Mens Temporum . UK

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Tilting at Windmills

This is a relatively simple incident that only spanned a couple of days compared to the longer periods covered by previous incidents

On Saturday the 23rd April 2016 here in the UK and also elsewhere in the world the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare was commemorated and my literary friend in the USA, whom I previously mentioned, was an expert on the Bard so I expected an email from him on the subject and also had news of events in the UK to tell him about. I intended to write to him that morning immediately rather than simply waiting for a message from him and responding to it, but instead I took it into my mind to write a poem as follows.

Tilting at Windmills

I thought I’d write a little verse,

It might be good but could be worse,

But inspiration didn’t last,

The opportunity had passed,

I don’t suppose it matters much

When what I write is double Dutch,

I may as well give up the fight

To reach this intellectual height,

I’ll leave the task in better hands

And use my skill in nether lands.

It only took me a couple of minutes to write this, which seemed strange as I have only ever written a handful of poems and this one seemed flawless, at least to me. Pleased with it I posted it on the online writers' forum to which I subscribed and was praised by other far more experienced poets there for it, which confirmed my belief. It was clearly inspired by nothing but a spontaneous urge to write it followed rapidly by a feeling that I was not capable of the task. Under the circumstances the fact that the rhythm, rhyme and economical use of words were all spot on surprised me, given how little effort I had put into writing it. I continued to wonder about that, reading it through over and over, trying to find ways of improving it, but I couldn’t see any. Being preoccupied with this poem I didn't get around to writing to my friend that day and on the Sunday my wife and I pursued our regular Sunday activities, so I didn't write to him then either.

On the Monday I received an email from my friend before I could fulfil my intention to pre-empt it by writing to him. Unsurprisingly he wrote about the Bard’s 400th anniversary, but added something else that was a complete surprise. He mentioned that the Spanish were upset that in all the celebrations of that anniversary the fact that it was also 400 years since Cervantes died had been overlooked. All I knew about Cervantes was that he wrote Don Quixote, which inspired the expression “tilting at windmills”. I had never read the book but had seen the musical film based on it and certainly had no idea of when the writer had lived, let alone of any anniversary connected with him. Also my friend is a lecturer in English literature, so I had no reason to make any connection between him and Cervantes when I wrote that poem. I did some rapid research into Cervantes and discovered that he is considered to have been a key person in establishing the style of the modern novel. In fact Don Quixote was his way of encouraging readers and writers to abandon the romantic stories from earlier times and focus on the more practical ones depicted by modern novels. Despite this clear warning within Don Quixote about being influenced by romantic notions I decided to re-examine my poem from the viewpoint of my own possibly romantic notions about souvenirs from the future. Certainly though I had apparently pre-empted that email despite doing so in an indirect fashion.

The poem certainly had the same characteristics as my novel, being predominantly spawned by free will thoughts rather than prior events, created without the effort that one might expect, containing apparently pointless references and ultimately having a coincidental connection with a future event. The most striking similarity was how it seemed that I was just allowing myself to be carried along by my thoughts while writing it rather than controlling them. While writing my novel I had had a similar feeling and at the time even wrote to my friend in the USA that some errant muse appeared to have mistaken me for someone who actually wanted to write fiction just as here I had somehow been pushed into writing poetry.

I considered how I had written the poem and examined the text within it. I had written poetry deprecating my ability to write it before, so I could see how this poem might have adopted a similar theme but apart from that it had been deflected by the evident references to the Netherlands which singled it out. Also I hadn't chosen a title for it initially but left this until afterwards when those references guided me towards the expression "tilting at windmills" that I adopted. There therefore seemed to have been a smooth progression from a typical self-deprecating poem towards a very specific title that connected with that future email. Assuming that whatever force, psychic or otherwise, that causes this phenomenon is very weak it makes sense that it would be easier for it to work incrementally this way, nudging me gradually towards the objective, rather than just depositing that key phrase straight into my mind without giving me a context for it. In contrast in the case of my novel a context already existed once I started to write it so such ideas could just impose themselves on my mind immediately. There was one more odd coincidence about that title to consider. While I could have changed the wording of the poem at any time, even after receiving the email, I couldn't have changed the title at all because that was used by the bulletin board system that ran the website in its indexes and therefore it prevented any changes being made to stop those indexes becoming corrupted as soon as the item was posted on the site. As the item was also timestamped that title was incontrovertible evidence that I had written that specific phrase on the Saturday and not any later. Certainly if it had been purely a coincidence then it had been one precisely engineered to appear convincing as something more intentional.

There is an established model for such unusual coincidences that was proposed by the parapsychologist Rex G Stanford in the 1970s. This is called Psi Mediated Instrumental Response (PMIR) and it appears to be an entirely unconscious process within people's minds, which results in it not even being seen as anything but fortunate coincidences. I will mention it in further detail in the next item which may demonstrate it better.

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