When you are insane, what does ‘I’ mean, exactly?

Posted October 10, 2009 by samgerrits
Categories: Lecture

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(Lecture for DasArts Advanced School of Arts, part of the “Who is I” series, under supervision of publicist Karin Spaink and  film director Titus Muizelaar, in which, among others, artist Wim T. Schippers and philosopher Bas Haring participated. Amsterdam, fall 2008.)

Hi everybody,

You have read that I’m going to talk about my experiences with being crazy, insane, and the difficulties insanity creates around the concept of ‘I’. This may incite some interest, and some gut fears, especially the insanity part. What do I mean exactly when I say insanity? Am I still insane at this moment? What kind of a person do you see before you? Yes, a smiling bald man with a goatee in casual clothes. I sound coherent,  I seem like a real person. For all you know, I was  invited to lecture in this program, so I may have something interesting to say. But this insanity part remains disturbing, and a bit scary.

Your gut fears are real. All of you, none excluded and some of you even more likely than the average person, if I have read my books on artists correctly, can become insane. The only thing it takes is encouraging your brain to short-circuit and start misfiring. This can be achieved by suprisingly mundane causes, such as sleep deprivation, starvation and (self inflicted) pain, provided that these are intense and prolonged. Some extreme forms of asceticism seem to work that way. For myself it was an enduring, heavy pain in the neck, due to nerve damage just below my brain stem, experienced for several years after a skiing accident, that eventually pushed me over the side. I got into the accident when I was 26, speeding down a difficult slope with very little training. I must have thought I was immortal, silly me. I could have just broken a leg, but I was unlucky and landed precisely on my neck.  When I was 30, almost a decade ago, the endless pain made me sink into a deep depression, after which I lost my mind. I am now on good medication, thank you. Interestingly, since I take the meds for my sanity, the pain in my neck is also gone.

There are of course more exotic and swifter ways to loose your sanity, then the ones I just mentioned. Intoxication by various chemical substances can accelerate the process greatly. For instance, in the town of Salem in 1692, eight young townswomen fell victim to “fits, outbreaks of obscene babbling, and wild partying in the local woodland.” The girls claimed they were bewitched and possessed by the devil. There are many researchers who attribute their weird witchy behaviour to ergot poisoning, a mould that grows on wheat that is stored under wet conditions. From this mould LSD was synthesized in the 1930’s by Swiss scientist  Albert Hofmann.

Along with these seemingly random outbursts of madness, which were common in the days before we discovered (food)hygiene, In some cultures making the brain misfire, short-circuiting it on purpose in various forms, has been institutionalized and endorsed for a long time.  Here’s a provocative thought: it is my personal belief that in the Far East it is common practice to approach the edge of reason so slowly and methodically, as a monk or as a devotee, that crossing the boundary into insanity becomes a reversible process, and can be called ‘enlightenment’ (author Robert Pirsig argues along similar lines in his book Lila). The devotee or monk ever so slowly ‘ascends’, due to various forms of asceticism, grounding himself at the same time with daily repeated rituals, working towards a result that is documented and is part of a long standing tradition. The devotee therefore does not suffer ‘the spiritual bends’, spiritual decompression sickness, as I like to call it, when he goes ‘out of his mind’. I call it the spiritual bends because the experience of going crazy, becoming psychotic is as toxic to the brain as a too swift ascent from the deep is for the body of a diver. Most people suffer dearly after a psychosis, and they suffer twice. The first time due to the very nature of the disease, that works on the brains subtle connections like a forest fire on a forest ecosystem. And the second time because there is neither a cultural nor a medical framework for their experiences and insights acquired during psychosis. Their, often amazing and always very real experiences are defined within our cultural framework, as not real, as delusions, and as wrong, something to shy away from.

In the Far west, on the other hand, for many centuries Native Americans went on ‘vision quests’. So called ‘Shamans’ in Nothern Europe did similar things. Both used the above mentioned methods of prolonged and serious deprivation of stabilizing factors, combined with with the ingestion of various herbs and certain moulds, while ritually beating a drum, dancing and chanting, to intoxicate their brain, so they could travel beyond the boundaries of sanity and normal existence, and have near death experiences similar to psychosis. They deliberately encouraged their brains to misfire and conjure up delusions, ‘daytime dreams’ and ‘visions’. In these visions their spirit animal ot Totem appeared to them. In other words, they learnt what kind of a person they really were. They defined themselves by means of these experiences. Again: there was a cultural framework, a tradition for what they did. I myself, interestingly, in this context, have repeatedly been confronted with polar bears in various stuffed forms or in the artisanal work and other stuff that littered my place after a period of madness. The thing is, I am generally not very interested in polar bears. I am still trying to figure out what having a polar bear as a Totem in this day and age exactly means… It is anyone’s guess, since we have no framework for these experiences.

