A Personal Reflection – Rainbow in the Storms of Life: The Outsider and the Building of the Being

This will be a simple sketch of some ideas that, I believe, lend themselves well to Wilson’s new existentialism.  They are, in a sense, my own approach to Wilson’s work; that which I have taken from his work and have helped to shape my own insights.  For, in a sudden insight, I realised just how important it is to develop a more disciplined consciousness; curiously it is in relatively unremarkable moments that the mind can suddenly jolt you into a semblance of self-consciousness, a new type of remembering.

In my instance, I was walking the grounds of Newstead Abbey on a visit with my family, and I felt oddly tired all day, for as I walked past the satyr statues in the front gardens, thinking of Lord Byron, I suddenly realised that I was not taking it in.  That is, my knowledge of Byron and Shelley’s lives and their works, is at best, skeletal and limited – I only know, like my knowledge of the history of China, for example, key events, names and a few dates – but, in the other sense, it is about not fully embracing my own being, for if Byron has been long gone, but his work remains, the ghost of his being is still with us, and I can become aware of Byron’s existence by increasing my knowledge and sense of what he was about.  (It is interesting to note that Byron was too much embodied – he was particularly prone to an overindulgence of the senses!) And even though I was in these beautiful gardens, Japanese, French and Spanish, I was reminded of Wilson’s ‘Faculty X’ experience which I was, at the time, nowhere near to invoking – my mind, as I looked out, was too tired, and even though I knew that these were obviously tremendously stimulating and rich environments, full of natural and historical significance, my mind only reflected a dull sense of being, as if I was basically a ghost in the present.  It is certainly a frustrating experience, and I believe everybody has felt like at some point in their life.

In moments like these, and especially being aware – to some degree – of the mechanisms of consciousness, and yet, still feeling like a victim of low energies is enough to encourage you to take up a more disciplined and active approach to your own consciousness.  Superconsciousness (2009), Wilson’s last book, is a reminder of this, and an excellent summary of his life’s work.  At that time, amusingly walking between two female lead satyr statues erected by Lord Byron, I began to think: “Here I am, in this rare opportunity, and I can’t be fully present!”.  Obviously, I was also aware of my own distraction, my tendency to intellectualise in moments when I should be doing the contrary – causing a temporary surcease in what Steve Taylor calls ‘thought-chatter’, and to simply be in the moment, allowing as it were, the objective rather than the subjective world to come more into presence.  It was then that I really grasped the importance of superconsciousness, for it is more important than anything else; that it is, right at the centre of being and being in being.  In some strange way, those lead satyrs were more there than I was, and if I could be, I could too be in existence rather than being oddly distant, without the force of energy to settle my mind into a greater degree of receptivity.

Ouspensky really emphasised this fact in The Psychology of Mankind’s Possible Evolution when he said that man, when he apparently emerges from the subjective world of dreams, in fact only has one added dimension – that is, he is conscious but also simultaneously asleep.  In other words, man remains asleep, and much of his mind is still awash with subjectivities which sway either way like a boat on a rough sea.  Ordinary consciousness is basically a minor ballast added to this boat, adding at least a small degree of active self-control, but nowhere near enough.  A yet higher degree of consciousness is an increase of ballast, which again adds another dimension of self-control which stabilises the mind in the rush of distracting subjectivities which tends to pull us out of life and the ‘now’.  These are the states that we need to ‘build’, and which nature, unfortunately, has not necessarily endowed us with.  Gurdjieff always emphasised this fact that the mind can, after a certain point, only consciously evolve; we cannot sit back on our laurels, drifting through life like a ghost on a misty lake (although we can, but it would be immensely unsatisfying!).

One of Wilson’s best attributes, I believe, is that he was ready to share his own experiences, which is the mark of a genuine existentialist.  He often remarks on his own panic attack situations, most notably in Mysteries (1978) and Access to Inner Worlds (1983), and I believe he too, like myself, had a tendency to ‘over think’.  This is perhaps  whyI am so indebted to his work, for before reading him, I always felt oddly frustrated with a lot of other writers – that they seemed to mask themselves, and were oddly clouded by subjectivities.  I could certainly see it in the work of Emil Cioran, for example, whose work is emphatically a series of subjective outbursts.  Wilson, I thought, could ‘step back’ from himself, and this is what The Outsider (1956) is a result of being able to do; he stepped back from the passively accepted pessimism of his time, and was not, as is so easy in our culture, to be pulled under by the current of negativity and the over-emphasis of personality and its trivialities.  It is a bold statement, I know, but a lot of modern culture seems to me like bad conscience!  Perhaps that’s why Wilson felt so annoyed when people could relate to Samuel Beckett’s work, because, he instinctively felt that this was only because people tended to accept unquestioningly that the mind is a passive observer of reality.  Again, this is the ghost in the mist, who has simply stopped rowing his boat because he doesn’t believe there are further shores of being.  It is rather like terminal boredom.

Curiously Cioran was a huge admirer of Beckett, and even remarked that his favourite word was ‘lessness’.  A good character portrait can be found in Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston’s Searching for Cioran (2009), where one can see that Cioran was a relatively pleasant individual (aside from being in Romania’s Iron Guard), but had somehow inverted Nietzsche’s ‘will to life’ to a ‘will to negation’ – I am convinced he felt a sort of thrill out of what he called ‘slandering the universe’; it was as if his energies were so depleted he turned into some sort of Gollum.

