Goblins of the Threshold.

I. Samhain.
11/1/09

Closing my eyes, letting go, my mind drifts, blossoming spontaneous motion pictures, as is usually the case before I slide into a dream. Relaxed and numb, I am certain I will fall asleep for the few hours I have until I have to start waking up for work, but suddenly, in the silent movie in my mind, one of them pop up. Short, slender, large head and black, slanted, almond-shaped eyes. I come out of it, then drift back into another motion picture, but again they emerge, uninvited.

Curse my unconscious.

Getting up out of bed, I pour myself a mug of coffee. Sit in front of the computer. And then I just stare off into space. Stare into the void where answers should be.

II. Just Another Paranoid Afternoon Morning.
11/13/09

It is the eleventh; the day before my birthday. Something feels “off” from the moment I open my eyes. Suddenly I just wake up, as if out of a trance at the snap of fingers, and look at the clock, which reads around one in the afternoon. Apparently I had gotten up, turned off my two alarms and fell back asleep without realizing it, which happens a bit too often. Either in my hand or just near it on the bed is my cell phone, which immediately struck me as odd, as I always keep it in the chair next to the head of my bed and would have no reason to have it in my hands anyway, as I hadn’t set the alarm on my cell last night. Strangest of all, I was positioned on my bed wrong; my feet were towards the head of the bed, my head at the foot. I sure as hell hadn’t fallen asleep that way. Granted, I must have gotten up to turn off the alarm, which I’ve done countless times without realizing it, but I’ve never settled back down in bed in the opposite direction. And that still didn’t explain my fucking phone.

Later, I would become disturbed by the possibility that I might have been sleep-walking, or more specifically sleep-talking — that I had either answered the phone in my sleep or called someone and had some conversation I didn’t remember. Checking my cell later on, I saw no number called or received during the time I was out. I’d had a few beers the night before, but I certainly wasn’t drunk when I fell asleep. So I just got up, made some coffee, checked the net, took a shower. Tried not to think about it, tried not to reinforce my own stupid paranoia.

And failed fucking miserably.

III. Faces Out From the Haze.
11/16/09

Saturday night, more like Sunday morning. No sleep aide tonight. No pill, no bottle. Back to the mattress, lain straight, I close my eyes, focusing on deep breathing, imagining a cocoon around me, and then relaxing myself from toes to the top of my head, going deeper, deeper. Just breathe. Just relax. Again I see them in my mind’s eye. Involuntarily rising up from the mental haze, this time it is just their faces staring down at me, real close up to my face. Eyes raping my eyes. Breathing deeply, relaxing further, I try to find focus on Ajna, the third eye region, but even with that calm concentration where I feel entirely compact and focused, I see one of them looking down at me, face so close its almost touching mine. Even my mind is against me. Rolling over, face to the wall, clutching the wadded-up blanket like a child, I tell myself just to go to sleep. To forget them. Just sleep without dumbing yourself down tonight. Ignore the sounds, its just the neighbors, the people upstairs, the cars outside, the plumbing, the computer. No one is there. No one is there. Fucking go to sleep.

IV. Supine.
11/20/09

I wake up on my back, my body positioned straight, legs together, both my hands placed on my chest, and paralyzed. I am unable to move anything but my eyes. Unless I am meditating, this is a weird position for me to be sleeping in, and even when I do meditate and eventually fall to sleep I roll over on my side or my stomach shortly thereafter. As I open my eyes, staring at the ceiling, an afterimage of a straight line blinking in my field of vision for a few moments for some odd reason, I immediately recognize how peculiar all this is, and though perplexed, I am unafraid. I move my eyes, which is the only part of me I seem capable of moving, towards the clock, but I cannot remember what time it was that I saw. Nor can I recall my dreams, though I feel certain I had more than one. I remember thinking it was a shame I had not kept my webcam recording me sleeping as I had several nights prior. I then close my eyes again and drift off to sleep.

