How Can Quantum Gravity Help Explain The Origin of the Universe?
Quantum Gravity Mural, Belfast, 2004.

It’s a wind-blown Saturday afternoon in Belfast in the north of Ireland. A new restaurant called Ratz, with an international theme has opened on Bradbury Place. The display menu boasts a wide variety of exotic dishes from around the globe. The exterior has an attractive sand-blown, glass fascia with a world map etched large onto it. Above the door a sign reads in bold italics: “Intercontinental Brasserie.“

I’m peering through the gap between Africa and Asia to have a look at the décor when a voice next to me suddenly says: “Anything good on the menu?”

I turn to my left and stare into the crystal blue, inquisitive eyes of an unknown stranger. They belong to a man who is middle aged and slightly dishevelled with longish, unkempt blonde hair and an unshaven, tanned and slightly wrinkled face. He’s wearing a two piece, dark blue rain suit and he’s pushing an over-used, blue bicycle. Over the handlebars hang an array of white, crinkled plastic bags, the contents unidentifiable.

“Oh, it looks pretty good,” I decide to answer cautiously. “Not too sure about their prices though…”

“So where are you from?” he asks in that familiar thick Belfast accent, the emphasis being on a slightly drawn out “you”.

“Southern Africa originally.”

“From far away then,” the man replies slowly and pensively. “Do you read much?”

It’s an out-of-the-blue question and I respond somewhat evasively, not too sure what to make of it. “Some. When I have the time.”

The man persists: “What is it that you like to read?”

After a flash mental scan I recall one or two books I had recently more or less worked my way through. I decide to mention a philosophical novel and a popular psychology title – the type of reading you could find at any local charity store or High Street book seller.

He listens attentively and I notice what seems to be a kind of perceiving, analysing quality to his gaze. Then, with a smile he says: “My name is Clarence and what is yours?”

“They call me Jack around here.”

“Well, you sound quite well-read Jack.”

Clarence’s bicycle is blocking the way slightly and a well-dressed elderly couple steps around us while carefully glancing him up and down. “Reading is just a hobby of mine, I guess,” I say.

“Oh, there are worse hobbies to have,” says Clarence matter-of-factly. “Have you ever heard of a book called Time Journeys, a Search for Cosmic Destiny and Meaning? It’s a good start to get you interested in physics and the possibilities of time travel. It’s by a man called Paul Halpern. Or alternatively you could try The Arrow of Time by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield. The tag line reads: A voyage through science, in search of Time’s Greatest Mystery!”

Clarence becomes animated as he continues. “Think about this: Why is it that time moves forward, but not backwards?” A slight pause. “Did you know that Einstein once remarked: The distinction between past, present and future is an illusion? If so, Jack, should we consider time-reversibility a possibility?” Raised eyebrows. “So, subjectively we interpret time as uni-directional, right? But, if the concept of chaos shows us that the future is open, it also points to the past being open, which means it would not result in an arrow of time.” Short pause. “So in theory we should be able to go back in time. Or maybe we should ponder the possibility of a safety-mechanism having been built into the universe to deny us from doing exactly that!” Expectant look.

Slightly stumped, I say: “Erm, well, I couldn’t say Clarence, but those are certainly very interesting points to ponder. I’ve always enjoyed a good read and a good think, but don’t really get much time for it these days.”

“Ah, a modern conundrum, Jack, but life experience and reading are the keys to wisdom and, unlike experience, reading is free.” Clarence reaches into one of his plastic bags and produces a pack of booklets with yellowish-and-blue covers banded together. He takes one, returns the rest, turns the booklet over and starts scribbling something on the back with a blue ballpoint pen. “Now, if that’s down your alley you might also want to seek out a book called The Frontiers of Complexity by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield. It deals with how complexity relates to evolution, ecology and cosmology and even touches on artificial intelligence. Very insightful.”

