The Serialism of JW Dunne

Discussions about the possibility of consciousness, free will, spirits, deities, religions and so on, and how these might interact with time travel, the Big Bang, many worlds and so on.

The Serialism of JW Dunne

Postby steelpillow » Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:49 pm

In 1927 JW Dunne published An Experiment with Time. In it he described a series of his precognitive dreams, followed by a strictly scientific and rationalist theory to explain them. As a crippled child of 9 he had asked his nurse, was Time the way points of yesterday, today and tomorrow, or was it the passage between them, the travelling from the one to the next? Now, 40 years later, he argued that to explain the relationship between Time as the fourth dimension (as posited by Einstein's Relativity) and our experience of the passing of time in that dimension, we are forced to admit an extra dimension of time which the mind inhabits. Dunne sought a mathematical foundation for his extra dimensions in notions borrowed from Relativity, such as introducing the imaginary unit i. From there, the same arguments repeat to invoke yet a further time dimension to explain why time passes in the conscious mind, and so on to infinity. Along with these levels of time came levels of consciousness, with the series only terminated by an "ultimate superior observer."
Critics were willing to consider his arguments for extra dimensions of time and consciousness, but opinions on precognitive dreaming and his ultimate observer remained split. Things chugged along until Faber & Faber took over publishing and in 1934 the 3rd edition became a bestseller, with the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis annotating their own copies. Dunne became famous, gave radio broadcasts, even one on the BBC's newfangled Baird television. He was now the talk of the town, it was said that not to have read his book was a mark of singularity in Society. Serialism became a favoured literary device.
He also wrote a sequel, The Serial Universe, in which he reinvented both physics and consciousness from the ground up, and dubbed his theory Serialism. Further short sequels, The New Immortality and Nothing Dies, focused on the theology of that ultimate observer, now confessed to be God, and on our role in the afterlife.
Chief among his admirers was the playwright JB Priestley, who borrowed his ideas for some of his Time Plays (as they are now known). Dunne went and gave a talk to the cast of Time and the Conways, so they could be more convincing on stage, and a film was later made of An Inspector Calls. Just before WWII broke out, Priestley went to stay with Dunne and argued him out of his infinite regresses.
Dunne would not let them go entirely. He felt that the logic which led to them was sound. So he decided that they were more a consequence of our limited human understanding than of reality as such. We find many such uncomfortable infinities in the mathematics of quantum theory, so Dunne felt he was in good company.
Serialism fell out of favour after the war, although it has remained with many a fictional time traveller, and as a whipping boy for every philosopher who studies the nature of time.
Serialism was a complex theory, full of good and bad ideas jostling for attention. Priestley gave a good account of it in his study on Man and Time, while I also offer some more thoughts at
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