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 also 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. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!

Consciousness of the Future at the TSC


The Toward a Science of Consciousness (TSC) Conference has been going strong since 1994. Faithful followers and newcomers are equally aware that consciousness studies are still evolving, moving closer, albeit 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 other 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 pleasant interchange with the speaker, a philosopher, afterwards. There was an interesting mix this year of old codgers with dodgy ideas and young things who spoke articulately and with ease at the podium. 

I was especially interested in hearing Daryl Bem’s research on precognition, a psi phenomenon claiming anomalous information or an energy transfer from the future is possible. I’ve experienced it myself whether in dreams, through imagery, or as a startling command in a relaxed moment as a future happening jolting me to consciousness with a 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 the 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 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 the extroverts, the high stimulus seekers, 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 is sloppy work or fraud, if they’re not inclined to accept the results. Stu Hameroff said a lot of positive results are being suppressed; at another moment, he said we’ve had backward time effects for thirty years. Hameroff had explained this possibility 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 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.”

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 saw a student walk by and instantly knew that I would marry him, even though we had never dated and I had only met him once a few years before. I did indeed marry him several years later, despite intervening events that might well have derailed my fate. Here in the present, the young, "free will" guy from the night before, now sitting a few rows up, turned towards me. I gave him a thumbs up.

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 are required to use scientifically verifiable, repeatable experiments, using 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 startling phenomena, a method in vogue in the 19th century but, regrettably, no longer in use. I’m not saying it’s all real or that everybody can do it. But close couplings and highly emotional stimuli seem to defy time and space somehow--even if it's just the distance between two heads. I’ve written about this before and you can find my article here, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. I might add that there was an absolutely convincing session on remote viewing at the conference. Hameroff, by the way, stands by the theory that consciousness can exist outside of the body at higher frequencies.

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.