Now this person word is interesting. ‘The kind of person I realy am’. ‘I am’... what does this ‘I’ mean, exactly?’ In our enlightened, reasonable West (we’ve been proudly calling ourselves that for the last 220 years or so)  we tend to define what a person is very differently from how native Americans or Shamans define it. In 2008 I attended a lecture bij Peter Hacker, a renowned British philosopher, whose principal expertise is in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, who wrote a.o. some articles on Peter Frederick Strawson and his concept of a person.

Peter Hacker doesn’t like the way neuroscientists and philosophers such as Antonio Damasio and Daniel Dennett go about neuroscience. He thinks that ‘the nature of consciousness’ or ‘the mind-body problem’ cannot be solved by neuroscience, he argues in fact that they are not real problems at all, but mirages arising from conceptual confusion. In his 2003 book “Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience“, co-authored with neuroscientist M. Bennett, Hacker elaborates on his views, and criticizes the ideas of neuroscientists and philosophers such as Francis Crick, Damasio, Dennett and others. To put it simply, you could say that Peter Hacker doesn’t like thinkers who try to explain traffic jams by looking at a cars innnards.

So far so good. In his lecture Hacker tried looking at the car as a whole, he was trying to explain what a ‘person’ is. Hacker argued in his lecture that the term person, like many other things, has undergone an evolution through time. The Ancient Greeks according to Hacker went entirely without persons, making exceptions of course for their ruling caste, something that apparently went rather well. In Roman times a person was something like ‘a character in a play’, conjured up when needed and forgotten in the day to day reality of slavery, bread and games. From the sixth century ones personality became the same as one’s clearly defined role in society. Thus Hacker arrived at our modern concept of a person, that is implicitly explained in his paper  THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF EMOTIONS. Hacker argued that whether you are a person or not, depends on a couple of factors. To be a person, one must have a complex language, one must be rational, one must have a notion of morality, of good and bad, one must know sorrow and other emotions, and there were more properties…

During the following questions session I explained to Hacker that I have been psychotic I couple of times in the past, and that in this condition I am not in command of a coherent language and I am certainly neither moral nor rational. At these times I lack the essential properties that dr. Hacker had previously defined as being necessary for being a person. My question was obviously whether Hacker would consider me to be a person, during those episodes, or not.

For dr. Hacker, this could have been an excellent occasion to illustrate his own concept. He could have said that it was very well possible that, although he could give me no definite answer without exhaustive research, according to his own definitions, during my psychoses I was apparently not a person. Unfortunately the most esteemed Peter Hacker, and probably with the best possible intentions, backed out of my question with some universal human rights platitudes. For me however it had been a fruitful evening, because it further illustrated the problem that we as an intellectual society have with the concept of ‘I’, in relation to insanity and insane people.

According to The French philosopher Michel Foucault, any society that deals with deviants will mobilize its cultural immune system, to encapsulate and quarantine them, either by defining them as monsters or as gods. Likewise insane people are paradoxically often used as reference points by normal society, to define it’s own boundary’s: This usually shows up in conversations you all have heard at one time or another, that go along the following lines: “So, you are from the east side of town? Then you must know mrs. Brown. Her son John commited suicide, what was it, four years ago? He jumped in front of the nine o clock train. Everybody thought he was a genius, that he was gonna be special. Turned out he was schizophrenic.” I reckon most of you must have heard or overheard this kind of boundary defining conversation, or recognize parts of it. This is how society reafirms its own laws.

Back to monsters and gods. Talented artists, scientists, pop stars etc., that have apparently crossed the boundaries of normal society and survived, nowadays are seen as a little bit of both, I believe. They are in contact with genius, ‘something out there’. Michel Foucault argues in his famous work Folie et Deraison, ‘madnes and unreason‘, translated as Madness and civilization, that before all of Europe followed René Descartes et al. into the enlightened age of reason, madmen or ‘fools’ were   seen in our society as special persons, sometimes even as messengers of the gods. They were believed to have insights directly gathered from a sphere of knowledge ‘normal folks’ cannot enter. The medieval word for this  was oncunnynge, from which we get our word cunning. The unreason or oncunnynge of madmen was seen as an intuition superior to logic, an understanding of truth the rational mind is incapable of.

