The reason I began writing Evolutionary Metaphors was due to seeing various parallels with the
UFO phenomenon, Colin Wilson’s philosophical works and the occult. And what
interested me most was the essential logic
which often informs the absurd and mind-bending nature of the UFO mystery.
Of course, the occult and the esoteric, along with
paranormal research, is often rejected by the scientific mainstream, and to bring
all these subjects together to shed some light on an already difficult subject
would seem, to most, entirely illogical. That is if one desires that the UFO phenomenon to be validated – or
debunked – by the scientific establishment.
There are many works that attempt to achieve this goal of
absolute proof or disproof; few are agnostic. However, for my investigation I
decided to take a more literary and psychological approach, feeling that it
would provide a more flexible question of ‘What if?’ – a question that forms the ground of science fiction.
This heady mixture of science fiction and the occult could
provide, I felt, a way out of the frameworks of the ordinary limitations of
what’s possible by our standard models, and allow us to approach ‘the Other’,
or truly alien, in a satisfyingly expansive and imaginative manner.
Now, Colin Wilson’s early philosophy, and subsequent works
in science fiction, the occult, and paranormal phenomenon seemed to me foundational
for this investigation. And much of my own work has been influenced by his 1998
book, Alien Dawn: An Investigation into
the Contact Experience.
This forms the basis of today’s talk.
The subjects of this talk – Colin Wilson and ufology (the
study of UFOs) – requires a general introduction, for both cover an enormous
amount of ground.
Now, let’s begin with Colin Wilson himself.
His first, and most famous work, is The Outsider, which was published in 1956. It was released to great
acclaim; its author was working-class, with no university education, and only
24-years old. In fact, he was a bit of an anomaly himself in intellectual
circles of the time. Except that he was quickly heaped in with the ‘Angry Young
Men’ – a journalist’s catchphrase for an uprising of mainly young working-class,
sometimes anti-establishment figures, such as Stuart Holroyd, Bill Hopkins and John
Osbourne, who wrote the famous play ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, the namesake of
Even amongst the Angry Young Men, Wilson was an outsider –
he even said that he wasn’t angry at all. His literary reputation – a seemingly
inevitable destiny once touched upon by British journalists – became
increasingly marginalised shortly before his second book in 1957, Religion and the Rebel. As a result,
Wilson’s work was ignored by the mainstream and deemed either irrelevant or,
So, what was the essence
of his earliest work, The Outsider,
and why has it, out of all his 150 or so books, stood the test of time – indeed
receiving so many translations and republications over the years?
The reason, I believe, is quite simple: it articulates with
great clarity the existential awakening of the individual. More than that, in
fact, it explores the problem at length and, by the end of the book, provides a
series of examples of individuals who went beyond the Outsider problem; the
founder of Quakerism, George Fox; the esoteric psychologist, G.I. Gurdjieff;
and the Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna. And for this reason, it has gained an
almost universal quality; resonating with a deeply felt sense of the human
Wilson describes the essence of the book in his important
essay, ‘Below the Iceberg’:
book [is] about ‘Outsiders’, people who felt a longing for some more purposeful
form of existence, and who felt trapped and suffocated in the triviality of
a book about ‘moments of vision’, and about the periods of boredom, frustration
and misery in which these moments are lost. [It’s] about men like Nietzsche,
Dostoevsky, van Gogh, T.E. Lawrence and William Blake, who have clear glimpses
of a more powerful and meaningful way of living, yet who find themselves on the
brink of suicide or insanity because of the frustration of their everyday
life.” (2019: 275)
Now what is often overlooked is that The Outsider is just one a of a sequence of six books, which he
called ‘The Outsider Cycle’. This forms the foundation of his philosophy which
was summarised in an introduction to the whole cycle, the 1966 Introduction to the New Existentialism.
To begin to understand Wilson’s update of existentialism –
the philosophy defined most famously by the French philosophers such as
Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus – is to then understand the trajectory of all
of his life’s work. And this provides an insight into why – and how – he went
about approaching the bizarre subject of UFOs and extra-terrestrials. But more
of that later.
For now, let’s turn to two summaries, in his own words, of this
‘new existentialism’ accepts man’s experience of his inner freedom as basic and
irreducible. Our lives consist of a clash between two visions: our vision of
this inner freedom, and our vision of contingency; our intuition of freedom and
power, and our everyday feeling of limitation of boredom.” (1966: 180)
‘new existentialism’ concentrates the full battery of phenomenological analysis
upon the everyday sense of contingency, upon the problem of ‘life devaluation’.”
suggests mental disciplines through which this waste of freedom can be
All of his subsequent works contain – whether it’s on crime,
the occult, wine or music – insights into the essential mechanisms of the mind
and are threaded through with this recognition of a phenomenology of heightened
states of consciousness. In every regard, whether it is through the act of
murder, indulging in alcohol, or performing ritual magic, the intensity of mind
is sought, whether consciously or not. However, what mattered for Wilson is
that they converge into a fundamentally creative
drive and not, of course, in such destructive endeavours.
So, in essence, the
new existentialism set out to define how moments of vision, purpose, and
ultimate meaningfulness could be objectively grasped. This is where the
crucial metaphysic arrives in Wilson’s new existentialism, for as he says in Poetry and Mysticism, “Where the
mechanisms [of consciousness] ends, the mystery begins.” (17: 1970).
Wilson reasoned, quite logically, that in heightened states
of consciousness – which are apprehended in moments of what the psychologist
Abraham Maslow called ‘peak experiences’ – a deeper reality of existence is objectively
realised. This apprehension of
reality is reached through what phenomenologists call ‘intentionality’; the mechanism
of the mind’s ability to grasp what
is out there, in the phenomenal world.
This can be illustrated by two simple examples:
When we feel alert and buoyed with energy, we notice more; for example, we can
appreciate a sunset or feel intensely alive and connected to the environment
outside of us, noticing even the intricate detail of the pavement, or the luminescence
of a shop’s window. In low moods, by contrast, we notice less; we withdraw our intentional perceptual grasp and live
in a vague mood of gloom and defeat.
Wilson was fond of quoting W.B. Yeats’ poem, ‘Vacillation’:
fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
These moments of sudden and intense overwhelming happiness,
so much so that Yeats’ felt he was “blessed and could bless” are, Wilson
argues, closely related to the mystical experience, in which one somehow grasps
the essential meaning of existence. And
yet these often occur in moments of irrationality,
that is, they cannot be logically explained; rather they appear to arise in
moments of inter-section, as it were – in those brief moments of curious
disengagement with the ordinary chatter of the mind.
It is this realisation that is at the heart of the new
existentialism, for it reinstated what the ‘old’ existentialism had rejected –
what the phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, called the transcendental ego; an ‘I’
– or an ‘other you’ – that effectively energises your perception from behind
the scenes, so to speak. Intentionality, the mechanism by which our
consciousness ‘reaches out’ and apprehends the world is charged by this deeper self.
More than this, in fact, this ‘other self’ behind perception
exists in a state that lies outside of time, and when it emerges in closer
accordance with our here-and-now perceptions, it resolves the contradictions of
existence faced by our rational, everyday consciousness. In effect, one
experiences a supra-logical faculty which breaks the illusory deadlock caused
by many of our philosophical categories.
