Living Room

You climb up the ladder and into an alcove in what appears to be a relatively ordinary living room, furnished in spare but elegant Victorian style. A rug covers the middle of the wooden floor, on which two wood-framed couches sit facing each other across a long coffee table. Two upright chairs sit across a smaller but higher table on one end of the room, and on the other end - where you would expect to see a doorway - there is a large gilded-framed mirror which stretches nearly from floor to ceiling. Although it is only a yard or so wide, it still manages to give that impression of the room being much larger than it is that you associate with the entire wall mirrors found in some restaurants and stores.

You half expect to see a tea service sitting on the coffee table, but instead you see a jewel-encrusted egg of about ostrich size that reminds you of a Faberge piece, sitting on a small wooden holder.

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Living Room

You are in the Victorian living room, with its alcove and ladder leading back down to the black room below. The bejeweled egg sits in its stand on the coffee table.

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Crystal Egg

You approach the egg, then pick it up to examine it more carefully. It is heavy, though not so much as a real egg would be, and is made of a light smoky blue, semi-translucent porcelain-like substance. Inlaid gold filigree traces out an intricate pattern of interlocking diamonds. There is a golden hinge on one end which allows a small cap to swing up, revealing a crystal "window" into the egg itself. This window is not entirely dark - almost as if there were some source of light within. Curious, you peer into it...

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Egg Room

No sooner does your eye approach the crystal than you find yourself suddenly sitting on a chair, in a different room, with the egg no longer in your possession or even in sight.

Yet you have a strange feeling of continuity, for the room itself is generally egg-shaped, except that the floor is flat, as if a panel had been laid over the bottom section. On this floor lies a beige carpet which is mostly covered by a rectangular green rug with white and brown star-like patterns sprinkled over it. The walls are the same light, smoky, semitranslucent blue color as the outside of the egg you so recently held, with a dark mahogany trim dividing the uninterrupted oval curve into walls and a ceiling. On the two walls to either side are large mirrors in the shape of cylindrical sections, approximately eight feet long, facing each other. The diameter of each of these would be somewhere around 8 or 9 feet.

The image captured in each of these mirrors is quite catching, giving rise as it does to a smooth continuum all the way from one to infinity in the short distance from the top of one of the mirrors to its centerpoint. For at the centerline of each mirror, the set of reflections is endless due to the exactly opposing angles of the mirrors there while at any point away from this singularity, slight misdirection accrued on each reflection gives rise to decreasing numbers of increasingly offset images all the way out to the edge of the mirror. Sitting between these two remarkable pieces of glass as you are gives you the impression of sitting between windows on an infinity of rooms exactly like the one you are in.

Centered in the two ends of the egg are two 4 foot diameter black plates which might be some kind of tinted glass but probably aren't. An attempt to look through them reveals only uninformative blackness, blackness of the type such that it is impossible to tell whether one is seeing for hundreds of miles or only a fraction of an inch. Your chair is situated with its back up against one of these - thus, in one narrow end of the egg.

The most striking feature of the room, however, is that there is a chair across from you at the other end just a few feet away - and it is occupied.

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Greetings, Traveller!

"Greetings, traveller," the man says, resting comfortably but erect in his armchair. He has long black hair fastened back into a queue, a thin black moustache and beard. His olive-colored skin and dark, slanted eyes suggest oriental ancestry, but he does not look Chinese or anything else in particular. "Tell me, have you been everywhere else?" he asks.

You hesitate.

"Have you been across, and down and to the left and to the right?", he asks. "Have you visited every room but this?"

No			Yes

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I Shall Await

An expression passes over his face, and then is erased, as if he did not wish it to be seen. Anger, perhaps, or disappointment. "Then begone!" he declares. "I have no wish to talk to you yet. Explore the other worlds, experience all they have to offer. Only when you have done this, come back. I shall await."

Everything becomes blurry for a split second, then you find yourself back in the Victorian living room, holding the crystal egg. Carefully, you place it back down in its holder on the table.

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A Conversation

"That is well," he exclaims. "Let us get acquainted then. I already know something of you. Do you know who I am?"

You tell him you do not. You have an idea, but it is too crazy to be true.

"No, I am not Kublai, noblest of all Khans," he says with a slight chuckle, "Though I can see you half-suspected such. But I am, hard though you may find it to believe, his son." He pauses to let this sink in. "I am Jyred, son of Kublai, once heir to the Great Empire."

You ask how this is possible.

"Time passes differently in here," he answers, "And the body responds to it differently as well. I am very old, though not so old as you perhaps think I must be. I understand little more than this, though this no longer bothers me as much as it once did."

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Affinities

You were surprised to hear this person say that he knew something of you, when you certainly had known nothing of him before now, and you ask him about this.

"What do I know of you?" Jyred asks. He leans back, puts his feet up on the table between you, and pulls out a long, thin pipe of a design unfamiliar to you.

