When I was 10 years old, I decided that Aquaman was the most important Super Friend out of the Super Friends (from the Saturday morning TV show Super Friends). Why? Because he was the least powerful, and therefore the least “cool” according to the idiots attracted to the superhero genre, whom I hated.
Aquaman’s superpower: the ability to telepathically command marine animals. Fish and other sea creatures obey Aquaman like loving babies. This is very endearing, but not on a par with demigod-powers had by other superheroes.
But the real reason I loved Aquaman was the fact that he was the show’s primary educator—i.e., of the show’s Safety and Magic segments. Teachers enjoy inspiring others and delighting them with discovery, which makes them the most inspiring people of all (by definition).
Aquaman was the only one on the show that showed you factual things of interest, imparted skills, and opened doors to power. When the Safety segment started, you felt that something in your life was about to be improved. The fact that these informative tidbits were embedded in the midst of such a shitty show made them even more spectacular.
I don’t remember what was in the segment, or if I watched it, or if it was even on, but one Saturday morning I found myself suddenly intoxicated with an urge for science. I became self-conscious of my surprising surge of inspiration and even formulated the thought:
With Aquaman’s encouragement and tutoring, I will become a noble man of science. And by science I really mean alchemy. It is science’s pretension to alchemy that seduces children and poets.
People, think back to your childhoods. What is more exciting than being surrounded by the apparatus of science? It just means that your instrumental reason has penetrated to that depth. The Sumerian scienceman was surrounded by objects that he cut and recombined. Tables, shelves, tablets, urns, and tools. (Clay is the ultimate cut-and-recombine material.) In the 19th century, our cutting and recombining powers had reached the level of the molecule (in chemistry) and included control of the “fluid” of electricity, which was connected to movement of magnets. Being surrounded by chemical, electrical, and magnetic apparatus is just like being in the Sumerian’s garage.
The only thing better than the apparatus of modern science is the apparatus of mad (gay) science! Beakers and flasks and test tubes bubbling with dry ice and colored liquids! The hum and crackle of Frankensteinian electrical devices—the van De Graaff generator, Tesla coil, Leyden jar, and Jacob’s ladder.
What’s all the joy about? Is it the joy of knowing that, at the drop of a hat, I can unleash my cut-and-recombine power on nature and get predictable results? (That is, it is the joy of reflecting on my magickal potency?) “Sumerian! You can carve wood and sculpt clay, but I can extract atoms from molecules as precipitate! That’s how far down my will can reach!”
So yes, it is this joy. But it is also something else—something mystical and dark. The mad scientist’s deepest and most secret wish is to be himself transformed by his apparatus. His deepest desire is to experience transformation into non-human being, to transform, not nature, but his own consciousness. Jung says that alchemy was actually a prop-rich meditation on self transformation. I think the same goes for the mad scientist’s lab. We don’t merely want to conquer nature, but to be conquered by a revelation of the secret underneath the meaningless automation of samsara. If this entails being permanently wounded, to be it—it’s worth it to see what’s really going on behind the scenes.
The nature-conquering scientist secretly wants to be the object of his experiment and be transformed, opened, remade. Sometimes this inward pursuit is explicit—Dr. Griffin in The Invisible Man, Henry Jeckyll in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), and Edward Jessup in Altered States. The mad scientist wants to conquer not only outer but also inner reality, and this involves chemical or electrical or some other physical alteration on a subtler level than gross cutting. He wants to access, directly through contact, the root of things in himself, which is possible because consciousness itself rests on this root. Seeing truth gives you access to power.
I bet I can find a relevant passage from From Beyond …
“What do we know,” he had said, “of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have. I have always believed that such strange, inaccessible worlds exist at our very elbows, and now I believe I have found a way to break dawn the barriers. I am not joking. Within twenty-four hours that machine near the table will generate waves acting on unrecognized sense organs that exist in us as atrophied or rudimentary vestiges. Those waves will open up to us many vistas unknown to man and several unknown to anything we consider organic life. We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.”
Aquaman inspired me to feel at home with intentional and exact extension of my power into nature—and so into myself.
There is a deep romanticism underlying our interpretation of the Faustian agenda. The real alienation is from the self. Our penetration mania is really mania for discovering either God himself or his knowledge, and in this way restore the unity of self and nature. If I penetrated nature all the way, I would reach my own (natural) production.
So I got a magnifying glass and some aluminum foil and a hot dog and a shoe box. I would tame nature and redirect already-existing energy flows, in this case literally bend them to my will. Using an instrument of magick, I can change sunlight by making it massively overlapping and concentrated. Photos are Pauli Exclusion violators so a zillion of them can overlap, which is why death beams can exist. With my wand of sunlight-transforming power, I create a death beam. I am a cooking god.
Also, the machine is beautiful. The shiny side of aluminum foil is really astonishing. I think all of us were startled when we saw aluminum foil for the first time. Paper mirror? Liquid mirror? Plus, it’s paper metal. Reflective metal is amazing—the most impenetrable surface and, yet, with a reflection so clear that the hardness becomes (something like) transparency—no surface exists for vision.
I line the box with foil and it becomes a magickal weapon—a light trap, a dazzling, a surface of tessellated triangles that alternated between mirror and blinding. I send a beam of super-dense sunlight into the light trap and cook a hot dog.
So the box is liquid mirror, and the magnifying glass is a shiny rainbow by virtue of being glass, whose refractive index is actually quite enjoyable. The abundance of silicon tempts us to cheapen it over diamond, but this is the cheap cheapening by inference over real presence. Only cynical adults scoff at cut glass and moisten only at diamond. The child-mind sees a scintillating density of warped space and rainbows.
Q: Did this mad science moment actually happen?
A: I think I just got a sheet of foil and a magnifying glass and then promptly fainted, because the air was perfect-cool and the sun was perfect-warm and I’d just gotten out of the pool and was bracing my glistening tingle-cold torso against a mighty wind.
It was probably the greatest peak experience of my life.
What actually happened? Maybe I aimed a death beam at an emerald blade o’ grass and there really was no hotdog. The blue sky and green grass, the foil and the glass—they were there.