The following essay was originally written in 2019, in a single sitting, as a blind submission to a psychoanalytic essay contest held by the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in honor of the late psychoanalyst Suzanne Chassy.
What kind of a title is that?
It’s what I want to be.
Well you came to the right place, then.
Northern California edition!
San Francisco. City Hall Rotunda. Where I got married (in a burst of insane optimism, I guess like everybody does). With two gay best men. Who hosted our reception the next morning, featuring burritos we went out to get from El Farelito, a great little hole in the wall south of Market.They put an entire half an avocado in each one!
Exactly. You’re allowed to—no, you’re supposed to, in psychoanalysis.
And that there—that digression, that riff, that thought-train, if you will—
I think of it as a free association arc. Starting at Northern California, and ending at avocados.
For the moment. One could always go on.
Climate change, for starters—avocados being so water-intensive and freshwater being increasingly scarce; and Monarch butterflies, who have a singular breeding ground in Mexico that is threatened by plantation agriculture, which is why I have forbidden the buying of Mexican avocados for our family, provoking conflict with my husband, who raises what I admit are entirely reasonable questions about the efficacy of boycotts; and Trump, who at this writing is threatening to close the Mexican border, and for whom I wish more people on the left would pray, an opinion that makes me an extreme outlier in any peer group to which I could possibly claim to belong; and a lovely little antique book about Mexican plants and animals that I picked up at the seemingly random, just-sprung-up-at-the-side-of-the-road flea market that my husband and kids and I stopped at on our way back from a very weird weekend at Orgonon, the former home of Wilhelm Reich, in rural Maine; which flea market, incidentally, is the same one at which I found a beautiful old copy of the very same book-length poem an illustration of which hangs in the consulting room of the last psychoanalyst I consulted, and a comforting email from whom, immediately prior to my wandering among the tables of old books, I had just read.
That reads exhausting. Ly.
Yes. But’s that’s what it’s like.
Yes. Introspection is the name of the game here, nu? Looking inward: here’s what can be seen.
All of that was general-population-friendly except “nu.” Not everyone is Jewish, you know.
Right. Time for our first aside.
It came to me—let’s just say, for the sake of argument, for the sake of discussion, for the sake, if nothing else, of Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the (alleged) giving of the Torah to the Jews by (if He-She-It exists) God, for the celebration of which, in 2018, I first typed these words on a screen—let’s say it came to me in a dream.
A kind of a Yiddish koan.
All God gave Moses was an aleph
All Moses gave God was a “nu?”
The first part we have from Menachem Mendel, of Poland, the great tsadik, or righteous mystic, of Napoleon’s time. The idea—isn’t it a beautiful one?—that God gave Moses only one, first, silent letter; that from this voiceless breath of God, this one moment of thought transmitted and received—from the seed of this has grown everything that Moses and all of us who followed him have composed of our Torah, written and oral, in word and in deed. And every year, we are called, on Shavuot, to begin it again: to begin the task of reading, and listening, and writing anew. . .indeed, with a new “Nu”!
For what is “nu”? It is the most multifaceted interjection in Yiddish. It can mean “really?” and “don’t you think?” “You’re fucking kidding me,” and “let’s move on.” It can also mean “What’s up, bro?” “Holy moly!” “Tell me more. . .” and even “Can I get some help here, please? “All these manifestations, however, have a common and tripartite core.
“Nu” first acknowledges the other. It answers, it inter-jects, it comes in the middle of something—a conversation, an exchange—or it initiates connection, interrupting the other’s solitude. Nu? Whatcha doing? I see you, over there—I see that you are.
Secondly, “nu” thinks. It twists its way through consciousness, takes on any one of a myriad of possible intonations, conveying amusement, irritation, resignation, puzzlement—but in any case it absorbs, and reflects back. It says: I not only see you, I see—well let’s just call it the situation, I see that. The Gestalt you’ve got going on, one could say. And after seeing it, I have—well, what do I have, really? If nothing else, I have a view.
And finally, “nu” invites connection. Whether question or exclamation—even when succeeded by a wistful ellipsis—“nu” wants to keep the conversation alive. It says: I see you, I see the situation, I have a view and —well, let me tell you about it, and you tell me what you think, and then I’ll tell you what I think and—so on, ad beautiful infinitum.
Because the infinitum, after all, is what we’re after. As religious or non-religious thinkers, as Jews. We are always striving toward the truth, inaccessible though it may be. We try to catch whatever glimpse we can. And we remain always in dialogue with our idea of the Ultimate, which some of us call God—even in denial, in attack, in exasperation or in bafflement. Even in sorrow or in rage.
It’s that dialogue we are invited to begin again each Shavuot, when we are enjoined to stay up all night, talking Torah; and perhaps it is also what gets done in psychoanalysis, at least at its best, or at least in my dreams.
We sit and listen, each in our own silence, until we perceive the tiny aleph, resonating in the mind’s ear. Then we speak, from whatever mood and angle feels honest to our hearts—with the freedom and the safety that the surety of an answer confers.
