By Jed McKenna
(This article may be freely shared, reposted and reprinted. Text version here.)
“I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself
and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!”
In order to get same-day service from Goober, I have to bring multiple items in need of his attention. The only real problem I had this time was a gummed-up chainsaw carburetor, but he would have kept it for a week if I hadn’t brought in other items which include a string trimmer that works fine and two chainsaw chains in need of resharpening, even though I do a better job by hand than he does with a grinder.
Goober is with another customer at the moment so I’m out playing with his energetic black lab who shares a name with a restaurant chain that failed due to its name. I just call him Sammy. After some energetic playtime, I sprawl out on the sun-warmed grass and try to recapture the feelings of childhood, but Sammy’s not having it. A stick-thrower that doesn’t throw sticks is broken, so he’s trying to fix me. He tries pouncing, licking, nudging, tugging, nipping and shrill barking, but makes the evolutionary leap to tool-usage when he drops the stick on my face. Soon he’ll be doing crossword puzzles. I throw the stick into a pile of brush, but that will only buy me an extra few seconds. I keep hoping he’ll get tired and lay down, but that could be years away.
When the other customer drives away, Sammy and I head back into the shop. There’s an old leather chair in a corner with a standing glass ashtray on one side and a small table on the other with a pipe rack, some catalogs, a county newspaper and a travel coffee mug. Ashtray, table, pipe rack and chair seem to be from the fifties, the mug is modern. Sammy dives into the chair and falls into an instant coma. Goober comes in, taps his pipe on his pant leg and — once burnt, twice shy — checks it closely before putting it back in his shirt pocket. He pauses for about ten seconds before resuming work on my chainsaw and our conversation.
“What would it even be, though?” he asks. He’s talking about a mysterious power humans might possess but not know they possess, or even know exists, like eyesight, lost and long forgotten, for the people in a TV show he and his wife watch.
“That’s where I can’t figure it. We got eyes, right? So it’s not that.” The missing faculty, he explains, must also conceal the fact of its own existence, like being blind would prevent us from learning about our sighted forebears.
He looks to me for a nod so I nod. This is more than a casual conversation for him. He seems vexed, as if he’s determined that there must be some lost or undiscovered human faculty and it’s fallen upon him to find it for the rest of us. Not your typical small engine guy conversation, in my experience.
“It can’t be just anything,” he says. “It has to be something that holds us back; keeps us from some deeper understanding, see?”
“Like how?” I ask.
“Well, it’s no good if it’s just an improvement of somethin’ we already got. It can’t be better hearing or better sight because we already know about them. It’s gotta be somethin’ we don’t know about. That’s why it’s hard to figure.”
Goober, real name Edwin, seems years older than me. His wife too. They seem like my grandparent’s generation. I feel like a teenager around them. I’m actually older in human years, but they were older at eighteen than I’ll be at eighty. Our developmental trajectories have taken us in opposite directions. Maturity is generally reckoned a process of settling into fixed personhood, but my development goes the other way; while others become more solid and focused, I become more fluid and diffused. I’m not saying that liquid is superior to solid, but I sure like it a shit-ton better.
I’m always baffled by how in-character people are, how themselves they are, how good at being who they are they are. “Wow,” I’m often tempted to say. “You’re so you!” It’s like living in a wax museum and marveling at the realism of everyone you meet. Personhood is very mysterious to me. I myself am not very me, in fact, I’m barely me at all. I could change my planet, species, gender, nationality, community and family without blinking an eye, but I can’t imagine Goober changing his brand of pipe tobacco. He’s totally locked into character; there’s no way he’ll be changing any of the beliefs, opinions or preferences he wears like a suit of armor. His identification with the character he plays is absolute and inflexible. I am fond of my character but I don’t identify with it. I have no beliefs, opinions or preferences to give myself shape and definition, no distortions to project or illusions to cling to, nothing but a thin emotional tether to keep me from floating away.
I could comfortably swap characters with someone else; insert my awareness into any person, any time, any place. Is such a thing possible? Perception is the only reality, so why not? Everything is either awareness or appearance; what rules apply to awareness? What can’t appear? What can’t be dreamt? We take it for granted so we don’t appreciate the fact that our living reality is so fantastically, insanely, mindbogglingly wondrous and dreamlike that simply adding a new dimension would hardly make a noticeable impact.
If we could have some unknown and unsuspected power, the ability to transfer your consciousness into a different vessel for awhile would get my vote, but why limit it to people? A whale, a bacterium, a leaf of grass, a non-corporeal entity; whatever is aware, it seems, can host awareness. In fact, why limit it to this dreamstate venue? What better way to visit other worlds and discover new species than by transferring your consciousness into them? It makes a lot more sense than flying through space in a tin can with fire shooting out the back.
Why read books or watch movies about the lives of ancient, primitive or powerful people when we can just become them for awhile. Why can’t we pass through the little door, not into John Malkovich’s mind, but into whatever mind we choose? Instead of going to a spa for relaxing vacation, you could park your body in a regeneration station while your consciousness spends a week in utero. Your personal trainer would move into your body and work it out while you spend time in the amniotic bliss of a cultivated hosting womb.
