Saturday, July 23, 2011

another JB variation

My play JULIA & BUDDY is so different from my play MISTRESS ILSA. The latter was so easy to write - I began rehearsals on literally the second draft of the script. I won't say it's perfect - after watching a performance I can see I need to reorganize some of the scenes, to make it easier for the actors if nothing else.

But JULIA & BUDDY has had about twenty re-writes in the past year, when I decided to take it from a short one-act to a long one-act... or a short full-length, it's in that weird limbo-state, time-wise. And it's because the story is so internalized. MISTRESS ILSA is all external, and therefore much easier to write about. But with J&B - I just have so many concepts I want to touch on, I spend my time reorganizing and pruning them over and over.

But I think I have something new and important to add to the mix - the work of Daniel M. Wegner, especially his The Illusion of Conscious Will as well as the neurological tests performed as early as the 1970s that demonstrate that our conscious minds in fact create narratives that interpret our unconscious will. This NYTimes article from 2007 discusses that and Wegner's work and gives a shout-out to Schopenhauer too.

And all this stuff reminds me of a book I read years ago Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes' idea that human brains evolved beyond bicamerality into consciousness jibes perfectly with the idea that our consciousness is a thin veneer over the depths of the subconscious - or as in the illustration in this post, which I took from the NYTimes article - a monkey trying to control a tiger. Jaynes suggests that prior to the breakdown of the bicameral mind humans didn't have what we think of now as consciousness but rather took their directions from hallucinated voices, thought of as gods. Jaynes suggests that schizophrenia has much in common with bicamerality.

Jaynes points to ancient literature - the Bible and the Odyssey in particular - as evidence that humans had inner lives very distinct from modern-day inner lives. Although some point to the Gilgamesh epic as counter-evidence for this. But it's possible that Jaynes is too dependent on literature and just got the time-frame wrong - bicamerality could have broken down earlier, but since there's no written record it's harder to pin down the time.

But it's Jaynes' theory on why bicamerality would break down that's the most useful, I believe. He suggests that during the age of bicamerality human societies were small and fairly isolated from one another. Everybody believed in the same gods because they all heard the same gods in their heads. But as societies grew larger and the inevitable clash over resources occurred there was also a clash of gods - different societies believed in different gods. And those humans who were best able to lie, and pretend to accept other culture's gods, were most likely to survive in these kinds of clashes.

And that's what our consciousness gives us - the ability to lie about what our will really wants.

Consider my cat, Mr. Fuzz. He absolutely cannot hide his feelings about things. If Miss Willow comes near me, wanting to be petted, he immediately gets angry and runs over to chase her away. He can't pretend it doesn't bother him. The same if he's hungry or afraid or wants to play with his mousies. He can't pretend he's not hungry or unafraid or doesn't care about mousie-time. His desires, his will is right on the surface.

Only human beings are able to hide our true desires. Usually we can't hide them from ourselves, but some people seem able to do so - for instance men with homosexual desires who have convinced themselves they are "cured" of homosexuality - until an irresistable man and/or situation comes along.

Animals could never be actors because acting is an elaborate extension of the human ability to lie. Could this be why so many actors I know have so little personal integrity - because they are trained in the art of lying?

I don't know for sure that acting indicates less personal integrity than most other occupations - this is just from my own personal experience. I think it's worth a scientific study.