MY BOOK


After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on Amazon.com, it can be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read.

Hearing the Voice, Getting it Right


 Once, in a frightening dream, a patient on a psychiatrist’s couch shouted at me: “Freud only got it half right!” Following this ambiguous remark, the Darth Vader-like voice bellowed a command: “Read the two Hyperion poems!” After twenty years of research, I am now attempting to explain the neurological and psychological origins of the dissociative knowledge that has entered some of history's greatest poetic minds.



Victor Hugo once heard a voice declare “Au travail, grand homme!” His mind, altered by loss of a loved one and political exile, had transformed the sound of the waves crashing around his island home into a command to get to work. He spent two and a half years attempting to contact the dead during his exile, writing the immortal Les Misérables and reams of poetry as well. Soliciting the advice of the dead poets and prophets he had long admired helped him dull the pain of his diminished, alienated universe. Other great poets were also impelled by traumas and losses to explore similar means of consolation.



American poet James Merrill spent 20 years contacting the dead using a Ouija board with his companion David Jackson. The dissociative words, spelled out in haste and often with humor, described the history and invisible functioning of the universe that would be molded into Merrill's brilliant and self-consoling 560-page poem, The Changing Light at Sandover.






William Butler Yeats accessed voices through his wife, Georgie. She either spoke the words while asleep, as Yeats wrote them down, or produced automatic handwriting. Like Merrill with Jackson, Yeats would construct a grand scheme to order the universe, where he held an important position. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s voice came to him like Hugo's, transformed in the rush of wind and waves. Highly poetic and personal language poured forth, combating loss and entraining truth and beauty in its wake.


Neither poet nor prophet, I am just a scribe trying to get it right. I wish I could get the words from a Ouija board (much more convenient than Hugo’s laborious table tapping in family séances) or from an inspired rush of wind or waves titillating my mind in a self-hushed trance. Outside of my original dream message, I have never received any other dissociative knowledge. I have read the scientific literature and analyzed other's creative voices to make sense of the phenomenon.

In my doctoral days, I had studied how the mythic mother ruled in early human history; how she was dethroned by patriarchal forces; but also how she inevitably returns in times of crisis in the mythic undercurrents of literature, especially in poetry. Matriarchal myth studies subsided in the wake of the crisis experience of a close friend of mine. After her mother’s death, she claimed to hear the voices of angels advising and consoling her, helping her deal with life and grief as well as to become an intuitive healer. Her experience led me to the poets, as my dream "mad" man pointed the way.



The first book that helped me make sense of her experience was Julian Jaynes's, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976). Here, he located the voices of the gods in the right temporal lobe of the brain.  Due to migrations, historical catastrophes, and, especially, the beginning of literacy, the voices fell silent and self-consciousness was born. Mental “breakdowns” can return one to a “bicameral” or dissociative mind. Jaynes’s theory was compelling, yet 
controversial, and needed updating with current scientific research.


Jung also experienced voices and visions and used these perceptions to construct his account of individual psychic life and the connections that bind us all. A line in his biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in fact, eerily replicated my dream message: “Freud was only considering half of the whole.” Freud’s "half" theorized the sexually desired birth mother, while Jung’s "half" longed for the mythical Great Mother. Could it be both were right?

Jung’s work is enormously helpful in understanding the voices. Yet, modern neuroscience reaffirms Freud in the sense that the infantile relation to the mother can alter the brain, not through sexual longing but through psychic wounding. Since many neuroscientists now agree that the wounding occurs in the right hemisphere, perhaps by adding Freud's maternal half to Jung's mythic half we find our way to a deeper truth.




Tallying the mythic mothers, the mother-mediated crises, the voices of female angels and the poetic muses, I felt that everything was constellating around the mother, the original other who we were until we developed a separate consciousness. The mother mirrored the child, who internalized her presence until he or she could regulate their own emotions. Dr. Allan N. Schore’s book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self,  identified and located this process in the right hemisphere. No longer a metaphorical construct, the feminine was literally hardwired into the child’s mind. Here, in the pre-verbal matrix of the emerging self, maternal wounds can scar a child. An abusive, neglectful, or lost mother, as well as a smothering one, could create problems of boundary loss or self-control issues so common in pathological disorders. Later crises, especially the death or loss of loved ones, can open old wounds.


