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Reflections Ch. 2 - The Ghost of a Flea
Posted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 11:49 am
The Ghost of a Flea: Visions of William Blake by Julian Jaynes
Post a reply in this section to discuss this chapter with other readers.
Posted: Fri Jan 26, 2007 8:31 pm
I don't know much about William Blake. I suppose I've avoided reading about him before because I've had some antipathy towards him due to his poem "The Tyger." I repeatedly had this poem as assigned reading in school--I've read somewhere that it is the most anthologized poem in the English language--and teachers never took kindly to my assessment that it is a really really really bad poem.
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
Is this the sound of great poetic genius, or is this the sound (listen carefully) of:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
(In fairness to Blake, I must point out that his poem was written earlier--1794--than the nursery rhyme "The Star"--1806.)
Blake proceeds to what I think is the most abysmally awful rhyme in the English language:
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
And now having introduced the "what" motif, he proceeds to batter the poor reader mercilessly with it:
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
By which time my bicameral voices are starting to insert alternate lines beginning with the words:
What the heck... and what the h#ll... and what the fu##!
...which is a kind of clue to me that I might not be experiencing great poetry.
And, apart from my criticism of Blake's poetic style, I don't think that the "awe of the designer/crafter of the tiger" theme of the poem was ever really profound anyway, but it is certainly not profound today when "intelligent design" of tigers (and nature generally) is well-established to be an archaic notion not in accord with a sound post-Darwinian perspective on reality.
Anti-Tyger rant over, I'll put my comments on Jaynes's chapter in my next post, as this post is already a bit long.
Posted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 12:02 am
This chapter was quite interesting, but I found myself feeling troubled by the concluding points that Jaynes makes.
Jaynes says "Blake was not insane" and then goes on to describe the features of "schizophrenic insanity" that Blake was "the opposite of." But is Jaynes saying Blake was not schizophrenic? Is he saying Blake was not a person who had psychotic episodes? The ordinary reader would probably think that this is what Jaynes is saying. But I think it is peculiar that Jaynes chose to use the terms "insane" and "schizophrenic insanity" rather than to simply use the terms "schizophrenic" or "psychotic." Why did Jaynes choose the terms that he did? Is he "weasel-ing" here so as not to be held to having directly said that Blake was not schizophrenic or psychotic, but lead the ordinary reader to come to the conclusion that Blake was not schizophrenic or psychotic?
And was Blake really "the opposite of" one who could "manage his own affairs"? According to a mini-bio at http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/116
, Blake's "final years were spent in great poverty" and before that he made only a "meager living." Blake was already hallucinating as a child, and his parents, recognizing he was "different from his peers," had him home-schooled rather than attend conventional school. At one point he tried to set up a print-shop "with a friend and former fellow apprentice" but this venture failed after several years. So it seems that he could manage his affairs somewhat, but aren't there schizophrenics that can do as much? Today, those schizophrenics who are greatly dysfunctional bring themselves, or are brought by others, to psychiatrists, but does that mean that there are not those who manage to function well enough to evade psychiatric treatment? Consider this experience of mine:
I live in a University town and sub-lease a bedroom to students and others. One time I subleased to someone that I soon discovered had extreme paranoid delusions. Although these delusions added a great burden to his life, he was still able to hold down a job as a lab-tech at the University. I tried, but failed, to get him to see a psychiatrist (he told me that he had never been to one). I never witnessed him hallucinating, and it wasn't clear to me whether his delusions involved hallucinations or not (I thought he might have been in remission from out-and-out psychosis), but he was very involved in (and spending a lot of his income on) taking psychic-training classes for reading "auras" so he may well have been having unusual visual experiences. Even so, he managed to take care of his affairs well enough to get by. As far as I could tell he had no friends, and he told me that he didn't maintain contact with family members, but I never saw him incoherent in conversation or not knowing who or where he was (some of Jaynes's other markers for schizophrenic insanity). I'll venture a layman's diagnosis that this was a guy who was a paranoid schizophrenic who was able to function just well enough to maintain an independent existence without medication.
But back to Blake. Was Blake "the opposite of" one unable to sustain "ordinary human relationships"? According to Jaynes, Blake's "devoted wife who helped him almost all day long once complained 'I have very little of Mr. Blake's company, he is always in Paradise.'" This sounds like a wife willing to tolerate more than many wives would. Is Blake having an "ordinary" relationship here?
Is Blake really a "new kind of man," unique in having "both consciousness and a bicameral mind"? Or a schizophrenic artist of talent and intelligence who had enough lucid periods to be able to create, and to get by, with the help of others?