In one of my favourite chapters in The Essential Colin Wilson (a series of extracts chosen by Wilson from his own work, which I highly recommend), called The Ladder of Selves, Wilson puts his finger on our over-tendency to narrow down our consciousness.  He notes that one of mankind’s greatest attributes is his ability to concentrate the mind, but its major disadvantage is that, as he notes, “when I concentrate on something, I ignore everything else”, he continues, “I lock myself in a kind of prison”.  As a writer, and a very productive one, Wilson realised that in his obsessive routine of work, that he was probably finding it difficult to unwind his mind.  He did so, he mentions, by settling down in the evening with a bottle of wine and his vinyl collection.  Wilson shares this interesting phenomenological anecdote, and says that in his moments of anxiety his consciousness becomes narrowed to this minor ‘I’, and this is at the expense of the:

“… universe that exists outside us until it becomes a distant memory.  Even when the task is finished, we often forget to re-establish contact and open the windows.  The inner watchspring can get so overwound that we become permanently blind and deaf”.

Again, he continues:

“The tendency is dangerous because our mental health depends on the ‘meaning’ that comes from the world around us.  Meaning is something that walks in through the senses on a spring morning, or when you arrive at the seaside and hear the cry of the seagulls.  All obsession cuts us off from meaning.  My panic attacks began when I had overwound the watchspring and lost the trick of unwinding it.  I was like a man slowly suffocating to death, and, what is more, suffering because I was gripping my own windpipe” [my italics]

As I walked through the Newstead gardens, I had also become a victim to this, to a lesser degree.  I was distant, and I knew it, and as I fought it I then in turn wasted energy.  Following this, I became frustrated, and then thought of the importance of superconsciousness.  It seemed, as I threw a coin into a well, to make a wish, that this is what it was for; for what is life if we are not living it in presence, passively drifting on our laurels.  It is ironic, I thought, that we should wish at all, for that is too one of the great follies of human existence.  That ghost in the mist is wishing to be, but cannot come into full being – he is diffuse, as gaseous as the mist itself.  Reality for him, is as imprecise as himself.  His ‘I’s’ are all over the place, floating, undisciplined and profoundly difficult to collect into any form of disciplined concentration.  But this is precisely what he must do, and it is a part of building his being into something more solid, so to speak.  It is, like one of my favourite metaphors of Wilson’s, this ability to apply an intense heat to our fractured being in order to develop a sort of hardened crystal of a soul which perfectly reflects and refracts objective existence, like still water reflects the sky.

It seems to me that that is what matter is for, for the mind, on its own, would be unimaginably diffuse.  To imbue matter with freedom is perhaps the closest to answer to the mystery of human existence that we can currently formulate – and it has the benefit of having an evolutionary directive.  I have always been struck, too, by the idea of a tulpa, which is a Tibetan word for a ‘thought form’.  It is an exotic idea, and is an exciting one for its notion that we can animate a thought, somehow harden it into physical existence, and somehow bestow it with an independent consciousness.  But, that all being well, it is perhaps more of a metaphor for ourselves.  And this is why Wilson’s writings on the occult and esoteric are so refreshing, for he does not have a tendency of drifting off into abstraction, merely celebrating the exotic for the mere sake of it.  The author Michael Waldberg in his book Gurdjieff: An Approach to his Ideas (1981) highlights this irony when he says that we

“… complain about our destiny, our ignorance and our weaknesses, although we will never form any objective image of either ourselves or of reality.  We advance our own dullness as an excuse for ignoring the divine, not realising that it is we ourselves who are responsible for this dullness, and that the more we renounce our essential privilege of consciousness, the more our dullness grows” (p. 40)

Wilson, like Gurdjieff, emphasised this need to have a solid sense of self, a fully realised and objective self-image.  He was also fond of quoting Nietzsche’s: “A great man? I always see only the actor of his own ideal”.  The tulpa may well be ‘realised’ into existence, but so are we ourselves.  Too often our own self-image is too vague, and our ‘dullness’, as Waldberg refers to, is this impreciseness, this vagueness of essence.  All the outsiders, to some degree, realised some immense aspect of themselves, particularly T.E. Lawrence, who knew too well, that he was plagued by a ‘thought-riddled nature’, which was both his genius and his downfall.  Wilson managed to diagnose these essential characteristics in his outsiders in his first book, and this is precisely why he is so important.  It is as I have mentioned in my previous Blog, Some Reflections on The Personality Surgeon, that we have to somehow know what our best and worst asset is: do we have a tendency to over emoting, intellectualising or placing our physical body and its pleasures before everything else?  Now, this is a fairly crude reduction, but I think it is a beginning; from observing ourselves, and our phenomenological and intentional habits – our more robotic aspects – we can begin to ‘shock’ them out of their usual theft of our important energies.  Wilson always knew the value of a crisis to shock the mind out of its normal habituation, what he called ‘the robot’ which can usurp important moments in our lives.  The tumultuous unconscious mind, with its multiple ‘I’s’ and subjective currents often pulls our higher ‘I’ into its undisciplined triviality, its identifications with the personal.  And yet, at other instances, we climb the ladder of selves, and solidify our being, producing a ballast in our hull of being.  Wilson expresses our identity as being passed around like a Rugby ball, or as if we live on a “horizontal plane”, while there is also “different levels like a ladder”, that is, the vertical plane of being.  He uses William James’s insight as an example, whereby

“… the musician might play his instrument with a certain technical virtuosity for years and then one day enter so thoroughly into the spirit of the music that it is as if the music is playing him; he reaches a kind of effortless perfection.  A higher more efficient ‘I’ takes over.”

