Part Four: Neuro-Deviance & the Evolutionary Function of Depression

languagetunnel
(Words & pictures by Jasun Horsley; this essay is meant to be read in tandem with today’s podcast with Peter Watts)

“I can’t get no satisfaction.”
—Unattributed

Those Who Walk Away

Have you ever had to walk out of a bad movie when you’re sitting in the front row? Or make an escape from an excruciatingly boring social meet-up? Even if you don’t mean it to be, walking out of social situations before they are over is equivalent to making a public statement. To visibly go against the will of the group you are part of is to risk incurring its judgment, and potentially its ire. If and when the shit hits the fan, you have already identified yourself as an eligible scapegoat.

When we enter a movie theater, use public transport, attend a lecture, hang out at bars and clubs, we tend to behave in specific, set ways because we know the “doing” of those social arrangements. Like actors in a theater or football players on a field, we have learned how to maximize the benefits of the institutions by going along with the rules and customs set down by them. It rarely occurs to us to question our behaviors, much less go against them. Like the afore-described “mind,” subscription to institutions (or language) means implicitly going along with the laws that govern them—the grammar of social life—and hence internalizing those laws. We identify with them so totally that they become that which identifies. The matrix has us.

The good news (sort of) is that this indicates just how precarious the hold of the matrix (language) is. What other people do is determined by social institutions backed by religious and political ideologies or value systems. Without these institutions and ideologies, human behavior as we think of it would quickly break down. Yet this idea is fundamentally opposed to the idea of ideologies and institutions, which depend on the belief that they represent human behavior, rather than shape and control it.

In the example of the movie theater, the moment a member of the audience breaks the flow of accepted behavior—walks out before the movie is over—the spell is momentarily broken. The audience members’ attention is diverted from the movie to the rule-breaker, and, by extension, to the reality outside the movie.

They may begin to question their responses to the movie. Maybe they had been thinking about walking out too but suppressed the desire? Or maybe they had been loving the movie and now they are offended that someone else has “disrespected” it, and by extension their own experience. This reaction also takes them out of the movie, hence their resentment; and so on. The other thing that’s indicated by this example is how powerfully impacted our idea of ourselves is, not so much by what others think about us, but what they might think about the things we value—or simply, what we imagine they might think about them. This clearly indicates our own doubts, or rather, a deep-seated but unconscious awareness that the social reality and language-based mental identity which we take as reality—the movie we are lost in—is nothing of the kind.

It’s closer to a rumor that only reached us after millennia of Chinese whispers, but, inexplicably, was handed down in stone.

Dysfunction as Innovation

While talking about his novel Starfish, science fiction author Peter Watts asked a question about who is more likely to make scientific and technological breakthroughs—socially well-adjusted, emotionally healthy types raising families and working day-jobs, or dysfunctional, compulsive types constantly trying to win the approval of parents who never give it, ignoring personal relationships in pursuit of strange and eccentric goals. Watts’ question is rhetorical. It does not take a genius to figure out that it is the compulsive, unsocial types who achieve the most significant breakthroughs.

Starfish takes “the metaphor of the people who are running civilization but who are dysfunctional, and it cranks the dysfunction up, and it cranks their isolation up, and it literally sticks them at the bottom of the ocean with their hands on a kill switch” (running the power grid for North America); then it sees what happens. As Watts sees it:

We build our civilization on the backs of those who are dysfunctionally driven to overachieve, but the entire species also has a venerable history of essentially enslaving each other and forcing people into menial groups. . . . The Rifters [Watts’ term for the series of novels beginning with Starfish] essentially encapsulates all of that and puts them in a high pressure cooker situation and then asks the question, “What happens when they find out how much power they have?”  The problem is, they never have any power. No system is going to be stupid enough to give them that kind of power.

