Peter Rogerson continues his ‘First Read 50 Years Ago’ reminiscences, looking at books which helped develop his interest in anomalous phenomena and the paranormal. We would be very interested to hear from any of our readers who would like to discuss those books which had a formative influence on their own interest in these topics.
J. W. Dunne. An Experiment With Time, 3rd edition, Faber and Faber, 1934.
Soon after I became a member of Urmston Library, then housed in a hut in one of the parks, I read a children’s science fiction book, author and title long forgotten, which managed to merge the cosmic ice theories of Hans Horbiger with the theories on time of J. W. Dunne. This intrigued me enough to find out more. So in the early summer of 1962 I managed to get hold of a second hand copy of Bellamy’s Moons, Myths and Men and order a copy of An Experiment With Time from the library. The former was expelled from my growing collection when I learned of Horbiger’s associations with the Nazis, but, decades later, I did get a copy of the latter.
Re-reading it after 50 years made me wonder just what I could have possibly made of it as an 11 year old all those years ago, for in large parts it seems quite incomprehensible. Dunne had experienced a number of dreams that seemed to predict the future, but was, initially at first, unwilling to accept paranormal explanations. Being an engineer he came up with a complex mathematical explanation, that seemed to involve multiple dimensions of time, ‘Time 1’ which was ordinary time, ‘Time 2’ which was the time in which Time 1 moved, and so on ad infinitum, though I must say he never actually expresses this idea as clear as that. On the basis of that he constructed a belief in human immortality, ultimately as part of some transdimensional cosmic mind.
In many ways this book was the product of its time, when interest in psychical research and similar matters was riding high following the carnage of the 1914-18 war, when new, radical, theories of physics were being propounded and there was a desperate search for some fix that somehow make science and religion compatible.
For me this book was the start of an interest in all things spooky and paranormal, one which offered a reassuringly “scientific” explanation of such things that for a while exorcised the terrors of the dark.