The Second Corollary
Blaise and Isadora were psychology post-graduate students at London University, and had, after much casting about, decided upon a research project. In the course of their undergraduate years, they had read much of the behaviourists and even the logical positivists (on the side). Although these schools were considered old hat by most these days, at least they were good for those trying to pretend that psychology could be a science like physics, with hard observable facts to figure with, even if as far as both Blaise and Isadora were concerned, in the case of psychology the only really good facts were subjective rather than objective. Of course, when so-called ‘objective’ facts are observed by subjective creatures like humans, what does ‘objective’ mean really? Consensus reality, perhaps? Well, that was as close as they could get to it, anyway.
Much more interesting than the behaviourists, though, had been Freud, and lately, Lacan, despite the latter’s almost impenetrable complexity. In particular, they had been drawn to the great psychologists’ work on the mysterious phenomenon of ‘negative hallucination’.
Freud hypnotised subjects and told them (for example) that the room contained no furniture. Then he would ask them to (say) fetch something from across the room. The subjects would walk across the room, but not in a straight line. Instead, they would follow a course that allowed them to avoid the (supposedly non-existent) furniture which was in their way.
When asked why they hadn’t walked straight across to fetch the object, the subjects would lie. They would say things like, “I wanted to look at that picture on the wall,” or “I thought I saw someone through the window.” Indeed, they would come up with any and every excuse possible other than the one of avoiding the furniture. Clearly, on some level, they knew that the furniture was there, but they were obviously unconscious of it, and appeared to be making up excuses to hide the fact of the furniture’s presence from themselves.
Other observers had noted this behaviour, but Freud’s big contribution was to draw the corollary that lying, to one’s self and to others, was a basic characteristic of the ego, not just under hypnosis, but at all times. Furthermore, this could happen without the person being aware that what they were saying wasn’t true.
Lacan extended this analysis even further, by suggesting that what it meant was that the ego’s function is to maintain a sense of coherence and completeness in a person’s world, whether that sense was true or not. The defensive nature of the ego, well-known in everyday life to even the most casual observer, is actually far, far more pervasive than any sane person might have dreamed, and it can clearly make people believe just about anything, if it, the ego, ‘thinks’ it is good for them (or it).
Now Lacan went on to consider the implications of this for the fragmented self-image of those suffering from paranoia, but Blaise and Isadora had noticed another interesting angle. Never mind the insane, what about the sane? What might the ego be hiding from you and I? What aspects of reality are we not allowed to see? This was to be their research project.
They had already done some preliminary experiments, taking it in turns to hypnotise each other to see what results they could get. They quickly came up with a simple procedure of the session’s hypnotist not telling the session’s subject in advance what they were going to test: this was so that the subject’s subconscious, or indeed ego, couldn’t come up with more difficult to detect lies: it wouldn’t know what the hypnotist was looking for. They also always instructed the subject to narrate what they were seeing and doing to the hypnotist, so that the experimenter had some idea of just what the subject thought was going on. Anyway, the basic procedure worked nicely. In the classic ’empty room’ experiment and similar tests, both Blaise and Isadora lied like troopers to each other, as expected.
Today, it was Isadora’s turn to hypnotise Blaise. She had decided that it was time to move the experiments on a bit. The basic procedures had now been worked out, and they had shown that Freud’s results could be replicated easily enough. Now, she felt, it was time to practise with something a bit more interesting. She wanted to know how much of every-day life was a ‘negative hallucination’ and how much was ‘real’.
As usual, they were conducting the experiment in their ‘lab’, which was simply a study-room in their college. It was part of the psychology department’s allocation of rooms, and students could book the use of them as and when required. As hardly any students did any work, there wasn’t usually much problem getting at least one of the rooms when needed, especially in the morning, which it was now.
This particular room was upstairs, on the first floor of one of the old college buildings. It was furnished with a couple of tables, including a much-used coffee table and some academic-looking leather armchairs. Blaise sat himself down in one, and Isadora sat across from him in another. After a bit of settling in and some chit-chat, they got down to the experiment proper.
