On the psychohistory of reality expansions
This essay is part of the Protocol Narratives series
A few days ago, in an unexpected bit of serendipity, I stumbled across a book that uncannily fits my current mood: When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut (ht Charlie Harrington). The book has shot to the top of my Now Reading list, alongside the collected works of J. G. Ballard and H. P. Lovecraft, which I’ve been working through for a couple of weeks now.
These selections are not accidental. For a few years, I’ve harbored the vague sense that the Ballard and Lovecraft canons are somehow key to my obsession (which has lately grown into a sort of acute idée fixe) with cracking the mood code of the Permaweird. Labatut’s short book provides a key missing piece that almost completes a theory of collective moods and disturbed realities that I’ve been groping for over the last few months, through Lovecraft and Ballard.
I haven’t figured it out completely yet, but in brief, it seems to me that truly historic consciousness shifts, following major genesis events that expand reality in some way, evolve through Labatutian, Lovecraftian, and Ballardian phases. So reading the three in parallel seems like a good idea for making sense of the world right now, as it continues to lurch through what feels like the mother of all consciousness shifts.
Let’s start with the more familiar names.
Ballard and Lovecraft are among the handful of writers whose names have turned into adjectives (I hereby induct Labatut into the club) that describe broad historical moods, and with good reason. Both grokked, mapped out, and lent their names to deep disturbances in the collective moods of their respective eras (the 1920s for Lovecraft, and the 1960s for Ballard), and made those disturbances accessible to less sensitive souls through works that seem to actively construct, rather than merely evoke and feed, historically new moods. The works colonize new psychological territory for humanity as a whole.
The adjectives Lovecraftian and Ballardian point to moods that had never before been experienced by human societies. Moods that originated in specific reality expansions traceable to specific genesis events involving the entry of new scientific or mathematical knowledge into human consciousness. I call the genesis events reality expansions because it is not meaningful to refuse to believe in them, in the Philip K. Dick sense of “that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.” Lovecraft and Ballard, you could say, helped install new societal operating systems that accommodated the important reality expansions of the twentieth century.
Their methods seem general — to map out the mood disturbances of any disturbed era (and like the 1920s and 1960s, I think the 2020s are such an era), you have to explore reality with something of a Ballardian-Lovecraftian sensibility. If and when such efforts succeed, you add a distinct new mood to the collective emotional range of humanity. We can then ponder life, the universe, and everything in ways we could not before.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d only ever read one thing by Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu) and as far as I can recall, nothing by Ballard. It’s been a glaring gap in my SF education that I’ve been meaning to remedy for a while. Especially because readers in recent years have occasionally pointed out a growing Ballardian tendency in my own writing, which I was beginning to dimly recognize, but hadn’t labeled as such.
A couple of weeks into my remedial self-education, I get it. In his introduction to the Ballard volume, Martin Amis characterizes him as a sort of spiritual child of Borges and Saki (H. H. Munro), and that’s a disturbingly accurate description not just of Ballard’s writing, but of my own most nagging impulses and itches in recent years. As a specific particularly clear example, Ballard had an obsession with clocks and time similar to mine; his stories Escapement and Chronopolis in particular, feel like they could be ripped out of my own notes. But the resonances go beyond specific themes. Much as I like to resist even flattering labels and comparisons, Ballardian does sort of get at where my head’s been lately. Whether or not I manage to rise to his level of skill, his manner of interrogating the suspicious familiarities of the present feels very familiar. It is what I think I myself try to do.
Lovecraft (with whom I resonate less directly, but am equally impressed by) fits into this scheme in an obvious way — he’s Ballard’s evil twin. Or evil uncle perhaps, since he was a contemporary of Borges. Ballard’s short story Venus Smiles, for example, is almost a transposition of The Call of Cthulhu from a Lovecraftian to a Ballardian key. Cosmic horror transformed to a kind of terraformed-high-modernity horror.
With apologies to Joni Mitchell, Ballard paved Lovecraft’s cosmic horror and put up a parking lot.
There are key differences I’ll get to, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to Labatut, since that’s where the story begins for me now, at least conceptually.
When We Cease to Understand the World is a lightly fictionalized account of the inner lives of several real scientists and mathematicians on the cusp of the well-known disturbing discoveries associated with them. What was it like to be the first person to imagine a black hole, contemplate the uncertainty principle, or comprehend the deeper structure of all mathematics?
