These are the known human evolutionaryreactions to an enemy, a threat like a sabertooth cat wanting to eat us.
Although most of us no longer live in the savannah grasslands, we still experience these reactions to perceived threats, every day, but we don’t use them against the enemy, we use them against ourselves and the ones we love.
Sometimes when we feel aggressive or negative energy from our lover, we respond with one of the three Fs.
I’m leaving! I yell to my partner as I slam the door and walk to my car headed for the bar.
But here’s the thing:
With a lack of a real threat in some people’s lives, they also use the four Fs against themselves, as if they were their own enemy.
People fight with themselves (I’m worthless!), or they flee what they believe is reality through whatever addiction takes them away, or they freeze their abilities and live a numb of life, one of ennui, which Kabbalah suggests is the greatest sin.
(When I use the word sin I mean it in the Hebrew חטאה sense, a missing out.
To sin is to miss an opportunity.
To ignore the gifts of life is a sin, because you are missing out on a fundamental opportunity.
If we understand that when we feel threatened, we WILL feel one of the four Fs, if we know that it’s a reaction of our homo sapiens species, then we can be more active in choosing the best F for a given situation, and not slowly destroy the ones we love.
For example, if I get in a fight with my lover, that is, my wife, and my instinct is either to do one of these three F’s, I can understand the physiological origins of that feeling and not put it into thoughts that I end up believing.
And I can choose instead one of the other two F’s of evolutionary survival, Feed or Fuck.
Well, maybe not.
But I guess it could make sense.
We get in a fight, instead of using one of the three F’s we grab a bite to eat or we make love.
That music is time travel for those who listen to it is such a basic idea that we hardly need to present proof. Still as an example, when many people reach a certain age, even when they can listen to all the available music in the world on iTunes or Amazon Music, they return to the same old songs from their past, mostly from adolescence.
Not everybody does this, but it’s common.
They listen to the songs they loved as teenagers, maybe even as they were going through puberty, and they feel emotionally connected to the past. They relive it in their imaginations.
But what about Time traveling for the artist?
Artists, writers, and musicians know that there is such thing as arriving in the Zone, or whatsome neuroscientists call Flow.
It can be defined as the times wherein you are so absorbed in the creative act that everything disappears and you lose sense of time. You are completely inside of the work.
When you come out, when you’re interrupted by something like a pounding on the door, you immediately lose the Flow or come out of the Zone.
When an artist arrives in the Zone, space-time doesn’t exist.
There’s no arrow of time.
There is no matter and thus no laws of classical mechanics, which means that the artist in the Zone can time travel.
Physicists agree that theoretically time travel is possible, but nobody can do it because we are matter and matter cannot travel faster than the speed of light nor can it go through an event horizon into a wormhole without being torn into pieces, completely obliterated.
However, artists in the Zone appear in other space-times, non-spatial realms, places of the imagination, the astral plane.
A poet who follows her language and ends up in the Zone or experiencing Flow will often run into spirits of the dead.
If you follow language, you sometimes hear voices that come from somewhere else, maybe an old text you read but forgot about, or a sentence you overheard in a coffee shop, or something your abuela used to tell you when she was alive.
The dead come to us in Flow.
Think of improvisational Jazz, a sax player hears a rhythm and follows it.
As they are in the Zone, they hear the bop of another beat, distant but getting closer, and they pick it up, play with it, follow it up and down, all around, back and forth. They may very well be channeling the spirit-sound from a musician long dead or a song sung to them when they were kids.
Music is time travel.
Later I’ll write about how the music you choose to listen to over and over again, especially as you age, can begin to shrink your ability to time travel or to appear in the zone, but for now, I want to show proof of an artist who time traveled.
Or, to be fair, who time travels NOW, because although this artist is long dead, he’s still out there in the Zone.
The example is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3.
(Hmm, I won’t go into the numerology of it, 3+3+2, the number eight, which circles around and around like an infinity sign.)