Ever since the age of enlightenment, madmen and their oncunnynge have disappeared, and the psychotic experiences of ‘psychiatric patients’ have taken their place. These are of course the same madmen, but now with constraints. In the early years there were shackles and straightjackets, and more recently modern shackles and psychiatric medication are used. The meds also robbed them of their dignity. The strange, stiff walking, the drooling often associated with mental disorder, these are actually side effects of pschiatric drugs. This is unfortunate, but probably the best thing we have, for now. Although I think many shrinks could describe more modern psychiatric meds, that have less side effects. Many shrinks say they use haloperidol, first synthesized by Belgian pharmacologist Paul Janssen in the 1950’s, as a reference treatment. This always sounds a bit odd to me. You never see surgeons use bloodletting as a reference treatment, do you?

But a really a sad and disturbing development is, that ever since the advent of modern psychiatry there has been very little supporting culture for the experiences of mad men and women. You may find it interesting that, as Michel Foucault describes in his collection of essays on Psychiatric Power, the (under) class of people known as ‘psychiatric patients’ arrived in our day to day lingo at around the same time that psychiatrists started to appear, during the medicalization of madness that started at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Oncunnynge has disappeared, psychiatrists tend to encourage patients nowadays to forget about what they experienced during psychosis ASAP. I believe that this does not help people recover. Acknowledging the fact that they have had a relatively uncommon, life changing experience, an encounter beyond the edge of reason, a dip in the collective subconcious, a back stage meet-and-greet with ‘the divine’, or ‘the force’, what ever you want to call it,  can help patients on their long, long road to recovery, that can take years. Some of them never recover.

In ancient Greece apparently, the same term that signifies ‘revelation’, Ἀποκάλυψις Apokálypsis; “lifting of the veil”, was also used for the jabbering of a mad person. The Greek saw similarities between ‘revelation’,  and the incoherent language of the insane. It is easy to see where this comes from: the priests of the famous Greek Oracle of Delphi used deraison, incoherent language, to do their their day to day work. The priests of the Oracle worked with a group of peasant women from the area, so called Pythia’s, that sat in a hidden chamber in the temple of Apollo on a tripod seat, over a fissure in the earth. According to the Greek historian Plutarch, the toxic fumes that arose from this crevice came from the decomposing body of a great dragon named Python. The sun-god of reason Apollo had slain that large beast of irrationality, and its body lay in the crevice. Intoxicated by the vapors, the women would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess their spirit. In this state they prophesied. If to you this Apollo-needs-Python’s-fumes construction seems like an odd jumble of the rational and the irrational, well: it is.

It has been postulated that Plutarch’s vapors were in reality volcanic gasses. This has not been confirmed. But recently researchers have found large intersecting geological faults beneath the site of the oracle’s temple. These intersecting faults break  through a limestone formation that contains large quantities of a tarlike substance called bitumen.  During and after earthquakes gasoline-like vapours from this ‘oily’ limestone escape through the cracks. As any kid sniffing glue an tell you, light hydrocarbon fumes have narcotic effects. The Pythia’s inspiration probably came from inhaling those fumes. The Oracle of Delphi story implies that in the days of old, at least one group of people: the priests operating the Delphi oracle, must have been aware of the connection between the misfiring of a diseased, intoxicated brain and so called ‘revelation’.

If we really understand this fact, we can start to see that Neurotheology, a current steam of thought that assumes that the founders of the great religions probably suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, or some related brain dysfunction, and the fact that for instance in South American religions psychoactive concoctions of the  Ayahuasca-vine are used as a ceremonial brew, explains exactly nothing at all about what people that follow these religions experience. I personally feel that saying you can explain away religious experiences in this way, is like saying that Vincent van Goghs paintings are the diseased works of a madman.

We are fortunate in these times, that with the help of modern medicine, many people whose brains are genetically more likely to  seriously dysfunction, and who would, only several decades ago, certainly have been expelled by society’s immune system and died, today can survive and continue functioning. Some even dare to tell their tale. Take Jill Bolte Taylor, for instance. One morning, a large blood vessel in her brain exploded. As a brain scientist, dr. Taylor realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. As she walked to the bathroom, she felt her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness. Because a blood clot the size of a golf ball was severely damaging her left hemisphere, it’s controlling functions receded; her stroke unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right hemisphere. Jill felt how the boundaries between her self, the person she was, and the tiles of the bathroom she was in, completely disappeared. She was one with the tiles, she ‘melted’ into her surroundings and felt an ecstatic joy and completely at peace and in harmony with the world around her. However, when she went into the livingroom and tried to pick up the phone for help, she found she had lost the ability to talk. “I sounded like a golden retriever”, she says. Fortunately, a colleague brain scientist on the line understood her predicament, even though she obviously would not have passed Peter Hackers person– test.  Dr. Bolte Taylor was rushed to a hospital, got mayor brain surgery and survived. Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has now become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. “I’ve gotten as much out of the experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career.” says dr. Bolte Taylor. You can find her moving story on TED talks. When I first read of Dr. Taylors experiences, I was amazed at how similar they were to my own, during psychosis. I realized how lucky I was, that I had only needed several months to recover from my experiences. Combining the experiences of dr. Bolte Taylor with the numerous accounts of psychiatric patients and people that cross the boundaries of reason and of their self  in other ways I have collected, I feel I can summarize:

