The Paluma, 129 feet of black. Black rust, black dirt, black paint on old, tired steel. Built in 1948 here in Australia, she was a naval hydrographic vessel until she got old and rusty and decommissioned. A couple of weeks ago I went to a small party aboard her and met her new owner, Brett Devine.
Brett Devine is a good looking, extraverted, dynamic, red haired man from Hobart, Tasmania. There is a buccaneer flare about him and he accentuates it by wearing white, wide-sleeved shirts, tight pants and a nautical saunter.
Brett is one of those rare charismatic hominids - like Walter Starck or the Holy Mama - somehow a little larger than life. Before the Paluma project, he was in the tour business. I think that means he was a tour-bus driver. Somehow, he charmed a banker here in Cairns into putting up the money for the Paluma. Brett wants to use her for trochus shell diving, this and that. The way he talked about buying this hulk during the party gave a cavalier, but confident impression, "Seemed like a good idea at the time, and a good buy, so what the hell."
At the moment, it seems like a desperate idea. Brett has to get the Paluma refinished and ready for sea or face financial ruin. (Actually, though I didn't say so, it will probably be the bank manager who gets ruined). The old hydrographic ship is a maze of old snarled, tangled, cut, electrical wires. Down below decks, she looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory. There are countless six-inch conduits FULL of wires. When the Navy took out the electronic, hydrographic survey equipment, they axed the conduits. As in using an axe to chop the conduits into little pieces. The wires are a hopeless write-off. The main electrical control board is 12 feet wide and 6 feet high with heavy duty, ship sized, wheel-type resistors. There is (or was) 110 VDC, 240 VAC, 32 VDC, 12 VDC, and shorts and cross wiring everywhere. The task of rewiring the vessel is more than he or his crew can handle. He does not have enough money to bring in a ship electrician to design and install Paluma's wiring system.
So, at the party, I said, "What the hell, Brett, I'll have a look." I have been over at the Paluma for the past 10 days tracing wires, watching the antics of his crew, and thinking about the book I have almost finished writing.
They call me "sparks" - the name traditionally given the electrics man on every ship. The crew is a group of 5 young men who, like the banker, like myself, are charmed by Brett's charisma. Brett is not paying them. They slave towards the day when the Paluma sails and their adventures diving the Great Barrier Reef for Trochus and Beche-de-Mer will bring in millions of dollars. Then they will all get a share, as will Brett and the Bank.
I do believe I'm the only one who knows this is never going to happen.
One of the crew members, the welder, is a psychopath named Pete. Pete got angry at some guy a few years ago and beat him to death in a fit of rage. So he went to a funny farm until he discovered they would let him go free again if he said the words, "I'm OK now, and promise to be good."
Pete the Psychopath has a special effect on people. On my first day as "Sparks" he followed me everywhere I went. Not secretly or anything. Just tagging along about two meters behind me. We made a fine pair. I with a clipboard, gazing in wonder at miles of axe-hashed wires and he ghosting me, a glazed expression on his rugged face, gazing at my every move, saying nothing. Nobody mentioned he had a little history of murderous psychopathy. In fact, I thought Brett had assigned him to find out if I really knew anything about ship electrics. This demonstrates my keen, scientific, perceptive powers. Trooping around the dark holds of the Paluma with a psychopath matching me step for step, me deep in awe at the Australian Navy's ability to create such electrical havoc.
Had I been more astute, I would have looked into those glazed, expressionless, psychopathic eyes and discovered Pete had assigned himself to find out what I was.
Pete looks at other hominids and sees....sees what? What was I about to say? Sees their behavior controls? Sees the behavior webs which the person lives in?
He reminds me of is myself looking at the rocks in the river of social behavior. When we reached the forward hold, I turned and really looked at Pete for the first time. I saw someone in there, behind the eyes, looking back. Normally, when I look into a pair of hominid eyes all I see is the character actor - the Fabulous Brett Devine - The Illustrious Mr. Banker - The Industrious Mr. Worker - The Intelligent Mr. Scientist - looking back.
Yesterday, while the crew had tea on the poop deck, Pete climbed up on the stern deck above our heads, took off all his clothes, and began to dance around. The crew, including Brett, went over to the starboard rail and poked their heads out, looking up at this giggling, cavorting spectacle. Everyone was laughing at what a nut he was. I watched them watch Pete and tried to sip the sticky black chemical they call tea. Suddenly Pete leaped over the side and cannonballed into the harbor. The crew came back from the rail soaking wet, cursing and laughing at the same time.