Wilson importantly noted: “[P]hilosophical thought is a
process of perception, and therefore depends on the drive, the energy behind
it. It also follows that under-energised thought will actually falsify the
objects of perception”. Yeats, in ‘Vacillation’, says that his “body of a sudden
blazed”, suggesting some sort of occupation of a higher self which galvanised
his perception, his poetic faculty which illuminated reality beyond the
nausea-inducing categories of Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of universal
Now implicit in Wilson’s new existentialism is an entirely
new faculty of perception; a way in which human beings are capable of exceeding
their five-senses and somehow being able to make sense of time and space in
such a way that resolves the existential dilemma of Being. This is where he
continued onto explore the paranormal, the mystical, and the heightened – or
altered – mental states of ritual magic and occultism in his 1971 book, The Occult.
Importantly, he went through
the genre of science-fiction prior to writing The Occult, with novels like The
Mind Parasites (1967) and The
Philosopher’s Stone (1969), which explore at length – as much
science-fiction tends to do – psychic faculties and curious moments of super-consciousness.
And, importantly for this talk, extra-terrestrial, alien intelligences and occult
forces that meddle with human existence. Both books, I should add, were heavily
influenced by the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft who is famous for his story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ (1927), which
includes a gigantic, subterranean malevolent force that slumbers beneath
mankind’s ignorance – Cthulhu, the Great Old One.
And so, what Wilson was attempting to do in his
science-fiction books was to embrace the intuition that Lovecraft had about
deep, underground and ‘terrifying’ forces and, instead, reframe them in
Husserl’s more phenomenological recognition of a deeper level of reality that,
in fact, forms the substrate of existence itself. And, by recognising this,
Wilson saw that this was a misunderstanding – he called Lovecraft’s worldview a
product of “curdled Romanticism” – based on a pessimistic bias which resulted
in a negatively-charged “falsity of underpowered perception”.
The great poet and visionary artist, William Blake, also
seemed to share Wilson’s insight, saying in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’:
Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence, and now seem to live
in it in chains, are in truth the causes of its life & the sources of all
Now, this recognition of underground, untapped resources of
the mind seemed almost inevitably to lead to Wilson’s development from an
existentialist to writing a book on the occult, for the latter, of course, wholly
acknowledges these powers – and even provides ways of enhancing and mastering
them. And if these higher faculties of human perception were real, as Wilson increasingly
came to believe, then it logically follows that the ‘old’ existentialism had
been selling human nature short.
With this background in the occult and the paranormal, of course,
it seems somewhat inevitable that he would go on to touch upon the UFO
phenomenon. And although he had
explored this territory in his science-fiction books before The Occult, and then in its sequels, Mysteries and Beyond the Occult, it wasn’t until 1998 that his UFO book proper
was released, Alien Dawn: An
Investigation into the Contact Experience. Now, although it forms a basic
history to ufology – and it is not until the later chapters of the book that he
outlines his philosophical developments which formed his interest in the
phenomenon – the book is, as we shall see, crucial to Wilson’s intellectual
The Wilson scholar Geoff Ward acknowledged much the same,
saying that like the psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote one of the earliest and
most classic books on UFOs, Flying
Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958), Wilson saw this
as very much a symbolic event, offering “a revelation that could amount to a
new kind of consciousness.”
is where I begin in my own book, Evolutionary
Metaphors, for in surveying the wide range of UFO literature there is
always the sense that they are more
than merely nuts-and-bolts craft that can be detected on radar and potentially
shot down by our military. They are, in their deepest sense, a sociological
anomaly; even a symbol – perhaps – of Cold War hysteria and fears, with the
first major sightings beginning around 1947.
Kenneth Arnold, an aviator with over 9,000 flying hours, is
the most classic case, and the origin of the phrase ‘flying saucer’, which was
adopted feverishly by the press. On 25 June 1947 he reported, near Mount Rainer
in Washington State, seeing nine unusual objects flying at incredible speeds
far surpassing modern technology, which he described variously as both shaped
like a “pie-pan”, a “big flat disk” and “saucer-like”. This led to, of course,
the more famous combination: flying saucer. Arnold’s sighting tends to
circumscribe the UFO mystery to a comfortable date, allowing it to be too
easily ascribed to the ‘Cold War hysteria’ hypothesis.
In researching Alien
Dawn, Wilson also came to this conclusion in the chapter, ‘The Labyrinthine
Pilgrimage of Jacques Vallee’. Here Wilson explores the work of the computer
scientist – who was instrumental in the French pre-run for the internet, Arpanet
– Jacques Vallee, whose hobby from a young age was to collate and schematise
UFO reports from around the world. He went on to write the classic, Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore, and
Parallel Worlds (1969), and more recently Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern
Times (2010), a compendium of specifically pre-20th century UFO
– or ‘mysterious light’ – sightings.
More importantly, Vallee asked the question of what UFOs overall
effect was on the human race, that
is, merely as an observed phenomenon and growing mythology. Vallee took the
in-between route, refusing to draw a line on exactly what they were, and instead observing their sociological and
psychological effects on those who had apparently witnessed them.
Essentially, this is how I approach it in my own book,
calling the experience a type of ‘evolutionary metaphor’, or a symbolic
experience which offers alternative ways of understanding existence. Indeed,
Vallee, in The Invisible College,
states much the same:
“With every new wave of UFOs, the social impact becomes
greater. More young people become fascinated with space, with psychic
phenomena, with new frontiers in consciousness. . . changing our culture in the
direction of a higher image of man.” (2010: 127) [my italics].
Now, what interested me so much about Alien Dawn was that as much as it appeared a breakaway from his
earlier ‘new existentialist’ works, it quickly turned out to be much the
opposite, rather that it was a bridge through
his works on the occult, and an opportunity to expand his ideas into cosmology,
consciousness studies and even quantum physics.
The social question of the UFO phenomenon, for Wilson,
became symbolic of a change of orientation in the human drama, with a possible
new vision which lifts us out of our cosmic provincialism and provides a larger
context for our own existence. And with all of the interrelated topics in
ufology explored in Alien Dawn, such
as crop circles and the now famous alien abduction phenomenon, there appears to
be something underlying the whole mystery which Wilson called a sense of
“deliberate unbelievableness” – rather as if the phenomenon deliberately obscures itself. (Indeed, Carl
Jung once said that the “highest truth is one and the same with the absurd”,
and this seems to be the essential message of the UFO phenomenon.)
It struck me that with this ‘deliberate unbelievableness’,
and apparent playfulness with time and space –even the absurd theatrics as
found in the witness testimony on abduction literature – that whatever entities
that were behind this phenomenon were quite at home in the strange and novel logic
explored in works of popular science fiction.
One novel in particular which penetrates to the irrational heart
of the UFO phenomenon is Ian Watson’s The
Miracle Visitors (1978), in which he explores something he calls the ‘plus
and minus factor’, saying that in ‘lower-order’ systems of logic something must
either ‘change within the lower-order reality or be lost to it, to compensate’.
‘The trick was’, he continues, ‘to make the loss the least negative one
possible – to create merely mystery, not
Here, I think, is the whole of ufology compressed into a
single sentence: to create mystery, not
damage. And that is what it appears to be doing; providing a liminal,
abstract form of ‘meta-logic’ that orientates man’s vision of the cosmos to one
of the mysterious, the ‘What ifs’ of
science fiction; the emotional, personal, aspect that science lacks is
therefore complimented by the dramas and vast possibilities – and sometimes
impossibilities – of science fiction.
