My true motivation

Copy of a letter to an academic to whom I apply for references

I am afraid I shall have to go on putting you in the picture about my true position, as I see it. I can't prevent people from placing their own interpretations on it, but they have also had a very strong tendency to misrepresent my position.

I have never become identified with anything I was doing in temporary and enforced exile from a university career as anything but a means to returning to such a career, by however arduous and tedious a route, and against however much opposition. It was always perfectly clear to me what sort of a life I needed to have. This was, and is, quite independent of my ability, my opinion of my ability, and anyone else's opinion of my ability.

Even if a person with an IQ of 80 said that they absolutely needed, as a minimum requirement for their happiness and intellectual productivity, the life of a residential Fellow in a college, and that they would be suffering in agony without it, I would agree with them that they had better spend the rest of their agonised life, or as long as it took, taking degrees and doing such research as they could in the hope of getting a good enough degree, or doing some sufficiently impressive research, to be admitted by society to the sort of life which they claimed they needed to have, before they died.

However, although my need for a certain sort of life, and horror at the prospect of being deprived of it, is a psychological datum that appears quite independent of any evaluation of my ability, it may be less so than it seems, since it is quite probable that any genetically determined aptitude goes with a genetically determined drive towards circumstances in which it can be used. An aptitude with no associated inclination to use it would be of far less value in the evolutionary struggle for survival.

Be that as it may, I have been represented as having 'taken up' parapsychology, or become an 'enthusiast' for lucid dreams, etc., whereas in fact I had no freedom of choice at all, once I had been thrown out into the wilderness. (I will always remember the incredible horror of Kensington High Street when I first went to the SPR. No-one who knew me, no-one who had ever known me, or known anything about me, came to say, 'We can't let this happen to you! What can we do to help you, couldn't I let you have a free room in my house, while you take another degree and re-apply to get back into a liveable life?' Could everyone I had ever known, without exception, keep their distance and watch? Yes, they could, and I realised that I had not a friend in the world.)

When I was thrown out, even before I arrived at the SPR, I said to my father (with whom I was not really on speaking terms, but to whom I was forced to speak now, in a need so dire), 'It is only the result of a degree examination taken at far too late an age after years of bad circumstances, and the distortion of enforced 'preparation' under the auspices of people who had no sympathy with me. It proves nothing about my ability to do maths in other circumstances, or to do any other subject, or to do research. I told you long ago how everything had gone all wrong, and you never did any of the things I asked for, at least partially to rectify matters. It does not affect at all the things I need to do in life and the sort of career I need to have. I will never be doing anything except for the purpose of returning to a career in the best university. If I take a job that is useless except as a way of earning money, it will only be to finance my working to return to my real career.'

Then, when I got a job at the SPR, I said to him, 'I won't stay there any longer than I can help, of course. I don't want to go on wasting my time longer than I have to.' To which my father sneeringly replied, passing on the attitudes of the local educational establishment as he always had done, 'You, wasting your time!'

(I thought it was wicked and immoral of him to let them speak to him about me behind my back, and even more wicked and immoral of them to speak to him about me without my permission, and without getting some assurance from me that they were representing my wishes.)

Anyway, that was the state of affairs. As the decades passed in exile, I never became identified with being the sort of person who did any of the things which I was forced to do; I had always had the strongest possible aversion to doing anything which would not maximise my productivity at the sort of things which I could do better than anyone else. Become an expert on house purchase and repair, indeed! That was something other people could do; it didn't take much IQ, and the information that one had to process was so trivial and so slowly acquired and applied that having to do those things was like spending time in a sensory deprivation cell. Similarly with the production and publication of books, the management of stroppy and inefficient personnel, and the other things with which I eventually found myself forced to ruin my days.

So I have never actually become identified with being anything but a highflying academic, although I was one who was deprived of a social identity and of everything else that was necessary for a tolerable life, always knowing that I could have been happy and productive and could still become happy and productive at the drop of a hat. Only I was separated from wellbeing by money and status. Relatively little money but a lot if no-one will give you any and you have to make it all for yourself.

Status without money wouldn't do much good of course, but, as I gradually came to realise, however much money you had, the lack of socially conferred status would still be a problem. This I will try to deal with in my next letter, as this one has become long enough.