Posted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 8:25 pm
Jaynes writes of Blake's capacity for hallucination that "he taught it to his wife so that she too could see the visions." It might be thought that this is an argument that Blake's hallucinations were simply a result of a mental technique that he utilized. It merits consideration. I wish that Jaynes made more use of citing references when he writes (I find his underuse of references to be a major drawback of his work), I'd like to find out more about this matter of Blake teaching his wife to imagine/hallucinate.
But what also needs to be considered in this claim of the wife learning from Blake to imagine/hallucinate is whether this could be a case of a type of folie Ã deux known as folie imposÃ©e. In folie imposÃ©e the delusions--or, more rarely, the hallucinations--of a person with an organically-based psychosis are passed on to people who have healthy brains.
I've been searching for an account, I have a photocopy of somewhere but I haven't located it yet, by psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegel that describes a man who had, if I remember correctly, damaged his brain by excessive use of some controlled substance and came to believe that he could move objects telekinetically, that is, move objects with his thoughts alone. He hallucinated success at this activity. Interestingly, his children, with undamaged brains, not only came to hallucinate that their father was successful at this activity, but came to believe in their own ability to move objects telekinetically and hallucinated their own success at this activity as well. That they were hallucinating is attested to by Siegel who witnessed their supposed feats of telekinesis. This was an example of folie imposÃ©e.
So the claim that Blake taught the ability to imagine/hallucinate to his wife does not necessarily mean that Blake was not schizophrenic.
Posted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 1:52 pm
Yes I remember being assigned that poem as well and thinking more or less the same thing.
Regarding Jaynes's comment that Blake was not schizophrenic, I also found that intereresting. I suppose Jaynes meant that in Blake's time, prior to anti-psychotic medication, most schziophrenics were unable to function in society whatsoever.
Today some might refer to someone like Blake has a high functioning schziophrenic, that is able to function without medication. Where the line is between those that hallucinate and are considered "normal" and those considered schizophrenic is becoming harder and harder to tell as it becomes more widely recognized that many people hallucinate without the other symptoms of schziophrenia.
Regarding Blake's wife being "taught" to hallucinate, Jaynes mentions in one of his lectures the learned component to hallucinations. He gives an example of a women looked after by a schizophrenic grandmother going on to have lifelong hallucinations herself. How much of this was due to a genetic predisposition and how much was "taught" is hard to say. I think Jaynes felt that a modern person raised in a bicameral society would hallucinate like everyone else, and vice versa. Blake's wife may be an example of the learned aspect of hallucinations, esp. given that she probably shared Blake's strong belief in spirits, ghosts, etc.
Are we all "bi-cameral" and conscious at the same
Posted: Sun Feb 04, 2007 9:22 am
you touched on this question in one of your posts.
When J. J. writes about "what is not consciousness" he refers a lot to experiences of "modern" people like himself and the rest of us. In order to explain what he means with consciousness he needs exclude what is usually thought to be conscious. He needs to point out that all those activities (like playing piano or a music instrument, searching for a certain term and many other activities) work only once they are performed "subcounsciously", which can only mean being performed with our "bi-cameral mind".
I strongly believe that all solutions for problems which I have ever solved came to me spontaneously from the non-conscious activity of my brain.
When I became for the first time aware of this phenomenon - before retirement I was quite a successfull software engineer and project manager for big development projects - I was a bit scared. But then I started liking to trust this ability to feed my conscious brain with data of unresolved problems and then to just wait until - usually early in the morning after I woke up - the solutions came in perfect layout to my consciousness. I got used to this and I even didn't trust any consciously forced "solutions" anymore, because they never were as elegant and streamlined as those which my subcouscious used to present to me in those super-productive minutes after I woke up.
I said I got a little scared when I first discovered this ability. The reason for this scare was the fact that earlier in my life I had such experiences only in connection with creating art, especially poems. This was a kind of sacred area for me and I first hesitated to accept such gifts from my subconscious mind to support such profane stuff like software solutions. But the perfection of the designs (i.e., solutions) which I received out of nowhere convinced me, that the subconscious brain has a lot of - not only artistic but also (!) - logical creative resources and we need only to tap into this resource with trust and we will receive what we are asking for. Deadline stress doesn't kill this ability, it rather enhances it, at least in the area of thechnology. I couldn't say this also for art and philosophy. Those areas work, at least in my own head, very slowly and the deeper the problem the slower the solution.
Re: Are we all "bi-cameral" and conscious at the s
Posted: Sun Feb 04, 2007 6:17 pm
Helmut wrote: Deadline stress doesn't kill this ability, it rather enhances it, at least in the area of technology.
My friends and I have refered to this, in conversation, as "the inspiration of desperation."