Why Serpents, Dragons, and Shift (part 2)

As I move back toward discussing Shift Journal, it bears mentioning that Andrew Lehman is a man who continues to have an extraordinary and privileged relationship with his unconscious. He had shared enough about this connection in blog posts and in emails that I wanted to ask him about it when I visited him just a few weeks ago. Andrew is spending much time these days watching the comings and goings from behind a large picture window that looks out on to a tree-lined street full of beautiful old wooden houses; this is where he and I and his wife Marcia sat and talked.

At one point when Marcia had just left the room I turned to Andrew and asked, “So how’s your relationship with your unconscious?” He gestured, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, to the window. I thought for a moment and replied, “I’ve been told of of Native American men who would sit on the shore of a lake and watch the water and the sky, all day, for days on end.” At this he nodded vigorously and emphatically.

Here I want to make just a quick mention of a story I remember from when I was a child who read the World Book encyclopedia. This is about the chemist Kekulé who made the breakthrough discovery concerning the molecular structure of aromatic compounds and famously explained years later that he had discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail.

So there’s our ouroboros from the masthead again. I actually count that as a coincidence here, the real point being that scientific discoveries do from time to time spring from the direction of the unconscious — and as it happens Shift Journal owes its existence to Andrew Lehman’s long-ago obsession with serpent mythology. This is a seemingly random fascination to begin with but one which ultimately led to his Orchestral Theory of Evolution. Stay with me here; we’re just a just a paragraph away from being back to autism and disability ….

The upshot then when one studies serpent/dragon mythology in historical context is not only that the ouroboros is a reference to cyclical time, to events having a way of coming back ’round again, but that serpent energy in general is female energy. Whether the story is St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland or the Knight in Shining Armor slaying the Angry Dragon, what’s being recalled — yea, though the victors who write the history books would have us believe it’s the victory of Good over Evil — what’s being recalled and commemorated is the succession of patriarchal social structure over matriarchal (and significantly for our purposes, more autism-friendly) social structure. Now I realize no one who dialed in today was braced for a lecture on superordinate gender-defined social structures, and I apologize for that. But I ask you, what is “the social model of disability” if not a critique of patriarchal values and a suggestion that another option we might consider, you know, is matriarchal values?

What Andrew Lehman’s work does then is provide a framework in which for one style of consciousness — the one out of which the social model has arguably come — autistic is inherently a legitimate way of being in the world. This is obviously not the default style of consciousness at the present time, and much to our frustration today this ouroboros swallows its tail in evolutionary time. It moves slowly, leaving us epically “Tired,” as Lydia Brown has recently reminded. It makes for a scale of change that’s difficult to see from the perspective of any individual lifespan, certainly unless one knows what to look for. But this is the larger, big-picture context Andrew Lehman’s work makes available to every contributor whose words appear at Shift Journal: just as our familiar serpent and dragon myths describe the previous “shift” as it plays out in Dreamtime, Shift Journal is documenting the leading edge of the current one as it plays out in real time.

So. To wrap up this section, something I’ve been curious about ever since I realized how my first obsession transformed from jazz music (for 11 years) to archetypal psychology (for 7 years) in the space of one electrifying paragraph in a Michael Ventura essay, is just how many seemingly random autistic serial obsessions are not at all unrelated and do succeed one another by way of such a spark, one you can actually watch as it flies along a perfectly logical but completely unforeseen path from the last obsession to the next. All as if there’s something else that remains unidentified, stringing together behind the scenes what are in fact related obsessions. Unlike with Kekulé, what happened in Andrew’s case is that once the serpent obsession had run its course, the fascinations which succeeded it involved his wondering whether humans, consciousness, and the prevailing neurology were or are objectively different under matriarchal social structures.

What followed was years of apprenticing himself to the science that concerns itself with that question. It’s work that deserves to be vetted by better-trained minds than are likely listening to me today. I’m telling the part of the story I feel competent to tell at the moment, but the science — along with a copiously referenced twelve-page bibliography — is there for anyone qualified to do peer review.

Theories of course are made of hypotheses and hypotheses must be testable in order to be science. One of the easiest ways to hook into that science sometimes even as a layperson is to look at what a theory predicts, and The Orchestral Theory of Evolution yields a long list of predictions as recorded in the book, 28 of which appear at Shift Journal in an early post titled Predictions.

One thing Andrew has been keenly aware of all along is that since Evolution, Autism, and Social Change is a cross-disciplinary work true peer review will have to come from more than one discipline. Whenever I think about that I’m reminded of the prediction I ran across years ago that we might expect future scientific breakthroughs to come from just such outsider discipline-hoppers because most scientific fields are now so mature that simply keeping up with the literature in one’s chosen field is a full time job, leaving little room for the necessary creative reflection and reverie. My impression is that this has not necessarily been borne out in general, but then it may be that there simply aren’t enough cross-disciplinary thinkers out there — let alone enough time for reflection and creative reverie.

That then is the story of the inception of Shift Journal. It began with an obsession with serpent and dragon mythology, and Shift is not the most significant, thoroughly developed, or potentially far-reaching piece of work to come out of the story.


Recently presented online as part of a webinar sponsored by Autism NOW and The Arc.

(part 3 and more to follow …)


[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]


related: Evolution, Autism, and Social Change

related: Predictions

related: Why Serpents, Dragons, and Shift (part 1)


on 01/23/12 in featured, Internet | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. poetpiet says:

    thanks for that sign of life about Andrew … i’ve been anxious since april 2010 when he debated surgery .. then long silence, … the relative in Tx or someplace saying he was OK .. more silence …. next your mention i found a month ago …. please convey my deepest respect. He is right up there in my long list, with the top 10 deep intuitives.

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