In 1870, the human mind was something like a rainy street, foggy, dark, a narrow cobbled passage traveled by men in long raincoats. They swept into the little stores, shaking their umbrellas and stamping their galoshes. Who knows what they bought. In upstairs rooms, women put their mending down and went to the window. Even cupping their hands to the glass and leaning their foreheads close, they couldn't see much more than the continual downpour. Sometimes the smell of liver grilling at the little corner stall rose up out of the drizzle, or a horse's whinny rang out briefly. At four o'clock, the man came to light the lamps, though really it had been dim all day, and dark for hours.
Around 1905, I went on a picnic with William James. He sent the students off to pick raspberries, while we lolled on the blanket. He described the equipment in his laboratory, "a metronome, a device for whirling a frog," and one or two other bits of apparatus. "It's so comfortable to be with you," he said. But I didn't answer. At that point, he inspired me with so much respect it felt like fear. Our hands had touched once, briefly. His fingertips were pads of perception, linked to great waves of sensation and longing. "What is this fire?" he said, but that was another time, a year later, as I was sneaking down his back steps, crying. I did not turn around, though I knew what he referred to.
It was in 1956 that the human mind became a parking lot, at that time the most beautiful of structures. Ideas slotted into in neat stalls, where the sun reflected off their shiny hoods. The equality and unanimity of it was glorious, the rows and columns of vehicles, the suppleness of their curving fenders, the power promised by their long, lean hoods. Though you might suppose that every one of these machines had a driver, the drivers were never evident. They had left in the early hours to do assorted things in a nondescript building. And if on the weekends the cars were crammed together at one end while a fleamarket sprawled on the grounds, and if patches of oil made dark stains on the once startlingly even surface, and if the little trees planted for shade failed to grow but stood stunted and sunburnt inside their wire cages, this was not part of the official version.
And once -- but when was this? -- the human mind was a moth, a luminous night insect, clinging to the trunk of an enormous tree. The forest hummed with the howl of wolves, even of werewolves. Snakes and rodents rustled the underbrush. Beetles, fungus and bacteria picked apart corpses and reduced logs to dank powder. Through a gap where lightning had burnt the top off an oak, a frightening glow poured off that strange disc in the sky. The moth's wings flapped and it flew waveringly upward, following the perfume of a night-blooming flower. Before the wind picked up, anyone who would have been around to listen would have heard the shush of its wings folding and unfolding, and perhaps laughter from the garden, wherever that was, where men and women, unobserved, lay down in the wet grass at the edge of civilization.