He has not only ‘actualised’ himself, but he has also actualised the music itself.  The creation, like the tulpa, becomes imbued with objective reality.  This is the act of creation as well as the act of creation of the self.  This is what I mean when I say that the outsider must learn to build his being.  The entire corpus of Colin Wilson’s work could be summed up as The Outsider and the Building of Being.  For Wilson identified the man who at some unconscious level knew that he had an evolutionary imperative, but was frustrated by his lack of self-realisation of this impetus towards further complexity.  Gary Lachman’s book, The Caretakers of the Cosmos (2013), is an excellent expression of this idea, for he states that man’s real purpose is to repair the cosmos, that is, by first acknowledging that the individual is inextricably apart of this actualisation of the universe’s tendency towards more meaning.  Again, it is an evolutionary directive that emphasises the significance of consciousness being imbued in matter (unlike the Gnostic notion of matter being a fallen state, it is quite the contrary; that matter is a means to an evolving).

(It is interesting to note a phenomenological description of the problem of modern atheism at this point, for Adam Roberts in his novel The Thing Itself (2015), expresses it perfectly: “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. Spars and ribs and wire-skeletons—there’s no God there. Of course there’s not. But strip away the wire-skeleton, and think of the cosmos without space or time or cause or substance, and ask yourself: is it an inert quantity? If so, how could… how could all this?”)

It as if a vertical impulse needs to be actualised into the horizontal plane of matter.  This is an insight that is particularly indebted to  the work of Maurice Nicoll, and which I often refer to when I bring this notion of an existential ‘axis’ into use.

The leaden sculptures of mythological satyrs in Byron’s garden seemed to be more objective than I on that day.  And as I was viewing Byron’s ancestral home, I realised that this is what Wilson meant by ‘Faculty X’, the sense of other times and places.  I was ironically reminded of it when wandering through continental gardens, past solid lead mythological figures that seemed ironically more fully realised into the objective universe.  Although I was basically just hungover, and a mere coffee would have invigorated me at the time, I realised that it is towards materiality – not in the materialist-reductionist sense of ‘matter’ – that we were intended in the first place.  If existence is simply a school in being able to imbue the vast energies of consciousness into a concentrated form, like the implicit statue in a lump of rock, we can actualise ourselves by becoming a material being with self-consciousness (it as if we are some sort of transducer valve of subtler energies into more density).  It also reminds me of Howard Bloom’s theory in his book The God Problem (2011), which he calls ‘the corollary-generator theory’, which is his answer to the nature of creativity in the cosmos.  It is strangely similar to ‘relationality’ which Wilson talks about, when one’s consciousness naturally seems to infer something more, relating to something else and so on, until we experience William James’s ‘horizons of distant fact’.  But, as I would say, it seems to be two horizons intersecting – and these two, when they meet, cause a collision into matter which manifests as our own being.  When we can somehow synchronise the vertical, objective evolutionary meaning beyond time into the ordinary time-stream itself, it is as an act of cosmic creativity generating further complexities – and that is urged through man’s evolution of his own consciousness, and ‘building’ of objective being.

The vagueness of being that the ghost feels, might be solved when he takes up the oars and starts rowing towards a more solid shore of defined matter.  This teasing ambiguity of existence is precisely its urge, like some sort of singularity in the act of becoming.  Nicolas Tredell called his chapter on Wilson’s science-fiction, ‘Arrows to a Distant Shore’, which I think pretty much sums up Wilson’s intention – and intentionality – when he points out those curious moments of ‘Faculty X’, when we suddenly have flashes of meaningful insight into our evolutionary purpose.  This is the intuition behind when J.G. Bennet said “Now I see why God hides Himself from us”.

Wilson understood this, and recognising the outsider in himself, and through applied phenomenological analysis of his own impulses, panic attacks and insights he started to ‘build’ himself.  And that, I think, is his big contribution towards repairing the rift in the cosmos – by bringing mind back into matter.  But it is also to realise, as he did in the Ladder of Selves, to throw off our tendency to mental diffuseness, and in moments of ‘shock’, or realisation of ‘Faculty X’, one is released as if by a “thunderclap, like a sudden reprieve from death” and our minds are imbued with a “sense of overwhelming joy and gratitude, and the recognition that meaning is always there.  It is we who close our senses to it”.

Or in one of Byron’s famous quotes:

“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray”.

Some reflections on The Personality Surgeon

The Personality Surgeon, one of Colin Wilson’s lesser-known, and minor fictional works, is in some ways an essential insight into his most pressing philosophical problems expressed in The Outsider.  For what he diagnoses as the ‘outsider’, is, by some people’s standards vague and imprecise, for he lists people from F. Scott Fitzgerald in the same breath as George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, as if they were one and the same.  These leaps are indeed large, but, as one steps back and grasps the book’s central theme, you realise that, whatever their essential – and sometimes huge – differences, there is still the central problem of identity.

