The scene reminds me of a feast scene from the French comic book Asterix. All of us sit around a big hewn-wood table loaded with food. Everyone is laughing, animated, gesturing, grabbing food, drinking wine. I'm envious, and a little embarrassed. I smile and chuckle when everyone laughs, but I don't have a clue what they are talking about. As I look around the table, every single mouth is either laughing, eating, or talking. How can they all talk at once and still understand what is said?
I watch closely. They do it: talk and listen at the same instant. I think they do. I can't be sure since they are all speaking French at full volume and top speed.
So I just eat, smile, and watch. What a happy bunch. These Caldoche sure know how to throw a party. I look around. Yves Magnier's home is on a bluff overlooking the broad lagoon south of Noumea. His sister-in-law, Monique, is sitting at my elbow, his wife, Danielle, is across the table, next to Yves. His two daughters are eating at a separate table. Freddy sits across from me. She smiles when I look up at her. The others are friends of Yves.
My eyes keep straying down the table to Yves. He has a charming, magnetic personality. Handsome, clean features, a soft deep voice, a continual pleasant little smile on his face, even, cultured, unhurried, familiar, warm, nice. He sees me looking at him and smiles back, says something in English. Whatever he says is lost in the general shouting. But I get the meaning - "How are you getting along?" I answer with a nod and a brief toast with the beer glass.
Yves is the director of the Aquarium here in Noumea, a role he performs as a chemist/biologist of the French oceanographic scientific organization of the Pacific - ORSTOM. Originally, the Aquarium de Noumea was a small operation run by a French marine biologist named Rene Catala. When he retired, ORSTOM took it over and put Yves in charge of it.
Right after we returned from Ouvea, Monique took us over to see the Aquarium and meet Yves. It was a small place, for a civic aquarium. The Sea done in miniature. Well done, too. Each small tank was a tiny tableau of life on the coral reef. Yves designed a new wing for the Aquarium, with tanks full of deep lagoon corals. He dedicated the addition to fluorescence in the Sea and when Yves switched on the black lights for us, the corals of New Caledonia glowed with unearthly beauty. Corals are extremely difficult to keep in captivity but, for some reason, they do well in the Aquarium du Noumea. It is, I think, the best aquarium display of living corals in the world.
His design talents are also evident in his house, a split level Mediterranean home, modern, with white stucco walls and heavy dark wood beams. The house glows with the presence of Yves, Danielle and their children. Lots of little treasures from their adventures in Africa, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific adorn the shelves and tables. They also have a house in Noumea: a big utilitarian suburban house provided by the French Government for Yves as one of ORSTOM's executive researchers.
Dinner falters and people start getting up, shaking down the masses of food, mixing little cups of thick coffee, lighting up cigars and cigarettes, putting arms around shoulders, laughing. A wood box of small cigars comes down the table and I pick one out. It is pure tobacco and perfectly made: a rare find in this age of pressed paper cigars. I hardly ever smoke, but I make an exception for quality like this. Freddy says something to me about Yves and I rejoin the party, "What?"
"I said Yves prepared dinner himself, he's quite a chef!" I try to agree but Monique is laughing at the moment, a big loud happy table slapping laugh, so I just nod and smile. I get up and take my coffee down into the living room. Yves joins me and says, "Why don't we sit out on the veranda?"
We light up our cigars and sprawl on the white lawn chairs. I can just see Noumea in the distance. The day is sunny and bright and the lagoon is calm. I can just make out the big light house on the barrier reef. Very agreeable. "A wonderful lunch, Yves, you are an excellent chef as well as being an impressive architect," I wave my hand at the house.
People wander out onto the veranda. They talk comfortably in French. I have given up trying to understand them. Instead I try to look like the quiet type. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll come accross like a quasi-intelligent animal. Anyway, I'm happy to just watch Yves talking with his friends. They gradually settle down into a heavy after lunch lethargy. Yves and I are left drifting together in a little eddy of the friendly currents. The moment we are in social solitude he smiles and says, "And so, Please tell me about yourself. What are you doing here in the Pacific?"