V. They Are My Waldo.
1/12/10

If you ever watch South Park you may have noticed that in many episodes that have stretched out across the seasons cameos have been made by “The Vistors,” as the writers call them, or, as they are more popularly known, the Gray aliens. Its like Where’s Waldo? only in this case Waldo is short, skinny, with a huge head like an overturned egg upon which rests two big, black, slanted and almond-shaped eyes. And even if you don’t look for Waldo, he pops up out of nowhere, haunting you. Sometimes these cameos are blatant, but more often you’ll find them hiding in the crowds or in the scenery.

Well, for the past few months this is precisely what my head has been like when I’m lying down trying to go to sleep. As is always the case, pictures emerge out of the haze of my mind as I am on the bridge of sleeping and waking; sometimes these images are in color, sometimes they manifest in this crisp, vivid, opaque kind of quality, as if I’m viewing it all through a pair of dark sunglasses. Often its scenery, sometimes people; sometimes freeze-frames, sometimes there’s movement. So I’ll be letting my mind go and drifting calmly off to sleep when out of nowhere one of the Grays will appear, walking around, and they will look dead at me like some character on television that suddenly looks back at you from within the screen and you get the startling sense that the character is real and can actually see you. As can be expected, this freaks me out and I bolt awake, physically bolting upward, only to try and fall asleep again, often to only have it happen again.

To be entirely honest, I prefer this to what was occurring maybe a month or two ago, when I could not lay my head down into the pillow sober without seeing, within my mind, images of a group of Grays looking down on me from real, real close-up. I always sleep on my side or with my face down in the pillow, rarely on my back, so the fact that I always saw them looking down on me from a supine position shocked me even more; despite the fact that these were before-dream images, it felt as if I was actually there, real-time, on my back, despite the fact that I most certainly was not (or at least at the time, I can say with confidence). I really would have hoped that after all these years the sight of their faces would not haunt me so; that they would not be so very entrancing and yet simultaneously frightening.

To some things, it seems one can never become desensitized.

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Queries of an Xenophobic Ego.

“To calculate the means of convergence, define the nature of the duality.”

Before I had burned out on his writing, I remember reading Chuck Palahniuk describing how when Alzheimer’s patients were shown photos of their past, or even photos from someone else’s past, they would tell an elaborate story about the experience they had at the time the photo was taken — and despite signs that they believed in this experience entirely, they had clearly whipped it up out of the ether on the spot.

Though this speaks volumes with respect to the awesome creative potential of the human mind, it also speaks of a far-more unnerving and considerably confusing fact. It is not unconscious forces that are creating the story, it would seem, but the conscious mind. That seems, at first, a little difficult to wrap the head around, and then it appears downright absurd. How can we be making it all up without being aware of it if the process is conscious? We are aware of consciously engaging in the process, it is only that we have mislabeled what it is that we are doing. Though we may feel overwhelmingly certain we are engaging in the time-traveling process of recollection, the truth can just as easily be that we are truly engaging in the real-time process of creation.

This is by no means limited to the failing brains of the elderly, either. Many studies seem to indicate that we adopt unconscious impulses and rationalize them in such a way that they appear to us to be consistent with, and a product of, what we regard as the conscious personality. We connect the dots of these unconscious impulses through rationalization in the format of an internally-consistent personal narrative, but it would appear to amount to a cover story or personal myth. This inner portrait and narrative we construct serves as the conscious personality, the persona and ego, the masque we hold up for the world and the one we show only ourselves.

Many studies also indicate that we adopt external, subliminal impulses and rationalize them in such a way that they appear to us to be consistent with, and a product of, what we regard as the conscious personality. A post-hypnotic suggestion buried beneath post-hypnotic amnesia will produce an impulse to follow the unconsciously-recalled suggestion but, lacking the true motives for our behavior, we spontaneously construct rationalizations in the same way in which we would if they were impulses received from our own unconscious. The same is the case when people are stimulated through electrodes or subcutaneous implants to commit certain behaviors.