1. Yes, psychoses, strokes and other near death experiences are symptoms of a diseased brain.

2. Yes, what people experience during psychoses, strokes and other near death experiences can be seen as an intimate encounter with ‘the divine’, ‘the collective subconcious’, ‘the wet stuff’, ‘the force’, ‘the truth out there’, etc. I like to call it inspiration in it’s purest form, with a caveat: poison is in the dose.

3. The concept of ‘I’, a person, doesn’t seem to  apply very well to people experiencing a psychoses, a stroke or other near death experience.

So yes, we need to medicate and help these people, but there is no need to add insult to injury by denying people who have suffered dearly, access to the contents of their experiences beyond reason, or calling them just delusions. And yes, they present a bit of a problem for philosophers, because, when you feel you are completely one with the world around you, who is ‘I’, exactly?

Furthermore, when talking about what it means to be a person, dr. Bolte Taylor feels she has become more than the person she was, through her experience of losing her mind, rather than less. Of course we all feel this is true on a certain gut level, and that is why we gather in rather dark establishments to intoxicate our brains with beverages containing ethanol, or more damaging stuff, and move in unison to drum beats, modern versions of the Shaman beating his drum, to induce trance among the members of his tribe, to get into a mild state of intoxication ourselves and alleviate the weight of our boundaries, the crust of form, society’s formalities, that keep us apart, and become part of a greater ‘I’. Interestingly the culture surrounding these events pays homage to the original traditions seeking a greater ‘I’. I myself believe that my psychoses and dr. Taylors near death experience indeed involved the melting of our private experience into a greater pool of experience, filled with inspiration and enthousiasm in their purest form. ‘All you need is love,‘ as the Beatles already sang long ago. You of course remember, from the history of that band, that love alone is not enough. Inspiration and enthousiasm in their purest form are not good for you: again, poison is in the dose. One also needs sleep and health and a reasonably clean house, to name a few. Not to mention the fact that a certain percentage of experiences with the magical stuff that connects us all are very dark in indeed. For paranoid schizophrenics melting with ‘The whole’ simply means everybody is watching you and tracking your every move. A horrible experience. Likewise, some people have reported hellish near death experiences.

Back to melting into the whole: Dutch publicist Karin Spaink writes, about getting drunk with her friend Blixa BargeldWe drink more sake and talk more. The conversation flows as easily as the sake does. Never a hint of silence, never an empty glass. I am Blixa Bargeld, and I’m getting tipsy. I might need to lay down a few hours before the gig tomorrow and sleep off some of the sake. It’s excellent sake. Here exactly we see the root of the problem: once you become too much dissolved into the ‘greater whole’, and loose the boundaries that represent your ‘I’, you tend to want to stay that way. Which due to the amphibious nature of this world and our bodies in it means, that for all practical purposes, you are f***ed. You see, on the one hand, let’s call it the wet lower half, according to which all the wavelets we call ‘I’ are one ocean, there is Einstein’s famous Energy equals Matter times ‘some constant factor’, which many people interpret as meaning that “all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, and we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively,” as drug loving comedian Bill Hicks only half jokingly told us in the nineties, and our right mind half constantly whispers to us in the background.

On the other hand there is the dry upper half, in which we are all separate: ‘some constant factor’ is equal to the speed of light times itself, which as you might know is a very large number indeed, and represents a ditto boundary between dreams and reality. Now, our brains and our bodies might function a bit like catalytic converters, that can lower this daunting treshold significantly, but, as the very nature of hangovers and the time people take to recover from near death experiences tells us, there are very real things in this world that follow each other causally and sequentially: for instance, the owner of a certain attractive bodily manifestation of the collective consciousness you meet in a bar, may not at all be attracted to your particular genetic configuration. And then there are the morning-afters, the deadlines, the taxi drivers, the closing walls and the ticking clocks, that our left brain has to deal with day by day. We all know what happened to the jolly cricket that danced and sang all summer.

