Recollections of the Founding of the Network – George Blaker

George BlakerThe incidents surrounding the birth of the Network that now, some 20 years later, stand out most sharply in my memory, occurred in the period of struggle, before the birth, when two or three friends discussed what we thought was needed but could not see how to get it started in practice. I longed for people in the world as a whole, and particularly in the West, to adopt easily and naturally a view of the Universe that embraced the reasonableness of the possibility – or the certainty as it seemed to me – that forms of intelligent life exist that are invisible to us and operating in a quite different environment of their own, some of it interpenetrating ours but all of it undetected by our ordinary bodily senses. Such an expansion of the unspoken but compelling assumptions confining human consciousness would be bound to lead, it seemed to me, to a new renaissance of human creativity in all directions and in particular, and most crucially, to an understanding of the paramount importance of the utterly neglected spiritual dimension which alone could transform intellectual knowledge into wisdom.

In the climate of that time, around 1969, it seemed obvious that neither orthodox religion nor science could possibly take such a concept seriously, let alone accept it or promote research designed to investigate it. We tried to look through the mist into the future. It appeared to be a blank wall, with scarcely a chink of light showing through. I wrote a poem about being enclosed in four brown walls. But the probing went on without a break.

After about three years of this preparation, things suddenly got precipitated onto a practical level. The telephone rang and a voice at the other end said, in effect, “I am Andrew Glazewski. You don’t know me, but I have heard what you are trying to do. If I have got it right I also know someone else trying to do the same thing. His name is Dr Patrick Shackleton , Dean of Postgraduate Medical Studies at the University of Southampton”.

I had never heard of either of them. Andrew Glazewski gave the same message to Patrick, and Patrick nobly came over from Winchester to my home in Surrey. A whole day’s intensive discussion convinced us both that we really were trying to do the same thing, he in medicine and I in science. We resolved on the spot that it would be ludicrous to compete and that we had to join forces. From that moment the brown walls began to lose their rigidity. They could be pushed.

Almost immediately another key figure appeared for the first time on the screen of my memories and has remained there intermittently ever since, I am glad to say, – Sir Kelvin Spencer. Patrick had already been working with him for some time. He brought to bear on our problems a warm and generous personality, outspokenness, originality, and a skill at picking out the essential features of a situation. He summoned two meetings at Exeter University and by the time the second of these had ended the Network was in being, with its first handful of members. It intended to remain, for some years at least, strictly informal, with no structure and no name.

Thereafter Patrick and I met often, at a hotel on the Hog’s Back, roughly half way between us, to discuss how to progress. Kelvin occasionally came too and there the deliberations were joined once or twice by Dr Peter Leggett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey.

My memories of the early days of the Network are inextricably intertwined with other recollections of Peter Leggett , who has been a pillar of strength of the Network from those days to this. I met him just once in 1932 when we were both undergraduates at Trinity College, Cambridge. Then again just once, probably about 1965, at the Government’s Council for Scientific Policy. The next occasion was when we were discussing, under the auspices this time of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies, some of the problems that the Network was later to be involved with. In the light of later events it seemed entirely appropriate that one day about 1938 when I was driving South along the A243, past the end of Fairoak Lane, I looked along the Lane and said to my wife: “Funny, I feel as though we have a close friend living in that road, round the corner out of sight on the left. I wonder who it could be?” I did not know then that it was to be Peter or that he would come to live there.

If any one of these star players in the drama of the formation of the Network, Andrew, Patrick, Kelvin or Peter had not accepted the parts that had been prepared for them, the plot would have had to be changed and the impact of the production would have been less. There have been many other accomplished actors too on this stage, notably, in those early days, Eileen Noakes. May the pattern they have set be maintained and extended until the barriers of thought with which we fence ourselves in have been moved so far away as to be no longer constraining us.