It is at this point, Watts says, he had to introduce a microorganism, Behemoth, to give his dysfunctionals “a fighting chance.” I have not read all of Starfish, but I am talking to Watts next week [now last week, you can listen to the conversation here], which is partially (but not entirely) why I shoehorned him into the tail end of this long essay, an essay I actually started some months ago. I am winging it, hoping to somehow incorporate this idea—that the outsiders of any given social group (the ones most likely to be scapegoated) bring the innovations necessary to keep that group evolving and surviving in the face of entropy (i.e., a natural universe with no presiding benevolent intelligence—no Prime Directive—to take care of us)—into a resolution for this current piece. I am not sure if it is going to happen (there are a lot of threads to bind together here), but just trying it makes this piece properly liminal.

Showing is so much more important than telling—especially when what’s being told is how language is a kind of sentient, nonhuman virus or implant that has taken over human consciousness and redirected it towards seemingly undesirable, life-destroying ends. Ain’t it?

Whatever can be thought—or formulated via language—is not to be trusted. If the matrix tells you it has you, don’t believe it. If the matrix (in the form of a drop-dead leather-clad dream chick) tells you it can’t tell you who you are, doubt that too. The way out is not to think the unthinkable; that just turns the abstract into more fodder for language. The way out is to follow unthinkable thoughts back, past the source, to a form of sentience that not only exists without language but that cannot coexist with language—because language has the peculiar effect of banishing such sentience by endlessly defining it (even as undefinable).

This is a metaphor for something else. Also a metaphor—a social and not a literary one—is the emergence of an innovative, dysfunctional sub-species within the human race—what I call neuro-deviants, shame on me—who are the inverse of those technologies (such as language) that appear to be here to save us, but which are really designed to further entrap us. They are the inverse in that they appear to be the problem, when actually they are a solution, one that’s only effective exactly insofar as it is beyond our comprehension.


(Peter Watts & friend. Adapted from an original photograph by Maria Nygård)

Where No Borg Can Go

When a society or an individual enters into a liminal space, one thing that kicks in—that always kicks in when the unknown appears—is that old survival mechanism of fight or flight (and feed and fuck). As Watts has pointed out, consciousness as we experience it is really a trick of Nature that’s geared not towards apprehending reality but only to surviving it. Denial and distortion is a fundamental part of survival, i.e., to existing at a purely physical level.

Language, lofty language, from Holy Books to idea-driven sci-fi novels to weird liminalist essays—poses as an attempt to transcend physicality and ascend into some mental realm of abstraction. Really, it came about as one more, one final, the ultimate, survival strategy, as a way to cognate death (name it) and God, Eternity, and all the other abstractions of the final concreteness, without having to be annihilated by those realities. A buffer that inserted itself between organic consciousness and its environment and that has whispered ever since, “Relax. Ye shall be as Gods.”

If our perception is fatally crippled by the organic drive to survive, it follows that the only way to perceive reality as it is, is to relinquish that drive to survive. To become increasingly dysfunctional is the only way for truly radical innovation (evolution) to occur.

This may be why Girard was so hung up on Christ: the example of turning the other cheek and of not resisting violence to Girard was the only cure for mimetic violence. Only when we no longer fear what the other may do to us, can we let go of the crazed impulse to do it to them first. Only when we cease to struggle to survive and experience the paralyzing mortality of the organism, without sublimating the fear into language-based fantasy constructs of divinity, can that which innovates—that microorganism that’s even smaller than thought-language—rise Leviathan-like from the depths of the psyche and transform that which we thought we were, into that which we have always been.

Only, if this is true, then there is no need for this to happen, ever. That which always was will continue to be, regardless of any illusory matrices of thought-language-control which are built, demiurgically, around or on top of it. In such a version of events, this essay is as real as the imagined person who wrote it; and as the ones imagining themselves to be reading it.

I wonder if this relates to why I experience periods of deep depression and stagnation following (and preceding) longer periods of well-being and activity? When I am depressed, I tend not to want to do much besides eat food and lie around and watch TV shows or read good books. When I am “up,” I get busy pursuing my interests, write books, make podcasts, go for walks, have sex, and so on—in a word, I am productive. Nature, like capitalism, wants us to be productive, so it (like the matrix) endeavors to keep us happy, just not so happy that we rest on our laurels and stop producing.