"Do you remember the computer in the black room?" He looks into your eyes for a moment. "Yes, I can see you used it. The universe is stranger and more complicated than we think. There are connections between worlds that exist because of..." He pauses to search for an appropriate word. "An affinity...between conditions in them. Why...how have you found this place? Unless I'm mistaken, you found it in the same way that I did, through a mental journey. Either one of us could have found different places, but we didn't. Thus I assume that you and I are - in some respects - similar."

"Similar? So...so, what do you know?" you ask.

"Not so much perhaps. Only that you wonder about things that you see around you, that you seek beauty and grace in your pleasures, that you enjoy novelty for its own sake and you cultivate spontaneity. You crave truth, but do not always care to seek for it. You crave love, but only when it changes. Not so much, but perhaps something after all."

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Knowledge

"What do you mean, you don't understand but it doesn't bother you?" you ask.

Jyred leans back, pulling out a long, thin pipe of an unfamiliar design from beneath his robes.

"Do you remember the great hall in the fortress in the desert, with the fantastic tile-mosaic pattern on the floor? What did you see there?"

You tell him of the mind-boggling complexity of the overlapping patterns, of the view of the center from above, of your vision of the ants.

He nods. "That pattern is the representation of all knowledge, yea, of all potential knowledge. It is as extensive as all the possible geometrical relations between every color-pattern - and as orderly, although this fact is not always visible when one looks at a small portion of the pattern. But this is exactly what most people - the ants you saw - do."

"Remember the center, though. There are in fact many possible ways to depict the space of all knowledge - the Tibetans, I remember, were fond of exploring these possibilities - but every one of them has that center. And when you stand at that center, you can see it all, simultaneously, intuitively."

He lights his pipe, leaning forward and drawing quickly a few times before sitting back and blowing out a long stream of smoke.

"You might think that you can see better from above, but that's not the case. It seems sort of strange, that by standing within and only being able look at part of the pattern in one direction, you can see better than from above taking in the entire layout in a single glance - but that's how it is. You need to make contact with more than your eyes." He draws on his pipe once more.

"Someday I will stand there in the center. Until then I will be patient as I move slowly towards it."

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The Way

You mention that you haven't really thought of yourself as a cultivator of spontaneity.

"Indeed?" he asks. "Well you should be - though I expect you already are," he adds. "Have you ever read a Chinese book which might be called the Tao Te Ching?"

You tell him that you have read some parts of it but have never really put them all together into a single picture.

"It is definitely worth doing so - in fact it is difficult to see how anyone could understand any one part without understanding the whole thing. A most remarkable book in that respect... But anyway, consider these two passages."

He pulls a small worn booklet out from under the table between you. "You'll have to excuse my reading slowly, but as you can see I must translate," he says. He holds up the book to show columns of Chinese characters.


A light seems to flash from his eyes. "Unless, of course, you should happen to-" You shake your head. Slowly, one line at a time so that you have time to think about it before he speaks the next, he reads:

A newborn is soft and tender,
A crone, hard and stiff.
Plants and animals, in life, are supple and succulent;
In death, withered and dry.
So softness and tenderness are attributes of life,
And hardness and stiffness, attributes of death.

Just as a sapless tree will split and decay
So an inflexible force will meet defeat;
The hard and mighty lie beneath the ground
While the tender and weak dance on the breeze above.

He flips to another page.

So the sage nurtures all men
And abandons no one.
He accepts everything
And rejects nothing.
He attends to the smallest details.

He flips to another page.

The Way flows and ebbs, creating and destroying,
Implementing all the world, attending to the tiniest details,
Claiming nothing in return.

It nurtures all things,
Though it does not control them;
It has no intention,
So it seems inconsequential.

"One last one," he says, flipping to another page.

The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things, and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.


"Ah, it is difficult to find the best passages," Jyred sighs. "The Way described is one of flexibility, total reactivity - for only by these means can harmony really be achieved with one's surroundings. Every smallest detail must affect one's movements, just as the wind blowing through a tree must negotiate passage with every leaf, or the water flowing over a streambed must flow over and around every smallest pebble. But what is this in human terms? It is spontaneity."

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The Journey

"What is the significance of this mental journey?" you ask.

"Significance? What is the significance of any journey? I mean the journey itself, not the destination at the end that is supposedly its purpose. One sees things, one reflects and contemplates, one balances one's perspective on the world one lives in. During your journey here you have imbibed of many different kinds of experience. You have tasted of the arts of man and the arts of nature, and love as it reflects from both of these. You have tasted of the pleasures of abstraction as well as of simplicity. What was the significance? It lies in how you will see your own world from now on as a result. People will look different, and so will trees, evenings, buildings, all affected by your memories of what you have seen and felt here. Your priorities will change. Things that seemed important will become trivial, things that seemed trivial will become important. Perhaps someday you will be called back here by some traveller like yourself to tell him of these things." He pauses.