The conscious personality reflects the conscious self-concept of the moment, the center held in place by select aspects of the psyche wound together a web of rationale. The selection (for the ego) and/or expression (for the persona) of conscious aspects are influenced by the inhibiting or reinforcing effects of external stimuli, which is itself gravitated to, projected upon, and if possible cemented in with projective identification spawning from unconscious processes and goals. It’s a recurrent feedback loop allowing the unconscious to adapt through use of subliminally-spawned set-up, spin, and manipulation, often leaving the conscious ego none the wiser.

In summary, then, it would seem that the conscious mind executes and justifies what the unconscious mind or subliminal source demands without explanation or even awareness of its creative activity. The conscious ego is the puppet leader of the psyche. Pay no attention to the shadowy figure behind the curtain with its hand up your psychological rectum.

There is at least some suggestion, however, that the ego is not a mere puppet, but can instead exert its own will over that of the unconscious impulse. This produces a state of inner incongruence reflected in one of two ways, where one is either a walking contradiction or one separated by time. As a walking contradiction, our present verbal and nonverbal cues are battling, expressing diametrically opposing points of view. The other form of incongruence is a mismatch between your commitments in one state and those in another. As an example, there are those gun-ho promises we make and chronically break.

The unconscious mind processes associatively, organizes schematically and communicates to and interacts with consciousness through the language of emotion, pattern and metaphor. I think we can say with reasonable certainly that the unconscious mind remembers in form, not content, and governs what is known as implicit memory. Here similar patterns condense into generalized prototypes, enabling cross-modal application. It is no coincidence, either, that this also describes metaphor and analogy quite well, as this intrinsic memory also manifests experientially in dreams.

Conscious exertion in the style of deep analysis or over-thinking creates a conscious barrier to unconscious thought processes. Conscious thinking processes, at least those of extreme emotional exertion, appear to override unconscious thinking processes in the given subject area, preventing the unconscious from accessing the material or intervening in the thought process. Once the subject matter drifts from conscious awareness, however, it is consequently in the territory of the unconscious, who begins to subject the material and the associations made through the conscious thought processes to its own, unconscious thought processing. This is why walking away from subject matter to focus on something entirely different, especially preceding an incalculable amount of conscious over-analysis, helps in the comprehension of the material in question: you’re giving the unconscious mind the time it needs to digest the information and your conscious position and make new associations. Upon returning to the subject matter, you find new discoveries and might find yourself streaking through the streets, raining bathwater behind you as you scream, “Eureka, I have found it!” It also explains some of the great discoveries and ideas that blossomed from the strange soil of dreams.

Regardless as to whether we rationalize or repress unconscious impulses, we remain consciously blind to the unconscious underpinnings of our total personality, an identity so secret, it would seem, that we keep it even from ourselves. Perhaps to designate the unconscious identity as singular is misleading, however. Scientific studies suggest the true nature of our total psychology is not only that of a dual (conscious and unconscious) processor, but the unconscious processor is itself a parallel processor. In consciousness, the processor would be the conscious personality of the ego-persona. The parallel processor known to us as the unconscious mind would then have multiple egos interacting to produce either a singular impulse or are able to individually exert their will. Which is the case has not yet become clear to me through my reading and pathetic internet and book research, but it does serve as an important question to me.

In attempting to conceive as to how both could be true — the unconscious has multiple personalities and yet a singular one — my mind is drawn back to the one Star Trek film I saw dealing with the Borg, where the collective consciousness of the Borg is found at once in a pale, bald, wire-scalped and freakishly sexy queen bound in a skin-tight and black, latex-looking outfit. While the individual members of the hive walked around like mindless drones on a mission, the queen had a distinct personality, a complex intellect that fed from and fed to her hive as a whole. An unconscious personality such as the queen would seem to be the logical conclusion of the nature of what are variously referred to as “attractors,” . complexes, or schemas. They all summarize and generalize and interrelate, culminating in a sort of uber-schema, the anti-ego at the apex of the unconscious mind. Unconscious personalities may seem vague or indistinct in their personality, seemingly more akin to functions than personalities, but the unconscious king or queen of the schemas might be a condensed version of them all. The unconscious self-schema or ego-complex may be as individual as the Borg queen.