The chicken and the egg of a positive outlook and positive action is difficult, if not impossible, to turn into cause and effect, however. Does being productive put me in a happier frame of mind (by keeping my death-awareness at bay), or does being content naturally lead to more positive activities? Bees don’t make honey because they are happy, nor are they happy because they make honey. But it’s just about ontologically feasible to suggest that bees are happy (or at least free from existential misery) and that they do make honey. (Apparently, the root of all our existential problems lies in that one word, “because,” and in its even more aggressive twin, why?)

In a similar way, dysfunction relates to dissatisfaction: they are mutually dependent on one another. (The only kind of unhappy bee is one that isn’t “working.”) And if innovation relates to dysfunction, it also relates, in a similar or even identical manner, to dissatisfaction. The less an individual is able to function within society—to receive the social implant of language and identity—the less satisfied they will be on the terms which define the idea of satisfaction to begin with (as London School of Economics alumni Mick Jagger so loudly lamented)—and consequently, the more innovative.

This would seem to suggest that depression, which is obviously closer on the human emotional spectrum to dissatisfaction than it is to satisfaction, is a necessary element to innovation, even though—or perhaps precisely because?—it leads to periods of intense inactivity or sloth.

The indication of this—I mean what it indicates to me, or maybe I am just innovating beyond my limits—is that both depression and innovation relate to a non-biological drive in the human organism, a prime directive that has little—maybe even nothing at all—to do with individual survival. Depression, dissatisfaction, and dysfunction all entail some form of letting go of social drives, and even some biological ones, since very depressed people are known to stop eating. As a result of or congruent with this letting go of social drives, a deeper and more mysterious drive to express emerges: one that pertains to hitherto unknown potentials, both at a physical and a conceptual—I dare not call it spiritual—level.

Simply put (he says, though actually I have no idea if I can phrase it at all, never mind simply), there may be something in the human organism that inspires it to move according to nonphysical, non-survival based cues, something that can be exploited by society as a means to keep it going (assimilated by the Borg to increase expanding), but which is not created or even engendered by society. This mysterious x-element appears to belong to another form of consciousness and agenda altogether. It is—metaphorically speaking as always—a microorganism so tiny that it effectively escapes the rule of matter and of language entirely—and therefore is not bound by time, either.

It is—or could be, if we let it—a veritable Behemoth waiting at the wings of thought, waiting to subsume us and then, once animated or incarnated, to boldly go where neither Starship nor Borg can ever follow.

And that, as they say, is all he wrote.

***

For the full 4-part essay, click here.

13 thoughts on “Part Four: Neuro-Deviance & the Evolutionary Function of Depression

  1. I don’t personally think innovation requires depression all the time but, instead, a mental-state of detachment that makes get through it easier before the next hill comes up since it’s usually a smaller part of a larger innovative process.

    • I think i’ve only started to become fully aware of it recently, too soon to map the cycles but it may be smaller cycles turning inside larger ones. A while ago I observed, maybe fancifully, that I had seven year “yang” periods followed by seven year “yin” ones. It does seem to relate to the concept of being receptive/creative, a receiver AND a transmitter. But also to my own psychological complexes, periods of activity in which I produce work and put it out there and garner some sort of attention, do seem to trigger a panic and withdrawal response, and then the feeling of futility and despair also fires the need to create. So separating natural energetic cycles from neurotic ones is beyond my ability, at this point.

      • I think everyone does, I’m not sure of the cause, be it lunar cycles, or just basic biological renewal. (Lunar cycles would make everyone flip at roughly the same time, biological would make it 7, 14, 21, 28 etc. years after each individuals birth, perhaps there is a bit of both)
        There is a lot of precedent for it, going way, way back to many centuries ago.. 😉

        and it carries on today in the larger scale economic cycles, 7 years of growth, 7 years of recession. 1994, 2001, 2008, 2015?
        So that’s either the action of the collective subconscious of the mass of humanity, or an orchestrated program of manipulating the market. Certainly once you are old enough to recognise the cycles in yourself, others and the economy as a whole, you could see how to switch from bull strategy to bear strategy at the right time and ‘win’ both on the way up and on the way down. In that way it seems like the economy works like a pump, those capable of playing the long game will always win and will continually extract wealth from those unable to see the larger patterns.