Pete planned it from the start. He lured everyone over to the rail and then cannonballed them while they laughed at him. It was, I thought, an interesting display - especially since it was a very hot day and Pete had been welding in the hold and no doubt wanted to have a dip anyway. Since everyone kind of treats him as an oddball, he took the opportunity to get even in a friendly and funny way.
Even more interesting, I have never thought of Pete as any more or less insane than the rest of the people involved in the Paluma Affair. We are not exactly friends, but he seems to know I harbor no judgments against him. And his trick did not include me. Not a drop of water touched me.. I felt, from the little smile on his face when he next passed me in the depths of the hold, that he planned that, too.
Today Pete materialized behind me deep in the bowels of Paluma's main hold. I sensed someone there and spun around. We were alone. The generator was running on deck making a godawful racket. Nobody could hear us. He stepped forward, one hand behind his back and a lopsided smile on his face. Then he slowly brought his hand around, watching my reaction. I smiled. He held a little flower pot with a delicate, broad-leafed plant in it.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Chinese 5-Spice. I made a cutting from my big plant. I've had it for years." He held it out to me. "I want my friend to go with you." I took it, admiring Pete's little green friend with pleasure.
Which brings me to last night's conversation with Walter. I had been talking about the Paluma and Pete's odd ability to see and manipulate hominid control systems.
Walter got very thoughtful and finally said, "I wonder why they get so angry?"
"Why do established scientists get mad when someone like Carl Sagen, John Lilly or Carlos Castinata - someone with a PhD in the proper field, makes an issue of other levels of consciousness - other levels of thinking?
"It's bad enough when someone like Robert Ardrey does it - but HE hasn't got a degree so they can easily dismiss him as an amateur. But the others....Why the hot, angry resentment?"
"I don't think the scientists are any different from anyone else," I replied, "I think most people get angry with the concept of other levels of reality. It's a fear reaction. Like a vain and beautiful woman fears someone seeing her without her makeup. Scientists have a public face, a character actor they present to the world. The more famous the scientist the more the actor-role is in control of the hominid behavior display. Most of the time, the scientist does not consciously think about how he or she looks because the actor-self is in charge of social presentation. This enables the mind to go on working on other problems, other areas of thinking.
"I suppose," Walter leaned back, looking at the overhead of the El Torito. "The actor-self is the consciousness of the scientist running a series of do-loops while the rest of the mind is...what? Dreaming?"
"I think so. Dreaming, scheming, thinking, working out interrelationships the actor-I is unaware of. The character-actor is a kind of automation, an answer machine switched on to give the inner mind some privacy."
Walter thought this over, "So the thinking mind is the one which adjusts to changes in the real world. The part of the self which programs new do-loops. But when the character actor is firmly established by routine and reputation, the thinking mind makes no new do-loops."
"And," I finished the thought, "the actor mind never really has to confront such unpleasant realities as bank mortgages, loss of hair, wrinkles, or the growing insanity on the planet. He gets to see only what the deeper mind wants him to see. So the filter between reality and consensus reality grows stronger every day. The planetary insanity gets worse. We transfer our attention, our awareness into a world of words and technology and isolate ourselves from the real world of the planet. We live in community dreams, agreed-upon cement and plastic realities."
"Until someone like Darwin or Ardrey or Sagen or worst of all Castinata, comes along to kick us in the filter." Observed Walter.
"The mind filter is a conditioned habit," I said. "And like all habits, communal reality defends itself to protect its existence. Like any living organism, the group behavior system - the social web which creates the character actors - fights for survival, self-preservation. The members of this living network get angry, unhappy, frightened, or whatever they need to do to protect the system from the infection of alternate ideas. So people, especially successful or famous people, don't want to hear about higher levels of consciousness. Or lower levels of consciousness, for that matter."
"No, that's true. In fact, people can rarely even agree on what the word consciousness means."
I sat for a moment considering this. "What DOES consciousness mean?" I dug out a dictionary from the book shelf in the main salon of the El Torito. I looked up Conscious. "Here, look at this. The word conscious comes from Con and Scious meaning Know Together. Hey, that's exactly what we've been talking about. Conscious - knowing together. There can be only one acceptable Knowing Together."
"Right, It would not do to have an excessive number of consensus realities. Things would get too confusing." Walter chuckled.
For some reason, we both thought of Pete the Psychopath dancing naked on the deck of the Paluma at the same moment and our evening broke up in gales of laughter.