An unconscious ego as seemingly self-aware as our luscious Mistress Borgamatrix certainly sounds like a pretty fucking big contradiction in terms, of course, but I think this is only an illusion of language. Use of the words unconscious and conscious are rather unfortunate, it seems to me, as the “conscious personality” we refer to as ourselves tends to operate on the egocentric notion that it alone is relevant, special and supreme. We fail to remember that by calling it the unconscious we merely mean to say that we are not conscious of it and that it reacts in ways that are not the result of our own conscious deliberation. Consciousness may not be synonymous with awareness; unconscious may not be at all antithetical to awareness. The unconscious mind may merely be an aware aspect of our mind that we are not aware of, and that mind-part may be just as consciously aware as we are, just afforded different liberties than those of us who take the driver seat.

Of course, it’s not so clear cut. Some aspects of the psyche appear to be shared equally by both psychological hemispheres, but the apparent ability for the conscious and unconscious to fall into dispute and potential polarization would seem to imply both hemispheres of the psyche draw from the same pool of content but have different methods of processing and integrating that content. Some content has time-share between the two of them, others are exclusive to one or the other. In any case, even were ownership overlaps in time-share the conscious and unconscious weave their elements of choice together in distinct associative webworks, and as with many arguments in social circles, arguments in the subjective not-so-merry-go-‘round seems to make polarization predictable. If the unconscious and conscious minds would increase what they share, however, would they also integrate in terms of self-awareness? Do two become one? Or do we each have a resident twin to contend with till death of body, of soul, or if not perhaps the rest of eternity?

I do find myself wondering if we can only encounter aspects of the unconscious personality or encounter our inner Borg collective in the form of its singular, uber-schematic identity. Is the conscious and unconscious personality ever turned entirely towards one another, ego to ego, eye to eye, and have a direct discussion? If such a thing is possible, the conscious ego would seem to have it left in its own hands. Given unconscious slips, projections, and consciously-adopted impulses, it nonetheless seems the ego is potentially safety-sealed from awareness of any psychological content outside of it’s list of known-knowns. Even as one stretches one‘s self-awareness, however, what one finds must still be understood, and even then there remains the struggle to embrace.

Jung, Buddha and the Evolution of the Self.

How does one evolve the self? How does the soul grow?

Whereas Carl Jung suggests the transcendent function is the antidote, Buddhism suggests that vipassana meditation is the answer. In the eyes of Jung, the answer is to unify the polar aspects of the unconscious and conscious by eliciting the transcendent function through the medium of active imagination techniques. In the eyes of the Buddha, the answer is to distance yourself from conscious thoughts by neither accepting nor repressing them, by investing nothing at all in them, by just letting them arise and pass away. No love or hate, only indifference. So far as I know, Buddha says nothing of unconscious thought, but perhaps through un-hinging one’s awareness from conscious thoughts and withdrawing to the perspective of a mere spectator, one also distances from the unconscious processes as well. These unconscious processes are inextricably tied to consciousness, after all, as evidenced by their influence.

Jung appears to seek mending the split between consciousness and unconsciousness contents, whereas the Buddha aims at dissociating awareness from conscious contents and unconscious influence. The difference in aim is clear enough, I think: Jung seeks to build better character; Buddha, to escape the game altogether for a goal that can only be explained indirectly, through negation.

Masque of Myth.

Carl Jung proposed that there is a threshold of consciousness that distinguishes subliminal or unconscious contents from supraliminal contents. He further placed the contents of the unconscious into three distinct categories, the first two of which I’ll be dealing with here: the subliminal, the forgotten, and the repressed.