For this reason most people are contented with staying for the greater part of their lives very much themselves, separate persons on the dry half of reality, dipping in their toes in now and then at a party and vicariously enjoying a swim in the wet through various art forms, as Bill Hicks eloquently told us:  “I believe drugs have done good things for us, and if you don’t think drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor, go home and take all your favorite books, videos, albums, tapes, cds…and burn them. Cause, you know what, all those artists and musicians who made that great stuff that has enhanced your lives throughout the years…real f***ing high on drugs.”

I won’t deny it: yes, there are bonanzas in the wet, you could end up being a famous French writer like Baudelaire, or writing ‘Alice in wonderland‘ or ‘Smells like Teen Spirit‘, something collective that we can all identify with. But the wet is also fraught with danger, Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin and very, very many others, they all got caught up in the undertow. Some, like RHCP guitarist John Frusciante, barely survived.  The funny thing is, we look at most people who tried to mind-melt with ‘the whole’ not as less than, but as more then persons. Of course this thing works only one way. You need a special kind of junkie or crazy person to catch the big fish in the wet. Most junkies and loonies will just tell you irrational gibberish as fluid as the content of their misfiring brains, and have a very hard time describing what they experienced, afterwards. Peter Hacker would possibly not consider them to be persons, while they are intoxicated, but I would. They saw and see stuff similar to what the saints and Jim Morrison saw. I believe we can better help these people if we expand our cultural framework, to support and embrace their experiences as well.

Thank you for listening.

excerpts from ‘ALONE – reportings from the isolation chamber’

Posted September 9, 2009 by samgerrits
Categories: Excerpt from book

THE TIPPING POINT – loosing my crust of the rational

It was exactly three months after you and I had broken up, to the day. I came home late from the bar, hung up my coat and walked into my living room. I sat down and turned on the television. It greeted me with a loud hiss, the large screen full of static. For some time already, I had the feeling that something weird was going on with my television. Every time I switched to an empty channel and stared into the static snow for a long time, spontaneously patterns began to emerge. Don’t immediately tell me that that ain’t possible. Look for yourself. Generally, you first start to see a cluster of dots in the chaos. This cluster of dots changes into a swarm of tiny bees, and then that swarm slows down to form a kind of battalion of ants, that marches up and down the screen in geometrical patterns. And while these ants go in diagonals across the screen through the static, generally a trembling snow word appears, in the middle of the screen. You can almost read that word, but not quite. But really, almost, if you look at it from the corner of your eye.

I had been squinting at the screen for a number of days now, but I still didn’t know what the word was, exactly. I presumed that it was something important, so I kept on trying. That night, as I was peering at the unclear letters, considerably drunk, I got a hunch that I had to zap away. I played a bit with my remote control until I ended up on a channel in which the then not defunct a la carte music station `The Box’ was shown, visible in black and white only, through a wall of static. The hissing display of the device called out me. I walked to my TV-set and sat before it with crossed legs. The Box’ music channel worked with clips-on-demand, and as I sat and watched, at the bottom of the screen a list of titles of music videos scrolled, with their performing artists and the associated clip code, that you could request by telephone. Somehow, in that scrolling list of tracks, names and numbers I suddenly recognised a code. As if the staticcy list of letters and cyphers formed the key to a dial-in lock, a spiraling DNA code that slowly unrolled and revealed itself under my very eyes. I only had to touch the right characters on the warm glass to break the code. I used the index fingers of both my hands to point out matching letters and cyphers. It cost absolutely no effort to find the right letter and cypher combinations, I felt like a child that is very good at playing Tetris.

I must have sat in this way in front of the tube for a couple of hours. Every 15 minutes the rolling list of famous names and clip codes stopped, and the logo of `The Box’ music channel appeared on the screen. It was just a black square with the words ‘The box’ in it. At a quarter past four in the morning the scrolling stopped again, and the well-known logo appeared in the static. But this time it said `Out of the Box’. Ah, don’t tell me that that ain’t possible. I have seen it, haven’t I?

‘Out of the box.’ Something or someone was out of a certain box, thanks to me. What genie had I released out of its glass picture bottle? Or perhaps I myself was `Out of the Box’? And if so, what exactly was that `Box’? I had another hunch. I crept back to the couch, grabbed the remote control and zapped along the channels until I found MTV. I went back to sit in front of the flickering screen and watched. Now my task was simple. My hunch told me that I only needed to touch specifically coloured areas in video clips and commercials. At first especially brightly yellow and the red areas fascinated me, but after a while I saw nothing but orange. The colour almost leaked from the screen onto my hands, it was so warm and shiny. I caressed and kissed orange walls and cars in video clips. It was a very pleasant task and I got numerous revelations while I was doing it.