While speaking, Clarence jots down the titles and authors as he continues: “Another title worth mentioning is Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through parallel universes, time warps and the 10th dimension. It’s all in the name. You can find it right here in the city library – in fact, all of these books are there – this one is in the science category on the second floor, in the back aisle, it should be on the 3rd or 4th shelf, on the left – I think. It’s written by Michio Kaku, a Japanese writer.”

More people walk around us and Clarence moves his bike out of the way to prop it up against the wall while using the seat to press on as he continues. “But those are all very scientific, Jack. Equally interesting and depending on whether you have the time…” Broad smile. “Aye, more on the human side of things I could recommend The Quark and the Jaguar. It’s about human adaptive systems like language, culture, creativity, consciousness… aspects of human learning systems which are constantly in a state of flux. There’s even a section on our world ecological dilemmas with questions about sustaining a future for the human race and the biosphere. For instance: Can man naturally re-adapt to a more harmonious balance with our planet? Considering how modernized and industrialized we have become? Quite topical, wouldn’t you say.”

I’m about to respond, but our voices are drowned out by loud engine noises as a bus draws up. The now more blustery wind tugs at the hair and clothes of the disembarking passengers and causes leaves to roll and skid along the pavement. A disposable paper cup lid with a straw through it lifts off, spirals upwards, gains altitude and floats past us, then changes course to head up and away across the road. A couple of shops down from where we stand, in our direct line of sight, is a popular greasy spoon with heavenly smells of fried fish and chips. This and the gnawing hollowness in my stomach confirm my decision to cross the five-meter divide to fast food heaven after our conversation. The Intercontinental Brasserie would have to wait for another day.

Some of the bus passengers enter The Plaice, the double-decker departs and Clarence’s voice becomes audible again: “…you ever heard of electro-acupuncture, bio-resonance and scenar, Jack?”

I shrug a definite no.

“Okay, now this is real groundbreaking stuff. You can read about it in Virtual Medicine. It’s an overview of how ancient practices such as Chinese acupuncture and others are now being harnessed and integrated with electronic technologies. So these new devices are in effect cutting edge, virtual and holistic healing systems – the perfect marriage of the traditional and the modern! Amazing, really. Here’s some background: Scenar was originally developed for the Russian space program and what it does is it teaches the body to heal itself by using what they call biofeedback. What’s astounding is that it can actually read the body’s energy and then help to predict or determine and also cure diseases. Now, until recently this might have been considered quite alternative or New Age, but it’s all becoming mainstream. The researcher and author is a doctor by the name of Keith Scott-Mumby”

Clarence has filled an entire page by now and he turns the booklet over. “Here Jack, let me pose another question: Might there possibly be a link between quantum theory and consciousness? I mean, would you say that consciousness could possibly be scientifically explained or interpreted?”

I must be looking very perplexed, because Clarence says: “Oh aye – if you’re ready for a real paradigm shift then read a book called The Quantum Self. The writer makes a case for quantum processes being directly responsible for our subjective awareness.” A long pause. “That one certainly got me thinking too. Well worth a read. Also, keep an eye out for her other book, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence. She proposes that we all have a natural higher consciousness which may be laying dormant and unexplored within ourselves and that the first steps towards activating it is to become much more self-aware of our place in the universe and our necessary interaction with nature.”

“Could you please make a note of the author, Clarence?” I ask.

“Certainly, it’s by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall.”

“I was thinking of getting dinner soon, Clarence. Would join me? We could continue our conversation over a meal and a mug of tea.”

Big smile. “Oh no, Jack. Thank you. I’m well looked after and had something just before I left. I’m not going to keep you too long. I have a few more people to meet today, but let me jot a few more titles down.”

Moments pass as Clarence continues to make notes in the empty spaces on the third page of the booklet. “Before I forget, Jack. Since we’re on the subject of food, sea-food for that matter, I’ve got to mention The Omega 3 Connection by Andrew Stoll. I’m sure you’ve heard how fish oil is considered to be excellent brain food, but there’s much more to it. Omega 3 is the ticket to mental health, for anybody and everybody. It should be part of our regular staple diet and the research in this book proves it. Keeping in mind that amongst other near-magical traits it has the ability to restrict Alzheimer’s from developing and has proven very effective in treating depression”.

