“You are preemptively grieving your lost PhD. That is melancholy.”
– Said to me by a friend
There are times when worry slithers a spiral up and down my whole being, blinding me from reality, and nearly suffocating and consuming me. And yet, I have to respect the place from which this worry comes, which is a profound care.
When I was a sophomore in high school, one of my psychology teachers told me, “You’ll make a great PhD student one day.” We laughed, and I felt that thinking so far into the future seemed absurd, and then her face turned serious and she said, “No, really. Keep going.”
My vision of what I would like my life to be, and the kind of person I would like to be, centers around this enthusiastic conveying of knowledge and ideas in an environment that thrives on skepticism and wonderment. I want to catch people on a whim of wonderment and play with a puzzle riddling within their head until it integrates information in a new way to generate creative insight, and I think I could do that. That’s when I’ll feel like I am most ‘at home’ with being myself in the world, I think.
Already, I am exploring. I tape record myself reading from textbooks, practicing prosody and fast-reading with a beat and a character that evokes the language in an expressive, intriguing way. It actually helps me understand the literature, and it makes it fun. I teach my roommates and friends about ideas that are slowly tracing their paths synergistically in my mind, even when I know that I have not quite reached any concrete conclusions. I pretend sometimes that I am already where I want to be, and I realize how much I am already doing, and I approach people with this grand confidence and grand vision and they tend to shake my hand, look into my eyes, and meet me there.
And then this tiny voice in my head creeps up again: But you haven’t actually done anything. Or, You’re just a Master’s student. Or, Aren’t you exaggerating, and saying that you are doing way more than your program curriculum entails?
But, it’s true. I am doing way more than my curriculum entails. But then again, even as such, even still, I worry that I’m not actually meeting the program requirements. I’m on the fringe, skipping off in the distance past the field, my field, my program, what I’m “supposed” to be doing, over the hill, seeing things I never thought I would see before.
I can’t help but think of the future, and desire to make the most of my circumstances so that I can actually pursue these visions that are so tantamount to me. We are reaching a point where a rigorous study of consciousness, or “conscious lived experience” seems less like a myth or a far-fetched psychospiritual ambition and more like a concretely empirical possibility. Maybe it’s just me. But no, it’s not. We can look at the history of thinkers devoted to this cause who have already made the argument both for its legitimacy and its plausibility, and it seems much more obvious. The time is now. Why not?
And…we have this technology. Actually, it has been around since the 80s but has had a giant renaissance: Virtual Reality. With this, we can actually explore via reflective insight and recursive modeling (sort of ‘reverse engineering’) the basic primordial factors which allow for experience in the first place, such that it can be augmented and ‘reproduced’ in this virtual environment. And what does it mean about the self, that the self can be extended, dislocated, and adjusted based on just simple simulation and feedback?
I really think that there is something of value here, so maybe I might seem pompous or like I’m getting way ahead of myself, and maybe I come from a city where I never really felt I belonged and where I just barely scraped by while working jobs where I was horrifically underpaid, overqualified, and under-valued for years, and maybe it’s just the case that finally my mind feels like it has the opportunity to flourish — but I do have the sense that maybe, just maybe, I am on to something and if I keep going at this rate of enthusiasm then I can actualize my vision.
And then someday, maybe five to eight years from now, I can publish an article with collaborators, design and curate an artistic rendering of a responsive data-feedback intersubjective virtual environment (and then do the post-experience qualitative/phenomenological interviews), teach courses on social cognition and selfhood, teach yoga with a strength of presence that allows for trust and peace mutually, and contribute to writing screenplays for films about the nature of phenomenological, lived experience. That would be my dream.