Other People’s Craziness

In a Facebook group dedicated to Julian Jaynes, I was talking to a lady who is an academic and a poet. She happened to mention that she is also a ‘Manbo’, something like a vodou practitioner. She made the admission that she sees and hears spirits, but she qualified it by saying that her rational mind knew it wasn’t real. I found that qualification odd, as if she were worried about maintaining her respectability. She made clear that these experiences weren’t make-believe, as they felt real to her, as real as anything else, and yet one side of her personality couldn’t quite take them as real. So, two different realities existed inside her and she seemed split between them.

None of this is particularly strange in a group like that. Many voice-hearers, for obvious reasons, are attracted to Jaynes’ view on voice-hearing. Jaynes took such experiences seriously and, to a large degree, took the experiences on their own terms. Jaynes offered a rational or rationalizing narrative for why it is ‘normal’ to hear voices. The desire to be normal is powerful social force. Having a theory helps someone like this lady to compartmentalize the two aspects of her being and not feel overwhelmed. If she didn’t qualify her experience, she would be considered crazy by many others and maybe in her own mind. Her academic career might even be threatened. So, the demand of conformity is serious with real consequences.

That isn’t what interested me, though. Our conversation happened in a post about the experience of falling under a trance while driving, such that one ends up where one was going without remember how one got there. It’s a common experience and a key example Jaynes uses about how the human mind functions. I mentioned that many people have experiences of alien contact and UFO abduction while driving, often alone at night on some dark stretch of road. And I added that, according to Jacques Vallee and John Keel, many of these experiences match the descriptions of fairy abductions in folklore and the accounts of shamanic initiations. Her response surprised me, in her being critical.

Vallee also had two sides, on the one hand an analytical type who worked as an astronomer and a computer scientist and on the other a disreputable UFO researcher. He came at the UFO field from a scientific approach, but like Jaynes he felt compelled to take people at their word in accepting that their experience was real to them. He even came to believe there was something to these experiences. It started with a time he was working in an observatory and, after recording anomalous data of something in the sky that wasn’t supposed to be there, the director of the observatory erased the tapes out of fear that if it got out to the press it would draw negative attention to the institution. That is what originally piqued his curiosity and started him down the road of UFO research. But he also came across many cases where entire groups of people, including military, saw the same UFOs in the sky and their movements accorded with no known technology or physics.

That forced him to consider the possibility that people were seeing something that was on some level real, whatever it was. He went so far as to speculate about consciousness being much stranger than science could presently explain, that there really is more to the universe or at an angle to our universe. In this line of thought, he spoke of the phenomena as, “partly associated with a form of non-human consciousness that manipulates space and time.” Sure, to most people, that is crazy talk, though no more crazy than interacting with the spirit world. But the lady I was speaking with immediately dismissed this as going too far. Her anomalous experiences were fine, as long as she pretended that they were pretend or something, thus proving she wasn’t bat-shit loony. Someone else’s anomalous experience, however, was not to be taken seriously. It’s the common perception that only other people’s religion is mythology.

That amused me to no end. And I said that it amused me. She then blocked me. That amused me as well. I’m feeling amused. I was more willing to take her experiences as being valid in a way she was unwilling to do for others. It’s not that I had any skin in the game, as I’ve never talked to spirits nor been abducted by aliens. But I give people the benefit of the doubt that there experiences are real to them. I’m a radical skeptic and extreme agnostic. I take the world as it comes and sometimes the world is strange. No need to rationalize it. And if that strangeness is proof of insanity and disrepute, there are worse fates.

* * *

As for my own variety of crazy, I’ve always felt a kinship with Philip K. Dick. Below is what he what he wrote in justifying himself. Some people feel compelled to speak truth, no matter what. If that truth sounds crazy, maybe that is because we live in a society gone mad. Under such unhappy circumstances, there can be great comfort in feeling validated by someone speaking truth. So, maybe be kind toward the craziness and truths of other people. Here is what PKD has to say:

“What I have done may be good, it may be bad. But the reality that I discern is the true reality; thus I am basically analytical, not creative; my writing is simply a creative way of handling analysis. I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel and story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art, but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or exploration. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive and troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps; they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, & for them my corpus of writing is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an investigation & presentation, analysis & response & personal history. My audience will always be limited to these people.”
(In Pursuit of Valis, p.161)

Imaginal Beings and Imagined Realities

I was thinking about the blue fairy. I’m not sure why it was on my mind. In browsing the web, I came across the Wikipedia article on the Púca. They are the Celtic fairy, often portrayed as dark, black, or blue. These beings exist at the crossroads of mind and matter, imagination and reality. They are tricksters.