Forgotten contents at first achieve sufficient intensity only to have that energy diminish when consciousness is deflected or distracted, as he put it, and as a consequence the contents fall from the conscious mind back into the unconscious. Jung writes that “when something slips out of our consciousness it does not cease to exist, any more than a car that has disappeared around a corner has vanished into thin air. It is simply out of sight. Just as we may later see the car again, so we come across thoughts that were temporarily lost to us.”

The unconscious does not only receive data from consciousness, however. According to Jung, subliminal contents are born in the unconscious, raised to consciousness only when they have achieved sufficient intensity with which to do so. Be the source of the material perceptual stimuli or subjective responses, they are in this case far too subtle for consciousness to pick up on, and remain solely in the realm of the unconscious mind until they achieve such intensity. It turns out he failed to give the unconscious enough credit. Research first initiated by Neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet and reinforced by further experiments provides evidence that these subliminal aspects are, in fact, constantly achieving sufficient intensity with which to influence seemingly conscious decision-making.

We now possess the scientific capability to use brain monitoring equipment to accurately predict the decisions of individuals given two choices before they experience having consciously “decided.” In lectures, Sam Harris has pointed out that recent experiments have revealed that some choices that a person experiences as having consciously elected can actually be predicted up to ten seconds in advance if one has access to their real-time fMRI read-outs. Unconscious thinking processes occur in tandem with conscious thinking processes and the unconscious can “seed” its conclusion in consciousness. The conscious mind than readily adopts it and considers it the fruit of its own loins.

More disturbingly, such subliminal contents need not even be borne from our personal unconscious minds. To the contrary, it does not really seem to matter much at all where the signal comes from. For instance, I recall reading about the experiments of that haunting Dr. Jose Delgado, specifically regarding how he had electrically stimulated the brains of subjects to make them commit complex behaviors at the flip of a switch. When Delgado would ask the subjects, who did not know they had been stimulated to commit the behavior, why it was that they had committed the behavior, the subjects always seemed prepared with rationalizations that were aimed at identifying these behaviors as their own conscious decisions. Similar results came out of experiments with split-brain patients. As written on page 82 of the book, It’s All In Your Head:

“Studies of brain cancer patients at the Dartmouth Medical School produced startling evidence that we can remain completely unaware of our actual motivation for an action, even while we’re in the midst of carrying it out. In one study, researchers showed the word ‘walk’ to the right eye of a patient whose left and right brain lobes were separated. The man promptly stood and left the testing area. When asked why, he told researchers he was ‘thirsty and going to get a Coke.’ The man had no conscious knowledge of the unconscious impulse that had actually motivated his behavior.”

Similar stories have always come out of experimental research into hypnotism. When subjects are given post-hypnotic suggestions to carry out certain behaviors in the conscious state, they will always weave rationalizations aimed at identifying the behaviors as their own, with their own personal motivations. Early parapsychological studies into long-distance, telepathically-induced hypnotic suggestions at a distance produced frighteningly similar results.

In general, if a choice is delivered to consciousness from an effectively “other-than-conscious” source, we work diligently to identify it as property and product of the ego as if it were our primary directive, adopting it through rationalizations that promote internal consistency in our view of world, self, and other. You cannot distinguish the will of yourself from the promptings of an autonomous psychological complex, a telepathic manipulator, a hypnotically induced suggestion or as a result of remote-controlled subcutaneous device.

An experiment described (and, frustratingly, without sources) in Stephen Mills’ (nonetheless) intriguing January 5, 2010 Rat Race Trap website article, “Unconscious Decision Making,” might provide evidence for the ability of the ego to exert its own will, but it does not come without the typical bad news. As a prologue to the experiment, four fake apartments were created, each of which we’re described by twelve attributes which were then tested so as to ensure that a specific one of the four was clearly the most optimal. In the experiment itself, these four apartments and their twelve attributes were then shown to three separate groups of people who were then forced into three separate circumstances. Directly following being provided the information about the apartments, one group was made to commit to an intense task involving working memory. Only then, after engaging in this extreme distraction from thinking about the issue, were they asked to make their decision about the best apartment. Another group was forced to make a decision immediately after hearing the details of the available apartments. The remaining group was given as much time to think about the issue as the first-mentioned group was given to complete their distracting, working memory tasks.