I understood that because of the heightened degree of connectivity between individual forms of consciousness, due to the ever-expanding web of glass fiber cable between us all and rampant mobile communications and digitalisation, our collective unconscious was becoming more self-aware. As a result it manifested itself more clearly on radio, TV and Internet. Video clips were an ideal medium for this higher conscience to express itself, due to the clear, simple archetypes and the high rate of circulation typical to the medium.

I tapped and kissed orange areas on the screen until I saw sparks. When I could no longer go on, I massaged my painful buttocks and my neck and I stood up I. I left the television to its own musings and walked around in my living room in what was except for the light from the TV, complete darkness. I opened all my storing boxes and drawers, as if I was looking something, although did not know what it was. I felt extremely restless. I examined myself in the mirror on the wall. It was a very large mirror with a decorative gilded frame. I only saw the outlines of my body, lit out bluishly against the light of the TV-set. I got another hunch, a pretty strong one this time. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned around on my own axis as fast as I could. When I was back in my old position in front of the mirror again I opened my eyes. My mirror image looked strangely distorted, it was trembling. It remained that way for a couple of seconds.

Then it fell apart and all the bits and pieces started spinning on their axles and fell back onto their old spot. I repeated my little gymnastic mystical trick two or three times. After the fourth time the strange distorted image didn’t fall apart anymore, it remained firmly in place. My mirror image was undulating and I was surrounded by a weird light green mist. I took a look into the living room and realized that all the furniture, the plants and the walls had that same, eerie light green haze about them. I was of course still normally standing in my own living room, but I seriously wondered whether I was still visible.

I gathered that I had discovered a simple method to enter higher dimensions. I tried to jump back to the basic level, the normal world, but no matter how much I jumped up and down, blinked with my eyes or twisted and turned before the mirror, the green mist remained intact. I held up my left hand before my face and studied it. It looked pretty normal. But when I moved it rapidly back and forth before my eyes, instead of one hand I saw as much as twenty hands, which all continued to hang in mid-air in sequence. If I clapped my hands, the sound echoed on and on in my ears for seconds. I got goose bumps all over my body and my hair stood up. I very much hoped I had not marooned myself in this weird other, parallel reality… It would be very bad to be stuck in this world, which was at first sight identical to the one which we all know, but with completely different laws of nature.

You will at this point perhaps wonder if I did not just for a second feel the need to pinch myself, and wonder if the things that were happening to me weren’t very, very strange. I did not feel that need. I underwent the changes in myself and my surroundings without reservation, as someone who discovers, in the floor under the rug of his living room, a secret door that leads to a dimly lit corridor, or like Alice in Wonderland, when she follows the white rabbit down the rabbit hole. I was awake in a dream.

I found out that the repeated images only appeared if I moved rapidly or made too much sound. I decided to avoid this. Bit by bit I started to get used to the odd green mist that hung around everything. I walked over to the kitchen, opened the back door of my house and tiptoed carefully into my night garden. I wanted know how this new world I was in would manifest itself outdoors. Outside, everything looked normal, at first sight. The trees and plants breathed quietly and peacefully under the twinkling stars and the lit night windows. But the sounds were all wrong. Pop music descended from the sky, I heard laughter and voices coming out of the ground and from an open window came the sound of screeching tires. The waxing moon hung low above the houses and bellowed out my name.

I took my key ring out of my trousers pockets, held it up high in the moonlight and looked at it. A light green mist shone around the key’s barbs and made their zigzag shapes undulate. I realized that in this new reality I obviously could not use my house keys. I pondered Alice in Wonderland and decided that, due to the deformed, non-localized mechanics of this higher dimension I got stuck in, trying to fit my keys into any real lock would probably result in a disaster, it would be like throwing them into the sea. I concluded that the inverse therefore also had to be true. For lack of a real sea, I threw my keys over the neighbours’ lattice-work fencing, into their garden. They landed tinkling, somewhere in the darkness between the shrubs. I nodded, satisfied. Everything would be all right now.

THE STORE EPISODE – confusing persons with persons

So, according to MTV, I had to perform orange deeds, break orange laws, in order to get back to the ordinary world. I walked on beyond the bottle pay-desk of the Albert Heijnstein and studied the shelves in the shop. They were filled with orange bottles of soda, packets of orange crisps, crates of beer in orange packaging, all for the seizing. I only had to pay. Pity that I did not have any money on me, me being in my pajamas and all.

