For-Itselfness

A friend texts requesting recommendations, works he could assign describing consciousness — particularly works that identify variable “dimensions” and “states.” I recommend Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Abraham Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being. Reflecting afterwards on the exchange, I note down in a notebook, “Consciousness is something we grant or presuppose — based on our being here amid others in shared dialogue and shared study. Consciousness is Being as it comes to attention of itself as autopoetic subject-object — soul in communion with soul, each the other’s love doctor and angelic messenger.”

Cosmic Coincidence Control Center

CCCC is an agency encountered or imagined by legendary scientist-psychonaut John Lilly. The latter claimed the group reached out to him in the early to mid 1970s through its local affiliate, the Earth Coincidence Control Office, or ECCO, while Lilly was studying dolphins and conducting experiments involving combinations of LSD, ketamine, and sensory deprivation tanks at his marine research lab, the Communications Research Institute, on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Erik Davis writes of Lilly’s odd experiences from this period in his book High Weirdness. Lilly wanted to communicate with dolphins, and Margaret Mead’s ex-husband Gregory Bateson assisted with funding. Lilly writes of his encounter with ECCO in his 1978 memoir The Scientist. His ideas informed the 1973 science fiction thriller The Day of the Dolphin starting George C. Scott, as well as the 1992 Sega Genesis videogame Ecco the Dolphin. Lilly also served as the basis for Dr. Edward Jessup, the mad professor character in the 1980 film Altered States. My sense of him follows a trajectory the exact opposite of Jessup’s: Lilly was a villain of sorts only in his early years. His research of the 1950s, funded by the military, was what we might call “MK-Ultra”-adjacent. Despicable acts like sticking wires into the brains of monkeys in the name of science. Yet Lilly rebelled, acquired a conscience, became a free radical of sorts. With commencement of his self-experimentation with psychedelics, Lilly transforms, becomes a rabbit hole of immense strangeness from the 1960s onward. Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog promoted Lilly’s books, especially Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer. A 1972 paperback edition of the latter features Brand calling it “The best internal guidebook I’ve ever seen—far more practical and generalized than transcendent Eastern writings or wishful Underground notes….It makes an open start on fresh language and powerful technique for the frontier.” By the latter, Brand means what? Some sort of moving boundary or threshold state, I guess, where through self-experiment with tools, subjects grow new organs.

Weird Occurrences

Suffice to say, we had some weird occurrences there at the home we rented on Shady. None of it seemed malevolent in intent — just a bit weird. I developed a writing practice during my time there involving self-induced trance states, similar to the surrealist practice of “automatic writing.” I experienced auditory hallucinations, where it felt like I was hearing voices. Some of this was admittedly disconcerting at first. I realized almost immediately, however, that I could write some of it down. I could take notes like a kind of sleuth. And so, a Text began to germinate — one I transcribed gratefully, in a state of silent absorption as I listened.

Hence these trance-scripts.

As for the house, Frank sold it when we moved out — and from what I’ve heard, he tempered the decor when preparing to put the place on the market. Thankfully, however, I have some photos of how it looked when I was there.

I have the photos…and I have the Text.

Escape from Space and Time

“What about the future?” thinks the time traveler. Could binaural beats be of use, as the Monroe Institute claimed? The narrator has cassettes of theirs in his basement, and could be cajoled into playing them for the time traveler as the latter reclines on a futon at Dada’s House on the night of a full moon.

“The Monroe people seem sort of creepy, though,” warns the narrator. They allege that their “Gateway Experience” enables escape from space and time. CIA thought the technique had some degree of merit, didn’t they? Enough, certainly, to warrant an investigation. The results of that investigation have been declassified and are available now through the CIA website. Thobey Campion reviewed the agency’s findings about the Institute several months ago in a piece for Vice.

Tuesday January 26, 2021

The “altered state” presumes variance from a norm: or at the very least, contrast between varying states. Modulation among intensities of experience. Sleeping and waking states. Dream states, drug states, trance states. States of hyper-absorption: flow-states, runners highs, fever-induced deleria. All of our texts this semester assume some ordinary, everyday waking state, as well as an alternative to that state. And in fact, we’ve all experienced “altered states” of one kind or another. Moments of intense concentration, moments of absorption or immersion.

Thursday January 21, 2021

A new semester approaches. Altered states of consciousness and perception: let us consider religious raptures, drug-induced ecstasies, “peak experiences” and the like as phenomena central to human activity as evidenced by literatures of many cultures and historical periods. A narrative forms as we travel Bill & Ted-style among ancients, medievals, and moderns. We detect patterns; the texts of different places and periods constellate in a kind of cyberspace of meaning, speak to one another as allegories of a transhistorical process or project: the attempt to get free. Confronted with the disruptive power of gnosis, we’re left wondering: “Red pill or blue pill?”

Tuesday January 19, 2021

There are rhythms of thought that sing to us, patterns formed of rituals we perform with others. These hours of sitting are part of one such ritual: “the time during which I write.” Activity in phenomenological reality is built of these rhythms. The day is a music we co-create with others. Cook up a meal to celebrate: “NO MORE TRUMP.” Soon there will be garden beds. Let us learn and do as we teach. Expanses opening on the backs of our eyelids. Encourage students to admit to having had weird experiences — “altered states” — the cause of the alteration of less importance than the state itself. Present these as symptoms of an outside or an unconscious beyond the physics and logic of everyday experience. Invite by these means a partial suspension of disbelief, an openness to what the texts speak in sum.

Monday November 11, 2019

The “heroes” that we encounter in literatures about altered states are individuals and groups, authors and movements, creators of counterculture, figures who rebel against systems stacked against them — because some of us can’t breathe. Some of us feel trapped economically. Others of us feel trapped educationally, betrayed by those trained in STEM. And yet we must practice love anyway, despite, because. Time to revisit the debates internal to counterculture, among the Whole Earthers and others, about technology and ecology. Bring ecofeminists and cyberfeminists and Afrofuturists into account when re-examining these debates. But do so while staring at crows atop a pine tree. Allow time to admire patterns of sunlight and shadow amid fallen leaves. Then up and about: gather the books, assemble the argument. Defend pluralist methodologies and anarchist epistemologies. Critique capitalist science and its institutionalization of consciousness. But do so as an Eco-Marxist, acknowledging climate crisis as a real condition of existence — the Pascal’s Wager of our time.

Tuesday October 22, 2019

Upon re-reading a collection of poems by Nathaniel Mackey, I find myself scribbling in the margins at the end of “Song of the Andoumboulou: 22” the cryptic statement, “The story of the garden, the story of the desire for knowledge, is the story of intoxication and altered consciousness.” Bruce Hornsby interjects, stating, “Ha, but don’t you believe them.” Is that just the way it is? Do words get in the way? Mackey suggests otherwise, words used otherwise allowing us to ascend and descend reality’s ladders and trees. He refers to this otherwise as a kind of “musical speech.” Music that lifts readers into other ways of experiencing space and time.