Wishing Is Free

by Belle Waring on May 8, 2019

As has been established. So, I am curious about you and your mode of daydreaming. There is a type which, according to Wikipedia, eats up 47% of your time but consists only of rehearsal for future tasks, mild mind wandering away from the book you’re reading, turning over creative puzzles while doing repetitive tasks, staving off boredom but with short non-recurring fantasies, or generally spacing out. In one of the studies referenced, workers like truckers who face extensive expanses of boredom used daydreaming to mitigate this, with only 5% of the fantasies having sexual content and few being violent. There are some very credulous researchers out there, was my main takeaway from that study.

No, but do you create and maintain elaborate fictional worlds which you keep for months or years at a time? I feel like this is a very normal thing to do but it’s unclear to me how common it is. Recently people have decided that this form of extensive world-building is either evidence of or in itself a form of mental illness, dubbed maladaptive daydreaming. It’s alleged to be linked to depression, OCD and childhood trauma. Moving swiftly on, whether the creation of intricate internal universes is maladaptive or not seems surely to vary according to how dependent the person is on daydreaming, whether it’s interfering with their life somehow, if they are being made unhappy by it, etc. And I’m not sure why it would ever be making you unhappy since you can just change whatever it is that’s troubling you. I mean, people can’t torture you in your fantasy world–unless you happen to want to be tortured, in which case, wish away!

The sub-reddit for it has lots of people who say they suffer from it, and almost none who say, “I am daydreaming when I feel like it, but just the right amount, and what do you people do in taxis or before falling asleep anyway?” However, I contend that: I am daydreaming when I feel…etc. I construct worlds that are sometimes made up of whole cloth and sometimes based on books or something. I usually think about them for six months or so, at which point all the story arcs have been polished to a high gloss and there is no longer a frisson of excitement running through them, at which point I switch to a new one. But I can go back. It’s very gratifying because all the background is set perfectly but I have often forgotten exactly what happened and get to start afresh. I do go through some of the various scenes in a given story many, many times, sometimes in the interest of perfecting them, but more often because they are particularly satisfying. Occasionally it is for the mildly irritating reason that a thrilling part comes next and I feel the need to run the pieces in order. (I guess if that got out of hand it could make you unhappy.) Not all of them, though, you would never have time to get anywhere; I haven’t actually run through the early parts of the story I’m working on in ages, though I have narrated them to other characters recently.

Also, running a galaxy-spanning empire can pose administrative challenges. One of the ways to convince people to join your benevolently despotic empire is to offer them money, in the form of hiring locals to build needed public works (the other main way is offering them protection from violent neighbors). But then I started to worry, will I create inflation on a poor planet by injecting so many platinum credit-equivalents into the economy? Sure I could subsidize basic goods, but that would just compound the problem, it seemed to me. But then, a certain amount of inflation is better for debtors and worse for creditors, and that’s probably fine. I researched it last night and decided I would have to set up a small central bank to tighten and ease monetary policy, and not let any small-time planet’s Mnuchins anywhere near anything, and it would probably be fine. I just didn’t want hyperinflation. There is still the problem that I thought there would be a unitary empire-wide central bank, but that would be bad for the various fluctuating planetary economies, but I have decided not to worry about it for a while. I guess when people start rioting I’ll do something about it. Wait, am I on the gold standard, essentially? Ugh.

One of my daughters engaged in a similarly detailed procedure with her fantasy world, in which she is not the star but merely an orchestrator and observer. (This I do not understand at all. She can be the chosen one, all the time! It’s not fanfic and no one else will ever know, so there’s no reason to feel shame at the Gary Stu nature of the thing. What are wishes for, if not to be employed in wish-fulfillment? But she is a very different person than I.) She decided that while in the winter this one Nordic-type group had mostly to subsist on oatmeal, they also grow a summer grain and make bread out of it to eat then. Both the grain and the bread have invented names, and she looked up wheat cultivation to figure out exactly what everyone was up to (when not yanking swords from stones or fighting an ancient evil or whatever, I was too delicate to ask. She says she sometimes prefers working out minor details to creating big story arcs.) This is the kind of thing that separates the boys from the men, so to speak, when it comes to creating elaborate fictional worlds.

The taxi is an almost perfect location for this kind of fantasizing: it is an enclosed space, you have things to look at sliding endlessly past, nothing is expected of you. It can’t be denied that in your bed in the dark is perhaps the best; maybe that makes it seem maladaptive (though if people go to sleep another way they are unusual). But you don’t have to be particularly bored even in the ER waiting room! You just don’t have to be bored, ever. I remember well when I was a child and first fully attained this power, and I realized my triumph over one of the starkest facts of childhood life: crushing boredom. And later over other things, unpleasant ones–isn’t this adaptive daydreaming, rather? With, as it happened, wild ponies? Tell me of your worlds.



Belle Waring 05.08.19 at 2:22 pm

My monetary policy problems are not going to spiral out of control and make me unhappy since I can just decide things are a certain way. They are merely meant to illustrate attention to immersive detail.


Matt_L 05.08.19 at 3:56 pm

Its exams week. I should be grading finals, but instead I am writing new class schedules and syllabi for my fall classes. This is the ultimate fantasy, because all summer I daydream that my fall teaching will have different outcomes. But every fall I am still teaching freshmen and sophomores who proceed to behave like Freshmen and Sophomore students do, but just not exactly like I had tried to predict and account for in my syllabi. And my efforts at world building collapse in the face of human agency. I’ve been teaching for fourteen years and persist in my fantasies because its way more interesting than grading. Marking exams and doing the bookkeeping is really boring.


Mike Huben 05.08.19 at 4:09 pm

Pan’s Labyrinth is my favorite movie on the subject. Brilliant and painful.


