Self-Help and the New Existentialism: Reflections on Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism by Brad Spurgeon (Michael Butterworth: 2017)

Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism by Brad Spurgeon (Michael Butterworth: 2017):

http://www.michael-butterworth.co.uk/colinwilson/cworder.html

For anyone familiar with the work of Colin Wilson the term ‘self-help’ – at least in its popularly understood definition, denoting popular books on weight loss and confidence, and so on – may seem too passive to describe the stature of a writer who regularly tackled such huge philosophical systems as phenomenology, and, in so doing, erected a new counterblast against the pessimistic assumptions of 20th century philosophy. Namely the existentialists such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Now, I say this, of course, without reservations for the self-help market; simply that it has such connotations when bought up when discussing philosophy. If this helpful literature improves one’s life for the good, it matters little in what form it takes. Indeed, for many, the thought of applying a populist term such as ‘self-help’ to the works of this philosophical revolutionary would be to underestimate such great works as The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel, and his excellent overview of all things evolutionary in books like The Occult and the mammoth A Criminal History of Mankind.

And yet, at its core, Wilson’s philosophy is profoundly helpful to us all. It is self-help in its truest sense.

Wilson, in all his works, wrote in an accessible style and thus provided for many invaluable introductions to notoriously challenging and arcane subjects as existentialism, the occult, crime, psychology and even wine! One might say that that in itself provides all the groundwork necessary for anyone to begin to help themselves. But, of course, there is an implicit recognition in all of Wilson’s work which, when all is said and done, is an impassioned call for people to take charge of their own minds – and therefore their own lives – and to better themselves in spite of a culture that seems hell-bent on negativity.

This essay serves three purposes. Firstly it aims to recognise the practical and beneficial elements of Wilson’s philosophy and just how, moreover, his work provides a deeply enriching and intelligent philosophical foundation for a life more abundant. Secondly it serves as a series of reflections on Brad Spurgeon’s recently republished second-edition of Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism, which provided this essay with the inspiration and insight into the great philosopher’s work as a valuable tool for navigating our troubled times – both on a personal level as well as in the larger context of our cultural zeitgeist. And thirdly it is an attempt to understand how, in integrating Wilson’s unique brand of phenomenological existentialism into our own lives, we have a form of self-help with foundations both deep and with truly effective principles. Combining these we may recongise the self-developmental ideas implicit in Wilson’s philosophy provide an intellectual robustness that far exceeds much of what we understand as self-help literature today.

With the second-edition of Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism many readers who are unacquainted with his work have an excellent opportunity to become familiar with both the man himself and his essential philosophical ideas. As the book is composed of a lengthy interview conducted by Brad Spurgeon and divided into two parts, the reader is presented with an easily digestible précis of Wilson’s optimistic brand of ‘new existentialism’. The book provides a part biography and a reflection upon his life’s work and its possible implications for the future. Included in Spurgeon’s book is perhaps one of Wilson’s most boldly optimistic and far reaching speculations on the future of mankind’s psychology, and presents a case for what the biologist T.H. Huxley saw as our destiny – as the directors of our own evolution rather than passively drifting in the laws natural selection. The evolution of consciousness, after all, requires consciousness to become more active in its own participation with the natural world. Consciousness is, effectively, nature that is aware of it itself.

Indeed, Philosophy of Optimism’s appendices offer much food for thought, and the aptly titled ‘Article for ‘Big Idea’’ provides an example of Wilson’s impressive ability to intuit potentially world-changing developments in a variety of fields.

What’s more is that Spurgeon himself frames Wilson’s philosophy in a moving and uniquely insightful preface, for we are presented with a remarkable context in which Wilson’s optimistic philosophy has proved itself to be profoundly practical and authentic in dealing with life’s most severe and challenging tests. Spurgeon, undergoing a difficult time in his own life while editing and preparing the first-edition of this book for the publisher (Michael Butterworth), indeed found the whole project deeply significant, and one in which he treated the contents contained therein as “a self-help book, as a desperately needed medicine that would help me cope” (2017: xv.). For Spurgeon there is no doubt that the values of Wilson’s powerfully argued defence of an optimistic frame of mind proved themselves to be profound in those moments when reassurances for the sake of our faith and motivation are truly needed.

Not only is Philosophy of Optimism an excellent and accessible introduction, or an invaluable contribution to Wilson’s enormous body of work, it is also a book which places Wilson’s own contribution – as a writer of ideas and as a remarkable human being – into a variety of important important contexts.

At the beginning Spurgeon describes the genesis of the book as being a way to “counter the crap” of Wilson’s too often uninformed and lazy critics. This was in the wake of much undeserved and negatively biased reviews of his excellent and culturally significant autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose. Deciding that it was time to meet his literary hero in person, Spurgeon set out to interview the author at his home in Gorran Haven, Cornwall. This, of course, resulted in the interview that makes up the bulk of Philosopher of Optimism. By presenting Wilson in the form of a long interview Spurgeon has provided a unique opportunity to see the philosopher in his true context – as an authoritative and commanding visionary of a truly substantial philosophy of optimism.

By discussing this important book’s purpose as well as its life-affirming qualities as a tool to overcome pessimism, we are able to place it in its deserving places as a truly valuable contribution towards our understanding of mental and spiritual wellbeing. Indeed, Wilson’s insights into the phenomenology of consciousness, and the intentional mechanisms which allow an increased access to meaning and purpose, were appreciated by none other than the psychologist Abraham Maslow. It was Maslow who first decided to study the psychology of health rather than focusing, like many psychologists before him, on the varieties of mental ill-health. Rather Maslow sought to define the qualities of the very healthiest people he could find, and from there go on develop a general theory of mental healthiness.

This unique approach has resulted in more recent times in a positive psychology movement which has been packaged for mass-consumption in the less academic sphere of self-help bestsellers. Indeed, there is also the American New Thought movement along with what is called “positive-mind metaphysics” which are, in their own right, crucial players in the development of the great nation’s collective psyche. For a general overview of the history of positive thinking, I’d recommend the historian Mitch Horowitz’s book on the subject, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life.

Now, it was this mutual appreciation between Maslow and Wilson that provided him with the intellectual recognition, as well as the vocabulary, to strengthen and verify his intuition that heightened states of consciousness were not mere lapses in mental health, or illusions, but on the contrary these ‘peak experiences’, as Maslow called them, were rather states in which individuals recognised that their lives were truly and wonderfully meaningful. Indeed, Wilson described peak experiences as those moments in which “you see things which are true but which one doesn’t notice normally because one’s so mechanical.” (2017: 19). Furthermore, these peak experiences are the hallmark of individuals who were psychologically healthy, therefore corroborating with many accounts which recognise a truly authentic meaningfulness at the heart of human existence.

However whereas Maslow identified this trait in the healthiest amongst us, he nevertheless felt that the experience itself was fundamentally impossible to replicate by will or effort. In a sense this is quite ironic, for what happens in these states of buoyant consciousness is precisely the recognition that the mind itself has extraordinary powers – indeed, that it is causative in a very significant sense. Wilson felt that, on this issue, Maslow sold human nature short. For Wilson the peak experience could be achieved by will-power, and yet it required the basic recognition that human consciousness is intentional, that is, it reaches out and grabs meaning – and when the intentional muscles are flabby and undisciplined, as in states of boredom or depression, then we cease to make the mental effort to reach out and grip the objective meanings all around us.

This wasn’t just an intellectual dispute on Wilson’s part, for it seemed to him that Maslow’s sense that the peak experience was a happenstance event failed to take into account many such experiences which were directly invoked by conscious effort. Wilson, like many others, particularly in the New Thought movement and mystics before them, believed that the mind is essentially causative – that the mind directly causes change in the outer-world just as much as it can change its own inner-world. In other words, the mind can, quite consciously, elevate itself into a state in which it can achieve these flashes of peak experience at will.

It was precisely this recognition of the active quality of consciousness which enabled Wilson to rise out of his working-class, Leicestershire background and discipline himself to become a full-time writer. Fond of quoting H.G. Well’s Mr. Polly, Wilson himself represented his crucial ethic of self-development: “If you don’t like your life, you can change it.” This, of course, is the fundamental belief that drives the self-help market.

And yet there is something within us that prevents human consciousness from accessing these higher-states, for after all, these peak experiences would be far more common place, and a most frequent state of mind for all of us. Wilson understood, however, that without understanding the phenomenology of the restrictive mechanisms within consciousness, we would not be in a position to overcome our own inner-limitations. His own recognition of this is present in his first book, The Outsider, in which he discussed the work of the Greek-Armenian esoteric teacher, G.I. Gurdjieff, who arguably more than any other philosopher before him challenged man’s mental and physical mechanicalness. When, around 1952, Wilson first read about Gurdjieff, he immediately realized that he “was quite obviously one of the greatest minds I had ever encountered” (2004: 53). Although at times severe, Gurdjieff’s essential recognition is that man, if he understands himself fully, can bypass his limitations and gain a degree of self-mastery that would enable him to develop into a sort of superman.

Wilson immediately recognised in Gurdjieff a profound psychologist who understood man almost as well as an experienced mechanic understands cars. Indeed, Wilson would later call this mechanical part of ourselves the ‘robot’. His recent biographer, Gary Lachman, even titled his book on Wilson’s life and work, Beyond the Robot.

Like Mr. Polly states, we can change our lives, but first, Gurdjieff would reply, we must identify those parts in ourselves that inhibit or prevent that change to occur, and then we must develop a higher, more integrated, identity in which we can take full command of ourselves, and thus, our own lives. Where Wilson differs from Gurdjieff is in the belief that we require a special ‘school’ in which “one who knows” can solely can bestow upon us this knowledge. Instead, Wilson believed, we could go just as far with our development with a degree of self-discipline and phenomenological vigilance over our moods and, as a result, observing how they affect our corresponding assumptions about reality. (This, effectively, summarises his criticisms of the existentialists, for it is this understanding of phenomenology that Wilson believed they overlooked.)

In his 1978 book, Mysteries, he presents his own unique theory of a ‘ladder of selves’. Again, we may admire Wilson’s commitment to providing extremely useful tools for self-development for this, as we shall see, is as an extraordinary self-help model as I have yet come across. Also, it benefits the reader to refer to the useful appendix in Philosopher of Optimism, in which Wilson provides a brief outline of what he calls ‘The Seven Levels of Consciousness.’

Complimenting Gurdjieff’s system as well as owing a degree of credit to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the ladder of selves provides an insightful metaphor for a variety of states of consciousness, and particularly in their capacity for grasping meaning. The further one ventures up the ladder, the increasingly integrated do these ‘selves’ become. It is, at this point, we should attempt to define just what these ‘selves’ – or what Gurdjieff called our internally separated ‘I’s – are, and precisely what parts of our psyches they represent. For one such poignant example we can turn to an event in Wilson’s own life in which he realized this reality at a crucial moment.

After leaving school at the age of sixteen Wilson undertook a series of menial laboring jobs, one of which was working in a wool factory. Due to his relatively poor working-class background university was out of the question, and with his dad working in the boot and shoe trade, and earning such a small amount, he was required to work extra hours as a barman in the evenings. Wilson, along with his brothers, were expected to earn their keep.

The young Colin’s dream had always been to become a scientist of momentous importance; he even modeled himself on becoming “Einstein’s successor”! In contrast to this dream Wilson’s work-a-day existence in these mundane and repetitive jobs must have been a bitter reminder of his social position, and may even have discouraged him altogether had he not been offered a job as a lab assistant by his old headmaster. Curiously, by this point, he had started to develop two conflicting selves – Wilson-the-scientist was fast becoming eclipsed by Wilson-the-Romantic, lover of poetry. Although he was relieved to start work as a lab assistant he had, nevertheless, been devouring so much poetry that science, by contrast, seemed to him far too detached from the real questions concerning human existence – and, of course, existence as a whole: why is there something rather than nothing?

Discouraged by the vast disparity between this rich inner-world of imagination and the grim and dull reality of suffering jobs he detested, he decided that he would give ‘God back his entrance ticket’. He would commit suicide.

There were two selves at war within Wilson – and two versions of reality itself were at odds one another. Yet the gloomy teenage nihilist seemed to be taking the upper-hand, pushing aside his other ‘self’. Life for the romantic nihilist was a joke of repetition and humiliation, and he wasn’t going to sit through life and accept misery and defeat. He’d simply end it. In a sense it truly was Wilson’s romantic ‘self’ that was in revolt, for he realized later on that this was the problem of so many of the 19th Century writers, artists and poets. As he says in the interview with Spurgeon, “Rejecting everyday life and its boring triviality meant they were, in a sense, choosing death.” (2017: 7).

Arriving late at the laboratory he had resolved in himself to take down a bottle of hydrocyanic acid and proceed to take a swig of the lethal liquid. However, once he took down the bottle and received a blast of its acrid smell, he suddenly saw that he had become two people. He describes how he “was suddenly conscious of this teenage idiot called Colin Wilson, with his misery and frustration, and he seemed such a limited fool that I could not have cared less whether he killed himself or not. But if he killed himself, he would kill me too.” This other ‘me’ he refers to is the real Colin Wilson – the very same one that would go on to have a prolific writing career beginning with the world-shaking publication of The Outsider in 1956.

No doubt this intense division in himself, compounded by the life-saving flash of insight influenced Wilson’s subsequent attitude to life. Indeed, in his autobiography he mentions Marilyn Ferguson’s belief that all great originators in philosophy and literature and the arts must undergo, at some point in their lives, a serious consideration of suicide. Wilson believes that in these darkest moments one looks into the abyss, and this results in a sort of inner-alchemy in which the ‘real self’ separates from “the inessential self, which is like being reborn.” In this profound shift from a lower self to a much higher self which “glimpsed the marvelous, immense richness of reality, extending to distant horizons,” Wilson ascended up the ladder of selves until there, at the top, was the real ‘I’ who had far more authority and will-power than the robotic, meaning-starved self that had decided that life just wasn’t worth the effort.

In Philosopher of Optimism Wilson references Gurdjieff’s notion of what he called ‘essence’, that which is precisely that part of the individual which is most internally consistent with itself, and not as flighty and transient as the ‘personality’, which can change in a moment’s notice. This essence is crystalised through hard work and inner self-discipline; Gurdjieff called these efforts a form of ‘intentional suffering’ which strengthens the essential aspect in man. This essence is a high-level of inner integration, in which the higher aspect of our psyche has fully bought together the warring factions of our many conflicting impulses. “Essence”, said Gurdjieff, “has more chances of development in men who live . . . in difficult conditions of constant struggle and danger.” (2001: 162) In other words essence develops when our habitual, robotic consciousness is placed into abeyance and a higher self is forced to take over, particularly in crisis situations, or indeed, in moments of almost ecstatic happiness as with the peak experience. These moments generate a sense of inner solidity which stands firm, thus providing us with a reliable ballast for our will in the turbulent and unpredictable terrain of existence.

In the interview with Spurgeon Wilson indeed acknowledges that he had deliberately throughout his life aimed “to reach higher states of consciousness – or simple emotional stability and the state of productive optimism – through the natural methods of work, outlook, discipline and relationships.” (2017: 24) In fact, this inner stability is the development of a strong sense of purpose which Wilson embodied throughout his life despite many set-backs, attacks from critics and moments of near disastrous financial ruin.

Looking back on Wilson’s career – years after his death in 2013 – we can with confidence say that he was a truly a philosopher who developed this essence, and who, moreover, truly embodied and lived by his own philosophy of will-power and driving purpose. And perhaps, as he says in a short video excerpt with Spurgeon, it is precisely this general sense of cheerfulness that annoys and aggravates his critics so much, for after all, such optimism is generally unfashionable in our postmodern world.

Philosophy of Optimism offers an antidote and valuable guide to developing an essential part of our own being in these times of great uncertainty.

*

Outlined above is a very brief account of some of Wilson’s most practical and insightful truths, often hard won, into the human condition. All of Wilson’s work relates to one another, and with over a hundred books, they all, in their own unique ways, enlighten the shadowy regions of our individual as well as collective consciousness. By addressing as many subjects has he did – from crime to mysticism; wine to music; psychology and ancient mysteries – he has consistently broadened our reasons to wonder and marvel at the incredible richness of existence. By reminding us of this fact he achieved what he set out to do in his earlier philosophical works in the inter-connected ‘Outsider Cycle’, by providing a remedy for our all-too-common ‘life devaluation’ by instilling in us a phenomenological vigilance that enables us to recognise that the “fundamental premise of our lives [is] that the world of beauty and intensity has a real existence” (1966: 113).

With Philosopher of Optimism, Brad Spurgeon has provided a unique opportunity to perceive Wilson’s legacy from a ‘birds-eye view’. And by arguing his case for Wilson’s overdue recognition and reevaluation as an important cultural figure in his own right, as well as being a turning point in intellectual history as the first substantial philosopher of optimism, we have a concise book which presents, in Wilson’s own words, the interrelated, multifaceted oeuvre in which revolved around a single and admirable ethic. This ethic may well be called a will to help people develop in themselves a faculty which strengthens him or herself against the travails of life. In a word, self-help. Thus he presented a philosophy that facilitates the deep and substantial recognition in ourselves that we have the inner-resources necessary to succeed, thrive, develop and ultimately evolve, not just as individuals, but as an entire species.

We may say, then, that the term ‘self-help’ with which I began this essay, rightfully applies to Wilson’s body of work. All of Wilson’s insights into the human condition followed from his original, childhood dream of becoming an important scientist, for by analyzing his own inner-states he subjected himself to the ultimate test of life itself; offering himself as the supreme subject in the experiment of experience. And in so doing, he found that the meaning of life resounded in an affirmative and ecstatic yes.

From The Outsider to his last book, Super Consciousness, Wilson provided the philosophical framework necessary for our voyage into a life. Our minds, galvinized by this recognition of the objective reality of meaning, provides our imagination the power to ignite the fuel of our experience – and thus the transmutation of our implicit potentialities into living actualities.

This, I believe, is the ultimate proof behind anything that purports itself to be self-help in contemporary culture.

 

colinwilson

 

Works Cited:

Horowitz, M. (2014) One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. New York, Crown Publishing Group.

Lachman, G. (2016) Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson. New York, Tarcher Perigee.

Ouspensky, P.D. (2001) In Search of the Miraculous. London, Harcourt Inc.

Spurgeon, B. (2017) Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism. Manchester, Michael Butterworth.

Wilson, C. (1966) Introduction to the New Existentialism. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wilson, C. (1985) The Essential Colin Wilson. London, HARRAP LIMITED.

Wilson, C. (2004) Dreaming to Some Purpose. London, Arrow Books Limited.

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Evolutionary Metaphors & Vast Active Imagination

Evolutionary metaphors—rather like esoteric ‘correspondences’ and the logic of much anomalous phenomenon—baffle ordinary causal logic precisely by transcending its limits by inferring beyond itself, and thus providing a symbol of a reality yet to become. Indeed, to understand the evolutionary metaphor’s ambiguous nature we must develop imaginative as well as supra-logical faculties which can process the level of reality from which these metaphors emerge, and in doing so, it would be immediately grasped that they can become more than mere symbols but actualities. In this sense one realises that the meaning for something becoming must first reside as an implicit possibility—and only upon its explication does it become manifestly real. One might think of this process in terms of the Big Bang, for indeed, the whole universe was implicitly possible within the first billionths of a second. Although, as we shall see, time itself provides another level of complexity regards the sequential explication of what was previous implicit.

We are, quite literally, within two minds regards our cosmological picture. For it is in these elevated states of mind, as in moments of Faculty X, and other forms of ‘relational consciousness’, that we are capable of grappling with these ‘higher order’ incursions into our lives. Furthermore, this directly relates to our perception of meaning in our everyday lives, for we remain, to an extent, limited within the lower rungs of the hierarchical structure of consciousness. And at the lower levels, of course, meaning itself becomes more diffuse, less relational and resultantly more two-dimensional and relative, that is, without any qualitatively ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ aspect.

These various levels of consciousness, which Wilson called the ‘Ladder of Selves’, enable us to see a direct correlation between the diffuse and ‘meaningless’ states of consciousness in contrast to the integrated sense of related meanings. Indeed, with each ascent of the ‘ladder’, a degree of integration occurs in the psyche which enables a comprehension of the interrelated nature of reality, and, therefore, the underlying sense of purpose and meaning of existence. Understanding this, of course, provides an essential reason for increasing our consciousness, for it enables us to see lower states as more disconnected from the truth than the higher states and, furthermore, that the intentional nature of consciousness in itself implies to what degree objective meaning is grasped and integrated.

Fundamentally it is this recognition that consciousness is, in relation to meaning, active rather than passive, which in itself opens up an interesting approach to the anomalous. The evolutionary metaphor, in this sense, guides consciousness towards an increasing development of its higher faculties, goading the mind up the ‘ladder of selves’ towards a more inclusive sense of reality. Mysteries, after all, are simply those realities we have not yet understood, and with each increase of our knowledge, mysteries become less mysterious, but not necessarily any less marvelous.

A certain invigoration and mental healthiness comes with the recognition of large-scale meanings, for example, in a religious vision of a divinely purposeful life. Again this directly relates to Wilson’s idea of the ‘birds-eye view’ as opposed to the close-up, and diminished ‘worm’s-eye view’. Furthermore, one infers, by its very premises, that there is something beyond ordinary everyday existence; in other words, the metaphor refers to something beyond itself. A metaphor, of course, can either be a symbol or merely a figure of speech, even a comparison or, in its more complex form, a poem or mimesis. Nevertheless, a metaphor can sometimes clarify something that is expressed too explicitly—and metaphor in fact ‘embodies’ the issue by example, likeness or correspondence, even by providing an empathic bridge.

If we take metaphor as a form of imitation, or indeed, a mimesis of one level of reality in symbolic form—inferring as it does something outside of itself, yet nevertheless relating to a reality as such—we may begin to see it as a form of what Iain McGilchrist calls an ‘imaginative inhabiting of the other,’ which, he argues, is ‘always different because of its intersubjective betweenness.’ These ‘empathic bridges’ are drawn across by ‘intention, aspiration, attraction and empathy, drawing heavily on the right hemisphere [of the brain], whereas copying is the following of disembodied procedures and algorithms, and is left‑hemisphere based.’ (2009: 249). By contrast, of course, the left-hemisphere merely copies, and the right, being more theatrical and symbolical, prefers the evolutionary metaphor which unifies the thing it is mimicking within a symbolic reality which incorporates more levels of relational meaning than a mere literal-minded representation. McGilchrist argues that the survival values of this sort of thinking are immense, for they would encourage social cohesion and increase the transfer of symbolic—therefore embodied—information between individuals. In fact, the symbol or metaphor is more universal than explicit, analytical language, for this is in fact a much later development both historically and, importantly, biologically.

A ‘magical’ consciousness is not necessarily at odds with reality, in fact, due to its gestalt‑like nature, it can absorb far more information than a careful, analytical approach. For example, Bronislaw Malinowski’s 1914 research into the Trovriand Islanders highlighted the fact that ritual, although being rather ‘irrational’ from a Westerner’s point of view, nevertheless proved the South Sea fisherman seemed to flourish due to a general sense of control, even if, fundamentally, this control was an ‘illusory’ ritual from the point of view of science. Embedded in the ritual was an accurate understanding of reality, and therefore the ritual provided the necessary symbol for the transmission of the fruitful and constructive activity. Howard Bloom in The Lucifer Principle (1998) concludes that ‘[this] belief in magic is one clue to our need for memes. Religious and scientific schemes—clusters of guesswork that sometimes seem like a madman’s dreams—offer the feeling of control, an indispensible fuel for the physiological powerhouses of life.’ (114).

To switch to more recent times, it is curious to note that during these times of upheaval and unrest, memes, defined as ‘virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea,’ and now a (sometimes) amusing internet phenomenon, should spread both to entertain, but also, to provide a semblance of symbolic understanding—or control—by condensing information into a compacted and easily digestible ‘punch line.’ If something irritates or baffles someone, there is usually a corresponding meme which aims to represent the illogicality of a political, personal, or social phenomenon. Rather like the Trobriand Islanders, there is a sense that the ‘meme’ in the chaotic environment of the Internet is becoming a means to navigate the unpredictable world of information. In a strange sort of way the internet—a now extremely rich bed of information—generates a type of mythological consciousness, although this is in its earliest and crudest stages.

With the advent of the internet, with its visual and information-rich as well interactive nature, we have once again stepped back into an unusual situation of the ‘metaphorical’ consciousness. That is, now our culture has become complex in terms of its sheer speed of information transfer, we are now re-configuring the way we attend to the world and our psyche. Borders, in a sense, have been crossed, and distance itself is reduced; communication and cultural ideas can leap bounds, and instantly spread throughout the world in the matter of hours, even minutes. This is reflected in news reportage and so on, and even with freak events which are circulated at the speed of light through optic cable.

In this new climate of what the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called ‘liquid modernity’ bonds are tied evermore delicately, allowing for an immediate, on-call flexibility to accommodate the ever shifting sands of an information saturated culture.

In recent times we have had to reconfigure our cultural thermostat, integrating new and evermore flexible and experimental techniques to somehow ‘embed’ the information into a context that can provide a discernible and meaningful shape to our world. The symbol, the imagistic condensation into a meme, has become a sort of recombinational ‘search mechanism’ for meaning. Of course, such a cultural environment sets itself up rather well for the reintroduction of a form of magical consciousness, in which images and memes can be used to navigate and control a chaotic environment. Indeed, the language which we use is increasingly orientated towards information, relativism and therefore provides a backdrop in which, once again, the symbol or intent can crossover between language—words—and the image. Nevertheless, it is still too early to fully embrace all of the potential evolutionary implications of a culture so saturated with information fed through a form of media which incorporates all previous mediums.

As a result of this new world of information, the emergence of chaos magic, as I mentioned briefly in the first chapter, takes its stake in the new ‘magical consciousness,’ taking advantage as it does of the postmodern juxtaposition of unusual and experimental points-of-view and harnessing the symbol as a means of codifying magical intent—their will-to-power over a world composed of information.

Now, what we might be seeing in the modern world is the re-emergence of a type of magical thinking that had previously gone underground, so to speak, or had remained dormant in the unconscious regions of our collective psyche. And yet, evolutionary metaphors such as the UFO, synchronicities and flashes of revelatory consciousness seem further away than ever. The cultural zeitgeist tends to diminish the metaphysical—and therefore metaphorical impulses—that constitute the balance and integration of a healthy and dynamical mind. As our culture is becoming increasingly politicized, it, as a result, tends towards a subjugation of the individual, replacing a type of group-think that can easily result of an intensely socially‑networked world. Inner revolutions seem rarer than outer, political ones. The self, as a result, becomes increasingly low-resolution, reduced to a sort of caricature or a vulgarly image-based vignette composed of shallow surfaces. This, of course, has increased our left-hemisphere’s predilection to what McGilchrist describes as the ‘following of disembodied procedures and algorithms.’[1]

In terms of the UFO phenomenon, Jung pronounced that its message, at least in dream symbolism, is intended so that everybody should be aware of their existence by appearing in the sky, but, crucially, they ‘bid each of us remember his own soul and his own wholeness, because this is the answer the West should give to the danger of mass-mindedness’ [my italics] (81). Curiously, and significantly, the UFO for Jung reminds us of our individuality, and for many people who witness the phenomena, one can certainly say that it is a disturbing and unique experience as is evident in many of the witness accounts. Although there are cases in which there is an instilled ecological consciousness, and a sense of planetary responsibility, there is also the element of individual psychic and psychological development brought about by the experience itself.

Here we may turn to the philosophy as outlined in Wilson’s ‘Outsider Cycle’, for again it leads us back to the problem he addresses in the first book of the series, The Outsider. The individual, stricken by an existential vision who nevertheless consciously or unconsciously strives towards a form of psychological integration. Wilson’s Outsider, of course, is in revolt against mass-mindedness, and instead requires for himself an independent and unique vision of something objective—in other words, something that resides outside of the limits of reductionism and the confining, ultimately pessimistic boundaries of postmodern culture. However, as Lachman emphasises, the Outsider’s ‘problems are not his alone; they involve all of civilization,’ he continues: ‘Western civilization [has] reached a dead end . . . and it could only move on if the Outsiders, the men and women of vision and purpose, overcame their uncertainty, ceased to be Outsiders, and imposed their values on the world around them.’ (66-67).

At this point we might ask ourselves, ‘Well, what values should the Outsider impose?’ and for this, we might consider the abductees or UFO witnesses, who, with his normal preconceptions about existence and its possibilities challenged—or even explicitly modified directly by the experience itself—naturally poses a new vision in which time, space and the meaning constituted out of these constants may be turned on its head. Now, whether one becomes an Outsider, in Wilson’s meaning of the word, by undergoing these experiences is difficult to argue, for many considerations of the cases individually would have to be examined in tandem to the Outsider Cycle.

Wilson’s Outsiders, of course, essentially recognised in themselves greater forces than mere personality, and that they were in a sense channels for an archetypal and fundamentally impersonal life force. And if like Stan Gooch we take the UFO, science fiction and the field of the paranormal as a vast arrangement of preformed evolutionary potentialities, as it were, we can begin to see each glimpse into these alternative realities as vision into evolutionary multiplicities, its implicit ‘realities’ yet to become, and furthermore, into its underlying vitality.