“How long will you be in Ireland for, Jack?”

“Oh, it’s indefinite for the moment, Clarence. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Okay, there’s a book here in the library you simply shouldn’t miss out on. It’s called Ingenious Ireland. Mary Mulvihill took six years to put it together. It’s a fascinating county-by-county tour of the island of Ireland. It covers everything from history to inventions, mysteries and myths, fossils and discoveries and science! You’ll need to spend time with it though as it has about 500 pages.”

Short pause. “Well, there you go, Jack! So now you know exactly what to read on your travels. When we meet again maybe you can suggest some reading material for me… and when you’re in a far-off destination next time send me a post card, will ye? I’ll put my address down here for you.”

Realizing that our impromptu meeting is soon to come to an end, I say: “I definitely will, Clarence and thanks a million for this, I mean it. It’s been absolutely fascinating.”

“No, no need to thank me Jack, this is just what I do – for the community, you know.  I was diagnosed with a condition a long time ago which would have affected my ability to lead a normal life. But, I was advised by my doctors to read as much as I could, all the time, to help me focus my mind, and it worked Jack! It was my salvation and we don’t need to suffer from an ailment to read now do we? Besides, what we choose to focus on is what we become aware of.”

“Well, that’s me Jack! I’m off.” Clarence hands the booklet over and climbs on his bike. “All the best! Browse through the rest of that when you get a chance. Everything you need to know about British Bonds is in there. The best returns for your money – and you stand a good chance of winning a prize every month too. I’ve won a few times!” he says looking back as he cycles off on his way up University Avenue.

I turn the booklet over and see: “N&SI Premium Bonds, 50th anniversary. Pick up your Anniversary Prize Draw leaflets to find out more.”

As I turn to enter The Plaice I look at my watch and realize that almost an hour and a half have passed. Inside, I find a table close to the window and while watching passers-by, questions of random chaos and chance meetings dance on my mind.

Loosely based on events in 2005.

(Names have been changed)

Text and image by Jean-Jacques  Montagnier

© 2008


Explorer, Philosopher, Photographer


  1. I cycle from south Belfast to the centre every day for work, and have done so for the past year. I think I know this guy and have often thought that he may have a certain perspective sorted. After reading this, I will seek a conversation with him.

  2. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Thanks for the replies and for reading. To anonymous of Belfast – if you do speak with him, I think you will find him to be a very fascinating and interesting person – I’m really glad I engaged with him on that day and I’m sure you will too – try to take some information about an interesting book along to exchange.

    As for your question, Michelle: No, but I’ve done quite a bit of research into the books he listed, in order to write this piece, as it happened over two years ago – I needed to refresh my memory just a wee bit 😉 I’ve short-listed a few from his long list (we spoke for over an hour) for myself, which I definitely intend to read. I had read one or two (only) similar books in the past, so I had a broad of idea of the type of academic writing he was talking about.

    What was astounding was his apparent photographic memory. He was quoting whole sentences and paragraphs of some of the books and told me which pages (the exact numbers) of the books and which paragraphs he was quoting from. On top of that, in every case he knew exactly where in the library to find them – floor, aisle and shelf numbers!

    Then, in addition he knew everything about the authors and also provide some history on them. With the Irish authors, he could tell me the addresses of where some of them either (famously) worked or lived.

    I could not include everything in the story and did not feel the need to, but the event as it happened, including my own thoughts are more or less intact.

    I might include his full list here in the comments section sometime – I still have the booklet.

  3. I’ve just been tto the post office. I bought a kit-kat, but on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph an article caught my eye. ‘Omega Oil Saves my Child’, or some such. Page 5.

    Synchronicity? What a day.