Blaise sat there while Isadora hypnotised him. As usual, he felt nothing unusual as the process occurred, and once hypnotised would have denied that he was in a trance, had anyone asked. This time, however, was different.
“All right, Blaise,” said Isadora, once she was sure he was ‘under’. “Today, as I’m sure you are aware, I want to investigate the phenomenon of the negative hallucination. But this time, I want to know how much of what you see around you is a fiction maintained by your ego, and how much is real. As usual, I want you to describe to me what is going on, whether you are aware of my being here or not. Now, I am instructing you, that when I snap my fingers, you will see only that which actually comes to your awareness from your senses, without any intervention from your ego to redescribe it in safer terms. If you are concerned about any possible danger to your personal integrity from this, just say ‘enough’ and that will end your trance immediately. Do you understand?”
Blaise shrugged, “Yes.” He smiled. He always felt a bit silly at this stage, before the fact of the trance became obvious. He also knew that if this experiment worked, it would be very interesting indeed.
Isadora snapped her fingers.
Blaise gasped and stood up: he was no longer in the college room! He swore. He was in a desert, in the blazing sunshine. He looked around quickly. Flat sand everywhere. Deep reddish sand rather than the paler, yellowish kind: Jurassic or Devonian sand, he thought, trying to place it. As a child, geology and palaeontology had both been hobbies of his, along with archaeology, so he had some rough basis for making the judgement. Could it be New Mexico? he thought. Jurassic, then. Well, probably. Wherever it is, it’s a long way from London. And it’s hot in this sunlight. This is not the English Sun. Indeed, the Sun seemed larger and whiter than he was used to. Maybe that’s what it was like in equatorial regions, he thought, trying to remember his time in Ibiza – but it was mostly a drunken haze of skirts and vomit.
He looked around him some more. There were no obvious landmarks anywhere, other than a few scrubby bushes here and there. This desert was just flat. He walked over to one of the little bushes and knelt down to look at it more closely. It was of no species he recognised, but then, botany wasn’t one of his strong points.
He decided he had better explore a bit. But which way to go? The whole place seemed featureless. He looked around again for some landmarks. Nothing, except the Sun itself. Hmm… the Sun, he thought. He remembered his Jungian symbolism: the Sun symbolises the ego, he thought. Or it can symbolise it, anyway. Right. Seems relevant to this experiment. Better go that way, then, if that’s what intuition dictates.
He began walking in the direction of the Sun. It was about halfway up towards the zenith, suggesting to Blaise that either it was mid-morning or mid-afternoon, or he was a long way from the equator. Southern Australia? He doubted it, somehow. Anyway, it should be night in Aus right now, given that it was morning in London. Come to that, it should be night in New Mexico too, in that case. Well, where was he, then? The Sahara? It seemed like the wrong type of sand, though. But then, he didn’t know that much about sand, after all. Maybe he could figure it out later.
After a few minutes of walking, the heat was starting to get to him. He knew he’d be needing a drink before long – or he could cry “enough” of course. Well, he supposed he could, anyway. This change of scene was rather drastic. Could his entire world be just an ego creation? Or was this world the fake, made by his subconscious to satisfy Isadora’s request? They were going to have to think long and hard about this, he could tell.
He caught a flash of light to his right, at the horizon. He stopped, and looked towards it. Yes, there was definitely something there. He turned and began walking towards it. After a time, he could see that it was moving towards him too. As it got close enough for him to see it more clearly, though, its appearance seemed to get rather more mysterious: it appeared to be some sort of person, but glowing all over. It wore no clothes, and had a rather indistinct outline. And the glow was very bright: it shone brilliantly, indeed. He could make out a head part, a body, two legs and two arms, but the shapes were like a series of joined ovals rather than human-shaped proper.
He realised that the thing was running towards him. It was about 100 metres from him, and closing quickly. He stopped walking, worried. Was it hostile?