The Wikipedia article points to something discussed by Robert Anton Wilson. He claimed to have experienced contact with an alien. But epistemological anarchist that he was, he ended up interpreting this experience in numerous ways. Sometimes he just thought of it as one hemisphere talking to the other, which sounds like Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind. He also liked to think of it as a Púca in the form of 6 foot tall rabbit.

I immediately realized that this was the same as John Keel’s men in black (a topic I’ve written about before: Fortean Curiosity). And Keel always brings to mind Jacques Vallée who was initially influenced by Carl Jung’s book on UFOs. Both sought to explain Fortean experiences without recourse to claims about extraterrestrials. Both noted how certain unusual experiences tended to coincide and fall into similar patterns across time and cultures. Men in black, aliens, fairies, etc all were describing the same basic experiences according to the beliefs and biases of the experiencer.

Culture does have immense influence on how we experience all kinds of things. Linguistic relativism shows how perception of time and space are formed through the language we use. This is also true of the voices people hear, that is to say voices without bodies. Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearers in collectivist societies tended to have more positive experiences of those voices. By the way, Luhrmann was originally drawn to this field of study by reading Jaynes’ book.

Cultural differences are seen with the fairy and fairy-like encounters. They can be perceived as good, evil, indifferent, or plain weird. Schizophrenics in Western countries, specifically the hyper-individualistic United States, are prone to less than happy hallucinations, auditory and otherwise. Few Westerners are able to access this state of mind without the extremes of stress, such as the Third Man Factor as happens during periods of danger, trauma, and grief. It requires a lot to force the Western mind outside of its thick ego boundaries of self-contained individualism. And the mind, when forced open, sometimes breaks.

There was a comment I saw where someone, an American, described a friend who became schizophrenic. This friend’s hallucinations weren’t only paranoid but also contagious, such as other people began hearing odd sounds on the phone while talking to this guy (something Keel describes as well). As one becomes more paranoid, the evidence justifying paranoia is manufactured or manifested and it can be quite compelling to those involved. To take notice of this Fortean field of consciousness is to have it take notice of you, to be drawn into it. And what you bring to the experience is mirrored back to you (albeit sometimes distorted), at least as experienced within one’s psyche. Jung considered UFO to be a manifestation of psyche, an imaginal expression of a symbol of wholeness. But for the schizophrenic in Western society, there is little social support for wholeness and so the psyche is splintered while simultaneously being obsessively focused, the hallucination becoming intensely real.

This is how cults form and given enough time a religion might get established. There are some interesting books that look into the phenomenon of UFO religions, which show us the early stage of religious formation. Consider Heaven’s Gate, the cult that committed mass suicide, maybe not the best way to ensure the promotion of your religion, but then many religions begin with death or persecution. Interestingly, the Heaven’s Gate leader was inspired by Star Trek. And Gene Roddenberry was in turn inspired to create Star Trek because of the channeling of The Council of Nine. The difference between a schizophrenic and a cult leader is simply a matter of how much charisma one has to command followers (related to what Jaynes refers to as authorization, such as happened with Franz Anton Mesmer).

This is the territory of mass hallucination and shared psychotic disorder (folie à deux). But in a sense, every culture is built on hallucination, that is imagination as social construction and ideological worldview. The only difference with a culture is that it happens to be a highly successful and powerfully compelling hallucination, taking hold of the minds and identities of a large population. All of civilization is an expression and enactment of profound fantasies that possess us, to such an extent we live out those fantasies with the full commitment of our being in the world.

