Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

How to Crack Eggs from the Inside

    The first thing to be remembered is that when radio became radio-active, it turned into TV ... and something valuable was lost.  There was a time at the outset when it was thought that the new thing was radio-with-pictures -- and that is all that TV was.  Then there was a period when things were being done on TV that had never been done before, and it became a creative adventure.  Finally, however, profit and habit and conformity took over and TV got squared away and turned into just one more Box.

    In the same way, we can't anticipate what will be put aside when the psyche becomes psychoactive.  For awhile, we will take the new way of thinking for the same old way of thinking, but with whistles and bells.  Then we will get the hang of it, and new things will become possible that were never possible before.  Eventually, though, we will lose sight of our purposes and turn what was creative into formula and rote, and the psychoactive way of thinking and doing will become an icon and a dead lump and an impediment.

    That is what has happened during the past few centuries to the process of reason.  The origins of reason in mystical insight and irrational practices are now forgotten.  The one-time fruitfulness of reason has found its limits and turned into hairsplitting.  The institutions of reason rule society -- but to no higher purpose beyond maintaining themselves in power.  Being a reasonable person is now a minimum expectation of anyone whom a policeman might question.  And yet, it isn't necessary to look very far to see what kind of nearsightedness, falsity, fragmentation, selfishness and greed have been fostered by life in the Age of Reasons.

    When his reputation for unreliable behavior and ridiculous excuses caught up with the Old Space Ranger and he was divested of his sinecure, he was forced to take up living on the streets, sleeping on a subway grating and eating whatever came to hand.

    One day he found a discarded mirror.  It was pitted and had a crack running through it.  But the Old Space Ranger picked it up and stared into it, apparently delighted with what he was seeing there.

    "And just what are you smirking about?" his companions in thrift and simplicity demanded.

    He said, "I suddenly became aware of how good I look with this duelling scar and these beauty spots."

    To be psychostatic is not to have choices.

    One step toward becoming psychoactive is to choose to make choices.  Initially, this can be done by appointing an inner arbiter whose job it is to keep track of all you say and do and think, and who has instant and irrevocable power to decide which thoughts and statements and actions aren't worth repeating.

    From the standpoint of the psychostatic, psychoactivity may well appear stupid or eccentric.

    Some youngsters wanted to get the better of the Old Space Ranger by stealing his hubcaps.  So they called him over and pointed to a tree and said, "There's a tree that nobody can climb."

    "Any of you could climb it if you know the method," said the Old Space Ranger.  "I'll show you how."

    However, when he began to climb, he didn't leave his wheels behind.  He took them with him.

    Disappointed at this, they cried, "You don't need your wheels in a tree."

    The Old Space Ranger called back, "I believe in being prepared.  Maybe there's a road up here."

    Belief is a poor substitute for experience.

    An eight-year-old may say fervently that he doesn't like dill pickles and mean it, but until he suspends  his prejudices against seeds and warty bumps and actually tastes a pickle, he isn't going to know for sure.

    Psychoactivity is not achieved through belief, but rather through recognition.

    The Old Space Ranger was viewing a wonderful garden, with rare herbs and beautiful flowers and trees in multiplicity and profusion.

    "Do you think there could ever be another garden as magnificent as this one?" he was asked.

    "I doubt it," the Old Space Ranger said.  "Think of how unlikely a thing it was for all these different plants to come together this way, with just the right amount of sunshine and moisture, all supporting each other's existence.  It would be too much to expect that an accident of that kind could happen twice."

    To become psychoactive, it is necessary to detach vision from objects and surfaces.  Begin looking for discontinuities and gaps.  With dislocalized vision, it is possible to see that holes exist in everything:

    Brick walls have holes.  Piano keyboards have holes.  There are holes in perception and holes in the fossil record.  Math has holes.  There are holes in all of the sciences and in between them.  Every word that is uttered and every story that is told has holes in it.

    The holes are where the action is.

    The Old Space Ranger crashed a ball given by the Emperor on the planet Nashua.  He rode up to the palace on a donkey and right inside, brazening his way through with a claim that he and his donkey were a costume.

    Once inside, however, he gave himself away.  Swept up by the music, he began to waltz around the floor with the donkey.

    He was stopped and asked to account for himself.

    Coming to his senses, the Old Space Ranger said, "I am only exercising good manners.  There is a rule, isn't there, that you should dance with the one who brought you?"