  2. how is going on a walk ‘productive’? in the capitalists or natural sense i don’t see it. Walking is a happy, healthy activity, sure. You can oppose it to withdrawal from society/the world, sure.

      • ‘outgoing energy’ makes more sense than ‘productive’ followed by mentioning the capitalist system. thank you for clarifying.

        ” I doubt ancient man ever went for walks. ” well ancient people did and indigenous peeps still do….you might want to look into australian aboriginal songlines, Paul Devereux’s work on the ancient mystery lines, native peoples of the american southwest walking and running….

        you will say ‘but that is for a spiritual discipline’ – and you’re not? It did depend on the location and time, but many ancient peoples had time for art, enjoyment, etc. and were not constantly scrambling to simply survive.

    • i studied anthropology at UCB – as a general rule, the only strictly survival based cultures tend to be ones in the process of being colonized by more militarily advanced ones – for example americas after columbus, etc. You can also look at post industrial slums in this light, however you’ll still find quite a bit of non-survival based activity. I remember being struck when reading a book about Jack the Ripper, one of his victims, a most desperately poor washed up street prostitute, had in the weeks before her death gone out to the country to pick hops. She got paid a bit, mostly enough to cover costs, apparently it was a common way for the very poor to get a bit of a vacation.

  3. Walking out of a bad movie or leaving a venue in which annoying expression continues serves to give affirmation, a committment to a vow of sorts, a decision about not putting up a with point of view, story telling, plotline so telegraphed, an analysis of subject decided not worth the time spent receiving more of it. Paramount priority is not to waste time already wasted before learning that. No more of that! Enuf already. I’ve seen it, heard it a million times! Same old crap. Move on. Walking out, leaving behind in their seats so to speak group peers attending the waste with you, while perhaps eliciting a moment feeling rather courageous, proving disdain to everybody, is likely secondary to wasting your good time better spent. Although making a “public statement” surely is a choice notch on the gun of character acting in defence of belief, making your personal views quite clear, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind where you stand. on this type ‘meovie’ at last. Again if that is important at all. It is tough to do, get up and leave, walk out on the ‘family’. ” . . . the grammar of social life—and hence internalizing those laws. We identify with them so totally that they become that which identifies. The matrix has us.”

    Yes, Language, it’s “matrix’ has a hold on us alright. Religion, ideologies, the hard and fast scripture manifesto’s arranging and directing our lively schemes are cast mold encasements virtually that stiff walks us along within our upright peer pressure societies. Wihout which, what loose and willy-nilly creatures without assigned and labled structure, flaying about we would likely be. Except for the early forming primitive ‘feelings’ stirring us this way and that to act out or restrain hither and yon, grunting and groaning ourselves and ‘signing’ about before step by step words forming language institutions emerged and gave us the WORD of . . . language to give us purpose and reason. ‘God’ the nature of things WILL to be right and wrong eh. Institutions claiming to represent us rather than shape us, bringing to mind chicken and egg concerns right off the bat seems to me. First the WORD designing that which it has been designed to represent or the original design which the WORD attempts to make of THAT which perhaps has no design other that IT IS, observer or not, not anthrpomorphic in any way other than the fact without the hearer the tree falling exists naught. That sort of thing.

    You conclude, from WATTS enunciations which is it, either or that “It does not take a genius to figure out that it is the compulsive, unsocial types who achieve the most significant breakthroughs.” As opposed satisfied pretty much with status quo family types, not dysfunctional but functioning quite well-thank-you folks, according to society expectations, established precedents, rules. I am inclined to agree consequent biographies of innovators that satisfied people, or folks who live consistently balanced within social norms, aren’t urged, triggered, spurred, upset about life as is, rules enuf, to cut the cord, break away from ‘family’ umbillical and oppose the feed structure in which they have become fairly satisfied with that which produces a trained, productive citizen. A sudden revolution may occur however, a radical turn of events, a loss of everything precious, that will enervate an ordinary sloth into a race for a whole new being and life, but that example is not the issue here.

