Oliver Sacks's Hallucinations: What a trip!

Sacks says that, despite the bizarre forms they may take,  hallucinations are a rather common experience. They can present themselves using any or all forms of sensory experience--aural, visual, olfactory or tactile--or you can seem to leave your body all together. Sacks sees schizophrenic hallucinations as a category apart and does not consider them in this book. If you are interested in  psychotic hallucinations, see my earlier post.

  As others before him have done,  Sacks suggests that folklore, religion and aboriginal art may all have derived their myths and imagery from hallucinations, often with a sense of divine provenance. Julian Jaynes, whom Sacks mentions, considered poetry and prophecy as originating in the right or non-dominant hemisphere and said that all people before 1000 B.C. had divided minds.  Jaynes believed that a singular consciousness arose after the introduction of written language and migrations that dealt a blow to consensual acceptance of the existence of the gods. Sacks recognizes that altered states produce anomalous sense impressions; but uses first-hand contemporary accounts, including his own, along with his up-to-date knowledge of brain anatomy and neuroscience to present his own case. 


    The major source of hallucinations, for Sacks, is in the area of the brain responsible for interpreting the sense experience during normal conscious experience. So, the right inferotemporal cortex, responsible for face recognition, will hallucinate faces; the visual word form area in the left fusiform gyrus will produce hallucinations of letters, musical notes, mathematical symbols and numbers. Usually, the letters are unreadable or nonsensical, such as in the case of a woman with Charles Bonnet Syndrome who saw “black Hebrew letters dressed in ballet dresses of white . . . danc[ing] to beautiful music” that appeared from right to left. Right to left is significant, because the left hemisphere is projecting the vision.

Additionally, different brain areas may be simultaneously activated, producing an “involuntary, incongruous collision or conflation.” Dancing Hebrew letters may be one effect; or, you might get surreal imagery, with a flower jutting out from the side of a face. Human figures may be seen floating through the street; or someone may produce a double, another self, who walks beside or in front of them. Think Moses, Jung or Flournoy's account of Hélène Smith's dissociative priest. Visions can expand, filling up the whole horizon, or shrink to minuscule beings. Handwriting can be written on the wall. The divine is often felt. How else to explain these strange occurrences? 




   As in Charles Bonnet Syndrome brought on by blindness, it is when a sense is deprived of input that the hallucinatory goes into overdrive. Dark caves, vast deserts, frigid, lonely mountain-trekking, long-distance sails or car trips, may produce hallucinations. Whether seeking sensory deprivation in specialized tanks or being thrown as a prisoner into a dark dungeon, the effect is the same: hallucinations. It is the lack of external input that produces compensatory hyperactivity in the regions responsible for the neglected sense. The dreaming mind falls prey to the same overcompensation.

While visual hallucinations may be produced where there is an organic problem, with entertaining or terrifying results, one-line auditory hallucinations can present themselves under external circumstances that require immediate action. They command or give a particular message. Anyone who is sufficiently stressed in a dangerous situation can produce a commanding voice. It happened to Sacks when he was injured on a mountain and needed to keep going despite the pain. Freud even had two sense modalities present themselves at once when he was in extreme danger: “I heard the words as if somebody was shouting them into my ear, and at the same time I saw them as if they were printed on a piece of paper floating in the ear.” A sense of another’s presence, not seen or heard, but felt, is also a common experience, often described as on the right. 

    The most bizarre hallucinations are usually the product of drugs. Cocaine and amphetamines stimulate the reward systems via the neurotransmitter dopamine. Hallucinogens—mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, and probably DMT—act by boosting serotonin in the brain. Stimulants affect left-hemispheric approach action; hallucinogens boost internal right-hemispheric events.  Sacks describes his own experience taking 20 Artane pills, normally used in much smaller quantities for Parkinson’s disease. He hallucinates an entire conversation with friends, sight unseen, from one room to the next as he made breakfast for them, only to discover they were never there at all and he had cooked way too many eggs. He also hears the deafening sound of a helicopter overhead and rushes outside thinking his parents have dropped by to visit from England. No, they have not! Back in the kitchen, he carries on a long, philosophical conversation with a spider on the wall.