I admire his work, but until I heard this piece, I never thought of him as great as Bach, who spends so much time in the Zone that he can appear anywhere and anytime unannounced, even in a Led Zeppelin riff or jazz improvisation.
But in this Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, we can map his journey into the Zone.
To experience this, imagine here’s what happened:
One early morning, Ludwig, still in his Ebenezer Scrooge nightgown, walks to his piano, sits down, still glowing from a peaceful night’s sleep.
He begins to play a tune he heard in his dream.
It’s very early, still dark outside.
Everybody else is sleeping.
He starts to play.
But listen to it, and imagine each note is a step along a path leading into something, a forest, a garden, a portal, a wormhole. He may or may not have been conscious of where he was going as he was playing that morning, because he’s following the music from the dream.
The player in the link I provide is Lang Lang, a badass pianist who I’m sure spends a lot of time in the zone.
At the 1:14 seconds mark, the portal opens.
He falls into the future.
He communicates with multiple artists who are also in the Zone, maybe Philip Glass is there, Thelonious Monk, maybe Ludovico Einaudi, and because there’s no time-space in the Zone, all can be in there at the same time, although this is ineffable, because there is no time.
Every time you enter into the zone, you enter into every time.
So after 1:14 seconds in this video of Lang Lang, Beethoven falls into a wormhole, and the music become dances, geometrical rhythms, triangles and circles, spirits of the New Age, entities outside of his own time-space.
Listen. At exactly the 1:14 mark.
(Sorry if you have to sit through part of a commercial before the music begins)
But go with Ludwig.
Follow him with your imagination, not your intellect.
This morning, when it was still dark and the room was lit by candles, I picked up my coffee mug. I like my coffee strong and bold, and I took a drink, but it tasted like a peach.
I felt like I had taken a sip of an entire peach, bitter and fuzzy.
And I realized the peach is a wormhole.
There are times when we taste something, even if it’s something we eat often, a cheesy cracker, a donut, and for some reason and for only a flash our brain tells us that we’re tasting something entirely different. We might take a bite from a chocolate bar, but for a pop not-even-a-second we taste broccoli.
We usually ignore these moments, shift our focus back to “reality,” and the next bite tastes like a chocolate bar, like it’s supposed to.
These are seemingly meaningless moments of life.
But perhaps when those moments come, if I allow my imagination to play with the idea that there is a reason why my coffee tastes like a peach, I might be able to see other slices of reality.
I’m not only experiencing the thing in front of me, the coffee, but my neural network is lighting up all over my brain, moving around like an aerial view of LA freeways.
Other tastes are evoked in my memory, other flavors linked to emotional experiences throughout my life.
When my coffee tastes like a peach, all times of my life from birth to death come together.
The peach is a wormhole, and it allows me to time travel.
I’m writing a collection of essays called Writers are Witches.
The pieces are somewhat thematically connected (mostly about physics, mysticism, and the craft of writing), but the title comes from my belief that great poets, that is, ALL great creative writers enter into realms of the imagination most people do not have access to without guidance by a spirit, i.e, the writer.
These imaginary worlds have been identified by mystics and hermetic thinkers as the astral plane, the underworld, infinite field, a place not in space wherein one can have conversations with angels.
In other words, to be a writer is to be a mystic or a witch, one who accesses these realms and often channels energy from within and releases it into our world, usually for a particular purpose.
When I read a good novel, like something by Toni Morrison, I’m enchanted.
The etymology is pretty obvious, yes?
Enchant. “To cast a spell upon (often one that attracts or charms).”
Obviously chant is to intone something over and over, rhythmically, poetically, like how writers follow language and end up with new rhythms and incantations and innew places that surprise even the writer.
I interviewed philosopher Philip Goff about his book Galileo’s Error, for Words on a Wire, to air in our 10th or 11th or 12th season (I’m nor sure which) in September 2021.
