Lovecraft, Lovecraft-H.P.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep

Beyond the Wall of MemoryBeyond the Wall of Sleep

A young doctor is working in a mental institution and a strange case comes into the facility. The doctor in question has always been interested in the nature of dreams and, as such, he is highly interested in this new case.

The patient’s name is Joe Slater. He is equated to white trash and lives up in the mountains, where sophistication apparently does not exist. He’s a rough man. The entire reason Joe Slater is in the institution is because he killed a man, but the interesting part is that he has no memory of it.

The patient recounts having a very strange and vivid dream. He dreamt of another place entirely. There were lots of light and high walls. It was an entirely different, and beautiful world. Upon waking, he ran outside in attempts to get back to the place, but could not. He was highly agitated, and maybe a little drunk. His neighbors came out to try to get Joe back into his house, but Joe, in his agitated state, began beating one of his neighbors until the neighbor was no more. The others, fearing for their lives, kept a bit of a distance away from Joe as he ran off into the woods. Many supposed him dead, but three days later, having heard his howls, they finally found him, alive. They went armed with weapons to bring him back. He was taken to jail, and then to the mental institution.

Upon hearing the whole dream story, the young doctor was quite interested to find out what was going on. The doctor, at some point in the past, had experimented with a device that would enable him to read the thoughts of others. This device had not worked up until this point, but the doctor decided to give it another try. He repaired his device and set about trying to determine what was going on with Joe Slater. The two had conversations about this other place he went in his dreams.

Despite all his experimentation, nothing happened. The doctor could not see inside the head of Joe Slater. Eventually, it became apparent that Joe Slater was dying, despite excellent treatment. The doctor wanted to get one last try in before Joe died.

He put the device on himself and on Joe. Instead of the usual nothing, there was something. The doctor was able to see a different land. He saw all that Joe saw, but Joe did die. A voice told the doctor that Joe’s body could not hold the intelligence that was required of him now. He had to leave his mortal body behind so that he could permanently be something greater than Joe Slater, a being of light. This was the end of transmission.

Observations

Telepathic devices don’t exist. You can’t read another person’s thoughts. You may be really good at reading emotions, facial expressions, and body language, giving an illusion that you can read thoughts, but you cannot actually read thoughts.

Science has done some experimentation with being able to see what is inside another person’s head. They have actually made some headway. I remember watching some documentary where scientists were trying to see an image in a person’s head projected on a screen. Of course this person was hooked up to all sorts of devices. What was on the screen was a blurry, pixellated, outline of something, but it was something, that looked vaguely like what the subject was thinking about and that’s about the closest we’ve got to reading minds, that I know of.

The idea of getting the information out of someone else’s brain isn’t an impossible idea. We just don’t know how to do it. Generally, where information is concerned, if it’s being stored somewhere, you can typically get it out of that somewhere. It just may take a heck of a long time to figure out how to get the information out of something and into some other form you can interpret. I don’t think we’ll be using telepathic devices anytime soon, in our lifetimes, or the next, but who knows, maybe someday.

Themes

Probably the main idea in this story is that people’s consciousnesses are an extra entity. They’re not for sure attached to the human body. Our conscious/spirit/soul, whatever you want to call it, is something more, something greater, than our measly body. I tend to think that’s true. I know there are people who don’t really think in terms of souls or spirits or the fact that your consciousness will do anything but blink out of existence when you die, but as for me, I think we do have this great thing about us and who we are is really amazing. I think we could be even more amazing without some of the constraints that our physical body does place on us, not that I’m advocating drinking the Koo-laid and waiting to be beamed to the mother ship. I just don’t think it works that way.

As an example of what I’m trying to get across–imagine that you have this high-powered, state of the art computer hard drive. It’s super fast. It can hold terabytes and terabytes of information. It’s flash instead of disks. This thing is just awesome. Imagine then, that you took this amazing hard drive and stuck it in a crappy computer. The computer overheats. The processor is slow. The case is made out of cardboard or something. The graphics card is terrible. The power supply isn’t big enough. Your hard drive is still awesome and it still has a lot of great information on it, but because of the crappy computer, you cannot access that information in the manner that you would like, nor can you perform some of the more complex functions that said hard drive might be able to perform because your computer is so bad.

I think our bodies can be like that. I think we sometimes have all these great and wonderful things we’d like to accomplish as a consciousness, but because we need sleep, or our brains can’t quite figure out a way to get the idea to work, or maybe our bodies are incapacitated in some way, we cannot do those thing that we would do otherwise, had we not had the constraints of our physical bodies.

Another thing in this story is the dismissive attitude about someone who is supposedly “white trash.” Look, just because a person is not traditionally educated does not mean that they’re not smart. My grandfather has a third-grade education, third-grade people. He is so smart that he could be a rocket scientist and I’m not even exaggerating. He’s incredibly intelligent. My entire family is like that. They’re all very smart, but perhaps not educated in a traditional manner.

Joe Slater may have been a backwoods, mountain dweller, but that doesn’t mean he was flat-out stupid. He could have been just as intelligent as any doctor, maybe more. Some people learn their smarts, while some people are simply gifted with being smart.

Overall

H.P. mus have had a lot of dreams about other planets.

Weigh In

If you believe in souls, do you think your soul is possibly hindered by your body’s ability, or inability, to perform certain tasks?

How do you feel about labels like “white trash” in regards to determining a person’s intelligence? by

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