a major road.  He looked in the rear view.  “We’re being followed.”


They would have been happy to have had James and the Grand National at that moment.  Ivan pushed the rental car for all it was worth and tried to shake the pursuit.  It was not going well.  The car behind was far more powerful and professionally driven.


Ivan turned down a country lane.  The stranger’s headlights glared behind them.  Ivan said, “Maybe I should say I have a hunch we’re being followed.”  There were high hedges on either side, both a protection and a straight jacket.  Neither car could make a decisive move in the narrow confines of the right of way.


Ivan turned onto a wider road and called for everything the car could give.  The car behind was rapidly closing the distance.  Their car was fairly lofted into the air by an abrupt hill.  As they came down behind the hill Ivan killed the lights and lit up the brakes, shrieking to a halt and leaving the road through a tiny gap in the hedge.  Seconds later the lights of the other car cleared the hill.  It came roaring past.  Someone inside must have noticed them, because it rapidly slowed and executed a fast three point turn.


Ivan drove back onto the pavement, gunned the engine and started toward the other car, going down the middle of the road with his lights still off.  As the other car neared and gained speed, Ivan turned his headlights on bright.  The other car veered to avoid the head-on collision.  Ivan killed the lights and veered at the last instant.  The other car crashed into hedge and stopped.  Ivan drove with no lights for a few miles and took some random turns before slowing down and turning the lights back on.


“Well done, Ivan,” said Hapgood.  “Who were they?”


“It must have been one of the groups we dealt with before.  They could have come up from London in the time we’ve been here.  But at least they didn’t send their best talent,” said Ivan. 


British Air flight 4 from New York to London was unusually crowded that night.


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