Poetic words are an embodiment. Confronted with loss, abandonment, or fear of death, words may arise unbidden, seeking to construct a hierarchy to defend against that chaotic absence. The mind reels without an internal stabilizing principle. A void must be filled; order must be restored. An all-encompassing premise becomes a presence containing the grief and giving the injured self a larger, comforting space to inhabit—the one vacated by the mother.

The locus of that new ordering--the right temporal lobe--uses the raw materials of memory as well as snatches of bits from the natural world around it to create, much like in a dream. Its fears and preferred ways of making sense of the world will color its creations. The loss and the proclivities appeared again and again as I studied the minds of great poets who heard voices or used dissociative techniques to access them. Analyzing their ability to put their preoccupations into words tells us not only about the poetic process but also about ourselves—our common human psychology, our preoccupations and our ability to create.

This study sheds light on commonly observed phenomena, explained from the dual optic of neuropsychology and poetry. Why does a disordered sense of self so often result in conflicted impressions of gender? Why does the disordered self so often use religious or mythic imagery? Why does religion itself so often constellate around gender issues and death? Sorting through the evidence that neuroscience and the poets provide, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses, attempts to make sense of it all, while fully appreciating the great mystery and beauty of the creating mind.

Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life After Death

This may seem like a bizarre topic. Actually, it's the name of a book I just read by Stephen E. Braude, professor and chair of the philosophy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Country. Ten years in the making, this is quite likely the most informed book you'll ever read on the subject from the perspective of a highly intelligent philosopher, not a New Age guru, and it makes connections to creativity you might not have otherwise suspected.

Braude supplies in-depth analyses of famous cases of trance mediumship (or channeling), possession, ghost hauntings, reincarnation claims and near death experiences (NDEs) before coming to a conclusion on the final page of the book. In the preface he describes his own scary experience with a table tipping out messages letter by letter (A=1 tip; B=2 tips,etc.) during a slow day in graduate school with friends, not knowing how frequently this very method had been used in the late 19th century. Yet, anyone who has ever used a Ouija Board under the right circumstances with the right people (for me it was childhood with family), knows you can get messages and predictions for the future.

What I find compelling about Braude's research is the accent on the incredible creativity of the mediums, resembling the output of savants who lack basic forms of knowledge, but have supernormal potential in others. (I discussed some of these in a previous blog (Right Brain News from an Incessant Reader). Pearl Curran / Patience Worth is a prime example. With little education or interest in literature, she was able to produce a huge body of dissociative texts, including poety, novels, short stories and plays, some written in an archaic Anglo-Saxon dialect of Patience, the person she claimed to be channeling. Pearl could even be self-aware, that is, co-conscious: while Patience Worth was dictating a poem she could simultaneously write a letter to a friend.

Braude considers the possibility of rare talents and phenomenal memory coming out in a dissociative state as well as "super-psi," i.e. telepathy among the living that might supply information about people from the past. He makes a further connection to the psychology of the living that would explain their need to make these connections. He does not doubt that telepathy and clairvoyance can occur, citing many examples. He also lingers long on the evidence for xenoglossy, i.e. the ability to speak a formerly unknown foreign language while in a trance.

While he doesn't address the neurology of dissociative states, his mediumistic case studies are a treasure trove of examples of unusually creative possibilites that allow me to speculate for him. A musical savant had the ability to improvise the styles of various composers at the piano, with the right hand playing in one style and the left hand playing in another. Similarly, Mozart could compose a piece by hand while composing a different one in his head. But, whereas Mozart had had intense training, the savant had reportedly never played music before, making it all the more incredible. Comparing the two, I would say that while both had exceptional talent, the savant had a very unusal brain organization, probably with right hemispheric superiority, that allowed her to process musical notes automatically and then replicate them on the keyboard. She was not creating new musical scores; Mozart certainly was.

I know about competence in learning a foreign language, having taught French for over twenty years. Not everyone has the same capacity to pick up a foreign language. Amongst adults, engineers are particularly pitiful, because of left hemisphere dominance that wants every piece of grammatical expression broken down into a hard and fast rule. Children learn the best because their young minds are still malleable to accommodate the new sounds into their spoken repertoire. Even amongst children, some have great difficulty, especially dyslexics who have enough trouble parsing their own language. If we're looking for unusual cases, I can supply a 12th grader who was learning French for the first time, while already competent in Spanish. I had never seen anyone so adept, so fast, in language learning. One day she got up in front of the class and wrote with both hands, simultaneously and backwards. This indicates to me a very unusal brain organization with strong linguistic facility in both hemispheres.

