Browsing Category

Max Muller

Article Max Muller TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

The Unabomber: A Story and A Theory

Written by Max Muller

Over the years, technology has become an increasingly pervasive aspect of our lives. Some regard these developments as largely positive, they are enamoured with the possibilities it has brought us: flying from Amsterdam to New York in under nine hours, for instance. Others, however, are more cautious and point out the dangers of greenhouse gasses being flung into the air by the machines we so heavily rely on.

In this article, I will write about a man who was so furious with the rise of technology that he wanted to destroy it all. Both his curious life story and his theories on technological development (or lack thereof) will be described. The latter will be subjected to a thorough analysis. I aim to show that his theory has substantial flaws. Some aspects of it however ring true, especially nowadays with the advent of artificial intelligence of ever-increasing sophistication. In that regard, his theory will hopefully serve as a warning to us all.

A Brilliant Bomber

Anarcho-primitivists, a subset of all anarchists, believe that technology is inherently evil. The prime example of an individual who adhered to this separate strain of anarchism is Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber.

Ted Kaczynski was a precocious student who skipped two grades in high school and afterwards obtained several university degrees in mathematics. By 1967, he became the youngest assistant professor in the history of the University of California, Berkeley. He could have gone on to become a successful academic, but after a few years he suddenly resigned from his position.

Later, he would embark on a mission to live completely self-sufficiently in a remote cabin he had built in Montana. Over there, Kaczynski at a certain moment had an intense experience. He saw that a road had been built right through a plateau that had a view of a waterfall. The experience led him to formulate an irredeemably negative view of the whole industrial-technological system.  From then on realized the system had to be taken down violently.

He sought to do so by constructing letter bombs and sending them to people who were, one way or the other, connected to the development, manufacture, or sale of technological products and knowledge. He initially targeted those affiliated with universities and airlines. Hence the FBI used the acronym UNABOM (UNiversity and Airline BOMber) to refer to his case while his identity was still unknown. The media popularized his name under the phrase “the Unabomber”.

Writing A Letter

Constructing and sending bombs were not the only thing Ted Kaczynski did in his cabin. He also wrote. By 1993, the FBI had been looking for him for 17 years. Despite 500 agents being on the case and a $1 million reward being offered for his capture, they had no tangible leads whatsoever.

Then, all of a sudden, the Unabomber anonymously contacted the FBI to offer a deal. If they found him a major newspaper or journal that would publish a lengthy essay he had written, he would agree to stop the bombings. Although the FBI did not want to yield to blackmail, they had few other options. They therefore decided to agree to the terms of the deal by publishing his essay “Industrial Society and Its Future” (ISAIF) in both the New York Times and the Washington Post in 1995.

In his 35,000 word essay, Kaczyinski argues that technology is a totalitarian force, which consumes and degrades all aspects of society while simultaneously destroying the environment. David Skrbina, author of The Metaphysics of Technology, summarizes Kaczyinski’s argument as follows:

  • Humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions. Our bodies and minds are designed to live and thrive under precisely these conditions.
  • Present technological society is radically different from our natural state, and imposes unprecedented stress upon us.  
  • Technologically-induced stress will only continue to worsen. Humanity will either be utterly debilitated, or reconstructed and transformed to meet the demands of the system.  
  • Such an outcome is undignified, abhorrent, and profoundly dehumanizing.
  • It is impossible to reform the system so as to avoid this nightmare.

Although Kaczynski gained a wide readership with the publication of his tract, it also led to his imprisonment. His brother recognized his writing style and informed the police, leading to his incarceration in 1997. The UNABOM was finally dismantled.

Photo by David Neubert

Analyzing The Theory

We should also delve deeper into Kaczyinski’s version of anarcho-primitivism. Ignoring his despicable actions for the moment, we can scrutinize the arguments that underlie his philosophy. Some have their merits. A key component is his line of reasoning in ISAIF is his contempt of stress-inducing technology. We certainly see examples of technologies that are increasingly putting stress on people nowadays. Many are so pressured by their employers to be available for communication almost all the time, especially via e-mail, that the French government has given workers the right to disconnect. Moreover, the excessive use of mobile smartphones has been linked to sleep difficulties, and social media is associated with (exacerbating) a wide array of mental health problems.