In many of the Outsiders as well as the abductees, there is a vision of a new modality of being that infers meaning that is fundamentally practical and personal, and, once actualised in the individual, becomes applicable to society-at-large. In recognising the essentially creative nature of the experience, whether in the visions of the Outsider or in the traumatic yet simultaneously revelatory quality in the works of Whitley Strieber, we may perceive the outline of a new way of understanding of time in order to re-orientate our relationship to meaning. Again, here one is reminded of Wilson’s Faculty X, for Strieber came to realise that we need to ‘unlearn the assumption that the future is in front of us, the present is where we are, and the past is behind us.’ He continues:

‘That is a false view of time. The visitors offer a much better idea of time. They say the future is to the right, and it’s like water. The present is here and now, and it’s like a compressor. And the past is like ice. The water has now been turned into ice because the present has decided the shape the water will take, the shape the past will take. And this leaves room for entry into many different possible futures. We can change that water into any number of different shapes simply by the way we address it … What we have to learn to do—and this is as much an inner movement as an artefact of some potential technology—is to learn to move out of the time stream so that we can examine it more carefully and come to understand its real meaning.’[1]

Implicit in this realisation of the reality of ‘other times and places’ man can act in a far more constructive way, and see himself as fundamentally important in the actualisation of realities in the stream of time. Again, the evolutionary metaphor is what the Kabbalists call tikkun, a repairing symbol that bridges the visible world with the invisible, and vice-versa. Emphasing the nature of time along the lines of Strieber, Lachman describes this process in Caretakers:

‘When we ‘complete’ the world, when we ‘represent’ the ‘unrepresented’, when we infuse dead matter with meaning, when we fill the empty forms of reality with the living force of the imagination, we are moving against the tide that is carrying the fallen, physical world into nothingness.’ (221).

Ultimately, the later view is entropic; it tends towards decay and disorder; whereas the former, ‘infusing dead matter with meaning’ is negentropic; tending towards order and meaningfulness. Here Lachman emphasises the ‘filling up’ of the material universe with implicit meanings which work against entropy and time’s one-directional arrow.

Now there are two poignant symbols of both our understanding of a cosmos—a whole unified meaning—and a chaos, or that which results out of imbalance, allowing in destructive and destabilizing qualities. Jung’s discovery of the mandala in effect symbolizes man’s inner-cosmos, his psyche, into the artistic creation of a whole with a centre—a centre which symbolizes man’s point of individuation. The mandala is an artistic image, usually colourful and which is orientated around a central point, usually pulling inwards, as it were, all of the outside images; it is an attempt to spontaneously express the unconscious and conscious forces into a representative image of one’s inner-being. Usually, but not necessarily always symmetrical, it emphasises the psychic working of an individual, and particularly lays emphasis on integration of the Self. This is significantly in contrast is to the chaos magic symbol, which is orientated outwards towards a magic form assertion (below):

1200px-Chaos_star.svg

Referred to as post-modern magic, or indeed ‘pop magic’, it is symbolised almost entirely by externalized influences, with little emphasis on interiority. As a modern phenomenon, on the fringes, it nevertheless represents a current of occult thinking in modern times. One commentator, the comic book artist Grant Morrison, mentions briefly the notion of a ‘hyper sigil’, a symbolic image which represents for the magician some will of which he wants to exert onto the world around him. The ‘hyper sigil’ is a larger version of an ordinary ‘sigil’ and for Morrison ‘incorporates elements such as characterization, drama and plot. The hyper sigil is a sigil extended through the fourth dimension.’[1] In other words, it is a dramatic cultural shift willed and enacted—or represented—through a cultural medium such as art, music or in this case, Morrison’s imaginative comic books.

This type experimental cultural manipulation is due to the fact that, as Peter Carroll says, ‘for the first time in history we live in a world where a substantial fraction of humanity has freedom of belief, and hardly knows what to do with it’, and this means that postmodernist, post-monotheist ‘culture has yet to formally explicate its ideal spirituality.’ (55) This is where chaos magick steps in. Further on in The Apophenion he discusses a type of neo-pantheism which attempts to provide both an animistic and meaningful interaction with the environment. Uniquely, he places emphasis on the practicality of ‘magical thinking’, disposing it if it fails to work, and integrating it into its system of practices if it fails. Underlying his thesis, there appears to be no over-arching metaphysic, or, in a sense, an evolutionary purpose—it is simply an experimental framework towards the re-building of a magical, metaphorical and analogical—even imaginal—worldview. He continues ‘. . . if a superstition gives good results it gets reused, and coincidence rarely gets dismissed as mere coincidence . . . So if a synchronicity appears spontaneously we should consider interpreting it as an affirmation of deep intent, or a warning from the subconscious.’ (60). And, as we have seen in the idea of ‘deep intentionality’, here Carroll acknowledges a similar ‘metaphysic’ in the sense of what he calls ‘deep intent’—this, essentially, is the closest chaos magic gets to an overall evolutionary ‘metaphysic.’ In essence, Peter Carroll’s ‘chaos magic paradigm’ has its roots in phenomenology, for it incorporates direct experience based on its effectiveness and an active and creative relationship with reality.

Although there is a psychological dimension to chaos magic, what it is lacking is a vision of integration, of an emphasis on inner-development. For example, when it posits the value of analogical thinking, it also understates the dangers of being misled. Ritual magicians warned precisely against these and projected—like Lyall Watson’s Amazonian healer—the psychological dangers into disembodied entities or ritual and symbolic situations. What this did was to contextualize the issue into something concrete; that is, they were explicitly reminding themselves that it had to be dealt with practically and as if it were an objective reality. This emphasis on objective consciousness—by stepping back from oneself—enabled the individual to discipline his own mind by refusing to be ‘taken in’ by a distorting web of entanglements produced by negative emotions—produced either in the individual or a collective malaise present in the ritual atmosphere, or even culture, at large.

However, the philosophical and existential insights of chaos magic cannot be underestimated. Indeed, its relativisms—as can be seen in the idea of neo-pantheism—may seem to undermine any particular philosophical or religious foundation, instead celebrating ambiguity and the ‘meaning perceptions’ ability to make models, new juxtapositions and heady brews of associative thinking. Nevertheless, there is also the element of Alfred North Whitehead’s statement that ‘Speculative philosophy . . . is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.’ Certainly, Whitehead’s definition of experience expands over a wide-range of states:

‘Nothing can be omitted, experience drunk and experience sober, experience sleeping and experience waking, experience drowsy and experience wide-awake, experience self-conscious and experience self-forgetful, experience intellectual and experience physical, experience religious and experience sceptical, experience anxious and experience care-free, experience anticipatory and experience retrospective, experience happy and experience grieving, experience dominated by emotion and experience under self-restraint, experience in the light and experience in the dark, experience normal and experience abnormal.’[3]

It is from this gestalt of experience that one can begin to make a new model of the cosmos that man finds himself an important part. It provides a working hypothesis in which one can act out freedom; it provides, as it were, a fundamental set of axioms from which to actively participate in a reality that tends towards greater complexification and, finally, actualizations of the realities implicit in that complexity. Prototypal models—if they are successful of course—go on to become commonplace tools, whether they are cars, light bulbs, helicopters, etc. Again, this was the central insight that drove Arthur M. Young to write about cosmology after he invented the helicopter, for he knew, practically and philosophically, that cosmological models are important for the development of novel ideas and, furthermore, life‑enhancing psychological changes. He also intuitively realized that consciousness itself is a fundamental part of the cosmos we inhabit, for with each evolutionary leap in consciousness is proportional to increased freedom. Young perceived the universe as the declension of light—with its boundless freedom from time and space—into matter, and then, at ‘the turn’ (or ‘shock’, as Gurdjieff would have called it), an increasing complexity of organisms—from mineral to man—until, in a sense, man’s higher destiny is reflected back at him in the cosmos itself. This is referred to in the ancient hermetic dictum: As above, so below.

It is now worth turning once again to the evolutionary metaphor along with the UFO and its associated phenomena. We will again return to the discussion of chaos magic in this new context.

In his book Passport to the Cosmos (1999) the psychologist and parapsychologist, John E. Mack, describes the effects of the abduction phenomenon as an ‘intrusion into our reality from other realms’ that aid and contribute to ‘the gradual . . . spiritual rebirth taking place in Western culture.’ Mack continues:

‘Each of the principle elements of the phenomenon—the traumatic intrusions; the reality-shattering encounters; the energetic intensity; the apocalyptic ecological confrontations; the reconnection with Source; and the forging of new relationships across a dimensional divide—contributes to the daishigyo, the great ego death, that is marking the end of the materialist . . . paradigm that has lost its compatibility with life in the world as we know it.’ (299)

In Mack’s terms, the UFO experience provides a transformational paradigm in which an individual is rather forcibly reminded of their existential position in a cosmological context. Of course, this is in its broadest possible interpretation. Merely as a phenomenological event —perceived as if it were real—it is presented in science-fiction terms, that is, providing a framework in which to examine mankind’s purpose and, moreover, the responsibility of the individual in relation to the universe in which he lives. The experience is always future orientated in the extreme. Again, like Whitehead’s brand of existentialism, one may include the UFO as a symbol for the expansion of understanding ourselves. This, of course, is the sort of thing Jung understood to a great extent, being one of the most formidable intellects to apply himself to the phenomenon.

Whether or not we accept the UFO as an evolutionary metaphor or not, it can, at least be incorporated and integrated more efficiently if it is treated as such. The phenomenon’s demand of multifaceted interpretations offers us the equivalent of a puzzle, an imaginative game, in which one can perceive new patterns, and radically stretch our intellectual, theoretical and imaginative capabilities. Even after a life of directly experiencing and writing about the UFO and abduction phenomenon, Whitley Strieber concludes his lifetime of experience suggests that we are much more than ‘sparks in flesh doomed to die with the inevitable implosion of the body’ and that, indeed, ‘we have hardly even begun to touch on the complexity and enormity of what it is to be human.’ (Super Natural; 336)  He argues that the whole experience energizes a question—that raison d’être behind the evolutionary metaphor—which, he argues, is ‘our most valuable asset and our best hope.’ (336) There is a suggestion in Strieber’s response to the ‘power of the question,’ in which mystery in itself ensures the health of a species, for it encourages a growth towards a further understanding of itself and the cosmos.

* * *

Now, there is the post-modernism of chaos magic and the relativistic—or endlessly relativising—nature that underlies much of modern culture. The esoteric, of course, is also a part of this culture, but found on the fringes—or, as is sometimes the case, subtlety embedded in popular culture such as comic books, films and so on. Its presence is notable in some way, either consciously or unconsciously. Again, chaos magic posits itself as a ‘new paradigm’ in which to update magic for the 21st century; or, at least, as a psychological tool that incorporates belief in paranormal abilities, inter-dimensional entities or extra-sensory powers. Generally speaking, it does not entertain a radical metaphysics that is entirely departed from materialism; its substrate, interestingly, is still basically materialistic in the sense that it relativises Gods, demons, succubae, etc. For many chaos magicians these are merely ‘animated’ psychological projections, garbed in symbols and dramas that make them appear as real—or, for practical and ritual purposes, quasi-independent interactive psychological realities.

Chaos magic, it could be argued, is a result of the chaos of a world with all its symbols uprooted; drifting and displaced; divorced from a central meaning of deeper purpose. To contrast this with Wilson’s description of the Outsider presents an unusual insight into the modern civilized psyche and the plight of an essentially religious individual.

‘He is the creative individual whose instinct is to bring order out of chaos, to question the foundations of society . . . But since the Outsider’s impulse is fundamentally religious—the desire to be more ‘serious’ than other people is the essence of religion—he tends to be less of a misfit in ages of faith than in ages of materialism and skepticism.’ (Mysteries: 265)

Further on in Mysteries, Wilson goes on to discuss UFOs, in which he makes the interesting comment: ‘Our minds are essentially provincial when, ideally, they ought to be cosmopolitan. We are not merely earth-bound; we have our heads buried in the earth.’ Wilson proceeds to cite Vallée’s belief that the ‘UFO phenomenon . . . [is] forcing us to look up, to get used to the idea that we are citizens of the universe, not just of this earth.’ (563)  This, of course, is the basic religious impulse that plagues the outsider; he feels that ordinary existence is too provincial—that rut of materialism and skepticism—and that this desire for ‘seriousness’ is essentially a requirement for a larger context which assents man’s position as significant—and, moreover, requires of us our active participation in a vast evolutionary project.

Again, Peter J. Carroll in The Octavo (2011) recognises that our civilization has reached a degree of immense complexity, some of which he describes as an ‘interdependent system of Integrated Information’ created from fossil fuels and other materials. This, he argues, has come to the point where it has run into a diminishing of its returns. However, mirroring this, he recognises that the individual too works on similar ‘inputs.’ ‘We must look for new horizons and boundaries to change our energy/information input. We can use the input to increase our Integrated Information either in quantity or quality, or we can just squander it away on entropy.’ (135-136). The outsider’s yearning for ‘seriousness’ is the yearning, essentially, for qualitative meaning and purpose that merits and benefits from—while complimenting and elevating—the material manifold of existence. This, essentially, is what Lachman meant when he said the Outsider is demanded to impose his values upon the world, for if he declines to do this the values of negentropy and chaos will win the day.

It is this sort of thinking that underlies much of mythic, analogical and metaphorical thinking, for, as Peterson says, this world of qualitative symbols infers an ‘emergent property of first-order self-reference’ and that it might be ‘regarded as the interaction between the universe as subject and the universe as object.’ (290). This, of course, is exactly what the UFO exploits, for if one reads Jung or a large swathe of UFO literature, there is this constant paradoxical quality in which object becomes subject and vice-versa. The ‘cosmic viewpoint’ is the realisation of universe as subject; in other words, it is implicit in our own being. After all, we constitute the universe by being inside it as much as, simultaneously, ‘outside’ it in the sense that we can become self-referential. To cease to become an Outsider—in Wilson’s adoption—is to cease to be trapped in self-negation, and instead, providing a way out of the boundaries of personality and materialism towards a more elevated state of consciousness—and as a director of evolution.

On an individual level this can be seen with the individual versus mass-mindedness—or the Outsider and Western civilization—for it essentially equates to the same thing. Again, Jung notes in The Undiscovered Self that just as the ‘chaotic movements of the crowd, all ending in mutual frustration, are impelled in a definite direction by a dictatorial will, so the individual in his dissociated state needs a directing and ordering principle.’ (34). The individual, at odds with the immense unconscious forces of the world, must, in himself, experience—or know directly—something which is integrative of both inner and outer ‘warring factions’. ‘[Ego-consciousness] . . . must experience them, or else it must possess a numinous symbol that that expresses them and leads to their synthesis.’ (35). This, of course, was what Whitehead meant with his huge list of all existential experiences, and it is towards their integration that Jung, Wilson and the many other individuals we have discussed in this essay have pointed towards.

Each, in their own unique way, provides a model for the psyche’s ‘coming-to-terms’—through intuition and symbolism—with an evolutionary intentionality. The UFO will remain on the perimeter of this further discussion, but—suitable to its nature—it will return cloaked in a new order of logic which I will further explore in the following sections.

Vast Active Imagination

‘It is impossible to study a system of the universe without studying man. At the same time it is impossible to study man without studying the universe. Man is an image of the world. He was created by the same laws which created the whole of the world. By knowing and understanding himself he will know and understand the whole world, all the laws that create and govern the world. And at the same time by studying the world and the laws that govern the world he will learn and understand the laws that govern him. In this connection some laws are understood and assimilated more easily by studying the objective world, while man can only understand other laws by studying himself. The study of the world and the study of man must therefore run in parallel, one helping the other.’ (75)

The above is quoted from In Search of the Miraculous (1949), one of the most comprehensive books that systematises the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. However, it is clear that in the context of this essay that it constitutes an evolutionary metaphor, particularly with its correlation between ‘subjective’ man and ‘objective’ universe and vice-versa. Gurdjieff places heavy emphasis on the study of the processes of nature. These processes, he argues, are sufficient for gaining insights into the mechanisms of man; and, moreover, if properly understood, enables man to transcend their ‘laws’. Gurdjieff’s ‘system’ is based primarily on the notion that the man who truly knows the mechanisms of the cosmos is, in some sense, above them, for by understanding one—truly and not superficially—he can understand the other, that is himself. Furthermore he makes the important distinction between ordinary knowledge and gnosis (revelatory knowledge), or self-remembering. That is, rather than of simply knowing something mechanically, we know it in a deeper, more intimate sense—we know more truly with all of its universal, objective and subjective correlates. This gnosis is essentially Wilson’s Faculty X, or what he called ‘relationality’. We don’t just passively glimpse ‘other times and places’; we know that they are entirely real.

Interestingly there are symbols of wholeness, and this is precisely what the poet or artist—either consciously or unconsciously—is trying to achieve in his most visionary moments. There are also creative ‘flashes’ which enable someone to grasp wholes, which, once realized, relate to something else and so on until they constitute whole inner-landscapes of interrelated facts.

One of the most famous of visionary poems is ‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which was, he says, composed ‘in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium’ (Coleridge: 12), in which he gained a vision—influenced from the night’s reading—which constituted a whole poem. During a brief nap, he seems to have been a witnesses to the unconscious creative processes. ‘[T]he images rose up before him as things with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort’ and upon awakening ‘he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines’ (Act of Creation: 167). The conscious and unconscious process are here blurred and intermixed: ‘images rose up as things’, these ‘things’ being manifestly perceptible. Also of interest is the fact that he was effectively unconscious, and beneath all this the ‘dream artist’ constructed its meanings in a type of logic usually unavailable to the conscious mind.

In this moment of integrative unconscious thinking working with the act of creativity, Coleridge was unfortunately interrupted by a trivial matter of business—this, it turned out, diminished the ‘whole,’ breaking it into fragments of a vague and distant memory. Nevertheless, Coleridge with acute phenomenological insight, managed to grasp the very process of the loss of this vision and, significantly, its return:

. . . all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth!. . .

The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo, he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror. (167)

The ‘thousand circlets’, here, is the left-brain’s ordinary processing of time; its tendency to pixilation and to reduce things to ‘bits’. Our perception of life is choppy like a fast, unpredictable disorder of associations, yet, in moments of insight the stream pools into a reflective insight; that is, as one looks into the pool, it reflects its environment back far more accurately. The left hemisphere’s slowing down enables full images to be grasped by the right hemisphere—yet, significantly, it is in the stream of ordinary existence in which they are expressed, that is, in the form of something like Coleridge’s poem.

Arthur Koestler remarked that the ‘poet thinks both in images and verbal concepts, at the same time or in quick alternation; each trouvaille, each original find, bisociates two matrices.  The dreamer floats among the phantom shapes of the hoary deep; the poet is a skin-diver with a breathing tube.’ (168). Certainly, Coleridge does seem to be in-between two states, and, once the harmonic was disturbed, he found himself more in one ‘stream’ of thought than the other. Temporarily he had slowed down his ceaseless perceptual ‘firing’—by being drowsy and under the effects of opium—and had grasped an emergent and whole image from the unconscious mind—he then managed, albeit before the disruption, to capture fragments of the vision in the form poetry.

In Mysteries Colin Wilson cites the example of Rene Daumal’s experiment with tetrachloride, which he used to inhale in order to descend into similar timeless and imaginal regions of the unconscious. In this state he suffered typical ‘near death experiences’ in which his whole life flashed before his eyes, and, eventually even words began to lose their meaning. Daumal entered ‘an instantaneous and intense world of eternity, a concentrated flame of reality’ in which he experienced a new type—or mode—of knowledge (342). In this state there was an odd play on words and sounds, with unusual incantations and ‘formulas’ which effected, or even maintained, various elements of Daumal’s hallucinogenic visions. Ordinary words, by comparison, felt for Daumal, too ‘heavy and slow’, ‘shapeless’ and ‘rigid’. Daumal continues:

‘With these wretched words I can put together only approximate statements, whereas my certainty is for me the archetype of precision. In my ordinary state of mind, all that remains thinkable and formulable of this experiment reduces to one affirmation on which I would stake my life: I feel the certainty of the existence of something else, a beyond, another world, or another form of knowledge[4].’

And yet, by contrast, the words that sustained both his vision and his own existence, Wilson remarks, are essentially a ‘symbolic recognition that all life is sustained by a continuous act of will, or ‘intentionality.’’ As we have seen, this is Wilson’s ‘basic metaphysic’ of a deep intentionality. It is an essential recognition that the force of life is in fact an extra-dimension of freedom consciousness—of the self-evolving kind—to enter the limited world of matter.  Now, we may compare Coleridge’s broken ‘phantom-world’ to one of Daumal’s late poems:

I am dead because I have no desire,
I have no desire because I think I possess,
I think I possess because I do not try to give;
Trying to give, we see that we have nothing,
Seeing that we have nothing, we try to give ourselves,
Trying to give ourselves, we see that we are nothing,
Seeing that we are nothing, we desire to become,
Desiring to become, we live.

 (Mount Analogue, 119)

Each poem can be summarised by its initial loss of vision, its realisation of nothingness, but, in that ‘loss’, it aims to return to life—or, in Coleridge’s terms, with a pool that becomes a mirror. At the heart of each there is a sense of affirmation, or what another poet, Rainer Maria Rilke’s called ‘dennoch preisen’—to praise inspite of. There is a limit, and once this is reached, felt existence, once again, returns to animate the very substratum of our being; our life and existence—intentionality, the primordial essence of being, underlies and animates a pure ‘becoming’, a stepping-up of complexification into ordinarily inanimate and unknowing forms. Gary Lachman refers to this as an ‘inner ‘event horizon’’, he continues: ‘‘I’ seem to emerge like a fountain gushing out of a ‘nowhere’ that is nonetheless within me. It is as if I reach a kind of horizon, beyond which I cannot see. . . Perhaps that inner ‘event horizon’ there is a place where the unobservable mind and the unobservable universe meet?’ (Caretakers: 220).

A ‘new knowledge’ or gnosis comes into play on the other side of the perceptual event horizon, and, in an implicit sort of way it infers itself, rather like an evolutionary metaphor, through the dense, explicit nature of ordinary existence. Poets or people undergoing extreme and intense forms of consciousness are sometimes able to bring glimpses back, and, if they are capable enough, they create great pieces of art glistening with depths of meanings far beyond the artist’s ordinary consciousness. A descent into the unconscious makes one aware of the hidden machinery of our being, and indeed, our universe; we suddenly understand that just beneath the surface of existence is an animating force that works, in an odd way, on sound and manifestation—and, furthermore, it lies outside of time. It is, in fact, experienced and often described as if a part of a greater whole—this, of course, makes it difficult to articulate in a language unsuited to such conceptual enormity.

Now, Daumal realised that in spite of this feeling of wholeness and interconnectedness, he himself stood outside of it—he was, he felt, somehow a distortion in its patterning. One could say that one mind is in fact a distortion from this unconscious activity, for, it is precisely conscious of it; one mind is a discontinuity between two modalities of being and phenomenon. Whereas the ‘other’ mind—the right brain—is a part of this ‘other’ world in as much as the ‘spectator’ is a part of its own (separate) world. Both ‘I’s struggle to become aware of each other’s existence simultaneously. And yet, there is a relation between the two worlds and one, without the other, would be a hollow and autonomous world and the other, by contrast, a vast chaos of formlessness and vacillation. Both Daumal’s and Coleridge’s visions reminded them of this fact—one world is ‘nothing’, whereas Coleridge’s break from the ‘phantom-world’ is symbolised as an ever increasing distortion of our vision: ‘. . . and a thousand circlets spread, / And each mis-shape the other.’ But, significantly, Coleridge goes on to write, ‘. . . soon the fragments dim of lovely forms / Come trembling back’. This is the point in which the two worlds correspond, and the frontiers are ‘cascade’ into focus.

The essence of the living and the inanimate, the conscious and unconscious is encapsulated in this extraordinary paragraph from Van Vogt’s 1948 short story, ‘The Monster’:

‘Out of the shadows of smallness, life grows. The level of beginning and ending, of life and—not life; in that dim region matter oscillates easily between old and new habits. The habit of organic, or the habit of inorganic. Electrons do not have life and un-life values. Atoms know nothing of inanimateness. But when atoms form into molecules, there is a step in the process, one tiny step, that is of life—if life begins at all. One step, and then darkness. Or aliveness.’ (Vogt; ‘The Monster’: 32)

Van Vogt’s ‘monster’, in fact, is a human being that has mastered the molecular level of his being, and once awakened by an extraterrestrial race on a post-apocalyptic Earth, becomes an unstoppable force of will-power and foresight. One single step awakens the man, and once this happens, he is an unstoppable spearhead of the life force.

Here the question arises: what is the essence and directive of being alive? If we blossom from some unseen dimension, then where is it we are emerging from? Once we have sketched out an approximate understanding of our own intentionality, and of our own inner-world, we can begin to ‘become’ and live more consciously, and therefore. freely. The stepping-up process of molecules into self-reflective, conscious beings that attempt to reach their own perceptual ‘event horizons,’ tends to suggest that man thrives off an imagination that well exceeds our ordinary understanding of the evolutionary process. Man appears to want to embody the process himself—even steering it in accordance to his own will. Man, it is quite clear, is the ultimate intentional animal.

Now Carl Jung had the same vision of man when he arrived from Nairobi to visit the Athai Plains. Upon viewing the game reserve, he saw spread out before him a ‘magnificent prospect’ comprising to the limits of the horizon game animals like zebras, warthogs, antelopes, etc., which were silent but for the ‘melancholy cry of a bird of prey’. Reflecting upon it he felt that it was symbolic—and indeed, a literal vision—of ‘the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in the state of nonbeing.’ (284). Upon viewing nature as it is, he underwent a type of ‘cosmic consciousness’ in which the meaning of being became clear to him. Says Jung:

‘Man, I, in an invisible act of creation put the stamp of perfection on the world by giving it objective existence. This act we usually ascribe to the Creator alone, without considering that in doing so we view life as a machine calculated down to the last detail, which, along with the human psyche, runs on senselessly, obeying foreknown and predetermined rules. In such a cheerless clock-world fantasy there is no drama of man, world, and God; there is no “new day” leading to “new shores”, but only the dreariness of calculated processes.’ (284-285).

One part of man is essentially invisible—that which cannot be seen are precisely the meanings that are attributed to both himself and his environment, the exercise of his ‘intentional self’. These meanings, of course, remain invisible until they are expressed; that is, until they are manifested into reality. When man works creatively, he brings forth this world in a dynamic between the invisible and the visible. Jung, in fact, quotes an alchemical dictum: ‘What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects.’ Indeed, the world in which he lives is more vast and complex for man than any other creature—the world is, in its most fundamental sense, a grand mystery. In partaking in the unfolding of his own existence, and in his own awareness of life and death, man is truly in a state of ‘in-between-ness’; between two worlds. Problems, such as psychological imbalance, existential angst, and so on, are essentially an issue of transmission between two modalities of perception—the problem between Whitehead’s ‘meaning perception’ and Wilson’s contrast between a worm’s-eye view and a bird’s-eye view of existence.

We return are back to the ‘cosmic viewpoint’, that imperative of the UFO and, of course, science-fiction literature and esotericism. Both represent the polar opposite of the modern conception of the provinciality of man (one might say it is the dignity of man that underlies the essential cosmology of the Renaissance). The repositioning of metaphors, of worldviews and cosmological frameworks, furthermore, draws us onwards and upwards; it is, in essence, the invisible dynamo of the imagination and therefore, our greatest asset in improving the transmission between two worlds and two minds. The evolutionary metaphor, in a sense, is the bridge that leads to a staircase—or a ladder—to the windowed attic of human super consciousness.

The evolutionary metaphor is the working hypothesis that navigates implicit realities into explicit ones—the metaphor, being evolutionary, demands complexification as much as it requires control and discipline. For, without control, complexity becomes overwhelming, and this is essentially the grave issue for Wilson’s outsider. The world of increasing complexity collapses under its own weight, that is, unless it has a guiding metaphor that pulls it into an understandable shape—a comprehensive structure that includes within itself a purposeful as well as dynamic future. Effectively it is the symbolic cultural equivalent of the mandala of which Jung drew upon to represent the symbolic inner-unity of man’s individual being.

In one of Terrence McKenna’s greatest speeches, he encapsulates what the outsider knows intuitively, and that is that ‘[man] was not put on this planet to toil in the mud,’ and referring to the mechanistic and materialistic culture as ‘the machine’ he argues that we express our own evolutionary directive more purposefully by living creatively. The evolutionary metaphor provides a vision in which we, as McKenna argues, ‘maximize our humanness by becoming much more necessary and incomprehensible to the machine’—in inferring something beyond the limits of a pessimistic culture, it is, he demonstrates, a ‘civil rights issue’ in the sense that it is the suppression of the ‘religious sensibility’. There is, in the language of this essay, an obfuscation of the invisible worlds of the imagination that are the very life’s blood of consciousness and the evolutionary spirit.