Breaks ensue; there are blocks and blind spots. But every time, something rises anew: this business, after all, is interminable.
A one speaks to an other: let’s restart the conversation, nu?
END OF ASIDE #1
That was strange. Who are you?
I’m trying to figure that out.
A person who feels satisfaction at having clearly marked a digression as an aside so you can see it’s a tangent. A person who wants to organize complex thought. To convey as much density of meaning-per-language-unit as possible.
A kind of a latter-day Wittgenstein?
In my dreams. I really have no idea what Wittgenstein did. But I’ll tell you one thing: he got lucky with the name. If he’d been called “Adolf Dumfritz,” no one would be reading him now no matter how smart he was.
The name’s the thing.
We ran aground there.
Yes. We were becalmed. It was calming.
Yes. But back to you-me-us. You want to condense meaning. That’s why you’re a poet.
Yes, and I’ve even poet-ed (by which I mean, wrote a poem—there’s an example of how I want to make everything as short as I can) about psychoanalysis.
But we can’t share that because it might be identifying, and this is supposed to be a blind reading.
Yes and right now I am feeling an overwhelming desire to riff on blindness and insight, Derrida aporia deMan deMan deMan Avital Ronell Adorno help me out here for chrissakes.
What was that?
I was at Yale in the late eighties. Heyday of French theory. And then at NYU CompLit in the nineties—
Poor thing. Bit of Wiederholungszwang, that—
Exactly. But I am not going to go off on that now. I am trying to manage my insight addiction. To stop binging on ideas for their own sake, and finally get to the point. What did you ask me?
Who are you? But answer without identifying.
On one level, a patient, though I hate that word. Client. Analysand (why is that out of fashion?) A character in a case study written up long ago and commented upon by what, if I may use my vernacular, I would call a cluster of big-dick theorists, but I can’t name them, because that could be identifying—
Now you’ve done it.
Wrecked your chances of being listened to. Of our being listened to! You do that all the time. Things are going along just fine, and then you come out with something like “big dick theorists,” which many people are going to find offensive in all sorts of ways and think is not humorous in the least—just like some of the climate change activists who thought your idea of using Captain Underpants to brand a campaign to offset the carbon emissions of elementary schools through the capture of livestock methane (cow farts!) was not at all funny. Climate change is a very serious matter.
Maybe I should explain that “big dick theorist”—or BDT for short— is for me a term of art.
TERM OF ART ALERT/ASIDE #2
Note: I’m striving to keep it as short and as dense as I can
Derrida et. al. talked a lot about phallogocentrism, and to tell the truth I had no idea what they were talking about, I just got into comp lit (Comparative Literature, that is) because it let you study a little bit of everything and not focus and I had severe-though-it-wouldn’t-be-diagnosed-until-after-menopause ADHD. But in retrospect (or nachträglich, as the shrinks say, or après coup), it occurs to me that what phallogocentrism means is an obsession with language, and with all that can be represented in language, and also with the phallus, not literally (although IMHO there’s nothing wrong with being obsessed with that, thank you very much, out-of-fashion as full-on female heterosexuality nowadays is) but as the marker of difference between binary and stable genders. And a lot of the point was that when you have that kind of an attitude you miss a lot of important stuff that isn’t necessarily represented or representable in language, and you’re ignoring a lot of the diversity of actual lived gendered experience, and all sorts of other things follow from that about how you see the world and how you act. So you need to “problematize” (an ugly but useful word) that world-view. And I think of any writer who does that, who really tries to think about the fundamentals of human consciousness and society anew, as a BDT because by definition he/she/they is/are (see how I am trying to do it right here?) commenting on phallogocentrism, even if they hate it and are making up alternatives, because that is the dominant paradigm in our world and it makes up the negative space, the implied opposite, for everything that is new.
END TERM OF ART ALERT/ASIDE #2
I don’t know if they’ll forgive you.
Let’s move on. We’re already at Nachträglichkeit! Which is one of the main things you wanted to get in for sure.
Yes. Into this Susanne-Chassy-memorial-contest-submission that I am trying to write in one day drawing in part on past fragmentary unpublished writings but then submitting with minimal further revision or input from others because one of the main points about psychoanalysis is that free association is its core method although it can be very hard to do and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to do it in writing for 8500 words, and we’re at 1982 and now even beyond.
So just paste it in.
But I should explain that it just came to me, all in a flow, in one stretch and with almost zero revision. As if it were being dictated. Sometime in the summer of 2017. I didn’t plan it ahead of time, but I can’t stop thinking about it since. I want to add in thoughts about Norwegian, and how the Norwegians pioneered body-centered psychoanalysis because they were the only ones that didn’t diss Reich. And about Greek, which seems to be a vibrant analytic language (who knew?) But so far people seem to think it’s a cool idea but too difficult, maybe too wacky—
You gotta let ‘em read it.