When those fantasies diverge far enough from objective reality, that is when civilizations come to an end, often through following a cultural vision to its extreme. The hallucination of capitalist realism is at present remaking of the global world through climate change and in the end the earth might become uninhabitable for the human species or at the very least not conducive to the continuation of modern civilization as we know it. At the point of potential breakdown, the Fortean has a way of breaking into our world. UFOs, for example, were often observed during periods of mass conflict such as the foo fighters seen during World War II.

The fairy are messengers from our collective psyche, but few of us are capable of listening with a Fortean curiosity to match such Fortean experience. The significance is not what it seems but at the edge of what appears and what is yet to be. Our imagination forever precedes us. There is no objective standpoint to stand outside the flow of what we are becoming. The blue fairy makes our imaginings real, makes our wishes come true or else our fears.

* * *

4/23/18 – Some further commentary:

I left out some background to my thoughts. Recently in the news, there was reporting on a hierarchical sex slave cult. One of the key figures who was a head mistress earlier was an actress in the tv show Smallville. There is something about science fiction, odd belief systems, and cults. That is why I used the example of Star Trek, the Council of Nine, and Heaven’s Gage. But I just as easily could have referred to L. Ron Hubbard’s career, from science fiction writer to cult leader of Scientology. All of UFOlogy, as Keel and Vallee would attest, is mired in science fictions and cultish groups.

More broadly, there is the topic of blue fairies. I lied about not knowing why this was on my mind. I just didn’t feel like connecting back to previous posts, but I decided I should. One of those posts was from earlier in the month (Nature, Nurture, Torture), in which I explore the mythology of the blue fairy in greater detail. My interest goes many years back to the Bush administration (“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day…).

That earliest post discussed the psychology and mythology of transformation. Blue fairies are very much about transformation or else destruction, that is to say death of the self in one way or another, a far from easy process or necessarily even desirable considering how many people simply go mad (see John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies). There is a deep longing for what is real and genuine, a gnostic compulsion for Philip K. Dick I might add. This longing can be expressed as a desire to become real, to attain something of real value, or to find ultimate reality itself.

Otherwise, this can be the search for a new reality, to replace what no longer compels or functions. John Keel noted that, during times of difficulty and change, the archetypal and imaginal “men in black” would make their appearance in a guise appropriate to the cultural biases and personal expectations of the individual. The men in black were associated with other sightings, from the Mothman Keel studied to the Foo Fighters of World War II.

Fantasy becomes rather potent during times of threat and instability, whether on the personal level such as the third man factor or on a collective level as seen with some of these other cases. The Mothman was seen by many prior to a bridge collapsing that killed many people. And World War II, of course, killed far more. But it isn’t merely violence that elicits this fantasy-proneness. Others have observed that during periods of social uncertainty, there is a growing popularity of fantasy entertainment. This happened during the Great Depression when movie The Wizard of Oz was a great hit. When troubled, people don’t merely seek escape in fantasy for they also seek to imagine new possibilities through fantasy. And in some cases, this will lead them to start cults or to start revolutions.

We live in troubled times right now. And it stands out how popular fantasy entertainment has been since the 9/11 terrorist attack and continuing beyond the 2008 Great Recession. Some see us as having become lost in Fantasyland, a new post-fact era with a media personality as our president. It’s not entirely new, although maybe new forms of media technology have weaponized fantasy like never before.

About the blue fairy and men in black, it just occurs to me that some of the themes discussed here can be found in HBO’s Westworld, which deals with transformation and makes use of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory. Westworld even has a man in black who, though human, plays a role in the transformation that occurs and the havoc that follows. I doubt it is accidental that a show like that gets made at a time like this nor that it becomes so popular.

Westworld is all about self-awareness and social identity, self transformation and social change. Interestingly, we the viewer come to identify more strongly with the non-humans who, as in the PKD-inspired movie Blade Runner, in a sense become more convincingly real than the humans. It’s the Pinocchio story for an age of advanced science and technology, giving form to a vision of what our world is becoming.

 

Fortean Curiosity: Liberalism & Intelligence

I was hanging out with a friend and chatting about important issues of life… such as the existence of Men In Black and the nature of Fortean realities. Ya know, important issues.

