The Science Fiction of Insanity

I posted on Facebook the other day that “The best writer of science fiction is … Kant, of course ;-).” It’s sort of meant to be pretentious and everything, but it makes some sense. The way that Kant thinks is quite interesting, I mean, just from our cartoony recollection of him from many years ago. What you felt about the man was that he refused to be backed into a corner, in the same way that science fiction was a thinking of the possible, and thus unfalsifiable — and so it has some proclaimed relation to truth. Yet unlike traditional science fiction, there was a certain measure of honesty about him, a certain faith about him despite the fact that he was also a clever man, an evasive man even — faith in the sense that he believed he was really onto something, there was a measure of honesty about him, even though, on the other hand, it seems as though everything he wrote was preliminary. Introduction to the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals or something like that, I forget — that one title basically contains 4 words that mean “foundation”: the foundation of the foundation of the foundation of foundation. (No pun intended, I mean, with respect to Asimov’s Foundation, which we talked about last time.)

But I’m not being dismissive here — I mean, can cleverness really opposed to honesty, as in the notion of “objectivity”? Rigor involves a kind of honesty, which is a kind of self-conflict. To defend oneself means to construct something defensible, which means to first of all subject it to one’s own scrutiny. The evaluation from others, the debate or something, is not at all that interesting, as we know. So honesty is not a static principle but rather a self-conflict — and not even in the sense of doubt or self-questioning — it means to be self-evasive, if that makes sense. (… of course we are talking about a seriousness here too, we aren’t talking about the evasiveness of rappers or anything, or of being a tough guy … we’re talking about the evasiveness of honesty and faith, if you will.)

This is not actually where I originally wanted to go, with the title, I mean — though it almost feels like it’s where I’d rather go. I mean, right now, we’re suggesting that thinking, which is best characterized as “science fiction”, involves a kind of insanity, a split personality maybe. It involves a persistence, though not towards any particular principle. But I originally wanted to talk about how “science fiction” and a sort of rigor-evasiveness (the two are inseparable) is how we should think about the mind, especially this concept of automaticism that is so central to both insanity and to, well, human thinking in general.

Automaticism is not the subconscious or the unconscious, since both these concepts are too well known, well, by this point in time, they’ve sort of become generic and aren’t “evasive” enough. Or rather, if we are to understand what the unconsciousness really is, we should perhaps return to Freud’s original writings, where it was an element meant to serve a certain purpose. The big realization today was that I had unwittingly conflated automaticism with the pop-cultural notion of the subconscious. Is automaticism — does it even have a well-defined psychological existence? Is it an aspect of how we organize things? Or does it blur the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious?

Because automaticism can refer to many things, I mean, those that are obviously intellectual and those that aren’t categorized as such. Insanity is automaticism, but so is dogmatism, perseverence, character, and so on. Last time we attributed the negative lesson in Boy of Winander as a consequence of automaticism. Are all these things linked? Can we talk about some general sense of automaticism?

Well, not too general, I mean. The circle or the circuit is a very old model in philosophy — that human experience is essentially circular, ie, in the sense that we find what we seek. As such, truth is perpetually out of our grasp, simply because we lose it when we seek it. When I hear “Don’t get any big ideas”, I always hear it as being sung by Radiohead. Big ideas are sort of like big circles. When we try to think too macroscopically, such as about ideology or prejudice, as examples of macroscopic circles, we get caught up in, well, something that is provocative but can’t be properly developed or defended, like Asimov’s big idea of psychohistory. So it seems to me that, on the other hand, we should be looking at small circuits.

Circuits and automaticism are certainly linked for me, yet they are both abstract — but not abstract in the macroscopic sense, not concepts with which we can view the world and establish some school of thinking, but in the sense that they are ill defined, evasive, and seem to blur the boundaries between the categories that comprise the established model of the mind. Circuits is related to “fumbling”, which, in the microscopic sense, seems to mean more than the fumbling from a source to a destination. I mean, that it not the linear stream of progression but rather the desynchronized elements of an experience. There is a time when we can no longer tell the difference between our own thinking of fumbling and fumbling itself, even if the two seem to continue to exist independently… TBC

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