Most people don’t like nonsense. I’m not one of those people. To the contrary, I find the nonsensical invigorating. Perhaps that’s just a reflection of my own incoherent mind. Yet it’s through the nonsensical musings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Philip K. Dick, Lev Shestov, and Slavoj Zizek that I find some of the most enlightening philosophy. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find structure in the chaos, and chaos in the structure. Continuity in contradiction, and contradiction in continuity.
It’s madness at its finest.
These writers appear to have journeyed to the threshold of insanity. And the results are downright fascinating. Swedenborg and Dick especially appeared to have ventured into some strange spiritual realm. Dick infamously foresaw his son’s illness, believed that some other-worldly entity was communicating with him, and his madness is explored in his Exegesis. Swedenborg also appeared to have engaged in some form of hallucinating illusions of the after-world.
Many would simply brush off these ramblings as nothing but thoughts of madmen, not worthy of actual critical investigation. Of course, the skeptic in me says that these ramblings (especially of Swedenborg and Dick) are nothing but madness exposed. But that would be a failure of appreciation…a peak behind the thin curtain of sanity.
Their madness provides us with an opportunity to explore alternate perceptions of reality. It isn’t an easy thing to achieve. These writers were geniuses. Swedenborg especially is an under appreciated inventor, writer, and theologian of sorts. I suppose that some see the path towards genius as running through the wilderness of madness. They view the world in very different ways. While their thought might not provide a wholly accurate (or coherent) view on philosophy and the universe, it is still important and worthwhile to explore what they saw.
Hallucinations and dreams are usually chalked up as being nothing but random objects of the mind. And it’s true. They are. Swedenborg and Dick didn’t think that their illusions were being generated from within, but were instead divine given. And when they were under possession of their illusions, they would produce page after page of feverish writing. Many would argue that what they were actually experiencing was a brand of mental illness.
Divine or not (although probably not), these images have to be emanating from somewhere. When under the spell of a drug, these images can often appear. However, the drug only exasperates the causes of illusions, but not actually the source of the illusion itself. Those images are already in your brain, that got put in there either through sense experience or some form of a prioric means (if you will). But they are brought front and center when under the spell of a drug, mental illness, or (I suppose) through sleep.
I’m captivated by these accounts because of my own ‘images and experience’ that I find myself engrossed in. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I do suffer from a mental illness (major depression), and therefore I take a drug that helps me to suppress those feelings. However, a side effect to this drug is vivid dreaming.
The world that is created by this dreaming feels so real, that it often comes as a surprise to wake up. They nearly become indistinguishable from reality. A whole world is created with characters, places, and events. Even a specific location can be determined. Last night, for example, I dreamed that I moved to a town in the southwest corner of Iowa called Cree. It’s not a real place (to my knowledge), but my mind generated a whole world that I experienced.
What generates these worlds?
Now, clearly there’s an empirical answer to this. And it’s an answer that’s likely already known, so I don’t need to invoke a spiritual or metaphysical explanation. But I’m not educated or smart enough to know the answer. So whatever. Just hang with me.
But, from a philosophical perspective, I’m fascinated by how these images remain hidden within the mind and catch us by surprise when they’re brought to attention in the active consciousness. These ideas and images are easily classified and obtained within the brain, and therefore don’t reveal any ‘new’ or ‘alien’ conceptions. Or, in Hume’s sense, we’ve never seen a gold mountain, yet we have a conception of ‘gold’ and ‘mountain’. But it’s the manner in which they are presented that can cause such a violent or alarming reaction.
This is why nightmares are so terrifying. Information is presented in such a way as to cause a visceral reaction. When these dreams occur, we wish to rid them from our sleep. But we often fail to consider that this terror is coming from within YOU. It’s wholly created by the processes of the mind.
Of course, this only applies to dreams. Most of us have never experienced a visual, consciously awake hallucination. Those are perhaps more alarming, considering that when one is awake, it’s assumed that the active conscious is in full control. But then a subconscious reaction reveals a whole new world. A world that is a part of the individual, but was previously left unexplored. This lack of exploration leaves one believing that these images were generated from outside of their body.
But it’s through the madness that one can find something new about themselves. The chaos isn’t just some randomness generated without purpose. These images and internal experiences are the result of a subconscious (for a lack of a better word) process attempting to reach out to the conscious. We usually like to ignore these seemingly pointless experiences, but to me, this is a mistake.
We don’t quite know ourselves as well as we think we do. I think that many of us want to ignore this internal madness because we fear what it might reveal. But it’s through this madness that we might discover our true genius. And possibly even discover the meaning of the universe.
Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my own madness. I’ll leave that to you.