Qualities of Altered Consciousness: Positive Side Effects?

I’ve recently, like most cancer patients, been concerned with the effects & side effects of medication. Side effects, the way we usually use the term, are unwanted, negative. But over the last couple of weeks, being treated for the crack in my pelvis with morphine & steroids & a bone strengthener, I have noticed periods of the day when I feel . . . good. Not high, just good mentally. Sometimes this is just the spacy sort of consciousness good for watching YouTube science videos, but sometimes, as this evening, the state of mind gave rise to a poem. Often, my poems begin with an idea, but this just began with a couple of images from today’s NY Times online Science section, one about the voicebox of a prehistoric bird, the other about a Saturn-like object somewhere 400 light years away. The rest was just a matter of constructing language as it constructed itself around a philosophical question–series of questions–I’d discussed with my friend Chris. It’s not that the insights are out of the ordinary, but, doing what a poet is supposed to do, I may have helped find some language to refract off the ideas in a useful way. I like the notion of refraction becauses it confuses the tendency toward making binary oppositions. I have no idea which drugs might be tweaking which neurons, or whether that matters.

Afternoon Phenomenology

Aware of sunshine, trees, drifting clouds through window on my right. Sitting at computer. Hand on mouse. Doing something or going somewhere online. focused attention. Eyes close. Instantly inside a dream narrative that has the feel of having been going on for a while, though not always (so far as I can tell) the same narrative. Defuse attention. How long? A few seconds to a minute best estimate. Wake up. Dream narrative unavailable to consciousness. I can do this many times over the course of an afternoon hour. The affective color of this experience–conscious & unconscious parts taken together–is neutral to mildly pleasant.

Note: About ten years ago, while taking a prescribed sleep drug, I had a couple of frightening, anxiety-inducing experiences in which I felt myself to be simultaneously asleep & awake. That is, I was doing something in waking life while at the same time doing something else entirely unrelated in a dream or dream-like state of mind. (These experiences took place during the daytime, when the zolpidem was supposed to have cleared my system.) The “double exposures” had a dark, negative affect, even long after they had passed & I was merely recalling them.

There is No Science of Consciousness; Or, Talking Animals

What follows is either a piece of grammatical / ontological speculation, or a shaggy dog story1–probably the latter. I was reading this report of a conference on the nature of consciousness in the NY Times when it occurred to me that there can be no “science of consciousness” because science is a product of consciousness. We can & do have consciousness of science, because science is a product of consciousness–an aspect–not the other way around. Maybe it’s just a trick of grammar & cannot be generalized, but it’s a trick that reveals something important. One does not say “the science of earth” for Geology (though we might well say Earth Science, which is itself revealing); nor does one say “the science of animals” for Zoology. Should one consider nouns like geology & zoology as highly compressed forms of apposition? If so, what does that imply? And why has no one yet proposed Consciousology as a name for this new science?

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  1. Scouting around for a brief definition of the phrase shaggy dog story, I found Wikipedia straightforward but appreciated the compact irony of the Urban Dictionary: “A joke, usually long, with a silly premise, often involving talking animals.”