I start to give some sort of evasive answer but stop, sip my coffee, puff the cigar, and look at Yves. Here is a man I really admire. Man of the Sea, diver, researcher, engineer, architect, artist, and a very warm and friendly person. I want to talk with him. I want to tell him what I am really doing out here in the Pacific. But over the years I've learned how hard it is to get anyone to understand. Impossible, in fact. I've explained and lectured and told stories but have been unable to get more than two people to understand. And all of those people spoke the same language I did. "It's a little hard to explain," I say slowly. "Especially since I don't speak any French."
He smiles a small smile, dismisses my reticence with a wave of his hand, "Try."
"OK. I am on an expedition. A sort of treasure hunt for a concept, an idea I have been searching for. It has to do with evolution and why things happen the way they do," I speak slowly, pausing at the end of every sentence to let him translate and digest it. Yves is, however, a scientist. I don't have to keep it simple.
"I am an evolutionary biologist. To the animals evolving, the forces and ecological conditions guiding the evolutionary process are invisible. To the creatures evolving, evolution is like fate or destiny." I stop for a moment and Yves nods his head, saying OK, go on.
"The forces of evolution operate in the nested layers of communication systems creating all entities." Yves looks confused. I'd better explain nested layers of communication systems.
"Individual beings interact, communicating with each other. The process of their interactions creates something quite different from the individuals themselves. As Buckminster Fuller pointed out, the behavior of the parts creates a system behaving quite differently, unpredictably, than the parts."
Yves exhales a long thin trail of cigar smoke, smiles and nods.
"We perceive atoms, molecules, bacteria, cells, multicellular creatures, societies of creatures, ecosystems, planets, stars, galaxies but each entity is a communication network linked to layers both higher and lower than itself. I see the communication network - the interactions - the behavior - as the core of reality. The objects we perceive are manifestations of the interactions." I pause and look at him, waiting for a reaction.
"Yes, I agree." He fingers a silver pendant hanging around his neck.
"Well, OK. The guiding forces of evolution are integrated with this nested communication system. We can see the results of the forces involved, but the way they work is invisible to us." Small frown wrinkles appear between his eyebrows. I'll give him an example we are both familiar with. "For instance, on a coral reef you have seen how a thicket of acroporid corals all grow so the ends of the branches terminate at an invisible surface. So, from a distance, the boundary of the thicket looks smooth. How does the whole community determine the limits of the thicket? How does this community limitation impose itself on the growth of each individual polyp on different, unconnected branches of coral?"
Yves looks thoughtful and says, "Yes, I see the question. We can measure the growth and behavior of the individual coral branch and we can, as you say, work out the communications between the living tissues of each branch. But they are not connected because the coral tissue is dead in the lower part of the branches. It is very difficult to imagine how these branches coordinate overall growth in such a thicket. Perhaps currents... Ahh, but no. They reach the same surface in different orientations. Yes, it is a good question."
"The control system integrating the community and the individual is a thread woven through all levels of life. The easiest to examine - the most interesting and sophisticated manifestation of this communication network - is the language system of Man. Do you know where the word man comes from?"
He lifts his hand, wiggles his fingers, "From the word for hand."
"No. I looked it up. It comes from a gothic word, Manna, with an Indo-European root men meaning to think. It also appears in the latin mens meaning mind. Its basic meaning as applied to Mankind is "the one that thinks.""
He accepts this, so I go on, "The one that thinks is not an individual hominid. Man, the one that thinks, is the communication system, the language system, existing between all hominids as they interact with their environment. It forms the invisible three-dimensional envelope delimiting the growth of humanity's behavioral thicket. Take away the language system and there is no man. No words, no science. No words, no architecture: just hominids wandering around the planet like the other animals. The language system controls what the hominids do, what they think, their physically deployment, the conduct of their culture, and the various beliefs and understandings focusing the awareness of each hominid.
"But the language mind of man is only one kind of communication network between individuals. All animals, all plants, all cells, all bacteria, even the atoms and sub-atomic particles are made up of communication networks. These networks manifest and control the actual form - in time and space - of each object we perceive." I pause. Yves just sits and smokes his cigar, looking alert and interested.
"All the communication networks are, themselves, interlocked, nested, entwined. None of them operate by chance or accident. I've never been happy with the idea of evolution as a chance event. Or with the idea of randomness in biological processes. I believe a... ummmm ...the whole network of intercommunications is a kind of unravelling thread of awareness," I gesture around us at the planet and the sea.