It’s about the Hard Problem of consciousness, which is the question of how a physical system, the body, can create conscious experience, or qualia, like the taste of a carne asada burrito, or that first glimpse into the eyes of your lover.
Scientists have three major solutions to the Hard Problem, one of which is Duality, that the mind and the brain are separate entities. In this theory, consciousness may be correlated to brain activity, but it’s separate from the material brain. We have a soul, if you will. We are eternal beings, or at the very least connected to the Eternal, through our consiousness.
This is the belief held by most people and rejected by most scientists.
Scientists hate duality.
They want a grand unified Theory of Everything.
The two other approaches either say that consciousness doesn’t exist at all (Materialism) or that consciousness is a fundamental element of the universe (Panpsychism), as fundamental to the workings of reality as space and time and matter. I like this idea.
The Hard Problem will not be easily solved, but I’ve noticed a lot of physicists, who speak on the level of math, are getting into neuroscience these days, perhaps to escape the academic myopia that tends to pop up in science departments throughout history. I’m not saying they have to beware of string theory Nazis or whatever is going on in their department, just that there is solid evidence that even science departments can be so subjective as to ostracize those seeking unconventional explanations that don’t conform with popular theories. That’s all I’m saying.
Whether or not it has anything to do with the physicists, neuroscience is discovering new mathematical descriptions of brain activity and correlations with consciousness.
They can brilliantly express equations that depict brain activity during conscious experience, but they cannot explain WHY brain activity produces my experience of biting into that juicy carne asada burrito.
They can’t explain what I, Daniel Chacón, or you, are experiencing right now, and why.
This hard problem is to neuroscience what the unity problem is to physicists, uniting relativity with quantum theory.
Goff writes, “We’re still waiting for the Newton of consciousness to produce the simple equation that will capture the connection between body and mind. “
When it comes to who we are, science has not been able to help us answer that question, at least not yet.
Scientists can explain HOW we are this way, but not WHY.
Goff claims that Galileo, who was the first one to establish math as the language of science, never intended to describe the quality of experience, but rather the quantitative experience of things.
How things behave, not why.
How a carne asada burrito behaves in relation to other matter and space and time, but not the intrinsic nature of a delicious burrito. Or taco for that matter.
(By stating burrito, you can tell a lot about me, that I’m a Chicanx person, as we may favor burritos over the tacos that might be the first choice of our Mexicanx neighbors. )
The problem with scientists trying to explain qualia is that they don’t have the language for it. What is the mathematical equation for my experience of biting into a juicy mango?
Or for that matter what is the equation that describes my intrinsic nature?
That doesn’t mean they don’t daydream, “imagine” things in the sense that they picture what they want, like a new car or a great vacation, or they picture what they don’t want, like their lover leaving them for another lover.
In that sense people “imagine.”
But that’s not imagination.
Those are thoughts and patterns of familiar narratives or cultural memes that help you understand your own reality, that which filter out phenomenon that doesn’t serve your world view or provide answers that you need for immediate problems.
It’s a perfect neuroscience metaphor that the older you get the more the right side of your brain deteriorates, that is, the creative half, much faster than the left side, the logical side, the mathematical side, the side that recognizes patterns.
The left side of the brain stays younger longer, so even if you’re experiencing cognitive decline, your ability to recognize patterns could allow you to appear to others as wise.
Even one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, like Ronald Reagan, can be president. Elkhonon Goldberg calls this wisdom, or at least claims that part of wisdom is this instant access to patterns accumulated over a lifetime.
However, there are some older people who may not have done a lot of challenging neural activity in their lives, so by the time they get old their patterns are limited, and they can live in a small world of possibilities, shrinking and becoming parodies of their younger selves.
The older we get, the more we use pattern recognition over imagination. As a young man Einstein imagined himself chasing after light beams, as an older man he tried to find the patterns that would connect the known forces of physics, to find the unified theory.
His failure was one of imagination.