The UFO becomes the subject of folklore. One could argue
that the alien may represent man as abstracted
to himself – or, as the psychologist Stan Gooch proposed, as a part of ‘the
on-going folklore’ of the Ego. Science fiction, then, becomes the avant-garde
of this evolving folklore. Its metaphoric quality is, of course, oriented
towards the future – towards an evolutionary beckoning – and science fiction,
of course, becomes a part of the imagination’s groping towards this
We should not, however, overlook the often dreamlike and surrealistic
quality of the UFO experience reported in many books of case studies. The
Harvard-trained psychiatrist, John E. Mack, collected many such reports in his
book, Abduction: Human Encounters with
Aliens (1998), or, for example, as can be found in the classic The Andreasson Affair (1979) by Raymond
E Fowler. J Allen Hynek even said of the latter, “At certain points… [the] narrative seems to deal with a
reality so alien that it can be described only in metaphors, and perhaps only
understood in terms of an altered state of consciousness.” (17: 1978) [my
italics]. Vallee also speculated:
“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 our lives in ways
that we do not yet understand.”
My own book is an attempt to continue where Colin Wilson
left off in Alien Dawn, particularly
with his analysis of science fiction, psychology, and cosmology as being
fundamentals of what the phenomenon seems to urge us to examine. The cultural
import of its existence cannot be doubted; it has generated popular films, TV
shows and books, and shows no signs of slowing down. And if it does – and many
of the best books on the subject tend to conclude – form a part of an on-going
folklore in our more materialistic and less religious times, then the question
may be what it supplements, or even
replaces that our culture has lost?
That it forms an excellent metaphor cannot be doubted, with
writers such as H.G. Wells using the alien as a base for his book War of the Worlds as far back as 1897. Carl
Jung knew this well, and I’m not convinced that we’ve gone much further than
his analysis of the phenomenon. He asked, as any good psychologist should of
such a liminal, and apparently, deeply symbolic phenomenon: What is it doing to us, our consciousness? That
it challenges us, and our models of reality, tends to suggest, that it is
gently eroding our sense of cosmic provincialism.
A quote I’ve always enjoyed is by the psychologist Maurice
Nicoll, and he warns us that if we become too “sunk in appearances” the world –
and ourselves – quickly become numbed, for “through the lack of realisation of
the mystery of the world” leads us to being “dead” due to an inability to “face
the mystery of existence with any real thoughts of our own”. What I have
noticed is that the UFO experience, whether real or even simply talked about, invokes mystery by its very nature; and
this of course generates a lot of intense debate and polarisations within and outside
the field of ufology.
In an updated introduction to Alien Dawn, Wilson noted that “civilisation has forgotten a whole
dimension of consciousness that once came naturally to tribal shamans, and that
we shall remain trapped in a kind of mental dungeon unless we can regain it”.
He continues, “[O]ur dream of a purely rational science is a delusion, and that
we shall have to learn to recapture lunar knowledge”.
This is the same realisation that hit him while writing his
earlier book The Occult; he had
originally thought it would be a test of his patience, a sort of collection of
quaint ghost stories a section on palmistry and the curious gullibility of the
human mind. Instead what he found was a subject that was overwhelming
convincing, providing too many accounts by reliable witnesses to be easily
swept under the carpet. More than that, he realised that it confirmed an
intuition that he had had as early as the 1950s: that man is on the brink of an
In a talk as short as this one, I can only begin to scratch
the surface of this mystery. So, I will here attempt to condense my own thesis
in Evolutionary Metaphors – which I
wrote as a sort of bridgeway between Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’, his occult
studies and ufology.
Colin Wilson’s biographer, Gary Lachman, remarked that
entities commonly associated with UFOs seemed to be “fans of Monty Python, the
Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges,” adding that this might be a deliberate
attempt to frustrate our interpretations; forcing us out of our perceptual
laziness. And, perhaps, generated a sort of camouflage so they can act outside
of the restrictions of credibility. One comes away after reading much of the
literature with the 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.
Ufology also provides much the same stimulus and attraction
as the occult and provides a means of widening mankind’s sense of significance
and wider meanings. And in doing so, of course, this automatically provides the
groundwork for a ‘new existentialism’, for the provinciality of the diagnosis
of many existentialists simply doesn’t hold up against a worldview that accepts
occult powers as real.
I argue that it was inevitable that Wilson would continue to
incorporate parapsychology and paranormal phenomenon into his later works, for
they inferred a much stranger dimension of reality, one that suggests another
way of being and, more importantly, of a purpose to human existence.
The title Evolutionary
Metaphors seemed to me to capture the spirit of the UFO phenomenon and contextualises
it in such a way that it can be treated almost as a work of fiction, while
exploring its metaphysical implications and providing an alternative to
understanding anomalous phenomenon more generally.
In other words, if they are
real, they can be processed as symbols, or implications, of a deeper reality
that we do not understand, and in attempting to unravel their mystery we could
potentially find out more about our own minds and universe as a result. And if
they turn out to be mere fictions, then what they beckon, psychologically, is
an obsessive drive within us for prototyping the unknown and generating
mythologies that may prove the unconscious motivation of the human enterprise.
The sixth man on the moon, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who underwent
what he described as a mystical experience while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere
in Apollo 14, even commented that “life itself is a mystical experience of
consciousness; it’s just that we have grown used to it through the millennia.”
(1996: 187). Obviously, if you were hurtling back to Earth after stepping foot
on the moon, this would inevitably adjust your perspective; jolting you out of
a millennia-worth of conditioning.
In essence, Mitchell’s experience encapsulates the message
of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ and brings us close to the heart of the UFO
Often it is commented that our culture has reached a
threshold; by ejecting mystery in favour of scientific ‘problems’ – codes to be
cracked, but, we feel, that we already have these tools. It is a matter only of
time. Yet in certain moments we yearn for strangeness and a sense of deep
otherness, and we turn to space, an apparent endlessness that becomes the
backdrop of our dreams, fantasies, and possibilities. What haunts these skies
of ours is, in the end, our own psyche acting as a mirror – and the mysteries
that haunt it also become embroiled into these mythologies, these stories so
linked to our evolutionary drives.
We have no real sense of how a truly alien intelligence
might act. However, it would be interesting to wonder if it would be through
symbolism and metaphors, even synchronicities – unusually significant
coincidences – that these other forces would communicate; after all, each of
these transcends the limitations of time and space, posing deeper levels of
reality (or realities) that is/are parallel to our own.
But this might be a subject best left for science fiction –
or a future folklore – that might turn out to prove that reality is more dynamic,
even magical, than we presently suspect.
Gary Lachman says in his biography on Colin Wilson, Beyond the Robot (2016): “The fact that, like The Outsider, it presented a religious view, rather than the
strident leftism of Osborne and Co. made it a target of scorn by the socially
minded critics. Kenneth Tynan in particular saw Wilson as a kind of fascist,
with his talk of religion, discipline, the need for a new kind of man rather
than a new society, his hatred of mediocrity, lack of interest in left-wing
politics, and concern about the spiritual crises of characters like Nietzsche
I had to get up very early yesterday to guest on George Noory’s Coast to Coast AM. I had been preparing by once again turning to my own book, Evolutionary Metaphors (I had written it a year ago), to refresh my memory on the whole UFO phenomenon, and I had of course also returned to some of the classic books on the mystery to deepen my understanding.