Through deft, impressionistic reconstructions of the inner lives of the relevant individuals through the periods of their historic discoveries, Labatut attempts to provide answers. And in a rather inspired move, he does so in the context of the specific historical circumstances of those discoveries, which, as it turns out, matters a great deal.
The result is a series of revealing inside-out portraits of familiar and unfamiliar figures in the history of science and mathematics, captured just as they have caught fleeting glimpses of unsettling expanded realities, and to varying degrees, come undone as a result. It is something like a series of literary fMRIs of human minds encountering new reality-shattering thoughts for the first time, and to varying degrees, falling apart in the wake of the traumatizing encounters.
To peek ahead at where I’m going with this, one way to understand Labatut’s portraits is as case histories of patient zeros in destructive, ego-shrinking consciousness shifts that eventually spread to entire societies, in part through the cultural labors of writers like Lovecraft and Ballard. The book is a series of portraits of some of the deepest, most profound consciousness shifts in history, while they were still limited to single minds in a state of zero-day vulnerability.
What happens next could be thought of as the psychohistory of a reality expansion, as the collective consciousness of humanity expands to accommodate the new realities, even as the collective ego, the anthropocentric sense-of-the-species-body, shrinks. You could think of such psychohistories as cognitive pandemics that establish new possible states of mind in the human psyche.
Labatut’s book starts with Fritz Haber (father of both the green revolution and chemical warfare), and moves on to Karl Schwarzschild (who first recognized the possibility of space-time collapsing in black holes), Grothendieck (who rebuilt mathematics from the ground up in unsettling new ways), and Heisenberg (arguably the first to properly appreciate the nature of quantum phenomena). The traumatic potential of their discoveries is not always obvious, and Labatut’s accomplishment is pointing at that potential through a mix of facts and tasteful fictional embellishment.1
For example, while it is sort of obvious how the thought of a black hole might disturb a mind steeped in the physics of the 1800s, it is not obvious why the Haber-Bosch process, which now feeds a third of humanity through the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, should be disturbing. But Labatut suggests that Haber possibly had nightmares of emboldened plant life taking over the planet, due to the souped-up nitrogen cycle he had unleashed (one of the first and most powerful modern acts of terraforming the planet). That is certainly a disturbing thought. The stuff of M. Night Shyamalan movies.
Of course, Haber was also complicit in German WWI chemical warfare and had other things going on, but Labatut’s act of literary-biographical imagination lies in seeing the expanded reality itself, rather than any moral consequences, as the source of profound epistemic trauma. New knowledge, he suggests, is intrinsically traumatizing. Good and evil come later. Haber unlocked a new piece of reality for all humanity, and had to pay an intellectual price for the privilege.
The narrative also touches on less-known historical figures like the psychopathic German alchemist Johann Dippel, whose discovery of Prussian Blue led on to the development of inexpensive blue paints (prominent in impressionist paintings) and cyanide-based poisons (Dippel was possibly the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). The narrative also touches on contemporary figures like Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki, who may or may not have followed in the footsteps of Grothendieck to peer into the insanity-inducing all-soul of mathematical reality via a theory called “Inter-Universal Teichmüller theory,” which apparently lives in some sort of twilight zone between real and crackpot mathematics, because anyone who understands it seems unable to talk about it coherently.
What is common to these figures, besides their obvious historical significance, is that each of them arrived at the frontier of human understanding of reality under conditions of extreme real-world stress, particularly war. The journey to the frontier was highly personal for each pioneer. And once there, each struggled with a profoundly unsettling and lonely new view of reality, even as the human condition was coming undone around them. Lonely because, at least for a while, they were the only ones able to see what they saw. And it caused each to come undone to some degree.
It is tempting to read these stories as tales of humans driven mad by knowledge beyond the ability of human minds to hold, but I think the opposite is in fact the case. To the extent these pioneering figures were briefly the only ones seeing reality in the truest conceivable ways at the time, ways that the rest of humanity took years or decades to catch up to, you might say that for those moments, they were the only sane people in worlds being revealed as insane. This is why the juxtaposition of radical new thoughts and the horrors of war and societal collapse is so powerfully compelling. Just as everything was coming apart, these individuals found a bit of new firm ground, outside of what was then conceivable, but had to pay a heavy price to stand on it.