Not all is sound with his theory, though. For instance, Kaczyinski assumes that humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions. While this may have been true initially, it ignores the hypothesis that humans have co-evolved with technological and cultural changes. For instance, the development of livestock farming in Europe was paired with an increasing tolerance for lactose. Although scientists are not entirely sure yet, it seems that the use of tools and fire may have profoundly affected human cognition and language abilities. Technology did not develop in a vacuum, but was part of a complex interplay between human evolutionary development, cultural changes, and inventiveness. Therefore, our “natural state” is not as static as Kaczyinski had assumed.

What I find perhaps most striking in the former mathematician’s theory is his purported solution. Even if we were to believe that all technology somehow corrupts or degrades all human beings (which I certainly don’t) and it is for some reason impossible to reform the system, should we then just destroy it?

This is how I picture the scenario that would result from the execution, a large proportion of humanity would just perish. Modern society has largely become dependant on technology (not only digital and electronic), so removing it somehow would plunge it into chaos. Only those close to natural resources who possess survival skills could outlast the catastrophe, though they would constantly need to fend off others vying for precious resources.

When the dust has settled and there are a couple of thousand hunter-gatherer societies left throughout the world, it is almost as if history would be set back 100,000 years or so, when modern humans started spreading out of Africa. I believe these hunter-gatherers would not remain just that, though. History would repeat itself, albeit probably in a modified form. The broader developments would, however, still ensue. They would develop stone tools, agriculture, steam-powered machines, and, eventually, smartphones. Many humans are just too curious, and ingenious not to produce technologies.

A Word Of Warning

For all his intelligence, Kaczyinski’s reasoning and method seem to be rather crude. He wants to eliminate all technology for everyone, even though some technological devices have, in certain respects, vastly improved lives. We live longer than we used to by means of medical advances, and extreme poverty is a phenomenon that is rapidly being eliminated.

I think we need to carefully evaluate each piece of modern technology and how it affects different individuals in our society. This seems to be in accordance with the way most of the modern world operates. Governments and NGOs assess the (possible) negative effects a certain piece of technology has of might have, and policies are implemented in accordance with those assessments. A reformist approach seems to be the way to go in most cases.

There is only one major exception, and that is artificial intelligence. This part of technology has the potential to become self-aware and, furthermore, a major threat to humanity. Once created, we will have opened Pandora’s Box. It differs from, say, biological weapons – they have existed for a while, but are rarely used nowadays due to the self-imposed restrictions governments have set (due to a widespread taboo on this type of warfare).

With regards to AI, developments do seem to be unstoppable and Kaczyinski’s alarmism has a point. Despite warnings of numerous luminaries, including Elon Musk, we seem to be heading towards a world in which a robot with superhuman intelligence could be roaming the earth.

But how do we destroy a type of technology that isn’t there yet? This might be the biggest challenge mankind has yet to face. To do so, we must restrain the very ingenuity and curiosity of which we are so proud. It requires a level of maturity and insight that humanity perhaps has not obtained yet, but this option seems vastly more attractive than the technological wasteland Kaczyinski has in mind. Let’s prove him wrong and show that we can develop the technologies that actually aid our world, instead of destroying it.

Max Muller THE BODY AS A PRISON - November 2018

The Window in the Prison

Written by Max Muller

The movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former French editor-in-chief of Elle fashion magazine. At the age of 43, he suffered a massive stroke. After having spent twenty days in a coma, he woke up to find himself a hostage of his own body. Although his mental faculties remained intact, he was almost entirely paralyzed. As a sufferer of locked-in syndrome, he could only move his eyelids. The near-complete paralysis was irreversible.

What fascinates me about people who become severely handicapped later in life is the level of mental strength they possess that enables them to carry on with their lives. I am especially impressed when patients manage to overcome this significant hurdle and achieve something great despite their corporeal limitations.

In this piece, I aim to come to an understanding of the psychological process that shaped Bauby’s perseverance.

The Misery of Immobility

After discovering his inhibited state in a remote hospital in Berck-sur-Mere, Bauby understandably became deeply distressed. When the doctors told him about his rare condition and the modern techniques that had been developed to extend his life, he was hardly impressed.

“This is life? Do you call this life?” a voice in his head exclaimed.

