• 31 January 2017
    The original draft of Lady of the Shades was nearly a third as long as the finished book. In it, I wrote a lot more about the book that Ed was working on, and linked it in more closely to the story of the novel. Ultimately I decided to cut out a lot of that material, as it was slowing things down and might have confused many readers -- the scenes were important for me, in understanding Joe's mind, but they weren't important to the main story. One of the ideas I played around with was the possibility that our universe might be one giant, complicated hologram. It was an idea that scientists had started talking about in the 1990s (when I began the book) and it has recently hit the news again, as a new generation of scientists are starting to suggest that the theory might have legs. Whether it does or not remains to be seen, but here's a chapter that I cut out of Lady which covers some of my discarded ideas and explains why ghosts might be a reality in a universe of holograms. (It also includes colons and semi-colons, which I've eliminated from my writing style over the years -- but here's proof that I used to write the "right" way.)


    We visit lots of psychics and mediums, sit in on several seances, but nothing grabs my interest until we meet Pierre Vallance, a Belgian scientist who believes ghosts are the result of electromagnetic wave interference. He thinks certain people possess a strong inner electrical charge, which they can use to distort electromagnetic fields, thus distorting other people’s view of reality, resulting in “ghosts” and other hallucinatory phenomena. Microwave transmitters, power lines, etc. can also distort the fields of reality, which is how Vallance explains mankind’s recent obsessive accounts of aliens: he says our brains have been warped by the waves of technological advance, resulting in outlandish mass delusions.
    I’m terribly excited following our conversation with Vallance, and once we’ve retired to a quiet traditional pub for toasted sandwiches and drinks, I try explaining my excitement to Joe.
    “I’m working from the basis that reality consists of a series of decoded hologrammatic waves,” I announce.
    “That clears that up,” Joe laughs.
    Leaning forward, I search for terms he can comprehend. This is a good exercise: I write books which can be read and understood by the general public, but some of the ideas and theories I’m dealing with this time round will be hard to put into simple words. Joe can serve as my guinea pig.
    “You know that matter isn’t solid, right? This table -” I bang it softly -“looks like one big piece of wood, but it’s a collection of billions of atoms which are constantly bouncing off one another.”
    “Everything’s made up of invisible atoms,” Joe nods. “Sure. I went to school. I studied the basics of science.”
    “So reality is an appearance. It’s what we see, not what is.” Joe frowns uncertainly. “I mean, to us this table is one solid object and to everyone else in the world it’s one solid object, therefore it is one solid object, right?”
    “Wrong. That’s just the way we perceive it. Our five senses define reality, what we see, touch, hear and so on. But those senses are limited. A microscopse reveals far more than our eyes ever can. Many members of the animal kingdom have superior senses of taste, hearing, touch. We simplify the world. We impose our views of reality onto it, accepting everyday life at face value.”
    “Right,” Joe says again, contemplatively this time. “You’re talking about worlds within a world.”
    “Precisely. And a theory currently doing the rounds is that one of those worlds - perhaps the most real of the realities - is hologrammatically generated.”
    “What do holograms have to do with reality? They’re just fancy three-dimensional pictures, aren’t they?”
    “Ever watch Star Trek?”
    “Sure!” he beams. “I’m no Trekkie, but I’ve seen most of the shows and all the films.”
    “You know about the holodecks?”
    “Who doesn’t?”
    “My theory works along the same lines. In the Star Trek universe it’s possible to generate three-dimensional holograms which look and sound and feel real. The illusion of reality is perfect on the holodecks and someone who didn’t know better, who wound up there by accident, wouldn’t suspect that the world they were experiencing wasn’t real.”
    “Yeah,” Joe nods. “They did several episodes about that. In one of them they used the holodeck to transport people from one world to another, giving them the impression that they’d never left home.”
    “That’s pretty much where I’m coming from. I’m going to be arguing in my book that this world is one giant holodeck which -”
    “Whoah!” Joe interrupts quickly. “You’re saying we’re not real, that we’re part of some computer programme?”
    “No. My theory - the theory I’ve borrowed - is that atoms operate on hologrammatical wavelengths. Reality is nothing more than a series of decoded signals, which can be altered by electromagnetically juggling the atomical frequencies. The brain acts as a decoder and a selector -- in essence, a creator.”
    “You’ve lost me,” Joe says.
    Pressing my palms down flat on the table, I try making it clear.
    “This table’s a mass of specifically modulated atoms, right?”
    “I’m with you so far.”
    “If we take reality at face value, this table can never be anything other than a table. The atoms are arranged in such a way that its appearance reflects its true state of being. To everybody in the world, it looks the same.”
    Joe nods understandingly.
    “But what if reality is subjective? What if objects are holograms? What if our brains are decoders?”
    Joe strokes his moustache thoughtfully.
    “The atoms of this table emit signals,” I press on. “Hologrammatic signals. Our brains receive and decode them, so if we touch the table it feels like a table; if we bend down and sniff, it smells like an old pub table; to all extents and purposes, it is a table.” I tap Joe’s head with my right index finger. “But what if someone was able to get inside your head and scramble your decoder? What if your brain could be programmed to decode the signals in a different way, so that to you this table looks, smells and feels like a pig?”
    Joe thinks about it. “But it wouldn’t be a pig. It’d be a table.”
    “You wouldn’t think so.”
    “Everyone else would.”
    “Not if their brains had been scrambled too.”
    “Takes a lot to scramble six billion odd brains,” Joe notes.
    “Quite,” I agree. “So why not scramble the object instead? What if some brains act not just as decoders but encryptors? What if you had the ability to stare at this table and rearrange its molecules, giving it the appearance, the feel, the vitality of a pig?”
    “That’s impossible,” Joe snorts.
    “Perhaps. But let’s say some people have the ability, realized or not, to change the face of the world.” I sit back and slowly twirl my glass on the table. “Death is physical. It’s the end of what we think of as reality. But these people, when they die ... What if they could see past the constrains of the physical? They could cheat death. They could recreate partial hologrammatical echoes of themselves and come back.”
    Joe’s eyes widen. “Ghosts,” he sighs.
    I stop twirling my glass, raise it in salute and wink. “Cheers.”
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