Schwarzschild, for instance, was pondering how the collective German psyche appeared to have vanished past its own event horizon, even as he was working out the idea of an event horizon for the first time. And he was doing this while deployed on the front in WW I, slowly succumbing to the disease that would kill him within months of his discoveries. He died before receiving the reply to the letter he wrote to Einstein, describing his black hole solution to the equations of general relativity, likely believing himself to be the only person to have thought the thought of a black hole. Today, the entire educated world can entertain the thought of a black hole, but there was a time when only one mind could and did. A mind that did not have the resources we do — from photographs of actual black holes and explainers to Star Trek episodes and silly jokes — to make the experience a familiar and undisturbing one.
To stand on the firm ground of deeper knowledge for the first time, alien firm ground, each of these Labututian pioneers had to renounce the insane worlds around them. Worlds that were unraveling in part due to the inner contradictions their discoveries could perhaps resolve. It is hard to imagine a lonelier condition.
What is unique about the book is that it concerns itself with a theme — profoundly altered states of mind induced by a sense of having peered deeper into the soul of reality — that is usually considered in the context of spiritual questing. By considering the mind-exploding but eventually communicable visions of scientists and mathematicians trying to push past the objective frontiers of the thinkable, rather than the solipsisms of mystics, Labatut casts a very revealing light on the relationship between knowing, being, and becoming.
To be transformed by the ideas of a mystic claiming enlightenment, you must choose to believe in their accounts of their own subjectivities. To be transformed by the ideas of a Labututian pioneer on the other hand, you merely have to wait. Since they uncover new bits of reality that don’t simply go away if you choose not to believe them, your belief or lack of it is irrelevant. Once uncovered, the very idea of a black hole, or quantum entanglement, or nitrogen fertilizers, will slowly begin to transform your reality whether or not you believe in it. The only real question is whether you’ll try to meet it before it gets to you. Given enough time, the idea will reshape society to the extent coexistence of old and expanded realities is impossible.
There is an important, and I think under-appreciated, distinction here, between truly historic events corresponding to expansions in objective reality accommodated by the human psyche, and pseudo-historic events comprised merely of events that might feel dramatic to humans (either individually or collectively, and including historic “spiritual events”), but do not expand the boundaries of psychologically inhabitable reality. If it does not change how you experience the universe, it is not a truly historic event.2
New modes of apprehending reality seem capable of unmaking and remaking the human psyche in unique ways, but this privilege (or curse perhaps) is only fully accorded to the first few minds that experience those modes, in the Labatutian phase of a psychohistory. The farther away you are from the first glimpse, the less powerfully you can be unmade and remade. To extend the metaphor of epistemic patients zero and zero-day vulnerabilities, those who come to an expanded reality later are at least somewhat patched and vaccinated against its full traumatizing potential.
By the time new knowledge has been robustly validated, socialized, and institutionalized, and societies have re-organized around it, the liminal, identity-shattering power has dissipated. I suppose this is why, beyond any extrinsic rewards and recognition, being an epistemic pioneer of any sort holds such allure for humans. Beyond any egoistic desires to be first, or make frontier fortunes, we actively seek out the trauma of new realities. We do this because we dimly recognize that new realities that do not kill us will make us stronger. Discontinuously stronger, turning us superhuman in some sense (though not in the Nietzschean sense).
To be the first to be unmade and remade by an expanded reality is to be the first of a new kind of human; an Adam or Eve. In a way, it is a sort of death wish, like wanting to be the first to catch a new disease of the mind; to infect yourself with a memetic hazard before vaccines or patches are available. This means you experience the destruction and resurrection not just of your own psyche, but weather the brunt of the cosmic assault on the collective psyche of the species.
Even the first reports from the new frontier by the pioneers inevitably prepare those who come after, and dampen the effects. Even the second person to contemplate an expanded reality cannot quite access the utter loneliness of unsocialized knowing experienced by the first. For the second person to glimpse an expanded reality, there is already a first to talk to. Still, we can talk of a Labatutian cohort of first initiates into an expanded sense of reality. Those who experience it without any protections built up.
In the deepest sense possible then, epistemic pioneers take one for team humanity. History tends to celebrate the exhilaration of discovery, but not its cognitive hazards, but it is the cognitive hazards that actually shape subsequent history. What we think of as Copernican moments in the evolution of the collective human psyche.