Henriette, his speech therapist, tried a new communication system with him. As she read out the letters in the order of the frequency of their use in French, he blinked when she reached the appropriate letter. To her horror, the first sentence Bauby constructed was, “Je veux mourir” (“I want to die”).

The misery was amplified when his physiotherapist Marie used a mirror during their speech lessons. As is revealed in the movie later on, Bauby used to be quite the womanizer and had good looks. Upon seeing his stiffened face, he was mortified.

Living with Regrets

Later, the source of Bauby’s sadness transferred from a preoccupation with his own disability to the regrets caused by his inability to redeem his past mistakes. He was especially saddened by his past mistreatment of his ex-girlfriend Celine, who was also the mother of his three children. Bauby left her and their offspring for another woman. When Celine and his children finally visited him in the hospital, he came to realize that, in his new state, he could not make up for the neglectful way he acted towards them in the past.

Something similar happened when a person called Pierre Roussin visited him. Bauby once gave up his seat on a flight to Hong Kong to him. By a twist of fate, the plane ended up being hijacked and Roussin was held hostage in Beirut for over four years. After his release, Bauby never contacted him. Meeting Roussin again brought back those memories, and guilt.

Photo by Jimmy Chan

Other Prisoners

Although Bauby never contacted Roussin, the man was compassionate enough to give Bauby encouragement in the hospital. Roussin compared his former, precarious situation to being in jail, or even in a tomb. Like Bauby, he too was often desperate, angry, and depressed. In order to remain sane, he recited the classes of grand cru wines he used to enjoy back in France. Roussin likens his hostage situation in the past with Bauby’s predicament in the present, and offers some wise words of advice: “Cling to your own humanity and you will survive.”

Roussin was not the only one to try revitalizing Bauby by comparison. Bauby’s father aimed to enhearten him also.

“We are both in the in the same boat,” he revealed to his son during a telephone call. “I’m trapped in this apartment, and cannot go up or down the stairs…we both have locked-in syndrome.”

Those words of encouragement from both Roussin and his father offer a way for Bauby to connect with others, even though they don’t suffer from the same affliction.

As the Dutch saying goes: “Shared sorrow is half sorrow.”

Bauby furthermore interprets his own condition as being stuck in a small diving bell (a device used to explore the depths of the sea). When imagery of this device is shown in the movie, it is always accompanied by the name “Noirtier de Villefort.”

Notiertier de Villefort was a character in Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 book “The Count of Monte Cristo” who also suffered from the condition we now call locked-in syndrome. Bauby had started to re-read the book a week before his stroke.

The Way Forward  

The fact that there were people close to him who were willing to spend their time and energy to improve Bauby’s state of mind gave him an important mental boost.

However, the efforts of other people alone were not sufficient to transform Bauby’s outlook on life. An internal leap of perspective was necessary, too. That shift occurred when Bauby recognized the facilities he had retained, and to what extent those capabilities could enrich his life. The change of perspective is marked by one of the observations the voice in his head narrates:

“I have decided not to pity myself any longer. Two parts of myself have not been paralyzed: my imagination and my memory. Imagination and memory are what I must use to escape my diving bell. I have realized I can imagine anything, anyone, anywhere.”

His insight – that he can harness his remaining facilities to take a peek from the window in his prison – is empowering to Bauby. He could imagine himself visiting the women he loves, make his childhood dreams come to life, and realize his ambitions as an adult.

It is probably no coincidence that these memories and fantasies usually heavily involve his sense of touch – after all, the syndrome also bars him from feeling anything with his skin. Thus, he imagines stroking his hands through his children’s hair, devouring oysters, and kissing beautiful women. These imaginary sensations allow Bauby to remember what it is like to be entangled in the midst of the world as a sensing body.

The decision not to pity himself any longer was materialized when he allowed his children to visit him. His inner voice reasoned, “Even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a dad is still a dad.”

So on the one hand, he reaches out to his children by being physically there for them. On the other hand, he retains his connection to his family via his heightened sense of imagination and his memories.

Clinging to One’s Humanity

The power of the capabilities he had re-discovered and his past experiences as the editor-in-chief of Elle came in handy particularly when he was reminded of a contract he had signed with his publisher. The publisher sent a woman by the name of Claude Mendibil to transcribe his thoughs. The recording process culminated in the publication of the autobiography on which the movie is based.

