When Crichton’s Unconscious Tried Killing Him

I decided to take a break from studying the unconscious to read Michael Crichton’s autobiography, but no such luck. A few chapters into the book he tells about a time when his unconscious mind tried, repeatedly, to kill him.

Consciously he had no desire to die. He was writing more novels and traveling. But he kept having close-calls and brushes with death because of situations he was putting himself in. Things like daredevil diving expeditions where he would nearly run out of air.

When he pieced all these events together it became clear to him that the unconscious mind was a separate and powerful intelligence that could make plans and carry them out without the permission of the conscious mind. And his seemed to have plans to off him. I had a similar realization several weeks before, though only because my unconscious was causing me pain. It hadn’t, so far as I knew, tried killing me.

I don’t think Crichton’s unconscious was really trying to kill him either. When Crichton had his encounter with the unconscious he had achieved his most ambitious goals. He had become a doctor, a famous writer, he had moved to L.A. and dated movie stars. He had accomplished everything that he consciously wanted to. Now what to do with the rest of his life? More of the same? The thought terrified him.

My guess is that the unconscious was trying to make him confront all the big questions that he was avoiding; questions of how to find meaning in the second half of life and just what the point of life was anyway. His unconscious knew that the only time he would consider these things was in the moments following his near death — moments that it went so far as to schedule for him. Which goes to show just how much the unconscious cares about human growth and maturity, even when the rest of us does not.

After this Crichton adopted a lifelong practice of journaling. Not because it would be fun to look back on, but so he could better identify patterns of behavior that would help him see what his unconscious was up to.