Here is a line from The Personality Surgeon which I believe is typical, not just of an outsider, but of those moments in between life when we look around ourselves, perceiving others, and think that there is something deeply familiar and yet simultaneously uncanny.  As if there is a nauseating double-exposure of our being, of self-consciousness, awkwardly compounded with the  oddly repetitious, ordinary world, and human-all-too-human:

“Personalities seem to run in types, as if God had decided to take a short cut when he was handing them out. People of completely different types would have one or two odd features in common; a way of raising an eyebrow, pursing the lips, narrowing the eyes. But in many cases, it was even subtler than that, as if the underlying structure of the personality was the same, like some basic family characteristic that you could recognise in fathers and children and aunts and nephews, even though they all looked quite different. He found himself thinking: it’s as if personalities came in construction kits…” (p. 130)

I am certain that many of us, as children, have looked up to adults and have been alienated by their ways of expression and gesticulation, for they suddenly seem oddly automatic – having picked these up out of years of habit.  It is only when we grab their attention that they seem to become suddenly aware of you, and then, accordingly they become another individual – that of a caring, responsible adult who has to deal with his child’s requests.  At this point, a juncture occurs, and many a child realises it: there is the adult world and the world of childhood.  And yet, at that naïve age, we cannot see exactly where one becomes the other, if, indeed, it does at all (it has a subtle gradient which, in experience, is difficult to pinpoint).  We seem to suddenly occur into life, and, over time, we acquire mechanisms which make us who we are.  The child too, in many ways, is endowed with inquiring and acquiring mechanisms, and once these have fully developed, thus become mechanical.  In another stage, perhaps the teenage years and early twenties, the personality and socially interactive qualities come more into play, and therefore develop rapidly in order to deal with the more complex world of emotions, inter-personal relationships and sexual rituals.  And yet, once we again step-back, so to speak, we still remain bewildered with our existence, as if something, after all of these learnt tricks, is simply not satisfied.

When one has ‘pulled-back’, it is easy to see man as a mechanical being, entirely at the mercy of the external environment and other people.  He learns entirely for their sake, and the mind eventually recedes from reality, and in turn becomes almost entirely socialised, and a victim of the physical world.  The Romantic, as much as the Existentialist, has realised this more fully than most, and he flees almost entirely into mind, in a rebellious gesture of reaction, and then is mercilessly thrown back into the so-called reality of the world, with its coarse rules, banality and tendency to reduce the importance of imagination.

The outsider is effectively someone who realises that he is betraying his ‘essence’, that which is most essential to his being.  That is, something beyond the ephemeral and transient mask of personality.  The personality was designed to deal with the world of appearances, and more precisely, its social-aspects and everyday interactions.  But the essence – for that is what Gurdjieff called it – is something that wants to actualise itself further, that is, it wants to achieve what Carl Jung called ‘self-actualisation’.  In short, the personality has very little to do with this ‘self’, and the essence is entirely more primal, essential – it could even be even referred to as the ‘soul’ or the ‘spiritual’, most deepest element in the individual.

Wilson’s personality surgeon does not quite identify this aspect in these extreme and almost religious terms.  Instead, it is bought down to a more ordinary, and what is in effect a more relatable realm of just what constitutes individuality.  This, I believe, is what makes the book so accessible, and somewhat goes beyond the ‘outsider’ hypothesis, by recognizsng that in every man and woman there is some aspect to them which strives for the same sort of ‘self-actualisation’, as the outsider perhaps does more consciously.  The outsider, it could be said, is more painfully aware of this juncture between personality and essential being.  Mere personality has its limits, but the essence has an evolutionary quality that, in the outsider, demands to be evolved (whether it is an emotional, physical or intellectual disposition).

The friction between himself and the world is precisely that evolutionary urge.  And the pain that the outsider feels is precisely in that unconscious drive, paradoxically, towards more consciousness.  The entire point, with which Wilson dedicated all of his work, was to making this evolutionary drive a conscious effort towards more consciousness.  For once that is reached, half the battle is already dealt with, and the rest is entirely down to self-discipline towards some purpose, that is, to actualise one’s self.

There is a brutal quality to ‘outsiderism’, and that is why it is difficult to simply ignore; one may attempt to satisfy this drive by escaping into alcoholism, escapism or even suicide.  But its essential urge is towards the building of more being, despite everything else, and it is often due to this very friction of being with which it welds the most divided aspects being.  In an enormously useful analogy in his novel The Black Room, one character compares this to the intense heat required to fuse fractured glass together into one huge, singular block of hardened crystal.  This is the level of being Wilson strived to achieve in himself, and which can be seen time and time again in his work and his insistence on discipline, particularly concerning the mind and its tendency to lapsing into flaccid, passive states of ennui and despair.

The ‘peak experience’, although it can appear spontaneously, is just as much a product of climbing and building towards that ‘peak’; it is essentially a recognition that it can be done.  Once there, one can view reality from upon a height of relationality, where the valleys, troughs and peaks can be seen in the context of one’s whole life, and that, in a point above the time, one’s whole existence is perceived as a whole of ‘other times and places’.  In his book Mysteries, he says that there’s a curious ‘higher I’, which, when it looks back on life realises that even the most severe moments of struggle were due to some ‘lower I’, and that, in the long run, there is a state of mind which always resides above these problems, looking on benignly, with due respect and sympathy.