In returning to my UFO research I was once again reminded how the field urges us to reexamine fixed beliefs, and to set aside conventional interpretations of time and space — and more so, what constitutes meaning in our lives.
Now, witnessing any such anomalous experience readjusts what you consider possible, and this is the really important factor at stake. After all, the UFO, at its very heart, represents a deep mystery. A mystery that challenges us. But the importance is, as the writer Jasun Horsley has pointed out, that very mystery – wonder – itself should not shroud our objectivity.
As I tend to look into the more spiritual, or metaphysical, interpretations of the UFO and abduction phenomenon — focusing mainly on the works of Whitley Strieber, John E. Mack’s case studies and the stimulating, and curious works of John Keel — there will always be this openness to the deeper sense of its existential component, ” What is it doing to us?”. And this forms the basis of my book, Evolutionary Metaphors, which, really, is about an optimistic ‘new existentialism’ which has been shaped by an experience of the anomalous.
Phenomenology, the study of our perceptions of reality, and the essential mechanisms of consciousness itself, is more of a tool, a philosophical method, than a philosophy onto itself. And it is by using it actively that, I believe, we can get to the bottom of this mystery, whether dark or light.
The existentialist philosopher who has had so much influence on my work, Colin Wilson, once said that under-powered perception falsifies thinking, and that, only in heightened-modes of consciousness can we apprehend deeper levels of truth. In many ways, that is why I chose the ‘evolutionary metaphor’, or the encouraging, optimistic angle that I did; not to shun or place aside the darkest aspects of the phenomenon, but to integrate them in with a will-to-health, as it were.
I shall be returning to the subject again soon, and if my intuitions are correct, much of my more recent thoughts compliment my first work, but enrich and expand my approach.
You are free to contact me at: email@example.com
Over the Easter holiday, I visited a couple of fine Cornish
coves, Sennon and Lamorna, and while at the latter, I thought of one of its past
residents, the surrealist artist and occultist Ithel Colquhoun. I recalled that
she had once reviewed Colin Wilson’s classic book The Occult (1971) and recommended the encyclopaedic Wilson to focus,
perhaps, on just one or two occult disciplines – the Kabbalah and the tarot
being her particular favourites.
Now, it would have been a great pity if Wilson had so
narrowed his interests, for as many of his readers know, he covers a vast array
of subject matter; from criminal psychology to wine and esotericism. But, on
further reflection, I realised that what Colquhoun said was true for many of
us. I had recently said much the same to my friend, the author Jason Heppenstall,
who replied, “Yes, we can sometimes have incredibly greedy minds…”
And so, I thought about Wilson’s work (and Colquhoun’s
recommendation) as to understand his trajectory as a philosopher; and why,
moreover, he ranged so far and so wide, so near and yet so far in search of the
evolutionary Faculty X – a vivid sense of the reality of “other times and places”.
Wilson was never greedy; in fact, he was generous, voracious
and a master synthesiser of great swathes of inter-related topics. Indeed, his
biographer Gary Lachman has said that in reading Wilson you gain the equivalent
of a liberal arts education. He was, in my opinion, a philosophic tour-de-force
who, from the outside, may appear as sometimes random and digressive. However,
once you acquaint yourself more deeply with his work, you soon come to realise
that it forms a part of his earlier philosophical methodology, which he called
the ‘new existentialism’.
This, I think, is
what Colquhoun had overlooked. Wilson had indeed, throughout all his work, essentially
focused upon this extra-dimension of human consciousness; of sudden flashes of
meaning and insight, of other times and places which, of course, forms the
basic recognition of almost all of occultism.
Now, Philip Coulthard in Lurker
on the Indifference Threshold: Feral Phenomenology for the 21st Century,
presents an extended essay on the many threads of Wilson’s work. Coulthard takes
us on a stimulating tour, stopping by at postmodernism and the challenging esoteric
work of Kenneth Grant to the horror writer H.P Lovecraft’s gloomy cosmology,
all the while providing a unique backdrop for the essential integration of
Wilson’s formidable oeuvre – he wrote, after all, over 180 books – into the
more contemporary frame of the 21st Century.
Coulthard lifts the new existentialism into new light and
provides a beacon towards a more intentional – and far less nihilistic – vision
of the future. And what is so remarkable about Lurker is its original insights into Wilson’s work, and, in doing
so, is an example of Wilson’s own method of unifying both intuition and the
intellect. Lurker is a sort of prism
of the new existentialism, refracting a new light into a philosophy with a
future that is imminent and a much-needed antidote to the bureaucratic academy,
and more importantly, the neurosis of contemporary culture.
The new existentialism, here, becomes a remedy to our cultural
malaise; the lurker of the title becomes our immense potential, and the
threshold: our culture’s blind spot.
Today, it seems, philosophical trends such as postmodernism and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, are finally losing favour, and as Coulthard convincingly argues throughout Lurker, Wilson’s philosophy, by comparison, “remains diametrically opposed to such trends, even when it anticipates aspects of them” concluding that his work “is more relevant than ever.” (23). He also makes the interesting point that many who are attracted to Wilson’s philosophical works are individualists who – temperamentally or intellectually – resist the essentially passive and helpless “postmodernist legacy”, which, as Coulthard argues, places “the human subject at the mercy of external factors and [condemns us] not to freedom or meaning… but to strict identity, language, history, and cultural determinisms, [where we are] forever stuck in a grim Darwinian power struggle.” (20).
In fact, this is why I was first attracted to Wilson. He
seemed to not only provide an accessible overview of history and philosophy,
but also posited something radically more active,
and as a result, practically more engaging.
Instead, Wilson wrote with an infectious intensity which,
around every corner, opened up a new shift in perspective that enabled curious
glimpses into another way of seeing.
In fact, what he was effectively doing was writing from the standpoint of a more
open-ended – even open-system – form of psychology that valued heightened
states of consciousness as essential to grasping
Of course, this was partly as a result of Wilson’s
familiarity with the psychologist Abraham Maslow, who broke the psychiatric
mould and sought to define the pinnacle of human psychological health. But,
before being acquainted with Maslow’s positive psychology, he had clearly already
developed a deep analysis of our culture’s dis-ease in his 1956 debut, The Outsider.
Reading Wilson is so refreshing because he effectively opens
the door, allowing more ideas, as a direct result of his optimistic approach,
to enter in; rather, that is, than sealing them off into the dry Siberia of
academic obscurantism or focusing on tedious minutiae. A true existentialist,
he sought for the essential meaning of existence, thus transcending the
dullness of spirit, and denigration of intuition, so esteemed by our trivial-minded
age, where political journalism reigns supreme.