Jim Buck 05.08.19 at 4:17 pm

Rumplestiltskin! With your imagination, Belle, I would be spinning straw into gold or writing 8 season boxsets for netflix. As things are, I have not had much of a fantasy life since taking the great lysergicide laxative back in the day. Did you ever read Lidner’s The Fifty Minute Hour?


Philip 05.08.19 at 5:35 pm

Yes, I do this. It is something I do when I am anxious and can be to avoid thinking about stuff I need to do but I also get pleasure from it and will do it when I am relaxed and happy. At the moment I’m flitting between two worlds both of which have a main character that started as me but they have then developed into different people. I have quite a bit of detail with the worlds and the characters but plot is sketchy. Some of the missing detail of the world’s is because it is stuff the character’s themselves wouldn’t know and some is stuff I might get to later.

One is a post-apocalyptic world with the story based in Northeast England. Cities have become depopulated and are generally seen as no go areas because of radiation and illness and stuff. Most of the action is based between various factions in the countryside and main characters coming together to create a new social order.

The other one is based around an alternative enlightenment which didn’t end up with free market liberalism but more conservatism and economic management (many missing details on this back story). There are city states and corporations operating across them with various factions acting outside of the geography of the city states and supporting or resisting the system in different ways. The main character is a woman who designs virtual reality games and is a computer hacker. She finds out some truth about the world (this changes in different imaginings) and goes out and discovers different things about the world meets various characters and I’m not sure ho it ends. This one is a much bigger world with lots more gaps in it.

I keep thinking I should try and write some of this up as short stories or just for practice but I also like that it just exists in my head. I remember seeing a comedian (it might have been Stewart Lee or one of the support acts) and he was talking about men being in any green area and start imagining themselves in different scenarios and a member of the audience saying he would imagine himself as an escaped Roman slave.


Tyler 05.08.19 at 5:56 pm

This is super interesting, and totally foreign to me. I am envious! When you and your daughter talk about this, how do you refer to the things in your daydream worlds with each other? Like are you familiar enough with each other’s worlds that you can refer to characters or places by name? Or do you say “this one person in my fantasy world did such and such”? Like does she say “this one Nordic-type group”? Or do you have to reintroduce the whole world and scenarios to each other every time it comes up? I’m not totally sure what I’m asking, but one thing that I am delighted by is that these are at least somewhat shared and I’m interested in how much access other people might have to one person’s fantasy daydreaming world.


Murali 05.08.19 at 5:58 pm

I do the worldbuilding thing too, but that is only because people aren’t writing the stories I want to read so I make them up in my head anyway.


William Berry 05.08.19 at 7:00 pm

I have a go-to-sleep-and-stop-obsessing-about-stuff-you-can’t-control fantasy which I think might have been inspired by a story I read as a teenager called “The Mile Long Spaceship”.

I stop thinking about money, taxes, business concerns, the world dying, myself dying (something you think about more and more as you approach the three-score-and-ten marker), etc., by going to sleep in my berth in a gigantic, completely invulnerable spaceship that is hurtling across the universe. My berth is a kind of force field that cradles me in its delicate embrace, sensing, and attending to, my every need. The overall effect I imagine is of a continuous kind of low-level orgasmic tingle from head to toe.

By concentrating intently on this fantasy, and with the aid of a couple glasses of vino rojo and a healthy slug of Zzquil (sp?), I am finally able to slip away for a few hours.

And yes, I have been treated for depression, am diagnosed OCD, and experienced some degree of childhood trauma, but I wouldn’t trade anything to have had a “normal life”. Had I had such a life I would know and care much less about the world, and I think I like knowing and caring. Most of the time.


patrick 05.08.19 at 7:57 pm

I’ve done this since I was 6 or 7 years old – and in my early 40s, I still find myself drifting into it, particular when walking to and from work. I mean, what else am I going to do with those hours?

Oddly, before reading this, I’d never given much thought to whether this was something that made me very *unusual* or a fairly common mental habit. Either which way I don’t think it’s done me any great harm. Some of the less obviously self-indulgent bits of it I’ve occasionally had a go at writing up, though, in common with many veterans of NaNoWriMo, not to any great effect.


Mr Spoon 05.08.19 at 8:43 pm

I’m now disappointed world building is regarded so pejoratively. My own world building is also complex and deeply satisfying – I call it ‘the most fun I can have with my pants on’. And I certainly never suffer from boredom. But I have to concede it’s a refuge from the less great aspects of my real world existence. I am fortunate I can share some of my world building through role playing games with my friends. My small art and craft skills were assembled through the desire to create depictions and artefacts of my worlds, and if I ever find the motivation to commit fiction, my worlds will hopefully find new friends. This also gives me a new insight into Prof Tolkien’s works, although attributing his magnificent achievement to merely dealing with his troubled life seems somehow belittling.


JakeB 05.08.19 at 8:48 pm

Totes short on time, so I will merely observe that one of my favorite books of all, Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia, was written by someone who had grown up doing this kind of daydreaming. (And that Wright himself was extremely successful in his professional life, so “maladaptive” my pasty white ass.)


Priest 05.08.19 at 9:36 pm

One scene that I revisit on occasion, often during the train ride and then drive home after work, is that I have time-traveler Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, say, along with me for the ride. I work to explain with as much technical and scientific precision as I can muster, various marvels of modernity, in response to their intense curiosity. At the same time, they point out and react with revulsion to all of the ugliness that surrounds us that we have learned to tune out (think of the U. S. commonplace ugliness of ubiquitous utility poles and overhead lines, as an example).


Faustusnotes 05.09.19 at 12:46 am

I’m a role playing game master. I have so many worlds!!! I don’t have time to day dream!

