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Existential Angst


Over the past few months I have converted to all things Laurie Taylor. Well two things Laurie Taylor related anyway. The first is the excellent ‘Thinking Allowed‘ on Radio 4 which discusses the latest social sciences research. The second is a book he published a few years back called ‘Escape Attempts‘.

Escape Attempts was inspired by sociological research into how long-term prisoners cope with being inside. Specifically, how do they maintain their sense of identity?
While most of our lives are not as monotonous as those ‘inside’, this led to parallel questions about how we all cope with our everyday lives. After all, given that most of us go through many of the same motions day after day, how do we stay sane?

The answer is through escape attempts: we have holidays, hobbies, extra-marital affairs, we day-dream, we maintain an ironic, post-modern distance between ourselves and our work: my work is not me it’s just something I do.

One of my favourite fictional descriptions of an escape attempt, of which I was reminded by Laurie Taylor, is in ‘The Dice Man‘ by Luke Rhinehart. The protagonist, a psychiatrist, gets bored of his life and decides to allow chance to rule it for a period. He writes down various options, with fairly normal ones at high probability and more outrageous ones at low probability. Then he rolls a dice and forces himself to obey. Guaranteed to spice up your life as long as you put some interesting options in there.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:

Dr Dean’s bio, Twitter, Facebook and how to contact him.

Culture is, of course, a favourite escape attempt for many. I realised as I scanned the pages of Time Out (a cultural listings magazine in London) at the weekend that the magazine itself is a kind of escape attempt. I read about Reza Aramesh’s investigation of ‘migration and power centres’ through re-enacting the Changing of the Guard in Trafalgar Square. I read about a leading contender for the Deutsche Borse Photography prize, Alec Soth, and his ‘Mississippi Sleeping’ project. I discovered I could use culture as an escape but, knowing full well I wouldn’t be going to see them, I didn’t have to leave the house. If anyone wants to buy me a subscription…