Coulthard quotes from Wilson’s Beyond the Outsider, which encapsulates Wilson’s essential urgency
and visionary spirit for a new approach:
man has become so accustomed to the idea of passivity and insignificance that
it is difficult to imagine what sort of creature he would be if phenomenology
could uncover his intentional evolutionary structure and make it part of his
Lurker takes this
search for the ‘evolutionary structures’ further, with the chapter titles providing
a context as well as a general atmosphere of vast and impersonal forces at work:
‘Far Out, But Near’; ‘Cyclopean Architects’ and ‘Goad of the Powers’. They evoke
an almost daemonic Beethoven symphony; pounding and triumphant, yet impersonal
and strangely savage – rather like a splash of cold water up your back: invigorating
as with a sense of electric control. This,
after all, is essentially the motive underlying – often unconsciously – the
great works from Lovecraft’s Mythos, to the passionate call for a revaluation
of all values as found in Nietzsche’s works from The Birth of Tragedy to his masterpiece, and poetic evocation – or invocation – of the Superman, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
As Wilson said in Beyond
the Outsider, the point of these Dionysian and deep subterranean energies
is not to be washed away with them in frenzy and chaos, but to canalize them
into consciousness; to allow them to creatively charge our lives and our art. To lose this vision – which is the
reason for the general malaise of the
21st Century – is to fall into a passive state, and to dwindle our
psychic resources at such imaginative distortions
of this Life Force. Coulthard argues, “Art and culture not receiving these
currents can only lead to banal sterility… and an acceptance of the morbid
undercurrent [of defeat and pessimism].”
Now, someone who instinctively understood this subterranean
force and the possibilities of super-consciousness was the great dowser and archaeologist,
In his posthumous work, The
Power of the Pendulum, Lethbridge crystallises the essence of Wilson’s work
– who wrote at length about Lethbridge in his 1978 book, Mysteries – and his most fundamental insight. The two writers had
much in common.
Lethbridge, in a similar spirit to Wilson, says:
“Man exists on many mental levels, of which the earth life appears to be the lowest… He is entirely independent, and his method of development is peculiar to himself… Only when he can realise this will he rise at all in the scale of evolution.” (44).
“If you find out anything, I feel it is your duty to pass it on to your fellows… The power is yours on the higher level … but to make use of it here, it is necessary to learn how it can be brought down to a lower level. The transformer is something which you forge mentally between one level and the next… [my italics]”
Lethbridge, like Wilson, are impressive examples of this
anti-bureaucratic attitude to truth and intelligence, working with their minds
in an open and vibrant way; sending off sparks of insight in a manner that is
both generous and – according to Nietzsche’s analysis of what constitutes a
good writer – with a fundamental willingness to be understood rather than merely to impress.
Further still, there is this recognition at the heart of
their work of something lurking at the threshold of everyday consciousness, and
that is that there is a higher ‘you’ – a superordinate identity, or, in more
esoteric language, your daemon. This
is a super-charged Self that is experienced in moments of what Maslow called
‘peak experiences’, flashes of sometimes overwhelming joy that imports feelings
of immortality and a tremendous zest for living.
One of Coulthard most fascinating insights is that these “subterranean”
forces, as he calls them, are in some sense repressed, and as a result, they
are often misrepresented in such artistic expressions as in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu
Mythos. That is, as gigantic, impersonal and essentially malevolent forces. Wilson
had always argued that Lovecraft’s attitude was that of “curdled Romanticism”,
an essentially self-devouring, self-harming Will to Power that had backfired
into destruction and nihilism.
Coulthard argues that these subterranean forces are instead “wellsprings
of creativity” which are too often misunderstood and channelled into “distortions”
where “no amount of rationality can supress their chthonic rumblings”. Wilson’s
phenomenology navigates these negative biases towards the hidden ‘I’ of the transpersonal
ego, that self that provides the very perceptual energy that fires our zest and
sense of meaning. If this arrow of intentionality backfires, rather, it works
as Lovecraft’s curdled romanticism – towards crime and destruction, rather like
some disastrous machine that becomes recklessly out of control and destroys an
entire city. Or, as Wilson would have perhaps put it, poisoned an entire
The new existentialism is a form of self-analysis that
attempts to rid our collective unconsciousness of these very real dangers of a
negative bias, and instead provide techniques and a ‘conceptology’ that we can use
to steer ourselves away from such immensely wasteful disasters.
What makes Lurker
such an important book in Wilson Studies is that it presents an exceptionally
wide area of analysis, pulling in Lovecraft, whose popularity is becoming ever
larger – perhaps symptomatically – and providing a robust counterargument
against the fundamental nihilism of postmodernism. It is, I think, something Wilson
would be doing if he were still alive today. In fact, with our culture becoming
evermore saturated with signs of this precise implosion, as it were, of an inadequate cosmology and sense of
psychological health, Outsiders – those who feel alienated by their
civilisation, yearning for more intense and serious states of consciousness –
are likely to grow as a result.
Coulthard provides a precis and condensation of Wilson’s’ vast output, producing a sort of visionary manual on how to survive as well as to identify the key symptoms, culturally and phenomenologically, of an essential wrong-headedness that saps our vitalities. Furthermore, intuition is once again provided its rightful place as an arrow towards conceptual widening, and, when aided by the intellect, actualities and creativity expands exponentially, as it is only our intuitively-driven insights – usually seeping in from the transcendental ego, or hidden ‘I’ – that equips us with the key to that secret of Being, or, as Coulthard puts it, as a part of our “intentional quest for the philosopher’s stone”.
On a Sunday afternoon I settled down to read Paupers’ Press’ latest release – Colin Wilson’s ‘My Interest in Murder’ (2019). While reading it, I decided to begin noting down some reflections on Wilson’s work on murder, in an attempt to align some insights I had along the way together with his overall philosophy. It resulted in this essay.
‘My Interest in Murder’ was originally intended as an introduction to Wilson’s 1972 book Order of the Assassins, which explores the psychology of murder. This short book comprises of a 40-page autobiographical reflection on why and how Wilson became so interested in this dark subject.
Furthermore, he describes the creative process, and psychological and philosophical shifts, that occurred while writing his first novel, Ritual in the Dark (1960) – which took the nine years to write. And how his later novel The Glass Cage (1966) – “perhaps my own favourite among my novels” – became a crystallisation of this project to explore the mind of a murderer.
Wilson was determined to become a writer, and despite the banalities
of his working-class existence, he declared that he would “make literature out
of my revolt.” He comments that he had “tasted the pleasures of the imagination
and intellect” and “wanted the pleasure to pursue them.” This of course led to Ritual in the Dark; or, in its earlier
incarnation, Ritual of the Dead
(originally titled after the Egyptian Book
of the Dead). The novel is a pacey and fascinating reflection on
frustration, alienation and moreover outsiderisim.
It also has something of Dostoevsky’s Crime
and Punishment about it – with the main character being torn between
intensities of both himself and the often shady people with whom he’s become
Gerard Sorme, the protagonist and Wilson’s alter-ego, is
what Wilson himself described as a ‘Simple Simon’, who wonders around London
meeting eccentric and intensely-driven individuals, each with a backstory of
semi-mystical visions which define them – for better or for worse – as
Having recently read Wilson’s The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988), I could clearly see how he had his own ‘Simple Simon’ moments. He fully admits that it dawned on him, perhaps too slowly, that a broad-shouldered, deep-voiced Charlotte Bach was, in fact, a robust Hungarian transvestite called Karoly Hajdu. Bach posited an evolutionary theory based on a dynamic and creative ‘tension’ and inter-play between the male and female counterparts in each individual (Wilson explored these themes in his book Mysteries (1978), and then later on in The Misfits). She was, in many ways, a character that could have been lifted straight out one of Wilson’s early novels.