Charles Peruzzi, the main protagonist in The Personality Surgeon realises that the job of the psychotherapist is to release them from their own ‘narrowness’:

“All at once, he could see that this was the real problem of human beings; their narrowness, their inability to escape their trivial personal limitations. This was real aim of all psychotherapy; to help people escape from their own limitations, to bring them a glimpse of that immense richness that lay out there in the world beyond the immediacy of here-and-now.” p.221

Again, time plays an important role in Wilson’s work, and is expressed in his notion of the ‘Faculty X’, the idea of sensing ‘other times and places’.  I have always been fascinated with Wilson’s treatment of the ‘here-and-now’, due to many of the spiritual texts and the modern New Age movement being obsessed with the ‘power of now’, encapsulated in the title of Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now (1971).  Wilson does not seem to be dismissing a more intense awareness of the now or the present – far from it, that is precisely what he means – but of our sense of being bound to and in time, that we are,  no matter, intrinsically and inescapably limited to the forward march of time, and thus entirely victim of it.  The ‘here-and-now’ which is so restricting is the mind’s tendency to be trapped along the horizontal axis of matter and its course, whereas the mind, Wilson argues, is able somehow able to launch vertically out of time.  And in this case, the personality is really this ‘horizontal axis’ of being, running concurrently with time, whereas the very real essence of a being is in a way urging us beyond ourselves, that is, into what Richard Maurice Bucke called ‘cosmic consciousness’.

The personality surgeon, in Wilson’s novel, is not so much about adjusting the personality, but of diminishing its overall grip on consciousness.  There are many characters which are completely crippled by minor ailments, defects, or personal hang-ups which in turn drain their energy and cause their lives to be a ‘fabric of errors’.  In each instance, the surgery does not so much enhance, enrich or expand their personality, but reduces its size to a more reasonable level, whereby the character can see his or own tendency towards triviality – and how, in that sense, trivialities blind us to our evolutionary impulse, which is far less personal.  In fact, he offers most of the characters an impersonal development opportunity, through either the arts, self-expression or some naturally evolving counterpart to their being.  It is significant, I thought, that he chooses the image of the individual – in the form of a video recording – in order to highlight just what these personality flaws are.  They are usually physical, movement-orientated manifestations to deeper modes of being (where a mere muscular spasm might be a significant pointer towards a lack of self-confidence, or emotional armour or defence mechanism).  In other words, the personality surgeon somehow aligns the personality with the essence, that is, where the personality strays from the deepest aspects of the individual, he synchronises – makes parallel – with their natural inclination towards ‘self-actualisation’.

I am very much reminded of Abraham Maslow’s realising that a bored manager of a chewing gum factory ­– who ceased to menstruate due to sheer unconscious boredom – required some intellectual stimulation in the form of a night course on sociology.  For in this instance, Maslow realised that the woman had a natural tendency towards intellectual efforts, and in the boring job, her unconscious mind was leaking enormous energy which resulted in her profound depression.  Maslow aligned her personality – her ordinary, developed sense of self – with her deeper being – her innate quality, or ‘essence’, which was that of an intelligent woman who would flourish in an intellectual environment.  Her ordinary life, and her ‘personality’, which had to deal with the banalities of a chewing gum factory, was suffocating some deeper, unconscious ‘self’, which thrived to evolve itself.

*

Wilson had realised by Religion and the Rebel (1957) that the ‘outsider’ was a loose term, and although very useful, tended to be too general.  Although that is not particularly my own view, for I consider the ‘outsider’ a useful and vague enough term to define someone who is aware, more intensely than some, that their evolutionary potential is somehow being squandered or repressed.  Due to this they become disenchanted, and moreover, due to the intensity and sensitivity of their being, may produce enormous volcanic eruptions of energy into their works, producing powerful and visionary masterpieces, may just the same crumble under the same intense inner pressures.  Wilson never ceases to remind us that these individuals need to ‘galvainize’ their will, and thus ‘cannalize’ these intense energies into the force of evolution itself.  These individuals may indeed be closer to super-humanity than they realise, had they managed to correctly direct their own intense powers.

Yet, these are powers innate, perhaps, in most people, and which moreover are simply not recognised.  I believe that most problems are due to this repression or lack of recognition, and this is exploited by predatory companies and social media.  This very lack, and this very focus and over-emphasis on the personality as the sole arbiter of being, dismisses the essential being at the centre of a person – the evolutionary need to build one’s being, to imbue perception with an intensity which throws-forward using the developing mind’s impetus towards more life force.  The mind, particularly the imagination, resists this mechanisation of being, and is always more severe and alive than the personality – with its endless and ephemeral identifications – can ever be.

The Personality Surgeon, in this sense, is the most contemporary of Wilson’s novels, for it deals directly with this over exaggeration of the personality, and more so, deconstructs the cult-of-personality which is so self-evidently rife with trauma, anxiety and thoroughly capitalised on by pharmaceutical companies.

In the modern world, at least as I see it, there are too many shallow exits for those struggling with their being, and instead of actually developing this intensely interesting part of themselves, their most essential essence, they are once against fooled by what Wilson called ‘Upside-Downness’.  It is a society, in the New Age especially, which inflates itself with platitudes, and in the world of social media, encourages only a semblance of genuine being.