He received the answer to that question a few seconds later. It ran up to him, and punched him in the face, hard. He staggered backwards, reeling both from the blow, and the sheer surprise of it. The thing, perhaps 15cm shorter than Blaise, followed him, and tried to kick him in the leg. He managed to soften that blow by partially dodging it, but he was still busy collecting his wits together after the first attack. The creature, if that is the right term for it, punched at him a couple more times, but Blaise’s reflexes were by now alert enough for him to block those blows with his arms. He half noticed that there was something vaguely electrical about the feel of the creature. The next time the creature approached him, he was ready and punched it back. The creature stepped back from him, looked doubtful, as if it still wanted to attack him but couldn’t see how to go about it and then without warning it turned and ran off.
Baffled, Blaise watched it run back the way it had come. Then he thought that it might go and bring back some friends, so he turned back in the direction of the Sun and began walking again, this time briskly. He didn’t want to hang around here for too long.
After a few minutes of brisk walking in the heat, he was getting quite tired. It also occurred to him that the creature could follow his footsteps in the sand if it wanted to. He looked around behind himself, and saw his tracks disappearing off into the distance: no sign of the creature yet, anyway. He turned back towards the Sun and continued walking, this time not so briskly. What the heck, he thought, too tired to be bothered.
After a while, on the horizon ahead and a little to the left of him, he caught sight of what looked like some kind of structure: a building of some sort.
As he got closer to it, he could see that it was a large rectangular-shaped building, much like a giant brick, laying on one of its largest faces.
Eventually, as he approached it, he could see that it was the colour of the local sand, although its surface appeared to be rendered with some sort of sand-coloured plaster. The building was about four storeys high, and perhaps 200 metres long by 50 metres deep, with rectangular window-holes at what appeared to be the higher levels within the building. He could see some pictographic writing in the plaster, all over the outside of the building, but was at this point still too far away to make it out clearly.
Not being one to shrink from a curiosity, he walked right up to what he arbitrarily considered the ‘front’ of the building and looked at the writing. The symbols were all about 30cm high, and reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics, but by no means the same. His childhood interests in things ancient were no help to him here: he had not seen this type of writing before. It seemed in good condition. He thought to himself that either it was well-maintained, or they didn’t get many sandstorms around here.
Well, perhaps he could get inside and speak to whoever ran the place and perhaps find out just where he was.
About halfway along the front of the building was a vertical opening at ground level: a doorway. Blaise walked to it and found that there was no actual door: just an opening. He looked in, and saw that it was fairly dark in there. Squinting, he could see that it looked a bit like some kind of museum: he could see various objects on display on pedestals of various heights. Nobody seemed to be about.
Glancing around behind him, and seeing no glowing creatures about, he walked in. As his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, he could see that he was in a largish room, with exits in the centre of each of the three other walls. Beyond the exits, he could see more rooms similarly arranged: it looked like many museums and galleries he had been in, in fact.
He looked at some of the nearest artefacts on display: pots. He had never understood why people would want to look at old pots in museums. Yes, they told us about how people lived, but that was the interesting bit: the pots themselves were just pots. It was the analysis that counted. He looked at the written description: more hieroglyphs. Interesting. Perhaps this was somewhere in the Sahara, after all.
He exited that gallery and entered the gallery to the right. More pots, this time glazed with unfamiliar designs in blue and green. How fascinating. He walked on to the next gallery. Pots and dishes in glass. He turned left this time. Hmm… stone tools. Much more interesting. He turned right. Spears and fishing implements. Good. He continued straight on. More stone tools, but more sophisticated-looking, but not really like those he was familiar with from his childhood interest in such things. Straight on. Metal weapons: clubs, maces, swords – all unlike any he had seen before, though. Something was very wrong here. Straight on: armour, again, unusual-looking: it was mostly a sort of a padded chain-mail, but made more of wood than of metal – it looked more Western rather than, say, Japanese in design, though, but still wrong.
He stopped and scratched his head. What exactly was wrong with all this stuff? He pondered. He groped with his feelings for an answer. It came: this stuff does not look like it was designed by humans, he thought. He had looked at enough artefacts from different cultures to be able to get a good feel for what people designed, and all of these items just didn’t fit. The psychology was all wrong. In the way that crop circles were obviously Aztec/Art Deco-influenced and so must be made by people (he had reasoned when the craze began), these artefacts were obviously not so influenced. There was no recognisable human cultural input. He came to the uncomfortable feeling that he wasn’t on Earth at all. He didn’t like that idea, and, whilst not discarding it, shelved it for the moment to spare his frazzled nerves.