"This thread forms what we might call destiny, but not in the classic sense. More in the line of a way of being. A weighing of the statistical pressures on a population resulting in vectors of evolution. The thread is not really a linear object, like a string, but more like a thread of digital signals, analagous, perhaps homologous with digital signals along nerve axons."
"A series of feedback commands are built into the system. The most basic commands are survival, variation and learning. These commands form, I think, the... the... center of the thread of awareness." I am unhappy with the word center, but can't think of the right word and don't want to get into the whole thing of to be, to change, to have direction - the alternate words for survival, variation and learning.
Yves sits patiently. He seems to be attentively following my thoughts. He still says nothing, but his eyes still don't have that glazed-over look most people get when I try to talk about this. I am so encouraged, I blunder on. "I see the phenomenon of life as the physical manifestation of this thread of awareness. I see the evolution of life on the planet as a vast interlocked tapestry of awareness learning new perceptual systems to answer a basic mandate for survival, growth, and reproduction." I take a long puff on the fine cigar and let out the smoke like Yves did, in a long, thin stream. I'm quite pleased with my little summary.
"So. You are a philosopher?" Yves concludes.
"Ummm. Not really. I'm an evolutionary biologist." My spirits plummet. Philosopher may be a polite way of Yves expressing the same "You 'otta start a church," response I get all too often.
"I have read many authors who share your thoughts in one form or another." He smiles his charming smile. "But how will you go about your analysis?"
It is as if I am the one who doesn't speak English. His words don't make any sense at all.
"What is your research plan?" He rephrases his question, observing the blank expression on my face.
A big, good looking man named something like John-a-bear struts out onto the veranda with a huge grin on his face and an enormous platter of cheese. He speaks very little English. Their body language says he is Yves best friend.
While they talk, I run Yves' question through my mind again and again. What IS my research plan? I try a mental answer to his question...
"Well, Yves, actually I don't exactly have a research plan. There is one, but it's not mine. See, here's the idea. I figure this big, integrated communication system might actually work like an independent awareness. Not like you think of an individual being's awareness. Maybe as different from our kind of awareness as ours is from one of the cells of our body. Anyway, I think this collective awareness can lead people.. at least some people.. along by the nose, directing them here and there to show them certain facts. You know, like the gods directing mortals, right? And this planet-wide mind web is telling me where to go and what to do so I'll eventually get the BIG picture and know how the hell it all works.."
That's crazy. I can imagine the look I'd get from him if I said anything even remotely like that. Since they are laughing at something John-a-bear said, I laugh out loud at the insanity of my only real answer. Yves glances quickly at me, his eyes say, "Oh ho! So you do speak French and can understand more than you let on." Which is not true, but I am very adept at reading body language.
My interior dialogue continues, "And your report, Dr. Chesher? How will you analyze and present your findings?"
Ahhh. Now that's the real question. The Three Sisters of Fate, the Moirae, have lead me around by the nose for years. I feel like I know the location and nature of the treasure I seek, what I don't know is how to present it so anyone can understand. How to get through the barriers of communication and describe an experience to someone who has not had it. It is as difficult, perhaps as hopeless, as my understanding anything that was said in the French shouting match during lunch.
Freddy, Yves' wife Danielle, and John-a-bear's wife Marianique come out onto the veranda. Freddy says, "Danielle and Marianique want to see your Kaleidoscopes." Naturally, we have a bunch with us. I never pass up an opportunity to demonstrate kaleidoscopes.
Delighted, childlike smiles all around as I open Freddy's tote bag and withdraw the long bright red velvet sacs containing the Moirascopes. Conversations stop as I take my time undoing the gold-threaded tie and slide one out. Everyone watches closely as I twist off the ebony end plug to open the action chamber and pour out the little shells, pteropods, pea urchins, shark's tooth, and bits of antique glass. Freddy explains, in French, what each object is and about the beaches and islands where we found each little treasure. It's part of the magic. New Guinea sorcerers put small, ugly and powerful objects of nature in a pouch to draw on evil spirits. I put the small, beautiful, pieces of Sea into the Moirascope action chamber to draw on delightful inner visions.