The mere illusion of more being is chosen over the reality of super-consciousness.  We have itemised ourselves, and not, like Wilson suggested, welded our essential parts together to form a permanent, essential higher ‘I’.

The Personality Surgeon is perhaps the most popularly viable of Wilson’s novels in the sense that it deals less with outsiders, and particularly addresses general anxieties, and particularly how to transform them.  It assumes, quite rightly, that many people suffer – often silently – from a frustrating sense of under-fulfilment.  It is clear with the advent of social-media, with Facebook and so on, that the development of a simulacrum of personality is easier than ever.  Inspirational quotes run rife, and all sorts of political, dietary revolutions are spread like wildfire as each individual identifies with some other community.  And, at the same time, it is easy to step back and see what Wilson pointed out as the ‘construction kit’ of personality, identifying the strange sort of mechanicalness of man.  The Personality Surgeon strikes right down the middle of this divide, addressing the most superficial aspect of man with his deepest yearning to evolve.  And in that sense, it is a neutralising force, bringing both the personality and essential being into focus, or along the same parallel tracks.

For those people who are disillusioned with the shallow façade of a media and personality soaked world, this novel offers a refreshing and optimistic take on how, in the height of superficiality, we might be able to marshal our full forces by correctly developing the personality in concordance with our more deeply evolutionary needs.  It points towards the dangers of an ever encroaching materialism, and its dangers of smothering the evolutionary mind.  And yet, it does so by utilising precisely the benefits of technology and its ability to reflect our own will to being.  Long before the development of Artificial Intelligence, of self-conscious machines, we might use machines to develop our own consciousness, and moreover, an objective self-consciousness of our true being.

This may be the ironic outcome of too much indulgence; that, in reaching a certain limit, it develops more outsiders than ever – a mass of people who yearn for more meaning in their lives than can possibly be reached by personality alone.

Part 3: The Tropism of Meaning

“Being completes knowledge; completed knowledge is understanding.  It is as if another dimension has been added to knowledge: when it becomes understanding, it has become holographic”

Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas by John Shirley

Epistemology is the study of the limits of knowledge; it is therefore concerned with what can be known and what cannot be known.  Logical Positivism is similarly a branch of epistemology, for it too posed that that which can be truly ‘known’ can only be reached by means of logic – that is, not by intuition or metaphysical speculation i.e. religious beliefs, faith, or any other forms of ‘gnosis’ (esoteric or mystical) other than rational, discursive logic and scientific verification.  Indeed Colin Wilson felt that logical positivism was a “kind of deliberate murder of everything important in philosophy” (p. 1; On Philosophers).  For in a sense, the question of human values becomes a merely subjective question, plagued by logically insolvable paradoxes and relativisms.  The philosopher, from then on, may very well concern himself with values and meanings, and so on, but in the spirit of logical positivism, and particularly the domain of science, these are seen as unverifiable principles, which – at best – have their roots in biological survival mechanisms and ‘selfish genes’.  So the philosopher, in this instance, is basically considered as wasting his time (this is effectively why the respectable position of the philosopher has diminished in recent years).

In a strange way this sort of logic has excluded human experience from the domain of science, so where they can ‘prove’ something using scientific instruments, they nevertheless have ejected the immensely complex nature of human consciousness, and even to a degree history itself (for one cannot step back in time and ‘prove’ something; it is, in the end, the history of subjectivities – therefore the humanities tend to suffer from this reductive logical fallacy).  Wilson would have said that they had thrown the baby out with the bath water!

The questions of symbols and signifiers speaking across the “”gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field” regarding the UFO and other paranormal phenomena, to a Logical Positivist, or a scientific materialist, would appear as utterly meaningless jargon, for one cannot even begin to really test this hypothesis.  Again, like the UFO phenomenon itself, it tends to fall into the unpopular domain of ‘unfalsifiable hypothesis’ – a domain in which God now resides for most atheists[1].  Ironically, the UFO phenomena seems to arrive as an ‘unfalsifiable hypothesis’, being fundamentally unrepeatable and apparently random in its appearances.  It seems, with its tendency to inconsistency and prankster-like qualities to deliberately uproot, turn inside out, our usually accepted paradigms of reality.  It has a tendency to communicate and exist within that ‘gap’ that Jeffrey Kripal talks about; both a conscious and unconscious ‘event’, it is often discussed with a recourse to metaphysics, and at the same time, there is much speculation on the type of machinery it would take to travel across space or inter-dimensionally.  There is a definite psychic quality to the phenomenon which runs alongside more materialistic speculations and manifestations, such as crop-circles, alien implants, radiation readings in and around UFO landing sites, and even gruesome cattle mutilation.  The latter, of course, are material-aspects of the phenomenon, which have been reported to occur.  And yet, one cannot easily verify these events, for they too appear to abide by a strange inner-logic, with what appears to be deliberate ambiguity and even symbolic intent.

