Reproduced from Lafayette Morehouse
The Johnny Story
by Vic Baranco
This article originally appeared in Aquarius in December 1969. The Aquarius was a magazine published by the Institute of Human abilities at various times since the late ’60’s.
This is a story, like a fable or parable. We’re not asking you to believe it or anything, just ask yourself, “Hey, what if things are really like this?” If there’s part of it you don’t agree with, there’s just part of it you don’t agree with.
Johnny is driving home one night. He’s 47, graying at the temples, wears a snap-brimmed hat, drives a brand new Buick station wagon. He pulls up his winding driveway into the carport, gets out, locks the car, walks up the flagstone stairs to his stone and glass and wood house. He walks in the front door, past the sunken living room, up the carpeted, wrought-iron staircase to the second floor, past the bedrooms where his kids are sleeping, walks through the master bedroom, past his sleeping wife and into his den. He takes off his coat and his hat and his tie and he puts on a smoking jacket, opens up the desk drawer, takes out a package of cigarettes and takes one cigarette out and puts the rest in the smoking jacket pocket. He lights it, stands in front of the window, takes a long drag and looks out the window. He snuffs out the almost new cigarette in the ashtray and reaches back into the drawer and pulls out a .38 Smith and Wesson, sticks the muzzle in his mouth and pulls the trigger.
The ambulance drivers have arrived and the doctor is in the master bedroom sedating the wife. There are two ambulance drivers: an old grizzly guy who’s been on the job for fifteen years and a young fresh kid who’s still pretty shook up when he sees blood and, of course, the victim is on the floor and there’s blood all over the walls and the back of his head is missing and it’s really pretty grizzly.
The younger fellow is sort of repulsed by the whole thing but the older fellow leans down and takes an almost new package of cigarettes out of John’s pocket, takes one out, lights it, puts it in his own mouth, puts the remainder of the package in his shirt pocket. The young fellow, examining the victim, looks up and says, “Hey, this guy is still alive. I know it’s freaky, but he’s still alive.” The older fellow says, “Well, don’t sweat it. By the time we get him to the hospital he’ll be dead.” So they load him into the basket and put him in the ambulance and drive to the hospital. As they’re backing up to the loading zone at the hospital emergency entrance, the resident on duty comes out and the young fellow says, “Hey, we’ve got a red blanket for you and he’s still alive but I don’t see how he’s going to make it.” The resident rushes him into surgery and the ambulance drivers go about their business.
About four o’clock that morning the ambulance drivers have their coffee break in the coffee shop of the hospital. The same doctor comes in and they call him over to have coffee with them. The doctor sits down and the young fellow says, “What happened to that red blanket that we brought you this morning?” The resident says, “Well, the laws on euthanasia being what they are you know, like mercy killing being illegal, we operated and he’s still alive if you can call it alive. The part of his brain which controls his ability to sense is destroyed. He’s incapable of sensing anything. He can’t see. He can’t smell. He can’t feel. We can keep him alive, probably indefinitely. We’ll lay him on fleece so he doesn’t get too many bedsores and we will turn him regularly, but it doesn’t really matter because if he gets bedsores, he can’t feel it, and if we heal them he’s not going to feel the relief of the healing. We’ll feed him intravenously, but he can’t feel hunger and he can’t feel the gratification of being fed.”
The young fellow says, “Wow, he’s just like a vegetable.” “And worse than that because there’s another part of his brain that may be destroyed too and it’s that part of his brain which controls memory… it’s gone. We have no way of checking it but I think that probably he has no memory.” The young fellow says, “You mean amnesia?” The resident replies, “No, amnesia is a phenomenon that takes place where the patient blocks out pieces of his memory and they may block out who they are and where they came from but they still remember how to tie shoes and they still remember the alphabet and how to do the multiplication tables. What I’m talking about is the total inability to remember his own existence. He doesn’t remember time or space. He doesn’t remember the existence of any portion of the universe.” The young fellow says, “Well, he’s dead then.” The resident says, “No, he’s alive; he still has the ability to deductively reason but he has nothing to deductively reason about. He still has the ability to postulate or conceptually think but he has nothing to conceptually think about. He has no reference point by which to create anything.”
The next scene is inside John’s head and the doctor was right. There is no memory. Inside Johnny’s head is nothing — nothing. He remembers nothing and he can sense nothing and there is no way to put anything back into that head. It was nothing beyond the point of nothing, void, void of the concept of void, in a place where nothing exists, that has no place. Just imagine it: nothing–no space, no area, no time. Nothing. He is not bored because he doesn’t have the concept of boredom, just nothing. He lays there but he doesn’t know he’s laying and he has no contact with what’s going on around the bed.