Meanings always infer something more, and the more meaningful it is, the less constricting and narrow consciousness becomes. The evolutionary metaphor, insofar as it infers larger inter-dependent realities towards a larger and more inclusive whole, is fundamentally what Wilson meant by ‘relationality’. To use one of Wilson’s metaphors, ordinary consciousness is rather like a ‘piano whose strings are damped so that each note vibrates for only a fraction of a second’ but, in our more ‘wider’ states:

‘. . . the strings go on vibrating and cause other strings to vibrate. One thing suddenly ‘reminds’ us of another, so the mind is suddenly seething with insights and impressions and ideas. Everything becomes ‘connected’. We see that the world is self-evidently a bigger and more interesting place than we usually take for granted. . . We are simply in a state of wider perception—both outer and inner perception.’ (Beyond the Occult: 94)

As I have attempted to demonstrate throughout this essay, it is fundamentally this vision of consciousness, man and the cosmos, which may allow the enigma of the UFO to shed its secrets. If, as reliable theorists like Mack, Strieber and Kripal believe it to be—as an evolutionary ‘wake-up’ call of sorts—then it requires that we meet anomalous phenomenon half-way and recognise that fundamentally it is consciousness that can transcend the material limitations precisely by presaging a greater comprehension of existence itself—both inside and out.

In the closing section there will be an attempt at a grand synthesis of the essential ideas expressed throughout this essay. In the spirit of the concluding chapters of many books on ufology and related phenomenon, I will use both open-ended speculations alongside the philosophical frameworks I have attempted to develop throughout the preceding chapters.

 

Footnotes: 

[1] In a short series of books by Jeremy Naydler called Technology and the Soul (2010) he examines how logic has been transferred to the domain of the machine—and although human beings still obviously use logic, it is nevertheless radically diminished by this reliance on computers and other devices. Naydler argues that this sort of ‘calculative thinking’ in the Middle Ages was called ratio. In this bestowing of machines our own ability for ratio, we have, he argues, grown a ‘collective ratio’ that has ‘grown far more powerful through its having been, in a certain one-sided way, embodied in machines. And so the influence of the ratio on the whole psychic and spiritual makeup of the human being is far greater today than it has ever been.’ Naydler goes on to warn us that the ‘danger that faces us is that we all become so mesmerized by the brilliance of our computers that we begin to think like them, and forget what it means to think humanly.’ (19).

Notes:

[1] https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/aliens-predictions-the-secret-school-decoding-the-work-of-whitley-strieber

[2] http://disinfo.com/2014/10/pop-magic-grant-morrison/

[3] From Colin Wilson’s ‘Whitehead as Existentialist’: https://philosophynow.org/issues/64/Whitehead_As_Existentialist

[4] http://www.allaboutheaven.org/observations/9034/221/daumal-rene-a-fundamental-experiment-part-1-011120

 

The Cosmology of Deep Intentionality & Metaphors and Meta-Logic

The Cosmology of Deep Intentionality

An intrinsic part of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ is a cosmology, or what he called a ‘basic metaphysic’, which, in its earliest form, emerges in the chapter ‘World Without Values’ in The Outsider. For it is in this chapter that Wilson formulates the ‘background of values’ in which the power of our will—in its most active sense—can be most effectively exercised. His simple formulation runs thus: ‘No motive, no willing.’ However, by stating that ‘motive is a matter of belief’ Wilson underlines the importance of having something a priori believed in order to provide the motivation with a sufficient degree of will. Indeed, if belief lacked completely the individual would find motivation for doing anything at all impossible, leading to a form of listlessness or catatonia—a complete negation of freedom. Wilson continues by saying ‘belief must be the belief in the existence of something; that is to say, it concerns what is real. So ultimately, freedom depends upon the real.’ (1978: 49).

From this statement—that freedom depends upon the real—we then have to pursue the question: What is real? For most of us this question remains vague and difficult to articulate. Certainly, it is not an easy question to answer and has troubled philosophers for millennia. The idea of the ‘real’ underlies epistemology—the investigation and theory of what can be known—and ontology; or that which underlies our very knowledge and experience of our being.

These are not abstract concepts dreamt up by philosophers alienated from both the world and themselves. In fact, these two concepts constitute what we recognise as significant elements of human consciousness in relation to other forms of consciousness. For example, P.D. Ouspensky understood consciousness not as a thing in itself, but a description of a state in which we become aware of one or more of our psyche’s functions. These ideas are, in a sense, historical developments within the domain of human consciousness, reflected in our cosmological development, and thus determine the psychological ambience in which man finds himself and his culture.

In fact, as E.F. Schumacher points out, man is ‘capable of being conscious of its consciousness; not merely a thinker, but a thinker capable of watching and studying his own thinking.’ (1978: 26) Furthermore, he identifies the human consciousness as ‘recoiling upon itself’ and thus opening up ‘unlimited possibilities of purposeful leaning, investigating, exploring, formulating and accumulating knowledge’ (26). Of course, this particularly human trait has equally enormous advantages and disadvantages, for as man knows more about the universe, he can witness his stature decrease with his conclusions—and yet, as we have seen, this can also work in the opposite direction by providing us with an evolutionary and optimistic impetus for motivation and development of a healthy will.

In both Beyond the Outsider (1965) and Super Consciousness (2009)—two books that span Wilson’s work from near beginning to end—Wilson outlines the history of philosophy to present ‘a basis for a new existentialism.’ For Wilson, the fundamental problem of the human situation is ‘the problem of the clash between man’s inner world and the alien world ‘out there’.’ (1985: 85-86). Effectively he begins from this foundation of context—the ‘background of values’, or, one could say a cosmological framework that relates to man and man to the cosmos. From this point he argues that the Greek philosophers proceeded beyond this problem by simply rejecting the physical world. Therefore, for some Greek thinkers such as Socrates or Plato, only the world of ideas remained as the ultimate reality. Of course, this is reflected in Plato’s notion of the Forms, those immortal and perfect ‘ideas’ which lie outside of space and time. The split between spirit (or mind) and matter was clearly defined in Greek thought, and so much so that Socrates faced his death stoically believing that the spirit, in essence, is all that really matters. His mortal shell of mere matter, of course, would be shed and he’d be free to explore—in non-corporeal form—the world of spirit; the true home of the philosopher.

Whereas Plato believed that ‘ideas are the pathway to the infinite’, it was Aristotle who pursued and initiated the scientific method as we know it today; for Aristotle unlike Plato focused upon the natural and material world and began to collect and correlate observable facts. Raphael’s 16th century painting ‘The School of Athens’ in fact depicts Plato as pointing up towards the heavens while Aristotle, holding his hand horizontally—as well as his copy of Nicomachean Ethics between his other arm—contrasting Plato’s ‘vertical’ world of ideas in which Plato represents the opposite of Aristotle’s either/or, logic-bound and matter-of-fact approach. In essence, Plato’s is more metaphysical in the sense that is proposes something a priori to everything else, a perfected world beyond the world of matter. Yet, even Socrates is the beginning of this ‘break’ from an even more spiritual tradition, and as one commentator has noted, the pre-Socratics were much more orientated towards an intimation and ‘intuition of the world in its entirety’ whereas post-Socratic philosophy ‘surrendered to logic, in the belief that everything could be apprehended and explained with the help of this new instrument.’ (1993: 17).

In Superconsciousness: The Quest for the Peak Experience (2009) Wilson says that it was ‘Aristotle rather than Plato who exercised the greatest influence on the development of the western mind’ (2009: 134). Indeed, he goes on to point out that the development of the great religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, were of ‘immense importance for the development of human culture’ for these provided a ‘backdrop of values’ in which civilizations and individuals were able to function in a meaningful universe, a development that was crucial for the development of human consciousness at that point in time. Wilson continues by pointing out the importance St Augustine’s objection to science ‘on the grounds that it prevented man from focusing upon the most important thing of all—his relation to God.’ (134) Gods and higher intelligences for the people of the past provided an ample amount of motive force to bolster the willpower behind the development of civilization. Moreover, it provided an impersonal goal that transcended the sense of contingency that would have been extremely dangerous for the evolution of man’s consciousness in those earlier stages.

Before further summarising Wilson’s overview of the history of philosophy, it is worth returning to the cosmological—as well as metaphysical ideas—that begin to emerge in our examination of the new existentialism. In The Breathing Cathedral Martha Heyneman says that ‘Today, we see rising before us a new shape. We can see its dim outlines through the fog . . . but we haven’t yet come ashore. We don’t yet inhabit our new picture of the universe.’ (2001: 18) Now, each of us in childhood similarly inhabits a cosmology that seems to us safe and basically well-meaning, yet as we grow older uncertainty sets in and we begin to feel uncertain about what can be known as well as uncertain about who we truly are. Again, this is an epistemological as well as an ontological realisation—a fundamentally existential awakening that may be life-changing for some. Indeed, Wilson discusses in his essay ‘Science—And Nihilism’ his own breaching of his ‘cosmological comfort-zone’ when he was reading Einstein at about the age of ten. He says that he was suddenly ‘struck by a terrible thought’ when he thought about motion as being ‘relative’ for he suddenly saw how ‘parochial’ our earth-bound view is in the cosmic perspective. Quite ironically Wilson had been studying science because it gave him:

‘. . . a comforting sense of incontrovertible fact, of some universal truth, bigger than our trivial human emotions and petty objectives . . . But now Einstein was telling me that I could find no certainty in science. I was like a devout Christian who has suddenly been convinced there is no God. I felt as if I had been standing apparently on solid ground, and it had suddenly opened up beneath my feet.’ (1998: 46-47) [my italics]

This brings us back around to the idea of the real—that ‘solid ground’—being the motivating force behind the will. As a result of this realization Wilson fell into a state of despair and despondency. It was enormously difficult for him to fight off the futility of all endeavors, intellectual or otherwise, after this frightening realization of the unknowable void. There suddenly seemed an impossibility of knowledge, and as a result, an impossibility of being in its wake—for how can one go on living, at least satisfactorily, after such an earth-shattering realization of our own universal insignificance?

Effectively it this problem that the whole Outsider Cycle was pitted against, for it is the fundamental question of the Absolute Yes versus the Absolute No. The Romantics, as they are studied in The Outsider, certainly show many instances when they are able to feel sensations—intellectually as well as emotionally—that gave assent to a sense of universal optimism. And yet they were unable to pin it down—the next day each vision would be difficult to articulate, to be known, in the fullest sense of the word. Certainly, the vision, which may have been authentic and real, begins to recede, taking upon it a cadence of bitter and ironic unreality.

Certainly, they could capture these visions in powerfully evocative poems and vivid landscapes infused with vitality and ecstatic yea-saying, but so few of them were able to construct a philosophy strong enough to hold back the tumultuous currents of suicidal despair. The sense of ‘unreality’ returned with an overwhelming fullness of force. Wilson writes, ‘The Romantics . . . believed that the ‘moments of vision’ cannot be controlled. Pushkin compared the poet’s heart to a coal which glows red when the wind of inspiration blows. But he cannot make it blow; he just has to sit and wait.’ (2009: 9) It is this fundamentally passive and defeatist tone that underlies many of the romantics, and again, Wilson attempted to show an active methodology by which we could fully comprehend and integrate this fundamental sense of a greater reality, and allow the coal of the heart once again glow with flame—but this time, by an act of motive force based on something existentially substantial and real.

In his introduction to Mysteries (1978) he also notes that there is something ‘fundamentally queer about the universe’ and that it ‘contradicts our assumption that there are no questions without answers’ and, most disturbingly, our very minds seem somewhat unsuited for thinking about these problems. Furthermore, this leads to philosophers taking the position that human existence is basically a short, brutal accident that evolved a painful form of self-consciousness. For some philosophers and writers, such as the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft; the Romanian arch-pessimist Emil Cioran; to the contemporary British philosopher, John Grey, consciousness itself is a mournful agony that is better off not existing at all. Indeed, the latter seems to prefer the ‘silence of animals’; animals whose consciousness has not yet come to grips with time and what it infers—an end to its own being; death and universal contingency. Our ontological sense of motive, in the face of a pessimistic epistemology, recedes proportionally.

A death-haunted mankind aware of his own demise in a meaningless cosmos results in the belief that the cosmos had best have remained uninhabited by mind. That is, the awareness of non-meaning is the most ironic development of all. From this point of view, their visions of an all-seeing, all-knowing God—in whatever shape or form—are perceived as a sadomasochist and should be disowned. None of them, apparently, seemed to see this as a type of projection implicit in their own philosophical conclusions. This, essentially, is what Wilson challenged in his Outsider Cycle.

Nevertheless a cosmology ejected of all meaningful content and purpose is still a cosmology. That is, even if it is a chaos rather than a cosmos (cosmos is the Greek word for an orderly universe rather than a chaotic one). And in any cosmology, as Heyneman points out, our knowledge and imagination are entirely ‘contained, consciously or unconsciously, within it’ and, furthermore if ‘… the vessel is shattered and the image has no shape, impressions have no meaning.’ She continues:

‘We have no stomach for them—no place inside ourselves to keep them. We are immersed in them, they flow over our surfaces in a ceaseless stream, but we are unable to extract any nourishment from them to add to the structure and the substance of an understanding of our own upon which we might base a coherent and deliberate life.’ (2001: 6)

Again, we are back to Wilson’s original formulation that motivation—through belief or a cosmology—is a priori crucial for a healthy will. Once this has been shattered, one falls into a lower state of vitality, even despair, without any real reason to will anything at all. So, in effect, our beliefs and our cosmologies are fundamentally one and the same, for they are internal models of the universe. Now, what is real is not necessarily what is ‘out there’, but also ‘in here’; that is, within our deeper layers of consciousness. Indeed, it is reminiscent of what the Indian mystic, Nisargadatta Maharaj, meant when he said ‘The real does not die, the unreal never lived.’ The ‘real’, in short, is also an act of becoming into being; it is a motive force that wills itself into existence.

Now this is the point where we can return to Wilson’s outline of philosophy and, more importantly for this essay, return to the UFO phenomenon. For the real question is: into what philosophical context do UFOs emerge into our human story? This is the same approach as descriptive phenomenology, for it attempts to understand the psychological reality of the UFO phenomena rather than the technological or physical reality. This is fundamentally the contradistinction between two modes of philosophic thought which Wilson identifies as the ‘two pockets in the billiard table of philosophy: materialism and idealism’ (2009: 178). What we might ask here is how the UFO emerges from—or into—a collective philosophical zeitgeist, and if this is so, what does it signify philosophically as well as phenomenologically?

Jacques Vallee identified this problem in his 1975 book The Invisible College (1975), where he states that the UFO ‘constitutes both a physical entity with mass, inertia, volume, etc., which we can measure, and a window toward another mode of reality.’ (2014: 4) Vallee continues, ‘These forms of life may be similar to projections; they may be real, yet a product of our dreams. Like our dreams, we can look into their hidden meaning, or we can ignore them. But like our dreams, they may also shape what we think of as our lives in ways that we do not yet understand.’ (2014: 4) This ‘hidden meaning’ is the occulted aspect of the UFO phenomenon, for it is this element that is most readily interpreted, and offers, as it does, a tremendous amount of insight into our philosophical categories and phenomenological attendance to a phenomenon so intrinsically linked with the unconscious mechanisms of both the individual and society at large.

At this point it is worth returning to the genre of fiction that best navigates these ‘in-between’ territories—science fiction.

Stan Gooch, in his essay ‘Science Fiction as Religion’[1] provides an important idea which will help elucidate just why the genre of science fiction can provide glimpses into new and emergent metaphysics. For, where science fails—in providing meanings and speculations in the ‘large picture’ of human values—science fiction steps in and provides a ‘surrogate belief system’ and most of the modern cults—such as Scientology to the Aetherius Society—have as their psychological aim a unification of ‘science and religion’. In Gooch’s words, ‘modern religion and science fiction, therewith seem to be struggling towards a common meeting point—though they have as yet not reached it.’ Science fiction realizes that science cannot provide emotion and experience and, in doing so, compensates by trying to ‘infuse those elements into scientific frameworks or cosmologies’, also, of course, science cannot allow itself to wonder, so again science fiction makes up for this lack.

In his 2016 novel The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts has his protagonist—in truly Kantian fashion—that our ‘universe is being determined by the thing itself, and by say—the consciousness of the sentient beings perceiving the thing itself.’ The ‘thing itself’, of course, is Immanuel Kant’s notion of the noumenon, that which cannot be known outside of the limits of our perceptual ‘categories’. To return to Beyond the Outsider, Wilson describes Kant’s basic philosophy as being concerned with how the mind creates the universe as we perceive it. He continues to say that true, ‘there is an unknowable reality ‘out there’—the noumena, but it is unknowable precisely because it does not need to obey our laws, and so cannot enter our perceptions, or even our reason.’ (1965: 91) Nevertheless, Wilson argues, it was the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte who went beyond this problem and asked the crucial question of: ‘Can I ‘create’ the universe, and yet not be aware that I am doing so?’ (1965: 91).

Proceeding from this question, Adam Roberts presents the problem with a great deal of clarification. Upon reflecting on the mysterious ‘thing itself’, or noumenon, his character concludes that the ‘thing is vital, not inert’ and that the ‘twenty-first century atheists peer carefully at the world around them and claim to see no evidence for God, when what they’re really peering at is the architecture of their own perceptions.’ (my italics). Indeed, what they see, Roberts writes, is simply the ‘Spars and ribs and wire skeletons—there’s no God there . . .’ but, he asks with great insight, ‘. . . strip away the wire-skeleton, and think of the cosmos without space or time or cause and substance, and ask yourself: is it an inert quantity?’ (2016: 326-327).

Now, what is evidenced in Robert’s novel is an attempt to unify and explore the limits of science fiction and religious belief through the philosophic framework of Kant’s metaphysics. Through the ‘architecture of their own perceptions’ man perceives in his universe, and in himself, the limits of his own closed-system of values. Yet, what is implicit in this realisiation is what Wilson calls a ‘tri-alism’; that is, an addition to our usual understanding of Cartesian dualism—mind/body, spirit/matter, and so on. Instead, what is implicit in this understanding is that there is as well as a ‘contemplating mind (‘I think’) looking out at alien nature’ there is two I’s; ‘one is the ‘I think’, and the other the ‘transcendental ego’.’ Of course, this relates directly to Descartes’ famous edict that Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). What Fitche and Wilson are really pointing out is that, behind the scenes of our usual perceptions, there is an ‘invisible’ ‘I’ which manifests the ‘texture’, as it were, and meanings that appear to underlie our apprehension of reality. And instead of ‘looking out at the universe from its armchair’ we need now to recognise that there are two I’s, ‘two faces, one to look out, one to look inward towards the ‘hidden I’, the transcendental ego’. It would not be a stretch to say that the transcendental ego is our most esoteric dimension; for how it works, of course, requires a complex array of language and concepts to untie its mysterious involvement in our perceptions.

In an amended Epilogue to The New Existentialism (1966), Wilson provides some insights into what he calls his ‘basic metaphysic’, and this offers an incredible insight that may further our investigation into anomalous phenomena. As the UFO, according to Vallee, operates on the divide between dream and our ‘here and now’ reality—between our psychological and the material worlds—the transcendental ego too, in some odd way, may operate at a deeper level than we ordinarily understand. Indeed, one could say that the transcendental ego is a sort of ‘reality structurer’. Now by forwarding a basic ‘doctrine of the will’ that aims to uncover the ‘unconscious layers of will and intention, of which you were previously not aware’, it is significant that Wilson points out that the deeper layers of our intentionality awaken in mystical experiences. For in these experiences we lose our general sense of alienation—moreover, an alienation that is ‘due to lack of contact with one’s intentional layers’. Referring to this as our ‘deep intentionality’ what Wilson is really presenting here is his ‘basic metaphysic’—or cosmology—that enables us, like Robert’s protagonist, to see the universe not as an inert quantity, but instead as an active quality—constituting as well as sculpted by—the transcendental ego.

Philip K. Dick may have envisioned this when he posed the ‘Zebra’ hypothesis which posits the idea of a God that disguises himself as the environment. Similarly, in his essay ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’ he asks a similar question: if God ‘wears’ our universe like so many garments in a wardrobe, how do we know when this universe is being worn by this overtly style-conscious God? Now, it is not difficult to switch this idea around and say: what inhabits our universe is our ‘deep intentionality’ which, through us, ‘wears’ our perceptions of our world without us being aware of its presence. This is basically Fitche’s challenge to Kant’s notion of the noumenon. In fact, the transcendental ego is the part of us that bounds our consciousness of the thing itself. It does so by providing a ‘livable reality’ rather than an overwhelming influx of information—in short, it blinkers us in interest of our own practical survival. Man, bound by the phenomenal world, therefore has no direct access to the metaphysical realities that lie behind his categories—his structures and frameworks of perception—that en-frames human consciousness. That is, unless the intentional energies are fired up enough to access these deeper realms of the psyche.

Similarly to Philip K. Dick’s ‘Zebra’ and Adam Robert’s ‘active noumenon’, Madame Blavatsky in her enormous book, The Secret Doctrine (1888), states that the ‘noumenon can become a phenomenon on any plane of existence only by manifesting on that plane through an appropriate basis or vehicle’ (2012: 20). Now, whether the UFO manifests as an aspect of the noumenon becoming phenomenon, it is almost impossible to say. But, if we begin to understand the phenomenon on its own bizarre terms, we can see how it effectively subverts our ordinary categories and challenges our Aristotelian either/or sensibilities by posing a both/and anomalous ‘event’.

Here one may turn to Carl Jung’s curious dream of October 1958—briefly discussed in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)—in which he saw ‘lens-shaped metallic gleaming disks’, which he identified as two typical UFOs that proceeded to fly directly towards him as he was standing alongside his lake in Bollingen. As they briefly hovered about his person they quickly flew off, leaving him alone for a short period until another UFO appeared, again this was lens-like but this time it had an extension of a sort of ‘magic lantern’. As it was directing its attention towards him he suddenly awoke with the lingering thought that ‘We always think that U.F.O.s are projections of ours. Now it turns out that we are their projections. I am projected by the magic lantern as C. G. Jung. But who manipulates the apparatus?’ (1995: 355) [my italics]. Perhaps it was the transncendental ego, that deep intentional part of our being that showed itself to Jung in a symbolic dream?

Phenomenologically Jung’s dream leaves us with much to think about. For Jung is essentially passive in this dream; indeed, he is projected by the UFO itself. His very existence is bestowed by these lens-like disks, equipped as they are with a sort of projection unit in the form of a magic lantern. Like Blavatsky’s noumenon becoming the phenomenon, Jung is projected by the unknown incursion of anomalous flying ‘observers’, as it were. Now, as this was Jung’s dream we can ask the inside-out question—which nicely relates well to dream logic—by seeing if Jung’s own ‘dream identity’—his self as experienced in the dream—is indeed a product of an aspect of his higher-self. In other words, one might ask what part of Jung projected the dream in the first place?

The new existentialism lays important emphasis on the essential hierarchical nature of consciousness; lower levels of consciousness become increasingly diffuse, disintegrated, whereas higher forms of consciousness—such as the mystical experience or the ‘peak experience’—become synthesised and integrated into the greater whole of our being.

At this point it will benefit us to step back and once again ask the fundamental existential questions. Indeed, questions such as: Who am I? What is the meaning of existence? become impossible to answer in our ordinary states of consciousness because, in some sense, they are at the very substratum of our being. In other words, these questions are in a sense already answered for at a level below the iceberg of ordinary consciousness; they are what propel us into being in the first place—and the very reason for something rather than nothing at all. This ‘deep intentionality’ is effectively the Life Force.

Now, as we increase our consciousness we also include these deeper layers into our being; we integrate ourselves more fully and these answers become more self-evident. In fact, we might lose our general sense of alienation altogether—this, of course, being the fundamental insight of the mystical experience, or gnosis (meaning knowledge): all is one; our being and the universe are ultimately knowable and, moreover, inseparable. ‘When you awake’ writes Wilson ‘your top layers come to life first; i.e. are suffused with conscious energy, like blood flowing in the veins’ but when these deeper layers of you also integrate into your ‘top layers’ of ordinary consciousness, there comes bubbling up the ‘deep intentionality’ which is, for all intents and purposes, the ‘reality structurer’ as well as a source of our vital energies (1995).

Indeed, as we are not normally aware of these profound resources of energy they—rather like Jung’s dream UFO—effectively project our very being; they are, as it were, the foundational dynamism that maintains energises our ‘architectures of perception’. Just as Roberts points out the ‘dynamic’ quality of Kant’s noumenon, so it is with Jung’s two-way projecting UFO; both, in a sense, are representative of the deeper levels of consciousness—that level of what Wilson calls ‘deep intentionality’. It is this realisation implicit in the ‘new existentialism’ that constitutes Wilson’s essential cosmology, and furthermore it helps us illuminate the perceptual and consciousness-changing experiences associated with the UFO phenomenon in general.

*

To extend these insights further it is worth turning again to the work of Carl Jung whose ‘active imagination’ and ‘enantiodromia’ may provide us with further insights into the nature of anomalous phenomena. Firstly, the basic definition of the enantiodromia is the tendency for things to turn into their opposites; a sort of governing principle that ensures a general balance of opposites. And yet, to see the UFO phenomena merely as a sort of psychic compensatory mechanism is too reductive—but, in spite of that, its very actions—its theatrical and absurdist performance—may be an initiation of sorts. That is, representative of a challenge that is to be overcome—a kōan designed to integrate a deeper understanding into the nature of reality, and particularly consciousness’s role in the making of that reality.

If such phenomenon emerges out of a sort of deep wellspring of intentionality, that is not to say they are mere compensatory mechanisms acting on a sort of ‘automatic-response’ level. In other words, they are not the equivalent of an unconscious ‘reflex-arc’ that merely reacts to external conditions without any will of their own. In fact, there is the difficult realisation that these entities, which accompany either dream visions or waking experiences, are endowed with a degree of independence and autonomy—and, more disturbingly perhaps, a degree of consciousness which appears to be in advance of our own. Indeed, this is where it becomes difficult to differentiate between projection and independent ‘realities’, for these may be impressions rather than realities as such. Or impressions of a reality beyond what we ordinarily know. Furthermore, these very super-conscious abilities that the UFO entities exhibit may be precisely those same abilities are presently dormant—untapped—in the human psyche.

Of course, there are many presuppositions about how the universe works, and how, furthermore in what dimensions conscious beings can function. Spiritualism, of course, posits the notion of alternate dimensions and realms in which independent, conscious entities exist. This is present in the notion of an afterlife; another world or space in which consciousness voyages after the death of the physical body. Certainly, it becomes clear in UFO literature that these denizens occupy an in-between state; rather, they are like Blavatsky’s noumenon becoming phenomenon. Whatever they are, they clearly can switch between physical and dream realities at will; and, to confound things further, they obfuscate themselves from everyday believability by leaving behind a trail of absurdity and illogic, thus deliberately subverting what we know as a consensus—or categorical—reality.

In this sense, enantiodromia is one of the typical methods of the trickster in folklore. It is the sheer mercurialness of the phenomenon which demands a psychological, as well as phenomenological, approach to unveil both its methods (of unveiling itself) and its meaning and purpose (the reason for its unveiling). We shall return to the concept of enantiodromia. But first, we must clearly understand how Jung’s notion of active imagination ties in with Wilson’s emphasis on the importance of intentionality.

Metaphors and Meta-Logic

The UFO phenomena—like a Zen kōan or an esoteric secret—may yield to our comprehension but remain fundamentally inexpressible. There is a sense that, to communicate certain meanings, one must turn to symbol and to theatrics, even to dream logic and altered states of consciousness. This is fundamentally the reason why all the fields correspond or cross-fertilise each other; each remains at the periphery of our comprehension and expression. Indeed, there is a sense of an implicit truth that lies beyond the veil of what is apparent. Revelations which often accompany the UFO, the kōan and the esoteric insight, are often grasped on the threshold of both our rational mind and imaginative faculties; it is, therefore, at man’s most integrated in which his higher faculties can grasp extraordinary—or super-natural—logic. This is what Wilson meant by achieving a ‘birds-eye view’.

In a previous essay, I wrote: ‘Esotericism or the ‘occult’ can perhaps be summarised by this notion of transmuting the conceptually obscured, or hidden nature of reality, into everyday perception. And to do this, of course, is to increase the relationality of consciousness’ (Stanley; 2017: 111). This ‘step-over’ from the super-conscious mind of greater meanings into our conscious understanding, is the evolution of consciousness. When it happens there is a sense of new relationships between things that previously seemed infinitely and inexplicably separated. Enantiodromia—when things become their opposite—as seen from a ‘birds-eye view’ would be perceived for what it is: the ‘return of the repressed’; for something within consciousness is not being addressed because it is neither sensed nor perceived by the lower-levels of consciousness. Again, Wilson’s statement that ‘if the flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality’ becomes a key to our understanding this concept (1980: 112).

The UFO—existing in the difficult in-between hinterlands of respectability and reason—appears to be such a symbol itself. Says Jacques Vallée, ‘[if] you strive to convey a truth that lies beyond the semantic level made possible by your audience’s language, you must construct apparent contradictions in terms of ordinary meaning’ (2014: 27). Indeed, if the UFO is a symbol that intends—assuming it has its own raison d’être—to bypass most respectable institutions—and, as Vallée goes on to state, to nevertheless ‘implant deep within society far-reaching doubts concerning its basic philosophical tenets’— it must turn itself inside out; that is, by providing its own explanation. Vallée continues, ‘it would have to project an image just beyond the belief structure of the target society.’ This is what he calls the UFO’s ‘meta-logic’; precisely the same sort of logic that I have briefly outlined above with the nature of Jung’s enantiodromia.