And at that moment I realised that breaking laws also means ignoring rules. I took down a random ‘law’ from a shelf of Albert Heijnsteins store, a blue bag of grooved paprika flavored crisps with a large orange ribbon attached to it that said 20% for free! I pulled it open and started to eat. I then took a large orange soft drink bottle, unscrewed it and drank. It was delicious, and for free, and it took me where I wanted to be. Once you understand a system, you can escape it. I broke as many orange laws as I could, opening yet more capsules. I dropped flasks of beer from an orange crate, they scattered in pieces on the tiles of the path, and I emptied bags of orange chips of top of the pool of beer and shards. I emptied the bottle with orange soda onto my creation. When I had finished I grabbed another bag of crisps. I sat on a crate of beer, ate contentedly and admired my handiwork.

And lo and behold, I was served rapidly. Shadow drones immediately gathered around me and my orange act of resistance. They asked me to come along with them at once. Lookie here, now I was getting somewhere. I followed them good naturedly, to a box behind the pay-desk with mirror glass windows, that aroused my curiosity. Perhaps here I would find out how my image, me being the first person to enter this extra-ordinary world, was broadcasted into the ordinary world by means of the mirrors in this place. I was pushed into the booth and planted on an office chair, facing… you!

You didn’t recognise me at first. Your weren’t a pretty girl, in this alternate reality, but a fat man with a red bald head with pulsating veins. But I recognised you in spite of your appearance. I knew it was you, because of your familiar sorrow and your anger. You looked at me in a penetrating way and asked me what I was doing. I grabbed you by the fleshy upper leg and shouted: `Darling! Don’t you recognise me? It’s me, Sam, your boyfriend! We are trapped in a parallel dimension! I broke orange laws and that has brought us together!

You forcefully grabbed me by the collar of my pajama jacket, so that our noses almost touched, and said in a menacing tone that I wasn’t your boyfriend, that you were the manager of the Albert Heijn. I winked at you and smiled. I understood the game you wanted to play. Of course… you had the role of the legitimate owner of Albert Heijnstein’s laws and I was the robber, although you could hardly call what I had done robbery, or could you? All your orange stuff was still present, if you looked at it logically. Perhaps on a somewhat lower wavelength, but everything was absolutely still there! Even the few mouthfuls of soda and crisps that I had eaten, still sat in my abdomen, in your Heijnstein.

But I decided to play along with you in this owner-versus-thief algorithm, because you obviously wanted me to. We had an extremely pleasant conversation in which especially you acted brilliantly. Your face became more and more red, while you tried to find out my name and my address. Of course I didn’t give you those. First you already knew them and secondly that was exactly the game. I said that I came from the ‘other side’, because I had seen that video on MTV so often that it had to be a message from you, that was what we had agreed on, didn’t you remember? In the meantime, straight through your red red face of anger, your need for help and resolution became more and more clear. In the end I could no longer contain myself. I got up and gave you a warm cuddle, with a big sloppy kiss right on top of your sweating bald head. You shouted out, as if I had beaten you: ‘Ouch! Stop it! Stop that immediate, you are hurting me!

DEATH IN A CELL – reinventing time and space

The van’s motor started and we drove away. I felt as if we were driving around in a spiral, but we eventually turned into a street that I sort of recognised and we stopped, somewhere in a city that looked a lot like my hometown Utrecht. I uttered a big sigh of relief. Fortunately we had not ended up in some parallel ‘Amsterdam’ or even further. Travelling long distances from your starting point in space while you’re exploring other dimensions gives rise to huge problems when you want to return.

An iron fence with heavy pickets swung open and we drove into a patio that was full of police cars. The officers got off and helped me out of the van. I left red footprints behind me on the yellow linoleum of the police station. The glass splinters in my feet did not hurt at all. Doors opened and doors slammed shut as we walked through long grey corridors. I assumed that these corridors were a type of `worm holes’, interdimensional tunnels that the orange-laws-police used to bring me closer to home, to the real world. The corridors became wider and wider, until we ran into a broad, steel door, painted in deep blue. The door swung open and I was kindly pushed inside, whereupon the steel behind me slammed shut. The space I was in had no windows. The walls were made of rough grey bricks.

I sat myself down on a mattress and inspected my surroundings. The chamber was empty, the floor was covered with yellow linoleum. A pale light shone from the ceiling and was reflected in a chromium steel toilet bowl that was anchored to the wall. The walls were rough and unrelenting. I stood up and walked towards the steel door. I spat, and with my spittle running down the door I wrote the letter – h -, with a line across the top. This was the symbol of the scythe, the instrument of father time. This chamber was a temple for the god of the End, Saturn, whom the Greeks call Kronos. I had broken all laws and therefore I had been put in this place, beyond the final door.