Although this process was long and arduous, it reinvigorated Bauby. He was able to harness the full extent of his memory, imagination, and his writing capabilities. Furthermore, it allowed him to look deeply into himself and contemplate his past actions, something he perhaps did not have the time for, or neglected to do, when he was not yet paralyzed. Thus he was able to turn his syndrome around from what he initially perceived as a stumbling block into a strength. Finally, he dutifully followed Roussin’s advice. The writing process allowed him to re-conceive himself as a human being with all its flaws and strengths.

To conclude, the movie reveals the intricate connections between the state of the body and the state of the mind. Though, initially, it seemed obvious that it was Bauby’s body that was the main source of inhibition in his paralyzed state, it turned out that his mentality was a formidable stumbling block for the achievement of happiness and success as well. By overcoming this obstacle, he was able to write a now classic book and reconnect with those he held dear.

Max Muller THE BODY AS A PRISON - November 2018

Bodily Switches In Film

Written by Max Muller

From the profusion of books, films, and television episodes about body swaps it seems that we often perceive our own body as a constraint. By conducting an analysis of such transfers in various media, we might gain a deeper understanding of the way we feel corporeally entrapped. In this piece, I will examine exactly in what ways people long to escape their corporeal prisons, and reflect on why different types of bodily transfers are so captivating to people.

Mary Shelley’s book “Transformation,” published in 1830, can be considered the first story written about a person experiencing the world through the eyes of another person. Since then, many other artists have put themselves to the task of conveying the idea of a body switch in various forms. Just in film, starting with Turnabout in 1940, at least 50 movies on body switches have been made.

This high number of films (approximately 1.35 per year) indicates that this is a popular theme that captivates people’s imaginations. As these movies were made relatively recently, an examination of body switches in this medium is perhaps the most suitable way to find out why and in what sense people in the modern age are particularly enchanted with this idea. Therefore, I’ve focused exclusively on cinematic versions of this age-old story to gain a deeper understanding of the fascination with the “body switch”.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Some of these films involved bodily exchanges with multiple people. Others included animals and other entities. Ignoring these instances and focusing exclusively on switches with two people, we are left with 42 films.

First, it is worthwhile to investigate the gender of those involved in the switch. For instance, 18 Again! (1988) tells the story of David and his millionaire playboy grandfather Jack Watson trading places. This is an example of a male-male switch. Others depict the exchange of perspectives between two women, or between a man and a woman.

Body Switches By Gender

We can see that the male / female switch is clearly the most popular one. This is probably an instance of the ancient fascination with the (perceived) dichotomy between men and women. In this case, it is human gender and the limited worldview that it inevitably creates that constitutes the desire to switch. The switch movies provide men with a sneak peek of Venus, and women with a day-tour around Mars. People are often excited about the idea of looking at the world through the eyes of someone with “the other” gender. In movies, the switch usually leads to hilarious situations.

It’s not just excitement and humor that propels people to watch this type of movie. These films by and large have great educational value. By following along with the main characters, the audience learns how those with a different gender think and what their struggles are.

Exchange of Status

An enlargement of understanding “the other” seems to be the overarching theme of not just the gender switch, but of the body-switching concept as a whole. The switch allows for a quick and direct exploration of other people’s daily lives, their responsibilities, and their interests.

Therefore, the switch can serve to enlarge people’s understanding of not just other genders, but also other types of differences. Differences that are also of societal importance are parent/child relationships (8 movies), occupational distinctions (7 movies), and the discrepancy between husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend (5 movies).

In each of these types of switches, it is important that the dichotomy between the exchangers is large. Otherwise, the perspective change is not extreme enough for a person to actually learn something from the experience. With regards to the occupational differences, for instance, it is not interesting enough to depict the switch between a highly paid lawyer and a senior banker. Both of these occupations are demanding, corporate, traditional jobs.

In David Dobkin’s The Change-Up (2011), on the other hand, a lawyer with a family (Dave) and a single adult movie actor (Mitch) make the switch. In this case, the trade is clearly large enough to merit attention. While Dave learns to loosen up by spending less time on his job and more time with his family, Mitch is taught the value of commitment and taking responsibility for his actions.    