Furthermore, there is the metaphorical and analogical nature of the UFO phenomena that appears to generate around it. There is a proliferation of theories, each closely related to each other. Patrick Harpur identifies these as effectively misreading of spatial metaphors, in which he goes on to list the analogous connections: ‘UFOs come from beyond, inside, outside, next to, above, below, within, etc.’ Comparing it to crop circle theory, he extrapolates the analogous connections further: ‘extraterrestrial theory: unconscious projection theory :: outer space: inner space :: physical : mental. . . extraterrestrial theory: “earth energy” theory :: above: below :: material : immaterial.’ (2003: 169) One only needs to look at the title of Stan Gooch’s excellent book, Creatures from Inner Space (1984), for an explicit example of Harpur’s observation.

The dramatic and unusual experience of abduction phenomenon as it is reported by many abductees complicates the issue further. As I have mentioned previously, this is one of the sub-categories of ufology, and has increasingly dominated the field over sightings of the ‘craft’ themselves. Indeed, the abduction scenarios often have an intensely dreamlike and apparently non-physical dimension, which further frustrates these spatial and physical-mental juxtapositions. Of course, there is the sense that the UFO and its occupants are inter‑dimensional travelers, utterly at odds with our customs as well as our fundamental experience of time and meaning. Rather like when anthropologists breaching the isolation of ancient tribes, the student—by the very act of integration—affects what it is he wants to observe; rather, it becomes a perceptual as well as cross-cultural mirage of information—in which both sides are quickly confused and misunderstood. To each party the rituals of the other are inevitably misinterpreted—or, indeed, remain altogether incomprehensible. The cultural bridging may take a long time, and even then, the communications may be tenuous and trivial until greater integration is achieved.

E.M. Forster in his 1924 novel A Passage to India depicts a poignant example of this problem when he compares the Englishmen meet with a group of Hindus, of whom one is requested to sing but, in apparently ignoring the request, continues on with the conversation while intermittently taking sips of tea. As the occasion draws to a close, he suddenly bursts out, ‘I may sing now’ and the novel continues:

‘His thin voice rose, and gave out one sound after another. At times there seemed rhythm, at times there was the illusion of a Western melody. But the ear, baffled repeatedly, soon lost any clue, and wandered in a maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible. It was the song of an unknown bird. Only the servants understood it . . .  The sounds continued and ceased after a few moments as casually as they had begun—apparently half through a bar, and upon the subdominant.’[2]

Of course, this is a basic difference in artistic form, but nevertheless it brings home an important point. Commenting upon this scene the philosopher William Barrett notes that the Westerner may find the ‘Oriental music “meaningless,”’ however, ‘the Oriental might very well reply that this is the meaninglessness of nature itself which goes on endlessly without beginning, middle, or end.’ (1990: 55) Again, the misunderstanding is a philosophical, ontological and even an epistemological one that relates to our understanding of spatial metaphors in regard to time and its processes.

All of this, of course, could be founded upon a series of misconceptions. The phenomenon, baffling as it is—and, as a result, leading us on by analogy to analogy—might yield to our comprehension upon a closer and less severely dualistic framing of our perceptual categories. In fact, upon closer inspection, a sense of an inner-consistency of meaning and purpose seems to underlie much of the phenomenon.

If we accept the idea of a ‘deep intentionality’ underlying nature, we might say, like Jung, that being born into the physical world is akin to how the unconscious makes itself explicit; that is, being born is nature’s unconsciousness (the unmanifest; or potential) becoming explicitly manifest in three-dimensional space—the ordinary world that we find ourselves in, with all its laws and limitations. Jung says that the each of us is ‘. . . begotten out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living Nature herself. It is a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of our conscious mind; of ways and possibilities of which our one-sided conscious mind knows nothing; a wholeness which embraces the very depths of Nature.’ Jung is here talking about the archetype of the ‘child’; however, one could apply this just as well to creativity itself. And, moreover, to those unusual events that frustrate our curiously ‘one-sided’ consciousness.

Two examples of what Jung called synchronicity will throw light on the problem of understanding these ‘meta-logical’ events. In each example there is a similar comprehension of information that challenges our notions of time and causality. There is, as it were, an incursion of our fourth-dimensional selves which, born from Nature’s unconscious, still exists in this dimension of radically different laws to the physical. We exist in the world most viscerally, but, fundamentally, we are not of it entirely.

In Gifts of Unknown Things (1976) Lyall Watson relates one of his experiences of travelling through the Amazon, when one of his fellow Brazilian caboclos developed an intense toothache. Developing an abscess the tooth and surrounding gums became inflamed and the man went into a delirious high fever. None of the boat’s crew had any access to any antibiotics or painkillers; they simply had to proceed through the Amazon while Watson attempted crude methods such as removing it with a pair of pliers. Giving up, his fellow traveler continued to suffer, when suddenly one of the boatmen suggested they visit a nearby famous healer that lived a few hours down further the river.

The ‘great healer’ to Watson’s astonishment was a ‘terrible disappointment’, described as a ‘small, hungry-looking, middle-aged man with little hair and fewer clothes’ sporting only a ‘tattered pair of shorts, plastic sandals’ and a t-shirt that was once the property of the State Prison of Louisiana (139). Nevertheless, with nothing to lose they presented to the healer the feverish, and no doubt by now delirious, patient. The communication took place in Amazonian-Portuguese and Watson noticed that the emphasis was not on the symptoms, but rather the ‘particular circumstances, the exact time and place, they were first noted’ (1976: 139). This was a sleight of hand, Watson believed, to reroute the ‘blame’ on to an external and apparently malevolent entity; a psychological trick, perhaps, to provide some sort of catharsis, or to place the patient into a particular relationship with his suffering.

The procedure began rather bizarrely. In fact, the healer started to sing to himself, in an Indian dialect, while he placed his hand into the patient’s mouth and began to rummage around, with the occasional grunt, and eventually pulled out the molar with an uncanny ease. The bleeding, as a result, was remarkably slight. And, furthermore, the healer began to sway with his eyes closed and suddenly, one of the boatmen pointed out that there was a trickle of blood flowing out the corner of the patient’s mouth. However, what happened next was far more inexplicable. Suddenly, along the line of trickling blood, emerged a column of black army ants. Watson observed that they were not a frantic, searching set of ants, but a strict regiment following the line of blood and apparently emerging all from the patient’s wound. They continued to flow, walking down his body and onto the log on which he was sitting.

Strangely enough, Watson’s fellow boatman began laughing at the spectacle. And yet, ‘it was not the nervous laughter of people in fear and discomfort. It was honest loud laughter over something that struck them as very funny.’ (1976: 141) For, as Watson relates, in the ‘local dialect, they use the same word for pain as they do for the army ant. The healer had promised the pain would leave, and so it did in the form of an elaborate and extraordinary pun.’ [my italics] (1976: 141-142).

This second ‘synchronicity’ is not so dramatic, but what it does have is an analogical quality that frames the above argument well; again, there is a meta-logic about it, and again, the curious sense of humour is present.

Fred Gettings, in The Secret Lore of the Cat (1989), describes the curious genesis of his book, which all began with a commission to take photographs of medieval cities in Europe. In doing so, he found himself wandering around the backstreets of Ghent, Belgium. Behind Lange Steenstrasse a ginger tom caught his eye—or, more accurately, the ginger tom directed Getting’s attention—by jumping up onto a nearby window sill. Juxtaposing itself against the lush plant life, red geraniums in terracotta pots; no doubt an idyllic vision perfect for a photographer. Gettings, grabbing his camera, immediately began to take snapshots of the stylish cat when a young woman appeared in front of his viewfinder, allowing the cat to enter into the house. Noticing that the man outside was interested, she smiled and offered him in for some coffee. It turned out that she was an artist and was, in fact, working on illustrations for a book on cats. This piqued Gettings’ interest, who had also written and researched art and art history for many years. Curiously, she suddenly asked whether he had seen the artist Arthur Rackham’s depiction of cats. He said he had indeed, and as he did so, she reached over for a book near the windowsill—astonishingly, it was a book on the Arthur Rackham which he had written over a decade before.

Gettings muses: ‘What a magical cat her ginger tom had been to draw me with such cunning into his owner’s house. That cat had not really been interested in having his photograph taken —he merely had access to the secret wisdom, and knew that his mistress and I should meet, talk about cats, Rackham and life.’ He continues by saying that long after the event that he ‘. . . could not get the ginger out of my mind. I knew already that the cat is a magical creature, with an arcane symbolism special to itself, yet I had never before become personally entangled in the feline magic it can weave.’ And yet why is the cat so different?—Why, he asked himself, was the cat so important to the Egyptians and witchcraft and so on. Of course, this all lead to the writing of The Secret Lore of the Cat.

Both of these cases of synchronicity are in keeping with the meta-logic of the UFO experience, although the UFO experience, in comparison with these essentially mild synchronicities, is far more intensive.

The sort of physical punning that takes place in Lyall Watson’s account is very interesting, for it presupposes that the healer works simultaneously on many levels—psychological as well as physical. In fact, the two worlds blend together seamlessly. Firstly there is the ritual or suggestion that one ought to displace the problem by attributing it some ‘outside’ force, or embodying the issue as the workings of some malignant entity. Secondly, there is the apparent ease of the extraction and curious lack of blood—there is a sense that he can, to some degree, command matter itself. And, thirdly, there is the symbolic bleeding of the ants that related directly to the boatman’s language; that is, the ants are etymologically linked with the word ‘pain’. Normally, if this story was told to someone it would appear to be entirely symbolic—and yet, Watson apparently witnessed it first-hand. This is typical of the UFO experience; particularly in regards to the bizarre abduction accounts that are often recounted in books like Strieber’s Communion (1987).

Jung, speaking of the UFO, believes that they are in fact:

‘impressive manifestations of totality whose simple, round form portrays the archetype of the self, which as we know from experience plays the chief role in uniting apparently irreconcilable opposites and is therefore best suited to compensate the split-mindedness of the age.’ (2002: 17).

Interestingly, one could posit two realities that intertwine, and that the reality of the ‘symbolic reality’ is not necessarily entirely separate. Indeed, this explains the synchronicity phenomena as well as the effect of enantiodromia; the one becomes the other—not because they are separated, or indeed polar opposites—but because the dimensions of the other ‘half’, so to speak, are interlaced with an aspect of experienced reality. The ‘totality’ of a synchronicity seems to play this out too, for the healer performs a ritual that is both symbolic and physical; that is, the synchronicity—such as in Gettings’ case—is both a message—an interpreted meaning—and simultaneously an unfolding of inexplicably related events. A universe constituted of meaningful connections would, in fact, have this curious quality of interplay between its dimensions. The synchronicity is a sort of ‘weighted meaning’ that drops down into reality, and, as it blends with the laws of our ordinary dimension of lived experience, acts itself out as a series of events. To use another analogy, it is rather like an ice crystal forms into a network of symmetrical shapes on the window; firstly, it crystallizes, hardens, and then begins to take form from its previous, less tangible form of liquid or gas. In a Platonic sense, it is as the evolutionary philosopher, Henri Bergson says: ‘The possible would have been there from all time, a phantom awaiting its hour; it would therefore have become reality by the addition of something, by some transfusion of blood or life,’—or, in this case, manifesting as events latent with metaphor.

Again, Madame Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine makes a similar point: ‘Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone, has ever been “created”, and it is only on this plane of ours that it commenced “becoming”, that is to say, objectivizing into its present materiality, or expanding from within outwards, from the most sublimated and supersensuous essence into its grossest appearance.’ This appearance, of course, is the phenomenal world of the senses. Synchronicities, too, seem to expand from within outwards, becoming both an event and simultaneously an inner-sense of meanings lying outside of time.

Gettings’ case is more explicit and simple; the cat simply leads him to a fortuitous meeting that resulted in a creative as well as intellectual endeavor. Whether or not this was the cat’s intention is beside the point—although one could suppose that the cat, like Watson’s ants, could be guided by some deeper current of meaning than we yet understand. A synchronicity, if it involves an object, or a unique arrangement of events, etc., presupposes that meaning can somehow organise apparently chaotic matter into aggregation of interconnected, meaningful ‘events’. Indeed, they may remind us that each moment is pregnant with blossoming potential, and, when we feel sufficiently relaxed or acutely perceptive, we can perceive this apparent miraculous nature of the present moment. Now, did the cat know what it is doing? Probably not. But as it is perhaps more deprived of free-will than man, it can, in some sense be a part of the background of an ‘intentionality principle’. To speculate further, one could say that Gettings’ ‘transcendental ego’ telepathically utilized the cat to set up a series of complex interactions!

Nevertheless, the cat for Gettings’ became a living symbol—and not only for himself, as he found out, but that it has always been interpreted as a symbol of unseen forces throughout time. In fact, he includes in his book an image of a cat adorned with the Egyptian symbol of the Udjat (the eye of Horus), otherwise known as The Gayer-Anderson Cat now found in the British Museum. He goes on to ask the question, ‘Are occultists wrong in claiming that this Udjat is the symbol of the so called ‘third eye’, that organ of higher vision which is as yet undeveloped in ordinary men?’ Furthermore, he presents a brief history of this eye: ‘Horus was the king-god whose eyes were associated with luminaries—his right eye with the Sun, his left eye with the Moon’, and similarly that the ‘left’ and ‘right’ motifs were symboised in two lions which ‘posted on the couchant on either side of the large solar symbol of Horus, the sun-god’ representing, respectively, the past (left) and the future (right)—and, more significantly for this essay, a point which lies outside of time (1989: 27).

Of course, there is an immense amount of analogous thinking required to see these events in such a deeply meaningful way. And if, indeed, either of these synchronistic events truly happened as reported, we can see why they would affect the witnesses so deeply. Indeed, it took Lyall Watson years to openly admit his experience with the Amazonian healer. And Fred Gettings devoted an entire book in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the cat as a mythological as well as an esoteric symbol.

Implicit in Getting’s conclusions is the interesting awareness of the hemispheric functioning of the brain. Turning to Egyptian symbolism Gettings’ is able to navigate himself into a new way of seeing; the cat is just one of many metaphors that remind us of these significant perceptual differences. Time, of course, has a primary role to play in synchronicities, for the event takes place in an unusual contradiction of meaning influencing time and space; the event is so significant due to its apparent transcendence of time. In each instance a deeply meaningful synchronicity happens there is a sense that time and space is not what it appears to be; in fact, we suspect that reality as we experience it works on a whole new set of principles previously overlooked. Again, this has much in common with the UFO experience. It seems to work on the same principle: that of a reminder: or as a phenomenon deliberately ‘churning’ up our preconceptions of time and space, rather like a plough heaving up the soil for the season’s new growths to flourish.

Now, regards time and space the two hemispheres of the brain function differently; each has its unique processing mechanism when it comes to meaning, interpretation of sequence and each even has a predisposition to either order or chaos: analytical logic or ‘lateral’ thinking. In fact, the left hemisphere has a preference for orderliness, routine and predictability, whereas the right is quite at home in the fuzzy world of analogy and metaphor, timelessness and unusual juxtapositions. In other words, the synchronicity and the UFO, as an experience, would be accommodated by the right brain and rejected, perhaps, by the left brain. Jordan Peterson in his recent Bible series lectures even went so far as to suggest that the brain, roughly divided, can be mapped onto dualistic dynamics such as order and chaos, light and dark, etc[3]. This can best be symbolized by the Yin and Yang symbol, in which a small section of each is situated at the heart of the other. That is, as both have strictly delineated frontiers, there is nevertheless an aspect—or an essence—present in each respective territory. Fundamentally it is a dynamic, with its two opposing forming a creative cooperation rather than mutual destruction.

In essence the interplay between two hemispheres—or two ‘essences’ as found in Jung’s concept of enantidodromia—becomes a type of switching between opposites, or, in which something becomes inside-out or upside down; our perceptions flip over and suddenly another aspect, which we had overlooked  before, seems palpably self-evident. This is what I meant when I said that the central dictum of esoteric philosophy is to transmute the conceptually obscured into a conscious sense of deeper meanings. The incursion of unusual and anomalous events is precisely the challenge to at least one of our perceptual mechanisms, and the only way in which to unravel its logic—the logic of a synchronicity or a mystical revelation—is to balance the two hemispheric processes of the brain; to recalibrate what Kant’s categories obscure, that is, the noumenal is only unknowable to one half of our perceptual systems. In fact, each hemisphere has difficulty knowing great swathes of the others’ capacities and capabilities—each half is in a sense alienated from the other. What are for one side phenomena remains inaccessible—noumenon—to the other; so, to transcend this self-limiting boundary dispute, they must work in a harmonic and dynamic tandem. And if they did, synchronicities would become commonplace. Our existence would become populated by the esoteric concept of ‘the language of the birds’, a language that allows direct communication and understanding of the deeper dimensions of reality—a reality usually occulted from our normal perceptual systems.

Now, back in 2009, I asked Colin Wilson what he’d recommend to someone who is an incorrigible pessimist like Louis-Ferdinand Céline, his answer was somewhat uncharacteristic. Usually skeptical about drugs (read the appendix to Beyond the Outsider, for example), Wilson nevertheless relayed an insight he obtained from R.H. Ward, who wrote the 1957 book, A Drug-Takers Notes. Of course someone like Céline would be completely sealed off to meaning, for he had made it a habit to discredit everything as ultimately meaningless, and viewed the world cynically. To regain this sort of ‘meaning perception’ would have been very difficult for Céline, and Wilson’s answer was to suggest some sort of experience that would change his mind. Wilson quotes at length R.H. Ward in The Occult (1971):

‘Last night as I was walking home from the station I had one of those strange experiences of ‘rising up within oneself’, of ‘coming inwardly alive’ . . . A minute or so after I had left the station, I was attacked . . . by indigestion . . . I thought to myself, though I suppose not in so many words, ‘I could separate myself from this pain; it belongs only to my body and is real only to the physical not-self. There is no need for the self to feel it.’ Even as I thought this the pain disappeared; that is, it was in some way left behind because I, or the self, had gone somewhere where it was not; and the sensation of ‘rising up within’ began . . .

First there is the indescribable sensation in the spine, as of something mounting up, a sensation which is partly pleasure and partly awe, a physical sensation and yet one which, if it makes sense to say so, is beginning to be not physical. This was accompanied by an extraordinary feeling of bodily lightness, of well-being and effortlessness, as if one’s limbs had no weight and one’s flesh had been suddenly transmuted into some rarer substance. But it was also, somehow, a feeling of living more in the upper part of one’s body than the lower, a certain peculiar awareness of one’s head as . . . the most important and intelligent of one’s members. There was also a realization that one’s facial expression was changing; the eyes were wider open than usual; the lips were involuntarily smiling. Everything was becoming ‘more’, everything was going up on to another level . . .

I found that I could think in a new way. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say that I could think-and-feel in a new way, for it was hard to distinguish between thought and feeling . . . This was like becoming possessed of a new faculty.’ (Quoted in Wilson; 1988: 736-737)

Everything ‘becoming more’ is also what Wilson called ‘relationality’ or ‘Faculty X’; that ability to connect meanings until an almost overwhelming sense of infinite meaningfulness rekindles and vivifies our perceptual—and intentional—fires. In this state each meaning, symbol and metaphor becomes intrinsically evolutionary. When the ‘flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless.’ A feeling of the relationality—as opposed to a feeling of the unrelated and diffuse world of a pessimist, or someone who is tired—is precisely the opposite; instead, for them, reality is grasped by an active intentionality, yielding further to a fuller and richer comprehension, or, as Alfred North Whitehead called it, prehension (the ability to grasp meaning). Suddenly, says Wilson of Faculty X, one would become intensely aware of ‘other times and other places’. Indeed, this is what R.H. Ward also calls this sensation of ‘becoming possessed of a new faculty’.

This faculty enables a new cosmological vision of our role in space and time, and moreover enables a direct perception of the underlying meanings inherent in the evolutionary process. For example, in his book The Paranormal, Stan Gooch paints a picture of a living cosmos in which ‘“spirit” takes a huge step forward’ by cloaking itself in the material world, for now it can ‘operate at an infinitely more meaningful level. It is now in a position (as ever, from outside ‘space’) to upgrade its broadcast transmissions—the transmission of itself into ‘space’. Far more complex and more purposeful messages now become possible.’ (1978: 297). Phenomena such as UFOs and synchronicity, it could be argued, are this meaningful level of spirit partaking in the phenomenal world, upgrading, to use Gooch’s terms, the ‘broadcast transmissions’ by expanding the witnesses’ understanding of the universal laws in which he lives. Gooch argues that these evolutionary faculties—R.H. Ward’s vision, Faculty X and others—are preformed or latent potentialities for the evolution of man’s consciousness.  And what is so curious is that these very ‘magical’ faculities seem to exist in the transcendental ego, that super conscious element in our psyche which appears to hold the key to our conscious evolution. Indeed, this is what Wilson meant when he said that the ‘first man to learn the secret of the control of consciousness will be the first true man, wholly in possession of the new dimension of freedom.’ (1972: 150) Not only that, he will become the superman; man in his entire potential.

But the question remains: what leads us onwards and upwards? Goethe says it’s the ‘eternal feminine’; for Wilson and Husserl it is the transcendental ego; for Madame Blavatsky it is the interplay between noumena and phenomena; and in Watson’s Miracle Visitors it is the ‘inaccessibilities’ that tease out our greatest mental leaps. In a sense they’re all aspects of each other, bleeding over seamlessly into one another’s territory; eternally presenting a sort of meta-logical game that challenges our presumptions every time we become too complacent.  Arthur M. Young captured this nature of the universal game in the title of his 1976, The Reflexive Universe. Similarly to Watson and Vallée he presents a theory of a ‘metalanguage’, which has been described elsewhere as a requirement ‘. . . for any evolving system, a pattern that can help to illuminate man’s destiny in the universe and instruct the process of individual and social transformation. In deciphering the universal kōan of process . . . [representing] the beginnings of a metalanguage for the higher-order paradigm shift that is so urgently required at this stage of human evolution.’

This sort of odd logic that we have explored is at the heart of esotericism and the occult—with such logic present synchonricities described above—and here I’ve here chosen to refer to these experiences as exercises in providing mankind with a series of evolutionary metaphors.

Notes:

[1] https://totalgooch.wordpress.com/bibliography/1981-science-fiction-as-religion-with-christopher-evans-brans-head-books-ltd/full-essay/

[2] http://zhurnaly.com/cgi-bin/wiki/Passage_to_India_-_Godbole’s_Song

[3] https://jordanbpeterson.com/bible-series/

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Wilson, C. (1988) The Occult. Grafton Books, London.

Wilson, C. (1989) Existentially Speaking: Essays on the Philosophy of Literature. The Borgo Press. California.

Wilson, C. (1990) Religion and the Rebel. Ashgrove Publishing Ltd, London.

Wilson, C. (1999) Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience. Virgin Books, London.

Wilson, C. (2005) World Famous UFOs. Constable and Robinson, London.

Wilson, C. (2009) Superconsciousness: The Quest for the Peak Experience.  London, Watkins Publishing.

Wilson, C. (1998) The Books in My Life. Charlottesville, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Painting of Colin Wilson by Milda Vaičiuvėnaitė:

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Selections from Evolutionary Metaphors

Introduction

The enormous range of UFO literature can leave one feeling baffled and discouraged, particularly as its size is often only equaled by the absurdity of its contents. This is an unfortunate situation, for what it is attempting to address ought to be taken very seriously. It was in this spirit of frustration, and discouraged by many of the blind alleyways, I turned to Colin Wilson’s 1998 Alien Dawn as a guidebook to its unpredictable terrain. Indeed, at this point I had already read his earlier The Outsider (1956), a clarifying criticism of the cul‑de‑sac that existentialism had led itself into, while providing a great synthesis of a wide variety of writers, thinkers and artists who had also grappled with the mysteries of existence with great insight and iconoclasm. In doing so, Wilson was able to elucidate an optimistic advancement of an extremely difficult subject, providing a way out of the maze of nihilism and pessimism that had plagued existentialism for decades. So, it seemed to me that if anybody had the intellectual tools necessary for illuminating the complex mystery of the UFO phenomenon, with due sympathy and extensive insight, it would be found in Wilson’s ‘birds‑eye view’ survey of the subject.

After setting the foundations for his life’s work in The Outsider, it was clear that whatever Wilson were to undertake would be implicitly carrying this ‘new existentialist’ banner towards an enlargement of both our understanding and approach to that understanding. There was, as many readers recognised, an evolutionary directive in his work which aimed to unveil the essential meaning, or evolutionary purpose, inherent in any pursuit or idea. That he had an insatiable drive towards the understanding of human existence, in its widest sense, is supported by his fearlessness in aiding in the publication of Ian Brady’s The Gates of Janus (2001). A highly controversial move, but nevertheless offered a unique and invaluable contribution to our understanding of criminal psychology. Therefore, Wilson, for me and many others, came to represent a fearless explorer of the dark and occulted recesses of the human psyche, but, significantly, without a pessimistic bias. Wilson’s approach to ufology retained this evolutionary spirit, for he asked the essential question: ‘What can it tell us about ourselves, our consciousness?’—a question informed by the philosophical discipline of phenomenology; a field which placed huge emphasis on the importance of the analysis of man’s psyche, and its dynamic and interpretative role through man and towards reality.

Now, the mystery and mythology of extraterrestrial intelligence is essentially driven by an attempt to catch a glimpse into an alternative state of consciousness; it even suggests a new approach to existentialism, the problem of terrestrial and non-terrestrial existence. This is at the heart of Ian Watson’s superb novel, The Embedding (1973), which is about how extraterrestrials process—through the medium of language—reality and meaning. Indeed the extraterrestrial, as an idea and/or reality, presents a phenomenological mirror which simultaneously distorts and illuminates man as he sees himself in relation to the cosmos. There are of course many shifts in perspective involved: philosophical, psychological and cosmological, with its many other concomitants such as history, culture and the rise of science. Moreover, mankind, the most self-aware creature that we know of, has no other cultural or existential referent except of those evolved on Earth. As I have said, the extraterrestrial, by default, represents a new type existentialism, and it could be argued that science-fiction may become the preparatory groundwork for contact with different forms and new ‘modalities’ of being. One could argue that the alien comes to represent man as abstract to himself—or, as Stan Gooch proposed, as a part ‘the on-going folklore’ of the Ego. Science‑fiction, therefore, becomes the avant-garde of this evolving folklore.

Alien Dawn is a comprehensive summary of both the experience itself and the literature that attempts to peel away at the phenomenon’s persistently mercurial character. Towards the end of the book, in a chapter significantly titled ‘The Way Outside’, Wilson attempts his ‘birds-eye view’; a sort of grand synthesis of all its disparate elements. For this he calls upon the frontiers of contemporary science, along with developments in parapsychology, cosmology and philosophy. Indeed, it is clear by the title of this chapter that Wilson was attempting to find a ‘way outside’ the entanglement of absurdity and paradox that surrounds ufology (to both researcher and witness alike). Now, what is unique about this is how Wilson drew upon science fiction—particularly Ian Watson’s The Miracle Visitors and even the late Brian Aldiss’ short story, ‘Outside’—to stretch the contextual boundaries of our understanding of the phenomena; throwing open new and imaginative approaches to a phenomena that baffles and frustrates the rational intellect. It was this element of Alien Dawn that provided a refreshing interpretation of a phenomenon that tirelessly weaves itself through riddles and contradiction.

As one nears the end of Wilson’s book a pattern finally emerges for the reader, for Wilson’s allowance of the imagination in the phenomenological arsenal enables one to grapple more actively with the categorical mechanisms of consciousness itself; those mental blinkers that the UFO appears to utilize like a chameleon adjusting to the patterns of an exotic rainforest. There is a sense that in imaginative literature, the perceptual speed and flexibility is up to the task of revealing a facet of the mysterious reality behind the phenomena it attempts to imagine. In other words the imagination, as well as imaginative literature, may inform us more about our reality than we realise.

There is an element of farce at the heart of ufology and the UFO-experience, and it is what Wilson called the problem of ‘deliberate unbelievableness.’ Wilson’s biographer Gary Lachman, in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (2016), even remarked that one begins to wonder if these extraterrestrial beings—commonly associated with UFOs—are ‘fans of Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges.’ Lachman goes on to say that this might be a deliberate attempt to frustrate our interpretations; to force us out of our perceptual laziness. One could say that the phenomenon invites an active, vigilant, rational as well as imaginative character for its interpretation. In this sense, the UFO phenomenon offers itself up as a pedagogical tool; a deliberately obscure and frustrating code that haunts the most obsessive cryptographer. To a receptive and open mind the mystery that the UFO represents demands an explanation, but, with an unduly dismissive or lazy mind, this will not be forthcoming. The phenomenon persists in spite of this, and only a few take the time to consider its nature. Nevertheless, there have been many brilliant attempts to unravel this mystery, with the work of Jacques Vallée, John E. Mack, and the more recent work of Jeffery Kripal and Jason Reza Jorjani, developing a more hermeneutical and phenomenological approach to the subject.