Nevertheless, it was through meeting these liminal characters, and by exploring the psychology of the outsider or the ‘misfit’, that Wilson could begin to explore motives for such extremities – whether it be sexual fetishes or, indeed, murder.
After all, what fundamentally defines these outsiders is a search for intensity consciousness – control over one’s own emotions, environment and achieving a sense of ultimate reality. In ‘My Interest in Murder’ Wilson quotes Watson’s observation of Sherlock Holmes: “He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century”, to which Wilson responds: “And why not? – for such knowledge was a part of his working equipment.” Wilson adds that by working with such morbid and extreme material, he began to feel like a “pathologist, working with unpleasant material, but viewing it with detachment.”
What Wilson was saying is that the sexual impulse and/or the
impulse for murder and sadism is driven by an intense stimulus; that is, in
both acts, there is a release of enormous energy – an energy, moreover, that
has the potential for great acts of creativity, but, in sadism or murder, has
somehow turned against itself.
“[T]here are certain people who possess the potentiality of creation, of purposive action; if this is frustrated it turns rotten. The mind is like a forward flowing river; if it is dammed up, it will turn the land around it into a swamp.”
So, you can clearly see the trajectory of Wilson’s work from
his first non-fiction book, The Outsider
(1956), which explored existentialists, ballet dancers, poets, mystics and
esoteric teachers like G.I. Gurdjieff. There was not so much the ‘Simple Simon’
in Wilson, but an immense openness that enabled him to actualise in his work
what Alfred North Whitehead described as the most important undertaking that any
existentialist should adopt: experience everything; drunk, sober, depressed,
ecstatic, and so on. Not out of mere hedonism or naiveite, but as an attempt to
understand the extent of the human instrument through its entire experiential
Murder emerges out of an immense damming up of frustration, which then bursts out as a destructive and pointless act. However, it is these implicit creative potentialities that Wilson was so fascinated by. Ritual in the Dark originally developed as a literary expression of frustration, much in the same way books like Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Eugene Ionescu’s The Hermit and – the most famous novel of its type – Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea, were attempts to describe this essential feeling of alienation and the slippery texture of reality. But Wilson was driven by something altogether more optimistic.
Wilson began writing out of an act of emotional revolt that creatively expressed itself; and then, once circumstances in his life began to lighten up – and his naturally cheerful temperament kicked back in – the tone and philosophy of Ritual in the Dark began to change correspondingly. This in turn provided the novel with the protagonist’s recognition that the murderer in the book, whom Sorme even shows some admiration for, is in fact insane and sick. And that these murders were, as Wilson says, a “gesture of revolt” against reality – a reality, moreover, that the murderer had completely lost touch with.
This is essentially the insight at the heart of Wilson’s work on criminology: that, in low moods, we have a weak grip on reality; and that if we let go, we fall into a ‘worms-eye view’ and our lives and the world around us – and even other people – begin to feel meaningless and uninspiring. Murderers and criminals have fallen down this hole further still, becoming stuck in a loop where reality becomes increasingly unreal, which in turn requires increasingly extreme experiences to reinvigorate what Pierre Janet called their ‘reality function’.
Now, one of
the things that has always interested me is how we observe ourselves in certain
moments, and how we can quickly take things for granted. I’ve worked in a
number of industries, ranging from office work to apple picking and as a
drayman for a brewery in the Midlands. When I first began reading Wilson’s books,
I felt an immediate sense of kinship; I too had sat on lorries for long
journeys and had worked in tedious offices full of neurotic petty-mindedness.
Being a true existentialist, Wilson looked to his own life experiences for
insights into the human condition.
February-March in 2018, I was working as a drayman during the ‘Beast from the
East’, which was a cold wave which had blown over from Russia and North Asia,
covering most of the Midlands in fine snowdrifts and freezing temperatures. I
would have to get up very early, walk down a huge hill and into a warehouse
full of steel casks. A forklift truck driver would come out and I’d have to
jump on the back of the van and roll these heavy, ale-filled casks and secure
them into place.
After the van
was full, we’d seal up the curtain and drive off to about four pubs, where we
would have to open the gate, crawl down into the cellar and then start lowering
the barrels down with a rope as the snow whipped up, and our feet froze. The
snow made it enormously difficult to push eighteen-gallon barrels, with the
snow gaining up in front of it and causing a barrier which you would have to
kick out of the way.
After a long
day which inevitably led to exhaustion, I had to walk back up the huge hill.
And on the way back, I walked past a salon full of beautiful women blow-drying
hair and manicuring nails. The comparison between the two worlds was jarring –
and it suddenly occurred to me the shocking ‘divide’ between these two realities.
I could easily see how – if you had a severe job that involved intense labour –
that the opposite sex would appear as immensely delicate and enchanting; beautifully
intoxicating against your everyday reality. (I could suddenly clearly see why
men working with tarmac or up scaffolding, for example, would whistle at pretty
women as they walked by!)
This was a simple and fairly commonplace insight that
contrasted very starkly against when I began to work in an office that same
year. This work demanded far more attention to detail and concentration, and
soon enough I found the atmosphere extremely constricting. Not only did the
work fail to engage me – writing about Health & Safety for various councils
and so on – the whole environment was such a vast contrast to working outdoors
with burly, outspoken men, that I felt like I was trapped in some nightmare of
pedanticism and bureaucracy.
I had had a similar experience while working at an academic
bookshop in Nottingham in which the manager was immensely short-tempered and
had an attention to detail that I would simply describe as ‘maniacal’. Again,
here I found a curious neurosis that was lacking from working in labouring
jobs, in which people could – and often would – talk loudly and honestly about
their feelings – and, of course, their sexuality. There seemed to me to be a
‘pent-up-ness’ about the bookshop and office that I failed to adjust to.
This brief digression into my own experiences has been an
attempt to point out how – and in what form – energies take, and how in our ordinary
day-to-day lives they become frustrated, leading to tensions and forms of
outburst. Of course, if you were a physical-type, you would prefer physical
labour; and if you were an intellectual-type, you would perhaps prefer more intellectually-engaging
pursuits and find the physical work a tedious bore.
But the crucial difference here is the level and type of frustration.
One day (in the bookshop) an electrician was fitting in some
new strip lights. The atmosphere was particularly dull, with an overcast sky
outside and some syrupy acoustic music playing as background music. You could
describe the whole situation as the very essence of stale and static. We caught
eye contact and a devilish light seemed to gleam in both our eyes, and he
shouted: “Put some Cannibal Corpse on!” (Cannibal Corpse is a raucous and very heavy-heavy metal band.)
His comment, as out-of-place as it was, released the tension
– the frustration we both had with the boredom of our jobs. Anybody who has
children of their own will know that a child cannot bare long car journeys, and
will often talk incessantly to re-direct his energies, or, kick his legs
frantically. Or, there is the persistent question of ‘Are we there yet?’ –
exaggerating his sense of time passing slowly.
The vitality of the child siphons off into what is called a
form of displacement activity, which
is defined as:
“A human activity that seems inappropriate, such as head-scratching when confused, considered to arise unconsciously when a conflict between antagonistic urges cannot be resolved.”