The Paluma sailed out of Cairns Harbour last week. I finished the book about dolphins and whales. I've called it "Soul of the Dolphin, Song of the Whale." I climb into the dinghy and roar off to the other side of the harbor to drop the manuscript off at Walter's so he can read it over and tell me what he thinks of it. On the way back to Moira, I am surprised to see Brett Devine waving at me from the wharf.
I head over. "Good-day, Richard, how's it going, mate?"
"I thought you'd gone?" I make it a question.
"Oh, right. Paluma is down in Townsville. Had to come back up on some business. You got a few minutes to talk?"
"Sure," I tie up and we go out for lunch together. Over a hamburger he sticks out his square, adventuresome jaw and baritones, "Rick, you're a biologist, what do you think of our chances of success with the Trochus and Beche-de-Mer fishery?"
"Don't ask," I mumble between bites.
He looks crest-fallen. Maybe he has been out diving, looking at the real world of the Great Barrier Reef. The visions of treasures lying about, waiting for plucking, appear to have thinned a bit.
"They used to be very successful fisheries, you know." He starts on his sales pitch, "and nobody has fished them commercially for years and years."
I look up at him and see, in his eyes, he half-knows what I've known from the start. "Why didn't you ask me before?"
"Well....I'm asking now." He looks at his untouched lunch.
"Hmm. Yeah, OK. No chance at all. Simple arithmetic. Figure the cost of operation of the Paluma per day, including the interest on the loan and the expected earnings of the divers. Now take the value of the Trochus shell for pearl buttons and the value of the beche-de-mer. How many shells make up one kilo of pearl-shell? How many sea cucumbers make up one kilo of cleaned and dried beche-de-mer? Then figure the value of one shell or one sea cucumber. You can work out exactly how many individual shells or sea cucumbers must be picked up per man in a day's diving operation. Or, more exactly, how many shells must be picked up per minute by each diver.
"Just out of curiosity, I worked it out roughly the day after I met you. I estimate each diver would need to pick up one shell every 50 seconds for you to break even." I pick up the remains of my hamburger and before taking a bite I finish, "I have never, in 20 years of diving, ever seen a place where a diver could pick up one trochus shell every 50 seconds. I'm sure, during the breeding season on limited portions of some reefs, it may be possible, but I've never seen it. And my calculation assumes you know where to go to look for the beasts and have good weather all year."
Brett digests this while I munch. "And beche-de-mer?"
"Same thing. There are populations of sea cucumbers where a diver could bag one per minute. Usually, a dense population like that is not very big. You'd have to know where they were to start with, then you'd go through them pretty quick. Finding even one population where there were that many sea cucumbers on a reef system 50 miles offshore might take two or even three days of ship's time. Which means your team would have to pick 'em up with both hands practically non-stop." I chew thoughtfully.
"Brett, those fisheries were big in the past. But they were done by ma & pa teams in small boats out on the reef fishing anyway. When they saw some Trochus or sea cucumbers they got them and saved them up. Collectively, it added up to big money but fisheries like that could never support a ship like yours."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" He groans.
I wipe the last traces of the hamburger away with my napkin before answering. "Because, Brett, you needed the story to keep your crew working. They were after treasure and you were their pirate leader. Everybody, including you, was having fun. Why spoil it?"
"Well, if what you say is right, we're in a hell of a mess now and a lot of money spent to get there." He is angry and worried in equal proportion.
I laugh. "You could sell anybody anything, Brett. You'll figure out something to do with the Paluma. Go diving, have some fun, but find something else to do for money. Why not go see the government? They've got plenty of money."
On the way back to the boat in Brett Devine's pickup truck I wonder what I am going to do next, now I've finished the book and "Sparks" no longer exists. We stop for a red light and I hear my own voice say, loud and clear, "I'm going to make kaleidoscopes." Brett and I are equally astonished at my remark.
Brett turns slowly to look at me, "What?"
"I'm going to manufacture kaleidoscopes. The most beautiful kaleidoscopes in the world." I expand, thinking this is not such a bad idea. I wonder where I got it from?
He looks at me a moment longer and then the light changes and we drive off, Brett shaking his head from side to side in that Aussie body language which means, "He's gone daft." I mimic him silently. Daft. Yup. I think maybe Brett's right.