All of these individual approaches have included the active mode of interpretation, reaching a balance somewhere between what Carl Jung called ‘active imagination’ and a philosophical and scientific rigor. All of the aforementioned writers have acknowledged the importance of the act of interpretation itself as being a significant component in the reciprocation of our understandings, both presented and re-presented, and both theoretically as well as experientially (as in the case of abductees like Whitley Strieber, for example).

If there is indeed some reality to the phenomena, as seems to be the case, then it demands to be seriously scrutinized; and, as the field is still in its early developmental stages, an imaginative approach is as good as any for grappling with its mystery, for ambiguity seems to be the phenomenon’s element. Someone well acquainted with hallucinogenic-logic, Terrence McKenna, even went so far as to suggest that the UFO is a gauntlet thrown at the feet of scientists—a sort of ‘crack this!’ puzzle. Furthermore, the mystery appears to conceal something valuable—or at least, it taunts us into an imaginative interpretation, ‘presencing’ itself between fact and fiction, existing as a sort of ‘conceptual caricature’ of our culture’s blind spot. One comes away after reading much of the literature with a nagging suspicion that somewhere along the line we missed the point; rather like failing to grasp a Zen Kōan—the very reason for its clownishness is because we are only aware of half the picture.

Now, Wilson, in Alien Dawn, at least provided a context big enough to grapple with at least some of its implications, pointing towards several ‘ways out’ of the maze of absurdity and towards a more integrative understanding—both of the phenomenon itself and ourselves.

To use the phraseology of Professor Jeffrey Kripal, Wilson was able to ‘make the cut’ ‘between “what appears” and “what is”’ (2016: 45). In other words, Wilson was able to switch between the two, and simultaneously acknowledge, the bit ‘in-between’; the occulted ‘middle-way’ between being and the meaning content of the experience itself. It is, as Wilson recognised, a perceptual phenomenon as well as an objective event—the inside-out ‘seamlessness’ where the two become indistinguishable—an aspect of the phenomenon that remained curiously unexamined. Now, imaginative speculation (drawing upon science‑fiction, for example, or relying on intuition) is discouraged in science and, of course, it is not an effective point from which to set our epistemological foundations. Yet it is intimately involved in our ontological reality, and this is what phenomenology acknowledges insofar as it is concerned with reality as a whole; by including both seer and seen. Implicit in phenomenology and Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ is an acknowledgement of this ‘occulted bridge’ which includes what we might call ‘the other half of reality’.

All this was recognised by the Harvard psychiatrist, John E. Mack, who, being one of the few practitioners to listen to the witnesses and abductees on their own terms, accumulated and cross-referenced much anecdotal material to confirm to himself and others that there is indeed some existential referent to these accounts. Anyone who reads his 1994 book Abduction will come away convinced of the internal consistency to many of the reports, and feel that it is unlikely that everybody is making up the same—and to no evident advantage to themselves—often absurd story. In other words, Mack felt that the phenomenon ought to be treated as many of the witnesses themselves treated it. That is, as an apparently objective phenomenon insofar as they have had a genuine effect on the psychology of the individual—therefore recognising that something ‘real enough’ was experienced. They were, Mack concluded, relating a version of the truth as they saw it and as they experienced it, often finding it an extremely difficult and traumatic experience to recall, let alone understand. For Mack it was not entirely an intrapsychic event, but an open assault on our dualistic borders of mind/body, real/unreal and so on.

Furthermore, as an idea the UFO and its interrelated subjects—alien abduction, implants, cattle mutilation, extra-sensory perception and occult knowledge—has been effortlessly absorbed into the science-fiction imagination. Indeed, the origin of the experience itself is so deeply entangled with our cultural entertainments and mythologies that it is difficult to locate the origin of the experience, and how its cultural ambience shapes the witnesses’ interpretation of events subjectively. Again this is something that the phenomenon seems to exploit, which suggests that it is (A) located in the individual’s imagination and therefore is a mixture of cultural mythology and personal delusion; (B) an emergent presence, as such, from the collective unconscious of mankind’s shared mythological imagination or (C) an objective‑subjective (what Michael Talbot calls ‘omnijective’) phenomenon that exists—or blurs the dividing lines—between what is ordinarily perceived and experienced as fundamentally separate, either/or. The notion of ‘either/and’, of course, would mean a combination of all three examples of its possible origin[1].

If this is the case, one may approach the problem, which initially appears as insoluble, with a type of contextual ‘playfulness’ in which one shifts the various arrangements to see if anything new emerges from the apparent chaos. We have to be as swift and as versatile as the trickster at the heart of the phenomenon. Indeed, the field of ufology, with its bold contexts, unusual statements, witnesses of the otherworldly, and so on, presents itself as a field rich—and even prone to—imaginative speculation. It is the stuff of fantasy and of ‘boldly going where no man has gone before’. Of course, our speculation should not dispense with the ‘facts’ at hand, but instead have as its goal an integrative context that might provide an answer by reigning in as many approaches as we can marshal. A working towards a new approach ought to embrace a certain amount of experimentalism if it is to incorporate a flexible enough structure—and like physical explorers, mental explorers should distinguish between fact and fancy in this strange world of new and exotic laws. It may be that with an effective and sensible use of our imagination, we might acquire the essential puzzle-piece that generates the most useful Gestalt from the sum of the phenomenon’s difficult parts.

This essay is an attempt at such a Gestalt. By attempting to pull together as many ideas as possible one might find a ‘way outside’ the phenomenon, and in doing so one might hope to glimpse an outline of some of the laws which underlie occult phenomenon—rather like the traveler in Flammarion’s famous 1888 engraving in which a man peers behind the veil of ordinary reality. If the UFO itself has a ‘birds-eye view’ of us—both figuratively and literately—we, in turn, have to rise above its logic to see, in turn, how and why it functions the way it does. We might call this either a search for super‑consciousness or ‘UFO consciousness’, but as I suspect that the UFO experience is both a metaphor and a reality it might be interpreted as I have attempted in this essay—as an evolutionary metaphor—, by treating it as a reality which may very well prove crucial in the development of new faculties of the mind.

It may be Jim Marrs’ ‘alien agenda’—of government conspiracies and ‘black projects’ of secret military technology—or John Michell’s own use of the idea of ‘UFO consciousness,’ in which these ‘strange lights’ portend ‘a radical change in human consciousness coinciding with the dawn of the Aquarian Age.’[2] Neither one of these positions is here dismissed outright, but for the sake of the present essay I shall pursue a philosophical and psychological interpretation.

This essay represents my own attempt to continue in the spirit of where Alien Dawn left off, and it is also my own endeavour to throw some auroral illumination into this phenomenological twilight zone.

*

An approach that incorporates metaphor, imagination and ideas pertaining to the evolution of consciousness, requires a high-degree of comparativism and a degree of analogical thinking. It also requires one to temporarily abandon or re-examine ‘fixed theories’—that is, without leaving them too far from hand—, crystallizations that may either prove advantageous or inhibitory to our larger understanding. Ufology, a relatively new discipline, is not immune to such internal limitations but—and by its very nature—it tends to spread like an ink-blot over multiple other interrelated fields. Contradictions and absurdities abound, for as soon as one settles on any ‘given’, there arrives another case which frustrates and undermines any such theoretical ‘structure’ that was initially established. This is a very common occurrence, for example, in crop-circle research, in which frauds and ‘real’ circles become intermixed—on top of that is the human element, where the mystery if maintained and in which the ‘truth’—whatever that might be—is deliberately obscured. As well as these internal problems within the field (crop fields or ufology), there is also the fact that it is treated as a cultural backwater; perceived as a thankless task based on a lie, and generally undertook by cranks expressing themselves in what, for most, is an alien language in itself. Furthermore, the only other disciplines or systems of knowledge that can tackle its conceptual enormity are ironically similarly ‘rejected’: esotericism, parapsychology and the difficult—yet increasingly growing—bridgehead of spirituality into quantum physics.

As yet there is no ‘tao of ufology’, nor an all-encompassing ‘theory of everything’.

To place these theoretical and historical difficulties aside, we may want to turn to the sky itself, and reflect on the fact that it is both symbolically and truly a vision into an unidentifiable mystery. Our moon, for example, is instantly identifiable—few have even travelled to and from it—but still, anything that exceeds beyond it is still difficult for our instruments to explore. And then, beyond a certain limit, it is again unknown. We cannot, for better or worse, ‘correlate all its contents,’ as the horror writer H.P Lovecraft celebrated of the mind itself. Furthermore, our manifest universe is the backdrop of our cosmologies and our imaginative projections; our ‘What ifs?’ Indeed, from religion to genres of speculative fiction, we populate the regions of the unknown with divine personages or other beings like or unlike—or whom dislike—us. What haunts this mysterious space is psyche, of mind and its illuminations, and this is a part of an ancient tradition, sometimes symbolised as Isis’s star-clad veil—and sometimes ‘unveiled’ by acclaimed or condemned occult adepts.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote a defense of this attentive gaze into the manifest cosmos, for he saw it as the basis of creativity, and moreover an ability to perceive new forms usually obscured from our ordinary perception. This imaginative engagement with the world may explain his extraordinary creativity and visionary powers, so it is therefore instructive for any one pursing the fruits of imagination to understand this method of active imagination, for this may prove indispensible in our integration and understanding of some of the stranger phenomenon that we shall encounter. Here da Vinci describes his curious method:

‘If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.’ [my italics][3]

This type of thinking, a sort of psychological and creative form of Gestalt, has gained popularity in more recent times and has particularly been adapted into a contemporary form of magical theory and practice called ‘chaos magic’. A brief comment on the subject will prefigure some of the ideas that I will pursue in this essay, and so it is to one of the founders of chaos magic, Peter J. Carroll, that we shall pay particular attention.  Apophenia, or indeed, pareidolia, is a creative perceptual act that transposes—or brings forth—meanings and patterns out of apparently chaotic or highly complex situations, images or thoughts. In other words, anything that has implicitness (a poem for example) is open to an interpretation—or hermeneutic ‘reading’—in which the observer is inextricably a part. The poem without interpretation, of course, would only exist in a flux not unlike the cat in Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment—suspended in a hypothetical betwixt state of either/or until it is ‘collapsed’ into is‑ness by the act of observation. Both apophenia and pareidolia are essential to the psychotherapeutic discipline of Gestalt therapy, which begins from the principal that man has a ‘meaning faculty’ that grasps totalities—that his consciousness is naturally connective rather than deductive. In other words, perception aggregates ‘parts’ into ‘wholes’ in the same way a baby recognizes his mother’s whole face almost instantaneously; not by an act building up an image bit-by-bit but by an unconscious mechanism that collates the sum of the parts, and thus resulting in a near miraculous recognition of pattern, form and importantly, meaning.

Carroll goes on to say in The Apophenion (2008) that these traits can be found particularly amongst ‘magicians, mystics and occultists,’ however it also affects many individuals who often provide advances, more generally, in other less ‘magical’ endeavors by their sheer creative drive. Invention is basically where the imagination converges with an objective reality, in which the imagined thing is amenable to the laws of objective reality. When this happens the imagined form takes shape in the world of space and time, and is palpable and functional as either an object, or as a symbol of higher truths, providing as sort of ‘bridge’ between the two worlds. It is as da Vinci said, a ‘well conceived form.’ Creativity of this kind is crucially important for a culture’s health, and also presages scientific advances that are enormously beneficial[4]. Pareidolia, similarly, works by associations and ‘map making’ projections through which man can begin to see elephants in clouds, astrological parallels, and even hysterical conspiracy theories entirely divorced from reality. Caroll certainly acknowledges these psychological dangers of unbridled ‘meaning perception’[5], but he argues quite convincingly that these very perceptual abilities—apophenia and pareidolia—play a significant part in ‘the development of art and religion.’ (2008: 8).

Chaos magic is perhaps the most contemporary and explicit example of a theory of the imagination and its power, for it is particularly orientated towards its application both creatively and magically. Later on in this essay I will draw upon some of its other aspects and limitations in a larger context. Chaos magic is basically a scaffolding of a system that recognises the value of phenomenology. Again, its logic points towards an active use of imagination in the study of mind and reality. Metaphors, which become magical ‘sigils’ within chaos magic, are used as bridges into new associations, and ways of seeing novel potentialities.

Here it is my aim to pursue a series of speculative and ‘evolutionary’ ideas—and while particularly utilising the illuminative values of metaphors—that weave themselves through Wilson’s central premises presented in his philosophical foundation of the ‘new existentialism’. This is a philosophical approach rather than a system, which he steadily developed throughout the 1950/60s in his ‘Outsider Cycle’. It was an attempt to lead out of the cul-de-sacs presented in the ‘old existentialism’, a tendency to pessimism and a general disbelief in progress or consciously-willed evolution.

Wilson, both anticipating chaos magic and honing his own phenomenological approach, states in Beyond the Outsider: ‘The world seems to be wearing a mask, and my mind seems to confront it helplessly; then I discover that my consciousness is a cheat, a double agent. It carefully fixed the mask on reality, then pretended to know nothing about it.’ (1965: 93). With the mercurial world of imagination and the UFO phenomenon, this is wise counsel when dealing with the ‘double agent’ of the mind and its powers; especially considering both our own and the phenomenon’s ambiguous relationship to reality—objective or subjective.

The trajectory of this essay from here on is similar to that expressed in Wilson’s fifth book of the Outsider Cycle, Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963), in which he outlines two ways of going about analytical writing:

‘One is to define all of your terms with scientific precision . . . and then stick closely to those definitions throughout.  The other is to rely on your reader’s instinct and common sense.  All originators in philosophy are forced to rely on the second method (because so much of their work depends on intuition). . .  Any professional writer—that is, any writer who is concerned about direct communication with his reader—will certainly be inclined to prefer the “intuition” method . . .’ (1970: 15)

I intend to proceed in the spirit of Wilson’s ‘intuition method’, using what Lachman calls an ‘intuitive glue’ to piece together the many fragments of ufology. It is worth emphasising again that ufology is a relatively young field that is in the process of substantiating its presence as a serious area of study.

Here it is my contention that the UFO, by being as ambiguous as it is, is a deliberately mystifying ‘presence’ that affects the structures of that mercurial world of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. Myths, if they have any substantial foundations in true events at all, may be that which aggregate around an initially information-rich bafflement of the senses (of the individual or the target society). Religions are perhaps the structures that emerge to ‘explain away’ the initial phenomena of the miraculous—that is, they are stories which absorb the ‘shock’ into a comprehensible and pedagogic narrative. Referring as they do to something beyond the scope of ordinary language, the stories are necessarily metaphorical, that is, inferring something beyond the limitations of ordinary language. Visionary art, emerging from the powerful and tumultuous depths of subjectivity, nevertheless present to us something hauntingly objective; it is this art that stands the test of time for its undeniable ‘truth value’, with its enormous poignancy stimulating our recognition of profound depths of meaning. Meaning on the threshold of what is ordinarily expressible or even comprehensible.

We may ask, with some speculation, what the UFO teaches us—if anything—about the creative matrices underlying the evolution of human consciousness. Is this phenomenon outside of us, or is it, perhaps, a type of ‘bootstrapping paradox’ involved with mankind’s own self-evolution? As we shall see, these questions develop exponentially, and before we know it we are back into the domain of common existential questions, albeit with an evolutionary beckoning.

Life, according to Wilson, works in ‘terms of symbols and language’ and when the ‘flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless’ (1966: 112). In this essay I have taken the symbol of the evolution of human consciousness as a possible solution to the enigmas that the UFO represents. Its presence, I believe, fits into a general philosophical bracket of the ‘evolutionary metaphor’; that playful extrapolation of something beyond the ken of ordinary perception. William James once said that there can ‘never be a state of facts, to which new meaning may not truthfully be added,’ that is ‘provided the mind ascend to a more enveloping point of view.’ But it is also worth keeping in mind Carl Jung’s dictum that the ‘highest truth is one and the same with the absurd’, for in ufology, as in life, the two often converge when the flame of consciousness is burning bright.

The Power of the Question

Contradictions abound in many of the ‘explanations’ for the UFO phenomena, for the field is simply too complex and ever-changing; even transitional with its leaping developments and evolution as a phenomenon. To pull back, so to speak, and gain a ‘birds-eye view’ requires both a familiarity with the literature and a mind tempered and shaped by philosophical rigor as well as a predilection and sympathy—even patience—towards the uncanny and unusual. As I have mentioned above, any young discipline that hastily settles on an all‑encompassing theory, the sooner it finds itself contradicted, inconsistent. The sheer flow of information, of emerging evidence and amounting witness accounts, is almost consistently churning up even the firmest of theoretical foundations. These elements are not necessarily the fault of ufology and its individual researchers, indeed it is an issue that the phenomena itself appears to exploit.

Skeptics declare that there is absolutely no reality to the phenomenon whatsoever; or, for that matter, that it can be explained away as misidentified aircraft, weather balloons, or sightings or secretive military technology undisclosed to the public. None of this can be entirely discounted of course, yet an honest reading of ufological literature raises too many questions—and these reductive answers diminish a complex phenomenon to a simple, comfortable ‘explanation’. The chief difficulty in studies such as this is to sift through the evidence and maintain an unbiased sense of discrimination. Furthermore, there is the uncomfortable problem of temporarily jettisoning firmly held beliefs, for the phenomenon does not cater for our ordinary understanding of reality, and this, it can be said, argues in favour of the skeptic’s justifiable sense of exasperation.

The skeptic, moreover, holds back his bets: for is it really worth investigating a phenomenon that may turn out to be little more than a giant hoax, or misidentification? This is an entirely sympathetic position, for most of us have lives that are already complex and difficult enough, and to pursue this apparently impossible subject becomes a question of its ‘existential component’; for what, in fact, does one expect to gain? One could even say that it is less about closed-mindedness than a means of preserving intellectual energy and integrity; a necessary economical use of one’s time in the face of often exhausting and inconclusive information. If the cultural climate tends to dismiss it as trivial nonsense, it might be, for an individual, enough for one to disregard the subject. Again, this is basically a healthy enough reaction, and one can be sympathetic.

As we have seen, there is a persistent ambiguity latent in the UFO ‘presence’, and any theory that can preserve its credibility requires itself to be constantly updated, vigilant and flexible enough to allow the field to swiftly evolve in tandem with the phenomenon itself. Again, it is important to note that the phenomenon evolves and develops, and it is not a static mystery but a dynamic enigma. It is towards a general widening and complexity which will allow ufology the freedom and innate flexibility to fully establish its foundations in a field that shifts beneath it—but first; one has to survey the terrain before he begins construction.

The Super Natural (2016), a collaboration between Whitley Strieber—an abductee and horror novelist—and Professor Jeffrey Kripal, a specialist in philosophy and religious thought—reads at times like a hybrid of Wilson’s Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966) mixed with a mystical commentary on the shadowy realms of esotericism and depth psychology. Kripal describes the discipline of hermeneutics—the central theoretical approach which runs throughout the book (although mainly in Kripal’s own responses to Strieber’s autobiographical material)—as ‘the art of interpretation that deciphers the hidden meanings of some enigmatic symbol, text, dream, vision, or striking coincidence’ which, he states, recognises ‘a single process that co‑creates both the subject and the object at the same time’ (2016: 112-113). Again, we are back to Wilson’s notion that consciousness is a ‘double‑agent’.

The trickster god Hermes, whose name constitutes the very word ‘hermeneutics’, has been called by Jorjani an archetypal ‘dialectical antagonist,’[6] a sort of ‘living’ kōan of the collective unconscious. The ‘hidden meanings’ of these symbols reveal a radically new understanding of our ontology, that is, they present evolutionary metaphors concerning our state of being, and how we attend—through our intentionality—in an active participation between the world of phenomenon and our selfhood. The UFO, for Strieber, Kripal and Wilson, is such a symbolic reality—a simultaneous co-creation of the trickster double-agent and our own inner dialectical antagonist.

Now, one of the common myths within ufology is that these sightings began as a sort of Cold War hysteria, a mass psychic product born from geopolitical tension; even Jung speculated along these lines in his book Flying Saucers (1958). And although Jung’s book goes a lot further than this ‘Cold War hypothesis’, it is strange that some skeptics regard Jung’s explanation as a all-encompassing answer to the problem, a sort of ‘explaining away’ a phenomenon by reducing it to a psychic compensation mechanism of collective trauma. Indeed, Jung’s work is perhaps one of the more intelligent and academic contributions to ufology; sadly, however, it has come to be as misunderstood as the phenomenon it attempts to analyse. What is often overlooked is the fact that Jung is interested in the very concept of a UFO—that is, as a possible incursion of extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional entities within our skies and psyches—and considers how our minds might react to such strangeness. Jung goes on to say that our:

‘[. . . ] conscious mind does not know about them and is therefore confronted with a situation from which there seems to be no way out, these strange contents cannot be integrated directly but seek to express themselves indirectly, thus giving rise to unexpected and apparently inexplicable opinions, beliefs, illusions, visions and so forth’ [my italics]. (2002: 7)

This ‘indirect expression’ of the phenomena is central to this essay, for the UFO ‘presence’ appears as a sort of drama, a symbol, within a self-mythologising sequence of events calculated by some playwright of the absurd and uncanny. An indirect form of expression is also a common hallmark of the evolutionary metaphor. It is important to remember the apparently deliberate strangeness of such experiences—or, moreover, the enigmatic resonance of the event that distorts our perceptions of the phenomenon. This, importantly, is acknowledged in both Kripal’s and Jorjani’s hermeneutic and phenomenological method of analysis.

For an example, one female witness once reported that she saw a ‘fifteen-foot kangaroo in a park, which turned out to be a small spacecraft’ (Mack; 1994: 396). In short, one could say this is truly mercurial; it abides by the principles of the trickster, even that of a satirist of public opinion. In their transitional existence ‘betwixt-and-between’ they act—as Victor Turner says in his study of the notion of liminality, The Ritual Process (1966)—in a way to provide a ‘generative’ as well as ‘speculative’ tendency in the individual or society which attempts an understanding of the mysterious, that intermediate ‘other’. Importantly Turner concludes by saying that the ‘mind that enters willingly will proliferate new structures, new symbols, new metaphors.’ (quoted in Hyde; 2008: 130). Nevertheless, the resonant absurdity remains; and its interpretation turns our usual sense of reality inside-out.

It is this place betwixt-and-between that is represented in the Kabbala as the fertile egg of chaos; the origin of new forms and the place where the implicit and explicit are inverted, seamlessly swapping places. It is also the domain in which apophenia and pareidolia come as compensatory tools, re-ordering our senses, generating new patterns and meanings which take root, or even drift away and back into the tumultuous churn of potentia. This is the essential ‘stuff’ of the visionary artist’s revelation, the product of which is captured and concealed within his creation. It is the ever-present dynamism which underlies nature’s evolutionary impetus and advantageous forms. Whether or not this explains the kangaroo turning into a spacecraft, it is difficult at this point to tell, but either way the presence of deliberate absurdity is present in the report.

Now, in contrast to the ‘Cold War Hypothesis’ is Jacques Vallée’s classic ufological study, The Passport to Magonia (1969), which goes much further than what is classically taken to be the standard history of ufology. The most common origin, of course, is that the word ‘flying saucer’ was coined by Kenneth Arnold, an aviator and business man who saw a mysterious disc over Mount Rainer, Washington in June of 1947—this, of course, further cements the Cold War hypothesis. Again, as Vallée argues, this circumscribes it into a too comfortable time period in which it can again be written off as ‘experimental military technology’ of the post-War years; even as a type of emergent neurosis after years of public uncertainty—a ‘collective hysteria’. Again Kenneth Arnold’s case is anecdotal, and this very anecdotal nature plagues UFO research due to its being ‘merely anecdotal’, in other words, a testament to its unscientific and improvable nature. In this view the phenomenon cannot, therefore, become scientifically-grounded unless it can be (as it often has) detected on radar, or, as is more difficult to prove, remnants of a crashed craft has been examined. The latter hypothesis becomes problematic, for it presupposes that the UFO phenomena is a physical, materialistic and a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ quantifiable ‘thing’. However, from our point of view we may quite confidently attend to the ‘merely anecdotal’, for this, in a sense, is the best place to start when unraveling the phenomenological dimension of ‘high strangeness’.

Indeed Vallée convincingly argues that rumours, anecdotes and theories relating to mysterious flying objects go as far back as 1560, contradicting many of the aforementioned theories of a more recent origin. For example, Pierre Boaistuau, author of Histoires Prodigieuses (Wondrous Tales), a sort of encyclopedia of bizarre natural phenomena and other mysteries, does an admirable job of prefiguring the history of ufology:

‘The face of heaven has been so often disfigured by bearded, hairy comets, torches, flames, columns, spears, shields, dragons, duplicate moons, suns, and other similar things, that if one wanted to tell in an orderly fashion those that have happened since the birth of Jesus Christ only, and inquire about the causes of their origin, the lifetime of a single man would not be enough.’ (Vallée; 1975: 7)

There seems to be the persistent sense that the UFO has a desire to cloak itself in absurdity, almost as if its will is precisely to confound. Evermore complex, elaborate schemes—and a strategic management of contexts—seem to place the UFO firmly in the domain of dream logic. In other words, a form of deliberate entanglement and subversion of all contextual ‘nets’ thrown out by mankind, in his attempt to yield some coherence or meaning, are a fundamental part of its nature. And, moreover, the enormous amount of time it takes to cross‑reference all accounts, as Pierre Boaistuau pointed out, would take many lifetimes.

Beginning from this perspective one might say that the ‘drama’ of the UFO is as persistent as it is ambiguous, and, moreover, that it is apparently a real event that has haunted man throughout the centuries under different guises. The anecdotes, fraught as they are with their unreliable translations and inevitable biases, nevertheless add to the phenomenon’s mercurial nature. This, indeed, may answer for its preference for embedding its mythology on the fringes of society, thus constructing for itself a carefully protected form of mythological consciousness in man—appearing, like most mythologies, in the realm of the ‘merely anecdotal’, and while simultaneously being the birthplace of new stories of the eccentric, the unusual and macabre, novel and mysterious. All these stories bleed in to our collective minds, and thus they inevitably leave an indelible mark on our culture’s story-telling.

We may so far summarise that phenomenon, in short, is a collective psychological event that modifies itself over time; all the time adapting and re-modulating itself almost in an experimental nature. Our stories do the same, constantly evolving and integrating more levels of information, pushing the boundaries of the ‘other’ into more elaborate forms, and allowing fertile ‘What ifs?’ to enter the cultural consciousness. Now, whether or not its shifting nature is our subjective doing is as important as it is as an external phenomenon—that is, an objective ‘thing’. But, until that is conclusive, we can only provide sufficient reason to penetrate its psychological and sociological ‘presence’. Here we can posit the idea of a ‘psychic reality’ as does Wilson in World Famous UFOs (2005), that is, by proposing a reality that runs ‘parallel to our physical reality’ and that ‘ghosts, demons, poltergeists, fairies, even ‘vampires’’, are incursions from this ‘‘other reality’ into our own’ (2005: 186). This ‘incursion’ seems to make the most sense; the phenomenon does appear to be an experimental project that keeps renewing and re-writing its methodology. Wilson continues along this line of speculation: ‘Like the human race, the denizens of this other realm probably change and evolve, so their methods of drawing attention to themselves also change and evolve’ (2005: 186).  In a sense the phenomena can be ‘read’ as if it were an unfolding story, authored by someone or some ‘thing’; there is also the idea that we are self-authoring the phenomena, in some deep sense, and deliberately stretching the limits of our unhealthily entrenched—or detached—views that cause a stagnation in some hidden and neglected aspect of our being.

One could even argue that mythology itself is a collectively sustained anecdote; sustained, that is, by its re-telling. The reason for its perseverance in our culture may highlight its importance in offering a form of sustenance to a part of our nature that is calling out in demand. Now, if there is an evolutionary imperative, an element of our collective psyches—or daemons—may partake in a cultural environment that informs the maintenance of a healthy evolution. And perhaps the language of metaphor is the most suitable vehicle for the task.

Whitley Strieber, allegedly abducted by entities related to the UFO phenomena, with his co‑author, Jeffery J. Kripal, present a similar phenomenological approach by placing Strieber’s experiences into a sort of ‘suspension’, or as the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl called it: epoché.  Being a witness and abductee, Strieber nevertheless boldly proposes a method by which we ‘discard all the gods and ghosts, the demons the aliens, and all the stories that go with them, the heroes and their journeys and their resurrections, and reenvision our relationship with this other world objectively’ (Strieber & Kripal; 2016: 44). That is, he proposes we grapple with this newly emergent phenomenon on its own terms, rather than in an attempt to fit it within a ready-made mythology. What is implicit in Whitley and Kripal’s approach is that we include ourselves in the unfolding narrative, assessing how our own interpretive functions distort what is understood and misunderstood, experienced or imagined.

Strieber, upon reflecting on his own experiences, perceives it as a lesson about the embodiment of our very being. In other words, perceived as a sort of cycle in which man—as he experiences his everyday existence—is subject to a series of constraints circumscribed by his very embodiment in matter. And then, released back into the timelessness at death, is reborn, re-embodied and dispersed once more. By stepping back from his experience, and when looked at it without the ‘masks’ of mythological projection, Whitley reflects that one is instead presented with a fundamentally metaphysical perspective concerning life and death. Says Strieber:

‘… we may well see that there is a cycling back and forth taking place, the movement of souls into and out of bodies, living in time and outside of time.  If those of us who are descended into time can acquire an objective understanding of why we have come into this state, we can make it vastly more useful to us than it is now.’ (Strieber & Kripal; 2016: 244).

