By Kajal Basu
The spiritual, scientific and cultural all come together as the members of the Damanhur community in Italy experiment with time travel. After years of study, they claim to have devised a system that takes you back to the past. But is time travel for real?
Understanding time travel is going to take tie. Understanding time travel according to an enigmatic, insular, self-professedly cutting-edge New Age group is going to take much, much more.
When the leaders of Damanhur, a utopian and somewhat phantasmagorically-inclined spiritual kibbutz in Catholic-dominated northern Italy, claimed that its members could go back in time, the first honest reaction was a titter. In clinically scientific terms, the concepts of time travel is a matter of such insanely complicated theoretical meta-mathematics that it keeps most cults from claiming to have sat and quaffed wine with Charlemagne or gazed upon Gautama the Buddha.
In fact, Life Positive, scouring libraries for frustratingly scattered New Age information and inspiration, chanced upon a lead story on Damanhur’s time travel in a British magazine, Kindred Spirit, and ended up admiring the organization’s full frontal bravado. We shot off a fax with a list of queries. The reply was prompt: only, it was six pages of impenetrable hyper-jargon, which suggested that the Damanhurians were either too close to the issue to simplify its essentials or were deliberately obfuscating it.
Evading the issue of time travel (‘these are quite special researches whose results we normally do not disclose’), Esperide, a spokesperson for the community wrote: ‘The most important principle of all our researches is that art and science are complementary to each other, it is possible to obtain results that contemporary science declares impossible, if you combine human creativity and will with technology.’
Damanhur also flew very close to the sun: it was featured on BBC TV’s primetime Europe Today in May 1996—not because of its USP of traveling in time, but because of a neighborly civic spat with the citizens of Valchiusella, a valley at the foothills of the Italian Alps, with whom the Damanhurians happen to live too close for mutual comfort.
Unfortunately for the citizens, as with the handful of multinational cults rich and powerful enough to afford their own currency, Damanhur is not budging. If anything, it has dug its toes in; as of March 1996, one Damanhur ‘credit’ is worth 1,400 liras, said to be fully convertible within the valley; the organization has purchased, upfront and cash-down, 120 hectares of dense woodland, 5 hectares of slickly built-up urban surface, 60 hectares of fecund farmland, and over 70 buildings. Damanhur’s ‘autonomous’, nonpartisan association is cleverly named Con Te per il Paese (With you for the country) and claims 15,000 supporters across Italy.
As with all smart and ambitious cults, Damanhur promotes only the most public arts: brilliant architecture, outsized like that of all major religions and designed to induce awe; Tiffany doors and windows, and painted and stained glass domes; a workshop that designs mosaics for the floors and walls of the subterranean grid; artists’ studios; and computer graphics.
The walls of this well-lit society are lined with bas-reliefs and candle stand niches with colored, liquid-filled glass spheres-the ‘sphereselfs’, virtual television monitors that are said to keep tabs on trips to the past. Memory and data storage are provided by ‘crystalselfs’. The former are ‘composed of a metal structure combined with a sphere containing alchemic liquids that can be programmed for very complex functions, for one or more people; the latter are built of metals and crystals’.
The foundation of Damanhurian creativity rests on the most common and beautiful template in nature: the Golden Mean, a quadrangular fractal design evident in all seashells, plant leaves, anemones. The Damanhurians call it ‘the spiral’, the basis of ‘selfica, an ancient science’.
Selfica is also the architectural matrix in Damanhur: ‘the largest selfic structure in the world’, it helped plan the cavernous main hall; it forms the ‘Temple of Mankind, which contains-hidden inside its walls and floors-300 tons of circuits and connections’. Damanhurians claim that it is a giant capacitor, producing the mega-volts it says are necessary for time travel.
>The digging began on a Saturday in 1978, ‘a warm August night’, with cofounder and chief ideologue Oberto Airaudi and a dozen wannabe Damanhurians.
Over the years, Damanhur went secular and began multitasking. The baseline: ‘In a historical moment in which more and more peoples and races are extinguishing, making all mankind poorer in culture and diversity, Damanhur is creating a human group with its own artistic, philosophical and cultural expression, a new people based on the exaltation of the differences among individuals, differences made precious and irreplaceable by the pursuit of a common goal.’
Stories and avowals of traveling through time usually demand a suspension of disbelief so extreme that only watchmakers, factory-floor timekeepers, intellectually-challenged teenage punks awestruck by idiocies of pulp science fiction, and idiot savant quantum physicists will not pillory you if you say that you’ve actually visited your grandmother when she was a bon lassie of l2.
nly once you are over this hurdle can you begin to give the Damanhurians a patient hearing. Airaudi is a sure-footed surname-dropper—Planck, Heisenberg, Pauli, Bohr, Einstein? Airaudi’s loose-cannon intellect merely glances off quantum physics before haring off to rendezvous with ‘neutral nonevents linked to one another by a lace of aggregation and compression flux, a sort of unexpressed symmetry’, and more of the same .
All this is fine but is unlikely to impress chronologists: time travel has its dead serious students and theories founded on pure math that range from an infinite number of parallel and unidirectional time streams, the patterns of chaos, time streams resembling elevators (one for up, one for down), time packets (time that comes in Xmas packages of past/ present/future, not as a linear and seamless continuum), individually-tailored subjective time, and so on. In fact, at its simplest, time travel is what millions of air travelers do every day—they lose time flying east, catch up with tomorrow flying west.
To Signor Airaudi’s credit, there is one theory (the simplest) of time travel that makes some sort of sense to the lay-person: ‘Imagine that apart from the laws regarding the infinitely small and the very large, there are other laws which refer only to the small and only to the large. Let’s imagine that a theory similar to the Herto theory describes the universe made not of particles but rather of directions.
‘I refer to time, for instance: in its flux we are immersed and carried to the ‘future’ directions, whereas other particles would be ‘past’ or ‘present’ directions. Let’s try and change the words height, length and width with future, past and present.
‘In a solid body, it’s the position of the observer which determines the meaning of high, low, long or wide. If we take a wood cube and we define its dimensions, writing them on its faces, they will change as soon as we rotate it with respect of us, so that ‘high’ becomes ‘long’, and so on.
‘A time cabin, therefore, is nothing but a system to ‘turn the cube faces’ and, in a semi-constant field (the time flux with past-future directions) to give a different direction to the observer-fruitor.’
This is good hypnotic stuff in bold neon, the kind that lights up gray sociology. But is Damanhur a glorious marriage between science and art? How permanent and truthful is it? Will I ever get to meet my grandmother when she was still in frocks? Only time will tell!
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