    Watts says, “We build our civilization on the backs of those who are dysfunctionally driven to overachieve, but the entire species also has a venerable history of essentially enslaving each other and forcing people into menial groups. . . .” It would seem, a conclusion could be made, that these over achievers, dysfunctional, ‘unhappy’ folks, many of whom Watts claims run our world, force people into “menial groups”. Perhaps I am not clear on his point here. Maybe he means the dysfuctional overachievers who build our civilizations are okay but that even so the majority average enslave each other perhaps due their favor to keep a static status quo, etcetera, but if otherwise taken as the innovator dysfunctional are the enslavers due an inherant ‘dna’ that disallows them from NOT enslaving, whipping up the slugs to move in deference to the innovator’s whims, produce worthwhile product and claimed progress, then that is another thing altogether. I won’t elaborate on that, if I am sure I know what I am saying exactly in the first place. What happens, Watts postulates, when ‘they’ find out they have the power and answers, well no system will allow them power if they do realize they have it. THEY being I presume, the regular folks who are the majority in numbers, who either are dysfuntional innovators or th functional sloths who wake up. I am not clear on that. But that power ruling will not allow power of the people to rise to effectively change society, that is clear enuf. Although, finally power of the formerly static quo slugs becoming explosive does change the state of society affairs, for awhile at least.

    I see, Watts considers his dysfunctionals without power. And he invents “a microorganism, Behemoth, to give his dysfunctionals “a fighting chance.”’ And you are working with this idea of Watts “that the outsiders of any given social group (the ones most likely to be scapegoated) bring the innovations necessary to keep that group evolving and surviving in the face of entropy . . . i.e. a natural universe with no presiding benevolent intelligence—no Prime Directive—to take care of us)—”. You are dealing with this go make a specif sense of it acording your take I assume; i am more than a bit confused. Although just taking it prima facie ” . . . a presiding benevolent intlligence” has never been essential to my accepting existence AS IS without reason other than that is reason enuf.

    Suggesting that “language is a kind of sentient, nonhuman virus or implant that has taken over human consciousness and redirected it towards seemingly undesirable, life-destroying ends.” is a plot point that is entertaining to say the least.

    “The way out is to follow unthinkable thoughts back, past the source, to a form of sentience that not only exists without language but that cannot coexist with language—because language has the peculiar effect of banishing such sentience by endlessly defining it (even as undefinable). I believe this relates to my suggesting before the Word is nex off the grunt. But again, after the grunt comes the word and already a generation or more removed from what the thing is, but necssary to define so as to define to ourself something and to group communicate what the thing is as a general rule what that thing is and will be for future reference an use. Defining the undefinable seems necessary to invent in order to manifest handles to grasp for solidity, some sort of meaning so that we can stand and move about and forward with gravity that reason and labels give us. This obviously could be better, more clearly explained but then I am very much off the top here, figuring things out on the come. And I do have a limit in my range perceiving actuality of cause to effect, what is real and surreal, abstract and concrete, that only goes so far to begin with. And, am I serious in the first place? I am. Considering what may be absurd altogether here to work with. Your consideration that language entraps us is as if it was originated perhaps to do just that, as if there is a ‘mind’ behind language as a method to entrap. Reminds me of L. Ron Hubbard inventor of Scientology’s claim that creatures from 70 billion, whatever, light years away descended on human primitives and installed disruptive ‘engrams’ to engorge the brain silly with nasty patterns to dissuade them from an original truth inherant with no appendage of distortions and distractions applied extra to themselves in order to turn them on wrong paths away for their original purity. For some whatever reason or another determined by evil entity for whatever rason or another. Just plain bad energies got their own nasty plot priority.