The terms Nachträglichkeit and après-coup are both used to refer to the phenomenon, common in psychoanalysis, of a retrospective realization that a process directed toward a particular end has been unfolding for some time. Arguably, what is occurring in these moments is the emergence into conscious awareness of unconscious intention and interaction. Typically, this realization has a sense of suddenness and surprise, an “a-ha!” aspect, an often-pleasurable “scales falling from one’s eyes” sensation; these qualitative (phenomenological) aspects are well captured in the French term, which carries, through coup, many associations with shocks, blows, the overturning of regimes, and so on.
However, due to its status as an adverbial phrase (which can be conceptualized as a kind of grammatical hinge or alternatively, membrane), the French term points primarily to the experience of realization, the moment of turning (perhaps analogous to the moment of teshuvah in Judaism, which has exercised such a powerful influence on psychoanalytic practice and theory). In these moments one turns toward and reconceptualizes the past, marking the present moment as the boundary between “up to now” and “from now on,”; the present moment comes to be understood as the past’s culmination (whimsically, one could say these are the moments in which one embodies the angel of one’s personal history, standing with wings outstretched and one’s back to the future).
All this is well conveyed by après-coup. The French term, however, does not facilitate as well as the German one our ability to think beyond the stream-of-consciousness experience (what in German one might call the Erfahrung) of retrospective realization to the content and import of the realizations themselves (what one might call the Erlebnisse one gains as a result of this process). Here Nachträglichkeit is the superior term. While it has been rendered into English as “afterwardness,” (an awkward locution, suggesting that what is being described is a quality of the insight in question), a better translation might be retrospectivity, denoting the state of mind of the analysand, analyst, or analytic dyad that produces retrospective insights.With an only slightly whimsical departure from colloquial usage, moreover, Nachträglichkeit could also be translated as an individual rather than collective or general noun, in other words as “a retrospectivity” (eine Nachträglichkeit) expressing a particular backward-looking insight (e.g., “I realized in retrospect that [fill in the blank]”).
The noun form of the word, emphasized through the German orthographic custom of noun capitalization, encourages us to think about the concrete results—both in terms of insights acquired and behavioral change—of psychoanalytic process (what in the degraded language of modern business are called learnings, deliverables or takeaways).
The lack of appealing and accessible terms for this phenomenon and its results in English—the language in which most modern-day analysts practice—hinders the advancement of the robust professional dialogue about it which could, if developed, contribute to a greater understanding (both within the profession and outside it) of the power and value of psychoanalytic work. It would also be valuable to bring into dialogue with the German, French, and English renditions of this concept whatever terms have been developed in Spanish, since the Latin American practice community (and the theoretical engagement of analysts with Spanish-speaking writers, e.g. of Ogden with Borges) have also contributed crucial influences to psychoanalysis as a global modern discipline.
Finally (and nachträglich), the preceding is a reflection on the difficulty, and importance, of seeking to bring into language a phenomenon experienced by many explorers of consciousness (which is what psychoanalysts and analysands, ultimately, are). It is only in language—and especially in writing—that knowledge gained from private explorations of consciousness (which is arguably what occurs in the consulting room) can be shared for the future benefit of others. Multi-linguality in the profession and its literature is thus of indispensable utility, given that the phenomena under investigation are, by definition, not fully fathomable. Just as, mystically, one can argue that different religious traditions each seek to approach in their own way some necessarily-incomplete aspect of the ultimate reality of God, so too various languages capture, and allow to be expressed, different aspects of human consciousness. It is in the interplay among these linguistic explorations and explanatory attempts that the real can be if not discerned, then at least—perhaps only through a glass, darkly—glimpsed.
END ASIDE #3
You’re kind of obsessed with psychoanalysis, aren’t you.
It’s weird, I know.
And sex, and politics.
Uh-huh. Can we talk about Trump?
Sure. It’s feeling very good now, don’t you think? Loosened up. Relationally free, as Stern et.al. would have it. I love those field theory guys and (are there any?) gals—
Stop it. You were going to talk about something political, and relevant.
I will in just a second, I promise. But I am hereby making a note to self to find out if there are cis-female or trans-anything field theorists or psychoanalytic phenomenologists more generally who are considered BDTs, because personally these are what I consider the most thrilling currents in the theory today, but all the writers I know about it are guys, and every one of them stresses how important bodily experience is so DUH, we want people with different kinds of bodies (obviously including disabled people and people of color) working on our phenomenal-field stuff too.
Sorry that took a minute but personally I’m glad it just occurred to me.
No worries. Back to Trump.
Can I stick in the story I started to write about Freeman Dyson?
It is characteristic of all deep human problems that they are not to be approached without some humor and some bewilderment.
Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe
“Vernadsky’s the name—my ex-husband’s, actually. But by the time we split, everybody at the Agency knew me as The Vern.” She smiled and inhaled, and I watched two glittering streams of tiny blue-green droplets coalesce from the cloud that surrounded her and pour into her nostrils. As she breathed out, a shimmering orange-gold miasma emerged from the crown of her head, settling like a mist on her long black hair, glimmering especially on its subtle threads of gray.