When we talk of Copernican moments, of assaults by an indifferent cosmos on yet another onion-like layer of our anthropocentric conceits, we generally do so in a post-hoc historically situated sense, when the knowledge created by the moment has already been institutionalized to the point of ossification.
You and I cannot truly experience the Copernican moment as Copernicus and his close contemporaries did, because we’ve never known what it is like to not believe that the Earth goes around the Sun. To borrow a phrase from the postmodernists, we’ve always-already been post-Copernican.
The idea that the Earth goes around the Sun can only ever be a banality for us, because society has already entirely reorganized around such knowing; the knowledge cannot really hurt you even if you personally happen to be ignorant of the fact.3 Conversely, truly entertaining the idea that the Sun goes around the Earth is in some sense fundamentally impossible for us. We might believe that the ancients believed it, but we cannot truly experience what it is like to believe it in our bones, or what it means to have a psyche built around such a belief broken down and remade in the wake of the Copernican moment. To live in a milieu that has not been so broken down and remade. Belief, after all, is an intensely social phenomenon. Depending on the historical circumstances, the same act of entertaining a thought might be either heretical or banal, and might unmake you, or leave you entirely unchanged.
The Copernican moment was not unique of course. We’re not just always-already post-Copernican. We’re also always-already post-Darwinian, post-relativity, post-quantum-mechanics, post-double-helix, and post- a lot of other things.
Including, most recently, post-internet, the reality expansion that has been wreaking havoc on the human psyche at an accelerating rate ever since the first pioneers sent a message across the internet in 1969, and which entered its late phase around 2016.
Forget the ancients. Can you put yourself in your own 2015 headspace?
The primal feel of Copernican moments is inaccessible to non-pioneers, but moods born of such moments become accessible to ever-larger groups of humans as an expanded reality spreads to infect all minds. Revolutions are contagions.
Between the mind-shattering first glimpse of a deeper layer of reality afforded to pioneers, and the ossified always-already knowledge that shapes us through the built environment even if we are ignorant of it (the time display on your phone, for example, is “aware” of relativity and quantum-mechanics by virtue of how it operates), new reality knowledge goes through several stages of de-weirding, transforming more and more humans, in weaker and weaker ways. The dynamic is perhaps the psychohistorical equivalent of economic commoditization.
It is particularly interesting to consider the psyche transformation experienced by the cohort that immediately follows the pioneers. The early adopters of an expanded apprehension of reality, so to speak. This is the Lovecraftian phase of the psychohistory.
For this group, present reality has already been destabilized and begins to appear increasingly insubstantial. Social realities organized around freshly undermined beliefs seem like bizarre false consciousnesses. But new social realities have not yet fully cohered around the newly discovered modes of knowing reality. The expanded reality is not entirely inhabitable for the human mind, so trying to inhabit it through an act of will is traumatizing. Not to the degree it is during the Labatutian phase, but the risk is still considerable.
The result is an anxious sense of a weirded reality you can see in the historical aftermath of major discoveries and inventions. It is the anomie, not of social upheaval, but of intellectual upheaval. The upheaval of minds trying to expand enough to wrap themselves around an expanded sense of reality.
In the 1920s, for instance, we see the imaginations of the cultural avant garde profoundly disturbed by the idea of Einsteinian relativity. H. P. Lovecraft’s description of “an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse,” intended to evoke horror, likely did evoke horror for his readers in the 1920s and 30s, even though it lacks the power to evoke similar horror in us, nearly a century later.
We are too deep into always-already post-relativity collective consciousness to experience Lovecraftian cosmic horror in its original form. This does not mean it has degenerated to camp, however.
Even today, reading The Call of Cthulhu evokes some cosmic horror, despite the normalization and ossification of much of the then-new knowledge that inspired it. Even if the idea of “an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse” cannot scare us, we can relate to the disturbed subjectivities experienced by the protagonists dreaming fever dreams of tentacled monsters.
Accounts of real events of the time, such as the Einstein-Bergson debates, provide some sense of what it must have been like back then, with relativity just a few years old, and familiar and comforting ideas starting to unravel in the face of its onslaught. Add the memories of the Great War and the Spanish Flu, and you have a milieu set to resonate wildly with tales of cosmic horror.
The causes of the weirdings of our own times, which might cause similar reactions for us, are different. But the state of mind is recognizable.