It’s just some stupid hypnotic trance, he told himself. In fact, as his heart was pounding hard and fast at the barely recognised terror of the all-pervading unfamiliarity here, he realised that he had had quite enough of this experiment for the moment.
“Enough!” he exclaimed, expecting to wake up.
Nothing happened. Shit, he thought. “Enough!” again. Again, nothing.
Now he was really scared. He couldn’t wake up! He took a few moments to gather his wits, control his breathing, collect his chi. In a firm voice, he said, “Enough!” but it was no use. Nothing happened once more. He stood there, feeling like a lemon, disconcerted and disorientated.
As a child, he had been able to wake himself from bad dreams by closing his eyes in the dream for a few seconds. He tried it. It didn’t work. He already knew that pinching himself also wouldn’t work: that glowing creature had whacked him quite hard enough already.
He spent a few more seconds reconciling himself to these facts, then resolutely headed into the next gallery along – but this time with more caution. If this place wasn’t built by humans, then just maybe he didn’t want to meet the museum’s curator after all.
This gallery contained more weapons – but much more technologically advanced: cannons. Again, the specifics of the design were unfamiliar, and they were decorated with unfamiliar rectangular motifs, but the nature of the objects themselves was clear enough. Some of them were land cannons, and some, going by the painted pictures of wooden ships on plaques beside them, were naval cannons. He looked at these pictures with interest: they did not look like frigates or galleons, but, again, they were similar. Actually, they looked more like caravels: single large triangular sails on multiple masts, rather than multiple rectangular sails on multiple masts. Blaise supposed that the ships would be inferior to a decent frigate, but he didn’t know that, of course. Presumably they could do the job they were designed for. He noticed that they were all close to coastline; none were shown on the open ocean. He didn’t know if that meant anything, but it struck him as worthy of note: shipping is normally shown in either type of location pretty indiscriminately, at least, in human art.
Some of the pictures were more artistic than merely representative: he spent some time looking especially closely at these, in the hope of seeing just what sort of creature was piloting the ships. His curiosity was soon rewarded, if it can be called a reward. He saw glowing creatures on the decks and in the rigging. He chewed his lower lip and wondered what it meant. Where could he be? And how would he get back home? Self-hypnosis? He doubted it, but filed it away as something to try as a last resort.
He heard a noise come from the gallery towards the centre of the building. Quickly, he ducked down behind the nearest cannon and looked carefully past it through the open doorway into that gallery. One of the glowing creatures was fiddling with a display.
What to do? If he approached it, would it attack him like the last one? Or was that one just insane? He gathered his courage, and stood up, and stepped forward into the gallery behind this new glowing creature. He cleared his throat, noisily, and stood in what he hoped was a non-aggressive looking pose.
The creature turned, and squealed, a high-pitched buzzy noise, presumably in surprise. Blaise smiled a little nervously, and said, “Hi.”
The creature squealed again, then ran full-tilt at him. Astonished, Blaise dodged what he quickly judged was the inevitable blow. What was wrong with these creatures? “I’m not hostile!” he exclaimed, dodging and blocking blows, hoping the creature would somehow realise his peaceful intentions.
However, it was no use: the creature kept raining blows on his rapidly bruising forearms. Tired of this, Blaise kicked it on one of its legs, hard.
The creature stepped back, hopping on its other leg.
Blaise stood there, hoping the creature would get the hint from the fact that he didn’t follow up his kick with further attacks. However, it didn’t. After a few seconds it came at him again. He kicked it again, then followed up with a punch to the head. This time, it ran away, much as the first one had.
Blaise watched it in consternation. How do you communicate with these creatures? he wondered.