But seriously, I definitely do this! Also after I watch a zombie or post apocalypse movie I do a lot of day dreaming about how I would handle this post apocalypse/zombie scenario. My god after I watched the descent I was stabbing grey men in the dark for months before I went to sleep!

I’m a little concerned if there is a scientific movement to classify day dreaming as problematic. That’s post apocalyptic in itself!


absurdbeats 05.09.19 at 3:12 am

Holy shit. I mean, I had to know that I wasn’t the only one who carried these stories over months & years, had to replay scenarios in precise order. . . but I kinda did believe I was the only one.

I don’t want to get into the content—it matters immensely that these are only mine—but I think they have been sometimes good, occasionally not-so-healthy-for-me (in ways that I can eventually recognize and deal with), and mostly fine, a way to pass the time. I mean, they can’t be worse than Twitter, can they?


Belle Waring 05.09.19 at 4:32 am

Sorry for the slow moderation commenters; I legit forgot I had to do it with every single person stuck in moderation hell. I am interested to hear from everyone, both immersive daydreamers and not. I think this is immensely less bad than “dorking around on the loserweb,” as the Poor Man put it so long ago. I was thinking of it in part because I decided in the last few weeks that it was a better use of my time than looking at the internet and feeling really pissed off. So now I am kind of spending hours doing it but these are hours that otherwise would have been spent reading the NYT and Vox, or hatereading horrible sub-reddits, so, win?

I do share general story things with my daughter, but not the names because it would be too personal somehow? She started by asking me what was the most useless tiny detail I ever invented, and it was little smooth pebbles in a stream that you could stir up with your fingers and find out if someone had passed over it (provided you’re a magic user) and they will eventually tell you, but first you have to listen to endless gossip about birds, because the stones are just obsessed with them, particularly the crows who are smart and interesting, but also which bower bird built the most successful structure and so attracted a mate. She agreed this was a truly pointless level of detail.


Belle Waring 05.09.19 at 4:56 am

Philip yours sound particularly awesome, though all of them are way cool. I would like to learn how to make myself be an observer but I am so set in my ways I’m not sure I can manage it. It would make them much better candidates for fiction.


Philip 05.09.19 at 6:44 am

Thanks, Belle. I think I’m good at creating characters and worlds but struggle with what to do with them. The fantasy about me is that I become a successful author using these daydreams. Even as a kid I would walk along telling stories to my mam and shed say to write them down but I’d never want to. My 11 year old nephew is very much like that too.

Both of my worlds started out with thinking about the landscape in the Northeast of England and nature restoring damage from humans following deindustrialization. This led to imagining a post-industrial utopia and I started making a back story for that world. Then I had nature recovering from apocalypse instead of industry and I had characters coming into that world.

I created the other world to house the technology from the first utopia and some of it still doesn’t fit but we’ll I don’t want to waste it. I was imagining myself in that world as a famous games designer working in a brick loft apartment between the edgy part of town and the shiny sci-fi centre where the elite are. A contracting games designer would get recognition in this world but not be part of the establishment. I would imagine myself working away then going into the world when I wanted and on my own terms. When I switched this character to being female it made total sense and became much more interesting because of the social expectations of women (reading your posts, Belle, helped with that). I’ve then tried to think through race, class and gender a bit more in these worlds. A lot of it was just overflow from other reading I was doing before.

Now I don’t really know what to do with the characters and maybe writing it down would help them develop but then I still feel like I was as a boy and end up playing computer games rather than writing down stories.


Neville Morley 05.09.19 at 7:24 am

I’m struck by how much imaginative effort I put into producing worlds that are incredibly mundane. When I was young, it was a matter of imagining myself into the sort of children’s book where there’s a gang and they do stuff – occasionally adventures, like the Lone Pine books, but mostly just messing about in the countryside or on the water, as in Swallows and Amazons or Bevis. It’s interesting that the best of these – so, not Blyton – involve open rather than closed groups, and there’s always an episode where one or more new people are inducted into the group and gradually prove themselves to be worthy full members; so, perfectly possible to imagine oneself as a character. Some effort required to negotiate differences between 1920s or 1950s and present day to produce a plausible hybrid, but most of the imaginative work went into devising scenarios where it was conceivable that I ever could manage to make friends. And today I often devote time to imagining how I could end up playing in a band – not a famous or successful band, just a local jazz group, but I have to think of ways in which my chronic lack of confidence could be forcibly overcome. All of which indicates that I have an incredibly prosaic imagination and some substantial psychological issues…


Guillaume C. 05.09.19 at 9:32 am

It feels good to read such a post. I had a talk with my lover recently, and she told me she was daydreaming a lot, but when I started to talk about worlds I created, she told me her daydreaming was much more common (?), like dreaming of a possible success in the future, that kind of things.

My daydreams usually involve some kind of galactic empire (we have a Star Wars fan over here), which I run for some times, then I decide to leave it all, see it collapse, divide into smaller galactic kingdoms, and eventually run a rebellion in one or two of them, just to see how it goes. Sometimes, I’m some kind of magician in a Tolkien-style world, who helps whatever king there is and then punishes him for his inevitable growing lack of respect. Now that I think of it, it all reveals a sort of mixed relationship towards political power. Oh, and most of my elaborate daydreaming occurs while I’m in the bathroom.

However, daydreaming doesn’t equal “not-boring-activity-I-do-when-I-should-be-bored-or-when-I-should-be-doing-something-else”. I mean, I sometimes do it when I should do something else, or when I am bored, but daydreaming can be boring. When you have all the powers of the universe you created, and when there is a qualitative difference between you and the people living in your own world, things can get boring. If you have an issue, you can just snap your fingers to solve it, instead of changing monetary policy. And finger-snapping can get things tedious.