Copernican moments for the few, arguably, are invariably followed by Lovecraftian moods for a much larger group. In the years immediately following Einstein’s publications, it was claimed that only a handful of physicists could understand his theories (and by implication, be unmade by them, as Schwarzschild was to some degree).
A decade later, large swathes of avant garde culture were capable of being at least disturbed by it, thanks in part to writers like Lovecraft.
Today, millions of STEM majors solve undergraduate homework problems on relativity theory, and hundreds of millions comfortably watch movies and TV shows that rely on plot devices derived from pop-understandings of relativity theory, and for the most part, experience no transformations of the psyche at all, let alone traumatizing ones.
That does not mean that the monsters of relativity have been laid to rest. It just means the expanded reality has entered its terminal, Ballardian phase.
Let’s pause to summarize the theory that is taking shape here. We might sketch a three-stage psychohistory of a disturbing new expanded reality, as more and more minds become stretched to accommodate it:
In the first, Labatutian stage, a handful of minds are forced to bear the brunt of the full, uncontrolled assault of a new idea on the human psyche.
In the second, Lovecraftian stage, a much larger group of somewhat inoculated minds willingly ventures forth to encounter a somewhat familiar, but still unsettling version of the idea, serving as an avant garde engaged in rebuilding social realities as required around it.
In the third, Ballardian stage, the construction of new social realities is (relatively) complete, but the costs and inherent contradictions have not yet been apprehended. The expanded reality has been civilized but not tamed. All minds are shaped by it, whether or not they are consciously equipped for it.
Ballard’s fiction is, superficially, entirely unlike Lovecraft’s. There are no lurid cosmic fantasies; there is no elaborate mythos to explore.
Instead, you find straightforward (almost too straightforward) extrapolations of familiar realities. If Lovecraftian horror is about a monster under the bed, a Ballardian horror is an endless room filled entirely with beds. If a Lovecraftian hero chases the cosmic monster and goes mad in the process, the Ballardian un-hero tries to count all the beds and briefly wonders if there is such a thing as a place with no beds before dismissing the thought.
Even the tropes and devices of the stories themselves seem like distorted extrapolations of familiar counterparts elsewhere. Ballardian un-heroes are rather like Asimovian heroes — competent denizens of highly bureaucratized 1950s military-industrial milieus. As with Asimov’s stories, most of Ballard’s stories (at least the ones I’ve read so far) seem to be set in professionalized, bureaucratic Organization Man worlds, filled with technologies and institutionalized knowledge that have been comfortably mastered by humans.
Even where the science fictional premises are truly bizarre (and his premises are truly bizarre relative to his contemporaries — sound that accumulates like dirt, time and space warps that shrink, surgically banished sleep), the treatment is preternaturally unsurprised and banal. Ballard’s unheroes are as unsurprised by their worlds as Lovecraft’s heroes are horrified by them. They seem to have the opposite of cosmic sensibilities. If Lovecraftian stories are set in “strange aeons,” Ballardian stories are peopled by strange protagonists who seem curiously at home in their strange circumstances, absorbed in banalities like crossword puzzles. When they spot weirdness out of the corner of their eye, they make only half-hearted attempts to unravel it.
But that’s the trick. In a Ballardian story, there is only the appearance of mastery over reality. Only an illusion of cosmic horrors tamed and civilized into useful technologies. The point of every Ballard story seems to be: the wild expanded reality was never really tamed at all. It merely put on a nice suit and pretended to work for humans, lulling us into a false sense of security. If there is a Ballard story about “an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse,” it would probably feature in some sort of boring furniture that everybody mindlessly uses, rather than in the architecture of Cthulhu’s house of horrors.
Ballardian un-heroes — they are not really trying to navigate any recognizable hero’s journeys — tend to go through journeys of realization that at best leads them to a newly weirded sense of the seemingly familiar, but nothing seems to actually change.
I’ll probably have more to say about Lovecraft and Ballard after I’ve finished my binge, but I suspect the best way to understand this theory is that the three-phase model doesn’t really describe accommodation of an expanded sense of reality. It merely describes a trajectory of growing comfort and complacence, as a crisis-like response mutates into an extended anxious response, and finally into a sort of uneasy comfort where reality makes sense so long as we don’t think about it too hard, or look too closely. We humans don’t seek understanding; we seek low-energy equilibria.
