WINDOW ABOVE THE BRAIN
AND THE MAGIC THEATER
–for Tim Leary, after reading his autobiography, Flashbacks–
OCTOBER 31, 2011. I have written essays that make it clear the brain can’t be the seat of thought if you want to retain the concept of free will. It’s a rather easy argument.
The activity of the brain is electrical and chemical and biological. Messages flow. Patterns are established. The brain does what it does. Claiming it entirely rules the choices and decisions we make and the ideas we entertain, we’re left with no “we” at all. No “I” at all. Just enslaved process.
I fully understand how hard it is for people to swallow this analysis. They want to stop with the brain. They want to say the brain must be the beginning of our existence, the fountainhead.
But I’m not here to argue, this time. I assume and know the mind is not the brain. I assume and know there is an “I” independent from the brain.
Agree, disagree, it doesn’t matter.
What goes on in the mind is a strategic operation based on a cultural fixation. That fixation prefers one point of view over many points of view—as if having one point of view—strong, stable, unwavering—is far better, in all respects, than having many.
Well, the dichotomy is false to begin with.
This is what the Magic Theater is all about.
Improvised dialogues between two people who play many roles and switch roles opens up landscapes which would otherwise remain closed. (See my blog archive at www.nomorefakenews.com for many articles about the Magic Theater.)
In fact, one effect of these dialogues is the strengthening and widening of the one point of view with which you handle reality on a daily basis.
Many authors, including Jung, Hesse, JL Moreno, Perls, Leary, to mention a few modern explorers, have indicated or implied that human beings can expand their perception by, to put it blandly, adjusting their line of sight to include more perspectives.
The Magic Theater achieves this in a remarkable way.
The brain does not have perspective. It runs. It can switch tracks, it can emphasize certain pathways, it can de-certify routes, but it can’t create points of view or roles. You do that.
History points out that wherever civilization and freedom experienced upward swings, there was theater. In ancient Greece, in Rome, in the emergence of a European society liberated from the hold of the Church, theater flourished.
The kernel of theater is the idea of proliferating roles. In dialogue.
This is a brilliant process that transcends stifling routine and repetition locked into “the one and only role.”
In order for the mind to play out one and only one role, it has to erect walls and ceilings and floors—it has to confine interior space. It has to ignore many suggestive messages. It has to pretend imagination is an unwelcome guest. It has to reject an inherent sense of theatricality. To achieve these objectives, it has to interpret symbols in the narrowest possible way.
It has to export thoughts to the brain, in hopes that the working of that organ will collaborate to produce an artifact of extremely limited power and range.
And this, of course, is where the problem arises.
A human being has glimpses of his own power—but when his one and only point of view, the one that seems to guarantee his best chance of survival and success, is operating to dampen power, the potential of life is squashed at the starting gate.
When I say power, I mean creative action, invention, improvisation, spontaneity, paranormal capacities, magic.
Huddled in the bunker of the one and only point of view, the role that excludes all other roles, the human being is caught in his own net. And the neural net of the brain does, in fact, cooperate. So the psychic component marries the biological and the chemical, and then the chance of escape seems to hover around zero.
Fortunately, this is an illusion. Despite its convincing qualities, the illusion can be overturned rather quickly.
In the Magic Theater, as I’ve written before, the range and nature of roles is unlimited. And utilizing JL Moreno’s brilliant practice of switching roles in dialogue, the effect of this kind of improvised theater is titanic.
Obstructive emotions which seemed to be permanent and “of the eternal human condition” are transformed into pure and available energy.
The action of living itself comes to resemble, more and more, theater. Wide open theater.
And the brain cooperates with THIS. Just as it cooperated with the tied and bound dictatorship of the one central and exclusive and inhibiting point of view.
For those who want this expressed as physical metaphor—all the feedback loops are changed. Whereas A led to B and B to C, now Z enters the stream, along with X and Q, and so A can lead to C. Or A can stand on its own. B can find partnership with L. This is not a sketch of chaos. On the contrary, the new pathways are far easier and smoother than the old ones.
Using other language, metaphysics, ontology, epistemology are revolutionized. The Magic Theater isn’t a mere shuffling and reorganization of ideas. Every frozen “ultimate” is dissolved. The seeker who is reaching for the final ground or heaven of consciousness discovers that his quest, which was being carried out along a line of sight produced by his central point of view (role), now takes on a wholly new character.