Is it, in my case, maladaptative daydreaming? Self-diagnostic probably isn’t a great thing to do, but I’ll say three things about my daydreaming: first of all, I’ve been doing that as far as I can remember, and most of the time it feels like a childhood atavism; second, I had a depression that lasted for 2-3 years, several years ago – I cannot say both phenomenons are correlated, but cannot exclude the possibility that daydreaming increased during that period; finally, daydreaming doesn’t prevent me from doing things I should be doing, such as writing my PhD thesis. I have Crookedtimber for that and, you know, all the Internet.


passer-by 05.09.19 at 10:53 am

Mine last for years and I have been doing it forever. I’m stuck in one now, which has probably run its course, and I’m starting to grieve the characters and story. Transitions are difficult.
I mostly use it as a fun leisure. Never bored either. I have used it successfully to manage stress, especially to stop the worried stream of thoughts about what I have to do, should have done etc, when trying to fall asleep. Sometimes, I have abused this strategy and used it to temporarily escape from facing whatever stressful or difficult things I should have been thinking about.

More importantly – thank you sooo much for saying this. I always thought that was some weird thing of mine, that noone does unless they are professional storytellers. It’s the “fantasy version of myself” that I always suspected was crazy. I am grateful that I have never truly needed psychological help, because that was probably the main reason why I have always been adamantly opposed to any kind of talk therapy – I am not talking to anyone about this (the content especially). Don’t want to analyse it and don’t want someone to tell me I’m crazy either.
Anyway, so happy to finally learn I’m not alone! (the craziness is still an open question)


Zamfir 05.09.19 at 11:04 am

I do something very similar with fantasy DIY projects, 99% of which never get built. I can make rather detailed plans, in my head or on paper, do some reading up, even order a few weird parts just to see what they are like.

It works best if the project is vaguely realistic for me in skills , but too large in scope for the available time. Then you can daydream all you want, it feels sort of real, but no pressure “to get started”.

It can get weird if you discuss such projects with non-dreamy people, who think I am planning to start tomorrow.

I used to do something like the “worldbuilding”, but that tapered off. I don’t know why.


SusanC 05.09.19 at 12:14 pm

My mind is full of a stream of thought a large portion of the time that I’m awake, but it’s almost entirely planning about what I’m about to do next. (e.g. for academic writing I’ll think it out what I’m going to say in my head first before I type it up).

I pretty much don’t day dream during the day. I’ll admit to daydreaming when I’m actually trying to get to sleep at night.

P.S. As you say, in this type of psychology research, people’s self-reports about sexual dreams and fantasies should be taken with a pinch of salt. For example, in a collection of dream reports collected by Hall and van de Castle in the 1940s and 1950s, none of the women have sexual dreams about other women. I doubt people’s actual sexuality has changed that much since the 40s. Willingness to tell a researcher that you’re a lesbian, on the other hand, is significantly higher in modern samples…


SusanC 05.09.19 at 1:56 pm

@Zamfir: yes, buying stuff for an activity you never get around to actually doing does sound like its conceptually related, if only distantly. It’s a common problem.

I try not to do that, but will confess to having bought art materials for projects I never got around to doing. Some (maybe even many) of my art projects I do actually do, but – for example – I have a bottle of sepia coloured ink for ink+wash drawing that I never got round to using.

Last fall/winter I had a plan I was going to make pumpkin soup. I even got as far as looking up the recipe. Sadly, the actual buying of the pumpkin and making soup failed to happen. (This is buying cookery books/watching cookery programmes as a substitute for actual cooking). Instead, I cooked recipes that I already knew how to do.


I am expecting some grad student to appear in this thread and say similar things about their doctoral dissertation…


John Garrett 05.09.19 at 2:09 pm

Fascinating! I have meditated daily (missing maybe once every two weeks) for 25 years, and when it goes I always end up in a long, complex story, sometimes victorious, sometimes magical, sometimes mundane. The stories are new every day, and if I wait they always come. My wife thinks I’m napping but I rarely sleep because it’s so interesting to ride the story dragon and see where it goes. Anybody else who meditates this way?


degsy 05.09.19 at 3:39 pm

Interesting. Because I had only ever heard about this sort of thing in connection with cases like the young Brontes or Tolkein I’d assumed it was restricted to creative geniuses ( I suppose belle might count as one .. ) It hadn’t occured to me that many of the people I sit with on the daily commute could be experiencing fantasises of this depth; reminds me of something in Sandman about people having ‘worlds inside them’ but in a more literal way than I had imagined.

The nearest analogue in my own childhood was long imaginary conversations with whichever historical or cultural figure I happened to be obsessed with at the time. At some point I convinced myself this was ‘unhealthy escapism’ and stopped imagining such things, which I now regret..


anon/portly 05.09.19 at 4:49 pm

Probably my most long-running and most frequently revisited one is/was a sci-fi thing – admittedly banal, which may have made it a better sleep aid – but I would also do sports, music and even true crime for a while. With sports I would invent imaginary players and teams with imaginary, detailed stats. With music I invented an imaginary band with its imaginary discography – I still remember some of their song titles.

For some reason this topic makes me think of the “misle” thing – people who thought there was a verb, “to misle,” and then had the weird experience of “losing a word” when it turned out that there wasn’t, there was just the past tense of mislead. This came up on some blog; maybe it was this one? One similarity is that of course it’s interesting to find out others have similar experiences , but also I wonder if both stem from reading a lot as a kid.

