Friday, December 26, 2008


A Media Virus by Bobby Campbell
(New strains every Thor's day

-Franklin Merrell Wolff

The Toynbee Tile media virus is a wonderful curiosity that I am
happy to propagate onward, upward, and spiraling out of control!

The virility of this cryptic memetic aggregate, interestingly enough, does
not spring from digital age machinations, this is no internet phenomena.
These messages have been intractably embedded in the concrete and asphalt hardware of cities all around the Americas for over 25 years.

My home city of Philadelphia, PA, USA is a focal point in the mystery, as there are such a great many of these plaques in our streets, and evidence suggests that the original creator was likely a native resident.

Do please allow this audio/visual presentation by The Vivian Girls Experience to shed some light on the situation:

I first learned of this very peculiar rigamarole via Justin Duer, a highly notable Philadelphia artist/musician. We were sharing display space at the Philly Zine Fest, when he was interviewed about the long awaited documentary on the matter, Resurrect Dead.

Here is Justin and Co. providing further exposition on a Philadelphia local news segment:

It wasn't until a couple years after overhearing Justin Duer's interview that I would actually become fascinated by the mystery myself.

In late November of 2007, upon catching a news story on the radio about the tiles, I began to poke around a bit on the internet for to enjoy further information on the subject. I had satisfied my curiosity w/ only just a few brief blurbs, when I inadvertently knocked over my copy of Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With A Thousand Faces." I picked up the book and but of course it had opened to a page wherein the word "Toynbee" shone out like some kinda clownish beacon.

"The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man - perfected, unspecific, universal man - he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed."

"Well, sure, okay, fine!" I thought, I'll dig a little deeper then, and in so doing I turned up this video of a St. Louis local news segment, which features a man with a blue beard discussing Toynbee Tiles. And well, it just so happens that I know a fella w/ a blue beard, as do many of ye esteemed MLA alumni...

I promptly fired off an E-mail to our friend The Capt., who confirmed indeed and of course that it was he in the video.

2 days later I would find my first real life Toynbee Tile.

Several months later, en route to my first day of work at a Philadelphia media company, I would walk over a Toynbee Tile while transferring from train to bus.

Having eagerly reported for duty an hour early, I then went to enjoy a coffee at the Penrose Diner, and while reading my well worn edition of Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media", happened upon the following passages:

"In his Study of History, Toynbee notes a great many reversals of form and dynamic..."

"In the ancient world the intuitive awareness of break boundaries as points of reversal and of no return was embodied in the Greek idea of hubris, which Toynbee presents in his Study of History, under the head of "The Nemesis of Creativity" and "The Reversal of Roles."

And so it goes, the miscellaneous and disheveled happenstance of experience, where nothing happens for a reason, but everything can get put to a purpose.



Bogus Magus said...

Well, another complete surprise, even for a reader of Fortean Times.

I had never heard of the Toynbee Tiles, and if you had said 'Toynbee' to me I might have hazarded "the rise and fall of civilizations man?" but couldn't have got much further...

Interesting, in light of our pursuit of Vico and other Eternal Return cyclic models of history...

According to Wikipedia, it seems he didn't believe in inevitable cycles in quite that way, but more as civilizations rising to challenges, or failing. And it looks as though he demarcated civilizations through their major religious influences, (an idea that still doesn't look dumb, sad to say) .

Cheers, Bobby - another tail to chase (we dogs love doing that...)

So which of his ideas appeared in 2001...I note that he seems to have thought myths important in comparative history...which edges him towards the Joe Campbell area, but Jupiter didn't appear in the saga until 2010, I think (?)

When did the tiles start appearing again?

borsky said...

Fascinating stuff Bobby, well researched, written and illustrated. Never heard of this neither. Seems like you're writing a memetic chrestomathy!
We Await Silent Tristero's Empire…

Steve said...

I've seen these, never thought about them. Nifty!

I find it amazing the amount of depth and time Action News put into this story. This must be the extended version culled from the editing room floor.

They would have had to make room for the crime story and the weather and the sports story.

Bogus Magus said...

Seems like an open invite to crop-circlers, everywhere!

Bobby Campbell said...

Good day, Gentlemen!

I'm very much obliged to have such high caliber consideration of these here puzzles!