   Sacks’s most fascinating account involves staring at a spot on his sleeve, motionless, for 12 hours, as the armies of the English and the French prepared to fight the battle of Agincourt in 1415, the direct result of having read a historical text along with Shakespeare’s Henry V. The two texts now conflate in miniature and in Technicolor. On another occasion, stoked on amphetamines, he reads straight through a 19th-century, 500-page textbook on migraines, not sure whether he is reading or writing the book, wondering who in his time could be like this admirable author from the past. A very loud external voice says, “You silly bugger! You’re the man!” This is not the first case I’ve read of an avocation unveiled by a hallucinatory voice.
     
Yes, hallucinations or delirium can solve problems and provide important breakthroughs. Sacks cites Vladimir Nabokov who did advanced mathematical calculating when delirious. With malarial fever, Alfred Russell Wallace conceived of the idea of natural selection. Poet Richard Howard saw a pageant of literature acted out by the staff in period dress on different floors in the hospital where he had just had back surgery. Although not mentioned in the book, Francis Crick got his vision of DNA on LSD. Other folks converse with their deceased spouse without the aid of drugs or delirium. Mrs. Blake, for one, as I know from my own research. 



Sacks’s bottom line is this: “Something has to happen in the mind/brain for imagination to overleap its boundaries and be replaced by hallucination. Some dissociation or disconnection must occur, some breakdown of the mechanisms that normally allow us to recognize and take responsibility for our own thoughts and imaginings, to see them as ours and not as external in origin . . . . but dissociation cannot explain everything, for quite different sorts of memory may be involved.” Connecting with my earlier post on OBEs/NDEs, Sacks attributes these events to the right hemisphere because of its role in body image and vestibular sensations.

It's a trip reading Hallucinations: sometimes terrifying, sometimes hysterical, always illuminating, but never boring!!

Jung's NDE and my Creative Response

Who is to say where our thoughts come from? I'd say from everything we've heard, read, seen or dreamed about, and sometimes from a distant shore or shared mind-space as in my "Freud only got it have right. Read the two Hyperion poems" dream. May I add that at the Julian Jaynes Society Conference, to my shock, I learned that I was not the only one to get a message to read a Keats poem in a dream. Life stresses can make significant messages and unusual creativity erupt in altered states of consciousness.

Around 10 years ago, I was doing a workshop based on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way at the Jung Center in Houston. I hoped to open my mind to creativity. A mainstay of the course is writing "Morning Pages," where 3 pages must be produced without editing upon waking in the morning. On this day, we were to describe "My perfect self on a perfect day." I had read Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and was taken with the idea of "the stripping process" he experienced in an NDE occurring at the time of a heart attack. Here is my slightly edited version of that assignment:




My Perfect Self on a Perfect Day


I awake early, having slept well in the night. Revelatory dreams provide clues that unravel the seams of mystery. I write and I write, turning what I have heard into massive reams of prose, exposing the underbelly of existence for what it really is: a stark void spun into stories that comfort and contain us or nagging urges to create anew against the current of consensual reality. Pages accumulate, ideas proliferate, metaphors clash and spar for expression.  I have to tame the flow to get it all out, to get it right.

Head spinning with the creator’s passion, her pleasure pulses at every turn of phrase. 

Now she sits in a sacred space, facing the Buddha: we are serene, proud, and terribly alone. She decides to let it ALL go.

Transported to a desert, she experiences the final stripping process. Imploring the universe (which doesn’t exist, except as a spinning confection gone out of control) to lighten her load, to pick the thoughts one by one from her brain, to free her from the last vestiges of ideation. Now the pictures go. They spin out into the sky, racing, gyrating, jolting against each other; then, with a snap and a puff, they are gone. 

Alone and free, the skin melts from her bones. Nothing remains but her bones, bleaching in the afternoon sun. The whiteness startles her—it is bright, sparkling with perfection. The sun’s light polishes them further: smoothing, pruning, etching out the last vestiges of individuality and imperfection. Glorious light shines forth. She is the light. Shaking, aching tranquility pulses through the night towards a final destination: a distant star, as bright as she, where she will pour forth every last atom of pure energy. Molecules spin and dance, delighted that they have found their new home, where neither word nor image recurs, unsparingly, unsympathetically to scar her soul from its one true delight: 

Perfect, silent, merged splendor.

