Monday, June 25, 2018

The External Subconscious

I have just come back, very reluctantly, from our French holiday.  Yes I know, kicking and screaming and lying on the quay sobbing isn't dignified, but - well, you know how it is.  It doesn't seem right to stop doing something that is so obviously exactly what you were born to do - sitting in sunny shade, reading, a cool glass of something just to hand...

I read a lot of good books. I like ones that are a bit off the beaten track, one of which was Why Are We Conscious? by Dr David Jones. He was a maverick scientist, a professor at Newcastle University.
He wrote a column for the New Scientist and later for Nature under the name of Daedalus and the columns were later published as a book, A Compendium of Implausible Science - wacky ideas about inventions that were plausible scientifically but that were just plain crazy. (He got a surprising number of people writing in to ask if they were copyrighted or if they could produce them commercially.)  But he was also the person who explained the presence of arsenic in the body of Napoleon, which had always raised suspicion that the British had poisoned him, by establishing that the green wallpaper in his St Helena bedroom took its colour from arsenic dye and exuded toxic fumes.  He designed a chemical garden for a NASA space trip and he designed a 'perpetual motion' wheel whose mechanism completely flummoxed MIT scientists and which is still, a year after his death, steadily turning round.

The book I read, published just before he died, is about the nature of consciousness, or perhaps even more the nature of the subconscious.  He postulates a sort of unknown world outside our conscious mind to which our subconscious has access, explaining effects like telepathy.  What he describes as the 'chattering monkey' of our conscious mind blocks our awareness of it.

It's a lot more complicated and scientific than that and there's a lot of the book I don't understand.  There's a lot I don't believe too - David was the brother of a close friend  and I knew his mischievous fondness for flying a kite just to provoke a reaction.  But as a writer, some of it spoke to me.

Do you sometimes reread one of your books and think, 'Now where on earth did that come from?'  Do you sometimes find yourself writing faster and faster to get down thoughts that you're not really controlling, they're just coming through?  That for me is the addictive part of writing.

When we choose a gite for our holidays it's very important that there is a view - not something spectacular, necessarily, just one where we can look out to hills and trees, particularly in the evening when after a hot day the earth seems to breathe a sigh of relief and the only sound is birds sleepily muttering as they go to roost.  As I look out to the horizon I can feel a sort of disengagement from my 'chattering monkey' mind and yes, it's when ideas start to come.

An external subconscious?  Who knows.


Sybil Johnson said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Yes, there are times I don't know where something comes from. When I say, I didn't know that about my character, but it comes out in the writing.

Aline Templeton said...

I know that when I sit down to write a scene for a character like DS Tam MacNee in my DI Marjory Fleming series and I find myself thinking, 'I wonder what he's going to say?' As you say, Sybil,it comes out in the writing.