    “As Watts has pointed out, consciousness as we experience it is really a trick of Nature that’s geared not towards apprehending reality but only to surviving it. Denial and distortion is a fundamental part of survival, i.e., to existing at a purely physical level.” Tricks of Nature to me are contradictions to Nature. Nature is AS IS. It has no purpose in my book other than to be itself, which is without guile or innocence or morality, Nature (God) has no tricks since tricks are by ‘nature’ invented outside of reality, extra from that which automatically is Nature and just happens to be Nature and natural to ITSELF solely. Nature acts naturally as nature. Which is order to static quo to chaos, shifting on the ‘scale’ of cosmic strings and parallels that which is in balance at ALL TIMES. Balance is anthropmorphic designation by design to explain differences of shifts. Nature has no balance regardless an ‘apparent’ weight giving more credence to a ‘moment’ during the spot selected action on the ‘man made’ scale.

    Language . . . “poses as an attempt to transcend physicality and ascend into some mental realm of abstraction.” In my view language cannot pose in the same manner that Nature cannot have morality. It simply is. Language as an invention, sure, but if a trick was immediately thought of to make language a force right off the bat, to gain dominance over fellows, to employ it as tool in a bag of nefarious tricks to plot an evil, or by using it cleverly to gain superiority over neighbors, is superflous to its original intent which was surely initially to communicate, with no guile behind it. Guile would emanate from it, a purpose of the user of language to use for personal gain at the discomfort or loss of something taken from another, but language itself is just that, communication. Communiation is what language, arrangement of words, is about after all eh. What we do with it is the trickery of it perhaps.

    As to the chicken and egg question: Am I happy because I am content and working or am I content and working to be happy and content, or like that. “Bees don’t make honey because they are happy, nor are they happy because they make honey. But it’s just about ontologically feasible to suggest that bees are happy (or at least free from existential misery) and that they do make honey. (Apparently, the root of all our existential problems lies in that one word, “because,” and in its even more aggressive twin, why?) Sure. But it seems to me bees are bees doing what they do and that they are neither happy or not happy. Although bees according our definition get ‘irritated’ and sting when there is a threat to their purpose to make honey. I suppose that could relate to honey end result if not pursued would make a bee ‘unhappy’ like an activity a human personally selects to zone out on in order to be content and happy and if not pursued results in unhappiness. But which comes first? The happy zone doing it or the zone to get happy in by doing it. Or something. And if either or is thwarted, watch out Mister!

    “In a similar way, dysfunction relates to dissatisfaction: they are mutually dependent on one another. (The only kind of unhappy bee is one that isn’t “working.”) And if innovation relates to dysfunction, it also relates, in a similar or even identical manner, to dissatisfaction”. Thus it would seem according this dialogue that dysfunction equates to dissatisfaction. And accordingly that dissatisfaction can generate innovation which enforces to significant extent the world to turn appreciably for the better, or advance . . . new way of perceiving, ideas. Or at least reduce the inclination to a certain stagnation, regression even, harbored in status quo cherished by a conditioned (enslaved) majority eh. Dissatisfaction, dysfunction, as defined, generates a kind of energy that only unhappiness with a situation elicites, so fed up with it that churned out is an the energy that lifts society from a mundanity that is characteristically overseen, governed by folks who remain conditioned to the way things are. Crazy talk, eh.

    “The less an individual is able to function within society—to receive the social implant of language and identity—the less satisfied they will be on the terms which define the idea of satisfaction to begin with (as London School of Economics alumni Mick Jagger so loudly lamented)—and consequently, the more innovative.” Ah, yes. Language and conflated education not available and the dissatisfation that condition brings to people. But let’s move on and deal with swings in depression perhaps in regards to dysfunction and dissatisfaction and productivity another time.

    Or that ” . . . there may be something in the human organism that inspires it to move according to nonphysical, non-survival based cues, something that can be exploited by society as a means to keep it going (assimilated by the Borg to increase expanding), but which is not created or even engendered by society. This mysterious x-element appears to belong to another form of consciousness and agenda altogether. It is—metaphorically speaking as always—a microorganism so tiny that it effectively escapes the rule of matter and of language entirely—and therefore is not bound by time, either.”

    Or that such overview alien conspiracy exists but as plotline for a fantastic story.

    Or ” It is—or could be, if we let it—a veritable Behemoth waiting at the wings of thought, waiting to subsume us and then, once animated or incarnated, to boldly go where neither Starship nor Borg can ever follow.

    Or “And that, as they say, is all he wrote.”

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