Quantum Consciousness Redux

I'm not one to shun anomalous possibilities. If enough strange things happen to you, it's difficult to dismiss the uncanny as all in your head. But, I do tend to think that certain people, owing to genetic predisposition and traumatic experiences, are more open to paranormal experiences. What is the most traumatic experience of all? Dying, of course. 

I've just finished reading Pim van Lommel's book, Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. In 2010, I met van Lommel and heard his presentation at the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson. He was a serious, intelligent fellow, noticeably Dutch in his yellow pants. Van Lommel is a cardiologist whose job is bringing people back from cardiac arrest. He had heard so many tales of NDEs in his practice that he began to research further. His book is a laudable effort to explain the unexplainable, to grasp the unknowable.




He says that people undergoing NDEs have heightened intuition, clairvoyance, premonitions as well as increased empathy for others, both during and after their experience. It's as though the mind, once opened, remains open, at least for a while. Children are more prone to NDEs, especially through near-drowning. The aftermath can be negative: hypersensitivity to sense impressions, strong emotions; alcohol or drug problems; ADHD, depression or suicidal tendencies. Van Lommel cites Kenneth Ring's connection between out-of-body experiences (OBEs) resulting from childhood trauma and a later propensity to have NDEs. 


Sensing presences, usually departed relatives, and going toward a light in a tunnel are typical of an NDE in all places and at all times. Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch depicted this in Visions of the Afterlife in the early 16th century. Speech is not necessary in NDEs as verbal communication happens seemingly telepathically. Because of the euphoric sensation, NDErs often do not wish to return to the world of the living until their "spirit" relatives convince them that they must.




Van Lommel spends about half the book describing NDEs, then  explains them scientifically. First he says what they are not (e.g. oxygen deprivation), then what they are: nonlocal, quantum physical events. In an eternal present, past and future are relative and space can be traversed instantaneously. 


I will say that his description of "endless" consciousness as the material world's particle function collapsing into a nonlocal wave function is a useful mental construct that made sense to me. But I'm not sure if I agree that the medium for these messages is in our DNA, as he suggests.

It is well known that environmental effects can either suppress or trigger gene expression. Animals seem to have greater nonlocal connections, witness the tight formations of birds in flight or busy bees following the dictates of their queen at a distance. This is evidence of their genetic unity and of the social composition of their groups. But their brains are much smaller and less complex than ours, making their seemingly robotic adherence to their clustering effects possible. It is also well known that animals can sense dangerous environmental happenings in the near future, like hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. or that their masters are on their way home (Sheldrake). Little gets in the way of their survival instincts.

In human consciousness, in order for the more anomalous features of consciousness to occur, parts of the brain must be offline, shut down or damaged. This is what allows the generally non-verbal visions and knowledge to arise. Dreams, hypnosis, meditation, mental or developmental disorders, epilepsy or altered states brought on with psychotropic drugs are examples. 

A friend of mine is an intuitive healer. In a video interview, she describes how a part of her mind stands aside as she receives inner wisdom that helps her heal herself or others. Van Lommel also cites scientific evidence where fMRIs have registered active changes in the clients of healers who were working at a distance.

Now I'll present my pitch for the right-hemispheric connection in NDEs. First, all of the hypersensitive changes that van Lommel details above, both in the NDE and its aftermath, are aspects of right-hemispheric functioning. It is well known that the left hemisphere processes details, whereas the right's domain is the big picture, broad stroke, associative, emotional and sensorial sphere. Elsewhere, I have written about the right-hemisphere to right-hemisphere connection in telepathy and the mother-infant bond.

Copyright Cartoon A Day / CartoonaDay.com 2009.* 

Doesn't it make sense that the particle function would rely on the logical left, whereas the right would let in the light to both guide and console during our most trying times? Even this beautiful image, frequently seen on the Internet, shows right-brain functioning as "waves." 