My friend mentioned an author he had come across who described his own supposed experiences with Men In Black. He portrayed them as being not all that troublesome. He apparently thought one’s relationship with them could be managed. Just tell them to quit causing trouble and they’d settle down or something like that.

As I recall, this wasn’t how John Keel portrayed the Men In Black. Keel didn’t necessarily see them as dangerous or at least not intentionally dangerous, but they could really mess with one’s head and turn one’s world upside down. However, maybe they can be ‘managed’ in the sense that the less you pay attention to them the less they tend to pay to you.

That is the theory, anyway… not that I have any personal experience of the Men In Black. But in other ways, I’ve had my share of weird experiences in my life. I don’t speculate about it much beyond accepting that the world is a very strange place. If you’re lucky or unlucky (depending on your perspective), the strangeness might peek out at you at some point in your own life. When such happens, it does make one question one’s assumptions about reality.

My friend was explaining that reading about such things just makes him feel disoriented and it seems he didn’t see this as a good thing. I understood where he was coming from. I responded by explaining my own view. As I see it, the universe is vast. Most of the universe is alien to and indifferent to us humans. We are a minor species on a tiny planet in one insignificant corner of the universe. Even on the planet earth, we humans aren’t as important as we like to pretend. For the most part, the vast world beyond human society serves no purpose for human society. There might be little if anything to gain from interacting with Men In Black or exploring Fortean realities. No matter how hard you try, you probably never will understand any of it. Besides, most people don’t seem to care about the world beyond their private little world of family, friends and co-workers… nor are there many good arguments for why they necessarily should care.

On the other hand, if you’re a curious person, it’s hard to ignore curious things. And if the Men In Black come knocking at your door, they apparently can be very hard to ignore. Sure, all things Fortean may not serve any human purpose. But then again, one could argue that nothing in life serves any ultimate purpose besides the purpose we give it. I guess it comes down to each person having to figure out their own purpose, their own priorities and motivations. If your purpose is to be a rational scientist or a good Christian, then maybe you should just ignore all the weird stuff if possible. Just carry on as if everything were normal. But for some of us, we just aren’t good at ignoring the inconvenient and uncomfortable details of existence.

I’m such a person. I agree that it all can be disorienting. But so what? Life is disorienting. We all go along confused in our own heads. Some of us admit to this confusion and others spend their whole lives denying it. At some point in my life, I learned to embrace the confusion. I don’t know that it does me any good, but it’s gotten me this far. As Popeye famously said, “I yam what I yam.”

Those thoughts are interesting enough, but another issue was motivating my putting this all down in words. Just yesterday, I wrote about IQ and about how people are different, specifically in their learning styles. One thing I brought up is the research showing a correlation between liberalism and high IQ. Also, there has been research showing a correlation between liberalism and openness to experience. I was thinking about the relationship of intelligence and openness, and how both would relate to the paranormal.

I’ve written about this a bit in the past. Research confirms the distinction between religiosity and spirituality. People who have spiritual experiences are less likely to go to church, especially after having had their experience(s). That is massively intriguing in its implications, but it does make sense when you think about it. It easier to conform to beliefs of things you’ve never personally experienced. However, once you’ve had experiences, your experiences might not conform to the beliefs which would force you to make a choice between experience and belief.

Liberalism correlates to thin boundary types, a psychological category similar to openness. A thin boundary type experiences less distinction between things: waking and dreaming, reality and imagination (or imaginal), self and other, etc. This relates to openness to experience in that the thin boundary type feels less repulsion and fear toward that which exists outside of their normal sense of self and of their normal sense of reality. This obviously connects with intelligence in terms of curiosity. Intelligent people tend to be people who like learning new things: testing the known and exploring the unknown, questioning beliefs and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. As such, a thin boundaried liberal is more likely to be curious about the paranormal and more willing to entertain possibilities that don’t seem commonsense or don’t seem to have any practical application.

The conservative asks, “Why?” And the liberal asks, “Why not?”