Abraham Maslow recognised the limits of the scientific worldview, in a psychological sense, for its tendency to become a sort of “safety philosophy, a security system, a complicated way of avoiding anxiety and upsetting problems.  In the extreme instance it can be a way of avoiding life, a kind of self-cloistering”.  The philosopher E.F. Schumacher, to my mind, presents a highly consistent and satisfying view of the affair by dividing knowledge into two essential categories: Convergent and Divergent:

Convergent Knowledge can be summarised briefly by presenting a solvable problem, such as a design of a bike, which will require two wheels,  and to be man-powered and an effective mode of transportation.  Eventually, through trial and experiment, the bike emerges – that is, the solutions converge, until the answer is effectively reached: the bike itself.  The bike is stable in time because it obeys the laws of the Universe and particularly that of inanimate physical matter.

Divergent Forms of Knowledge is altogether different, for logic of the either/or or yes/no variety breaks down into difficult formulations which have a more ambiguous, and less straight-forward answer, and are moreover much more relative.  There is an element of discontinuity in divergent knowledge. Schumacher uses the examples of such questions as: “What is the best method of education?”; “Freedom versus Equality”; “How do you make people become better?”.  In short, subjects like philosophy and politics are ‘divergent’ subjects, for they are dealing with consciousness and not inanimate matter.

He summarises the two essential differences between the two approaches thus:

“Convergent problems relate to the dead aspect of the Universe, where manipulation can proceed without let or hindrance and where man can make himself ‘master and possessor’, because the subtle, higher forces, which we have labelled life, consciousness and self-awareness, are not there to complicate matters” (p. 144).  And with Divergent problems, there is a tendency towards further complexity, where we must “expect divergence, for there enters, to however a modest degree, the element of freedom and inner experience”. In other words, consciousness enters this domain of ‘knowledge’ – a consciousness, moreover, that is side-lined in most scientific disciplines, or otherwise reduced or left out of the equation.  He concludes, placing man firmly back into the problem of new existentialism, and therefore of philosophy, by saying that man’s “life can thus be seen and understood as a succession of divergent problems which are inevitably encountered and have to be coped with in some way.  They are refractory to mere logic and discursive reason and constitute, as it were, a strain-and-stretch apparatus to develop the Whole Man, and that means to develop man’s supra-logical faculties” (p. 147-148).  Furthermore, in a telling last line, he notes that all traditional cultures have treated “life as a school and have recognised, in one way or another, the essentiality of this teaching force” (p. 148).

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I hope the above digression – or slight divergence! – has placed us in a better position to consider the UFO phenomenon, and particularly mankind’s psychological relationship to phenomenon in general.  That is, even though they are difficult to prove scientifically, they nevertheless have an existence within the cultural psyche, and can be treated as a divergent problem, so to speak.  Carl Jung recognised this when he said that precisely because “the conscious mind does not know about them and is therefore confronted with a situation from which there seems no way out, these strange contents cannot be integrated directly but seek to express themselves indirectly” (p. 7), that is, divergently, philosophically and unscientifically.  Even so, he notes that the scientist’s “interest is too easily restricted to the common, the probable, the average, for that is after all the basis of every empirical science” (p. 69) – again, to what can converge, arrive at some definite synthesis which can be repeated in a laboratory (this may be the root of the obsession in UFO literature with the possible retrieval of crashed extraterrestrial craft – it offers a satisfying material answer to a problem so wrought with intangibles as to be exhausting[2]).

If it is so, that is, the  UFO phenomenon being a higher-dimensional event impinging upon our human world, it would therefore require a higher degree of logic to understand it.  Logic, that is, which goes beyond the usual causalities of ordinary space and time as we know it.  As Schumacher pointed out, it would require ‘supra-logical faculties’ in order to make sense of a ‘supra-logical event’, whereby the unification of opposites emerges through an experience of a higher-order experience.  This is commonly referred to in mystical experiences and alchemy as coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites).  John Shirley, in the quote at the beginning of this essay, notes that when an extra-dimension of being (an evolution of conscious awareness) is added to knowledge, it becomes “holographic” understanding.  It seems to have an infinitely recursive quality, whereby understanding seems to grow upwards like a spiral, increasing what Wilson called ‘relationality’.

The UFO, it could be argued, has this ‘teasing’ quality, encouraging a tropism (from the Greek work for “a turning”) in man towards more meaning (rather like a plant is phototropic; it grows towards light).  In Ian Watson’s Miracle Visitors (1978), which has been a big influence on these essays, he points out that life itself is pulled towards higher complexity (in this instance, he uses ‘inaccessibilities’ (a divergent problem) in referring to the difficult mystery of the UFO phenomenon):

“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. Each higher order was inaccessible to a lower order, yet each lower order was drawn towards the higher – teased by the suction of the higher” (p. 187).

In another section of the book he expresses the limits of logic, and again suggests an evolutionary quality behind the UFO phenomenon:

“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” (p. 102).

This is perhaps the “gap” Jeffrey Kripal refers to as being “between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field”.  The UFO phenomena could be, in a sense, the declension of ‘higher logic’ into what Watson refers to as ‘lower-order systems’ – that is, in some way, the UFO is an entry of super consciousness into ordinary consciousness. I have always been struck by the similarities between Ian Watson’s vision of the ‘UFO Consciousness’ and P.D. Ouspensky’s description of the superman. They are worth quoting at length simply for their impressive correspondences:

“An ordinary man cannot see a superman or know of his existence, just as a caterpillar cannot know of the existence of a butterfly.  This is a fact which we find extremely difficult to admit, but it is natural and psychologically inevitable.  The higher type cannot in any sense be controlled by the lower type or be the subject of observation by the lower type; but the lower type may be controlled by the higher and may be under the observation of the higher.  And from this point of view the whole of life and the whole of history can have a meaning and a purpose which we cannot comprehend”.