Trauma plays a role in opening the mind to the right's associative and/or dissociative wisdom. My friend's experiences with voices began after her mother died and she had started meditating. Both trauma and practice gave her the entry which began, literally, with external fountains of light that she could turn off and on at will. The Sufi poet Rumi once declared: "Don't turn your head. Keep looking / at the bandaged place. That's where / the light enters you."

When I got the startling dream message, "Freud only got it half right. Read the two Hyperion poems," perhaps it was a nonlocal communication from Jung himself. Or perhaps I was dictating to myself through a quantum field what was already known to me in the future. That my dreaming mind could create such wizardry on its own seems unfathomable to me.

In The Secret History of Dreaming, Robert Moss* tells how cigar-smoking Freud, in a dream reported by one of his early patients, got a glimpse of the oral cancer that would cause his death. Unfortunately, Freud failed to recognize what would seem a warning designed just for him. Jung, highly predisposed to voices and visions and practiced in active imagination, had a late-life NDE where he catapulted from his body into outer space during cardiac arrest. The more left-brained father of psychoanalysis sought out the particular sexual underpinnings in the mental illnesses of his clients. The right-brained Jung saw the archetypal dimension that we all share. His notion of the collective unconscious could be explained using the nonlocal paradigm. But maybe the right hemisphere deserves some credit for allowing the magic to happen.

*Moss's bio says he survived three NDEs in his own childhood.


*Content originally appeared on CartoonADay.com (http://www.CartoonADay.com), and is made available through a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5/). 







The Minds of the Poets: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes


A different entrée into the minds of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes comes via Previc’s (2009)[i] theory of the dominant neurotransmitters in men and women. In his view, the male mind tends towards left dominance with its abundant dopaminergic connections and a “detached,” “exploitative,” “linear” orientation towards future time and distant space; while the female mind is more right-hemispheric and serotonergic, interested in maintaining a close circle with communal, empathetic ties. In a nutshell, one could evoke the Paleolithic hunter versus the nurturing mother model. Previc’s theory is in many ways convincing, but, as with McGilchrist’s The Master and the Emissary, it does not take into account atypical right-hemispheric dominance, with switched hemispheric functions, or temporary reversals of normal linguistic dominance during manic states, or brain volume changes due to head injury or early trauma on the left that can release the right from the left’s inhibitory signals or vice versa.


Nonetheless, Ted Hughes possessed many traits of Previc’s highly dopaminergic male. Hughes was a hunter, with disheveled, unwashed ways. He was both highly intelligent and hypersexual, more interested in sexual conquest than in maintaining close bonds. He was thrilled at the birth of his daughter, Frieda, but less enthralled when his son, Nicholas, arrived. His lover, Assia Wevill, had a child, Shura, whom he never recognized as his daughter. He will abandon Assia, as he did Sylvia Plath. He will maintain a relationship with Brenda Hedden, marry Carol Orchard, then spend their honeymoon period with Hedden, dangling her along until she breaks it off.[ii] Brenda’s remarks exemplify the highly dopaminergic male’s need for conquest, not domesticity, which would also explain Hughes’s intense identification with Robert Graves’s theory of the White Goddess who abhors domesticity:
           
"He was a real hunter. The moment I drew away from him and became independent, I was more attractive in his eyes, and he chased me and pleaded that I would come back. It was the same with Assia: when she tried to break away and was out of his reach, he became motivated. But, when they were together, he did terrible things. I feared I would end up like her, and resisted his temptations. Her terrible suicide saved my life."[iii]


   Plath was highly intelligent, ambitious and sexually motivated as well, the dopaminergic side of her. But, living in a time when women were considered “sluts” if they acquiesced to male sexual overtures, she was very conflicted. She labeled her first experience a rape and had to go to the hospital for hemorrhaging, yet still went out with the man again. There were more men, sometimes involving violent sex, to whom she consented, whether as punishment or titillation.[iv] After marriage, she often commented on her “good” love-making sessions with her husband, considered crucial to their marriage, even though there was often violence involved there too.[v]

   Plath’s positive serotonergic side came out in maintaining a tidy home, cooking delicious meals and nurturing her children, while remaining deeply bound to her husband. She was initially attracted to Hughes because of his brute strength as well as his poetry, having long acknowledged her need to be dominated by a strong male who would not be jealous of her own ambitions. Only he seemed large enough, both physically and mentally, to fit her fantasy. In fact, during her marriage, as her serotonergic self waxed, her dopaminergic creativity waned. The final abandonment will spawn her best poetry with fierce words and bold imagery, suggesting a dopamine-mediated manic shift. Never particularly religious, she will now claim that God is speaking through her, another sign of mania, according to Previc.