The liberal may be intelligent as measured on IQ tests, but that doesn’t mean they are smart in the everyday sense. Being open to experience doesn’t always lead to ‘smart’ results. For example, intelligent people drink more and do more drugs. As Satoshi Kanazawa concludes in the second link:

“People – scientists and civilians alike – often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes.  The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals.  Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing.”

Liberals are more likely to engage in behaviors that are evolutionarily novel. Such novel thinking correlates to IQ. The conservative impulse is to stick closely to what has proven to work in the past. Sometimes that leads to the best results in the present and sometimes not. We have, through technology, created a society that is constantly changing and doing so at an ever faster rate. This gives the liberal mindset an edge in the modern world. Even so, human nature remains fundamentally the same and hence the conservative impulse remains valid probably more often than not.

Satoshi Kanazawa further fleshes out his out his hypothesis:

“…common sense is eminently evolutionarily familiar.  Our ancestors could not have survived a single day in their hostile environment full of predators and enemies if they did not possess functional common sense.  That’s why it has become integral part of evolved human nature in the form of evolved psychological mechanisms in the social and interpersonal domains.  Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar and thus natural, the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people may be less likely to resort to it.  They may be more likely to resort to evolutionarily novel, non-common sensical, stupid ideas to solve problems in the evolutionarily familiar domains.

“This, incidentally, is the reason I never use words like “smart” and “clever” as synonyms for “intelligent.”  Similarly, I never use words like “dumb” and “stupid” as synonyms for “unintelligent.”  “Intelligent” has a specific scientific meaning – possessing higher levels of general intelligence – whereas “smart” and “stupid” have more to do with common sense than intelligence.  From my perspective, more intelligent people like liberals are more likely to be “stupid” (lacking common sense), whereas less intelligent people like conservatives are more likely to be “smart.””

Whether or not liberal intelligence is healthy or beneficial, it does allow for discovering the new and so increases the probability of improvement (even as it threatens the stability of the traditional social order). Liberals, for whatever reason, have less respect for the argument that something is best simply because it worked at some point in the past. To the liberal, things can always be improved. Plus, it’s just fun and exciting, inspiring even, to adventure forth. Every advancement of civilization can be credited to this liberal impulse.

Why did Galileo feel such a need to scientifically challenge the religious views of his day? Why did the many explorers in the past get in ships to go to places that no one knew existed? Why do we send men to the moon? Why does anyone do anything new and different? What is the point? Does there have to be a point?

The liberal may not be able to explain why any given thing is worthy, but it is worthy to the liberal because it satisfies their liberal impulse. This liberal impulse, afterall, is a human impulse. It’s part of what makes us humans. It’s the reason we didn’t remain naked primates wandering the plains of Africa. Even conservatives have this liberal impulse, although to a much lesser degree of course.

Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that this liberal impulse can get us into trouble. Civilization itself is a evolutionarily novel behavior relative to most of human evolution. Civilization is definitely nice in many ways, but it has also led to massive problems for the species such as destruction of the environment we require for our survival. Likewise, the liberal impulse can lead people to be so open to the new that the liberally-inclined person may meet dangers they can’t overcome or escape from. Sometimes you can explore the Fortean and come back with tales of adventure and at other times you go insane or worse.

From the conservative position of practical commonsense, it might be ‘stupid’ to explore the Fortean and it might be unhealthy to explore such bizarre things. But if humans were able and willing to thwart the liberal impulse, I wouldn’t now be here writing about such things. In a purely conservative world, there would be no civilization or culture. Instead, we would be ‘traditional’ primates doing what all other primates do.

My friend was wondering if there was any good reason to explore areas he finds disorienting. No, there is no good reason in terms of rationality. A person seeks out the disorienting because, if they are liberally-inclined, that is what they feel compelled to do. In fact, it’s what all humans feel compelled to do, just some people feel this compulsion to a lesser degree.

On this day: Silver Bridge and Mothman

On this day in 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed which forever would be associated with the mythology about the Mothman.

The collapsed Silver Bridge, as seen from the Ohio side

This incident was immortalized in the book The Mothman Prophecy by John Keel.

Mothman statue 2005.JPG
A 12-foot-tall, stainless-steel
sculpture of the Mothman
by artist Robert Roach,
located in Point Pleasant.