“ ‘First Earth-born entity to head Earth Studies in the Sphere’— ‘Evidence of humanity’s psychic evolution’—‘Shape-shifter and empath extraordinaire.’ ” She looked at me, her black eyes shining in their delicate crows-feet frames, and drew in another stream of turquoise air.
Yes, she was good in her choice of form: this was just the wise-mother figure I wanted, needed to explain to me what had happened, to tell me what would happen next. She breathed out, and this time I too was surrounded by the wheatfield-sunset wave, knew its warmth, its faint taste of cinnamon. She flicked a sliver switch on the console at her elbow, and the air was suddenly clear.
“Come on,” she said, getting to her feet: a small woman, no taller than I. “Let me introduce you to the team.”
* * *
I didn’t believe my editor at first, of course. How could the answer to what had baffled everyone, all the pundits and planners and prognosticators on our entire planet, lie hidden in some random parking lot in New Jersey? I don’t know, she said, it just does, or at least I think it does. This guy in Brooklyn said so—I mean, he didn’t say so exactly, but that’s kind of what I took away from it—and maybe it’s bullshit but if not—I mean, after what happened in November ‘16, what the hell do you have to lose?
Nothing, I said. Nothing at all.
* * *
“Meet Mike,” said The Vern. She indicated a skinny young white guy with glasses and short brown hair, sitting in front of a terminal. White guys, I thought, and I could feel the Vern’s gaze, hear her thinking: Would you prefer he appear differently? This is just the smart-IT-guy Earth default, but we can—
The guy turned and stood up, and I smiled. Who cares, I silently answered the Vern. Let’s just get on with it. I need to know what the hell—
Mike answered as if I’d spoken aloud.
“There was zero tessellation agreement,” he said, his eyes widening in emphasis. “I mean, not literally zero, but lower than we’d ever seen, anywhere— “ A look from The Vern seemed to stop him. He blushed slightly, running a hand through his hair. “Sorry. I guess we should—”
“Let’s show her in the Theatre,” said Vern.
* * *
The Theatre looked like a million I’d seen back on Earth—a black box, with rows of seats slanting upward from the stage, and behind the stage, a screen. Mike sat at a terminal positioned in front of the first row, and as he talked, he projected images on the screen.
Tessellation, Mike explained, was the way a flat outline could be folded up—or in terms of history, the way a timeline could unfold. On the screen he showed me origami squares, of brilliant colors—the self-same square, I saw, could become a crane, a samurai, a Buddha, or a dog. It all depended on the crease-lines, the sequence, and the type of folds: mountain, valley, petal, squash or crimp, reverse.
All thoughts register in the Sphere, the thought-dimension of Space, and the Agency exists to record them. It was plain as day, The Vern said, what was coming. When the man said Stop terrorists half the people tessellated he will save us he is strong like my father should have been and the other half tessed he knows nothing wants to scare us I don’t trust him what’s his plan?
“They said very little of substance,” The Vern said. She was sitting next to me, our arms not touching, but somehow, she wafted out a scent of vanilla and smoke. “People had to fill in the blanks about what, specifically, they thought it would lead to.” And they’d filled them out, apparently, completely differently, like some kind of national-nightmare-as-Mad-Lib.
Mike explained that the data visualization team at the Agency had converted the future-projection-disagreement data into a topography of the country, mapping different issues to different features: immigration was mountains, jobs were waterways, education was highways, and so on. He showed a split screen of the two sides’ voters, and it was clear that they had completely opposite views of what the winning candidate’s policies would produce. Mountains here, valleys there; deserts on one side, where on the other there were lakes. Yes, I thought, my stomach lurching. One side saw disaster, and the other saw a promised land.
“Here’s the cool thing, though,” said Mike, typing in a command on his keyboard.
“This is great,” The Vern confirmed, a team-leader’s pride in her voice. “It took our Deep-Psych team weeks of extra hours to model it, but we’ve done the QC and it’s solid. Look.”
Mike was speaking now with confidence, as if presenting to an audience much bigger than just me. “This is what happens if you model not what people thought the candidate would do when they voted, but what they wish their ideal country could be like.”
The maps on the split screen became animated and moved together, morphing and changing as they moved together, and wound up superimposed on each other in the center. There were still two images, but they were very similar—mountains were a little higher in one, roads a little longer in the other. But there were almost no opposites—no more mountains where the other side saw valleys, no deserts where lakes should be.
They both let me think a minute.
“So you’re saying that people’s core wishes, their goals, aren’t that far off?” The Vern smiled. “But they have completely different ideas about what should be done to get there, and no one has a clue what they guy they elected is actually going to do.” Mike nodded, and I sighed. This wasn’t exactly consolation.
“So what is going to happen?” I figured if they could read the thoughts of a whole planet, prognostication ought to be in their bailiwick too. But The Vern shook her head.
“The question is ill-formed, my dear.”