  In addition to the abandonment, other physical and psychological factors must be implicated in her final tragedy: genetic predisposition to a mood disorder; the loss of her father at age 8, which will be felt and filtered again and again with each rejection, failed relationship and abandonment; badly administered ECT treatment; therapy which overplayed maternal hatred and underplayed the father’s role; a miscarriage; an appendectomy; post-partum depression; an upper-respiratory illness; some negative  reviews of The Bell Jar; long bouts of waiting by her window for Hughes to reappear; and, possibly, side effects from a new antidepressant. Her British doctor, John Horder, called her "pathologically depressed" and abnormally sensitive (Alexander, p. 325).

  In the end, Plath was coping with the coldest winter in London since the early 19th century, with intermittent loss of light, heat and no telephone, plus an altercation with and loss of her au pair. Despite the urgency and publishing potential of the fiery new Ariel poems, an upcoming assignment for the BBC and a slated meeting with her British editor that day, she commits suicide. One would be tempted to say that her depressive side got the upper hand, but her odd behavior on the night of the suicide, as recounted by her downstairs neighbor, Trevor Thomas, suggests, rather, a manic shift. Wanting to pay for stamps he had given her that night,  she tells him "Oh! but I must I must pay you or I won't be right with my conscience before God, will I?" Ten minutes later, when Thomas finds her still in the hallway, he says he'll call their mutual Dr. Horder. Plath replies, "Oh, no please, don't do that. I'm just having a marvelous dream, a most wonderful vision." Perhaps it was in some kind of waking dream state that she made her preparations to die. Yet, true to her serotonergic self, she also prepared a small meal of milk and buttered bread for her children who slept safely behind a door sealed off from the deadly gas fumes that would engulf her alone (quotes from Alexander, p. 329). 

  Plath's mother wrote these poignant words at the end of her Letters Home

“Her physical energies had been depleted by illness, anxiety and overwork, and although she had for so long managed to be gallant and equal to the life-experience, some darker day than usual had temporarily made it seem impossible to pursue.” 


  Hughes will come to blame a triple threat: Plath’s mother, her therapist, and an unnamed friend for poisoning his wife’s mind against him. In a late poem, he questions his wife: “What was poured in your ears / While you argued with death? / Your mother wrote: ‘Hit him in the purse.’ / . . . And from your analyst: / ‘Keep him out of your bed’ / . . . / What did they plug into your ears / That had killed you by daylight on Monday?” (Howls & Whispers). But a final blow to her was the inscription she found in a new copy of a red Oxford Shakespeare during their last meeting in his flat. Assia had replaced what Sylvia had furiously rent when she first discovered their adultery. This lover would be remorseless when learning of the wife's demise. 

  Hughes himself claimed the relationship with his wife had been "almost completely repaired" before the fatal day (in Koren and Negev). One will never know what occurred between Sylvia and Ted during their last brief encounter on the evening of February 8 at her own flat in Yeats's old house; but, on returning to her friend Jillian Becker's, who was watching the children, she appeared distinctly different from her formerly sobbing self, now "direct" and "purposeful" (in Alexander, p. 328).

  Whatever the constellation of events, one can only wish that Plath had waited, had not succumbed to that darker day, or brighter, if the manic hypothesis prevails. Acknowledged and consoled by the recognition that would follow, she might well have flourished. In 1982, she received the Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Poems along with the enduring adoration of so many, many others.



[i] See Previc (2009), The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History (UK: Cambridge UP).
[ii] See Koren and Negev (2006), Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival and Ted Hughes’ Doomed Love (UK: De Capo Press) for evidence of Hughes’s callous ways with women. In a letter to his brother, Gerald, Hughes “confessed that he had finally found it impossible to stay married to Sylvia, especially because of her ‘particular death-ray quality,’ and that he was pleased to have left her (ibid., p. 110)."
[iii] Ibid., p. 221.
[iv] Think Sabina Speilrein and Jung.
[v] Alexander (1991), Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath (New York: Viking) provides many examples of the “rough magic” in her sex life.

