A thoroughly modern man; looking inside, acting outside.

“Outside consciousness there rolls a vast tide of life which is perhaps more important to us than the little isle of our thoughts which lies within our lives”   E.S Dallas 1866

Poets have been good at recognising the depth and power of the human unconscious,  and have written exceptionally moving and resonant lines that help us to some recognition of this.  It is this apparent paradox that is brought into the light by Timothy D Wilson, a social psychologist and a professor at the University of Virginia.    He has written a convincing book detailing how our conscious judgments and actions are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing who we are.  Our adaptive unconscious is the real master , and the conscious is really only the tail.  We think we are the tail wagging the dog, but it isn’t so.  His book ‘ Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious’ explains this understanding.  This newly considered appreciation of the importance of the unconscious has far-reaching consequences for policy makers and social commentators.  If we understand how our mind operates, we are more able to effect change to behaviours, and thus create more healthy outcomes for ourselves and for our societies.  Wilson demonstrates this in a very short lecture on video at the RSA, where he cites four simple cases that could benefit from early intervention of  behaviour change.  As Wilson himself quotes,  ‘Do Good, Be Good’ from Aristotle. 

To return to the beginning, I think I have been affected by poets revealing these same truths to me all my life,  and in some strange inexplicable manner their words reveal solace and comfort and reassurance in a world that often appears incomprehensible and even hostile.  I don’t always understand the whole meaning behind the words of these poems, but I do feel their music, their life and their truth.  I approach much of my life in a similar manner,  from a position of instinctual understanding rather than from a more rigorously attained intellectual understanding.  It is both a strength and a flaw, two sides of the same coin. Thus I cannot help posting an old favourite of mine which demonstrates this poetic understanding of Wilson’s truth.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
                           A persona che mai tornasse al mondo
                           Questa fiamma staria sensa piu scosse.
                           Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
                           Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero
                           Sensa tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window

panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

.      .      .      .      .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

.      .      .      .      .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald]

brought in upon a platter
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and

snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.’

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the

sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that

trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns

on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
‘That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant at all.’

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon

the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Advertisements

I like to hear from you, so tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s