Who is This Strange Being?

‘Who is this strange being that is the creative writer?’ (Kaufman & Kaufman 2009: xix)

This is the first editorial sentence of The Psychology of Creative Writing, a Cambridge University Press publication of 2009. It reads like James Cook might have thought as he stepped ashore at Botany Bay: ‘Who are these strange beings that are Australians?’. Except Cook didn’t think ‘Australians’ because he didn’t understand that he stepped into an inhabited territory with its own languages, paradigms and understandings.

Writers’ brains are their major writing tools. It has been so since writing began. Unsurprisingly, writers have studied their own minds through metacognition and have studied the minds of others as best they could by observing from the outside.


‘Catch yourself thinking…/ Inside skull is vast as outside skull…/ Mind is outer space…’ (Ginsberg 2003)

Ginsberg’s poem sends us hammering through outer space as if we enter Kubrick’s star gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). And why not? Our minds are as deep space as deep space itself. Neuroimaging slices away and couches forward momentum in Disney-style animation, but where are we going, and what does it mean?

Writers may think about brain activity more than normal people do. Writers may recognise the mind-universe better than others. I may wish for an atomic scale journey through my brain similar to Fantastic Voyage (1966), but neuroscience has not provided it yet. We have the Disney version already, but not the real thing.


“Exterminate all the brutes!” (Kurtz) (Conrad 2021)

The enigmatic, traumatised, white ego-figure Kurtz, in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, has come to represent the deepest thought-producing area in the mind of the western white male. The statement Kurtz made is appallingly racist, fuelled by centuries of colonial practice. Conrad observed alarmingly that there’s a jungle place, deep in the white male mind, where truth gets forged for white guys, so they think.

I write this on 15 March 2021 as women gather around the nation and arrive at Parliament House to demand a change in the mind-work of Australian males. The Prime Minister responds by saying that similar protest marches in other countries are met with bullets. I can only think that in the deepest jungle point of his mind, Kurtz is there advising him.

The unexplored galaxy of the human mind waits while neuroscience and creative writing attempt to investigate it fully. We are still strange beings.


Conrad, J. (2021 [1899]) Heart of Darkness. Available at: The Project Gutenberg eBook of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad: (accessed 15 March 2021).
Ginsberg, A. (2003 [1986]) Cosmopolitan Greetings. Available at (accessed 16 March 2019).
Kaufman, S.B. and Kaufman, J.C. (eds) (2009) The Psychology of Creative Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.