Phenomena as bizarre and endlessly ambiguous as the UFO or alien abduction may lead to a sort of trauma—an existential vacuum that one is only too painfully aware. To strip away all the fabrications, compensatory mechanisms—what the mystic philosopher Gurdjieff called ‘buffers’—and staring into the heart of the UFO experience, is, like any other phenomenological exercise, conducive to an existentially-tinted self-awareness. For Strieber, it is a case of seeing our lives as somehow reciprocal and cyclical, a matter of birth and re-birth. Interestingly, Strieber has also related that he returns to the work of Gurdjieff to recalibrate himself after these bewildering traumas; whether or not they are ‘real’ is beside the point, for all that matters is Streiber’s own psychological experience of the event. If we take Strieber’s experiences as real, then it is not surprising that he should ask himself ‘Why me?’ which, in turn, will lead to the inevitable question ‘Who am I?’ This, I believe, is what Strieber is able to extract from his own experience of the anomalous. For, in a sense, one’s own very being is as anomalous as that which it confronts—there is, in that gap of comprehension, an incursion of mystery that may cleanse habitual or ‘mechanical’ thinking.

In his earlier book, Solving the Communion Enigma (2012), Strieber emphasises the ‘power of the question’, being attendant to the mystery behind the mystery, so to speak. In doing so, he came to the conclusion that ‘who we are’ is ‘the greatest of all mysteries’. This, of course, is the fundamental tenet of existentialism. He goes on to say that we ‘present an appearance to ourselves of being a physical species that has evolved over aeons’ but, he continues, this is an ‘illusion that we have chosen for ourselves’ and that human bodies ‘are devices that we use to penetrate our attention deeply into the sensory world. But they are not us. We are something else, come here to rest ourselves and recover ourselves outside the endlessness that is our true home, and, above all, to evolve into something new’ (2012: 198).

Again, we can see in Strieber’s grappling with the phenomenon that there is this question of the meaning of life as well as death. Particularly he is interested in these two apparently divergent strands, for both life and death are fundament parts of evolution. The meaning occurs not when the two split away, death one way and life another, but in a sort of timeless convergence of the two—the evolutionary recognition, for Strieber, is that both life and death unify into an existential affirmation of the testing experience of life and, in Strieber’s case, the extreme fringes of anomalous experience itself.

Elsewhere Whitley makes a curious distinction regarding the ‘visitors’ or ‘entities’ in which he argues that they ‘represent the most powerful of all forces acting in human culture’ and that they are indeed ‘managing the evolution of the human mind’ or ‘represent the presence of mind on another level of being’ (2012: 236). He concludes that it might be mankind’s fate to ‘leave the physical world altogether and join them in that strange hyper-reality from which they seem to emerge’ (2012: 236). Whether or not this is the destiny of an afterlife, or, a strange ascendance of mankind’s mind to a higher level of experience, it is difficult to tell. And yet, implicit in these conclusions is the notion that the mind can know other realities, truer and more ‘hyper-real’ perceptions beyond that which we ordinarily experience. They urge us to seek for the real reality behind what is merely presented to us by our five senses.

Questions such as these are the fundamental basis of religion, esotericism and even to some extent existentialism if what informs existentialism—questions relating to human existence—is the search for the phenomenological reality that underlie the experience of transcendental or the anomalous. If these experiences are a part of our existential reality as human beings, it is therefore within the bounds of analysis for the existentialist.

All this brings us nicely back to Colin Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’, for Wilson incorporated Husserl’s notion of the ‘transcendental ego’ in the fundamental recognition that there is an unconscious element with authors, so to speak, our experience of reality prior to our apprehension of it. It is the energy behind our ability to grasp reality at all; it is, fundamentally, the ‘form-imposing’ faculty. Wilson places great emphasis on Husserl’s notion of ‘intentionality’, this active ‘will’ behind our perception that is ‘fired’ by the ‘transcendental ego’. For Wilson, as it was to an extent for Husserl, insights into the transcendental ego’s intentional nature would offer an insight into those states achieved in mystical visions, directing us in the direction of ‘the keepers of the key to the ultimate sources of being’ and to the ‘unveiling of the hidden achievements of the transcendental ego’ (1966: 62). Again, all this leads back to our own perceptual mechanisms, our very consciousness, and in turn this may allow us to stand back—like Strieber—and reflect more clearly on the often psychologically disorientating nature of the UFO experience.

If, for instance, something so baffles our consciousness and, in doing so, restructures our own relationship to ourselves, we may begin by reorienting our psychological mechanisms. We can see that to an extent Strieber concluded that the ‘entities’ themselves are managing our culture, that they are, in some deep sense, underlying mythological archetypes that run underneath our collective psyche, bursting forth occasionally into our psychic reality. One might even approach them as instrumentalities of our transcendental egos, or, for that matter, forces entirely external to us—evolutionary agents. Nevertheless, in examining our very depths we may develop a new type of logic that can integrate the intentions behind such phenomenon generally. And, in turn, we may be our own directors, intending ourselves in a far more active manner.

Jorjani remarks that the ‘lurid character of so many of these [alien] contacts prevents them from being taken seriously by the scientific establishment of the target society, and instead these experiences are allowed to sink into the deeper, dreamlike psychical substrate that defines the mythic folklore of a culture’ (2016: 371). Whether or not this type phenomenon directly emerges from this ‘psychical substrate’ is the same question as the genesis of myth itself. Indeed, are myths ‘planted’, so to speak, to grow within a culture in order to shape its destiny? How are new ideas born? Such questions orientate the mind towards the study of esotericism. Strieber even refers to some of the more bizarre experiences he’s encountered as ‘living hieroglyphs’; a mystery drama to be decoded by the interpreter. Again, there is this emphasis on interpretation; the hermeneutic approach as well as the phenomenological. We will return to the subject of the esoteric in more depth later on.

The fact that Strieber is a novelist, a professional story-teller, and a weaver of horror stories, is perhaps significant, for, whatever these ‘entities’ might be, they have certainly selected an individual with the psychological tools and skills necessary to absorb and release their (sometimes terrifying) presence into the public consciousness. As I have mentioned above, it is curious that Strieber should follow the work of Gurdjieff, whose entire mystical philosophy is underpinned by a need to jolt man out of his passivity through necessary, but sometimes painful, ‘shocks’. This seems to be similar to Lachman’s interpretation in that they are intended to challenge our passivity, to frustrate and re-invigorate our sense of mystery.

Now, in comparing the ‘visitors’ to Gurdjieff’s system, Strieber remarks that ‘What I got from the visitors was friction a thousand times more potent, friction that had the power to break the soul, to plunge me into a frozen paroxysm of hatred and fear.’ For, with each change in Gurdjieff’s theory of octaves, there is a required ‘shock’ for the further evolution and development of that octave to a higher level. And this higher level, this higher ‘I’, is very much similar to what Husserl meant by the ‘transcendental ego’; it is that which actively ‘intends’. Strieber has also mentioned the fact that the whole experience might be what evolution looks and feels like when it is immediately up-close; it is a sudden leap, sometimes precarious, fraught with dangers, when accelerated without due caution.

Says Wilson in Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966):

‘If knowledge is really to fire my whole being, and cause it to expand, it must not be capable of merely of exploding my childhood prejudices and releasing me into a broader world of universal knowledge; it must also enable me to understand my inner-being. . . In being able to stand aside from my habits of perception, I shall have discovered the secret of poetry and mysticism.’ (1966: 54).

Of course, Gurdjieff’s philosophy is based on this notion of a ‘shock’ that would enable a more fully crystallised identity, a ‘super-ordinate’ self that enables one to ‘stand aside’ from habitual perception—it is with this very ability that we may understand the ‘secret of poetry and mysticism’. Essentially, this is the impression one gets from Strieber’s writing on the subject; a disturbing but simultaneously enlightening voyage into the unconscious, inner‑regions of man, in which the forces are enormous and sometimes impersonal, but nevertheless bouy up our entire being rather like a boat rests on a tumultuous and vast ocean. In other words, it is a vision into the ‘life force’—that origin of all intentionality, and the energy from which the transcendental ego ignites our perceptions in our most intense states of being. To the uninitiated these experiences mighty be actively detrimental—but with a careful phenomenological discipline, they break the shackles of our habituated consciousness and allow a far more intense experience of a reality usually blinkered from our five-senses.

A Personal Note (and an Appreciation of the Work of Ian Watson)

Now that I have described the fundamental theories and approaches that will inform this essay, I should explain its genesis. This, I believe is important to understand my own approach to the subject of ufology.

It was sometime in 2008 when I first picked up Alien Dawn due to my increasing interest in the UFO phenomenon. It was, as I have mentioned, a choice based on my previous reading of Wilson’s work—particularly The Outsider. The interest did not occur randomly or superficially; it was in part due to witnessing a UFO myself in February of that same year. At the time I was mainly interested in existentialist literature of the pessimistic variety—writers such as Michel Houllebecq and the Romanian arch-pessimist, Emil Cioran, I found particularly invigorating in the sense that it was so merciless and bold. There was something fundamentally stimulating about their firebrand approach to existence; they ranted and exploded, rather than carefully delineate their philosophies. I was, I should add, around twenty-two at the time, and being in a rather working-class village probably demanded this sort of intensity merely for stimulation. My tendency at that time was to seek out existentially ‘authentic’ answers, and, as I was steeped in existential literature this tended to be pessimistic. It was, in short, as ‘authentic’ as I wanted it to be—that is, reflective of my own vacillating moods. Although I had read The Outsider before Alien Dawn, I had regarded it as an enormous acceleration of my understanding of existential literature, although strangely, I initially failed to integrate its essentially optimistic conclusion.

Seeing that Alien Dawn was written by the same author of this existential classic, I found it to be the obvious choice for a foray into the subject. I had read a lot of ufological literature before, but had found it a struggle, sometimes buying questionable titles. To the now culturally sanctioned and widely published world of existentialism and pessimistic postmodernists, ufology and other paranormal literature, by comparison, seemed kitsch and gauche. Socially and culturally, at least, it’s the equivalent of sliding into the abyss! An abyss, I thought, no worse than any identified in the works of the existentialists.

Now, witnessing a UFO in these circumstances has it befits, if one pushes asides the many social stigmas attached to any admittance of belief. Of course, you have to take great care as to when and whom you discuss your experience. Before continuing with even the ounce of suggestion that they might be real, you find yourself struggling in an unenviable uphill battle, and, as you pursue the subject you find yourself in a tangle that is entirely detrimental to anything else you might have had to say—it tarnishes and re-contextualises your whole being in the eyes of the reflexively skeptical. Often one will find himself consigned to the category ‘harmless eccentric’.

And yet, strangely enough, any careful reading into the literature finds you in good company, with a wide-range of impressive and intelligent writers on the subject, such as the ones mentioned above—Jacques Vallée, John E. Mack and more recently, Dr. Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University—and yet, nevertheless, there surrounds the whole topic a sense of muddleheaded credulity. Sifting through this, for witnesses, casual readers, and even serious researchers becomes a difficult task.

I was therefore left with a sense of something that was fundamentally incommunicable, and, furthermore, an incomprehensible experience to contend with. My own experience, I should add, was that merely of being a witness of a silent, apparently amorphous and changing series of lights about 30 ft above our—there were three other witnesses—heads. There was the added difficulty of its inherent difficulty to simply describe; it was frankly too unusual and unlikely to convey. There is also the added problem of memory, for you can see quite easily how each witness has his own interpretation of what he saw. Nevertheless, there was a general agreement that what we saw something fundamentally ‘other’. One of the problems we all found, I suppose, was the fact that it was rather difficult to share with anybody else. For would there be a sympathetic listener to who it could be described? Well, yes, there were a few, but more generally it was something you kept under close wrap. Also, of course, was the problem of whether it could be described! But, finally, I asked myself the question: what does one do with the knowledge and experience of such a phenomenon? The only answer, I found, was to read about the subject and try to understand what meaning it may have had for others—that is, in an attempt to correlate as many accounts as possible and compare them with one’s own.

Alien Dawn took away some of the stigma of being a UFO ‘witness’, and it opened up a genuine and refreshing area fertile with novel ideas. Even though I had been stewing in a sort of materialistic pessimism for a number of years, the essentially science‑fictional sensibilities underlying much of the speculation regarding the phenomena enabled a sort of inner-opening to ideas which were essentially impersonal. They were far more open-ended and called into question many other aspects of existence. Unlike the literature I was reading before the event, Alien Dawn threw up so many implications that there was a looming sense of infinity; it presented far more questions that seemed to be as genuine and in sympathy with, fundamentally, an existential frame-of-mind. The event itself represented a mystery, and understanding such mysteries allowed one to see that you were embedded in a larger mystery with an enormous amount of layers. There were mysteries beyond the scope of man’s own existence, and yet—knowingly or unknowingly—we were grappling with something essentially meaningful. Contrasting these ideas against each other unearthed the strangeness of being in itself, for that fundamental was no longer a consistent limitation, but a part of a much larger context.

Fundamentally, I think this is what Strieber is trying to express in his own far more intensive experiences. He felt, like many of us, that instead of being adrift in a meaningless universe, that we instead inhabit something with an emergent evolutionary context—a part of which our very consciousness is a significant contribution to its implicit and explicit developments.

At this point, I might add that one of the witnesses felt that the environment had become animated, and that he sensed that to some degree the woodland surrounding us was somehow conscious of the whole experience. Whether or not this was the psychological euphoria resultant of something so unusual, it is difficult to tell, but nevertheless the heightening—artificial or authentic—allowed such a sensation to occur. The experience, no doubt, was disorientating, but nevertheless it opened up a great many questions regarding our own perceptions, and each separately came to his own conclusions.

The UFO still remains a mystery, but by delving into books like Alien Dawn, one comes away with a myriad of other approaches, such as quantum physics, mysticism, psychology, comparative mythology, religious and esoteric ideas, even evolutionary theory. And then there’s the anecdotes that temper your own, make your own absurd experience seem normal, even banal, by comparison. But what Wilson himself introduced was a steady‑handed phenomenology of the phenomena. Indeed, Wilson even goes on to say in the book, ‘. . . if an important part of the purpose of these phenomena is the effect on us, then that purpose would seem to be to decondition us from our unquestioning acceptance of consensus reality.’ (1999: 326).

One of the great benefits of being introduced to the history of ufology through Wilson’s is that there’s no shortage of further reading. A voracious reader, Wilson treads the way for any would-be researcher, providing clues and references like a Golden Thread. And even though many of his books on Atlantis and UFOs might not appear, on first glance, to be associated with his earlier work in ‘The Outsider Cycle’—with its focus on the ‘new existentialism’—they are on closer inspection a means to nourish and advance this phenomenological method for understanding extraordinary ‘peak’ states of consciousness. Through the heady final chapter of ‘The Way Outside’ in Alien Dawn, one covers most of the ground of the ‘new existentialism’ through to plasmas, multiple universes, holograms and even John Wheeler’s ‘participatory anthropic principle’. Rather, it is an extension of many of the ideas presented in his earliest work, and an attempt to stretch further the analysis of unusual—and/or heightened—states of consciousness for their phenomenological value at unveiling an essential meaning.

What I felt was one most insightful ideas of the book emerges when Wilson very briefly turns to the work of the science-fiction writer, Ian Watson, who authored The Embedding (1973), which Wilson says ‘has claims to be one of the best science-fiction novels ever written’ (1999: 350). However, it is Watson’s novel The Miracle Visitors (1978) which attempts not only to explore the mystery of UFOs, but, Wilson concludes, to ‘find an answer to the mystery’ (1999: 351). I would argue that Watson’s work is one of the most advanced attempts at an unraveling of this entangled phenomenon that has been yet attempted, and certainly, anyone who is familiar with his work will know that he has an extraordinary and dizzying imaginative scope.

Again, I believe it is significant that a novelist—like Whitley Strieber—is someone at the avant-garde when it comes to expressing something that baffles ordinary linear expression. There is a freedom that creative thinking and writing can allow, and this ought to inform many of the more analytical works in ufology. It populates the theoretical and hypothetical models with rich and novel insights. Watson had clearly studied the UFO phenomena closely and, in The Miracle Visitors, embedded—as it were—an effective condensation of the mystery in an unfolding narrative. It is, in short, one of the most enlightening refractions from the distorted Indra’s net of ufology.

As a novel it is a sort of cultural epiphenomena of the UFO phenomenon itself. The story and the ideas that inform it directly emerge out of the ufological version of the collective unconscious. Indeed, it is a multi-layered novel that, in compacting enormous amounts of complex narrative and hypothetical asides, reconfigures the chaos of the UFO folklore into something which, for the first time, can be seen as an evolutionary symbol—an evolutionary metaphor.

Watson himself uses similar language to describe the essential ‘unknowableness’ of the UFO, for in the novel he breaks this down into levels of higher and lower order ‘systems’ of knowledge; a sort of a hierarchy of living episteme:

‘… individual beings within the system cannot really know this directly. For I speak of higher-order systems of organization: of higher-order patternings. Lower-order systems cannot fully grasp the Whole of which they are the parts. Logic forbids. It is the natural principle. Which is why, when the processes of the Whole do show themselves, it is as unidentified phenomena—as intrusions into your own knowledge that can be witnessed and experienced but not rationally known: neither analysed, nor identified. Such intrusions are inestimably important. They are the goad towards higher organization. They are what urges the amoeba to evolve towards a higher life form. They are what spurs mind to evolve from natural awareness, and higher consciousness from simple mind. They are the very dynamic of the universe.’ (2003: 102)

French sociologist, Bertrand Méheust comments in Science Fiction and Flying Saucers (1978) that the UFO phenomena act like a ‘“super-dream” . . . that works through a process of radical “absurdization”’ (Quoted in Kripal; 2010: 213). The ‘absurdization’, it could be argued, is Watson’s ‘unknowableness’, ‘experienced but not rationally known’ due to their ‘higher-ordering patternings’. Goading us by their absurdity—their boundary‑stretching incomprehensibility—they posit the limits of human knowledge while stretching the mystery back into the heavens, that birthplace of metaphysical speculation. The very conceptual fuzziness of the phenomena leaves us in the dark; its informational complexity and irrationality is of course something contrary to the rationalist and mechanistic idea of a basically ‘functional’ i.e. unconscious universe that unpacks itself without any recourse to mystery. A universe displaced of Why? with How?—for the question of why, of course, presupposes a meaning in a cosmology of materialism that rejects meaning as merely subjective, and not present in a material world of happenstance existence.

It is worth mentioning as an aside her that I am reminded of Peter Hitchen’s comments about his ‘atheist period’, in which he ‘became an enthusiast for total rationality’. Hitchens continues by saying that he happily embraced ‘the cold, sharp metric and decimal systems, disregarding the polished-in-use, apparently irrational but human and friendly measures’, and this so developed that he ‘sought out buildings without dark corners or any hint of faith in their shape. . . I longed for a world of clean, squared-off structures, places where there was no darkness’ (2010: 32). Significantly this, as we will see later, may have something to do with the two hemispheres of the brain.

In this ‘atheist period’ the architecture, like our cosmology, offers only a Why? in the utilitarian sense of convenience, of materialistic practicality, or ‘conservation of energy’.  There is no darkness, no ‘unknowableness’ that draws us onward and upwards, only a sense of static values that science, even when presented as ‘magic’ as in one of Richard Dawkins’ books, does not inspired awe, but only Eliot’s ‘whimper’. It is what Martha Heyneman means when she says ‘If the whole had no pattern, the part could have no meaning. It was lost in a chaos without a centre, a principle of unity, a “point”’ (2001:37). Paradoxically this very ‘point’ is darkness itself, the parts of what we are embedded in as human beings, that remains unenlightened. This is the same darkness that represents enormous potentiality in contrast to nihilism and drifting; it is the ‘deliberate unknowability’ that is, in a paradoxical sort of way, directional. The cathedral, rather than the utilitarian building of the metric and measured variety, infers something more than itself; its architecture is designed in a sort of metaphorical way to cross-over with the measurements of the infinite, and in doing so emerge as a visual representation of the evolutionary metaphor. It precisely inspires because it infers more than it is—in contrast, of course, to being merely utilitarian, inferring only its purposes of utility.

Now, in his essay, ‘The Age of the World Picture’, the philosopher Martin Heidegger states his belief that by ‘means of this shadow the modern world extends itself out into a space withdrawn from representation. . . This shadow. . . points to something else, which it is denied to us of today to know[7]. Indeed, Heidegger’s shadow is what, for him, drives technological and scientific progress, for we seek out with our instruments, new domains by transmuting the unknown into the scientifically ‘known’. However, similar to Watson’s posited ‘unknown’, this approach lends itself just as well to a mythological interpretation, for as the professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, notes: ‘[myth] tends to portray the generative individual consciousness eternally willing to face this unknown. . . in essence—in contradistinction to unconscious, impersonal, and [the] unpredictable. . . in light of its “seminal”, active, “fructifying” nature”’(1999: 181).

By delving into the field of ufology it is certain that, whether one will emerge with an evolutionary idea or not, that nevertheless the task becomes the equivalent of navigating mythological archetypes. The Jungian, James Hillman has even noted that ‘mythology is ancient psychology and psychology is recent mythology.’ The dreamlike logic, of course, is so rich with archetypal symbolism that it seems to emerge out of a rich stream of a ‘collective unconscious’, and, as the UFO cloaks itself in mythical garb—or, indeed, we capture it in a mythologizing consciousness—it seems reasonable to suggest that one approaches it as such. Indeed, Patrick Harpur believes the most convincing ‘reason for attributing mythological status to [UFO phenomena] is that, like myths, they are capable of bearing an inexhaustible number of interpretations, no single one of which can finally explain them.’ (2003: 123). This very interpretive nature, as we have seen, informs stories, works of fiction—all effective vehicles of the mythological imagination.

But if we venture forth into this territory it is wise to heed the words of Jordan Peterson, for it is the ‘‘fructifying’ nature of the hero’s grappling with the unknown that should be the boon of his return.’ It is, in other words, a call to return with something useful, practical, invigorating and fundamentally evolutionary in value. It is for this reason that I believe an active approach in the vein of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ can help us converge upon the evolutionary principles that may underlie both the esoteric works of the past, and simultaneously, the emerging folklore of the UFO, offering, as it does, an evolutionary interpretation of their myriad forms and narratives that they undertake.

For, as Wilson says, if such ‘psychic phenomena have a purpose it is to wake us up from our ‘dogmatic slumber’, and galvanize us to evolve a higher form of consciousness’. Indeed, he concludes that ‘this is the only positive and unambiguous lesson we can learn from the strange mystery of the flying saucers’ (1999: 186).

As we can see, from the above interpretation(s)—beginning from Heidegger’s more materialistic development by positing mystery as man’s primary motive force behind technological advancement—we may perceive the juxtaposition of man’s orientation towards progress; scientific, spiritual and mythological. And, if anyone of these should gain undue promotion as man’s primary motive, there will be resultant psychic dis-ease. It is, rather, a call for the integration of all the streams which, in their own ways, are products of a much larger evolutionary impulse and context. It is, in fact, a matter of widening our existential foundations to take the weight of a much more responsible enterprise of our future development. One could say it is call for a catalyst as well as a buttress against the forces of an unbalanced development. In other words, it is the recognition of a psycho-social context in which we can incorporate the largest—and sometimes dangerously unrecognised—of man’s impulses.

Now, we may speculate here that the UFO is a symptom and symbol of a culture on the precipice of environmental and psychic breakdown, whereby it haunts us utilising the cultural props to appear as simultaneously a scientific phenomenon, as well as a quasi-spiritual and mythological form that defies many of the conventions of each ‘conceptual net’. One might call it dialectic in action, a gauntlet of ambiguity thrown down for minds to disentangle, or, indeed, influence a modality of thinking that might bridge the gap between man’s psychic schisms. Again, as a sort of giant Zen kōan that it benefits us to understand.

Pertaining to the imaginatively expansive and therapeutic nature of symbols, P.D. Ouspensky notes in his essay ‘Symbolism of the Tarot’ that it is ‘perfectly clear that symbols are not created for expounding what are called scientific truths’, and this, in light of the UFO phenomena may be precisely the reason why it confounds science—for that might be its very intention. In fact, Ouspensky continues by saying that the ‘very nature of symbols must remain elastic, vague and ambiguous, like the sayings of an oracle. Their role is to unveil mysteries, leaving the mind all its freedom’ (1989: 218). By emphasising the purposeful ambiguity of ‘living symbols’, Ouspensky has hit upon a profoundly interesting approach towards phenomena in general, for, if like Wilson proposes, that the only healthy way of approaching psychic phenomena is to heed them as wake-up calls out of our ‘dogmatic slumber’, then, we might grapple—on all of man’s psychic levels—with a modern, living symbol that may be entirely a revolutionary paradigm onto itself. Indeed, Oswald Wirth in Le Symbolism Hermétique says as much: ‘symbols are precisely intended to awaken ideas sleeping in our consciousness. They arouse thought by means of suggestion and thus cause the truth which lies hidden in the depths of our spirit to suggest itself.’ (1989: 217).

Through the living symbol of the UFO, we may begin to see a semblance of unification of the mythological and the scientific/technological impulse, and, through this a development of mankind may be initiated. In other words, the shadows of all our drives may integrated—intuitive, rational, materialistic and spiritual—into an evolutionary dynamic. And as the UFO is ‘withdrawn from [explicit-materialistic] representation’, it nevertheless, and as an idea, inspires in us a speculative and intuitive approach that ‘fructifies’, brings new life, into areas of our psyches that may have become numb under too much materialism and ‘nothing‑but‑ness’. Of course, such a nihilistic cosmology as presented to us in modern science may become dangerously toxic and claustrophobic, for with its closed-system approach circumscribes man’s potential to a meaningless cosmic fluke. The UFO, in a sense, may be a thermometer for our culture’s development—and its appearance in the past, to a sense, may have been guiding or initiating certain other elements of our culture’s unconscious drives.

It may very well be that the UFO, in its inside-out ambiguity, represents something outside of the very bounds of that which stunts man’s evolutionary growth—that is, it haunts us from the periphery of the known, frustrating materialism’s out-of-date boundaries by clownishly transgressing and subverting logic and the rationalist’s own spiritual version of the Iron Curtain.

Now, to return to Watson’s The Miracle Visitors, we may see that in his protagonist’s revelation, that these ideas are perfectly at home in the expansive genre of science-fiction:

‘For all these inaccessibilities caused a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organization, towards higher comprehension. So molecules become long-chain molecules, and these became replicating cells that transmitted information. . . till mind evolved, and higher mind.
The universe, he realized, was an immense simulation: of itself, by itself. It was a registering of itself, a progressive observation of itself from ever higher points of view.’ (2003: 187)

Indeed, Méheust’s ‘super-dream’ that tends towards ‘absurdization’; and Jung’s flying‑mandalas that are harbingers of a new psychic unity; and indeed Watson’s ‘suction’ of ‘inaccessibilities’ towards ‘ever higher patterns’ do seem to be the raison d’être behind the UFO phenomena. This brings us to the very essence of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’, for its evolutionary premise enables us to unfold a phenomenological groundwork to do the integrative work on own behalf.

In Watson, Wilson saw a genuine attempt to understand the phenomenology behind the UFO experience itself, and this is what lends to Alien Dawn a quality that is often lacking books of ufology.

Now, before we move on to discussing esotericism and synchronicity, it is worth mentioning a story that happened between Watson and Wilson that allows us an interesting insight into the absurdity of the phenomenon itself. It can be taken as one pleases, as a meaningful synchronicity, or a freak accident of circumstance. But many of its elements prefigure some of the topics that we shall pursue. Watson relates:

‘[Wilson had] been prompted to phone me by reading my own fictional take on the UFO ‘experience’, Miracle Visitors. Colin’s phone was struck by lightning through the landline either during or just after one of our conversations, causing a book fire in his room; unremarkable contacts with such as Colin Wilson seemed impossible—or maybe the lightning had something to do with the UFO phenomenon. You’d think I’d be able to remember clearly whether the lightning strike came during or after; but oh don’t we mythologise ourselves?’[8]

Absurdity and mythologisation, as we have seen, takes a significant role in the ‘drama’ of the UFO phenomena. And the lightning bolt striking between the line of a researcher and a novelist, it seems, is a brilliant place to start unpacking the hermetic spirit which lies at the heart of such evolutionary metaphors. . .