Consciousness of the Future at the TSC


The Toward a Science of Consciousness (TSC) Conference has been around since 1994. Faithful followers and newcomers are equally aware that consciousness studies are still evolving, moving closer, but somewhat elusively, toward an understanding of what consciousness is and how it arises. No one claims it’s some sort of brain substance: it's a process, not a thing and it definitely arises through interaction with others and the environment. What’s nice about this conference is how it explores both the hard scientific and philosophical matters—How does consciousness arise? Do we have free will?—and the squirrellier phenomena, harder to prove —Does consciousness survive death? Can we foresee the future (precognition)? Can acts in the future affect the past (retrocausation)? 

The large gathering includes neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, neuropsychologists, anesthesiologists, spiritual types, survival of death advocates and literary people (like me, although a minority). I heard a talk on consciousness in Virginia Woolf this year and had a nice interchange with the speaker afterwards, who happened to be a philosopher. There was an interesting mix this year of old codgers with dodgy ideas and new, young things who were surprisingly articulate and at ease at the podium. Fewer gray heads and more long hair and beards were in attendance.

I was especially interested in hearing Daryl Bem’s research on precognition, a psi phenomenon that claims an anomalous information or energy transfer from the future is possible. I’ve experienced it myself in troubling dreams, through imagery or a startling command, or in relaxed moments when a future event jolts my consciousness to an awakening with total clarity beyond words.

Dean Radin’s Quantum Entanglement, Larry Dossey’s The Science of Premonitions and Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home are works already extent in this field. Other researchers, I learned, sometimes just throw out their data rather than put their “weird science” results out there. Bem, though, claimed he was geriatric enough not to worry about his reputation. His method was to tell his college student volunteers that they were in a clairvoyance test. Then he showed them neutral, negative or erotically stimulating pictures. The results showed higher arousal in the students before the negative or erotic pictures were displayed even though the students had no way of knowing which picture the computer would choose. The always clever and hilarious Stephen Colbert learned of Bem’s research and invited him on the show to talk about his so-called “Time-traveling porn.”

So, yes, Bem was testing the precognitive detection of erotic stimuli. He determined that it was the extroverts, the high stimulus seekers, who did better on the test: 53% vs. the random 50%, which is significant. The same students were also better at precognitively avoiding negative pictures. The conference attendees seemed very receptive to Bem’s research. David Chalmers said people will claim it’s sloppy work or fraud if they’re not inclined to accept the results. Stu Hameroff said a lot of positive results are being suppressed and at another moment said that we’ve had backward time effects for thirty years. Hameroff explained this through quantum consciousness, or “quantiousness” in a previous talk of his own. Both highly influential researchers, the former a philosopher and the latter an anesthesiologist, were the original founders of the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference.

Near the end of Bem's session, a woman in the first row raised her hand and said, “Unless you’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand, you’re not likely to believe it.” She went on to explain how she met the man who would become her husband and instantly knew that they would marry. Bem said, “I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard like this and I don’t pooh pooh them any more.” Interestingly, the previous evening I had explained to a young conference attendee, whose task was to explain free will in a poster session the next evening, my own precognition story. Sitting on a park bench during my college days, I had seen another student walk by and instantly knew that I would marry him, even though we had never even dated and I had only met him once a few years before. I did indeed marry this student several years later, despite intervening events that might well have derailed my future fate. Here in the present, the young, "free will" guy from the night before, now sitting a few rows up, turned towards me. I just gave him a thumbs up, implying, "See! That’s what I’m talkin' 'bout!"