I’m getting old, pushing on 60, so I guess what would make me a legal senior citizen. I’m a fiction writer, one who loves to spend time in imaginary worlds and who is willing to believe as I’m walking through a forest that if a tree moves and startles me, there could a spirit or consciousness in the tree. Sometimes the spirit tells me it’s name.
I spent much of my life reading and teaching fiction, so now a series of patterns come to me about the tree, multiple possible narratives, some of which I’ve encountered before in books and movies, even if I don’t remember them.
Others come from personal narrative patterns, playing in a fruitless mulberry tree when I was a kid, or afraid to walk under the tree in my grandmother’s backyard because of the wasp nests.
When I write I try to let the language take me into the story, but sometimes I have to fight patterns.
My fight becomes the rhythm of the voice against the patterns that I consciously or unconsciously recognize belong to the spirit of the tree, that come from previous patterns I’ve been exposed to, even when it’s not about a tree.
One of the immediate patterns might be that the tree is an ancient sage, a friendly spirit that will give me advice and guide me in the right direction, one of Joseph Campbell’s archetypes, or the Mentor Archetype in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
Another is that the tree could be a guard, a gatekeeper, trying to prevent my protagonist from going deeper into the forest.
Immediately story patterns come to me, and my struggle at this point in my writer’s life is to fight those patterns.
Or maybe fight isn’t the correct word. Negotiate.
To understand that patterns in all phenomenon will come to the writer, but that doesn’t mean they’re good ideas.
They could be cliches.
I teach fiction, and new fiction writers turn in stories that are based on patterns of cultural narratives. They write poor imitations of Harry Potter stories or stories about dragons that are influenced by Game of Thrones.
When they get a story idea, which they take for imagination, they don’t realize it’s a pattern. This is true of even the talented fiction writers, those who are going to go onto to write great works. Their first stories sound a lot like Sandra Cisneros or Junot Diaz or William Faulkner.
The older you get the more patterns you have for every story idea, but you still need to follow language, and the voice, a spirit, will choose and sample elements from multiple patterns to make your story a little better.
Some students in my Writer and The Brain class turned me on to The Storytelling Animal by Johnathan Gottschall, which I am halfway through and am loving.
Here’s a great quote:
“From Science, I argue, can help us make sense of storytelling. But some say that science is a grand story (albeit with hypothesis testing) that emerges from our need to make sense of the world. The storylike character of science is most obvious when it deals with origins: of the universe. . .”
And this is what I am trying to say with The Poet and the Mind-Brain :
Theoretical branches of science, found mostly in the unification problem in physics and the hard problem in neuroscience seek to tell two of the most fundamental stories humans need to hear, how did it all begin, and who am I?
This is why writers are like scientists.
These are the two stories that impel us to write, albeit articulated differently according to the writer.
Instead of wondering how the universe began, the poet might wonder why does my heart feel so bad? Or why does the school bus stopping on the corner under the oak tree make me want to cry?
I would argue poetic details are microcosms of the two fundamental stories we seek to understand.
Poets matter, because we seek to know the unknowable, and we will never stop until we find that ineffable elegant equation that says it all.
He did some evil, messed up stuff, and he was incredibly misogynist and racist.
But he also had intense moments of focus, flashes of genius, wherein he was so absorbed into metaphysics that he was able to create his own religion, Thelema, whose concepts remain influential even today in esoteric communities.
His influence is rooted in many traditions of witchcraft, including Gerald Gardener’s version of Wicca.
I put a K at the end of the word magick to distinguish between the practice of magic, that is witchcraft, sorcery, esoteric practice, and magic the way we use the word colloquially.
If I say, My day was magic! –My visit to Mexico City was magic !–
My date night with my wife was magic!– I don’t mean someone cast a spell.
Magic can means many things, but when I use the word magick, it means one thing:
The practice of directing energy from one source or many into manifesting some goal in the material world, the practice of channeling energy, an action is rooted in a basic concept of reality, which has traditionally been articulated As above, so below.