Now I wonder if some novelists actually used daydreams as material. The first one that comes to mind as a possibility – seems “daydreamy,” somehow – is Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis.


alfredlordbleep 05.09.19 at 5:34 pm

Philosophy at Play
A further reconstruction. The first fragment portrayed a philosopher from the present on the run to the 19th century. (His winged feet carried him, his mind followed)

JH, just returned from town in a new outfit, has placed himself below Cecily’s balcony

JH [in falsetto] May Cecily come down and play?
CECILY [opens door to balcony] Ssssssshhh. Algy is still sleeping.
JH I will take care not to awaken the young husband.
CECILY He’s not so young. He’s almost thirty. And you enjoy your contrariness too much.
JH Just so.
CECILY Algy and Uncle Ernest arrived late last night with—I’m not going to tell you—let’s call her a surprise.
JH You’ve been particular when bringing me up, as we agreed?
CECILY Hardly ever. Anyway, how was I to speak of you?
JH Remember Socrates was the first to bring philosophy down from heaven—
CECILY And you the second? Your discussion of the future hardly—[Shakes her head] And where do you go at night?
JH You must listen for the Owl of Minerva.
CECILY [Shortly greets John at ground level in a summer sleeping gown] You look wan.
JH Because I am hungry. [Whispers in her ear]
CECILY Strawberries and cream? Not on hand I’m sure.
JH My eyes are deceiving.
CECILY [with a searching look] To think that a moment ago you were a philosopher. Mind over matter. [looking him up and down] On the contrary you are in very presentable wear. I knew Merriman would find suitable style. As the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought, did people take notice?
JH Your countrymen are reserved, women not so much.

Two hours later. They have retired to the garden
CECILY What’s remarkable in women’s fashion in your time? I am speaking of the upper orders in England.
JH The women who cover their faces!
CECILY As novel as that is in my experience, I’m not sure I like your age. It would make insincere expression too easy. No art is improved by little effort. Besides, I always say I reject any style that isn’t rational dress.
JH I love looking you in the face.
MERRIMAN [appearing like a bolt from the blue] Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL [in a booming voice at the door to the garden] Ah, Professor, I am surprised to see you! I suspect you are an illusion or an emanation of spiritualism—
CECILY [whispers while suppressing a giggle] I think she better be a myth.
LADY BRACKNELL The great outdoors is never finer. My nephews have decided to take Gwendolyn for a gallop. Cecily, in this sun you should cover yourself or go back inside.
CECILY Aunt Augusta, Uncle John has told me of how women in the future hide their faces in public.
LADY BRACKNELL It would be life as a permanent masquerade ball. Has labor saving advanced so far that all classes of society are idle?
CECILY I meant to say—
LADY BRACKNELL It hardly would allow social distinctions.
JH Only a minority is affected.
LADY BRACKNELL That’s a relief. Today few people know what to do with the freedom they have.
JH They are from a different tradition. They are from former Em—
LADY BRACKNELL I hope, Professor, you mean Britannia always rules the waves.
CECILY [whispers to JH] We will have to take you to a masked ball.
LADY BRACKNELL Now, as I was about to say, while my nephews are away there will be time enough for me to make a few inquiries of you. [Looks in her pocket for notebook and pencil] You can take a seat.
JH Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer sitting.
LADY BRACKNELL It is of concern to the family that Cecily always is in good company—even distant relations are questionable. And you are most remote.
JH I have been reassured by the receptiveness, even cordiality, of the English for a foreigner like me. Surprising examples, I think of Karl Marx and his family, were sheltered here in your recent past. [aside] Yes, the day before yesterday.
LADY BRACKNELL Karl Marx? I don’t know him. He must have made little impression on the higher orders of society. I trust his stay in this country was profitable.
JH Marx, I mean the name, entered history books, first, if not as tragedy, then in the twentieth century as farce.
LADY BRACKNELL I suppose since you are from the future, wonderful as it is in this age of advances, you know everything.
JH Only what’s worth knowing.


anon/portly 05.09.19 at 5:42 pm

But then I started to worry, will I create inflation on a poor planet by injecting so many platinum credit-equivalents into the economy? Sure I could subsidize basic goods, but that would just compound the problem, it seemed to me. But then, a certain amount of inflation is better for debtors and worse for creditors, and that’s probably fine. I researched it last night and decided I would have to set up a small central bank to tighten and ease monetary policy, and not let any small-time planet’s Mnuchins anywhere near anything, and it would probably be fine. I just didn’t want hyperinflation. There is still the problem that I thought there would be a unitary empire-wide central bank, but that would be bad for the various fluctuating planetary economies, but I have decided not to worry about it for a while. I guess when people start rioting I’ll do something about it. Wait, am I on the gold standard, essentially? Ugh.

If the inflation is anticipated, it’s a wash, right? It’s unanticipated inflation that’s better for debtors, and unanticipated deflation (or lower than expected inflation) that’s better for creditors.

If you have a fiat currency, by definition you have a Monetary Authority and monetary policy (I think). I think it’s true that without interplanetary labor mobility you would have a problem with say, a negative supply shock (like a natural disaster) on Planet X leading to a recession or depression, but why not just use benevolent expansionary fiscal policy? Supply-side fiscal policy might be best; if you have a Galactic Superannuation System, you could suspend or reduce the appropriate taxes (or contributions). Or maybe some sort of “helicopter drop?”

If the Galactic Authority can’t figure out some way of goosing nominal spending on a chosen planet, what kind of Galactic Authority are they?


Rand Careaga 05.09.19 at 7:01 pm

My own daydream is a sort of urban planning fantasy that takes as its point of departure a sleeping dream from college in the early seventies in which I descried from a hilltop, at the approximate geographical location of San Francisco, a comelier, more sparsely-settled metropolis (called, for some reason, “Loire” in the dream) with many more trees and open spaces, and handsomer yet more self-effacing architecture, than the city had then or now. Ever since then, revisiting and reimagining the place at bedtime has been an effective, though not infallible, remedy for insomnia.