He thought about the psychology of it for a moment. He knew that he knew very little about these creatures, except that their technological development appeared to be very similar to that of humans, and that they attack strange aliens on sight. Well, let’s assume that they are as similar to people as their technology implies, he thought. They would, like people, probably be afraid of the unfamiliar. Would they just attack it on sight, though? It seemed like a poor strategy: what if the thing you attack is stronger than you (as indeed he, Blaise, seemed to be)? Humans would observe it for a while, then gang up on the alien, not just rush it on sight.
On the other hand, humans had very diverse cultures too: what if he, Blaise, looked like some sort of demon to them, and their religion dictated that the way to deal with demons was to clobber them and trust in God?
He concluded that he didn’t know enough about them to draw any conclusions; except that he would be better off avoiding them for now.
He glanced around the gallery he was in: displays of bits of broken wood. He didn’t feel that he had time to stop and figure out what they meant: he should get away from here before the creature came back with reinforcements – if that was its intention. He turned and left via the right-hand exit, continuing in the direction he had been exploring previously. He didn’t spend any time looking at the displays, though, except to notice that they contained a mixture of industrial-technological artefacts. He just walked briskly on and on, from gallery to gallery, until he came to the end wall.
He turned left, and walked into the next row of galleries. Here, against the end wall, was an iron spiral staircase, going up. He shrugged, and quietly climbed it, thankful that he was wearing trainers. He would have hated to be clattering about in this place. As he climbed, he noted the motifs on the staircase itself: not the stylised plants typical of British Empire ironworks. The staircase was built to look as if it was made from rocks, or miniature mesas, or stacks like the Old Man of Hoy: piles of flat stones or slates piled semi-irregularly on top of each other. Perhaps it was appropriate, given the desert environment outside, he thought. It fitted in with the motifs he had observed on the cannons but had been unable to identify, he thought. He smiled to himself. He was starting to get some purchase on these people at last, he felt.
He climbed right up to the top of the spiral staircase, where there were still more galleries; the first contained stone sarcophagi. There were no images of the beings on them, though: but then, an image of a glowing oval wouldn’t mean much, he supposed. He wondered how they’d got them up here: some of them were far too large to get up the spiral staircase. There must be another way up, he thought.
He walked along through gallery after gallery, looking at the exhibits and, thankfully, meeting nobody, until he came to the other end of the building. Here, there was another spiral staircase, going down. He sighed, and walked down it.
He went down to the ground-level floor, but the spiral staircase went on down below ground level, unlike the one at the other end of the building. He hesitated, then followed it down.
It ended in a room about 10m square. The room had two doors – not doorways, but actual doors, with simple latches on them. He was going to try one, when he noticed in one corner of the room a trapdoor in the floor. That was much more interesting to him: it had a handle on one side near the wall.
He pulled it up and looked down. He could see a well-lit room, with an empty chair. He was puzzled as to where the light was coming from, but couldn’t really see. He listened for a moment but heard nothing. He lowered himself through the trapdoor and dropped into the room, right beside the chair. He plonked himself into it and relaxed for a moment…
…then he realised he was back in the college. He started. Isadora was sitting opposite him.
“So you’ve woken up at last!” she exclaimed.
He was astonished. He looked up at the ceiling: no trapdoor. He looked around the room, re-orienting himself. “H… Have I been asleep?” he asked, leaning forwards and gripping the arms of the chair.
“Not really, but your trance went on a bit,” she answered. “It was a bit deep. I couldn’t get you out of it.”
He sat back. “Did I narrate what I was seeing?”
“Yes indeed: the desert, the museum, the glowing creatures, even you trying to wake yourself up,” she said. “Interesting stuff!”
“Yes,” he replied, doubtfully,” but surely that isn’t what’s real? I was supposed to be seeing whatever is here when my ego isn’t faking it. That was a whole other world!”
“Well, it was probably just made up by your ego,” Isadora said. “Resistance is to be expected. We can try again – but I want to make sure you don’t go under quite so deeply in future. You wouldn’t wake up no matter what. I was getting quite worried.”
He thought to himself, was it real, or not? If he had brought back any evidence, his faking ego would presumably hide it to preserve his sense of the reality of the current world. Or would it, now that he had transcended that reality and not lost his mind? He looked down at his trainers: there was sand on them. Deep reddish sand…