It seems that murder too is a form of displacement activity;
an attempt to express, or channel, pent-up energy into a destructive act rather than something creative. The serial killer,
Henry Lee Lucas, once told police: “I was bitter at the world… Killing someone
is just like walking outdoors.” For Lucas it was a matter of reconnecting with a
‘sense of reality’ which had been numbed by his own bitterness against the
And yet for many of us, simply walking outdoors in itself would
be a release – but not for Lucas; his mind would have been unable to grasp its
reality due to his mind being awash in negative emotions and frustration. Like
any drunkard, the only way he could kick-start his emotional enjoyment of life
would be to reach for extremity. The same, of course, relates to sex and such
extreme fetishes that, for most of us, make little sense. All of these ‘extremities’
are attempts to re-experience a life that has been lost to the ‘worm’s-eye view’
of low-pressure consciousness.
Reading about murder, says Wilson, reminds us most forcibly
that we could quite easily misdirect our energies. That is not to say, however,
that most of us would become murderers – but simply that we can easily sink
into states of passivity in which the world seems deprived of meaning. A
violent act such as murder, of course, already suggests that the killer has a
low estimation of the meaning of his own life – and as a result, those of
Wilson describes the purpose of his novel The Glass Cage as being “to confront the
two extremes: the mystic and the criminal: the man whose sense of the goodness and
worth-whileness of life is constant and fully conscious, and the man whose
self-pity and lack of self-belief have driven him to expressing his vitality in
the most negative way he can find.” Essentially the murder – in both Ritual and Cage – are failed mystics in the sense that their violent energies
have turned into negation rather than
He describes the murderer, Gaylord Sundheim, in Cage:
“[H]e is a man of immense and violent energies and appetites, whose conscious attitude to life is so negative and defeated that they cannot find ordinary expression. When he eats, he eats ravenously, with the sweat pouring down his face; when he drinks, he gulps it down until he is unconscious. And when he has sex, all the vast energies roar out like a volcanic explosion there is a desire to eat, to drink, to entirely consume his sexual partner. If he possessed the power to remould his personality to express these energies positively, he might be a Michaelangelo or a Beethoven.” [my italics]
This is, of course, no defence of the act of murder – or a
celebration of the murderers’ innate potential for genius – but a recognition
of intensely frustrated energies that could have been put to good use, had they
found a more fulfilling, and evolutionary, outlet. The problem with a destructive
act is that it is self-cancelling and is fraught by diminishing returns – no one
evolves their consciousness through
murder, in fact it devolves and, once the criminal is caught by the police, or
when his energies are depleted, the killer often commits suicide.
I think that each of us, in his/her own life, can notice how in moments of frustration, or after an exhausted day’s work, we notice how our perceptions of things correspondingly change. Here I have used my own examples of hard-labouring work and then walking by a very alluring salon; being struck by the contrast of environment and finding in myself a strange yearning for this different world. Psychologically-speaking it is exactly the same as walking down a blustery, icy street and looking into a coal-fire-lit cottage window and wishing you were inside.
In fact, Wilson calls this experience ‘duo-consciousness’ –
when you can stay in bed on a rainy day, knowing you’ve got to get up in
5-minutes, and savouring the comfort and warmth of those sheets as if your life
depended on it. By contrast, however, this all changes when we know we don’t have to get up. Due to
our inability to place our mind in two places at once, we cease to enjoy the
moment – the actual and the symbolic fail to reflect each other and make us
self-aware. Of course, we are perfectly self-aware when we await the dreaded
alarm-clock. . .
Reading about murder, Wilson argues, is a phenomenological act that enables us to recreate a deeply existential version of duo-consciousness. We can read these accounts of horrific crimes and, by using it as a sort of mirror, we can contrast these stupid and destructive acts against our everyday reality, and effectively reminding ourselves that our lives could be a lot worse. Wilson says that the purpose of studying murder ought to be to “throw light upon its opposite: the passion for order, creativity, sainthood.”
‘My Interest in Murder’, in all its autobiographical
digressions was written in the spirit of pleasure – much like his later book on
wine and alcohol, The Book of Booze
(1974). And by reading books of its kind, and understanding our essential creative
drives, we too can use it as a sort of psychological mirror to ‘throw light
upon its opposite’, achieving moments of duo-consciousness – and most
importantly – to improve our own lives and those of others!
Synchronicity is a word coined by the renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Gustav Jung, for the phenomenon of a uniquely meaningful coincidence. It is, in short, when the outer-world quite remarkably mirrors the inner-world of the individual. Jung defined synchronicity as a “psychically conditioned relativity of space and time.” He also described it as an ‘acausal connecting principal’ which is an event with no apparent – or, at least, something unknown to contemporary physics – form of ‘transmission’ that makes any logical, or causal – through cause and effect – explanation almost impossible.
Often in these experiences the mind seems to have a far more direct and active relationship with the outer-world – a world we too often assume is subject to the law of accident, entropy and a uni-directional flow of time. In this article it is not so much my intention to use just so many examples of personal and other’s reports of synchronicities, but simply to unpack a series of reflections on the implications of undergoing a synchronistic experience.
The experience of synchronicity ranges, like any such experience, from something merely curious to something far more numinous and potentially life-changing. It is also, naturally, something too slippery and mercurial for the logical, rational and time-linear mind to grasp. Indeed, it has, in many instances, a profoundly symbolic nature which seems geared towards intuition rather than rationality.
Now, the English existentialist philosopher, Colin Wilson, remarked that synchronicity may be one of the most important powers of the human mind. Reflecting upon his own experiences, Wilson noted that they tended to happen more frequently when he was feeling “cheerful and purposive” in which, he says, “convenient synchronicities begin to occur and inconveniences that might happen somehow don’t happen.” More importantly, Wilson observed that it was “as if my high inner-pressure somehow influences the world around me.”
Wilson’s phenomenological insights into the synchronicity experience helps us us in our quest to understand the essential ‘cause’ of the synchronicity – an important key, as it were, to untangling the ‘acausal’ mystery behind Jung’s ‘connecting principal’.
In a recent interview for the YouTube channel, Rebel Wisdom, the author and esoteric scholar, Gary Lachman, made the important link between intentionality – or will – and its ability to ‘nudge’ reality into its desired form. In other words, the ability to perform – in accordance with one’s will – magic. Lachman goes on to say that magic is essentially causing synchronicities to happen. Another scholar of the occult, Jeffrey K. Kripal, a Professor of Religious Thought at Rice University, has also called synchronicity “essentially a shiny new word for what we would have earlier called magic.”
So, it seems as if a crucial part of the synchronicity is indelibly a function of the mind, and that, in some magical way, this can cause meaningful events to unfold in one’s life. According to Wilson these magical events tend to cluster when the mind, the psyche, is functioning at optimum performance. We may venture to say, then, that synchronicity is the magic of a highly-charged mind, and when the vital energies are working in tandem with the individual’s will.
However, another aspect of the synchronicity we have not so far mentioned is what I have decided to call its ‘moment of interjection’. That is, it tends to ‘shock’ us by its seeming non-conformity with our usual everyday sense of time and space, while also inter-jecting itself in unexpected and unpremeditated moments. In other words, the synchronicity experience seems to be the result of another mind, as it were, that acts – sometimes ‘plays’, in a trickster-like fashion – both outside and inside one’s mind in a manner simultaneously ‘within’ time and outside of it; free from the laws of both the linear mind and the world ‘outside’ of linear causality.
