Each person has an individual epistemological paradigm that constitutes what s/he considers to be “normal.” According to much of Western psychology, these paradigms exist in our unconscious minds. Phenomena outside of these paradigms are often viewed as strange, frightening or absurd when they impinge on our conscious minds. However, I believe that effective literature, art, film, music, comedy and magic gently lure or tease us outside of our “normals” in ways that are not found to be excessively strange, terribly frightening or patently absurd. For what is astonishment and amusement but the assimilation of the marginally unexpected? 

Through the work of psychologists, philosophers, neurologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, French theorists, the Frankfurt School, Buddhist texts as well as some derivative “New Age” modalities, I will develop hypotheses regarding the unconscious mind, how it functions, what it contains, and how it relates to the conscious mind. Then I will analyze how Westerners interact with systems of thought such as science, medicine, language, capitalism, consumerism, religion, spirituality, romantic love, sex, education, politics to construct seemingly coherent individual epistemological paradigms that constitute what each person considers to be normal. Ultimately I will examine how writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, comedians and magicians exploit the foibles of perception and limitations of consciousness to create pivotal artworks and spectacular performances that shine light on paradoxes our conscious minds cannot reconcile and our unconscious minds repress, but then release through astonishment and laughter.

Here is how I plan to examine our notion of the unconscious and relate it to literature, art, film, music, comedy and magic: 

Introduction: How human consciousness is defined

  • How did consciousness evolve?
  • What is apodeictic and why? 
  • What are the attributes and limitations of consciousness? 
  • What are the hard problems between neurology and epistemology? 
  • Are there unprofitable questions regarding consciousness?

Chapter 1. The unconscious mind 

  • What is the unconscious and how does it relate to the conscious? 
  • How has the unconscious previously been defined (pre-Freud, Freud, post-Freud) and what appear to be the most precise definitions of it? 
  • What does the unconscious include and not include? 
  • What are the supposed reasons that thoughts move from conscious to unconscious and why? For example, right now (before you read the remainder of this sentence) the rules of chess, the shape of the continent of Africa, and the address of the home you lived in when you were 14 years-old are in your unconscious mind; when I mention them they move into your conscious mind.

Chapter 2. Neurology 

  • Do neurologists believe there is an unconscious? If so, where does it reside? In my workshops I show a video of indoor cats bouncing out of their skins at the sight of cucumbers because cucumbers resemble snakes, which they have never seen. It appears that there are some things in our biology we share with other animals that contribute to our survival and reside in our unconscious minds; then there is obviously a world of difference that separates human beings from animals once our survival needs are met.
  • How do neurologists believe that each human being learns what is “normal” to him or her?

Chapter 3. Philosophy

  • Are there categories of consciousness and do they lend any insights into the unconscious? 
  • Kant proposed space and time as the basic categories into which human consciousness carves reality; then under space falls myriad subcategories such as distance, colors, shapes, smells, tastes, textures, etc. Following Kant, how have Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and other philosophers thought that human consciousness divides and chunks the world?

Chapter 4. Linguistics

  • What are Chomsky’s ideas about language acquisition and do they provide any insights in the unconscious? 
  • What do other linguists believe is the role of the unconscious in language acquisition?
  • What is the relationship between thought and language? 
  • Do spoken and written language operate differently in consciousness?

Chapter 5. Psychology

  • Freud created our modern notion of the unconscious and Lacan refined that notion. What did both men think was the best way to understand the unconscious? 
  • What did Lacan mean by “The unconscious is structured like a language”? and “The unconscious is the discourse of the Big Other”? 
  • How did Freud and Lacan believe that psychoanalysis treated or worked with the unconscious? 
  • What is Jung’s idea of the Collective Unconscious and is there any scientific proof for the archetypes that he believed pervade humanity?
  • How do contemporary psychologists understand the unconscious?

Chapter 6. Sociology

  • What are the most prevalent topics people discuss and why? 
  • Is there an unconscious dialectic inherent in the way we human beings converse and if so why? 
  • How do people learn to be concerned about the topics that they are concerned about? 
  • Are there categories such as work, vacation, retirement, school, clothing, shelter, food, sleep, travel, sex, and money that people in our culture discuss more prevalently than people from other cultures discuss?

Chapter 7. Anthropology

  • What are “systems of thought”? 
  • How has language evolved over the past few millennia and is it changing in new ways because of technology? 
  • What cases can be made regarding individuals from different societies thinking differently? 
  • How have our concerns evolved or changed over the past few millennia?

Chapter 8. Buddhism

  • Buddhists seem to have general psychological insights into how human consciousness operates: what, if any, is the Buddhist understanding of the unconscious?

Chapter 9. The New Age

  • What can be learned about consciousness and the unconscious from New Age psychologies à la Ken Wilbur, Werner Erhard, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Tony Robbins or is it all glib bunk?

Chapter 10. Literature, art, film, music, comedy and magic  

  • What can be learned about the unconscious from literature? Lacan believed that Joyce was able to portray the unconscious in “Finnegan’s Wake.” Is this accurate and what does it mean if it is?
  • What can be learned about the unconscious from paintings such as those by Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock et al?
  • What can be learned about the unconscious from films such as those by Tarkovsky, Malick, Goddard, Bergman et al?
  • What can be learned about the unconscious from jazz?
  • What can be learned about the unconscious from the ways that jokes amuse us? 
  • What can be learned about the unconscious from the ways that magic tricks deceive us?

Conclusions

Although fish have little insight regarding the water in which they swim, the way that jokes, magic, art, film and literature astonish and amuse offers insights into how human consciousness functions. Inhabitants of the United States of America enjoy more safety, freedom and privileges than almost any other culture that has ever existed. And yet, there are twin epidemics of depression and anxiety plaguing our nation and contributing to our horrifying opioid addiction problem as well as our relatively high suicide rate. There is no definitive “User’s Manual” for the mind. Similarly there are no definitive understandings regarding the malaise that is particular to human beings. My wish is that this book lends some comforting narratives regarding why we think what we think and how we can make healthier conscious decisions that will help us think in the most interesting, most compassionate, most loving, and most joyous ways possible.