“All sorts of things are going to happen, and none of them can be foreseen with certainty. Free will does exist, after all—“ I raised my eyebrows at this, and she nodded, as if to say I’ll explain another time— “and the number of interactions producing any single event is complex.” She was pacing, professorial, her crinkle-wavy hair flowing out behind her as she walked. “Mind you, it is possible to say that certain events have a high likelihood of occurring if particular actions are taken; but the relaying of such calculations to a participant in the system under consideration is highly inadvisable, as perhaps you can imagine, since—“
“You can’t tell me because it could mess up the timeline,” I broke in. My stomach was sinking.
The Vern smiled. “It skews the odds,” she said. “By altering your motivation levels, and the choices you go on to make. And those choices are themselves part of the calculation we are making, don’t you see?”
I did, goddamn it. And suddenly I was sick of being thoughtful and journalistic and just wanted to cry. In a full-out, kid-like, lie-on-your-back-and-bawl-till-the tears-run-into-your-ears kind of way. What good was it to have aliens tell me Americans actually agreed with each other, deep down, if they gave me no advice about what was going to happen next or what the hell I should try do about it?
The Vern, of course, sensed my distress. I saw her look from me to Mike, a question in her eyes. He seemed to squirm a little, shifting in his seat. Then he gave a barely perceptible shrug. She turned back to me.
“There is something we’re developing,” she said. “It’s still in a beta version—we actually haven’t even done the soft launch. But under the circumstances, I think that perhaps—”
Yes, I thought, with no idea what she was talking about. Yes.
“All we can do,” she explained, “is throw you a party.”
* * *
So now—I have to tell you, dear reader—is where things start getting weird.
I enter the room they show me, next door, and it’s packed with people, talking in small groups and eating and drinking. I don’t recognize any of them. So I go up to the snack table, and get a little paper plate and some snacks, and this older white guy starts chatting with me. And he says how are you, or something ordinary like that, and I say not so great, given Trump. I’m trying to figure out what to do. And he looks really sympathetic and says yeah, he’s trying to figure that out too, for himself. So I open up to him and I say you know, I was really fortunate in that right after the election, I had a chance to meet this guy in New Jersey. And he interrupts and laughs and says, is it that guy in New Jersey who Trump says could’ve been behind the Russian hacking?
And I say well, maybe, actually, he’s smart enough—but I don’t think so. He’s a guy I really respect, he’s ridiculously smart, and thoughtful, and lived through WWII and has thought a ton about it, so I figured he’d be the one to know if we were dealing with another Nazi-type situation or not. And he didn’t seem worried. So at first I was reassured, but I then I realized, maybe he’s not worried because he’s already doing everything he can. He’s really old, and he’s playing his part—educating people, talking to people—and there’s nothing else he can do. So he’s just chilling out, know what I mean? But that doesn’t mean this isn’t major bad news. Or that I should also chill.
The old white guy looks at me, and he cracks a smile—really warm, really compassionate, but also a little clinical—like he really likes me, but also thinks I might be a little nuts. Which would be good, actually, in his opinion, because he likes nuts. Nuts, in fact, is his specialty.
“You’ve been talking with Freeman,” he says.
And I’m like, OMG, how did he know? Because it’s true—I did meet Freeman Dyson, he’s the guy in Jersey—but I wouldn’t expect some random guy at a party to recognize him from that description, or to even know who he was, for that matter. Dyson is nerd-famous, not random-guy-at-a-party famous. And the guy seems to realize how weirded-out I am, because he puts out his hand and goes, “I’m Oliver Sacks.”
And I’m super-embarrassed, because I ADORE Oliver Sacks, and I’ve read, like, everything he wrote, and I’m in the middle of reading his autobiography right now. But I didn’t recognize him, because I’m horrible at recognizing faces. And so I say, “Oh my goodness—it is so wonderful to meet you. I love your work—I’m sorry I’m just terrible at recognizing people,” and he goes “I am too,” and I say “I know—that’s one of the things I actually love about you—I read how you couldn’t even recognize your own face in a mirror,” and we start laughing and bonding. That’s when I realize that Oliver Sacks is dead, so I must be at a party of the dead, of the brilliant departed, of great minds hanging out in the Beyond.
So I ask Oliver if that’s right and he laughs and says well, kind of. He explains that if I want, the Vern and her sidekick can explain how it all works, technically, but the gist is that I’m in what Vern’s ex called the noosphere, the universal realm of thought. But you can only get into it through your own thoughts, so basically it’s like I’ve hacked my brain to connect to the collective consciousness. And the things I’m seeing may or may not really be true and exist outside me—they could be just my own projections and imaginings—it’s really hard to tell. Plus, Oliver says, for people like him and me, who have prosopagnosia, it’s extra tough because you wind up seeing and chatting with people who could be wise, famous dead people, or could just be random nobody-in-particulars, but since you can’t recognize faces, you don’t know.