As I hand it to Yves the words, "We alter our field of perception, become new patterns of behavior" flash into my mind. The phrase comes with the same kind of deja vue recognition I felt with "the caverns of seas remembering."
I hand out the rest of the Moirascopes. There are five standard one inch diameter brass with ebony end plugs and optical quality mirrors. I also have two of my big 1.5" diameter neuron busters and two reality scopes. Reality scopes kaleidoscope the world using a special nest of lenses. Everyone gathers in groups of two or three peering into my little brass tubes, twisting them, watching the mind-trapping beauty of the kaleidoscopes unfurl in an ever changing display.
Normally, I would give a little explanation of kaleidoscopy as they look. But it wouldn't work if I did it in English and I can't do it in French. So I sit and smile absently while my mind kaleidoscopes the strange phrase about altering awareness with the scene of all these people peering into my hand-made kaleidoscopes. The instruments alter their field of perception and everyone changes their patterns of behavior.
It is the usual mixture of results. Some people look in and are transfixed, hypnotized, enthralled at the blaze of beauty and change in the dark field kaleidoscopes. Others look through them for less than a second and then put them down, embarrassed, glancing around to see if others were watching them while their attention was locked inside the tube.
I look inside my own mind. The magic words my inner voice presented blossom into a vast, complicated world of thought. They shift and combine with reflections from deep down inside. "We alter our field of perception, become new patterns of behavior." When I look in one of my own Moirascopes, I often feel a thrill, I made the instrument but it possesses a kind of independence beyond my control. The vision in the Moirascope changes in ways I can't predict. In the same way, the new phrase evokes a self-sufficient awareness inside me. An awareness with its own meaning and behavior. Where does the phrase come from? Does it come from some level of my mind below the conscious disk-jockey who is, even now, operating on automatic, encouraging people to peer into Moirascopes on Yves' veranda?
I didn't make up the individual words, I learned them as a child. Yves and a host of other influences contributed to the formation of the phrase. Even if my mind invented the phrase, I don't know how it did it. I don't know how my 10-billion brain cells produce words, let alone phrases. But now the phrase exists, I can feel it controlling me, forcing my mind into colorful patterns.
Like the phrase in Elizabeth Atoll, "We voyage This Magic Sea, bound for destinations of knowledge and understanding." And the one at Ouvea Atoll, "The caverns of Sea's remembering reflect our journey through the horizons of our own perceptions as we lift into new patterns of Knowing." The new phrase has a special life of its own. And it is part of, linked to, the other phrases.
The phrases tunnel down, through an interior hall of reflective mental mirrors, to my memory cores where they index, sort, and display big chunks of data in interlocked, colorful patterns. Mental Moirascopes.
The phrase, We alter our field of perception, become new patterns of behavior, kaleidoscopes my mind and I see:
New perceptions, rising above the horizons of our past, guide us into the future, changing our movements, our next perceptions, our memories. Each field of perception emerges from within and around us, bounded by a framework formed of the memories and past actions of our lives. Memories of how to behave, how to take information from self and surroundings and continue on our voyage, structure our awareness of perceptions.
Our field of perception, determined by our memories and actions, is at once a guide and a limitation. Each new sensory capability leads us into new territories we could not even imagine without that sensory capability, that field of perception. When we alter our fields of perception, we discover new territories and can, from there, move on again in totally new, undreamed of directions. The direction of our movement brings us toward undreamed of destinations.
That's how evolution works. It explains why it is so unpredictable yet results in behavioral forms too perfect to be random chance.
Until the discovery of human science and its technological methods of changing fields of perception, organisms altered their horizons of perceptions only through the slow process of evolution of new physical forms. The evolution of the eye from light sensitive cells gave beings the ability to gather information beyond the horizons of perception of sightless creatures.
The new cellular behavior modes, forming primitive eyes and neural ways of modeling the world in vision, guided creatures into new patterns, new territories of being, and this changed their behavior again so the creatures of our planet evolved a vast array of eyes and even vaster neural system for creating mental visions.