Then, uncaused, without cause, because cause and effect don’t exist and without effect because there’s nothing to be effect of, comes one thought and that’s the thought of more. Now we know that more can’t exist. Not in this time period. More cannot be achieved but with the concept of more, Johnny’s life has already become fuller. He does not have the concept of fuller but there’s something there for him to relate to even though he doesn’t know of his own existence. And more sits there and from more he deduces that existence exists because more exists. And from the data that more and existence exists, he deduces that he exists and all of a sudden, he has three arbitraries and he can relate those three arbitraries back and forth. The relationship between them is exciting and he has it that more does exist and that he does exist. After a while that’s not enough and he recognizes that he created one thing and from that one thing he got three.
So this time, he decides to invent an invention that has two arbitraries instead of one. This time, he invents cause and effect. Now he realizes that he has been total cause for the invention of existence and he has been total cause for the invention of his own existence, and he also recognizes that he’s been the total effect of all three of those things and that he is total cause and total effect. But all of a sudden he now has five things to relate with and after he plays with those for a while, he recognizes that there is a weird relationship that exists between cause and effect, a diametric relationship. And he applies that same diametric relationship to the three other concepts that he’s put together. He has more and now less, and he has existence and now nonexistence, and he has his own existence and his own lack of existence, and his life’s become full.
But after a while, it becomes dull again, so this time he decides to invent a concept that has three arbitraries instead of two. This time he invents a concept called time. Now all he’s really got is right now, but when he invents time, he invents it with three segments, the past, the future and now. In the past, he invented more and he invented existence, and his own existence, and cause and effect. He’s all cause and he’s all effect and he is the cause of time and he is the effect of time, and in the future he will invent more, and there will be more cause and there will be more effect. All of a sudden his life has expanded further and there are more things for him to do. His universe has gotten a little bigger and he plays with those things for a while. Then he decides that his inventions are fun for him because they produce excitement for him, and that the excitement comes from the apparent difference between his inventions.
So instead of inventing a thing that has four arbitraries, this time he decides to invent a thing predicated on some other standard, so he decides he’s going to invent space. But it’s a bitch to invent because nothing he’s invented so far has solidity and space can only exist in reference to solidity. So he finally finds that the only way he can invent space is to invent one single particle of matter, and that space is that area in which that particle of matter exists. And he really gets a feeling of accomplishment from finally having solved that problem.
He hurriedly relates his new concept of space to his other inventions, and he relates it to more space. Big deal. That’s not very exciting. He relates it to existence. Yeah, the particle exists and space exists but there’s not much change in either one. He relates it to his own existence and has almost no relationship because he doesn’t exist in solidity. He only exists conceptually and he doesn’t exist in space. He relates it to cause and effect and yes, he caused space and he is what little effect he is of space, but it’s not much. He’s beginning to feel like he’s losing because he put all that work into inventing space and it’s not producing anything for him. So finally, he relates space to time and it comes out flat again. But then he relates the single particle of matter to time and space. And he finds that if he puts that particle of matter in this time and this space, then he puts it at this time and this space, and this time and this space, and turns the crank real fast, he can get the illusion of movement. From the illusion of movement he can get the illusion of growth and expansion. Already his life has become richer and his universe has expanded further. He plays around with those for a while and then again it gets dull.
This time he decides that the name of the game is that he invents things that he can use as an adequate excuse to feel the experience of relating it to other things he’s invented. So this time he decides to invent a machine. The machine’s total purpose is to amplify the effect of the things he’s invented. It’s a sensing machine. The sensing machine just arbitrarily has five ways to sense the particle of matter and, in creating those five ways to sense, Johnny has also invented five qualities for the particle of matter. Then he has the machine sense that particle of matter. Because the machine is really just him, it’s just his invention, Johnny can feel through the machine what it’s like to sense a particle of solid matter.
It’s outta sight! He can have the experience of what it’s like to have tactile contact with something. And a bonus! Because, you see, he’s also the particle of matter and from the particle of solid matter, he can feel what it’s like to be sensed by a sensing machine. He’s getting both sides of the relationship. So he runs around and invents all other forms of solid matter for his machine to sense. He exploits the machine’s ability to sense in five ways. He makes them tall and short, soft and hard, salty and sweet, and red and blue, you dig it? He just invents a mass of things for the machine to sense.