  4. Zoltan

    wow man, what a post 🙂 although i’m not in quantum physics, i’ve seen the movie called ‘What the Bleep Do We Know?’ which shows the ‘esoteric’ side of the whole thing. some say it’s just a misinterpretation, who knows but worth a try 🙂 anyways, isn’t this mural is on balfour ave? i think i’ve seen it before… ah, and there was a cool cafe’ on botanic ave too.

  5. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Hello Z! I can’t say I’m into quantum physics either but “Clarence” really made me very aware of it – more than I was, before. I’ll look into that movie on Google Video – sounds good. Yeah, you probably walked past the mural at some point – its close to the Ormeau Bridge (up the road from the Hatfield Bar, if you remember). From there you can walk along the Lagan River to the Central Train Station and its along that path. I got the photo long before the event happened. Ah Yeah, Botanic Avenue and South Belfast – (& Stranmillis) – I’m already missing it – we will have to visit sometime 😉

  6. Michelle

    Hi J

    Sorry I took so long to reply. I’m constantly awed by people who can quote paragraphs, names, book titles. I hold onto nothing. I once met a similarly fascinating man in Inverness. This man was a story-teller – professionally. He recited a poem for me. There’s me behind a till in a tiny shop with this man spouting poetry like an actor on a stage. I mentioned I wrote poetry and he was very excited. He asked me to recite a poem and I opened my mouth and…


    I couldn’t even remember my own poems! DUH moment.

    Now back to your story. 🙂
    Funny you should be talking quantum physics. I have a video for you. It relates to quantum physics, but in a nice amusing and easy to digest way.

    First time the concept of being a 4 dimensional being actually made sense to me!

  7. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Hi M! Your experience of short term memory loss sounds like a classic case of “put on the spot”. When I met the Man on the Bicycle he wanted to know about the books I had read, but I didn’t elaborate very much, as I could only remember the general gist of them – luckily he let me off the hook, presumably because he assumed as much – your storyteller had higher expectations 🙂

    Oh, and thanks for the link – Very Interesting – looks like it might be a good series 😉

    PS: Wouldn’t mind hearing more about your Inverness Storyteller!

  8. I now have two tubes of Omega 3, one at home and one at work.

    I saw Clarence, too, outside where I work in the centre of Belfast. I didn’t stop him though, for I knew I hadn’t the time to explain myself without sounding like a rabid fool. Shall keep yis posted…

  9. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    🙂 Hello again, Anonymous! I would be very interested in knowing how the Omega3 works out – I haven’t gotten around to trying it, but as you know I’m a big fish lover – and I have at least three to four fish meals a week, which I believe is one of the keys to my relative ongoing well-being and health Oh, just a reminder – he’s real name is not Clarence… So I can’t absolutely guarantee that you’ll be approaching the right guy. It would be interesting though, to know if he has any new recommendations.

    All the best. J.J.

  10. Dennis

    A wonderful encounter. How often does someone you meet burst with such enthusiasm for reading and the subjects?! Not a mystery yarn in the bunch. Everyone, EVERYONE has some wisdom to impart, by willingly listening to people we open ourselves to accepting the jewel of knowledge they hold. Rarely do people not offer to share their treasure.
    The jewel for me was:

    “…. what we choose to focus on is what we become aware of…”

    That choice is always ours. Choose well.

  11. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    The interesting and inspiring thing about “the man on the bicycle” was that he was purposefully going around, approaching people and sharing his knowledge and wisdom – and in that sense expanding people’s consciousness and awareness, almost like it was a calling. This is quite rare in my opinion.

    Yes, very good point, its still up to us to willfully listen and if/when we don’t (choose to) we may be losing out on MUCH more than we realize. Of course we also need to let go of judgement and prejudice to allow ourselves to listen and have the wisdom to realize that we can benefit from somebody else’s wisdom. Just last year I discovered one of the books he recommended in a second hand bookstore in Cape Town (it just “jumped out” at me) and bought it straight away. It ended up being one of the best books I’ve ever read on spirituality…

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