The use of instruments and computers to percieve and measure natural events beyond our individual horizons of perception also alters how we behave and what we will do. Man's technological senses alter fields of perception far more rapidly than the slow process of cellular learning. When transmission of memories moved from the carbon-based internal genetic system to the written language of Man, the evolution of perception leaped forward in amazing new directions. It is still an evolutionary process, but the instructions, the memories of how to build new sensory systems, are now stored in our interhuman memory bank of libraries and computers and transmitted quickly through the human population within and between successive generations of individuals. Microscopes, telescopes, radar, sensors for every imaginable physical parameter have escalated Man's fields of perception beyond all the mental territories of the other Earth creatures.
And each new perceptual ability results in new patterns of behavior.
Freddy's hand is on my shoulder and she is bent over whispering in my ear, "Are you OK?"
"Uh, what? Sure," I look around, emerging from my own personal kaleidoscope, back to the party on the veranda.
At 4 PM Freddy and I pile into Monique's Mercedes sport car and we race back to Noumea as if it was the Grand Prix.
The moment I am aboard Moira, I get out the Log and begin writing.
"_We alter our field of perception, become new patterns of behavior.." I sit tapping the page with the pen, looking at the words. Each word is packed with meaning.
We is of great importance. In the context of the phrase, in my mind, We is life itself; Corals, fish, octopus, algae, birds; all the creatures who voyage this Magic Sea.
The word We does not mean that to everyone - maybe not to anyone else but me. Even Stellar Rainbow's "We Are One" crowd limits We to hominids. A wimpy limitation. How can you separate hominids from the other plants and animals of mankind, like rice and wheat and cows and chickens?
So, although the phrase is a summation of everything I was trying to explain to Yves about evolution, he would never have understood the phrase as a biological statement about evolution had I just said the words. It is short, compact, and layered with meanings from all the biological training and observations of my life. It is part of the whole vision I feel but have been unable to say.
Life, or rather awareness, becomes new patterns of behavior through the process of learning new fields of perception. YES! It points right toward the heart of the problem of directionality in evolution.
But damn it, nobody would understand. Nobody else has the associative elements to know "new patterns of behavior" means the actual manifestation of the physical bodies of living beings and what those bodies can do. For me, the words sweep through the layers of life, through the ever changing flow of atoms in and out of molecules, into the dance of DNA and transcriptase molecules as they render the behavior of cells. And on to the cellular dances as they become diaphanous coral flesh or any of the other animals of the reefs of life whose interactions then flow into giant atolls of being in a vast and mysterious magic sea.
It's like a poem. The phrases are part of a poem triggering a deeper image. We voyage this magic sea .... The caverns of seas remembering ....We alter our field of perception .... horizons of perceptions .... We are a field of communications.... but it is a poem in an odd language made of science and personal observations. It needs a very peculiar point of view. Without the point of view the poetry does not work and yet the poetry is what is supposed to give a particular point of view.
Not much good, is it?
Maybe it is possible assemble a collection of words like these. They would say what I see in a short, succinct way. They would be a holistic bubble of thought. But how do I get the words to trigger the correct linkages so anyone can understand them?
Ah Hah! My research program! Find the words and somehow build the visual or verbal links to them so I can communicate this idea. But how?
"Bedtime," Freddy says gently, "Come on. Time to quit, you've been at it all day."
I go on deck to get the cat box and close up. Noumea glitters around me over the protected waters of Baie du la Moselle, the lights coming from all sides. I stand in the light breeze and feel it on my skin. I allow myself to see all the light hitting my retina, and stretch all my perceptions in a total sensory yawn. And in reply, the lights of Noumea shimmer on Sea straight into the center of me. Moira swings slowly on her anchor.
The lights rotate, moving relative to me, but the path on Sea never changes, leading straight into my awareness. This is part of the poetry but I have no secret phrase for it. It is still a knowing without words. I relax and look inside for the words but there is only silence and the feel of awareness. I know there is a key here, in the glittering multicolored shards of man's illumination on the surface of Sea. Something to do with those ribbons of light only I can see. A link between them and the Moirae's thread of awareness in chaos.
I go below and get my reality scope. Back on deck the lights take on a whole new aspect through the reality scope, sometimes looking exactly as I imagine carbon rings must look, with the lights emulating the forces that bind carbon into hexagonal rings with amazing results - like life forms that can produce both lights at night and reality scopes to view them with.
I am no closer to finding the words to describe the experience of my illuminating sensory yawn. Maybe words can't describe the experience. I shrug, shoo Walter Cat inside, put in the screens, and go to bed.