This sounds cool when he starts talking but by the end, seems like a major bummer. I came here in search of answers, goddamn it, and I’m just getting more questions. “You know how it is,” Oliver says, smiling,”Two Jews, three opinions,” and I guess that’s meant as some kind of exaltation of eternal inquiry, of Talmudic debate, but I’m really not up for it right now, I just want to know what to do. So I start thinking maybe I should bail on Oliver Sacks, much as I love him, when he looks at me funny, like something just occurred to him, and he goes, “Where did you meet Freeman?” and the weird thing is I know he means it literally—he’s asking where, not how. So I say “in the cafeteria at the Institute for Advanced Study,” and he busts out laughing, and I have to wait a bit until his beard and his belly stop shaking.
“Of course,” he explains finally, taking off his glasses and wiping his eyes, “It’s a major portal.” And he says that again, Vern and the tech guy can explain it better if I want the nerd version, but basically IAS is like Hades in the Greek myths—if you eat there, even so much as a pomegranate seed, you’re plugged into the noosphere forever, for better and worse. And me and my friend: we had salad, soup, the works. Hell, I even had dessert.
“How’s Freeman doing?” Oliver asks, which at first I think is weird, like shouldn’t he know? But maybe being dead doesn’t make you omniscient. So I’m like well, frankly, I’m kind of worried about him. He’s sitting there emailing people all day, and giving them ideas, and encouraging them even if they’re wacky, because Freeman Dyson wrote back to them, so they figure they can’t be completely nuts, can they? And I figure the NSA is on to him for sure, and they probably think he’s dangerous, and I’m worried about what they’re going to do.
And Oliver looks at me and says,“You always had to take care of your father, didn’t you?” and that’s when I remember that Oliver Sacks, like me, was a huge psychoanalysis-head. He says in his book how he was in analysis like, forever, and it seems like it kind of saved his life, just like it did mine. So then we kind of mind-meld and without even having to talk I think to him yeah, maybe I’m having a paternal transference to Freeman, but I can really just chill. And he goes what else are you worried about? And I think, my friend who came with me to meet Freeman. He’s this great person, super-smart, and intuitive and deep, and he’s like, the world’s most serious reader of Freeman and Buckminster Fuller, but right now he just doesn’t know what to do. And Oliver laughs and says, sounds like he should email Freeman, and I think, I think you’re right.
And then Oliver asks, what else? And I say, well, there is this other thing, but I’m not sure I can talk about it here, and Oliver looks at me with this wise look, as if to say: I get it. And he opens a door in the corner, marked Analysands’ Lounge. He steps in and looks back at me, like I should follow.
And then I have this moment: where I feel dizzy, almost faint. I think: I can’t get distracted, here, with all my personal stuff; there is meaningful action to take! And yet something in Oliver Sacks’ eyes says: know thyself. Or maybe it’s more like: straighten out your meshuggas before you try tikkun olam, because Oliver is—like me—a Jew. So I look over his shoulder, and who do I see but Samuel Beckett: laughing, like he’s gonna bust a gut, at something Marilyn Monroe just said. And I think dear god and Marilyn says so glad you made it and I think deliver me from temptation and Beckett says or to it. And I see the light in all three of their faces. And I step in and in and in.
END OF ASIDE #4
We got in the noosphere. That was important.
Exactly. Plato and Jung and lots of other people, including Vernadsky, have suggested over the years that there could be a physical realm of thought, and I think there could be too, and that it could explain a lot of “anomalous experience” stuff that happens, to me and other people, like the telepathic communication lots of analysts are noticing in their consulting rooms again now, and which Freud and Ferenczi and Emilo Servadio and others wrote about eloquently already a lifetime ago. But nowadays—even after Elizabeth Mayer, who was also from Northern California, wrote a kick-ass book about it called Extraordinary Knowing—it’s kind of shameful to come right out and say you believe it, because lots of people are so uptight. When they should all just be like, ‘yup, this goes on, isn’t it cool? Let’s learn more about it!’ Because that IMHO is psychoanalysis’ job. To figure out what is true about the mind. But people are uptight about preternatural phenomena, and about drugs and sex, which is ironic.
The drug part is getting a little better, with all the legal weed.
True. But we need to ramp that up. We need Sasha-and-Anne-Shulgin style study of drug consciousness, but with psychoanalytic tools, so that we can learn more about the mind. And the sex situation is pretty dire.
Meaning people aren’t writing enough about it. Or having enough of it, for that matter.
Exactly. Shrinks have a professional obligation to get well laid, don’t you think? If for no other reason than because they should set a good example to their clients—shrinks are role models and ego ideals, after all, and who wants an ego ideal like Freud who, rumor apparently has it, stopped getting laid in his forties? What a downer.
You are going to get in trouble for talking about shrinks and sex.
Only because people have filthy minds and immediately think I’m talking about shrinks having sex with their clients, which I am absolutely not doing. I’m talking about shrinks having lots of sex with their regular, perfectly appropriate partners, and ideally coming their brains out, because I agree with Wilhelm Reich that that is a fantastic way to become professionally and artistically and spiritually potent, increasingly your ability to help others.
Reich doesn’t get a lot of respect nowadays.