Jean-Luc Picard collapsed on the bridge of the Enterprise and lived for decades as someone else during the twenty minutes he was unconscious. Was his experience real or hallucination? What’s the difference? What we call hallucinations from this side are often called realer than real by those who report back from them. If lifetimes there can be minutes here, what better version of immortality and reincarnation might we hope to achieve? Elwood P. Dowd might have lived hundreds or thousands of years through Harvey’s friendship. Perhaps the day will come when a lifetime spent as a single person in a single body in a single timespace theater will seem absurdly primitive.
As remote or improbable as the transfer of consciousness may seem, it’s possible that we’re doing it already. Since we can’t trust our memories, anything is possible. As with dreams, you might pass from one vessel to another with little or no recall. Would that make your experience less real? Would Picard’s other life have been any less real if he hadn’t remembered it afterward? Maybe it’s what we’re all doing all the time; bouncing around from vehicle to vehicle in an endless cycle of dreams. Maybe we possess total recall in some in-between state, but who remembers one dream from within another?
It all starts sounding like reincarnation, but what if we had total control over the process so we could move freely within the amusement park of infinite appearance? No bullshit enslavement to rules and karma, just greater freedom to explore our own potential. What sense does it make to inhabit a fixed point in an infinite dreamstate? Why should we be stuck in a single perspective? What a waste for dreamers in an infinite dreamspace to be confined to so small an orbit. Consciousness is not limited by time, space, energy and matter, so to what actual restrictions are we truly subject? Maybe we’re only confined because we think we’re confined. Perhaps the only rules are those enforced by our own self-limiting beliefs. Our shackles might be of our own forging, as seems to always be the case.
This is all just playful speculation, of course, but one thing I’ve found about the outer boundaries of this dreamstate playground is that I haven’t found any. As far as you go, it keeps going. Wherever you go, you’re always in the exact center of your universe. Sure, body-hopping would eventually get boring like anything else, but it would open up a whole new area of the amusement park for us to play in. And really, it’s just a variation on a theme of Adventures in Consciousness, so why not?
Before you dismiss all this as the ingenious musings of a fantastically gifted author, there are three facts you should consider. One, though you may think you’re a sane, rational person with a pretty good handle on things, the truth is that you have no idea who, what or where you are. Two, although you might feel you can trust your memory, you can’t. And three, the only thing you can be sure of is that you are consciousness, and it would be the ludicrous to think that infinite consciousness is as finite as we believe ourselves to be.
So, my answer to Goober’s question is free-range consciousness, but I don’t tell him that. It’s not the answer he’s looking for. The real thing that eludes him isn’t pushing the boundaries of his dreamstate but waking up within it. He’s as blind as the people in his TV show; not because his eyes don’t work but because they’re tightly shut. He doesn’t see because he thinks he does. Lucidity and clear-seeing don’t exist for him even as concepts, but I don’t tell him that either. It would make no more sense to explain such things to Goober in his shop than to Elvis in a wax museum. I tell you because somehow you asked, but Goober hasn’t.
Edwin “Goober” Pease is the full expression of a unique pattern. Whatever else he might create or do or become in life, he himself will always be his own crowning achievement. In one sense he’s just one of billions, but in another sense he’s sui generis; a class of his own, the only example of his kind. If everyone is special, then, of course, no one is special, and yet, by golly, everyone is special. There will never be another Edwin. He is perfect and perfectly himself, as are we all.
“Maybe it’s some emotional thing,” I suggest. “Maybe it’s not a sense or an ability but an emotion, or an emotional range or dimension.”
“I ain’t thought of that,” he says, as if I’d just earned a good mark in his book. “What’d you say you did again?”
“Forex day-trader,” I recite. “Global currency arbitrage. High-frequency trading. Millions of algorithm-based micro-transactions per second with a focus on dollar-based trading pairs. Emerging markets, capital liquidity, political turmoil. It’s actually pretty interesting…”
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” he cuts me off impatiently, which is the desired result. I don’t know anything about Forex or if it involves emerging markets or split-second micro-transactions. It’s just a bunch of jibber-jabber to make people sorry they asked.
“Enlightened spiritual master,” I could tell him. “Hope of nations, theme for poets.”
“Oh yeah?” he would say. “I don’t think I ever met one of them before. We got a preacher over the next hill, does a thing with snakes. You do anything with snakes?”
“Not so much,” I’d reply. “More of a dog person, really.”
“Yeah, dogs are good,” he would say. He would finish my carburetor free of charge out of deference and I would tip him twenty bucks out of nobility. Instead, it’s six bucks for the sharpening, nothing for the trimmer and ten for the carb. I hand him a twenty and he slowly counts four singles into my hand. As I’m leaving with my stuff, Sammy leaps up to follow his stick-thrower. What if we could transfer Sammy’s consciousness into my body, I wonder — let him throw his own sticks — and I realize that the whole thing is starting to sound like an overdone movie plot.
Forget it Jed. It’s the dreamstate.
(This article may be freely reprinted. Text version here.)