Since the 2016 debacle I occasionally yield myself over to power-mad fantasies of presiding over tribunals and show trials following which a number of right-wing public figures are hanged on the National Mall, but I find that these do not reliably conduce to sleep.


BLS Nelson 05.09.19 at 7:09 pm

I mind-wander more than daydream, though I guess they’re both tenants in the same apartment. I specialize in the Zen sort of no-think thinking, the null point Twilight Zone of intentionality. Thinking a thought about a thing is so much more rewarding when you have an alternative. Gives you the opportunity to make it count when you do. “You can mould clay into a vessel; yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful,” and yadda.

Occasionally I get hit with bursts of blue sky when thinking about philosophy. I try to imagine a realistic green future where people think about the economy and what matters in their lives. What theories do these future people take for granted? Do they take it for granted that GPI measures wellbeing? Does their conception of decision-making look more like ecology, or evolutionary game theory, or ethical philosophy (or some combo), or maybe something more exotic? Then I assume that it’s something more exotic, and try to imagine how it would work and why it would be any better. But it’s all for fun. I know I don’t know any better.

Aside: AFAIK, dorking the loserweb seems like a kind of mindwandering, it’s just that it’s wandering over other minds.


Rand Careaga 05.09.19 at 8:04 pm

To “passer-by” who, in comment 20, said “It’s the ‘fantasy version of myself’ that I always suspected was crazy”: Whenever I worry that my interior landscape might be a trifle insalubrious, I visit a comment thread at this or that metropolitan newspaper site or (shudder) on Yahoo, and am reassured that, at least grading on the curve, I’m the very embodiment of mental hygiene.


oldster 05.10.19 at 12:59 am

I should think the most prodigious daydreamers/fantasists of our own time are the American gun-nuts, who spend most of their waking hours fantasizing about being set upon by enemies, and gloriously defeating them with their weapons of choice.

Much of the piquancy and absorption in the past-time comes from the alternating moods of despair and triumph: despair when one imagines oneself attacked in the alley, triumph when one imagines gunning the attacker down.

But the triumph soon loses its relish, when one considers that there might be two attackers, or ten. Nothing can combat this despair, except to increase one’s own fire-power. Having purchased a few more guns, and arranged for the possession of more ammunition, one can then enjoy the sense of triumph once again.

Until one remembers that the attack need not come in the alleyway: it could come in one’s home. Despair. Followed by triumph, when one keeps a pistol under the pillow. Followed by despair, when one thinks about being caught unarmed in the shower. Followed by triumph, when one makes provisions to have a gun at hand even in the shower (as some gun-nuts do!)

The glory of this game is that because one plays both offense and defense, one can always renew the thrill of overcoming the self-imposed odds.

Or not: one can also torment oneself constantly into greater feelings of inadequacy, greater fantasies of helplessness as one imagines oneself beset by all manner of enemies, foreigners, others. The self-sadist can always multiply enemies faster than ammunition. But the thirst for ammunition continues unabated.

It’s a jolly game, and it keeps the weapons-manufacturers very wealth indeed.


Peter T 05.10.19 at 1:20 am

Oh my yes. It starts with a niggle about some detail, and you end up working through the plumbing of Moria in your head. Or thinking about how, if ftl lets you get half-way round the galaxy in a few weeks, it would let you commute to Alpha Centauri…

I’ve played rpgs for many years, and some were more an effort to realise an internal vision, the game being just the excuse. Most recently I’ve started to write the stories, and found how hard it is to get a balance between narrative movement and depiction to find the right point between Gormenghast and Robert E Howard. Space emperor or galactic central bank advisor…


Alan White 05.10.19 at 2:33 am

It seems to me that I experience this in writing poetry, where for a time I enter past times and re-inhabit and rebuild them. Here’s an example that shows why sometimes “It’s Complicated”, and in fact involves references to worlds:

Viewing *When Worlds Collide* for the Umpteenth Time
( for A.)

It was two years old when I was not one,
and yet it told my life like some Pal-o-mine
Cassandra before I met my own Barbara Rush.
She’s caught between two worlds of love
colliding in the movie about two real worlds
colliding, where she’s first with a good man
with good sense and a future until
there is no future, when comes this
not-so-noble flyboy messenger who
lands in her life and makes what little
future for passion that there is just enough to
finally force her good man to be even better by
his making it possible for those two to be together
and sacrificing his own love, his own world.
I first saw tonight that I am both men,
in my own two worlds constantly colliding,
in my rush to be loving good man and flyboy
all at once, while other real worlds
wait out there, hurling toward us.


JPL 05.10.19 at 9:25 am

This post needs a musical theme: How about this one (below)? Upon seeing Belle Waring’s name and reading the title and first paragraph my mind wandered immediately to this song, and I was in a world I seem to prefer to the one in which all the people waiting to cross the street are intently looking into the devices in their hands and maybe with nothing of their own in their heads.


John Quiggin 05.10.19 at 11:31 am

This kind of imaginatiion doesn’t come naturally to me at all, and I’d certainly be glad to be able to turn it on at will. I think its important, in the words of Erik Olin Wright to envision socialist utopias, and I had a go* in this piece, but that took lots of labour on my part.

* Spoiler: as Paul Krugman observed it’s more of a super-Denmark than an SF utopia, but that’s what I was aiming at.


Jim Buck 05.10.19 at 12:35 pm

‘ For many days I pondered the question of how Kirk Allen could be restored to sanity–and yet remain alive. For there seemed to be nothing that could compete with the unending gratifications of his fantasy. Meanwhile Kirk turned over to me all of his records.