The uncomfortable truth about the ongoing psychohistorical adventures of humanity is that it is far easier for us to adapt to new realities than to actually understand them. It just takes us a while to stop trying to understand the world and accept that the best we can hope for is to live in it relatively undisturbed.
Let’s apply the model to the Great Weirding.
The genesis event, arguably, was the creation of the public internet. It is to our minds what relativity was to educated 1920s minds. But this particular genesis event has some novel features. Even though it is technological in nature, and builds on a body of scientific and mathematical knowledge that did not exist in say the 1940s, when Vannevar Bush first sketched out a primitive vision of the internet, the odd thing about it is that the expanded reality comprises a new kind of connected state of humans themselves.
To contemplate yourself, entangled with the rest of humanity through the internet, is not like contemplating the moons of Jupiter or the idea (or photograph) of a black hole. It is like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself as part of an emergent being you didn’t realize existed, or could exist, as a subsuming entity around what feels like your individual being.
The birth of the internet is not a Copernican moment in the sense of all previous historical examples (with the possible exception of the invention of the Gutenberg press). The expanded reality in this case primarily involves an expanded sense of ourselves as lumps of matter in the universe. These lumps of matter, we are discovering, can behave in ways we didn’t think they could, and enter collective states we didn’t know were possible, via relationships both with other similar lumps, as well as new kinds of Silicon-based lumps. If minds are a kind of matter, we’ve discovered a new state of matter.
What about the Labatutian phase? Did certain internet pioneers seem somewhat unmade by the early visions of the emerging reality? I won’t name names, since most are still living, but I count at least a handful of still-living internet pioneers whose stories could easily fit in Labatut’s book.
What about the Lovecraftian phase? That, I suspect, is what cyberpunk was, and it ended with the high drama and anxieties of the Great Weirding. The culture war (yes, it’s basically over) was our era’s version of cosmic horror (we have met the cosmic horror, and it is us).
Where we are now, at the advent of the Permaweird, is the beginning of the Ballardian banality phase of the impact of the internet. A world of untamed but civilized horrors, capable of slow-cooking us into a sort of digital somnolence the way the protagonists of Ballard’s own stories are in a state of being slow-cooked by extrapolated late-industrial realities.
We can let go the anxieties of the Great Weirding now, and settle into the somnolence of the Ballardian banality that is slowly descending. It all makes sense now, so long as you don’t look too hard or ask too many questions.
Welcome to the Permaweird, population: us. Don’t think about it.
It is hard to tell which is which, but based on a handful of spot checks, I’d say most of the embellishments serve to throw the facts into sharper relief rather than distort them; I don’t think he has materially misrepresented anything of importance. The reconstructions are fundamentally reasonable and plausible. Like principled historical re-enactments, rather than say Aaron-Sorkin style fictionalization aimed at creating formulaic drama or sensationalist true crime reconstructions on lowbrow TV.
It might seem small-minded and anti-humanistic to limit the notion of reality expansions to significant discoveries in science and mathematics, and specifically to exclude claims of revolutionary spiritual advances, but I suspect that is in fact the right rigorous move here. It does not matter whether such claims are grounded in subjectively real individual experiences: they lack the phenomenological substance to trigger the psychohistorical trajectories I want to model here. That said, it is interesting that in Hannah Arendt’s inventory of “truly historic” (which is almost as conservative as mine), only two of the three events — Columbus’ arrival in America and Galileo turning his telescope to the skies — are material reality expansions. Her third candidate, Martin Luther’s religious revolution, now seems pseudo-historical to me. The part that was truly historic is attributable to material causes, such as the development of the Gutenberg press, while the part that is not so attributable, such as the theological content of the Reformation, is in my opinion pseudo-historical. It may have shaped a layer of political events, but it did not reshape the collective psyche of Europe. Printed books changed how humans experienced reality, but the ideas of the Reformation, in a sense that may admittedly be idiosyncratic, did not.But unlike in her model, I admit many more scientific and mathematical discoveries in the category of historic.
As Sherlock Holmes famously was — I just finished rereading the Holmes canon too, in an earlier attempt, in December, to decode the Permaweird mood. Arthur Conan Doyle isn’t in the Lovecraft/Ballard/Borges league when it comes to mood whispering, but he’s up there. I think if he’d been born a little later, he might have written Lovecraftian horrors. A few of his stories, like The Devil’s Foot, are pretty Lovecraftian.