Diderot and Ecstasy

Posted: June 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

BORDEU: While we’re awake, the network obeys the impressions of external objects. In sleep, it’s the exercise of it own sensibility which gives rise to everything that takes place in it. There’s no distraction in a dream—that’s why it’s so lifelike. It’s almost always the result of some abnormal excitement of an organ, a temporary fit of illness. The centre of the network is alternatively active and passive in an infinity of ways. That’s where its disorder arises. Its concepts are sometimes as linked and distinct as in the animal confronting a natural spectacle. It’s only the portrait of this spectacle reawakened. And indeed that’s why it impossible to distinguish it from the state of being awake. There’s no probability that it’s more one of these states than the other, no way of recognizing the mistake, other than experience.

  1. Garrick Quackenbush says:

    Holy cow that’s beautiful music. I like it!

  2. branden frieden says:

    I love the passage from this, it feels like poetry and is very pleasant to read. But if there is no way of telling a dream apart from real life, how does Diderot explain lucid dreaming?

    • This is just a brief passage from the much longer piece, D”Alembert’s Dream. I don’t know that there was a such a term or concept as lucid dreaming back in Diderot’s day. Which is why it is so striking to see him attempt to discuss as clearly as possible various states of altered consciousness. When prior thinkers had always placed a very high premium of perfectly clear and distinct idea, and wholly lucid thinking, Diderot, seems to suggest that a great deal about the actual makeup of the material world (and, for Diderot, there is no other world) can be learning from studying and even entering into extreme and altered states of consciousness. These can be obtained through fevers, intense intellectual exertion, intoxication, and sexual ecstasy. In each of these states the supposedly natural and normal coordination of body and mind and thrown into radical doubt, allowing us to see that so many truths we hold to be self-evident, about the mind, the body, or the world about us, are really just the product of our habitual perspective. It’s for this very reason that D’Alembert’s character is sketched as it is, undergoing not only delirium from fever, but also sexual climax (in a moment of the sketch I didn’t get a chance to point out). In any case, I think if you read the entire sketch with an eye open to these concepts, you’ll find that Diderot is actually exploring ideas very much in line with your own interests. Being ahead of his time, he simply did have a more contemporary vocabulary and repertory of concepts at his immediate disposal.

      • A. Anderson says:

        I think this idea is rather unique because we don’t have the correct answer today. Sleep continues to be one of the biggest mysteries in modern science; we still can’t tell why we need it, or how we are able to distinguish dreams from reality.

  3. A. Anderson says:

    …perhaps I shouldn’t say “correct answer”… however, many of the philosophical ideas explored in this time period are attempts to explain things that modern science has a standardized explanation for.

  4. A. Anderson says:

    …I wish I knew how to delete this so that I could repost it in the correct comment chain.

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