Instead of advancing, as it were, through caves of a journey mapped out by sages, he is inventing futures. And this invention multiplies new consciousness, which turns out not to have been the substance of a great container, but rather the intimate, non-material, experiential effluent derived directly from creative action, which is to say, Art.
Instead of viewing The Search as the effort to compile and discover what was already there, hidden from sight, the seeker (who is now creating) is making something new, and then something more new. This is what “the expansion of consciousness” means.
For all its value, the one and only point of view (role) is a prison cell. It proves to be that as time goes by, as a life is lived. The essential flexibility and joy of a point of view is lost.
One could read the entire history of Western philosophy as an attempt to posit a final landscape of reality, formulated to escape from the one and only role while continuing to occupy that very role. A series of messages smuggled out of a prison, in hopes that somewhere, someone will understand the dilemma and solve it.
But the answer was there all along. It was the hardened role that was the problem.
The actor is cast in a play. Long rehearsals ensue. On opening night, the reviews are positive. So the play continues its run. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, the play survives. Old audiences forget it, but new audiences arrive and fill the seats. The actor has his role, his character. He performs. He maintains. He no longer has to devote an iota of thought or practice to the part. It is in his bones. It is assisted by his brain. He shows up on stage every night and earns his paycheck. Year after year.
Is it better than working for a living? It IS working for a LIVING.
It does feed back to the actor a bit of magic. He decides this is enough, because what else is there?
There are universes without end. But he will have to make them.
And making them is a direct consequence of engaging in a far different kind of theater.
The other day, I put it to a friend this way: think of a role that’s impossible. Think of a role that is so absurd, no one can play it. Think of one that makes you fall off the chair and laugh because it is ridiculous and impossible and because no one in the history of the universe has ever played it. And I’ll think of one, too. And then, for a half-hour, we’ll play those roles, with each other. We’ll speak from them. We’ll have a conversation. And then we’ll switch and talk for another half-hour. I guarantee you the world will never be quite the same again.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, then you need a little Magic Theater in your blood.
I see the upcoming first workshop of the Magic Theater as an historic occasion, a launch of something entirely new. For the past 50 years, we’ve been teetering on the edge of realizing that civilizations, as we turn them out in the factories of our minds, are deficient at the core. Yes, they provoke and embody advancing technologies that benefit us. But what is that technology for? Is it only to provide more comfort and ease? Is that the very best we can do?
Or are we in the process of fulfilling what Bucky Fuller anticipated? A created platform from which we can embark on new levels of exploration. The economic and political systems we’ve invented seem to legislate confusion and stagnation, in the long run. Whether the systems are to blame or whether we should point fingers at our leaders—I’ve covered that territory in many different ways. I don’t need to revisit it here.
In any case, we have made fortresses of our existences. We’ve put up the walls. We’ve settled on a middle space of individual survival. We’ve done this for so long we’re sure it is the right path, the only path. But we know something is wrong.
In these civilizations, what we really want is the fluidity of theater and the adventure it promises. We want open possibilities. And this comes down to character, to the character each one of us will play—and the dissatisfaction, not with the content of that character so much as with having to choose only One.
That’s what we’ve come to see. And so we look for ways out. We look for answers.
In ancient Athens, local residents were recruited to play the roles written by the great tragedians. So a man could come home from a performance one night, to his wife, and she could ask him how it went, and he could say, “Well, I murdered my father and slept with my mother,” and they could laugh at the well-worn joke, go to bed, and make a child.
And today, we can improvise hundreds and thousands of roles with each other, in this thing I call the Magic Theater. And then life will open its doors (which were never really closed) and we can look at the multi-dimensional future, and instead of merely thinking about extraordinary possibility, we can invent it and live it.
The brain will comply. And the mind will blow new energy at its own coagulated wish-machine that has spun out the first moves of new characters and new stages, only to suspend its activity because of an apprehension about what the culture can absorb.
But we are the culture. Each one of us is a culture in the process of infinite invention.
Every student of philosophy has studied the story of the cave told by Plato. In it, humans sit in the dark and look at shadows cast on the walls, taking them to be reality. But then they walk outside, finally, and see the true objects whose shadows they had accepted as ultimates. I would change that story. The shadows in the cave are characters, roles, parts, points of view, half-imagined. And when, at last, these roles are acted and dialogues are engaged, the walls dissolve and space opens up, limitless, and the trudging journey along a narrow path of life is gone.
Contact me to inquire about the December 10-11 Magic Theater workshop in San Diego.