The “Red Book”. A feverishly-written, obtuse and deeply personal set of journal entries documenting one man’s descent into the bowels of his subconscious. For nearly a century, this remarkable story has remained a closely-guarded secret, despite it having given birth to one of the most significant psychotherapy methods in history.
That man, in case you were wondering, was Carl Gustav Jung; the Red Book is a documentation of the psychiatrist’s “creative madness” in 1913– during which he experienced vivid hallucinations and underwent a radical transformation as he grappled with his own inner world, emerging finally with the seeds of radical new theories of mythology, collective consciousness, dream interpretation and the imagination.
This text– along with Jung’s bizarrely vivid and intricate drawings– will be made available to the public this October, in what is sure to be a strange and unusual journey for readers.
“The text is dense, often poetic, always strange,” writes a wonderful New York Times article on the story. But there is no doubt– “Once it’s published, there will be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ of Jungian scholarship.”
Once again I am impressed by the courage this must have taken to complete– much less publish nearly 100 years later. Can’t wait!
This is the first excerpt from The Anatomy of Awareness, my 260-page book illustrating a groundbreaking, mindbending new theory of human consciousness (recently completed and currently seeking publication). Each excerpt will be linked here as it is posted. For more information, look here.
My first memory is of dying.
More specifically, the first memory I have is of losing consciousness; of bright light and a sudden, slow-moving darkness; of sensations and their sudden dissolution, of knowing that whatever this was, it was evaporating.
I stopped breathing six times within the first day I was alive, and I am not sure which one of these serves as that first, earliest memory. All I remember is the strangeness of that brevity, like a flash of light in pitch darkness.
Imagine a movie screen, completely dark, completely silent, erupting suddenly into a single kinetic flare of sound and light. Then back to darkness. The darkness is slow in coming, but the light is so quick you wonder if it just was a synaptic mis-fire, just a mistake.
Being scarcely born, I had no linguistic methods with which to approximate that confusion, except perhaps “where’d it go?” (much as a dog might “think”). But whether it can be conveyed in words or not, I remember it. It can be conjured up in any moment, crystalline, buried unchanging and unchanged in the very core of my mind.
I began to wonder, then, which other memories I would end up storing as cleanly, whose edges might not be dulled by time and age. This led me to wonder exactly what memories are, and what they are not. It led me to wonder at the ways memory—both our own and our cultures must shape our identities, our thoughts, and our beliefs. It led me to examine the ways our memory is a trap, a false record, a case of mistaken identity.
And then it led me to write this.
I’m fascinated by the sheer volume of information on the Web.
Many of us are at least partly familiar with the “Wikipedia effect” (captured succinctly below by xkcd’s Randall Munroe). You start off on one, well-intentioned search, and minutes (or is it hours? or is it days?) later you’ve found yourself reading up on something completely unrelated. It’s hard to say what causes such scattered thinking: part of it is interest, certainly, but there’s more to it than that.
There seems to be something intrinsic about the nature of Web-based information that allows for such a freeform approach to learning new things. Decades ago, when television allowed us to flip channels and potentially explore new (and unrelated) things, we remained hooked in to the whims of the channel operators. We might discover something new on the cooking channel, but it was dictated largely by whatever the cooking channel happened to have on. For those of us who grew up without cable– wow!– that cooking channel might not even exist.
Now, of course, things are radically different from the various forms of entertainment and knowledge accessibility our parents and grandparents enjoyed. Virtually all information online is put on equal footing (though it might be filtered and condensed by blogs and Google) and there are no barriers to discovering content that might previously have been hidden for nationalist, cultural, lawful or ideological reasons. This is an open ocean, and we rely far more on others to direct our attention.
“If we change what surrounds you, we can change you”, says Madeline Gins, designer of this strikingly bizarre home. Bright, unusual colors, mountains in the living room, misaligned power outlets, and uneven surfaces make even mundane tasks into a challenge. The idea behind building such a monstrosity? Those constant challenges help keep your body and mind in a state of alertness, prepping them for stress and keeping you focused in the present. Nothing is simple; therefore, nothing becomes automatic.
A man who volunteered to stay in the house, known as Bioscleave, described the experience as a continual effort. “Constantly you’re getting this contrasting information. [...] You either collapse, or you have to figure it out a different way.”
The team of Gins and her assistant, the artist Arakawa, have spent four decades studying ways “architecture might best be used to sustain life,” according to their website. That’s all well and good, but does constant confusion really help boost the immune system as they claim?
Are Gins and Arakawa just nuts, or are they on to something? Let me know what you think in the comments.