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September 12th | 2017 | Pico the Immortal


People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.  

-Kurt Vonnegut

The Bicameral Mind

Looking upward

We used to hear the gods.

Theory of the bicameral mind states that, in the too recent past, we attributed the voice in our head - the one telling us to regret what he had or hadn't done, the one planning our day, the one condemning the Widow Corey for her wantonness - to an external, usually supernatural force. We had yet to taste the bittersweet of introspection, accepting that our internal narrator who was not in some way divine. We took intuition for gospel. (Bicamerality is not a widely accepted or respected hypothesis any longer. Whoever heard of the mind talking to itself? However, the legitimacy of the theory does not affect its rhetorical usefulness.)

The theory is based at least in part on a philological exegesis of ancient texts where our heroes act without thinking, because the gods told them to and it would be hubris to hesitate. Some - poets and saints - might not consider the divinity a fair tradeoff for lacking metaphor, but the peasants would doubtlessly prefer the certainty of God to clever verse.

But for our most devout and schizophrenic brethren, most would not claim to hear the voice of their gods audibly speaking to them. Atheist wags and lonely Christians ask when God left us, but it may be the same moment we found ourselves. For most who claim a connection with the divine, it is a whisper at best. Our fire departments are prompt in extinguishing burning bushes lest they spread.

We struggle to act decisively without believing Odin or Allah has our backs. If we are merely tokens on the board that is our world, it would be reassuring to know that our movements are dictated by the same forces that move the stars. Instead, we perseverate on the thought that we are not acting rightly, that we will waste this one and precious life on Prufrockian fidgeting. If Jesus isn't our copilot, we are the only people at the wheel and we've only barely gotten the hang of driving after many lessons. If we can't let go and let God, we are solely to blame for our actions (though we can give the Big Buddha credit for neurochemical imbalances, the same that may have cemented in our ancestors that a conversation with the divine wasn't one-sided).

The ancestors who mistook their Jiminy Crickets for Jehovahs and Krishnas are the ones who passed down their genetic legacy. Perhaps the ones who understood personal, conscious initiative were too riddled by anxiety to survive and reproduce, though that is speculation based on incomplete data.

If just to abdicate a portion of the responsibility for our actions, we could want a god in our lives, audible and palpable one who cares enough to respond to our questions. Our exaltations and humbleness would be tempered if the greatest and least of us were merely gears in a clock whose intricacy we could never fathom. We were just following orders from a tutelary god who doesn't extend as far as our hearths.

We can, with coaxing, eavesdrop on the gods of others and pretend they are ours. Or, more likely, we can short circuit the god device in our heads to play at full volume by taking hallucinogens. If we are not inclined to party, we can also meditate or exert ourselves almost to the point of collapse, but these methods are less exact and more difficult to achieve.

I know a woman obsessed with Everest, believing this is how she died in a previous life (which would make me avoid the subject). She introduced me to the Third Man factor, a condition by which a climber in mortal danger senses and sometimes converses with another person who is not present. This imaginary person, this angel, will caution and advise them. He will keep them company and let them know how much farther they need to go to safety, seemingly giving them information they did not knowingly have. He could be our bicameral mind butting in because we will otherwise die in a crevasse and not be found until the ice caps fully melt.

Losing our bicamerality ripped us from the gods, but it gave us an ego and redirected us to one another. It made our language purposeful and willing, if frustratingly nuanced. It gave us the gift of guilt and blame, the former turned inward and the latter outward. No longer could we believe the offending party was a pawn pushed diagonally atop our square but the player himself.

I have not encountered a god in my brain, but I absolutely have a critic in my ear rasping, "There is no magic. There never was and never will be. Any moment the world synced and you felt the touch of the sacred was chemicals and coincidence. Delusion. The world is ever explicable through mundane means. Belief counts for nothing." I would not care to hear this voice as often as I do. Clinging eagerly to cynicism does not improve my mental health. Believing I belonged to a grander plan, even if the belief is false without my knowing, would grant a relief beyond measure.

Yet I have given form and voice to something within me. I envision a monkey who chitters from perches about my biological needs, one I can soothe with reassurances that food and shade will come soon. My therapist praises the cleverness of calling my anxiety and depression a barely tame dog, one I make heel by staying the authoritative alpha, one whose thoughts and feelings are external to me and so can be disregarded, but who follows me room to room waiting for my guard to ebb. Gods don't chat with me, but I audibly explain the world to imaginary animals and often indulge monologues with wooly-bears and wolf spiders I escort outside.

We miss our bicamerality. We pray. We consult palm readers and endure the purging of ayahuasca. We want to believe someone else has a direct line to some god or other, even if we are deaf, even if we can only get spotty translations of celestial choirs. Does this make us feel connected to the heavens or only uneasy pretending? Do our hymns and chants reach holy ears or are we howling at the moon together in the only way civilized society condones?

Soon in Xenology: Untrustworthy adults. Apocalypse.

last watched: Death Note
reading: Meddling Kids
listening: Mirah

September 12th | 2017 | Pico the Immortal

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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