After dinner, I wonder how Walter likes the book. I'm not entirely happy with the book, myself, especially the ending. In a nutshell, the book details the adventures of a young scientist who begins working on dolphin behavior for a Department of Defense project with an end goal of using dolphins as remote control weapons. The sophisticated electronics gives him access to a kind of electro-neurological interface with the dolphin mind. This interface, this link between the collective mind of the dolphin and the mind of the scientist, triggers a direct contact between the two on levels of awareness most humans are not conscious of.
Our scientist, unknowingly interlaced with the mind-web of the dolphins, quits the project and follows an elusive trail into the Pacific - piloted - guided by the dolphin mind-web. Finally, he winds up in New Zealand where he mentally contacts an adept dolphin - only to find himself captured by the mind of a sperm whale. The whale has a message for the humans.
The problem is, our hero can only interpret the message according to his own panorama of knowledge. Like Steiner could only display his adventures into higher levels of perception in terms of Christian myths. Our hero can't comprehend what the whale has to say. The words do not exist, at least not in his mind. The whale mind, however, overcomes the communication problem by altering the protein structure of the RNA memory complex in the hero's brain. This happens in a very simple and straight-forward way as the neural memory trace is laid down recording the memory of the hominid/whale psychic experience.
The RNA fixed memory is a holographic display of the entire Whale message. Layers upon layers of meaning are there. But to understand them, the hero has to unravel the threads one by one - tracing the concepts through one layer of awareness to the next and to the next. In this way he will develop the mental vocabulary of ideas which will allow him to comprehend the message of the whale. The message of Sea.
I sit in the Moira writing in the Log Book, summarizing the Dolphin/Whale book. As I write the summary, it dawns on me the book I wrote is about me. A fictional parallel of my own real life experiences.
Freddy is quietly reading, unconsciously playing with a curl of her hair. Walter Cat presses up to her, sound asleep. I get up and go outside. The lights of Cairns shimmer on the calm harbor. My mind is kind of stuck. I look around at the other boats floating nearby. Ashore I see the big lighthouse with its ruby laser. It sends a tight beam down the channel leading into the harbor. If you are in the channel, you see the ruby light. If you stray to one side, you don't see it. I glance up and note the ruby laser beam is on our white mast - up above the second spreaders. It forms a swatch of red about one meter long. Moira swings slowly out of the path of the light and the mast resumes its even white glow into the sky.
How can that be? How can I have spent months writing the book and never, for a moment, realized it was anything more than a fictional novel - written for money? How could I not notice it was really about me? A parody of the Solomon Island dolphin/whale hypnotic experiment. It's so obvious. Why...how did I block it out of my mind?
The book builds nicely until it gets to the whale's message. Then it flattens out. In the book, the hero does come to some conclusions about the whale message but I know it's not right. I don't have the whale message yet. I can't unravel the threads.
The Solomon Island whale dream..... When we tried to reach the group mind of the dolphins. Could the whale dream have been more than just a hypnotic reverie? I really do feel there is something I'm trying to remember but can't. Not some detail of the dream, the dream is as clear as that ruby laser in my mind. No, there is a strange feeling... as if I know something but not how to express it. Just like in the book.
Right now, standing here on Moira's deck, looking out to sea, I wonder if the whole book writing exercise was to get me to understand there really was a contact during the dream. To understand how it could have worked. To realize there is a message and a need to unravel it.
I've felt for some years the Moirae have been leading me to something. To the Whale dream? Could the Moirae actually be the mind of the Sea? The integrated sonic/neural network of the whales fiddling around with the destiny of Man? What a crazy idea.
Whales or Moirae? W or M? Reflections of each other? But Moirae are abstract metaphors, and Whales are real. The sea-wide mind web of the whales is real, measured, recorded. Maybe it is only Mooing in the depths, but it's real.
I feel so close to the Whale's message. Like it is really there, inside me, embedded in my RNA memory. For a long time, I stand looking out to sea, keeping my mind blank, allowing the imagery to develop, the message to come out. I succeed beyond my wildest expectations. I keep my mind blank and blank is what I get.
The whale message, if there is one, is outside my experience. No, not right. The message is outside my data display mechanism. Part of me knows what the message is. But not my conscious mind. It is as if I had only letters and numbers in my mental data-display window and the message is neither letters nor numbers. Maybe it is not even visual.
I know. I know what the message is.... I stand on Moira's deck and stare at the city's lights, my mind slipping and sliding around the edges of some awesome concept lumped inside me.
No. I don't know what it is. I do know it's there and yet I can't consciously wrap my mind around it.