These last two groups did about the same, too, which might strike one as unusual, given one had to make a snap decision and spit out the answer while the other, seemingly so lucky, was given the same issue and then some time to chew before spitting. Most intriguing is the fact that it was the first-mentioned group — those who were entirely distracted from thinking about the issue — that produced the best results of them all. An interesting interpretation of this is that these two groups did poorer because their process of decision-making on the topic was causing interference with (and, in fact, successfully over-riding) the unconscious process unerringly aimed towards the same goal. The consciously distracted group gave the unconscious some alone-time to process through its data without consciousness stepping all over its feet. In the end it seems to have conned consciousness, through the covert nature of its delivery, into thinking that it had produced the decision itself anyway.

Three intriguing things are suggested by this experiment. First, as analysis of the first-mentioned group reveals, these latter two groups suggest that the ego can exert its own will against that of the unconscious will. In tandem, however, we are forced to face the fact that the ego appears to serve itself best when it distracts itself with another engaging task and leaves the issue in the hands of the unconscious mind. We are forced to face the bad news, in other words, that the ego appears incapable of engaging in anything more than rebellious, uneducated decision-making based on a consciously aware working memory capacity of a measly magic-number circa-7 chunks when it does so.

Even more disturbing is the nature of the ego as suggested here. The ego appears to be composed of rationalized constellations of unconscious promptings bound up with rebellious repressions of unconscious contents that promote one-sided exaggerations in consciousness. Rationalization with the aim of internal consistency is the thread that weaves together these elements of the ego in such a way that fell into consistency and gave the illusion of completeness. The ego is the uber-schema of the conscious mind.

We engage in the act of rationalization very consciously, one might say ruthlessly, on a day-to-day basis. We might buy something spontaneously because it feels right, and when somebody asks us why we bought it, we begin listing reasons that are, unbeknownst to us, mere justifications or rationalizations aimed at conveying to the other party as well as ourselves why this was a conscious decision of the ego, borne exclusively out of the process of rationality in the womb of the conscious mind. We aim at identifying the impulse as our own and so must interpret it in a way that makes it consistent with both logic and our personal character. The unconscious delivers a feeling, thought or act and then we work to weave it into the schema known as our ego with threads of rationalization.

In our defense, there is little else we can do. We do not, after all, know the real thinking process behind the intuitive product we adopt in consciousness as our own, nor do we often appear conscious of our repressed positions, nor that we consistently engage in personal rituals of banishment by taking on the role of the exaggerated counter-positions. We are no more aware of our degree if plagiarism as we are of our spectacular creativity. The unconscious personality serves, at best, as inspiration for the conscious personality.

The psychological circumstance here sounds a bit like some of the assignments the beautiful post-grad that taught my creative writing class in college had us play with in the creation of fictional narratives. She would give us a list of words, for instance, that we were to weave into a coherent story of our own making.

In our daily lives, it becomes the choices delivered from the unconscious to consciousness that we take to be our duty to weave together into a fiction with our threads of rationality to quench the thirst for cohesion, to support our self-concept with all its notions of rationality and conscious deliberation. At the most fundamental level, we are mere myth-makers playing a game of connect-the-dots, creating constellations out of the stars that emerge from the unconscious ether into our conscious skies; constellations that weave into preexisting personal myths explaining ourselves and the world we are embedded in. We are not a true story; we are only a myth loosely based on leaked aspects of the true story. We and the world we live in essentially constitute a cover-story for the truth, a more expansive identity and view of the world that we do not readily have conscious access to. The ego, in other words, would truly function as a masque we wear for ourselves — but only for lack of knowing our true face.