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  • Duncan Mackay

LUCKY PEBBLES


What makes a pebble 'lucky'? What mysterious alchemy of time, place and senses conspire to guide the searcher to the discovery of a single pebble, amongst the millions on a beach, so distinct that it becomes 'special'? I have long pondered this quirk of the coalescence of nature and humanity. My small collection of lucky pebbles belittles the immense process of sample rejection in the search for the perfect pebble - the holy grail of shingle.

What makes me think that here is an unassuming but stunning treasure in such a stone? I see it, pick it up, examine it and feel for something of its journey through time. These are fragments of millions of years of travel, something far beyond the wit of man, we are, after all, just a last minute oddment of a species in the bigger scheme of things. What does this pebble tell me beyond its geological character of deposition, eruption or plutonic birth pangs? Where has it been recently and what grinding forces of sea-wash, ice sheet or flash flooding transformed it from rocky angularity to the smoothness of silk or pock-marked chambers of ancient bones or twinkling crystals or shimmering nacre? Why do I like it so? What attracts me to it?

There is a thesis that the 'love of landscape' is also the 'landscape of love'. Our brains operate as if we still lived by our senses in a wild world where places of prospect and places of refuge were our keenest insurances for survival. The places we love the most are perhaps also imprinted at an early age around 8 and we remain with this selective imprinting as we age even if we travel amongst other diverse topographies. Why do some people love beaches or mountains or savannah as an acute preference over other places on offer? Are woodlands too dark to be likeable? Why do women, in particular, fear constricted woodland paths? Do we love the places where we feel the most at ease or do we get more excited by edge environments; the coast, mountainous cliffs, or forest margins for instance? Are we drawn unconsciously to test prospective mates in such places to gauge their reactions? Once so tested perhaps, why indeed do we give our potential or actual mating partners stones, deemed precious, as gifts, or as objects to bond each to the other as partners for life?

I have always been attracted to beaches and the random excitement of the junction of land and water and its serendipitous findings. Once (and only once - they really are that rare), I found a smooth, highly polished pebble of red jasper sticking out from a low cliff of dull grey clay in a place that I knew had no red jasper. However, I knew exactly what it was immediately. It was like an electric shock. Suddenly I was connected to the mind of a Cretaceous era dinosaur and I was seeing this pebble through their eyes and brain. It was a gastrolith, a stone deliberately and very carefully selected by a dinosaur and swallowed to help it grind up its food amongst its gastric juices in its digestive tract. The stomach acid and the grinding created the extreme lustre and polished edges of the long ago swallowed stone. Seeing what a dinosaur might have seen and seeing what a dinosaur might have picked out because of its intrinsic special qualities as a pebble was a spine-tingling thrill. I felt 'connected' in a very weird and peculiar way. So, that's obviously a lucky pebble. There are others. All of them have stories in stone. See some in my shop when it opens.

Can a pebble have consciousness? Certainly, the view of writer, philosopher and archaeologist Tom Lethbridge, is that it can. He was a dowser, and, using a pendulum on a cord held at different but precise lengths, he created a scale of response 'rates' that he claimed could identify not only underground water or detect subsurface precious metals but also respond to emotions such as love or hate 'stored' in objects. He was adamant that his pendulum experiments on sling-stones retrieved from archaeological digs at Maiden Castle in Dorset, where the local Iron-Age tribes fought desperate life and death battles with invading Roman armies, could detect the response of 'hate' imbued into the stones. This might seem hard to swallow but neurosciences are now beginning to create hypotheses of a similar nature.

'Panpsychism is the claim that consciousness is not just a property of the brain, and not a property of some special spiritual kind of substance like the soul, but rather a property of everything in the universe. Even a rock or a pebble or an atom has a little bit of consciousness in it. Panpsychism has been endorsed by two distinguished neuroscientists, Christof Koch and Guilio Tononi.'

Dr Paul Thagard, Psychology Today 20 January 2014


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