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When is a paracosm not a paracosm? When it’s a psychosis.

When is a paracosm not a paracosm? When it’s a psychosis. published on 5 Comments on When is a paracosm not a paracosm? When it’s a psychosis.

"The Jet Propelled Couch," an article [part 1, part 2] from a 1954 issue of Harper’s, describes an analyst’s encounter with a university professor and scientist who lives a dual life. In his mundane existence, he works at the university and researches, but, in his fantasy life, his soul travels to other galaxies, where he is the ruler of a planet, charismatic, powerful, womanizing and benevolent. His trips to his kingdom planet were becoming more frequent, interfering with his job; hence the analyst was called in.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" explores how "Kirk Allen," the subject, nurtured his fantasy world as he grew up as one of the only white children in an isolated settlement in pre-statehood Hawaii. When he chanced upon a series of science-fiction books featuring a protagonist also named Kirk Allen, this coincidence propelled his fantasy world into detailed development. Kirk began to "fill in the gaps" and "make corrections to" the adventures in the Kirk Allen series, as well as drawing maps, charts and pictures of people and places related to his sci-fi activities.

The Kirk Allen paracosm sustained Kirk for many years and gave him much pleasure, and the analyst had to figure out how to "wean him from his madness." Eventually the analyst decided to partly indulge Kirk’s paracosm, getting into the spirit of his world, so to speak, taking it on its own terms. By agreeing with the reality of the Kirk Allen paracosm, the analyst showed Kirk what it was like to be a person who believed in his realm. Seeing a version of himself [i.e., a paracosm believer] in the analyst, Kirk slowly began to realize the fallacious assumptions upon which the reality of his paracosm was based. Thanks to the analyst’s participation, Kirk realized that his paracosm was indeed fantastical, and he apparently resolved his conflicts between his mundane life and his fantasy life.

"The Jet Propelled Couch" is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s fascinating in that it gives a view, albeit heavily psychoanalytic, of how a person’s life circumstances may promote the development of a paracosm. At the same time, it’s frustrating because the fact that the analyst thinks that Kirk Allen is "mad" makes the whole business of paracosms seem more insane, threatening and maladaptive than they really are. I know from my researches and personal experience that paracosms can be an enjoyable, helpful, glorious part of the imaginal development of childhood and adulthood, even though people who are foreign to the idea tend to think it’s a little mad.

In my estimation, Kirk Allen was not mad and did not have a psychosis; I would say more precisely that he had an elaborate, engaging paracosm, the reality of which was interfering with the mundane reality of his life. The only problem with his paracosm was not that it was so well-developed and detailed, but that it was causing trouble with his job. In this case, madness lies not in the contents or existence of the paracosm per se, but more in its effects.


Such was the attitude during that time toward that kind of thing, unfortunately. It’s also unfortunate that the doctor took a “baby with the bathwater” approach. What *is* good is that the attitude seems to be changing in present times, albeit slowly.

The “moral of the story”, if there is one, seems to be commonplace–don’t let your paracosm run away with you, which would seem to be common sense. However, I can tell you from personal experience that, sadly, there are a LOT of folks who don’t follow the common-sense aspect. However, that seems to be more the Seed, so to speak, taking root in an already diseased Soil of the Mind of the Individual. This fellow may have been heading in a bad direction. Having said that, I don’t think that getting rid of the entire situation was a necessity (as you can well imagine).

Thank you for sharing this, I look forward to discussing it with you at length (hopefully) soon 🙂

I wonder what the analyst of 1954 would think of the way people immerse themselves to the point of interference with so-called regular life in things like World of Warcraft? Would it be considered better or worse to lose time to a fantasy world created and populated by other people?

that’s what the mental health establishment needs to emphasize more, although many folks already know this and in fact I was told this by a particularly good counselor: if it doesn’t interfere with activities of living and your relationships with those who are important to you, nobody has any business monkeying with it. Period.

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