When I fell
Trauma is a strange thing. Sometimes, a hurt is so intense that you lose consciousness. It happened to me a few years ago. I have no memory of the event, only its aftermath. I’ve written about it before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. There was no image, no central theme, no hard nugget of truth to dig out from the experience.
What I remember most is the process—a constant rationalization of where I was and the distance between that place, and the place I wanted to be. My mind raced forward, fading in and out of black. There was only a present, trapped beyond the circumstance that left me there. There did not seem to be any sort of originary thought.
C.S. Peirce proposed that an individual thought has no meaning, and that each thought descends genealogically from previous thoughts. Meaning is generated only in the relation of thoughts, not from individual thoughts themselves. However, to search for that first thought is, in Peirce’s view, a mistake. He disavowed intuition, or any sort of innate idea. All thought stems from sensual stimuli, taking on a life of its own in an endless process of interpretation.
Peirce used the mental image of an inverted pyramid, suspended in a void, dangling above an ocean. Consciousness is that upside down pyramid, which dips itself in the sea of sensual impressions. At each point of contact a line is formed—and that line is a thought. From each individual contact, a person cannot discern the pyramid; but from the series of lines drawn upon it, one can discern relations. An important corollary, explored elsewhere by Peirce, is that to be alive is to have the ability to make mistakes—to misapprehend relations—to be wrong. To feel and create relationships to be alive; and yet, in trauma, feelings and relationships become vague and distant.
I don’t think I thought of dying. I don’t think I thought of wanting to live. I only thought of how much I just didn’t want to be where I was, face down on dirty asphalt. There are few specifics to recount. What I remember about the experience isn’t the pain—it is the will. My will just refused to let go. I wasn’t going to just lay there, waiting for someone to discover me. But my consciousness wouldn’t cooperate fully. It came and went, repeatedly, for hours. Consciousness left me each moment I began to feel.
In theory, there is a central unresolved image lodged for every trauma. For this experience, I have no image— only a flirtation with the void. The void was comfortable enough, and I slipped in and out of it for hours on end. I would wake up, crawl on my belly another fifty feet or so, and when my broken ankle touched the ground in the wrong way, I would pass out again.
I was thinking about this long crawl home when I read C.S. Peirce’s alternative to Cartesian dualism, materialism, or idealism— “Immortality in the Light of Synechism.” Essentially, synechism postulates that everything is essentially continuous. It refuses to see anything as a fixed and immutable quantity or quality.
Synechism denies that there are any immeasurable differences between phenomena; and by the same token, there can be no immeasurable difference between waking and sleeping. When you sleep, you are not so largely asleep as you fancy that you be.
Synechism refuses to believe that when death comes, even the carnal consciousness ceases quickly. How it is to be, is hard to say, in the all but entire lack of observational data. Here, as elsewhere, the synechistic oracle is enigmatic.
My experience was nearly seamless. I passed from a state of will to a state of unconsciousness for at least three or four hours. When I reached my apartment, I slept. I woke the next day and called my ex-wife. She came over, and immediately called an ambulance. The ambulance driver immediately decided I needed morphine.
“Man, that’s got to hurt!”
Strangely enough, it didn’t seem that bad to me. I suppose it’s because I hadn’t thought about it.
When I think about my father’s death, I think about the pain he felt immediately before. I hope that his experience was like mine—when you lose the consciousness to think about it, the pain ceases to be. Peirce’s ideas regarding synechism are attractive:
But, further, synechism recognizes that the carnal consciousness is but a small part of man. There is, in the second place, the social consciousness, by which a man’s spirit is embodied in others, and which continues to live and breathe much longer than superficial observers think.
. . . Nor is this, by any means, all. A man is capable of a spiritual consciousness, which constitutes him one of the eternal verities, which is embodied in the universe as a whole. This as an archetypal idea can never fail; and in the world to come is destined to a special spiritual embodiment.