He should! The guy was brilliant, and actually made serious progress on lining up objectively measurable, coming-from-outside stimuli with introspectively observed, subjective experience—a preoccupation of philosophy and psychology since forever. But are today’s phenomenologists all over him? I don’t think so, though I’d love to be wrong. This guy got female volunteers to report in real time on how they experienced continuous nipple stimulation—typically it was good for a while and then got to be annoying or painful, too much. And at the same time he was recording what they said, he was recording electrical data from the surface of their nipples, and he found that when the subjective experience flipped from pleasure into discomfort, there was a corresponding switch in electrical charge, from positive to negative. I think that’s just amazing and deserves to be followed up—maybe it has been, somewhere, in sexology. But I think shrinks should take it up too, and reclaim him as their own.
He wrecked his reputation with that alien stuff. Going on about UFOs.
Which now—since December 2017—the Pentagon tells us could be real! Like lots of people I know, I bleeped over the first articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, and it took me nearly a year to be able to take the information in. This is another thing I think psychoanalysis would be great at, if it could get a little bit free of the medical and insurance-company constraints in which it operates: helping people cope not just with personal dysfunction, or to work toward individual personality change, but figuring out how to help people deal with paradigm-shifting things that are happening in the world now and not freak out. Like the government telling us aliens may be visiting, or scientists telling us the world could end in our lifetime from climate change. Shrinks are supposed to be able to help people face reality, get unstuck, and act.
What is your larger point?
I don’t know. I was just riffing.
I want to put in the Q&A, but I’m a little scared.
Practice what you preach.
- But I should explain how it came.
Like “Aftershock,” above: in what felt like a transmission, all at once, straight through my brain into my fingers onto the page, without me composing, as if being dictated. On August 23, 2018, just after I had turned fifty, miserably (my misery arising for boring conventional reasons unworthy of mention here).
What is it?
You got me. An ontology, I suppose. And not unheard of, as an experience. There are plenty of people, I have learned, who think they are receiving messages from someone in the beyond. There’s even a belief out there apparently that there is a whole group of spirits joined in something I think called the Michael cluster or constellation, who send messages to the living of this kind. (I could look up the details but I won’t. I’ve promised myself to write this in a single shot without accessing the internet. Connecting to the internet nowadays is a way of connecting to the collective consciousness, interacting with other minds, and while I personally believe that is constantly going on even without technology, it’s good when trying to summarize one’s own experience as I am doing now to try to keep it to a minimum. Anyhow I don’t know if I am part of that group or what. Maybe all that happened is that I had been thinking little dribs and drabs of this and suddenly managed somehow to surface and synthesize them all, and there was nothing transpersonal about it. All I know is that it felt, at the time, wondrous and strange.)
So cut and paste it.
What are people?
People are bodies through which sensation-and-reflection streams flow.
Are the sensation-and-reflection streams what is usually called consciousness?
How does consciousness happen?
Oversimplifying: a collection of sensations is registered, and then a reflection on that set of sensations is made. Together the sensation-set and reflection form a consciousness-moment, and there are an endless continuous sequence of these. For each new consciousness-moment, memory-traces of past experience-moments are consulted in forming its reflection half.
Being a little more precise: sensations may come in simultaneously from all sensory dimensions (e.g., auditory, visual, olfactory/taste, tactile) and multiple vectors (e.g., inside and outside the body sensations) and at different levels of consciousness (e.g., there is unconscious olfaction of pheromones, one can “tune out” white noise). Reflection also happens at various consciousness-levels (e.g., vague unease, clear knowledge that “It is cold here” or “I am scared”).
Does consciousness perceive reality?
Sometimes. But often we go awry in the reflection part of the consciousness-moment, and draw a slightly unfounded conclusion that is not fully supported by the sensory evidence coming in. This often happens because the sensory data itself is inconclusive, and we are uncomfortable with a lack of conclusion (probably because in evolutionary terms, it is often life-preserving to act on the basis of partial information, e.g., before you’re 100% sure that there is a tiger hiding in those leaves.) As a result, we meet the next set of incoming sensations with a bias created by the first reflection, and don’t really fully perceive them as they are. Things cascade from there, as this process is repeated.
How does trauma affect consciousness?
It makes it even harder to perceive incoming sensations accurately, as we tend to “jump to conclusions” in our reflections out of fear of repetition of pain.
What can be done about this?
It helps to slow down the process and try to decouple the sensation and the reflection parts of the consciousness moment, so we can try to perceive better what is actually happening. Most kinds of therapy and mediation strive for this. So do spiritual practices of contemplation that seek to discern a true reality that some people call God (e.g., in the medieval Cloud of Unknowing).
How does neurological diversity affect consciousness?
In two main ways: time-sense and bandwidth allocation. People have different ways they experience time, with some people shuttling back and forth from the future and past to the present in the reflection phase of the consciousness-moment and others remaining more in the “now.” People also require different amounts of neurological processing power or “bandwidth” to handle different kinds of incoming data (e.g., autistic people can be more easily overwhelmed by noise). Neurological diversity really is good for the species, because all the varieties of consciousness have different strengths and allow us to perceive different aspects of reality. Currently the value of many types of consciousness-diversity is not recognized, however, and many minds outside the “mainstream” are incorrectly seen as purely dysfunctional.