"For now, you must return to your world, and I to mine. Journeys are gifts from the gods - however they exist - that are transient by nature. The ordinary subjective world is left behind - but it must be returned to - else everything loses all meaning."

"Now let me tell you something of this place before you go." He smiles. "I wouldn't want to leave you in suspense after all! This place is what you call a tesseract, bounded in four-dimensional space by 8 three-dimensional cubes, each connecting to different alternative three-dimensional universes. You awoke in one, outside the `house'. The Royal Ball was another, and the Paradisic Garden, the River, and the Desert. This place we are in is also one, along with the black room with only the computer in it. That makes seven. Do you know where the last one is?"

"It is my own world," you answer.

"Yes, you are correct. Realize that the situation is more complicated though, in that the cubes are completely `flat', as it were, in four-dimensional space, so that the tesseract contains an infinity of them just beneath its surface - something like the skin of an onion in a situation one dimension lower. From your world you entered into one particular set of seven others, but others from different worlds enter different sets. How is this determined? By affinity. That is why I was drawn to the same place, though my place and time are different from yours. Do not think of `world' in objective, physical terms, but in subjective ones."

Pulled by a sudden insight, you ask, "Does this have anything to do with dreams - ordinary dreams?"

"I think so, although I must say that the relationship is not entirely clear to me. I understand more than I used to, but it takes time for these things to become clear. You must figure them out for yourself, I'm afraid - nothing I could say could help you, though you think it might."

He rises, and extends his hand. "Goodbye, fellow traveller," he says. You shake his hand, and for a brief moment stare into his eyes. Then you are back.

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Nirvana

"What happens, then, when you stand in the center?" you ask, "What can that be like, to know everything? For that is what it is, right? To know everything?"

"Yes, it is," Jyred says. Then he adds, raising a finger, "But try not to put too much emphasis on what you understand by the word `know'. This is the way we are led by language to describe it, but it is only an approximation whose roughness is difficult to conceive given how precise we usually consider words to be." He pauses.

He opens his mouth and appears about to go on, but then closes it again to think. After a few moments, he says, "Try to think of what it would be like. All distinctions would vanish, because there is only one structure. Time would not exist, because its notion requires distinction. Nor would you exist, since to be aware of the self as different from the world again requires distinction. What would this be? Would it be death? A merging? It is almost frightening in some respects, I admit, but every step closer to it brings a more blissful state of being in every way. We are destined to die anyway, so why not meet death on the best possible terms, making a smooth and natural transition rather than a sudden, shocking one?"

"But I do not understand these things well and it is difficult to talk about them. I should hope though, that your own understanding is helped by this mental journey - since it surely isn't by my words!" He chuckles.

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Harmony and Chaos

"What you describe as harmony and spontaneity sounds like the slavish abandonment of free will," you say, somewhat churlishly.

You expect Jyred to be taken aback, but instead he beams as if pleased to hear your comment.

"Ah, but it is just the opposite," he proclaims. "Tell me, what do you expect `free will' to be?" Before you can speak, he raises his hand.

"Don't answer that!" he says. "Allow me. If you consider the universe to be a result of deterministic interactions, then free will is, of necessity, an illusion. But, you will want to say, perhaps there are forces outside this deterministic, physical universe, that influence the minds that are in it in nondeterministic, unpredictable ways. Here is where free will has its source. But then, I will ask you, what does this mean? Either there are laws governing these outside forces, in which case they are again deterministic, or there are not, in which case all you have is randomness - mere dice-throwing from the perspective of this universe - a sorry instance of free will! And no matter how you try to describe an outside influence as not random in terms of hearkening to a different kind of law or form of understanding or whatever, you are always going to come down to some combination of strict determinism and complete randomness. You might not believe that now, but think about it, and you will."

"Now that we have discarded the possibility of any absolute notion of free will, let us consider the only alternative - a relative one. When does a person seem most like they are acting with free will? Precisely when YOU can least predict what they will do. For when you can see his actions as the effects of causes which you have also seen, then he seems reduced to a deterministic automaton. But if his actions are determined by all of the details of his environment - in other words when his actions are at their most harmonious AND most spontaneous - then there is simply too much for you to take into account - the causes are too many, and their relation to their effects is invisible. THAT is his free will."

"Hmmm, I am unconvinced," you maintain.

"Of course you are," he answers, "Words cannot sway, especially those as poorly put together as mine; only thoughts can, and those are under your control. I did not explain my point very well or in much detail, but I think the reasoning is sound. More importantly, it is in agreement with my experiences, particularly those which seem to go the furthest beyond reason. In the end, YOU must look to your OWN experiences as confirmation of your beliefs - such as your experiences on this mental journey, for example."

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The End





				THE END






Back to title page.

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