The book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,is one of those gangly, overwritten academic books that is undoubtedly wrong, but wrong in such an interesting way that readers, on finishing it, find that they think about the world quite differently. The book begins, “O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!” Jaynes was a psychology professor at Princeton, back in the days before psychologists had walled themselves off from literature, when he noticed that the gods in the Homeric epics took the place of the human mind. In the Iliad we do not see Achilles fretting over what to do, or even thinking much. Achilles is a man of action, and in general, he acts as the gods instruct him. When Agamemnon steals his mistress and Achilles seethes with anger, Athena shows up, grabs him by the hair, and holds him back. Jaynes argued that Athena popped up in this way because humans in archaic Greece attributed thought to the gods—that when the ancient kings were buried in those strange beehive Mycenaean tombs, when social worlds were small and preliterate, people did not conceptualize themselves as having inner speech. Jaynes did not think that the role of the gods in the Iliad was a literary trope. He thought that people who did not refer to internal states used their brains differently and—the cognitive functions of speaking and obeying split across their unintegrated hemispheres—actually experienced some thoughts audibly. “Who then were these gods that pushed men about like robots and sang epics through their lips?” Jaynes asked. “They were voices whose speech and direction could be as distinctly heard by the Iliadic heroes as voices are heard by certain epileptic and schizophrenic patients, or just as Joan of Arc heard her voices.”
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
In THE SELECTED LETTERS 1974, PKD mentions kabala/cabala/qabalah/etc. three times (not sure which as I only have my Index handy - I used 'Cabala') : (1). In a letter to Claudia Bush, 7-22-1974, SL 74 page 200ff (also in the EXEGESIS, page 37). (2). In a letter to Louise Zimmerman, 7-25-1974, SL 74 page 214ff. (3). In a letter to the Roiscrucian Supply Bureau, 9-30-1974, SL 74 page 256. Indexes are fun!
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Radio Free Albemuth, the directorial debut of John Alan Simon is based on the bestselling Philip K Dick novel of the same name. The film stars SAG Award Winner Shea Wigham (Silver Linings Playbook, Boardwalk Empire), Grammy Award Winner Alanis Morissette (Weeds, Dogma), Jonathan Scarfe (Perception), Katheryn Winnick (Vikings, Stand Up Guys), Hanna Hall ( The Virgin Suicides, Halloween), Ashley Greene (The Twilight Films), Golden Globe nominee Scott Wilson (The Ninth Configuration, The Walking Dead), and Oscar nominee Rosemary Harris.
Come for the trailer, stay for the cool rewards.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Here Dick identifies his thinking with the Marxist idea that history is a dialectic that will culminate in communist revolution. In part, Dick is attempting to engage the leftist literary critics whose interest in his work in the 1970s both pleased and unnerved him. At the same time, Dick's thinking already employs dualistic motifs that cast history as a dialectical conflict between the forces of Empire and those who struggle for freedom—what is described elsewhere in the Exegesis as the struggle between God and Satan. We should also note Dick's frequent identification of true Christianity as revolutionary and Christ as a revolutionary figure. In this way, Dick retrieves the historical link that has often bound together rebellious quasi-gnostic movements, like the Cathars or the Heresy of the Free Spirit, with forms of insurgent political populism and indeed communism. Giordano Bruno, one of the other "heretics" to whom Dick is attracted, also professed a charismatic yet hermetic pantheism that has long been linked to forms of radical anti-Church insurgency. That is why, in many small Italian towns, a statue of Bruno, often erected by the local Communist Party, stands facing the principal Catholic church.—SC (Exegesis note)
Friday, May 10, 2013
I hadn't noticed the "crazy talk" comment above. Not sure I understand why you'd use that phrase. Most of what we find in the published Exegesis is quite serious and reasonable exploration of his experiences and the research he was doing into theology/mysticism to understand them, although the experiences and ideas he's working with may be a bit strange. It's of great interest to serious students of religious studies and philosophy as well as literary theory and abnormal psychology. Those of us who have had extraordinary experiences, whether mystical or pathological, find a great deal of insight into these conditions. Frankly, I'm skeptical of the motivations of those who would triivialize or pathologize it. Most of the time when an author's notes are available we are grateful for the opportunity, and little ink is spilled attacking the notes for being in note form.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
I think there's an interesting question as to whether Dick "ranks" with the great mystics of the ages. He sometimes thought that he might on the basis of the extraordinary nature of his experiences, but there's also the nature and value of his writings. Moreover, Dick was a pioneering *theorist* of mysticism (with a nod to David Gill and Erik Davis I'm calling him a "garage theorist of religion" in my book) who is doing a lot of interesting religious studies work in the Exegesis (see the comments of Kripal to understand how he's interesting to a contemporary comparative religion professor), although in his characteristically unsystematic form. However, even the "unsystematic" nature of his work has been greatly exaggerated: as McKee demonstrates there's serious Christianity in there ("a cruel religion... but accurate" -PKD), and as countless modern day occultists can attest there's plenty of insight into Altered States of Consciousness and magical practices of all kinds. That all said, it's also important to understand that he couldn't have pulled off any of this as an academic, being that so many of his insights are actually misunderstandings, however productive. Perhaps rather than trying to fit him into the box of old school mysticism we should see him as designing a new way to be mystical. But isn't that what all great mystics do?