Psychopolitica
Psychopolitica
The Washing Machine of Awareness
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The Washing Machine of Awareness

A conversation with John Horgan
28

I’ve finally assembled a little podcast studio in my rented apartment in Yerevan, and I’m going to try to bring the talk show back on a semi-regular basis.

I’m starting with a conversation I recently had with my friend, science writer John Horgan. We talked about ChatGPT, John’s new book My Quantum Experiment (I’m finishing up the cover design), psychedelics, the Chinese room mental experiment, the early Internet, Socrates, friendship, and, inevitably, the war.

Please let me know what you think in the comments, at nikita.s.petrov@gmail.com, or in Psychopolitica Substack Chat.

I also told John my washing machine story.

When I moved to St. Petersburg from Moscow, I rented an apartment that only had a kitchen and a washing machine. And there was a problem with the washing machine.

I would put my clothes in, I’d start the machine, see that it started to work and leave satisfied. Then I’d come back three hours later thinking it would be done.

But it was never done. It was always in some early part of the cycle.

I even bought a new washing machine. I paid half the price and the owners of the apartment paid the other half—because it wasn't fucking working; I was told there was going to be a functioning washing machine—well, there wasn’t. So they chipped in.

But the problem persisted.

So it wasn't the washing machine.

It took me a long fucking time to figure out what was happening.

What was happening is whoever did the electric wiring in the apartment made it so that the light switch in the bathroom also controlled all the outlets inside the bathroom.

And so I would come in, switch the light on, everything's working. Then I’d leave, turn the light off, go back to the room, and nothing was happening behind my back.

I come back two hours later, I turn it on, it's working. But it was supposed to be done by now. I leave, turn the lights off, and so on, in perpetuity.

I have this tendency, which is probably related to my use of psychedelics, to turn everything into a metaphor for everything else. So when I understood what the issue was, I felt: Is this how my life is?

I figuratively turn the light switch on in some part of my psyche, I take a look around and feel I’ve got things under control. But then I turn my attention elsewhere and not notice the order disintegrating behind my back.

Is that why I can't get myself to exercise?

Is that why I’m fumbling through life, stumbling over all these obstacles?

Is that because there are actual obstacles or because I can only pay attention to one thing at a time, and when I’m not paying attention, things simply stop working?

This was five years ago. The household problem I’m dealing with now is with the water heater.

It’s powered by gas. When I turn the hot water on, the gas starts flowing, and a few seconds later, a spark is supposed to appear and fire it up. It takes a little time for the water to warm up.

Sometimes, the spark doesn’t come. By the time I realize that it didn’t—standing in the shower, pouring water over the palm of my hand, waiting for it to get warm—there’s quite a bit of gas that has gone through into the heater. I turn water off, wait a little, and turn it back on. The gas explodes loudly, scaring my wife and my dog.

The water starts to heat up, and I take a shower, thinking, that’s how my life is. Either I’m dealing with the most minor of modern life’s inconveniences, or I’m risking blowing the apartment up on any given morning. And I’m too tired, distracted, or high, to figure out which it is.


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Nikita Petrov
John Horgan