Magick uses and manipulates energies (sprits, quantum fields, faith and prayer) to achieve material goals. Magick is the ability to focus.
That’s what I mean by magick.
It doesn’t necessarily mean witchcraft.
It is the act of manipulating and using energy, often without our conscious awareness that we are doing it.
That’s what writers do.
That’s what mystics do.
When Saint Teresa allowed her body to seep into ecstasy, wherein her flesh trembled and she felt as if she were corporally connected to God, that was channeling energy.
That is what I mean by magick.
Every good work of art starts with Energy, Desire, Will –with unformed energy that does not yet have image or meaning. Pure energy.
The term ambulance chaser culturally indicates a lawyer who is looking for somebody that was injured, so they could file a lawsuit, especially if the victim is someone who falls at a Walmart, or any big company that can be sued.
Poets are ambulance chasers too, but on a metaphorical, abstract and much more positive level.
We chase the possibility of death, we pursue the stories and voices of the dead, because even if we are not consciously aware of it, when the possibility of death is present, there too, like Lorca says, you will find the Duende, the dark spirit of art that gives tension and depth to our stories and poems.
We chase dead, and when there is a possibility of death, we run at it like a lawyer chases an ambulance.
It’s not an accident or random that the deeper you go into a metaphysical question, when you share your insights with others they ask you, What have you been smoking?
Deep thought is somehow connected to getting high. Why do we think this way?
The answer I think can be found in looking at a phenomenon everybody is familiar with: The Runner’s High.
What happens when you run or work out long enough, you can reach a certain point where endorphins are released along with some of those brain candies like dopamine and Endocannabinoids, those neurotransmitters that also spark when you use cannabis.
You get a good feeling, strength, invulnerability, exuberance, like you can’t feel any other way except using drugs.
I’m a runner, but I’ve never experienced Runner’s High.
I run (or try to) five days a week just to keep healthy, but I have never ran so much and so long that I’ve gotten high. The best I can do is 30 minutes, and I run so slow that old men with wobbly legs and knobby zip pass me by.
Oh wait, I am an old man with wobbly legs.
I may not be athletic enough to have experienced the Runner’s High, but I’ve experienced the Thinker’s High.
But I like to call it the Writer’s High.
And it is just as a legitimate physiological experience as the Runner’s High.
Most writers have experienced the Thinker’s High.
Even if we’re not sitting on our butts writing a story or a poem, we understand that it takes free time in order to expand our creativity. We take walks. We have moments of silence. We sit by a window.
And sometimes, when we’re taking a walk, we go so deeply into an idea that we don’t even register where it is that we are, and I’m certain that at this time the same hormones and neurotransmitters can be released as in the Runner’s High.
The ideas are so stunning that we forget where we are, and when we become aware again we find ourselves on an intersection in the city or a crossroad in the country, and it’s like we’re in a brand-new landscape. We feel exhilaration, a rush of well-being that connects us to the sublime.
We feel a level of euphoria that we cannot get any other way, except for maybe drugs, at least the first couple of times.
This is the Thinker’s High.
The Writer’s High.
And writers are addicted to it.
Sometimes it happens when we’re deeply rooted in thought, but it can also happen when we’re completely absorbed in an ordinary moment. It could happen while washing dishes or cutting vegetables, watching as the knife goes chop-chop-chop.
These moments sustain us and keep us writing, because the high is incredible, and they are often responsible for our best work, our best ideas.
How do you induce the Runner’s High?
You run or exercise for a very long time, usually over 30 minutes, maybe an hour at the least, and keep doing it over and over again.
How do you induce the Writer’s High?
Take time to think, and thinking doesn’t mean a structure of thought to solve a problem, although it could; it means following your imagination, your daydream, keep going with it, wherever it takes you. Follow your language. Follow your spirit.
You might write something so good that your friends will say, What were you smoking?!