Octavia Butler Unlocking Intuition as Technology: Part 1
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
Telepathy is non-verbal communication between beings, humans and non-humans alike. It is the transference of extra-sensory messages via words, thoughts, images, and other visualizations, voices, sounds, odours, and tastes, as well as other subtle information transmitted in the environment, including the exchange of emotions and feeling-sensations.
Early experiments on telepathy emerged in England by the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The English Society of Psychical Research was founded in 1882, while Duke University released a well-known and controversial study spearheaded by Dr. J. B. Rhine in the early 1930s. Since then studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of telepathy whereby “senders” and “receivers” exchange “telepathic impressions” by guessing cards from a deck or predicting words or images drawn on paper. In other case studies, objects were hidden in a room, and participants were asked to identify where they were without being told or given prompts.
I was always interested in these studies, because for me, that’s not really how telepathy works. It’s not an "on-demand” action. I would likely fail these tests, not because I don't think it's real, but because of how these tests were structured in the first place. To me, they misunderstand how messages are relayed and decoded. But, I’m still learning myself, so I don’t really know how to make sense of any of this through science either.
With creativity and imagination, telepathic messages can be detected and decoded. Rather than in a book, a classroom, or the Internet, telepathic messages are received in the mind-body intuitively. Embodied knowledge that gets conveyed through extra-sensory perception that extends beyond the five traditional senses: 1) touch; 2) taste; 3) smell; 4) hearing; 5) and vision. These additional senses include clairsentient (extra-sensory feeling), clairaudient (extra-sensory hearing), clairvoyant (extra-sensory sight), or claircognizant (the ability to “just know” and receive information). Something that involves intuition.
Like telepathy, intuition is data that gets downloaded quickly without effort or conscious attention to what is being received or analyzed.
The term intuition has Latin, French, and Middle English roots. More classical definitions are linked to ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, while other philosophers like Spinoza popularized the term in the seventeenth century (Conners, 1990). Kant did the same in the late eighteenth century, and Bergson in the twentieth (Conners, 1990). Author Penney Peirce notes that intuition was once held in secrecy, its associations limited to “women, artists, mystics, poets, oracles, or even lunatics and other fringe elements of society” (4). While this outdated concept still applies, intuition is nothing special per se, nor even necessarily supernatural. Firefighters, doctors, chess players, and judges all intuit in their high-stress professions (Remmers and Michalak, 2016).
Colleen Mauro explains that native priests in Hawaii known as kahunas believed that telepathic messages could be sent directly from the aka or etheric body of one person to another through a thread-like substance that connects all consciousness.
Mauro also suggests that for the native people of the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, “all living creatures are connected by a silver stream of energy that extends from one belly button to another,” invisible chords which become “like telephone wires that send and receive telepathic messages” (66). For feminists in solidarity with one another, this inter-connected web can point to a promising (and radical) possibility that at any given moment we are connected to an infinite number of energetic objects that expand who and what we are in solidarity with. I imagine these alternate time-space realities yet to be explained or made sense of as central to psychic fields. Or Sara Ahmed’s articulation of affective economies that feminists operate in/under/and with.
Octavia Butler does a great job of connecting these themes in some of her works. I’m interested in working mainly with Kindred, Wild Seed, and the The Evening and the Morning and the Night. It allows me to work with the object of shame as a chemical substance like pheromones. This for me, opens up how we approach shame. As a thing in the environment that we can detect. I’m interested in how it carries information our intuition can decode. Others do this work, and well. Like Dr. Katherine McKittrick and Dr. Jacqui Alexander who I turn to in order to make sense of this themes myself, and how to best communicate them.
So far, I’m using Octavia Butler, specifically, Lynn and Beatrice to work with the idea of what I call, telepathic solidarity (more on this in a future blog). In the story, the two women are repulsed by one another and cannot work in close proximity to one another. Beatrice suggests they work over the phone. I’m thinking of what it would look like for them to work with the very pheromones and other energies to communicate in alternate or parallel time-space realities.
To show this, I put Octavia Butler’s characters Lynn and Beatrice in conversation with Akwaeke Emezi’s characters Ada and Malena in Freshwater. I’ll share more in a future blog, but here I’ll say, how Malena worked with Ada through ritual, prayer, interceding on their behalf, talking to Saints, and the ancestors on how best to be there for Ada during their time of need. I want us to consider these other players as central to feminism as well, especially if we are to be in solidarity with one another. To use Katherine McKittrick and Jacqui Alexander, Malena embodies bodily praxis that relocates Black feminist geographies into other worlds not physical. Malena relocates feminist work to psychic fields that expand feminism’s already multi-scalar geographies.
These “old-school saints” who operate from “the other side”, rarely do we consider them as collaborators in solidarity with us. These invisible psychic fields where they meet and consult with us, hardly ever do we consider these liminal spaces as valid sites of feminist organizing. I want us to reconsider this. Octavia Butler allows me to do this.
I'll stop here, but stay tuned for part 2 in the next blog. Please like, subscribe, and share.
Until next time, in solidarity.