This was the underworld. The only thing that I could do, in this outer darkness, was lament and collect scrapes of door paint under my nails. My pounding at the door and my screams were not heard here. There had been some glitch, my spirit could not find the way home, apparently. I suspected that I had actually died, back in the real world. This was the heart of the pyramid, this was the king’s chamber. An enormous sadness overpowered me. I lay down on my back on the mattress and felt as if I was being mummified. My face fell in and my lips shriveled, causing my teeth to lie exposed. I stared at the ceiling with empty eye sockets.

A hard click sounded. A square window opened in the blue door to become a small horizontal plank. Light shone into my cell. A pale hand placed cellophane packed slices of bread on the small plank and put a plastic cup with hot, steaming fluid next to it. I went towards the light and carefully took the food off the plank. The thin, pale hand pushed the window shut again.

See, I knew it! Already sacrificial offerings were being made to me. Perishable organic material, packed in a transparent shroud. By consuming this dead matter, I would make a step towards my final release. I unwrapped the soft bread out of the crackling cellophane and wolfed it down. The hot fluid turned out to be coffee, I held it at a slight angle and created a trail of coffee drops on the floor, from the walls to the door, from the door to the mattress and from the mattress to the toilet, as a dream time song line for my soul. Hopefully it would help me to find some kind of way home. The cellophane wrappings I took to the toilet. I placed the empty wrappings carefully on the water surface, to double as transparent boats for the passage of my soul.

While I was busy with my symbolic deeds, I realized that the chromium steel plate by which the toilet bowl was anchored to the wall, was actually a magic mirror. I steered the cellophane boats in the toilet bowl water with my fingers and watched as my face changed correspondingly in the undulating metal surface. The movements of my hands in the toilet water determined the changes in my face. This toilet was the nozzle of the final pipe. If I entered this pipe, it would mean my final destination and release through the death of my soul.

I was hoping that this combined metal-and-water mirror also acted as a camera that would broadcast my distress to you. I felt you were so close to me at that moment, and I hoped that you could really see me, from behind the walls. I slapped one hand flat onto the mirror metal and stirred the water with the other, I whispered your name with my lips close to water surface, I shouted out your name into the toilet bowl and churned the water, so that it splashed over the edge. I made the most beautiful angelic faces and the ugliest demon masks that I could conjure up in the distorting mirror. I begged you to come and help me, and in the end I rolled up my sleeve and thrust my arm deep into the toilet bowl. I reached with my fingers under water into the pipe, to feel if your hand was there to grab me, and to pull me through the pipes back into the ordinary world. To help me to get born again, out of this stone and chromium steel uterus. But nothing happened.

I dried my wet arm on my pajama jacket, lay down dizzily on the ground and tried to understand why nothing had happened. I fell asleep and awoke with a most terrible thirst. I saw the empty coffee cup lying on the floor and licked drops out of it with my finger. I was so thirsty. I put the cup in the bowl and filled it with toilet water. It tasted good. I realized that drinking from the toilet was an excellent operation, because it turned the laws of this space upside down nicely, and it tasted rather well.

WHITE OUT – isolation chamber summary

I have sat and let my mouth go empty onto my mattress, playing with the long threads of spittle. I have driveled in my hands and made prints on the white walls, which evaporated rapidly in the heat. I have let my chemically induced flood of saliva leak into all three cups of water, exactly enough to fill them up to a quarter of a centimeter under the rim. I have worn out walking tracks in the warm green floor. I have protested, by putting my plastic covered mattress upright and letting it fall, slamming onto the concrete floor. The plastic sheeting has beaten uncountable times with a loud bang against the concrete.

The days in the isolation chamber are long, very long, when you are no longer crazy. At first you dream up of a lot of things you can do, but after a couple of days the light slowly fades. I have imagined how fireguards and night watches must experience the same drudgery. At the end of the day there is only the rut. You look outside and make coffee, you make coffee and look outside. You walk back and forth. You wait. You walk forth and back. You wait. Until the waiting becomes you.

I have stared at the walls, dreaming of chestnut blossoms. I have stared at the walls, dreaming of colours. I have stared at the walls, dreaming of the walls. Until I dreamed only in white, only in white. White is your colour, the colour of you, my love. White as the chest of a silver gull on a lamp post, white as the reflecting sun on an Opel Astra. Don’t forget your sunglasses.