Thus we have dissected the body switch. Our investigation has revealed it’s an effective instrument to explore differences between individuals that are not like-minded. During the switch, those involved will perceive matters literally from the other’s point of view. At the same time, the swap allows them to discover and improve themselves.

No wonder this is such a popular genre.

FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Max Muller

In Memoriam Ourselves

Written by Max Muller

You may think our disposition towards having a good reputation and being remembered fondly is the foundation upon which we base our actions. In this article, however, I will argue that this is not necessarily the case. I aim to show that it is not so much the idea of being remembered well that guides us through life, but that we are in actuality more concerned with being remembered. Period.

This can be inferred, in my opinion, by examining the lives and opinions of various historical figures and certain current cultural phenomena. I will try to unravel why being etched into our collective memory is so important to people.

A Lasting Legacy

First, let’s focus on the idea that everyone aims to leave behind a positive legacy. It can be illustrated well with the story of Alfred Nobel. As a precocious chemist and engineer, he invented dynamite in 1867. He patented his invention and made a fortune out of it.

When Alfred was 55 years old, his brother Ludvig Nobel passed away. Due to a misunderstanding, some writers for a French newspaper came to believe it was Alfred Nobel himself who had deceased. Thus they wrote an obituary of him, entitled “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” When he read it, he was appalled by the idea that he would be remembered as an opportunistic salesman of deadly weapons.

After he recovered from the shock of this discovery, he devised a plan to change his reputation. Alfred decided he would donate the majority of his wealth to the Nobel Prize (including, ironically, the peace prize). His legacy is nowadays largely viewed in positive light because of this generous decision.

A Higher Calling

Alfred Nobel was not alone in his aim to leave a positive legacy. Whole religions (with billions of followers) are centered around the idea of behaving well and reaping the benefits after death. In Christianity, for instance, sinners may redeem themselves to be allowed to go to heaven. Likewise, Hindus try to obtain good karma during their current lives in order to reincarnate as a better person in their next lives.

Thus, many people indeed wish to be remembered well, and will try to behave accordingly. They cherish the wish to have had a positive impact on the world. However, not everyone shares this kind of moral compass. Some are driven by other motives.

A Poète Maudit from Leeuwarden

Jan Jacob Slauerhoff (1898 — 1936) was arguably one of the most important Dutch poets of the 20th century. In addition to his literary qualities, he was also a notoriously difficult person. Tragedies and quarrels marked his life. Additionally, he was a womanizer of both married and unmarried women, and was chronically sick.

Towards the end of his life, he wrote his famous poem “In Memoriam Mijzelf” (“in Memoriam Myself”). The last two stanzas are worth quoting at length.


Ik laat geen gaven na,

Verniel wat ik volbracht;

Ik vraag om geen gena,

Vloek voor- en nageslacht;

Zij liggen waar ik sta,

Lachend den dood verwacht.

Ik deins niet voor de grens,

Nam afscheid van geen mensch,

Toch heb ik nog een wensch,

Dat men mij na zal geven:

‘Het goede deed hij slecht,

Beleed het kwaad oprecht,

Hij stierf in het gevecht,

Hij leidde recht en slecht

Een onverdraagzaam leven.’

I leave no last bequest,

Smash life’s work at a stroke;

No mercy I request,

Curse past and future folk;

Stand tall where they now rest,

And treat death as a joke.

I look fate in the eye,

Have said not one goodbye,

But want men when I die

To say just this of me:

‘He did good very ill,

Served bad with honest will,

Succumbed while battling still,

Undaunted, lived his fill,

Intolerant and free.’

Slauerhoff had come to the realization that he would probably be remembered as an insufferable person after death. What is interesting in this regard is that he did not seek forgiveness: “No mercy I request.” He did not strive to make one last attempt to redeem himself. He simply admitted he was essentially a villain throughout his life who “served bad with honest will.”

So in Slauerhoff we have found a person who wasn’t driven by the idea of leaving behind a positive legacy. And yet, the man was driven, and left behind a considerable body of literary work.

If he was not interested in leaving behind a good legacy, we could wonder what else drove him in life. In my estimation, the answer is embodied by the poem itself. Although he states that he leaves “no last bequest,” Slauerhoff is lying. The poem does not represent the idea of being remembered well, but of simply being remembered.