Is the self the part of us that does the reflecting on sensation?
Apart from being housed in separate bodies, are selves independent of each other?
No. We live embedded in webs of reciprocal influence that affect our and others’ feelings and thoughts regardless of anyone’s conscious intention. Some mechanisms of this reciprocal influence are already understood (like pheromones, mirror neurons, and the effects of tone of voice and body language) and some are not. People who communicate regularly with each other (e.g., people in families, lovers, active correspondents, e.g. on social media) therefore exist as interweaving streams of sensation and reflection that flow through and around their bodies, and which could be visualized as clusters or eddies or currents. As Thich Nhat Hanh put it, we inter-are.
Can we ever think alone?
No. Every thought is addressed to an imaginary someone, even if that someone is the reflecting part of the self that will exist two milliseconds from now and reflect on the thought just formulated. There is always a self-speaking-this-second and an addressee for the thought.
Can thoughts affect the physical world?
Yes, through some mechanism that is not yet understood by science. But when we make the addressee or subject of our thought a person outside ourselves, it can sometimes be sensed or have an effect even if it is not consciously noticed.This is why intercessory prayer can be a contributor to physical healing. This is not that strange if we consider that thoughts themselves have been found to be physical processes, created from electrical impulses and chemical processes involving neurotransmitters. Since thoughts are physical on a microlevel, it makes sense that they could have macro-level physical effects as well.
Is there a collective consciousness?
Yes. Plato’s Forms and Jung’s archetypes are two ways of understanding the fact that human beings share and co-create certain concepts. This happens partly because many individual people have similar although separate experiences throughout history and across cultures. However, it is also partly because there is a realm of thought that is physical and shared by all thinkers, although it is not yet understood by science. Concepts are in some way existent in this realm, although they are not eternal and change as humanity evolves and changes (for example, when Cantor introduced the idea of mathematical infinity, this was a new Form).
Do animals think?
Yes. Everything has consciousness, even rocks, just at different levels and in different ways. Entanglement of subatomic particles is the baseline example.
What are we here to do?
To understand this interconnection and strengthen and improve it, so that there is more knowledge and joy and less suffering in the world. To love one another and all that is.
Is there a spiritual dimension to sex?
There can be. The sex organs have a lot of nerve endings and can give a lot of pleasure; they evolved that way because animals who enjoyed having sex did it more and had more offspring and passed on their genes. Now they facilitate the unification of bodily sensation and mental thought. In moments of sexual experience or sexual fantasy, lovers (or people who mutually imagine being lovers) concentrate both their physical and their mental energies on each other and increase their connection and ability to know each other’s minds. With the right discipline this increased connection between two can be expanded to increased connection with others for beneficial purposes.
What happens when we die?
The conglomeration of thought-feeling-sensation-streams that we are continues without the body of this life, becoming somewhat loosened and reconnecting with or tangling with other streams and then somehow re-knotting itself together to reincarnate. It is as though we are a bundle of rivers somehow bound together in the middle, which become freed to flow and join with others or have new ones flow into the spaces between them, and then we get bound up again. Possibly we are more and more loosely bound as we reincarnate many times over time, and if we reach Nirvana, as the Buddhists say, we are fully freed and flowing and without shape or self. Right now I am not evolved enough not to be afraid of that; I cling to the comfort of an ego, a self that can say ‘”I.” But this continuation of the soul is why people can sometimes remember past lives, and why spirits of the dead can sometimes communicate with the living.
What can be done about the problems of the world?
We need to connect with each other more: “we” meaning all thinkers, people and animals and everything that is. Loving connection and understanding is what we urgently need. Of any kind, about anything, with respect for every perspective. Each person should find their charism, their calling, their way they are uniquely able to contribute to that. What it gives them joy to share with others. For some people joy comes in conflict, in rebellion, in critique of what is, and that is also a charism we need. But each person needs to find not duty, but joy.
END OF ASIDE #5
Is that everything?
It’s a lot.
I’m thinking of Susanne.
Me too. It’s incredible, what she wrote about her suicidal client. You can feel the capacity she had for solace: the ability to keep someone company, even in existential extremes.
Shrinks do that.They rock.
And she wrote with such verve and originality. I wish she had lived to write more.
She died of cancer, which I-you-we have too, but not as seriously.There’s an 85% chance this body could keep going another ten years—not sure what the same-time-frame odds are on the planet.
We’re living in a time of high risk.
And we’re approaching the word limit.
How long have we been at this?
Since about 8:30 AM; it’s almost 1:30 now; five hours (on April 5, 2019). Of course most of the asides were pre-written.
How many words will be left, after you answer this question?
Oooh. I love a good limit. Just 17.
Let’s hold her in mind, then.
May her memory be a blessing.
Rest in peace.
~ Kimberly Gladman ~
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