When the first of my sleep paralysis attacks occurred in the early 1990s, I had no idea that it was the onset of a period that I would later come to recognize or characterize as a spontaneous shamanic-type initiation via nightmare. I didn’t know that it would shatter the psychological, spiritual, ontological, metaphysical, and interpersonal assumptions that had undergirded my worldview and daily experience for so long that I had forgotten they were assumptions instead of givens. Terence McKenna, among others, has argued that, in accordance with the same principle that keeps a fish oblivious to the existence of water, the perturbation of consciousness is necessary for us even to become aware of the reality of consciousness as such. For me this was confirmed with lasting impact by the experience of waking up from a profoundly deep sleep to encounter a darkly luminous, vaguely man-shaped outline of a being that stood over me at the foot of the bed, and that shone with sizzling rays of shadow, and that represented a thunderous and sui generis — intended solely for me — black hole of a negative singularity, a presence whose entire reason for being was to draw me in and annihilate my essence. In the manner of dreams and daemons, the experience was as much cognitive and emotional as it was perceptual. There was no separation between these usually discrete categories. Nor was there a separation between the categories of self and other, between “me” and the assaulting presence. Horror was literally all there was, all that existed, all that was real — not as a reaction to an experience but as an organic and inevitable symmetry of being. I was not horrified. The experience was purely and simply horror. …
Jennifer Doudna has been among the most vocal of those calling for caution on what she sees as the inevitable march toward editing human genes. “It’s going to happen,” she told me the first time we met, in her office at Berkeley. […] … Her eyes narrowed, and she lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “I have never said this in public, but it will show you where my psyche is,” she said. “I had a dream recently, and in my dream” — she mentioned the name of a leading scientific researcher — “had come to see me and said, ‘I have somebody very powerful with me who I want you to meet, and I want you to explain to him how this technology functions.’ So I said, Sure, who is it? It was Adolf Hitler. I was really horrified, but I went into a room and there was Hitler. He had a pig face and I could only see him from behind and he was taking notes and he said, ‘I want to understand the uses and implications of this amazing technology.’ I woke up in a cold sweat. …
Struggling here not to read this as a horror story:
Kim Ung-yong is a 48-year-old former child-prodigy who pushed the envelope on IQ at 210, getting a mention on the Guinness Book of World Records. But his life has been anything but “genius”. He’s had a pretty ordinary life. Still, he considers himself a success despite the lack of telltale (extraordinary) material or academic trappings.
He displayed amazing feats of intelligence shortly after his birth: speaking at four months, conversing fluently by six months, reading Korean, Japanese, German and English by 24 months. And by the time he was at the pre-school age of four, he was a celebrity solving complex calculus problems on Japanese television. Even in early childhood, he began to write poetry and was an amazing painter. Kim was a guest student of physics at Hanyang University from the age of three until he was six. […] At the age of eight, the child was invited by America’s NASA and conducted research work for 10 years. He also received a Ph.D in physics at Colorado State University. But by 1978, he was burnt out and returned to his homeland. He surprised everyone by switching to civil engineering and later chose to work in a business planning department at Chungbuk Development Corporation.
The Korean media soon denounced him a “failed genius”. […] But for so-called failed genius Kim Ung-yong, his life is anything but a failure. He’s happy to be an ordinary company worker, he said. He’s happy with his station in life and exactly the way he is. […] “Apparently, the media belittled the fact that I chose to work in a business planning department at Chungbuk Development Corporation,” Kim said regrettably. …
210 (!) — An intellect like that squandered just to make a qabbalistic point?
There’s a range, in other words. You don’t need anywhere near a complete brain to function in modern society (in fact, there are many obvious cases in which having a complete brain seems to be an actual disadvantage). And in a basic survival sense, the ability to write and appreciate the music of Jethro Tull and do other “civilised” things aren’t really that important anyway. […] So now I’m thinking, tewwowist virus: something engineered to take out higher brain functions while leaving the primitive stuff intact. Something that eats away at your cognitive faculties and lets your inner reptile off the leash, something that strips your topheavy mind down to its essentials, something that speeds your reflexes and cranks your vision even as it takes the light from your eyes. […] I’m thinking zombies. …
(The lead in is just as ‘good’.)
