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3/5/09

What Is Time? Countess Toutschkoff Foresaw Her Husband's Death At The Battle of Borodino















I
I am a skeptical person but on two different occasions things happened to me that normal empiricism cannot explain. One day, about to pick up the phone, I knew beyond doubt who was calling and what he would say, although I had never met him, nor did I anticipate the call. Then there was a second time. One morning I awakened, and as my eyes slowly focused on the ceiling, I knew unequivocally that my mother-in-law had died the night before. And she had. These are only two incidents, and they hardly suffice as reliable scientific indicators of paranormal events, but they were enough for my confidence that phenomena occur which are unexplainable by common sense or science. They also helped me understand that scientific materialism is only another form of metaphysics.

Unsatisfied with scientific materialism, Maurice Maeterlinck, (Nobel in Literature, 1911) wrote about death and the meaning of life, and in one book,The Unknown Guest (1914), he has an account that is remarkable. It is about Countess Toutschkoff and her strange dream, one that became famous during the Nineteenth Century, but which is almost forgotten today.

II
In early June 1812, the wife of General Toutschkoff experienced something that shook her to the core and would change her life forever. She beheld time in a way few have.

About three months before the French army invaded Russia, Countess Toutschkoff had the same dream three times in one night. Her husband slept next her. She dreamed she was at an inn in a town she had never seen. In the dream her father entered her room at an inn, leading her son. "Your happiness is at an end," said the father. Speaking of Countess Toutschkoff's husband, General Toutschkoff, her father told her "he has fallen. He has fallen at Borodino." After the third dream, she sat up in bed, awakened her husband, and asked the location of Borodino. They both looked for it on maps of Russia but could not find it.

Then came the event foretold. Before Napoleon's army reached Moscow, General Toutschkoff, her husband, was ordered to hold the line with his reserves against Napoleon's troops at a place about sixty miles from Moscow.

On the morning of 7 September 1812, her father entered her room at an inn, leading her son. His voice choked and broke as he told her that her husband had died for Mother Russia. Toutschkoff had fallen at the Borodino River, near an obscure village of the same name.

III
Now, quite obviously we have two ways of interpreting this. It is either true or it is false. If true, it disturbingly suggests that the future is predetermined, and is up ahead waiting for us, regardless of our preferences. I take no sides, but having had my own personal experiences,which I mentioned, I cannot handily dismiss it. There is also the experience of my wife, who dreamed of a scene, a canal with buildings, months before we knew we would move to Gouda, in The Netherlands. One day while we rode bicycles she saw the very scene she had dreamed about.

I have support for my openness toward the issue of time. Evidence from quantum physics has opened wider vistas, casting doubt, implying that beyond our common sense world lie other dimensions hidden to us. In philosophic and physics communities it is acceptable to think about time like space, an everywhen as well as an everywhere. And what is time itself? As physicist Julian Barbour puts it, "Time as such does not exist but only change." Long ago St. Augustine said, "If you don't ask me what time is, I know. If you ask me, I know not." We all talk about time, but even our common sense view is only an abstraction--that it occurs as events along a line extending out of the past into the future. When we come down from abstractions we don't have a clue what it is.

None of this explains seeing into the future as in Countess Toutschkoff's dream, but the math of quantum physics finds no reason time's arrow cannot flow backward as well as forward, out of the future into the past. Still, death comes to us all, even to physicists who say it can flow both ways. Our deaths reveal time as asymmetrical. What if it were symmetrical as in math theories? Imagine a movie of a vase falling from a table, shattering into many pieces. Johann Josef Loschmidt held that, because fundamental laws of physics are time-symmetric, a reverse flow is equally possible. Theoretically the vase could also leap back onto the table, reassembling its shards.

In the interest of brevity, this statement does not reason out of the prior one, but here is what I think. The door is open; the proof against such dreams has not arrived. Nor do I believe it ever will.
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(All historians agree that Borodino was one of the bloodiest battles since the introduction of gunpowder. The London Statistical Society places the killed and wounded in the French army at 28,085, out of 133,000 troops present on the field. The Russian army numbered 132,000 at that battle, and the losses were about the same, if not more. )

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