I’d like to see consciousness studies take more into account the “anecdotal” stories that seem to confirm that psi events do occur. As it stands, researchers have to use scientifically verifiable and repeatable experiments, random number or image generators, to prove that precognition or retrocausation exist. Why not just listen to the stories of people who have actually experienced the surprising or startling phenomena, a method that was in vogue in the 19th century but, regrettably, is no longer in use. I’m not saying it’s all real or that everybody can do it. But there is something about those close couplings and highly emotional stimuli that seem to defy time and space--even if it's just the distance between two heads. Or is it two hearts! I’ve written about this before and you can find my article here, published in the venerable Journal of Consciousness Studies. I might add that there was a session at the conference on remote viewing that I found absolutely convincing! Hameroff, by the way, stands by the theory that consciousness can exist outside of the body at higher frequencies!

You can see Stu Hameroff speaking in a group of four about consciousness after death at 1:04.

Hughes, Plath and Shakespeare: A Twinned Tale of the Mythic Feminine




In the photo on the left, we can see that Ted Hughes was a right-handed poet; yet, in the second photo, his arms are folded across his chest with the left hand up. Possible mixed dominance, along with early trauma, may explain his penchant for poetry and the paranormal. Looking at his childhood, we find a distant mother; a silent father, traumatized by his experiences in war; a favored older brother, Gerald. A fear of female engulfment with a need for ever-renewed female collaboration mark Hughes's entire creative life. This conflict could be traced back to attachment issues.
   
Furthermore, Hughes’s mother was considered a psychic and he believed that he had inherited her abilities. Whereas she had premonitory visions and angelic visitations, he had what he deemed prophetic dreams. Early on, Ted claimed the image of the bloody hand of a fox on a paper he was writing at Cambridge convinced him to read archeology and anthropology, rather than English literature. In another dream, an angel had shown him a small square of satin, which he later came to believe was the same material that lay under his dead wife’s head in her casket. [I have no aversion to the notion of answers and warnings in dreams, as I have received them myself (cf. Hearing the Voice Getting it Right)
   
Hughes also cultivated the paranormal through hypnosis, trance, and meditative exercises. He fancied himself a shaman and believed a poet’s future self could dictate to him in the present. [If we accept the latter, a notion that I find very appealing, even if not scientifically provable,* it could be one way of explaining a dissociative sense of dictation.]

As a young man, Hughes was in thrall to poet and classicist Robert Graves’s notion of the White Goddess, the mythic female who inspires poets, yet demands their sacrifice in return for immortality. He was taken in enough to write an entire book called Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Being, a long, complex attempt to order the bard's entire opus based on how the mythic feminine is portrayed in his plays
   
The wild boar goring Adonis on the cover represents the mortal wound inflicted on the Hero. Hughes believed, in line with this mythic scenario, that a major trauma was needed to confer special knowledge on the poet. According to Hughes, Shakespeare's personal trauma was the “tragic error” of abandoning his wife in Stratford while he went off to London, compounded at the societal level by the suppression of the Catholic tradition in England. Both devalued the Feminine. Shakespeare’s visionary poetry, then, erupted at the confluence of these major crises and was aided by his adherence to a mystical school of thought (Hermetic Occult Neoplatonism) that used ritual magic to glean wisdom and clairvoyance from hallucinatory figures. [Think Jung.]

Hughes uses a hemispheric model to explain the mythic paradigm in Shakespeare’s entire corpus. The old Goddess myth stands on the right—archaic, matriarchal, emotional, and body-based—while the Goddess-destroying myth leans left—new, patriarchal, rational, and idealized. The Female of the right is “inseparable from the womb memory, infant memory, nervous system and the chemistry of the physical body, possessed by all the senses and limitless”; the Female of the left is “Puritan . . . idealized, moralized and chaste.” 

What happens next is madness: the Hero murders his own beloved, supplanting the old “King must die” mentality of ancient Goddess religion with “the beloved Female must die” instead. The Hero splits the Female into two diametrically opposed aspects: Sacred Bride/Divine Mother versus Queen of Hell.

Hughes asserts that there is a basic biological truth underlying the new patriarchal formula. First, the Hero is driven mad by the terrifying fact that all of life is doomed. Second, the growing boy needs to overthrow the “possessive control of the Female,” that is, his mother, in order to become a man. Likewise, the mythic hero must overthrow the Mother Goddess because of her “magical, terrifying, reproductive powers”; “the occult power of her paralysing love”; and unleash the “uncontrollable new sexual energy which is searching for union with the unknown Female.” In other words, the conquering god appropriates the Mother Goddess’s power while assuring female subservience and his own sexual liberty. This phase was not to last. Hughes sees a great shift in Shakespeare’s plays coinciding with his mother's death in 1608: from this point onwards, saving, rather than killing off, the Female becomes his credo. Restoration of the Divine Female heals the crime against her, so that it cannot occur again.