It is impossible to convey more than a bare impression of these. There were, to begin with, about 12,000 pages of typescript comprising the amended “biography” of Kirk Allen. This was divided into some 200 chapters and read like fiction. Appended to these pages were approximately 2,000 more of notes in Kirk’s handwriting, containing corrections necessitated by his more recent “researches,” and a huge bundle of scraps and jottings on envelopes, receipted bills, laundry slips.

There also were a glossary of names and terms that ran to more than 100 pages; 82 full-color maps carefully drawn to scale, 23 of planetary bodies in four projections, 31 of land masses on these planets, 14 labeled “Kirk Allen’s Expedition to —,” the remainder of cities on the various planets; 161 architectural sketches and elevations, all carefully scaled and annotated; 12 genealogical tables; an 18-page description of the galactic system in which Kirk Allen’s home planet was contained, with four astronomical charts, one for each of the seasons, and nine star-maps of the skies from observatories on other planets in the system; a 200-page history of the empire Kirk Allen ruled, with a three-page table of dates and names of battles or outstanding historical events; a series of 44 folders containing from 2 to 20 pages apiece, each dealing with some aspect–social, economic, or scientific–of the planet over which Kirk Allen ruled. Finally, there were 306 drawings of people, animals, plants, insects, weapons, utensils, machines, articles of clothing, vehicles, instruments, and furniture.

The reader can imagine my dismay at the sheer bulk of this material; I do not know if he can appreciate with what misgivings I approached the task of weaning this man from his madness. Aside from everything else, he was my patient under the most inauspicious possible conditions, for he had not come of his own volition. The authorities had sent him, demanding he be treated not only for his sake but because they feared that in his disturbed condition he was a poor security risk who could neither be kept on the job nor discharged.

In his dealings with me Kirk acted the part of a noble opponent who courteously permits his antagonist to choose the time, the place, even the weapons of their encounter. Unfailingly polite, he submitted to my ministrations, attempted to follow my instructions to the letter, and gave me every possible scope for my activities. But I understood at once that his courtesy was only the mask for a deep antagonism–and, perhaps, fear. In a dim way, I saw, Kirk too appreciated that his very life depended upon the maintenance of his psychosis. The small doubt implanted by the action of the authorities as well as my decision to treat him threatened the structure essential to his existence.

So far as I could, I tried to avoid giving Kirk any impression that I was entering the lists with him to prove that he was psychotic. Instead, because it was obvious that both his temperament and training were scientific, I set myself to capitalize on the one quality he had shown throughout his life: curiosity.’


SusanC 05.11.19 at 8:42 am

@PeterT: The “space opera” literary genre doesn’t stand up very well i you think too hard about how its physics works. (The physics is most definitely not the point of this style of SF).

If you’re writing this kind of SF, and want to head off the obvious objections from your more pedantic readers: most of energy cost is spent in getting into/out of hyperspace, and additional distance is almost free. For the really pedantic readers: the limit to travel distance is caused by the accuracy needed to end up in a target star system rather than in an empty void light years from anywhere.

Or you could just write fantasy: fantasy readers are less inclined to ask awkward questions about, for example, the ecological viability of dragons as a species.

A possible hypothesis: the fantasy/SF genres are either responsible for, or a symptom of, his kind of daydreaming,


Jeff R. 05.11.19 at 2:08 pm

I absolutely do this. It’s more country-building than world-building though. It started out as a play activity I did with a friend, probably when we were around 10. We both created our own fantasy countries and that was the basis of drawing and building things. I think that’s a typically kid thing: trying to understand something by making a play version of it. When we hit the teen years we stopped doing it. But it was always a comforting fantasy for me, so I still thought about it. And that’s going on 40 years or so. It evolved as I matured and learned more stuff about how the real world works. I do think about it when I’m bored, like driving for instance, and when I try to get to sleep I use as a “happy place” to forget about the real world. Part of it is to fantasize about how I would like to see the world work rather than how it really does. I do think about a variety of things in this country: what laws the government should support, how local government is divided, land use regulations, how the trains run, what coins and stamps look like, even what the postal code are and how phone numbers are allocated. I do replay some scenarios repeatedly. But those evolve, too, and I can always create new ones from personal experiences or world events. I don’t really think I’ll ever stop thinking about it.


steven t johnson 05.11.19 at 2:36 pm

Fan fiction, internet posters complaining about how the plot should have worked and many reviews that explain what the work being reviewed should have been about instead of ignoring this or that. Everybody who tried to come up with a good ending for Lost has been day dreaming.

Fantasy/SF is not a genre. Fantasy in the broader sense is fiction with something fantastic that is gratifyingly supernatural, and sells some sort of joy in defying reality. SF in the broader sense fiction with something fantastic that has a gratifying pretense that maybe, someday, somewhere, this sort of thing might come to be. The different kinds of motivation for the fantastic require different kinds of execution, which is why ignoring the distinction is merely a commercial consideration.

Lots of people have a visceral resistance to the fantastic and don’t want either kind in their fiction, so sellers lump them together. It’s true that too many people are so ignorant of reality they don’t know nonsense when they see it. But this is true also of everything. Action shows where a gun can be fired and send the target flying but there no recoil. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is too cutting edge!