Plasma, Signatures and the Life Force

Other than discussing Whitley Streiber’s interpretations of the meaning behind his abduction experiences, I am aware that we have not directly discussed the UFO experience using any other case studies or direct, reported examples. This has been intentional, for it sets us up to explore the odd levels and layers of interpreting anomalous phenomena in general. My intention so far has been to present a general way of thinking which has close ties with esotericism. Indeed, James W. Deardorff of Oregon State University has speculated along these same lines, for the phenomena may communicate by bypassing scientists and instead providing recipients with ‘vague descriptions of extraterrestrial technological achievements that would read like magic or science fiction’. Deardorff continues:

‘They might even contain a few absurdities purposely added; these . . . would help ensure that any scientists who happened to learn about the communications would regard them as hoaxes or fiction. . . Meanwhile, the message would get published, translated into various languages, and distributed throughout the world amongst other occult literature.’[9]

Now, if we turn to Anrija Puharich’s bizarre book, Uri (1974), for example, we have the same strange sense of absurdity repeated. The world famous psychic, Uri Geller, in a moment of despair and frustration with the entities—namely one that referred to itself as ‘Spectra’—, condemns their ‘performance’ as ‘stupid and idiotic’, nevertheless, they perform for us, he says, ‘on our level’ (1974: 173-174). Performance, of course, has an important role to play in the mysteries, particularly mythological and those pertaining to esoteric schools. And although Uri knows of their existence, in some objective sense, he nevertheless does not know what they mean; that is, precisely what existential value that this holds for him, or indeed, for anyone else. In fact, Uri Geller, despite his flamboyant reputation, is like the rest of us when facing this mystery. And although he has had, according to his own account and Puharich’s, direct experience, he is nevertheless rational and sober-minded as one can be about such a challenging experience. Condemning it as such a stupid performance, in fact, is a fairly rational approach, and is not suggestive of someone who wants to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes concerning something so apparently miraculous!

Uri asks the crucial question of ‘What is it doing to us?’ His answer, as we have seen, is an exasperated shrug. They perform for us ‘on our level’ is his basic insight, and our level, fundamentally, cannot go beyond itself.

Despite this, Puharich is provided with a series of unusual explanations of the functions of the soul:

‘I was given a new concept which was to imagine that all souls are like a vase (i.e., a physical pot). Each vase-soul exists in a rotational, gravitational field. When one perturbs the vase‑soul, wavelets go out into the universe field. It is very much like dropping a pebble in water—wavelets will radiate outward. The perturbation of the vase-soul in the rotational gravitational field is experience.’ (1974 :195)

Again, this strikes anyone as familiar with esoteric literature as strikingly consistent with many occult doctrines, particularly theosophy or something uttered by Alice Bailey. The language even reminds us more of David Bohm’s ‘implicate order’ and quantum theory which has, over recent years, become increasingly embedded in New Age literature for its variety of versatile models and metaphors. What is more striking is that Puharich does not pursue that the notion that the ‘vase-soul’ is, in some sense, a description of the UFO itself. The UFO, of course, often has a vase-like appearance and its effects, which are experienced or witnessed, are duly influential in their ‘perturbation’ of everyday existence.

There is the sense that the soul—or the UFO—is a ‘spill over’ into matter which, as the soul is embodied, is subject to the limitations of time and space. This is also evocative of Lurianic Kabbalah developed by Isaac Luria (1534–1572), for which his concept of tzimtzum is a sort of ‘concealment’ or ‘contraction’ of God. Gary Lachman, in Caretakers of the Cosmos (2013), describes the process of tzimtzum:

‘Once the tzimtzum created the void, Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Man, appeared. . . Out of the eyes, nose, mouth and ears of Adam Kadmon come flashing lights, emanations of the divine creative energies. These form the sephiroth, or vessels, designed to contain these energies. . .’ (2003: 32)

The human being, in Kabbalah, is an expression of these energies that are contained and simultaneously shed forth into the material existence. We, as expressions of this cosmic schism, are responsible for a type of repair work which Luria called tikkun, which Lachman describes as a restoration ‘of the shattered sephiroth’ and that our job is to ‘heal the rift between the opposites, and unify the polarized masculine and feminine aspects of God’ (2003: 34). Again, the similarity to Puharich’s alleged extraterrestrial contact with Spectra leaves us with distinct sense of esoteric knowledge being encoded within the anomalous experience. What left Uri feeling frustrated and bewildered left Puharich contending with the mysteries of human existence—there is the sense, in the UFO experience, of a deliberate friction being used to erode consensual reality, and within these fractures of reality they smuggle in new concepts for the understanding of our existential position. They present, in a peculiar way, a new cosmological and ontological model.

The engineer Bryant Reeve wrote a book with the significant title of The Advent of the Cosmic Viewpoint (1965), in which he proposes a similar hypothesis to the one presented in this essay. Indeed, Reeve began from a wish to understand the physical nature of the UFO (being an engineer with a distinctly scientific orientation) but instead found that only philosophy and metaphysics could do justice to any comprehensive understanding. Reeve, after considering the evidence substantially, concluded that it demanded a radical cosmological reorientation, and that it was essentially a psycho-spiritual or esoteric ‘event’ of enormous significance.

There is, in all this, something that hints towards what William James described as a vast ‘continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir’. Again, this relates to both consciousness and the ‘vase’/’vessel’ imagery used in Puharich’s ‘contact’ and Kabalistic cosmology. It is significant, then, that in each approach the human being is considered deeply involved in the universe, and whose position is in direct contrast to the sense of contingency and meaningless implicit in a strictly materialistic cosmos. Also, as we have seen in the case of Strieber, there was a sense that the phenomenon was attempting to subvert our ordinary understanding of life and death.

Here it is worth returning to the ‘new existentialism’ to elucidate what might be called the ‘cosmic viewpoint’, for Wilson states in Religion and the Rebel (1957) this way of seeing may:

‘. . . easily be called religion. It is a way of thought which, like the religious way, regards man as involved in the universe, not just a spectator and observer, a sort of naturalist looking at the universe through a magnifying-glass and murmuring: “Mmm. Most interesting”.  Existentialism states that the most important fact about man is his ability to change himself.’ (1990: 148)

In short, it is by changing our perception of ourselves, and recognising that we are an active component in a meaningful cosmos, that we begin to actualise our far-reaching potentialities. This is a much more invigorating way of living in the world, and in doing so activates the deeper reserves of the ‘life force’ to meet the challenges that we face in the real world. Furthermore, implicit in the recognition of a ‘cosmic viewpoint’ is an evolutionary context, or directive, which further converges with our revitalised momentum, our active engagement with the direction that the life force directs itself—that is, towards Ian Watson’s ‘higher‑organization’, the ‘very dynamic of the universe’.

By recognising this meaningful nature of the cosmos, there is also another element that allows us to ‘read into’ the meanings contained there within; that is, the universe becomes interpretable through a hermeneutic phenomenology. The ‘flame of consciousness’ is able to bring forward the symbols and language of what Jacob Boheme called the ‘signatures’, which Wilson—again in Religion and the Rebel—describes: ‘just as an expert can find a criminal’s fingerprint on every object from a glass vase to a human throat’ (1990: 158). It is, Wilson continues, the ultimate mysticism of the West, providing a scientific insight into the mechanisms of the universe, as well as providing a simultaneous glimpse into William Blake’s visions of the infinite in a grain of sand. Wilson sees that the ‘‘Life Force’ has its own deep inscrutable aims and methods in this world of physical reality’, and this is precisely what the mystic can detect in those states of intense visionary consciousness.

This active approach to consciousness is indeed what Jacques Vallée dedicated his classic book in ufology, Passport to Magonia (1969). He summarises it precisely:

‘. . . for the few who have gone through all this and have graduated to a higher, clearer level of perception of the total meaning of that tenuous dream that underlies . . . human history, for those who have recognised, within themselves and in others, the delicate levers of imagination and will not be afraid to experiment with them.’ (1975: 154).

In evoking the transformational power of art, Vallée continues to say that like ‘Picasso and his art, the great UFO Master shapes our culture, but most of us remain unaware of it’ (1975: 160). Layers, like the varieties of applied paint on a canvas, bring forth something once implicit, something hovering in the mind’s eye of the artist. Wherever these visions or ideas come from is, in a sense, as mysterious as the arrival of any anomalous event. The imagination in art, of course, becomes a transit for the life force, providing as it does a vast enough medium for its expression. Rather like Boehme’s signatures, Vallée’s expression of a ‘clearer level of perception’ that enables a vision into the ‘dream that underlies’ history is an imaginative leap into the evolutionary drives underlying existence itself; and as far as we know, human beings are the life force’s most advanced expression.

This artistic vision was also experienced by another science-fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, whose many books have deeply impacted modern Hollywood with films like Total Recall, Blade Runner and Minority Report, among many others—directly or indirectly—attributed to his name. His novels often invoked what he would call the ‘pluriform’ nature of our universe; its many layers and levels of alternate timelines (often dystopic in nature); varieties and shades of realities that exist alongside our ‘ordinary’ world of lived experience. In 1974 Dick claims to have undergone an unusual experience rather evocative, particularly in its use of language, of Puharich’s and Luria’s ‘energies’; or Bohme’s ‘signatures’. I quote from his visionary 1977 essay, ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’:

‘[the vision] resembled plasmic energy. It had colors. It moved fast, collecting and dispersing. But what it was, what he was—I am not sure even now, expect I can tell you that he had simulated normal objects and their processes so as to copy them and in such an artful way as to make himself invisible within them . . . By this I mean that during that short period—a matter of hours or perhaps a day—I was aware of nothing that was not the Programmer. All the things in our pluriform world were segments or subsections of him. Some Were at rest but many moved, and did so like portions of a breathing organism that inhaled, exhaled, grew, changed, evolved toward some final state that by its absolute wisdom it had chosen for itself. I mean to say, I experienced it as self-creating, dependent on nothing outside it because very simply there was nothing outside it. [my italics].’ (Quoted in Dick; 1996: 251-252).

In this phenomenologically rich description of what is evidently a very striking event—Dick went on to write a gargantuan Exegesis that endlessly meditated on what he had undergone—we can see a series of correspondences with what we have pursued in this essay so far.  Firstly, there is the artistry and embedded nature of its presence, that is, it is—to use Dick’s phraseology—‘pluriform’, but also somehow disguised, not in, but as the environment itself.  He refers to it in the language of phenomenology as ‘the Programmer’, which is immediately reminiscent of Husserl’s ‘transcendental ego’—that Will which underlies our perceptions; the origin of the intention behind the intentionality, so to speak. Again, Dick refers to it as ‘self‑creating’ and ‘dependent on nothing outside’, for it simply is—a self-contained, evolving conglomerate of energy. There is also something inside-out about the whole experience, for at first Dick describes it as a plasmic energy, contracting into a point and then dispersing, presumably, into the environment itself.

In a novel that attempted to dramatically portray and grapple with this anomaly, Dick labelled it by the acronym VALIS, which is short for: Vast Active Living Intelligence System. And in keeping with our esoteric trajectory, Dick indeed called one of his essays in his famed Exegesis, with the tongue-in-cheek and Madame Blavatsky-esque title of ‘The Ultra Hidden (Cryptic) Doctrine: The Secret Meaning of the Great System of Theosophy of the World, Openly Revealed for the First Time’. Humour, it could be argued, was the one thing that prevented Dick from becoming something like a megalomaniac guru, or, indeed a cult-like figure like L. Ron Hubbard who established the Church of Scientology.

Nevertheless in his remarkable segments of Exegesis, Dick propounded his extraordinary grip of a transcendental form of phenomenology, seeing as it were ‘signatures’ in our very cosmic and psychological constitution. Furthermore, like the Kabbalah he believed that what was demanded was a sort of ‘self-repair’. Indeed, he continues by saying that this includes rebuilding our world (which he calls ‘sub-circuit’ in this complex reflection):

‘via linear and orthogonal time changes (sequences of events), as well as continual signaling to us both en masse and individually (to us received subliminally by the right brain hemisphere, which gestalts the constituents of the messages into meaningful entities), to stimulate blocked neural (memory) banks within us to fire and hence retrieve what is there.’ [my italics] (1996: 327)

As imaginative and inventive as Dick was, it is curious that such an anomalous experience—which, in its odd form of ‘plasmic’ energy resembles the UFO phenomena—lead to an expounding on metaphysical, even religious terms. There is a sense that it ‘reprogrammed’ him; indeed, he even says he saw by its light—he saw everything as permeated by ‘the Programmer’ (or the transcendental ego). Yet, he goes further by postulating a physical as well as cosmological theory that includes us in the remembrance—Plato’s Anamnesis—of things not only past, but of our role in the cosmos itself. It is worth comparing Dick’s conclusion to Wilson’s in Access to Inner Worlds (1983), in which Wilson emphasises that it is ‘we who transform . . . the raw material of perception into what we see. Perception is a sculpture, a moulder of reality . . . I fire it like an arrow’ (Quoted in Stanley; 2016: 54). Wilson concludes by saying that the ‘world is a delightful place, full of hidden meanings’. We can see that Dick used similar language, positing us to ‘fire and hence retrieve what is there’, but, significantly, this reconstitution of a more meaningful reality is received—or added to our perceptions—by our right brain, which, as Dick points out ‘gestalts the constituents of the messages into meaningful entities’. In other words, it brings the ‘bits’ of reality into a unified and fundamentally meaningful whole.

Like the artist, the right brain’s repair work takes fragmentary, essentially chaotic mixtures of paint, rock, marble and sound, and from them it sculpts, moulds and presents something that is strikingly meaningful—something implicit and organised. In a sense our very consciousness, by partaking in the universe itself, is ‘repairing’ precisely by its bringing forth a new order of meaning into an essentially ‘damaged’ cosmos of forms struggling to become more than the sum of their parts.

To frame this argument in a larger context, we will return to the ‘new existentialism’ to explore the fundamental cosmological principles that affirm the enormous importance of consciousness and the imagination in the actualisation of the evolutionary metaphors.

 

Notes: 

[1] There is also, of course, the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ interpretation that says it is entirely an objective phenomenon—a craft from out of space full of real, living and breathing creatures. Yet, much of the literature suggests that this is not entirely the case.

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-michell-expert-on-ancient-knowledge-and-pioneer-of-the-new-age-1688481.html

[3] https://isthisanything.org/2014/08/17/pareidolia-in-art-quote-from-leonardo-da-vinci/

[4] Values—conveyed by creation, natural or manmade—of course, are different. Love, for example, exists in the world of values, the atmosphere in which our emotional ‘culture’ thrives.

[5] The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called this ‘casual efficacy’ in which Wilson translated into the more understandable ‘meaning perception’. For a full clarification, see Wilson’s Beyond the Outsider (1965).

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAY1YX1h49E

[7] http://www2.fiu.edu/~ereserve/010037770-1.pdf

[8] http://www.ianwatson.info/farewell-colin-wilson/

[9] http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1986QJRAS..27…94D

 

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Harpur, P. (2003) Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld. Pine Winds Press, Enumclaw, Washington.

Heyneman, M. (2001) The Breathing Cathedral: Feeling Our Way Into a Living Cosmos. iUniverse, Indiana.

Hitchens, P. (2010) The Rage Against God. Continuum Publishing Corporation, London.

Hyde, L. (2008) Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art. Cannongate Books, Edinburgh.

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Jung, C. (2002) Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. Routledge, London.

Kripal, J. (2010) Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal And The Sacred. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Lachman, G. (2013) The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World. Floris Books, Edinburgh.

Lachman, G. (2015) The Secret Teachers of the Western World.  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. New York.

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An Essay on Gary Lachman’s Lost Knowledge of the Imagination (2017)

(The book is available to buy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Knowledge-Imagination-Gary-Lachman/dp/1782504451)

In Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, Gary Lachman has crystalised his essential philosophical ideas. A short book, at 139 pages, it is nevertheless a highly concentrated and no less comprehensive survey, and like his earlier books it serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it serves as a general overview of various philosophers, authors, psychologists, occultists and mystics, many of whom have been unduly neglected, or have come to represent systems of ‘rejected knowledge’. In each case, Lachman elucidates and clarifies these unique systems of knowledge and their respective originators, allowing both to speak for themselves. Secondly, by placing these various systems and ideas side-by-side, Lachman shows that they are not as unrelated as one might think, and taken collectively they are seen to have a remarkable inner-consistency, and have also been adhered to by some of mankind’s greatest thinkers and artists. It is for this reason that an open-minded reader will perceive a vision of the world that is unduly ignored, but is nevertheless profound and enriching.

In a world increasingly orientated towards the outer at the expense of the inner, Lachman sees the value of esotericism precisely for its emphasis on this inner world of meaning, purpose and, in short, our sense of values. The occult and esoteric has become, in a sense, the culture’s repressed unconscious, which occasionally bursts forth in fin-de-siecle counter-cultures, as it did with the 1960s ‘occult revival’ and again in the 1990s, with its obsession with shamanic hallucinogens and tribal rave culture. Indeed, Lachman writes about these subjects – sometimes obscure and arcane – in a style that is accessible, intelligent and level-headed; traits often sadly lacking in the genre. There is, in his increasing oeuvre, a manifest degree of discernment and – where deserved – sympathy that is strengthened by what his fellow historian of the occult, Mitch Horowitz, called a ‘gentle but assertive purpose’.

Now, if one were to classify the true philosopher as someone concerned with ‘truth, beauty and justice’, then this new book is Lachman’s pursuit of the importance and essential dynamism at the heart of beauty, with its immense role in the revival of a culture that has placed it dangerously low on its hierarchy of values. One could say that Caretakers of the Cosmos (2013) was a call for a creative actualisation of these values, and more importantly putting them into practice, ‘doing the good that you know’. And, his forthcoming book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (2018) looks to be a direct address on the state of world justice; an attempt to understand the streams and convergences of magical and esoteric streams in recent times and their role in a world of ‘post-truth’, and . . . well, post-everything hysteria.

Nothing in Lachman’s oeuvre is unrelated; it is all part of a deeper realisation that was already present in his earlier work. Each work is essentially informed by this vision and recognition of the importance of esoteric knowledge, particularly its psychological dimensions and its acknowledgement of an ultimately meaningful cosmos. Indeed, one of his central influences is the late encyclopedic writer and optimistic ‘new existentialist’, Colin Wilson, on whom Lachman has written the definitive biography, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (2016). Lachman, in the spirit of Wilson, is also addressing the essentially pessimistic premise on which contemporary culture has dangerously rooted itself. And with a world bereft of the very values found in this ‘rejected’ knowledge, we are left with a fragmentary and deconstructed world of matter without any larger meaningful context. Humanity also increasingly sees itself as a part of this context-free void, therefore denying the very value of meaning (merely subjective), and therefore diminishing its own stature in a materialistic cosmology that rejects, ultimately, all values. Again, driving both philosophers is a recognition that we live in world of deteriorating values, with an ‘anything goes’ attitude that effectively strips us of any real motive for freedom – or even an inspiring concept of freedom itself. The question is now: freedom for what? Lachman, in surveying many systems that recognise that freedom is something earned, and is moreover, is an urgent reminder of the value of being, offers a new orientation that includes both value and purpose. One gets from reading both writers, Wilson and Lachman, a sense that this is a crucial and important corrective for our postmodern age – an active recognition and renewal of our ability for discernment in a world dislocating itself from any centre.

Postmodernism and post-structuralism, caught in the trap of ‘object-relations’, cannot wrench itself out of its own swirling, linguistic orbit, in which, for philosophers like Jacques Lacan, we merely ‘ex-ist’ rather than exist. The philosopher Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (1991), described the outcome of these philosophical developments, which in turn led to a general belief that the ‘nature of truth and reality, in science no less than in philosophy, religion, or art’ became ‘radically ambiguous’ – or radically subjectivised. He continues by saying that man, unable to ‘transcend the manifold predispositions of his or her subjectivity’ becomes trapped in a ‘fusion of horizons’, which leads to a form of nihilistic solipsism – or, in other strains, it becomes too unbounded, leading to a paradoxically flattening form of relativism. This loss of centre, as it were, results in an atmosphere that permeates our culture – affecting the arts and their previous attempts to reflect values beyond themselves – in which our individual and existential sovereignty is so abstracted that it is often reduced to algorithmic, or even algebraic, formulations in much of postmodernism and – chillingly – in the world of social media and even, more dangerously, politics.

The great esoteric scholar, Manly P. Hall called this our problem of ‘orientation disorientation’ – we have lost our way, so to speak. And not only in ourselves, for this clearly reflects in our culture, flattening it to a husk of hyper-politicisation and is reflected in our crisis of identity. Timeless, objective, reliable value systems have been replaced with a liquid, amorphous mass uprooted from any healthy, cosmological and psychological reality; our choice, effectively, is to face our arbitrary existence in a universe indifferent to the strivings of our very being, or merely improvise with the equivalent of flimsy props in a theatre of unreality.

           We are, as Lachman argues, fundamentally adrift from the origin of meaning itself. And it is this loss of origin that led to the forgetfulness of the imagination’s essential role in grasping both meaning and reality – both culturally and individually. Indeed, is it any wonder why we have lost our ability to discern our values? Freedom, in this relativistic atmosphere, becomes an ironic freedom – and irony, moreover, becomes the only cosmological constant that informs the world of contemporary art. An atmosphere of self-referential pointlessness permeates our culture, and the only way to temporarily satiate its bitter flavor is through often stark and ill-contrasting brutality; visceral ‘shocks’ aimed solely at our baser, more automatic instincts.

Addressing this universal crisis of meaning, Lachman’s book stands in the tradition of classics like Maurice Nicoll’s Living Time (1952) and E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed (1977). These two genre-defying books proposed radically new cosmologies, incorporating in their brilliant synthesis both the unification of rationality and intuition, in an attempt to resolve the modern psyche’s widening chasm between meaning and matter. Lachman’s book, alongside these, place their emphasis on the verticality of meaning, that is, their evolutionary and convergent purposes towards higher degrees of spiritual and psychological integration. It is in direct contrast to the pervasive atmosphere of value relativism and materialistic reductionism, and instead offers a logical alternative to the manifestly problematic arrangement of our priorities.

In approaching the difficult subject of the imagination, plagued as it is by its very evanescence and vague character, Lachman nevertheless proceeds with great authority, firmness of purpose, and with many insights that transmutes knowledge of the imagination into something palpably and urgently real. He shows us that the imagination is not a mere ‘flight of fancy’, but has its own epistemology, its own disciplines and masterful practitioners.

The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination explores various thinker’s, artist’s and poet’s excursions into this important other ‘half’ of our existence – precisely the half that needs to be integrated in a world fraught with increasing polarization and dis-integration. And importantly, he unearths the knowledge they bought back with them. The imaginative source, that ‘intuitive glue’ which binds together our view of the cosmos, is called upon as a means to repair the rift between two worlds that were once complimentary; it is a call, moreover, towards an active phenomenological understanding of the true origin of meaning. Being one of the true practitioners and teachers of the imagination, the poet Samuel Coleridge is an important figure in Lachman’s book. For this poet, who contemplated the ‘objects of Nature’, was able to entwine two worlds, both inner and outer, into a state which allowed him visions of the eternal dynamism between meaning, consciousness and matter. Colerdige, in his own words, entered a new world redolent with ‘symbolic language . . . that already and forever exists’ – a world, in short, where the knowledge of the imagination reigns supreme – presaging, for the poet, a ‘dim Awakening of a forgotten or hidden Truth of my inner Nature’, which Coleridge referred to as both the Creator and, importantly in light of this essay, ‘the Evolver!’.

*

Lachman, much like Wilson before him, saw our future evolution being a result of cooperation between two fundamental modes of perception, and each with its own unique and complimentary type of knowledge. And while imagination ‘can be used for fantasy, illusion, make-believe, and escapism’ its most more important role is, Lachman argues, ‘to make contact with the strange world in which we live’ presenting us with the ‘possible, potential realities that it is our job to actualise.’ The imagination becomes our means, if consciously and effectively employed, to search out the possible direction of our own inner and outer evolution; it offers, in its visionary glimpses, a foretaste of our future; metaphors, in this side of the mind, become malleable essences which can be transmuted into the very thing that they once merely referred to, and vice-versa. However, as Lachman makes clear, we can still evolve the realm of quantity, but only so much as this is not at the expense of quality; that is, to broaden our focus on the outer-world at expense of the inner worlds of meaning, that motive force behind the evolution of consciousness, and the glue that binds the two worlds together. This understanding of evolution precedes Darwin, and instead refers to an inner-evolution, a more self-willed development as a product of the vision that propels the will into the future.

The crucial message at the heart of Lachman’s work is how this type of knowledge, and this modality of being, is effectively incorporated into how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It is, as we shall see, a matter for the evolution of our perspective, and, as a result, how this transfers to our cultural cosmology and cosmogony. Fundamentally, it is the anti-entropic life-force that orders and complexifies apparently dead matter into higher, more autonomous forms. In the first chapter, ‘A Different Kind of Knowing’, Lachman discusses and outlines the various historical and cultural developments which have shaped the mental evolution of humanity, and particularly their emergent zeitgeists which reflected these different orientations, priorities and cosmologies. Of course, with the ascendancy of the Enlightenment in the 17th century, the older type of knowledge was radically replaced by the scientific spirit. This was not an isolated and sudden leap, but the product of man’s new and more urgent concerns. Philosophers, these most ‘impersonal men’, had already presaged the type of detachment necessary for the scientific spirit, and for many the creation myths of Homer and the great dramatists and poets, were losing their ‘charge’. Instead, the scientific spirit emerged in many of the early philosopher’s attempts to find the element which constitutes the world – usually reduced to, for example, simple elements such as air, water, fire, spirit, etc. We began, according to Lachman, to ‘abstract’ our knowledge, to extract it from its larger context, in a spirit of mastery and domination over the laws of the natural world. It was a far more active mind than what went before it, but it sowed the seeds of a new development that was equally fraught with its own problems.

The major problem as Lachman sees it, is precisely this trade-off in which, although producing an enormous technological upsurge that benefits mankind tremendously, nevertheless leaves us with a culture prone to forget that the abstracted world is just that, an extracted aspect of a world usually ‘thick, luxuriant, rich’. As a result, he continues, we begin to see the world ‘we encounter and love and struggle with as a kind of subjective illusion, housed without our individual island consciousness’. This is the potentially fatal consequence of a mind too one-sided and dominated by its own capacity to remove itself from the world of direct, integral and intuitive experience. And yet, for this type of thinking the imaginative world of qualities is perceived as dramatically unsubstantial and vague, this is precisely because it cannot present itself as an object, and it is a priori rejected due to its non-quantifiable essence. Instead, this type of mind attends to a different resolution of reality, which, according to Lachman, ‘does not operate with fixed, exact definitions and unchanging, sequential orders or algorithms, but with patterns, relationships, sympathies, analogies, intuitions, insights and a synoptic grasp of experience – that is, it takes it in ‘at a glance”.

Indeed, another teacher of the imagination, Stan Gooch, called this ‘the knowledge that is not science’ in his book The Paranormal (1978). He goes on to cite fairy stories and their common concern with the ‘breaking of the spell’, which he sees as the objective mind’s ‘intrusion’ into a world that obeys radically different laws of the subjective realities. This, he believes, was the problem when two realities cancel each other out, that is, if they are not carefully equilibrated, in their place and working in a dynamic sort of way. In the visionary state, as in the fairy stories, the vision vanishes leaving no trace and is over taken by the linear, abstract logic that ‘cannot compute’ this baffling, vague and wide-angle of meaningful analogies and connections. Indeed, this is essentially the bane of such research into parapsychology, with such experiences as synchronicities and other phenomenon unamenable to easy repeatability due to their subjective nature. A bridge, as we shall see, that the Germany’s greatest literary figure, Goethe, attempted to construct between his scientific works and his more visionary and poetical achievements. For him, as for Gooch, Lachman, Wilson and many others, these two types of knowing ought not contradict each other, or cancel each other out, in fact, they are fundamental to seeing the whole picture, so to speak.

Lachman draws upon a large variety sources, ranging from the British philosopher, Owen Barfield, the ‘first and last Inkling’ and friend with none other than C.S. Lewis, to Goethe, the poet and William Blake scholar, Kathleen Raine, along with the French‑American historian Jacques Barzun and author Ernst Jünger among many others. Between them, Lachman shows, they shared either direct access to, or sympathetic understanding of, the subjective mind and its essential role in our individual as well as the collective psychological balance. Indeed, in the third chapter ‘The Knower and the Known’ Lachman describes an interesting early case of psychometry, in which Germany’s greatest literary figure, Goethe, is involved in a type of ‘psychic archeology’ along with an exploration into the archetypal ‘primal plant’, the ‘Urpflanze’. Lachman describes Goethe’s meaning of what he called the ‘inner necessity and truth’ in which the German author understood the imagination to harbor its own type of truth, and not, as Lachman says, ‘merely a loosening of reason and a setting free of uncontrolled fantasy. . . but a cognitive power that obeyed its own rules and disciplines’. When these ‘rules and disciplines’ are applied, the external world opens up its inner content, a whole new dimension which is laden with implicitness and knowledge beyond the reach of linear rationality. It is an intuitive knowledge, capable to effectively bypass the limits of ordinary time and space, providing a glimpse into Plato’s world of Forms, the very origin from which all corporeal forms are reflections.

This active vision into the underlying structures of reality, through what Jung called ‘active imagination’ and Goethe, before him, called ‘active seeing’, was also discovered by another German, the philosopher Edmund Husserl who established the school of phenomenology. He described this type of active perception as the underlying force behind perception, which he called ‘intentionality’, and explored its implications through the discipline of phenomenology, an attempt to understand the mechanisms of consciousness. In doing so, we would find the ‘keepers of the key to the ultimate sources of being’, which would in turn reveal the ‘hidden achievements of the transcendental ego’ , that fundamental part of us that shapes our perceptions, providing, if you will the categorical ‘grid’ through which we grasp and understand the world. To elucidate the difficult language of phenomenology, Lachman refers to the work of Paul Ricouer’s analysis, in which he summarises the mechanism of ‘intentionality’ as that which ‘culminates in seeing’ – it is a recognition that perception is double-sided; seer and seen or, as hinted at in the title of Lachman’s title for the chapter, ‘the knower and the known’. Indeed, it is this part of our selves which provides the ‘intentional glue’ which Gestalts meaning, and that which provides what Jünger called ‘the master key’ to a vast and holistic consciousness.