Ouspensky continues:

“This meaning, this purpose, is superman.  All the rest exists for the sole purpose that out of the masses of humanity crawling on the earth superman should from time to time emerge and rise, and by this very fact go away from the masses and become inaccessible and invisible to them” (1984: p.121)

Here both writers seem to be pointing towards the same thing: the emergence of a superman through the transit of mystery itself.  Mystery, of course, is simply a divergent problem, a problem that cannot be easily solved through normal logic, or a limited ‘human’ perspective, but moreover requires a developed faculty of higher perception, or a heightened sensibility which brings into effect the union of opposites.  In that state, meaning would appear both in the “whole of history”, and more importantly in terms of the new existentialism, the individual.

In existential psychological terms, complexity too has a powerful quality, for, as Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi comments in his classic book, Flow (1992), complexity “is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration”, which sounds very much like Colin Wilson’s outsider (see The Outsider (1956)).  This development of the ‘outsider’ begins with differentiation i.e. that he feels differentiated by his overwhelming need for meaning which, it seems, is always impossibly distant, ungraspable and results in a difficult, nauseas world lacking in any real values.  This is what Wilson meant when he said “The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life (in the Kabbala, chaos – tohu bohu – is simply a state in which order is latent; the egg is the ‘chaos’ of the bird); in spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced” (p. 25; The Outsider).  Facing this chaos, this disequilibrium on its own terms, is what Csikzentmihalyi calls integration.  “Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas, and entities beyond the self.  A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies” (p. 41).

In this sense, integration is going beyond the self, the closed-system of solipsistic values that many Outsiders suffer from, and a move towards more transcendental values – values that come from outside as well as inside, whereby the “gap” is bridged.  Now, this might be what the UFO is for, for it too is an ‘intrusion’ from outside which may trigger an integration of the closed-system of mankind’s values, especially the suffocating and meaningless values presaged by science and its obsession with convergent problems.  Whitley Strieber, whose extraordinary book dealing with his own direct experiences with the beings seemingly involved in these phenomena, states that (again, taking care with the word ‘real’):

“If this is ‘real’ then it is very important as a testament to this kind of contact.  If it is a ‘mind thing’, then the book serves notice that something extraordinary is happening to our minds. . . It has enormously expanded my consciousness.  I have gone from a level of about 10 to a level of about 6,000.  I have been opened to so many provocative possibilities.  I have discovered that this is an extraordinary, quasi-physical reality that somehow emerges out of us.  Therefore, the human mind is a bigger, more incredibly, and wonderful thing that we can have ever dreamed”.

The phenomena, whether ‘real’ in the usual sense, or as a strange sort of psychological compensatory mechanism, dreamt up by the collective unconscious to ‘haunt’ us out of our narrow view of ourselves, it nevertheless represents a symbolic leap or process.  If, that is, the evolution of human consciousness takes up the guise of an external phenomena, like Strieber suggests, then it may be some higher aspect of ourselves urging us, through a symbolic-form, to reconsider our place in the cosmos, and particularly, our own latent powers (by the phenomena exhibiting these strange powers themselves).

As the UFO emerges into our reality, a mysterious silver disc-shaped object, or a self-transforming ball of indistinguishable, and bizarrely geometric illuminated plasma, we are left, inevitably, questioning its origin.  And its origin, if John Keel is right (see Part 2), seems to be from another dimension entirely.  If it is a declension into our realm, in whatever form it might appear, could it be that its own realm is one and the same with our collective unconscious?  That is, if we are indeed ‘haunting’ ourselves, it takes up the guise of whatever is palatable to the perceiver, by being simply incomprehensible, and by injecting more mystery into our lives by ‘teasing’ us out of our ordinary rote of experience.

It may be, like John Shirley suggests, adding new dimensions to our being, and therefore evolving our understanding of ourselves – by ourselves – and thus making our understanding “holographic”.  And it is interesting to note, in closing, that the hologram itself is an enfolding of an external reference point, so in a sense, if the UFO is a phenomena of our own minds, it is an aspect of ourselves as much as we are an aspect of it.  In some sense, it might be completing the cycle of our evolution outside of time itself – winding us up the spiral of complexity, towards a holographic understanding of our multidimensional being in the universe.

All by a process of divergence and convergence, differentiation and integration . . .

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This will be continued in Part 4 . . .

[1] Scientific materialists or atheists cannot necessarily ‘disprove’ God, because there is nowhere to begin, so therefore he remains either ‘highly unlikely’ or an unnecessary hypothesis.  However they can say that nature appears mechanical, and does not require a programmer of sorts, but even then, this too only reduces God’s position, and does not conclusively disprove his existence.

[2] That is not to discredit the notion of possible crashed UFOs, or retrieved material from these craft.  However, the phenomena does seem to be both physical and psychical – and therefore could present material ‘proofs’, like the scarab beetle in Jung’s patient’s dream emerging in tandem with the dream symbol – and thus calls into question of such origins of the physical evidence!