But after a while, that gets dull, so this time he decides that what he’s going to do is invent another one of himself, to duplicate himself. He’s already recognized that the duplication of himself will accomplish nothing, that he must produce something that’s slightly different from what he is in order to have the relationship between the two things. So he invents another one of himself just like himself with all the inventions he has going, only this time he names the other thing Jane. And of course he gives Jane the sensing machine and he also give Jane all the particles of matter that he has. Then he tests it.
Through Jane, he can feel what it’s like to have Jane’s machine sense one of Jane’s particles of matter and through Jane he can feel what it’s like to be that particle of matter and be sensed by that sensing machine. It’s a groove!
Then he gets really involved and he has his sensing machine sense one of Jane’s particles of matter and through his sensing machine he can feel what it’s like to sense a foreign particle of matter. Through Jane he can feel what it’s like to have his particle of matter sensed by a foreign sensing machine and he’s getting it going in both ways. He has this one sense that one, and this one sense that one, and this one sense that one. And back and forth and his universe expands again, and it becomes fun.
As it gets dull, he produces a playing field for the machines to play on and he fills that playing field full of all different descriptions of things. He creates grass and trees and animals and rocks and liquid things and gaseous things and solid things and water and brooks…, just all sorts of things. He names the playing field Eden and he names Jane’s machine Eve and he names his machine Adam. Adam and Eve run around the playing field, tasting and touching, feeling and sensing, and they know that who they are is really Johnny and that what their purpose is, is to produce the illusion of excitement for Johnny. That’s their total purpose. But they’re really just Johnny. All there is to do is that thing and they do it.
And they ball, and they laugh, and there are no problems. It’s a paradise. But after a while Johnny gets bored, and so this time he decides he’s going to invent the final invention, the one that will alleviate his boredom forever. He works very hard to invent it and he finally gets it put together and he shapes it round and he paints it red and he hangs it in a tree and he calls it the apple of knowledge. As soon as they take one small bite of that apple of knowledge and claim ownership over that one small bite of knowledge, they produce for the first time mystery. And now Johnny can feel what it’s like to have a mystery.
He can feel through Adam and Eve what it’s like not to know what your purpose is. He can feel through Adam and Eve not to know who you are. He can feel through Adam and Eve that they still know that who they are is Johnny and that what they have is all the power in the world, and that what the whole thing was produced for was to produce the excitement that Johnny and they can get out of it, but they have to forget it. And they run around trying to find out who they are and who the divine being is, and what fruits are right to eat and which fruits are wrong to eat, and what’s the right way to walk across a stream and what’s the wrong way to walk across a stream.
Johnny’s getting all those reactions and, as it gets dull, he just expands it. It gets a little bigger, and finally after a while, it’s no longer flat. He makes it round and every time it gets a little dull he adds some more machines, or he adds some more arbitraries and it gets bigger. The universe not only expands by virtue of expansion, as we find out more about the planets and the way they relate to each other, but it also expands by virtue of contraction, as we find out more about the atoms and the way they relate to each other. Nobody ever really flashes that the relationship between the atoms and their molecules and the planets and their moons is just about the same relationship. End of the scene.
Now we’re going to zero back in and it’s the year 1970 now. We’re going to zero back in on that whole mechanism which is enormous by now. At one small spot, on highway number one headed south away from San Francisco down towards the Big Sur area, is a big blue Detroit boat with four people in it driving down the coast to a get-well center, a mental health spa and, as they’re going down they’re talking back and forth to each other about how they are victimized by their bosses, by their parents, by their kids, by their jobs, by their wives, by their husbands, by the goddamned car they’re driving, by the air they’re breathing, by the trees they’re passing, by the billboards they passing. Do you dig it?
They’re going down to find out what they have to do to get themselves right so they need not be victimized any longer. They go to the get-well center where there’s a big fat guru there with a beard who has them stand on their heads and contemplate their navel and drop funny pills and liberate their latent homosexual tendencies and get out from under their politeness and like, get in touch with their anger. And they take off their clothes and roll around in baths together.
At the end of the weekend they leave. They’re driving in the car back to the Bay Area and they’re talking. Now they recognize more clearly those places where they’re wrong and all they have to do now is go home and change those places where they’re wrong and then they can be right. One by one the driver drops the different passengers off at their different homes. Then he drives his big Buick station wagon to his own home, he parks it in the carport, he goes up the flagstone stairs, past the sunken living room and up the wrought iron staircase, past his kids’ room and into his own room. He puts on his smoking jacket and he goes into the den and he opens a package of cigarettes and he takes two hits and he puts it out. He reaches back into the drawer, pulls out a .38 Smith and Wesson, puts the muzzle in his mouth, and pulls the trigger.