We might here, then, say that Wilson’s state of healthy-mindedness provided some essential source of vital energy for this ‘other mind’ – or force – which inter-jects within our lives with curious ‘symbols’ which infer a meaning that somehow lies outside of the frame of ordinary causation. Instead the synchronistic moment acts as a ‘real life’ signifier of a deeper substrate of reality which is in direct contrast to how we normally experience it in our everyday consciousness.
Now, if we were to place the synchronicity phenomena into an evolutionary context, then one could say that evolution – or the gleaning of any new knowledge – tends to occur in moments of inter-jection, as it were, and these inter-jections into our existence are often the hall marks of both humour and the synchronicity experiences. This may at first seem like a leap too far if synchronicity is treated as a curious, and admittedly difficult phenomena, but nevertheless as fundamentally trivial. Of course, a synchronicity can be quite easily shrugged off with the pressing needs of everyday life demanding more of our attention. They can also be seen as ‘mere coincidence’ or simply a ‘minor mystery’ that affords little existential content.
However, this is all a matter of degree rather than kind, for if synchronicities come in thick and fast, then the observer will be forced to ask him/herself a number of questions, not only about him/herself, but also about the nature of reality. (And then, just to be safe that he or she isn’t going mad, to then ask questions about him/herself!)
This is where, I think, a phenomenological and psychological approach becomes an important tool for analysing the relationship between the mind – most crucially – and the world ‘out there’. Note that Wilson also commented essentially on the experience of luck and the distinct lack of accident-proneness he experienced when he was in a “purposive” state of mind. Indeed, Jung also importantly said in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), that the synchronicity experience may force us to notice the “other-valued reality” that lies outside the “phenomenal world . . . and we must face the fact that our world, with its time, space and causality, relates to another order of things lying behind or beneath it.”
What seems to be of most important is just how we can find this crucial correlation between ‘purposive consciousness’ and this “other-valued reality”. Once this is found one ought to be able to find not only the key to psychological health, but also an orientation in life that coheres to a profoundly powerful evolutionary drive that somehow exists “behind or beneath” reality.
Another important clue can be found in the work of the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof M.D., who has explored the realms of non-ordinary states of consciousness in his book The Cosmic Game (1990). Grof observed that synchronistic phenomena tended to increase in people’s lives “when they become involved in a project inspired from the transpersonal realms of the psyche.” He continues with the important detail that “remarkable synchronicities tend to occur and make their work surprisingly easy.” In other words, their work is somehow in accordance with Jung’s ‘other-valued reality’ which, it seems, is also the domain of Grof’s transpersonal self.
The author, Anthony Peake, in his excellent book The Daemon (2008), calls this other self the Daemon, which he describes as “the part of us that knows that we have lived this life before”, and that in moments of deja-vu, for example, is when the Daemon recognises significant moments in our lives. The ordinary-self Peake calls the Eidolon, which experiences our life in a linear fashion for, of course, this life will always seem as a surprise, a completely new experience, except in cases of deja-vu phenomena, that is. Peake also says that this other-self, the Daemon, “finds its home in the non-dominant hemisphere [of the brain] and from there acts as an ‘all knowing’ passenger.”
The Daemon is a fascinating book full of accounts of deja-vu and near-death experiences, however, in our discussion it might be said that the synchronicity is the Daemon’s tool – or method – for indicating an evolutionary turn, as it were, in the ascending spiral of self-actualisation, that is in moments when we begin to actualise these realms of the transpersonal psyche into this world of physical matter and linear time. We are, as it were, fulfilling a type of evolutionary destiny.
Rather, it seems, like a convergence of two worlds in which the laws of the other are sympathetic to a world which is becoming in a process. The purpose of existence, then, may be to converge, to unify, two ‘values’ which lie in curious cross-sections of time – and once these evolutionary ‘values’ are acted upon from ‘our side’ then two realities converge in a satisfying ‘click’ which unfolds in our lives as a synchronicity experience.
Although using the ‘convergence of worlds’ metaphor implies two or more worlds, in reality it seems more likely to function along what Jung and the physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, came to understand as the unus mundas – or ‘one world – under which two principals unfold: mind and matter.
However, it is at this point important to remember that the actualisation of wholeness – as in Jung’s individuation, or Abraham Maslow’s self-actualisation – is effectively the unification of psychological factors within the individual in order for them to work most efficiently together. And that these are precisely the components of the whole individual that work towards what the Italian psychologist, Roberto Assagioli, called ‘psycho-synthesis’.
Indeed this attempt to activate the bridge between one’s purpose in accordance with what Grof calls the ‘transpersonal self’ is the goal of Psychosynthesis therapy. The psychotherapist and author of The Way of Psychosynthesis (2017), Petra Guggisberg Nocelli says that “to promote transpersonal synthesis, Psychosynthesis indicates methods to awaken the energies of the higher unconscious” in order to “facilitate contact with its contents”. To do this the therapy includes: “the use of anagogic symbols . . . evocation of superior qualities and techniques for the development and use of intuition.”
We may now see Wilson’s comments about purposiveness as the driving force for increasing synchronicities in the context of Nocelli’s awakening of “the energies of the higher unconscious” mind, or Peake’s Daemon, which seems to awaken – or increasingly integrates – with our ‘lived reality’ once we begin making an effort to fully achieve some dimension of our potential. And, as Peake underlined, ifthe Daemon finds its temporary residence in the non-dominant right hemisphere of the brain, then it makes sense that this creative part of our selves is both buoyed by symbols and efforts to explicate, in some creative and developmental form, some of its contents. It is, rather, as if it has been heard for the first time – and the most effective way to encourage this participation is to ensure that the linear mind learns to accept its existence, and particularly, of a mode of ‘other values’, which is essentially less passive.
One of my own observations has come both through personal experience and through reading many books on the UFO and abduction phenomenon while writing my first book, Evolutionary Metaphors (2019). Throughout my research I noticed that it was commonly mentioned that people involved with this subject – including Wilson himself – were often beset with unusual and sometimes transformative synchronicities. Indeed, one of the most interesting examples is Raymond E Fowler who wrote an investigation into an abduction case called The Andreasson Affair in 1979, and then, following that book was inundated with an uncanny number of synchronicities afterwards. He records some of these in his 2004 book SynchroFile.
Now it seems to me that these may have had less to do with the UFO phenomena itself – at least directly – but with the fact that interest in such liminal and evolutionary ideas in themselves were acting as anagogic symbols and awakening layers of their higher conscious mind!
Of course, it would be absurd to deliberately set out to write books on UFOs in order to actualise unconscious forces latent within the psyche, and it is, furthermore, likely to fail more often than succeed. However, in some typically Alice in Wonderland topsy-turvy and upside-down way, considering creativity itself may aid us in peeling away some of the absurdities and mysteries of both consciousness itself and the anomalies we face in such experiences, whether mystical or in moments of synchronicity.
The curious idea is this: by looking into liminal and anomalous phenomenon we may be finding, in synchronistic moments, the very cause for these strange events we have been looking for; or, in a twist of irony, they may be the evolutionary by-product of that very search for the ‘deep reality’ in the first place.