Another way they deceptively seem to blend is the reliance on the simpleminded notion that we can do things today people couldn’t long before which we never expected. How then can we say that anything’s impossible? This seems to rest on some kind of Popper nonsense, that we can only rule something out when it’s not been disproven. This apparently has something to do with the problem of induction where anything can suddenly disprove even seemingly sound conjectures, but only controlled experiments can really disprove them. Or some such nonsense.


alfredlordbleep 05.11.19 at 6:38 pm

More or less off-topic (certainly more so than my entry above)
—any excuse for a Jamesian riff

[Henry] James is also what we might call a possibilist, eager to imagine what we could be like, even if there are no literal examples to hand. He is more of a possibilist than a realist, I think, but this doesn’t mean his realm is fantasy, an alternative world like Tolkien’s or Peake’s, or a place of nightmare, like Kafka’s, or of pure parable, like Borges’s. He is interested in what we almost are, at our very best – although his idea of the best includes intriguing examples of the worst. He dislikes scarcely any of his characters, and a comparison with Jane Austen and George Eliot, from whom he learned so much, is instructive. They are both quite withering about figures they disapprove of. James has a few such figures – in The Ivory Tower, the socialite Gussie Bradham is one.



Peter T 05.12.19 at 2:24 am

I think most people build dream-worlds, even though many don’t recognise that they are doing so. I have a friend who buys lottery tickets simply for the pleasure of imaging what she would do with the money if she won (I do this but I don’t buy tickets, which makes me sillier than her). There ‘s all that “what if I had done something different at this point?” musings. Then there’s the people who devote their lives to the impossible or the nearly unattainable – the people who brought their perpetual motion machines in to my father’s university department, the man I knew who was building the perfect bike trailer (from an incomplete knowledge base). Then there’s the two railway guards I heard about, who learned Esperanto and Volapuk and then created a third “universal language” to remedy their deficiencies.

Susan C: Yes, just an example of a what-if hook. It seems to me the limits are there just to keep the story in bounds, else we end doing a Kirk Allen @37.


JPL 05.12.19 at 9:50 am

alfredlordbleep @41

Not so much off topic. James’s fiction always struck me as possibly the product of a lot of adaptive daydreaming. It seems like the world he is fated to bodily inhabit is a constant source for him of tragic frustration and so he spins out a world which could be but isn’t, where people always construct grammatically interesting sentences that express complex and interesting thoughts worth listening to, where they pay attention to the fine nuances of human interactions and are open to the abundant significance of the visual and auditory forms of their experienced world pouring into their senses. His characters’ sensibilities seem more of the daydreamed world than the actual one. As Wood says in the quote, people can and sometimes do exhibit these qualities, but James wishes (always free, after all) we could do it more often.

(Thanks for the link to the LRB review, which I hope to read tomorrow.)


Belle Waring 05.12.19 at 1:50 pm

I hate that fucking psychologist who broke Kirk Allen SO MUCH! He took a thing of beauty and transcendent joy and smashed it in the interests of creating an only somewhat more efficient scientist. He and all who hired him are loathsome toads. I didn’t read that and think Allen was wasting his life. I read it and thought he had an amazing—if unusual—life. A fabulous life! I actually teared up reading that.


steven t johnson 05.12.19 at 4:06 pm

A common belief is that “Kirk Allen” was Paul M.A. Linebarger. Linebarger was as I understand it a psychological warfare specialist whose proudest accomplishment was a string of good words that sounded like English for “I surrender.” This was explained to enemy troops in Korea. Linebarger was also supposed to be fairly religious in the Madeleine L’Engle or Gene Wolfe way, rather than the C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien way.

But perhaps Colonel Linebarger is better known here as “Cordwainer Smith.” Or maybe not, one aspect of the rise of literary women who actually say they’re writing fantasy/SF is a disdain for the dudebro worthlessness of the earlier writers. One likes to call the Golden Age the Leaden Age. Personally I value Smith very, very highly and don’t think he was broken.


anon/portly 05.12.19 at 5:41 pm

In 1954 the publication of “The Jet-Propelled Couch” as a two-part article in Harper’s caused a small sensation with its tale of the mental crack-up of a key government scientist, “Kirk Allen”, and his treatment by Lindner; the identity of Kirk Allen has been debated since and the story bears some similarities to the much later book and film A Beautiful Mind. It was collected in The Fifty-Minute Hour (1955), in which he described a number of case studies from his clinical practice. An ambitious attempt to adapt the story into a musical with songs by Stephen Sondheim came to nothing. In 1957 it was dramatized as an episode of TV’s Playhouse 90 starring Donald O’Connor, Peter Lorre, David Wayne, Gale Gordon, and Vampira.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think “The Jet-Propelled Couch” reads (way) more like a short story than an “article,” both with regards to style and the “too good to be true” details.

Anyway, Lindner, despite being “[a]lways a rather vigorous person,” was dead at 41, after publishing this article at 40.


degsy 05.13.19 at 8:23 am

If Kirk Allen really was Cordwainer Smith, it is possible that the rest of us have something to be thankful for in his having come to view his fantasy worlds as fictional rather than real; perhaps we wouldn’t have got to read the Instrumentality of Mankind stuff otherwise? There really is something obnoxious about that article, nonetheless.


SusanC 05.13.19 at 10:18 am

The Robert Lindner article about Kirk Allen is really old – 1955 – before the current classification system of the DSM-5. So Linder uses “psychosis” more liberally than we would.

Some observations:
– “maladaptive daydreamers” typically know that their daydreams are not real
– Kirk Allen, on the other hand, seems to have lost that distinction
– in many psychotic experiences, the loss of the imagination/reality distinction is not pleasant at all; it is something more akin to nightmare that bleeds into the sufferers perception of reality.

Kirk Allen seems to imagine a relatively benign alternate world, rather than a malign/paranoiac one.

(And as for the bit about Kirk’s official reports containing strange symbols …. the distinction between math and psychosis might be a hard one to make, without a key to the notation)


MFA 05.13.19 at 11:52 am

“…do you create and maintain elaborate fictional worlds which you keep for months or years at a time?”

You mean, like the one 40% of Americans have created for themselves, where President Donald Trump is a president worthy of their approval?

No. No I do not.

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