Saturday, 5 December 2015


An OSS agent approaches the defector whom he has been sent to kill, ironically answers his greeting, pushes his hunting rifle into the man's stomach and fires twice. (Also ironically, the rifle was sold for hunting "bushmen," not animals.) SM Stirling graphically describes the physical effects of two shots inside the stomach. The assassin reflects:

"A whole universe inside a human skull, and then nothing."
-SM Stirling, The Stone Dogs (New York, 1990), p. 195.

I do not agree with that way of expressing it. We all perceive the same universe which is outside our skulls. Each of us sees, hears etc because of processes inside our skulls but that does not mean that the objects seen and heard are inside the skulls. We do not see the contents of our skulls but we do know that those contents are grey matter, not the universe, still less a different universe for each of us. But that is all about ways of expressing it.

Obviously, I do agree that something important happens at death. Each person's perception of the universe ceases. When discussing it like this, we seem to take for granted that there is no hereafter - and I do not expect one. (I have just met a group of Christians whose interpretation of the Bible is that consciousness ceases at death. Some individuals will be physically resurrected and others not but that is all.)

In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, Carl Farness quotes Pascal:

"'A little earth on our heads, and all is done with forever.'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth," 1935, IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 343.

In Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, Dominic Flandry asks his dead Orthochristian fiancee, later canonized, for a sign but hears only the priest chanting behind the iconostasis. The chanter heard but not seen symbolizes a voice from another world but Flandry, and I, can only regard this as a myth.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I've been waiting for you, or somebody else to point it out--Fred, the OSS agent, comment about "A whole universe inside a human skull, and then nothing," is another Andersonian allusion. I've seen nearly exact examples of this metaphor in more than one of the works of Anderson. I've been trying to recall a story or novel in which it was used, so I could quote it. This, along with "young lion eyes," is another of the phrases S.M. Stirling adopted from the works of Anderson.

And, of course, Fred seems to have been at least a skeptic, one who doubted the existence of God and an afterlife. Else he would not have added "and then nothing" to the line about a universe existing inside a human mind.