An (intense) hypothetical debate question for Ben Carson, posed at SSC:
One of your most important achievements as a neurosurgeon was inventing the functional hemispherectomy, a treatment for epilepsy in which the epileptic hemisphere of the brain is severed from the healthy hemisphere and the body, allowing the healthy hemisphere to have full control of the body free from any epileptic interference. Children who get a functional hemispherectomy sufficiently early will be partly paralyzed on one side, but they will generally not have seizures, or will at least have less of them.
Standard hemispherectomies remove the epileptic hemisphere from the body, but that tended to cause hydrocephalus, so your technique left it intact but severed all of its sensory and motor connections, leaving it present but inert.
But an anonymous neuroscientist on Reddit expressed some concern that just as the functional hemisphere seems to develop full independent personhood after the split, so the epileptic hemisphere may do so as well. Obviously it remains impaired by the epilepsy, but it’s not seizing all the time, there will still be comparatively lucid intervals.
So my question for you is – what do you think happens to that person who is in an empty hemisphere, locked out of all sensory input and motor control? Do you think they’re conscious? Do you think they’re wondering what happened? Do you think they’re happy that the other half of them is living a happy normal life? Do they sit rapt in unconditioned contemplation of their own consciousness like an Aristotelian god? Or do they go mad with boredom, constantly desiring their own death but unable to effect it?
Also, a follow-up question. You solve paediatric epilepsy by severing all connections between right and left, declaring one unhealthy and leaving it to rot, and turning complete control over to the other. Given that you’re trying to become President, that has obvious kabbalistic implications. Do you stand behind those kabbalistic implications or not?
An erratic overview, with an off-beam title. This — for instance — is absolutely not getting it: “… the essential quality to truly terrify: an aspect of the unreal.”
This, though, is getting it:
Ligotti’s stories, which have been reissued in a new Penguin Classics volume that brings together the books “Songs of a Dead Dreamer” and “Grimscribe,” are fugues of the creeping unknown. They often begin with a moment of banality: a visit to a new town, an academic’s research project, the tearing down of an old building. His narrators are fairly nondescript, if occasionally a tad morose. But they are all sensitive to or attracted by a slight bend in reality. Something leaks through into the known world, and the protagonist, often already on the edge of sanity, is doomed by the encounter with whatever it is — say, the spectre of a demolished house that seems to exist in a liminal place between wintry nights and the realm of the dead.
Horror is about nothing at all except reality. Unreality is for everything else.
Some reading suggestions from Thomas Ligotti, including this temptation:
The weirdest stories I’ve ever read composed the collection Hollow Faces, Merciless Moons (1977) by William Scott Home. The prose is so complex and recondite that it’s all but unreadable, much like that of Clark Ashton Smith. Furthermore, Home’s narratives are baffling and sometime barely comprehensible, somewhat in the manner of Robert Aickman. For a while I thought that Home was either an inexpert writer or a mental case.
(More Ligotti at the WFR here. Plus a story.)
A brief introductory guide:
Ligotti’s collections can be extremely difficult to find as many are out-of-print and no longer available. […] However, the folks at Penguin have finally seen the light, and will be releasing an omnibus edition of Ligotti’s Grimscribe and Songs of a Dead Dreamer collections this October.
So, to celebrate the upcoming release of this monumental horror volume, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best Ligotti stories out there with the intention of helping new readers familiarize themselves with one of the greatest writers in horror history. …
Craig Hickman meanders under the inspiration of Ligotti:
In the old Gnostic mythologies the Archons (kelippot, dark vessels) were the Watchers who keep us locked away in Time’s Prison. What if the reverse were true? What if in fact they are our secret defenders? What if they were the secret or hidden, occult brotherhood who have all these eons protected us from ourselves? What if what we should fear is our own powers? What if in fact we were the dark gods who have forgotten our own powers, and the gatekeepers were put in place by us to protect us from our terrible deeds, our own horrendous past? What if we are the destroyers against which we have built up such dark mythologies, and that if we ever tore down the barriers between our world and the Real we would discover the terrible truth of our own dark secret? That the evil we project upon darkness is the face of our own abysmal nature? What then? Maybe Time is a Prison we built against our own terrible existence, and that the only thing between us and oblivion is the gates of illusion. Would you still storm the gates if you knew this to be the truth?