Slauerhoff aimed to solidify his legacy by means of his writings. In a sense, his malevolent ways endure through this poem.

Achieving Immortality

“Don’t forget me, I beg.” — Adele (Someone Like You, 2011)

We seek to extend ourselves to the future. As one of the few species that is aware of its own immortality, we aim to combat death by all means necessary. One of those means is having children. Our DNA is thereby passed on to the next generation, allowing us to, in a sense, continue to live on through a new body. Although we all die eventually, our genes are safeguarded this way.

However, the biological continuation of our being is not the only method through which we can “survive.” There are other ways to live on after we die. One of those is continuing on in the minds of others.

Ever since the invention of writing, human beings have had the unique capacity to precisely transmit vast amounts of complex information to future generations. Our values, fantasies, and even identities can be recorded efficiently for posteriority. Every writer seeks to endure through his or her literary creations. They extend and preserve a part of themselves through their writings.

Photo: Jonas Guigonnat

A Common Desire

It’s not just writers who seek to be remembered. The desire for endurance is arguably the most primal drive of all creative endeavors. Scientists hope their theories replace the old ones and that they are forever acknowledged for their discoveries. Rulers demand the erection of statues and other monuments as a solidified sign of their dominance. Graffiti artists leave their mark on walls to pay an enduring homage to themselves and their ideas.

The will to be remembered is not even restricted to those with creative or coercive powers. Everyone seeks to endure in the minds of others to a certain degree…most of us shiver at the prospect of being forgotten.

In Hannah Arendt’s treatment “On the Nature of Totalitarianism: An Essay in Understanding” she mentions that some tyrants acknowledged the terror of being discarded by history, and utilized it themselves. For instance, prisons under despotic rulers were often called places of oblivion and at times forbid the family and friends of a convict from even mentioning his or her name – to the extent that they could even be punished for breaking this rule.

Now that the possibility of materializing memories of oneself has become democratized, the fear of being forgotten has become more visible. Many immortalize even the most remotely interesting events of their lives with pictures on Instagram or bite-sized stories on Twitter. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, the memoirs written by “ordinary” people experienced an upsurge. Even more recently, people have started frantically tracing their heritage with DNA ancestry tests, such as 23andme. People wish to pass down their own heritage and legacy due to a fear of being forgotten amid a society filled with technological advances and increasingly rapid development. At the same time, these tools aid people in finding their place in a confusing, fast-changing world.

Thus it seems there is a one-to-one correspondence between our desire to be remembered, and the preservation and extension of ourselves in various forms. It is connected to the idea of making an impact on the world. We wish to to make a dent in the universe, a mark that will forever be connected to ourselves. It’s not just a dent, it’s our dent.

FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Max Muller

Remembering Your Identity

Written by Max Muller:

Some imagine our memory merely as a tool to retrieve past events or thoughts. That it operates as a purely mechanistic, objective tool that passively stores information. As such, it enables us to learn things and allows people to function properly in their daily lives.

However, this conception of human memory is rather limited. Although it does perform the above-mentioned tasks, it is not confined to purely practical matters. A person’s memory is not merely concerned with what he or she does or can do – it also determines who and what the person is.

Human beings are necessarily finite, both in terms of space and in terms of time. We live within a particular time frame and grow up under some set of historical particularities. Thus, to a large extent, our circumstances and experiences determine who we are.

In order to understand ourselves, we look back upon past events. We aim to come to an understanding of our role within them. In doing so, we continuously re-visit our memories to re-interpret them, casting light on the way we are situated in the present.

By selectively choosing to focus on certain memories and at the same time discarding others, people actively and subjectively construct themselves by means of narratives. Human beings are therefore not mere processors of information, they invent and re-work it as stories. Memory comes alive in the act of narration, allowing individuals to form a coherent identity. Human life has, therefore, both biological and biographical origins.

In that sense, it is not surprising that psychologists sometimes encourage their patients to share their life story with them. It allows patients to understand themselves. Their confusion is healed when the re-visitation of their memories results in a more thorough understanding of the way they acted in (perceived) past events. This enables them to act with deeper understanding during the present. Concurrently, their sense of identity is emboldened throughout the process, allowing them to be more at ease with who they are.