Some more grist for the mill:


"The first confirmed sighting of a Toynbee Tile was in Philadelphia, PA, in 1983. Other unconfirmed claims date back to the mid-'70s, possibly as early as 1975."

1983 is an interesting reference point in the mystery, as in March of that year the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a short news story on a man named James Morasco, who had started a Jupiter colonization organization called the Minority Association.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Call me skeptical, but I had a hard time buying James Morasco's concept that the planet Jupiter would be colonized by bringing all the people of Earth who had ever died back to life and then changing Jupiter's atmosphere to allow them to live. Is this just me, or does that strike you as hard to swallow too? Morasco says he is a social worker in Philadelphia and came across this idea while reading a book by historian Arnold Toynbee, who's theory on bringing dead molecules back to life was depicted in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey."

Also in 1983, David Mamet published a short play called 4 AM.

"about a radio talk show host's routine-sounding run-in with an eccentric conspiracy theorist. This conspiracy theorist espoused his belief in, you guessed it, resurrecting the dead on Jupiter through the teachings of Arnold J. Toynbee and Arthur C. Clarke."

Plenty more twists left even still, I reckon!

Bogus Magus said...

Anyone found any trace of Toynbee's more far-out theories?

Does he really discuss reincarnating molecules in a history of the rise and fall of civilizations? Wouldn't someone have noticed this in a work of history? Maybe it appears in some other work of his?

Bobby Campbell said...

Hey Bogus!

Justin Duer directed me towards this portion of the Toynbee Tile wikipedia page, so as to help elucidate where from Toynbee the idea might have come:

"According to letters written by the tiler, allegedly uncovered by Toynbee tile researchers in Philadelphia in 2006,[citation needed] "Toynbee's idea" stems from a passage in Arnold Toynbee's book Experiences, pgs. 139-142:

Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into 'soul' and 'body' is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body... Someone who accepts - as I myself do, taking it on trust - the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more 'scientifically' if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit."

It is interesting (at least to me!) to note that the page of "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" that I happened upon w/ the Toynbee Reference also included a critical footnote about the professor, basically presenting the idea that Toynbee advocates Christian/Catholic mythos as the sole means to salvation due to his misunderstanding the eastern traditions, which sing the same song in but a different manner, supposedly unbeknownst to Prof. Toynbee...?

I don't know enough about it one way or the other, but a fine enough quirk to add to the mix I reckon!

Justin also includes further clues about the "TOYNBEE IDEA" in question:

In that book (Toynbees autobiography) he does delve into speculation about resurrection of life, suspended animation for space travel, etc. -- speculating things he imagines he won't live to see. He makes an amazingly accurate prediction about organ transplants and the ability to 'grow' replacement organs etc.

Borsky added this excellent plot twist to the MLA thread:

From Wikipedia's entry on "3001: the final Odyssey":
"After visiting Earth, the aliens continued to evolve, to the point where they eventually found out a way to integrate themselves into the fabric of space, and became non-corporeal beings."… "Presumably, the monolith was empowered to obliterate the nascent biosphere of Jupiter but needed a higher authority's approval to obliterate the technological civilization on Earth. There is considerable worry that the judgment, which was _base_d on the monolith's observations of humanity up to 2001, will be negative."
I remember the scene in the 2010 filick with all the black monolith flaoting towards the gas giant. A bit like tiles flying around?
We'll never know what's next as Arthur C. Clarke left his beloved Colombo for presumably Europa (or is it Sirius) last March.

platts42 said...

This was a great read. A true art mystery for the modern ages. The weird part is that they are found in other cities. Someone is really trying to get the word out.

Cosmic Ti69er said...

Great post. Never heard of this until someone directed me here after I posted something on Jupiter. You might get a kick out if it as it connects with this well.

Peace and thanks.

#6 said...

The original man who made them was a member of the Minority Society, and he had no right to expose their teachings. But he got sick, and upset, and so was inspired to breach the code of silence. Since then, since the idea is powerful, it has taken root outside the Minority Society.

Further guidance is available in the 1970s Marvel Comics John Carter series. It's an old idea.

Bogus Magus said...

Another teasing clue, #6, thanks.

I note that MySpace contains a page on the matter, and although the webpage that points to seems currently unavailable, it does point to an active discussion forum on the topic.


Related Posts with Thumbnails