    Psychoactivity is not observable in what stands still, but in what moves.  A young Bob Dylan wrote of the need he felt "t' make new sounds out of old sounds an' new words out of old words."

    Artists who don't repeat themselves but always make new are examples of how psychoactivity is performed.  Their example is most fruitfully followed not by imitation but through learning what activity is and becoming active.

    The Old Space Ranger was given a recipe for pate by a friend.  But before he could arrive home from the market, a scavenger swooped down, snatched the package of liver he was carrying, and flew off with it.

    The Old Space Ranger shook his fist after the wretched creature.  "You may have the meat," he cried, "but I still have the recipe!"

    Facts are good servants but make bad masters.

    Facts are fickle.  They come and they go.  They have no loyalty and limited horizons.  Facts are vain and quarrelsome and egotistical.  Many facts aren't facts at all, but imposters, and it can be difficult to tell the difference.

    Subordinate yourself to fact and sooner or later you will be played for a fool.

    The alternative is to employ fact, respect it and give it its due, but keep it in its place.  If you know what your business is, good, true and useful facts will go out of their way to make themselves known and be of service to the work at hand.

    One way to begin to demonstrate psychoactivity is to attempt the impossible and succeed.

    The Old Space Ranger came from a world where people only did what they believed it was possible to do.  As a youngster, he first manifested his difference from others by knitting a slice of cake.

    "How did you do that?" the authorities demanded.

    "Uh -- through great effort."

    But they couldn't imagine how effort could ever produce such a result.  And they asked him again.

    "Practice, practice, practice?" he said.

    But that answer wasn't held to be acceptable, either.  So they asked him for a third time.

    "I can't say," he said.

    Since he couldn't properly account for himself, they threw him off the planet.

    For the psychostatic, some things are completely incompatible with other things.  They are right.

    To the psychoactive, everything that exists is connected to everything else.   They're correct, too.

    The question is how to bridge the gap.

    Developing a sense of humor helps.  So does having the ability to live in a state of ambiguity.

    When the Old Space Ranger returned to his home planet after his years of roaming around the Empire, he set himself up as a teacher.  But such was the suspicion with which cosmic travelers were regarded that he was unable to attract any students.

    Eventually, however, a brave inquirer ventured to approach him and ask what he had to teach.

    "I offer instruction in how to crack eggs from the inside," said the Old Space Ranger grandly.

    "But that's not possible!" the questioner said.  "How do you do it?"

    "By means of great effort and much practice."

    "Well, then, show me how."

    "It's not that easy," said the Old Space Ranger.  "Anyone I give instruction to has first to satisfy a qualifying precondition."

    "What is that?"

    "He must show me a something that is nothing, and a nothing that is everything."

    "That's impossible!"

    "After the first impossibility, you'll find that the next one comes easier," the Old Space Ranger said helpfully.

    The inquirer went away convinced that the Old Space Ranger was a fraud, and told everyone so.  And thus it went with all who asked.  Everybody, that is, but one, a fool so simple that he didn't know what was possible and what was not.

    When the Old Space Ranger set forth his condition, without pause for thought, the simpleton showed him a finger.

    "Ah," said the Old Space Ranger.  "A real student at last.  You are accepted."

    Now someone happened to be watching this exchange, and he thought he saw an opportunity for advantage.  So he approached the Old Space Ranger and held up his finger, too.

    The Old Space Ranger shook his head.  "Sorry.  That was the right answer last time.  It's not the right answer this time."

    "But I did just what he did!" the man protested.

    "Ah, yes," said the Old Space Ranger.  "The difference is that when he held up his finger, that was a correct response.  However, when you held up your finger, you were just holding up your finger."

    At the proper moment, the simpleton who had been accepted as a student asked the Old Space Ranger, "How do you crack eggs from the inside?"

    "Oh, that's easy enough," the Old Space Ranger said.  "The first step is to imagine that everything which surrounds you is the inside of an egg."

    "Yes," said the fool.

    "Then -- without knowing exactly what it is -- you must concentrate all your attention and all your aspiration on that which lies on the other side of the shell."

    "Yes, yes."

    "Then you locate a weak point, and begin to peck."

    Awareness is not activity.

    Activity is not movement.

    Movement is not direction.

    Direction is not arrival.

    What you have to do, see that you do it.

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Written 1992.  Posted July 2007.

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