In fixating on Shakespeare’s oeuvre, ferreting out the underlying myths that spelled out his doom and resuscitation, Hughes had found a twinning of his own sad tale. Shakespeare’s “flight from his wife, and his prolonged separation from her, is one of the dominant unsettled questions of his solitary existence,” Hughes proclaimed. Likewise, his flight from Sylvia Plath and her subsequent suicide, was only the first in a series of deaths that would encompass a man’s most intimate female relations: a wife; a lover, Assia Wevill; their daughter, Shura; and his own mother. Female corpses of Shakespearean proportion piled up at the feet of a broken, depressed poet. 

Hughes says that Shakespeare “examines” and “corrects” his life by resuscitating the fallen female with “atonement, redemption and reconsecration in a sacred marriage of  ‘new-born’ souls.”  Likewise, Hughes will attain the status of one of the great poets of the twentieth century and Poet Laureate of England. The Female-affirming final sequence of Shakespeare’s oeuvre represents for Hughes a “crowning illumination” because it attempts to cure the bard’s personal wound as well as the religious rift in his society. Perhaps Hughes's Remains of Elmet and Birthday Letters had a similar effect on him, restoring the beloved mother and wife to him, without the curse of Medusa’s snare. Mother and wife take on their separate posthumous lives, extolled and molded by the poet’s imagination, freeing him, at last, from their mythic hold on him. 


Plath says, “God is speaking through me” in Hughes’s poem “The God.” The Divine "Other" filled the vacuum left by her husband,  who had replaced her father. In his Birthday Letters, Hughes neatly lays his wife’s soul to rest, on that little square of dream satin, producing some of his finest poetry along with the myth of his own innocence.


*See http://dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf, in which Daryl J. Bem presents new scientific evidence on precognition and premonition. Next week, I will be attending the 2012 Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson, Arizona, where this Cornell University professor will be speaking, along with Deepak Chopra and many others researchers and practitioners, at the interface of science and spirituality.


Smiley Face Blog Responses

I finally sorted out the "smiley face" responses from their different venues: my own Facebook page, My Left-handed Friends and Jung Hearted Pages as well as the comments on my blog. There were 32 respondents, but not everyone did the further short test for folded arms, foot- and eye-dominance and hand position in writing found in The Eye of the Beholder. Also, two people were unable to perceive the happier guy, so our base is down to 30 responders, with 18 who responded fully.



In Julian Jaynes’s test of 1000 people, 80% of right-handers chose "B" and 55% of left-handers chose "A." The “expected” choice for a typically organized brain would be "B" because the right hemisphere would be judging the facial expression by the left side of the face. Jaynes predicted that people who were bodily left-lateralized in every way would be even more likely to chose "A."

In our study of 30 people, 17 or 57% chose "B" and 13 or 43% chose "A."

Out of the 19 people who responded fully, 10 were right-handed and 9 were left-handed.

Of these 9 left-handers, 4 were left-lateralized across the board. Yet, 2 picked "A" and 2 picked "B." The "A" pickers would be judging the face with their left hemispheres, as Jaynes predicted, with hemispheric functions presumably switched; whereas the "B" pickers, me included, would be using their right hemisphere for facial recognition as well as for language.

Of the 10 right-handers, only 2 were right lateralized across the board. One picked "A" (atypically) and the other "B."

I don’t know what conclusions we can draw from these results other than the fact that there is a fair amount of mixed dominance amongst my friends, virtual or otherwise. In addition to questioning that the extremely left lateralized would more likely pick "A," as Jaynes had said, I wanted to test the conclusion of the Scientific American Mind article that people with right-hemispheric dominance were more likely to believe in or experience paranormal phenomena (see again The Eye of the Beholder). Only two spoke up here: one was left-handed and the other mixed, adding left-handed me, that makes 3. So far so good. Are there any more of you out there???