I can only surmise that mediums with unusal linguistic talents are working bi-hemispherically as well as bi-directionally. In another case of Braude's, a child was producing automatic scripts without having learned the alphabet. She had, however, observed her older sister producing automatic writing. She may then have been hyperlexic, with the supernormal ability to decode patterns in letters and words precociously. Telepathy can play a role too. Often when a foreign language is produced by a medium, one of the sitters present knows the language, as when Victor Hugo's seance group occasionally got messages in English.

Braude would like to think that all children have these kinds of capacities, but are stiffled by a dreary educational system. True, in part. But I would maintain that a dissociative capacity as well an unusal brain organization would play equal roles. The dissociative state would definitely play a role in releasing the creative hemisphere to invent away with fluency and agility. To exemplify the unusual brain organization argument, Nadia, an artistic savant, was autistic with little to no speaking ability (ten words at age 6), but could draw life-like pictures of moving horses and other animals at age three, comparable to prehistoric cave art of Chauvet and Lascaux, and even to Leonardo da Vinci, who was dyslexic and wrote backwards, by the way. Nadia's defective left brain allowed for hyperability of the visually artistic right to replicate animal imagery from pictorial memory. Furthermore, after intensive therapy in acquiring more language skills, Nadia lost her spontaneous ability to draw her animals. (See also Betty Edwards's book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which teaches you to access the kind of realistic perspective of someone like Nadia, rather than rely on what you think you see.)

Ah, we've peered into the unusal minds of savants and mediums, but we're far afield from the survival of death. I guess you'll have to read Braude's book!

Imaginary Friends and Imagining Writers

Imaginary friends exist for real in the minds of some children. My oldest sister shared two friends, Mike and Ike, with my brother. Both siblings saw them, talked to them and played with them. A folie à deux ("shared madness") as they say in French. An avid reader of fairy tales in my youth, I imagined a circle of elves dancing on my tummy when I was sick, healing me with Elvin needles. In retrospect, my bad diet (I stubbornly refused eating anything healthy), probably accounted for the pains that I interpreted in an upbeat, albeit fantasy-based way.

Imaginary friends are conjured when needed to combat loneliness, for consolation, for healing or for an excuse for wrongdoing. The Gorilla did it!

Creating imaginary friends is not that far afield from the creative process of exceptional writers, many of whom suffered tragic childhoods, but gained access to an imaginary realm that fed their fantasies and their notebooks. Charles Dickens said he could hear every word his characters said—a beneficent power showed it all to him and he just wrote it down. Robert Louis Stevenson said “the other fellow” inside his head commanded him and “little people” in his dreams suggested ideas for his novels and dictated many details of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Nineteenth-century French writer Chateaubriand conversed with an invisible female companion. In childhood, the novelist George Sand had visions and a dream character, Corambé, who spilled over into her waking life. (Think Chocolat and the daughter’s imaginary kangaroo.) Gustave Flaubert created a character who claimed he couldn’t distinguish dream from waking, a mental state which may well have resembled his own. He admitted that he always confused his artistic hallucinations with reality. When he wrote the passage in which Mme Bovary poisons herself, he could actually taste the arsenic in his mouth and threw up his dinner. Balzac, strongly stoked on coffee, also hallucinated, watching his creations develop on their own. He claimed to merge with people on the street and actually feel their sensations, making his characters seem so much more real as a result.

But poets, who use mellifluous sounds and metaphors, are particularly prone to hearing the dissociative words. Homer, Dante, Milton, Blake, Rilke all said they received “divine” dictation, even if the words were really self-generated. Others poets, along with spirit mediums, get the words through séances, automatic writing and Ouija boards with their friends and loved ones. The odysseys of Hugo, Yeats and Merrill took them to distant galaxies in the mind, and back and forward in time, with their feet still planted under the table.

If we consider that when we dream at night, we truly believe what’s happening is real, we can understand how delicate the membrane is between fantasy and reality, waking and dream. Dissociative states can come unheralded with information to take note of, like Rousseau walking along the road and “receiving” the Social Contract in one blinding flash; or they can be pursued with onerous techniques, like Hugo and Merrill spelling out their messages letter by letter with a tipping table or a Ouija board.

Lest you think you’ll receive your flash of inspiration in one delirious starburst, keep in mind that there must be input to have output: hard prior thought and practice, plus reading, reading, reading, produce the raw materials that the marvelous mind then constellates into its novel vision or poetic language, gracious messages from the inner self that must be meticulously wrought into final form.