Betti Alver (born 23 November, 1906; died 19 June, 1989), pictured above in a photograph probably taken circa 1912
Not a Dream
Not the dream of a disordered brain
or a victim’s soft tender shell –
but a colossally grand hotel
that’s my skeletal frame.
Stairways, lifts and doors leading in,
passageways, mirrors and halls.
I’m an intruder in my own skin,
and it all utterly appals.
The lights go out, the night revives.
Creeping like cats to their capers,
out come the guests with forged papers,
foreign tongues and razor-sharp knives.
Like chalk in my gullet, fear
shrivels up every cry of warning.
If only I could learn before morning
where, oh where, do we all go from here?
—translated from the Estonian (translator unknown)
Our brains simply weren’t built to understand the fabric of reality at the very small scales (quantum mechnics) or the very large (the cosmos). As Blaise Pascal put it, ‘Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.’
Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don’t want to go to Montana. How do I know I really want to go and it isn’t just some neurons firing or something? Maybe it’s just an accidental flash in the medulla and suddenly there I am in Montana and I find out I really didn’t want to go there in the first place. I can’t control what happens in my brain, so how can I be sure what I want to do ten seconds from now, much less Montana next summer? It’s all this activity in the brain and you don’t know what’s you as a person and what’s some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire.
Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.
There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save.
“fMRI images and images from other current functional neuroimaging technologies are not direct images of brain activity, but theory-laden representations of the outcomes of statistical analyses performed upon data about metabolic activity in the brain gathered in highly controlled settings when subjects respond to often very artificial and carefully hand-crafted questions.”
—-Says Nicole Vincent in Neuroimaging and Responsibility Assessments
Is there no way out of the mind?