Religious mystics like William Blake claim that everything in the world, no matter how mundane seeming, is in fact beautiful. This seems profound and attractive.
If the brain is a reducing valve – taking universal consciousness and narrowing it to a trickle so that it is possible to concentrate on one thing at a time and worry about personal survival – then judging by the following, testosterone would seem to play an important role in this.
The following I have transcribed, imperfectly, from “This American Life” episode, #220.
This is from a man whose body stopped producing testosterone.
When you have no testosterone, you have no desire and when you have no desire you don’t have any content in your mind. You don’t think about anything.
Reporter: “What was your behavior like?”
I was not behaving at all. When I was awake I was literally sitting in bed and staring at the wall with neither interest nor disinterest for three or four hours at a time. If you had a camera you would think I was comatose. I would go out. I would buy some groceries early in the morning and that would be it. My day had no content. I had no interest in even watching TV, much less in reading the newspaper or a book.
I didn’t want my food to taste good or interesting. “When you are blessed with that lack of desire, you can eat a loaf of Wonder Bread with mayonnaise and that would be your day.” [I thought he was going to say you can eat healthily.] I only saw my girlfriend in the weekend and I could get away with it for five days at a time.
People without testosterone don’t become Spock-like and incredibly rational. They become nonsensical because they are become unable to distinguish what is and is not interesting, and what is worth noting and what isn’t. I would see a brick in a wall and I would think “a brick in wall.” I would see a pigeon and think “a pigeon.” It is the most literal possible understanding of the world. Ticking observations off like a grocery list.
Everything I saw I thought “That is beautiful,” which is odd I know because it sounds like the judgment of someone with passion. But it was thought and sometimes even said with complete dispassion and objectivity. But I was looking at absolutely everything, the most mundane sight in the world and thinking “that is beautiful.” The surgery scars on people’s knees; a weed in the crack in the sidewalk; the bolts in hubcaps on cars. All of it, it just seemed to have purpose. Oh. That is beautiful. [It’s interesting that they seemed to have purpose to him, because he himself had none. And it is precisely their purposefulness that made them beautiful to him.]
Why beautiful? When I think about that question, the issue of God comes into the equation for me. Being without testosterone in a way brought me closer to God. Not more humane, but actually thinking like God. Not thinking as God, but like God in an aping, superficial way. He sees things as they really are. He sees you as you really are. I had this omniscient sense that I was seeing through the skin of things. I was seeing things as they really were. The objective conclusion, not the judgmental conclusion, was “They are beautiful.” Everything is beautiful from the bugs, to the cracks in the sidewalk, to the faces of other people. And it was automatic. Perhaps to see things objectively is to see them, all of them, as beautiful.
But the thought was expressed in the most flat line, boring way possible. “Oh, yeah, that’s beautiful.”
It would seem to be a terrible state to be in. And for most people it is. But it was weirdly pleasant. There is an appeal, an impossible appeal to that Rip Van Winkel existence of being without testosterone. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing if you want nothing. It is difficult to remember it now, but it had its allure.
This story brings to mind the role of memory. Memory functions as an editor, removing boring, irrelevant details. This is frustrating when we want to remember facts and figures, but the advantages outweigh the downsides. Some people are cursed by remembering the color of the shoes of the 64th person they saw last Monday, what they had for breakfast on a Tuesday, 4th of March, 37 years ago and on and on and on without end. If something is really important in someone’s life, the chances are that he will remember it.