Access to this ‘introcosom’, as the psychologist Julian Jaynes called it, is one of the true tools of Lachman’s cosmic caretaker, for its emergent presence in the past – in those Goldilocks moments of precisely the perfect balance – resulted in a bursting forth of creative and evolutionary visions of man, recharging the vision of man and his role in the cosmos. In this surcease of the conflict between the two minds, there is a unification between analytical consciousness and visionary consciousness, in which both complement each other and provide what Wilson called a ‘background of values’ in which society, individuals and culture are reinvigorated with an evolutionary purpose. There is, of course, with this sort of vision a great responsibility which, upon initial reflection, seems more daunting than it does liberating; that is, we may be ultimately discouraged by the sheer enormity of the task. . .

Lost Knowledge of the Imagination acknowledges this difficulty, but concludes that with the right balance of mind, this task may not appear so daunting after all, and that the responsibility is enormously reciprocated. Along the way, Lachman provides an enormous range of approaches to the problem, some of them recognised by the greatest minds in history, such as Albert Einstein and Bernard Shaw, for example. In the final chapter, Lachman quotes from Einstein’s Cosmic Religion: ‘Imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to our evolution’. Again, it is an understatement to say that the job of evolution is an easy one, but, curiously enough, when it is recognised with the aid of the right mind, the process becomes self-evidently worthwhile. If, as Einstein says, the imagination embraces the world, it is in the position to perceive wholes, even, perhaps, ultimate evolutionary potentialities.

Lachman’s book is as much a survey of the knowledge of the imagination as it is an overview of the essential archetypal forces from which the human story unfolds. It is fundamentally a book about the evolutionary impetus; an attempt to ‘unveil the secrets of the transcendental ego’. As for Goethe, who saw the ‘revelation’ of evolutionary knowledge ‘emerging at the point where the inner world of man meets external reality’, it is this ‘synthesis of world and mind’ that produces the ultimate dynamism which will propel us up the spiral, in direct contrast to the nihilistic value relativism that draws us into a tighter whorl towards self-negation. Currently this schism of meanings is being played on the battlefield of politics, and whether Left or Right, in which – rather like the two hemispheres of the mind, as explored in Iain McGilchrist’s masterwork, The Master and his Emissary (2009) – the increasing polarisation causes a spectacle depressingly divided. We can see, at present, that we are in a world that Lachman describes as being in ‘a state of flux, with old boundaries breaking down without new contours being established’. It is our imperative, Lachman urgently reminds us, to reconnect with the origin of meaning, and to recognise as well as intuitively recalibrate our values towards a more vital recognition of the evolutionary imperative. He offers a way forward in which the tensions are creative rather than corrosive, providing a philosophy which elevates the imagination as the key ingredient in repairing the rifts and disconnections within our present situation. The imagination, for Lachman and the authors, philosophers, poets, artists and occultists that he explores, may provide exactly the ‘master key’ to this necessary ballast in our turbulent times.

To conclude, we may turn to the story of Goethe’s increasing familiarity with the architecture of Strasbourg Cathedral, in which, he claimed, he was able to acquire information in an apparently miraculous flash of insight. Indeed, Goethe found himself in possession of the knowledge that one of the towers was not how it was originally intended. In using this case, Lachman presents us with a crucial understanding of something even more extravagant than Strasbourg’s Cathedral’s Romanesque architecture. Now, Goethe was able to see the original intention behind the finished architecture as it stood there before him – as well as, we might recall, his claim to be able to perceive the ‘primal plant’, that ur-plant from which all other plants (plural) emerge. In doing so, is it not unreasonable to extend this vision further, and perhaps suggest that this sort of visionary consciousness may be the key to the evolutionary plan itself? That is, this may be what provides us that crucial insight into our own potentialities that are latent in our very being, the ‘primal mankind’, as it were. Indeed, if this visionary quality was directed at the foundations of our culture, society and own psyche, we might too be able to see our way through to the evolutionary directive, that very substratum from which the impulse of life flows into material becoming. And in doing so, we may bypass these confusions of the intellect too abstracted from the primal reality from which it has extracted itself, and instead survey the landscape of the inner-world. Furthermore, by turning this imagination towards the outer-world, we may create a more meaning-filled sense of being, in concordance with the evolutionary intentionality present in nature itself.

In reading Lost Knowledge of the Imagination one can acquire a foretaste of precisely the kind of revelatory consciousness that Lachman describes, and, like all great books, it will benefit re-readings for years to come, for its implications are implicit and many. I have, in this essay, only scratched the surface, even if that, of this tightly argued and equally wide-reaching book. It is a book of learning and remembering; it is, in a sense, a call for what Gurdjieff and Ouspensky called ‘self-remembering’. Indeed, revelation – that remembrance of lost knowledge – is what happens when the two-minds cooperate, each side creatively comprehending the other and its role. Instead, there is a perceptible synthesis manifest in states of inspiration or peak experiences in which two streams of knowledge converge – a sort of gnosis, a true understanding, is reached, and challenges that once seemed insurmountable seem almost trivial. Lachman has here provided a glimpse into the architectural plans of what the poet Martha Heyneman called a ‘breathing cathedral’, and with each actualization of those plans we contribute towards the repair work of the cosmos, integrating each piece into the human mind again.

 

9781782504450

A New Existentialist Perspective: An Essay on Anthony Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception (2016)

(You can buy the book here: https://www.anthonypeake.com/product/opening-the-doors-of-perception/)

                Anthony Peake is at the forefront of a controversial science that aims to unify consciousness with the literally mind-bending and time-defying processes of the subatomic world.  His work shares some similarities with the work of Lynne McTaggart, particularly her excellent book The Field (2001).  Indeed, Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception (2016) and McTaggart’s The Field bring consciousness back into prominence; that is, consciousness as being a fundamental component of reality, and an enormously important participant in the world around us, even extending so far as the macrocosmic scale of the structures of the cosmos itself.  Much like the apparent entropy of background radiation, there is also the anti-entropic, ordering principle of consciousness – a higher formulation, if you will.

Peake asks the question of why matter, aggregated in the form of a body, suddenly generates something that can self-reflect.  Of course, consciousness has the ability to ask this very question, being as it is, by definition, self-aware.  But what is more significant for Peake are those moments in which consciousness suddenly launches itself out of time and can, from its new vantage point, look backwards and forwards in time.  This profound state of ‘timelessness’ takes place under unusual neurological and neurobiochemical states which, in a variety of different ways, remind us of the experiences of many of the great mystics such as Blake, Boehme, Swedenborg (even the science fiction author, Philip K. Dick) – and yet, and most importantly, these can also be experienced by ordinary people undergoing an extraordinary altered state of consciousness.

Moreover, people undergoing temporal lobe seizures, aura migraine or as a result of autism or Alzheimer’s disease, are more likely than us ‘neurotypicals’ (neurologically typical) to experience these radical new perspectives of time, the world around them and of themselves.  And this results, sadly, to a general misunderstanding, a sense of alienation in the one who experiences it firsthand; so, in as much as Peake’s work studies and attempts to understand these unusual states, he is also presenting a reassuring paradigm in which to understand their mysteries. Furthermore, Peake contends that these alternative modes of being are not to be treated as mere hallucinations or an imaginative concoction of a non-typical brain – they are, in a very real sense, a glimpse beyond the world of appearances into the underlying reality that constitutes the structure of the cosmos.  Indeed these individuals are seeing and experiencing an objective reality beyond what he refers to as the ‘reducing valve’ of ordinary consciousness.

The ‘reducing valve’ was term that Aldous Huxley used throughout his famous book The Doors of Perception (1954) to explain the normally constricted consciousness of our everyday experience.  And in the famous words of William Blake, if these “doors of perception were cleansed” (in other words, if the ‘reducing valve’ is removed), “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Opening the Doors of Perception is Anthony Peake’s own response to, and an updated celebration of Huxley’s seminal book; but instead of continuing with the hallucinogenic experiences of mescalin, Peake undertakes a more scientific approach of understanding brain physiology and its relationship to consciousness – particularly inter-hemispheric communication, and what he calls “neuroatypical ‘illnesses’” along the “Huxleyian spectrum”.  The Huxleyian spectrum is a means to gauge just how wide open the doors have become, and indeed how much the ‘reducing valve’ has been switched off.

Peake aims and, as I argue below, successfully achieves an enormously stimulating synthesis by re-evaluating “the model of perception suggested by Huxley and to view it through the lens of our modern science, and, more importantly, to evaluate the evidence taking into account how the web, virtual reality and holographics have changed forever the way we appreciate the external world” (7).  Now Opening the Doors of Perception is not simply an up-dated version of Huxley’s book, but is also an evolution of Peake’s previous books, namely Is There Life After Death? (2006) and The Daemon (2008) which first laid down his unique ‘Daemon-Eidolon hypothesis’, in which argues convincingly that “human consciousness is split into two independent foci of self-aware consciousnesses” which he the calls the Daemon and the Eidolon.

To place this hypothesis into perspective it is worth returning to his earlier book, The Daemon, which prefigures his later work in Opening the Doors of Perception admirably:

“I disagree with [Henry] Bergson and Huxley in their belief that the reducing valve allows direct access to the ‘outside world’ as it really is.  I argue that the ‘Doors’ open up to allow access to the everyday awareness of the Daemon.  Put simply, the Eidolon perceives the world as the Daemon does and the Daemon perceives the actual nature of ‘reality’ – a very sophisticated, internally-generated illusion – a recording of a life that was once lived, a recording generated by a process similar to holography” (58)

The Eidolon, then, is you – the normal ‘I’ who experiences our lives from position of ordinary linear time.  However the Daemon is also ‘you’, but, a much higher you that lives outside of time – the Daemon, in short, has already lived your life (maybe even thousands of times!).  When the doors of perception are cleansed, whether through hallucinogenic drugs or a temporal lobe seizure, Peake argues that what we really perceive is ‘reality’ as the Daemon sees it; that is, from a sort of timeless perspective that can offer us glimpses – by means of precognitions, déjà-vu, hallucinations or voices – of the future.  This viewpoint is simply a ‘timeless state’; it is also what Huxley called ‘Mind at Large’, a perspective that allows us insights into the structures and more importantly implicit meanings in nature and the universe.

Indeed, implicitness is enormously important when we begin to discuss meaningfulness and its relational quality later on.

This is what makes Opening the Doors of Perception such a profound book, and a treasure trove of insights for anyone interested in the nature of consciousness, and particularly – in my own case – as someone who approaches it as a text pertaining directly to the important insights of Colin Wilson’s philosophy, the new existentialism.

The new existentialism is a philosophy that emerged primarily from the philosophical discipline phenomenology created by Edmund Husserl, in short Wilson argues for a ‘positive existentialism’ that recognises that consciousness has a far greater range than we are lead to believe, indeed it has an intentional, that is an active rather than passive aspect that is underestimated, even totally disregarded by the ‘old existentialists’ such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, etc.  Wilson argues that, in an increasing world of materialist-reductionism, and its attack on religious values, there nevertheless remains a very real and significant area of inquiry: the nature of consciousness itself, the very ability that allows us to comprehend these problems at all.

Wilson argues in Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966) that “Everyday consciousness is a liar, and most people have insights to this effect at least once a week”.  He continues by stating that the really important question is:“how to give such insights a philosophical status and how to investigate them” (152).

This is effectively what Anthony Peake succeeds in doing with Opening the Doors of Perception, for he places our consciousness into two different streams – that of the Eidolonic consciousness and that of the Daemonic.  The Eidolonic-mode is in some sense this lying and ordinary consciousness: it offers us only a slither of reality; whereas the Daemon is allowed a full-spectrum view out into time.  Wilson’s Faculty X experience is precisely a glimpse of this Daemonic consciousness, for it is “the glimpse of other times and places”.  In some sense, the peak experience is closer to the Daemonic than the Eidolonic, being as it is stuck in ‘real time’ with all the trivialities of existence.  Significantly Peake makes an extraordinary connection between these experiences of meaningfulness and the Daemon through the work of Michael Persinger:

“Persinger suggests a similar spectrum to myself with regards to religious and mystical experiences.  He is convinced that such experiences are created by the temporal lobes.  The sense of self in relation to time and space is located in the amygdaloid and hippocampal complexes.  These structures are, in turn, areas that generate anxieties and fears.  The amygdale also focuses on pleasure and pain.  Collectively these parts of the brain also facilitate intense feelings of significance, or meaningfulness” (34).

The important word here, I am certain, is the word ‘collectively’.  Indeed, I am here reminded of an event that happened to J.G. Bennett which he recorded in his biography, Witness (1962), for Bennett was apparently able to consciously control the processes created by the temporal lobes.

After intense and strenuous exercise at G.I. Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, Bennett experienced something profoundly unique.  He had been feeling exhausted due to diarrhoea and a general sickness – he even considered whether or not he was going to die – but after the forced exercise he was suddenly “filled with the influx of an immense power.  My body seemed to have turned into light” (93).  He was so delighted by this new power that he carried on digging, indeed becoming more self-aware as his body seemed so full of energy that he could not feel the usual strain and exhaustion.  Excited by this Bennett decided to take look around, and the words:

“”in the mind’s eye” took on new meaning as I “saw” the eternal pattern of each thing I looked at: the trees, the plants, the water flowing in the canal and even the spade, and, lastly, my own body.  I recognized the changing relationship between “myself” and “my pattern” . . . Time and Eternity were the conditions of our experience” (93).

But most significantly, in terms of the amygdaloid and hippocampal complexes, he recalled a lecture by P.D. Ouspensky in which he said that it is easy enough for a man to be angry at will, but nevertheless it is very difficult to become astonished at will.  In his new and heightened state of consciousness Bennett decided to put this to the test, and said to himself “I will be astonished”, he continues:

“Instantly, I was overwhelmed with amazement, not only at my own state, but at everything that I looked at or thought of.  Each tree was so uniquely itself that I felt that I could walk in the forest for ever and never cease from wonderment.  Then the thought of “fear” came to me.  At once I was shaking with terror.  Unnamed horrors were menacing me on every side.  I thought of “joy”, and I felt pervaded with such fine shades of tenderness and compassion that I saw that I had not the remotest idea of the depth and range of love” (95)

This suggests that in some way Bennett had gained access to a ‘higher self’ – perhaps his Daemon? –  that could somehow elicit changes within the temporal lobes directly – but changes which are usually very difficult combinational process, such as the case of being ‘astonished at will’ seems to suggest.

It appears that in some way, the Eidolonic consciousness is a passive ‘first lifer’, so to speak, and that only in glimpses is it granted the freedoms which are usually bestowed solely to the Daemon.  Peake argues that each ‘mode’ of consciousness is in fact divided between both the dominant and non-dominant hemispheres of the brain; that is, roughly speaking, the Eidolon lives in our left hemisphere and the Daemon in the right.  Peake also suggests there can be times when there is a “bicamerality of consciousness, which may mirror or even override the hemispheres model” (233), that is, they can communicate to one another via the corpus callosum (the bridge of nerve fibres between the two hemispheres).  This communication, if it is effectively democratised, enables the Eidolon and the Daemon to work together harmoniously, and more importantly, in a controlled manner.

In Frankenstein’s Castle (1980), a book about the powers of the right brain, Colin Wilson says that the “fundamental human urge is not for happiness, but for control.  A man who has spent his life in a state of misery may be glad enough for a few scraps of happiness; but the moment he becomes a little accustomed to happiness, he is seized with a desire to grasp its underlying principle, so that he can turn it on  and off as he pleases” (48).  He continues: “insight is not enough.  The two halves [of the brain] need to combine their functions.  When this happens, the result is far greater than either could achieve individually” (48).  Opening the Doors of Perception offers us one of the most penetrating examples of the powers of the right brain at present, particularly with the amazing abilities of autistic savants who are able to remember and draw entire cities after a mere 30 minutes in a helicopter (in the case of Stephen Wiltshire), or even people who can remember their entire lives in extraordinary detail.  What is necessary is the understanding that this is a potentiality within every brain and each one of us, and yet for us neurotypicals it is indeed more difficult – and often very rare – to access these rich sources of information and insight.

Fortunately we can gain access to these states, and in a uniquely controlled way, but it is a matter of self-discipline and certain phenomenological exercises.  But before we discuss these it is worth taking a look at some of the hints that Anthony Peake provides us with.

In discussing hallucinogenics Peake refers to the work of the German-American psychologist Heinrich Klüver who noticed that there is a common recurrence of geometric forms in hallucinations – whether as a result of ingesting a hallucinogen or suffering from epilepsy, migraine or through hypnagogic imagery.  These ‘form constants’ can take the form of cobwebs, tunnels, spirals, lattices, etc, and are very often represented in the psychedelic artworks of the ancient shamanic cultures through to the 1960s and recent times (more recently popularised by the work of Alex Grey).  This brings us back to the example of J.G. Bennett when he said that he could see ‘in the mind’s eye’ that everything he looked at had an “eternal pattern”.  Peake suggests that Klüver’s Form Constants could be a glimpse into the holographic and fundamentally mathematical basis of reality.  This could be what Bennett saw in his vision; the interconnectedness of everything to everything else, until he was almost blinded by William James’s “sudden vision of increasing ranges of distant facts”.  Perhaps this is best represented by geometry, as Peake suggests by comparing it to the Mandelbrot set, or what Oliver Sacks called the ‘geometrization to infinity’.

Indeed, Peake suggests that the migraine sufferer may “short-circuit Aldous Huxley’s reducing valve and in doing so facilitate a perceptual viewpoint similar to that of Mind at Large” (41).  Colin Wilson also made this connection when he was studying an interesting individual called Brad Absetz, for in Access to Inner Worlds (1983) he describes some of the artworks of Absetz which exhibit an insight – by his other-self, perhaps located in the right hemisphere – with extraordinary paintings of highly geometrical flowers and so on, which seem to suggest a more holistic rather than ‘granulated’ – piecemeal – view of reality.  Wilson later on in the same book discusses the notion of an ‘inner library’ that is full of memories, insights and a vast accumulation of the whole of our lives, and when we experience this flash it is as if this library was suddenly lit up for us to see.  In these experiences we realise that we are not separate, trapped in time and personality, but instead apart of something much larger, vital and evolutionary.  Wilson continues:

“. . . this library inside of us is not merely a repository of separate memories.  What is so exciting is that these memories can blend together and connect into something much bigger.  The tarry smell of the sun-warmed fence is connected with the smell of grass, and an odd cold sensation that seems to be a memory of water, which in turn brings back the cold of a winter day and the sogginess of melting snow . . . And at this point, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the sensations because they seem to be spreading outwards, so that every one evokes half a dozen others, and so on in geometric progression.  There is a dazzling sensation of hovering above your own life, seeing it as a whole, like some enormous landscape.  And as we glimpse these ‘distant horizons’, we also become aware that this  is what memory is for.  Not fragmentary piecemeal perceptions, but a total grasp.  And not only my own life, but, by some process of deduction, of other lives, of all life” (122-123)

The philosopher and professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, Jeremy Needleman, in his book What is God? (2011) expressed a very similar notion, for he too realised that all great insights, “all visions of man and universe, all magic that called me away from my little egoism and dreams – it was the power of some force that could bring together oppositions and conflicts into a greater whole, a mysterious incomprehensible event prosaically labelled “the coincidence of opposites”” (170).  Could it be that this force that both Wilson and Needleman refer to, either indirectly or directly, a glimpse of the Daemonic consciousness of the right hemisphere?  The coincidence of opposites is certainly very evocative of the unification of both hemispheres; working most effectively in a balanced fashion and lending a certain connectedness – of reality, of vivid implicit meaningfulness – to our vision of ourselves and the world around us.

This is perhaps why the works of genius themselves seem to resonate through our cultures, constantly changing it and becoming more relevant as time goes on; there is the sense that a vision is ever unfolding, a multi-dimensional and geometrical event that transcends time and space.  Indeed, the very word genius is related to the Daimonic, for Socrates had his own guardian spirit, his own genius or inspiration.  In Prometheus and Atlas (2016) Jason Reza Jorjani argues that aesthetic ideas themselves, when in touch with genius or the inspirational spirit, transcend the ordinarily rational mind (the left brain) and these “aesthetic ideas are capable of indefinitely expanding, and hence redefining rational concepts that they spawn, and that attempt, unsuccessfully yet generatively, to clearly grasp . . . that which engendered them” it is, in an enlightening analogy, the “material supplied to it by Nature in order to surpass Nature by generating ideas that lie beyond the bounds of experience” (118).  These geometrical visions, the Klüver’s Form Constants, the paintings of Brad Absetz and the ‘eternal pattern’ as seen by Bennett all seem to be referring to the same thing; these intuitions of something beyond the time-bound appearances that are presented to us in our Eidolonic state.  The Daemonic, when it bleeds into our ordinary everyday consciousness leaves us with ideas that “lie beyond the bounds of experiences” and therefore, as the mystics constantly remind us, beyond the capacity of ordinary language to convey.

Only highly aesthetic forms of expression, music, poetry, painting, and geometries, can remind us that these realities beyond the ordinary world, and beyond our ‘reducing valve’ are incredibly rich – and this realm of incredible richness of experience is only, in reality, a very slight step away – even a matter of centimetres – if we are to consider the enormous possibilities Anthony Peake presents us in his books.

The final lines of Opening the Doors of Perception boldly state this, and Peake shares his vision of an exploration of inner space:

“We will break out of the confines of our present consensual reality and in doing so will begin the first few tentative steps in creating a new science to explain the wonders of the Pleroma [Mind at Large or the Ultimate Reality]” (241)

And this statement was similarly stated by Colin Wilson in The New Existentialism, for the ‘new existentialist’ “accepts man’s experience of his inner freedom as basic and irreducible” and ‘the new existentialism” concentrates the full battery of phenomenological analysis upon the everyday sense of contingency . . . it uncovers the complexities and safety devices in which freedom dissipates itself”.

Anthony Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception constantly reminds us, through exploring the fascinating processes of hallucinations, to the scientific explorations of quantum physics, consciousness studies and the enlightening worlds of temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, near-death experiences and so on, that the reality behind the contingent world of temporal forms, there is a rich and scintillating infinity, of, in short, the evolutionary potentiality of man.

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Bibliography:

Bennett, J.G. (2007) Witness. Santa Fe, Bennett Books

Jorjani, R.J. (2016) Prometheus and Atlas. London, Arktos

Needleman, J. (2011) What is God?. New York, Tarcher Penguin

Peake, A. (2008) Daemon. London, Arcturus

Peake, A. (2016) Opening the Doors of Perception. London, Watkins

Wilson, C. (1966) Introduction to the New Existentialism. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company

Wilson, C. (1980) Frankenstein’s Castle. Bath, Ashgrove Press

Wilson, C. (1983) Access to Inner Worlds. London, Rider.

BOOK REVIEW: The Druid Code: Magic, Megaliths and Mythology (Thomas Sheridan Arts)

(To purchase The Druid Code: Magic, Megaliths and Mythology click here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/thomas-sheridan/the-druid-code-magic-megaliths-and-mythology/paperback/product-22804940.html)

Thomas Sheridan, in a number of interviews promoting his new book The Druid Code: Magic, Megaliths and Mythology (2016), provides some interesting insights into his own developments as an individual, and this moreover affords us an insight into his unique position as an independent researcher.  For example, in the Legalise Freedom interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kttXCOrn30E) he mentions that he was first trained in electronics, but found it basically unsatisfying and discovered that music became an outlet for his passions, and from his foray into the New York music scene he further developed as a visual artist, taking up the paintbrush as his tool of choice.  His independent and searching spirit effectively converges in his new book, The Druid Code, for these variety of skills, passions and insights lend themselves tremendously well when approaching the enigmatic and baffling mysteries of ancient megaliths; their technical mysteries, electromagnetic anomalies and further their artistry, their apparent symbolism of something beyond the gargantuan stone that juts out of the earth with a densely physical force.

I should imagine that such a bewildering and mysterious topic should be an immensely difficult undertaking, particularly for a writer, for as he relates in many of his interviews: they are, on initial thought, simply huge pieces of rock that confound scientists and laymen alike.  What do they mean? is effectively the only question you can ask, and measurements, carbon dating and geometry can only lead us into a cul-de-sac of ‘know how’, that is rather than the answering the more satisfactory question of: What led these ancient architects to construct such magnificent physical conundrums in the first place?  It is, in many ways a psychological question as well as a religious one, for like the great cathedrals there is manifestly a transcendent motive; a physical symbol of a consciousness beyond what we ordinarily understand.

This is where Sheridan’s artistry comes in, for throughout The Druid Code the reader is guided along with field drawings from his own journeys throughout Ireland, England, Malta and Portugal, which lend to the narrative a much more visual quality of what is, at its most visceral, a visual phenomena literally set in stone.  Their visual quality is the fact that, as Sheridan argues, that they are in some way “simulacra” that “speak to the conscious mind by . . . mysterious energy forces, archaeo-astronomy, their geological, magnetic and geographical alignments, and most importantly of all, their connectivity”.

This, I believe, is the heart of The Druid Code, for the code itself leads us back to the mysterious druids themselves (significantly known primarily as magicians and poets) is an effective act of connections that leads us through comparative mythology, contemporary archaeological and scientific developments, and even a sober adoption of occultism and its insights into the use of intuition and symbols.  It is this fearless use of various disciplines that enables the reader to make an enormous amount of connections, and moreover which makes Thomas Sheridan, a non-academic polymath, open many new areas – and methods – of investigation that reinvigorates the whole enterprise of ancient mysteries.

Sheridan says, again bringing in his own personal insights and experiences into art and music, that to interpret these archaeological mysteries without “mythology is akin to performing a piece of music without instruments.  They are inseparable and vitally interwoven in order for us to holistically determine greater insights into the people who create both, and why they did so”.  Again the ‘why’ is what is so satisfying behind Sheridan’s work, for it is the question often lacking in academic studies, which focuses too much on the mechanics and leaves out the soul, the psyche.  Consciousness, particularly the differences between 21st century man and his highly individualised and atomised view of the world as compared to what a human of 3000BC and beyond, seems to be somewhat overlooked by most researchers.  Sheridan is careful when making this distinction, for he knows only too well that artistry of this sort works on levels well beyond the ordinary daylight consciousness that most individuals of the modern world inhabit.

Sheridan adopts Julian Jaynes’ theory of the breakdown of the bi-cameral mind, and takes up the notion that mythology for the ancients was much more immediate and urgent than what it represents to us in the modern world. In fact, what we take as mythology is merely the echo of an immensely rich unconscious, constantly vital with symbolism and meaning that points to, and well beyond a fractured, post-modern worldview.  In some way, the druids understood time in ways much more wholly than contemporary man, who again has systematised it rather than observed its cycles and connection to psychological changes.  Indeed, Sheridan notes that these megalithic structures are ‘charged’, as it were, and act as “ancient relay stations of the subconscious mind, transmitting their codes outside of linear time and space”.

These ‘relay stations’ act as reminders or symbols of the ‘unseen’.  In his early biography, Voyage to a Beginning (1969), Colin Wilson writes:

“Man needs symbols of the ‘unseen’ if he is not to become a slave of his own dullness.  If I had learned the existence of a society of Sun-Worshippers, I would have joined it; not because I think the sun is a god, but because worship is the right attitude towards reality . . . Man has tried various methods of reminding himself of the insight that comes in the moments of freedom. One is writing poems and symphonies, or painting pictures and cathedrals, whose steeples and stained glass windows assert that every day reality is a liar”

From this important insight, it is clear why Sheridan contends that The Druid Code is a monolithic reminder that acted as a form of psychotherapy after deluges and massive upheavals of land and ocean.  These huge rocks, defying time and explanation, seem to stand as firmly in our consciousness as they do in physical reality, guiding us realms of insights and power-consciousness that may lead us out of the cognitive quagmire of a sterile modernity. However, it is important that Sheridan uses the word a ‘bi-directional conduit through time’ to explore these ancient mysteries, for they not only stand in the past, they also here and now.

The druid’s psychotherapeutic adoption of symbols, which can speak to our often drowned-out unconscious in moments of silence and reflection – a silence that is all too rare in modern civilisation –, allows us to reconnect to powerful currents of a repressed psychological heritage.  These Celtic forefathers intimately and intuitively knew in a more intimate way than the Abrahamic-impulse with its encroachment on the west, for it was the druids and their origins that were crudely appropriated and assimilated by Christianity as it swept through the west, and absorbing it into its vast body-politic.  Indeed, there is something very Platonic about Sheridan’s undertaking, for it is what the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead meant when he said that the “father of philosophy, in one of his many moods of thought, laid down the axiom that the deeper truths must be adumbrated by myths”.

Thomas Sheridan’s The Druid Code, with its many insights into psychology, all aided with the artistic temperament and Irish lyricism, is a document of a modern day Druidic-impulse making its return, adumbrating itself through the unveiling of the truths behind the myths.

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