Crowdsourcing therapy

Therapists are expensive. In addition, the whole therapeutic process is quite time-consuming, cumbersome and confrontational. Why not engage you, our readers, with my past?

At the risk of seeming exceedingly self-centered, I will take this opportunity to describe some memories of my own. During the writing process, I aim to gain a more thorough understanding of myself. In addition, I am curious as to what you think about my experiences. What do they tell you about me? Do you have any insights as to how I ought to interpret these events? Let us make sense of my life together.

One memory that sometimes resurfaces dates back from more than 17 years ago. At the time, my family and I would visit a place called Cap-d’Agde in the South of France every summer. We would stay in a resort filled with bungalows and spent our carefree days at the beach or near the pools.

Sometimes, however, something out of the ordinary would happen. The owners of the resort would invite a potter to teach kids (and, occasionally, adults too) how to make pots the traditional way. He put a wet blob of clay on a horizontally spinning wheel. With his hands, he would manipulate its shape in a clever way, slowly but steadily creating a pot.

To me, being an eight-year-old, the whole process must have seemed like magic. He barely moved his hands at all, yet sure enough, the spinning clot would always turn into a pot. His precisely applied, manual pressure ensured it.

Another day, the potter maker would take us to his home outside the resort. Upon arriving there, I realized that pottery making represented just a fraction of his artistic inclinations. He had made his whole home himself. Some walls were riddled with minutely illustrated paintings. Others were littered with spontaneously arranged tiles, forming splendid mosaics.

Nothing in the house had sharp hooks or rigid lines. It was a fluid arrangement with bows and curved lines. Looking back on it now, it seemed like an artistic, Mediterranean version of a hobbit home. His house was a Gaudi-esque constellation of furious creativity. The potter had shown a level of dedication that could only be matched by Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. It was a unique anachronism, both temporally as well as spatially.

Its uniqueness was punctuated by the banality of Cap-d’Agde in general. It was a beach town past its former glory, overflowed by foreign tourists who were bored of their mundane lives back home. They were in search of a red-tanned chest and hedonistic escape. The town’s most famous nightclub was aptly called Amnesia. The nudist beaches and swingers clubs were phenomena – famously described by Michel Houellebecq in his book Les Particules Elementaires – that embodied the town’s indulgence.  

Photo by Oscar Nord


So what does this memory tell about me? What does the fact that it resurfaces every now and again mean? What insights can it give me with regards to my current phase in life?

One theme of the memory seems to be the contrast between sloth and sacrifice, between laziness and dedication. The potter had gone to great lengths to build a perfect house for himself. Viewed from this point of view, the memory perhaps tells me I have a choice: put in the effort and succeed, or be idle and fail.

By extension, the story reveals the importance of a goal worth fighting for. It is not possible to put in a lot of effort into something that’s not worthwhile. Whatever the potter’s motives were, they were important enough to him to put up a Herculean effort. Maybe it was indeed a romantic act, akin to Gosling’s efforts. Whatever the case may have been, it reminds me of seeking purpose in the things that I do.

The potter’s dedication had an almost ascetic quality. His efforts stood out amid the lazy tourists. Viewed from this perspective, his architectural work represented a kind of purity amid a degenerated desert. Maybe this represents my childhood innocence, which can be contrasted with adulthood.

Another aspect of importance is the dichotomy between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Although I liked spending time at the beach or playing games on my Gameboy Color, the experiences with the potter were something else entirely. They fueled my sense of wonder and stimulated my imagination.

I guess nowadays I look back upon these events with a sense of nostalgia, perhaps even melancholy. I’m not as easily impressed as I was back then. Even so, I currently probably miss having such experiences. Maybe my life has become as mundane as all of those other adults who aimed to escape their lives in the French coastal town.

Your Turn

Anyhow, I am an amateur psychologist at best, and a self-deluding charlatan at worst. You may have a much deeper understanding of this memory in particular. You possibly know how to put my experiences within a Freudian framework, or recall how the potter’s activities relate to Jung’s theory of psychosocial archetypes.

Please tell me! I’m eager to find out more about myself.

However, this isn’t just about me. You have just seen a glimpse of my past. Hopefully, it has inspired you to probe into the depths of your own mind, too. What are your most important memories? What do they signify to you? I invite you to take a step back and analyze your past. I suspect that — in the end — it could prove to be highly rewarding.