The Cosmology of Deep Intentionality
An intrinsic part of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ is a cosmology, or what he called a ‘basic metaphysic’, which, in its earliest form, emerges in the chapter ‘World Without Values’ in The Outsider. For it is in this chapter that Wilson formulates the ‘background of values’ in which the power of our will—in its most active sense—can be most effectively exercised. His simple formulation runs thus: ‘No motive, no willing.’ However, by stating that ‘motive is a matter of belief’ Wilson underlines the importance of having something a priori believed in order to provide the motivation with a sufficient degree of will. Indeed, if belief lacked completely the individual would find motivation for doing anything at all impossible, leading to a form of listlessness or catatonia—a complete negation of freedom. Wilson continues by saying ‘belief must be the belief in the existence of something; that is to say, it concerns what is real. So ultimately, freedom depends upon the real.’ (1978: 49).
From this statement—that freedom depends upon the real—we then have to pursue the question: What is real? For most of us this question remains vague and difficult to articulate. Certainly, it is not an easy question to answer and has troubled philosophers for millennia. The idea of the ‘real’ underlies epistemology—the investigation and theory of what can be known—and ontology; or that which underlies our very knowledge and experience of our being.
These are not abstract concepts dreamt up by philosophers alienated from both the world and themselves. In fact, these two concepts constitute what we recognise as significant elements of human consciousness in relation to other forms of consciousness. For example, P.D. Ouspensky understood consciousness not as a thing in itself, but a description of a state in which we become aware of one or more of our psyche’s functions. These ideas are, in a sense, historical developments within the domain of human consciousness, reflected in our cosmological development, and thus determine the psychological ambience in which man finds himself and his culture.
In fact, as E.F. Schumacher points out, man is ‘capable of being conscious of its consciousness; not merely a thinker, but a thinker capable of watching and studying his own thinking.’ (1978: 26) Furthermore, he identifies the human consciousness as ‘recoiling upon itself’ and thus opening up ‘unlimited possibilities of purposeful leaning, investigating, exploring, formulating and accumulating knowledge’ (26). Of course, this particularly human trait has equally enormous advantages and disadvantages, for as man knows more about the universe, he can witness his stature decrease with his conclusions—and yet, as we have seen, this can also work in the opposite direction by providing us with an evolutionary and optimistic impetus for motivation and development of a healthy will.
In both Beyond the Outsider (1965) and Super Consciousness (2009)—two books that span Wilson’s work from near beginning to end—Wilson outlines the history of philosophy to present ‘a basis for a new existentialism.’ For Wilson, the fundamental problem of the human situation is ‘the problem of the clash between man’s inner world and the alien world ‘out there’.’ (1985: 85-86). Effectively he begins from this foundation of context—the ‘background of values’, or, one could say a cosmological framework that relates to man and man to the cosmos. From this point he argues that the Greek philosophers proceeded beyond this problem by simply rejecting the physical world. Therefore, for some Greek thinkers such as Socrates or Plato, only the world of ideas remained as the ultimate reality. Of course, this is reflected in Plato’s notion of the Forms, those immortal and perfect ‘ideas’ which lie outside of space and time. The split between spirit (or mind) and matter was clearly defined in Greek thought, and so much so that Socrates faced his death stoically believing that the spirit, in essence, is all that really matters. His mortal shell of mere matter, of course, would be shed and he’d be free to explore—in non-corporeal form—the world of spirit; the true home of the philosopher.
Whereas Plato believed that ‘ideas are the pathway to the infinite’, it was Aristotle who pursued and initiated the scientific method as we know it today; for Aristotle unlike Plato focused upon the natural and material world and began to collect and correlate observable facts. Raphael’s 16th century painting ‘The School of Athens’ in fact depicts Plato as pointing up towards the heavens while Aristotle, holding his hand horizontally—as well as his copy of Nicomachean Ethics between his other arm—contrasting Plato’s ‘vertical’ world of ideas in which Plato represents the opposite of Aristotle’s either/or, logic-bound and matter-of-fact approach. In essence, Plato’s is more metaphysical in the sense that is proposes something a priori to everything else, a perfected world beyond the world of matter. Yet, even Socrates is the beginning of this ‘break’ from an even more spiritual tradition, and as one commentator has noted, the pre-Socratics were much more orientated towards an intimation and ‘intuition of the world in its entirety’ whereas post-Socratic philosophy ‘surrendered to logic, in the belief that everything could be apprehended and explained with the help of this new instrument.’ (1993: 17).
In Superconsciousness: The Quest for the Peak Experience (2009) Wilson says that it was ‘Aristotle rather than Plato who exercised the greatest influence on the development of the western mind’ (2009: 134). Indeed, he goes on to point out that the development of the great religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, were of ‘immense importance for the development of human culture’ for these provided a ‘backdrop of values’ in which civilizations and individuals were able to function in a meaningful universe, a development that was crucial for the development of human consciousness at that point in time. Wilson continues by pointing out the importance St Augustine’s objection to science ‘on the grounds that it prevented man from focusing upon the most important thing of all—his relation to God.’ (134) Gods and higher intelligences for the people of the past provided an ample amount of motive force to bolster the willpower behind the development of civilization. Moreover, it provided an impersonal goal that transcended the sense of contingency that would have been extremely dangerous for the evolution of man’s consciousness in those earlier stages.
Before further summarising Wilson’s overview of the history of philosophy, it is worth returning to the cosmological—as well as metaphysical ideas—that begin to emerge in our examination of the new existentialism. In The Breathing Cathedral Martha Heyneman says that ‘Today, we see rising before us a new shape. We can see its dim outlines through the fog . . . but we haven’t yet come ashore. We don’t yet inhabit our new picture of the universe.’ (2001: 18) Now, each of us in childhood similarly inhabits a cosmology that seems to us safe and basically well-meaning, yet as we grow older uncertainty sets in and we begin to feel uncertain about what can be known as well as uncertain about who we truly are. Again, this is an epistemological as well as an ontological realisation—a fundamentally existential awakening that may be life-changing for some. Indeed, Wilson discusses in his essay ‘Science—And Nihilism’ his own breaching of his ‘cosmological comfort-zone’ when he was reading Einstein at about the age of ten. He says that he was suddenly ‘struck by a terrible thought’ when he thought about motion as being ‘relative’ for he suddenly saw how ‘parochial’ our earth-bound view is in the cosmic perspective. Quite ironically Wilson had been studying science because it gave him:
‘. . . a comforting sense of incontrovertible fact, of some universal truth, bigger than our trivial human emotions and petty objectives . . . But now Einstein was telling me that I could find no certainty in science. I was like a devout Christian who has suddenly been convinced there is no God. I felt as if I had been standing apparently on solid ground, and it had suddenly opened up beneath my feet.’ (1998: 46-47) [my italics]
This brings us back around to the idea of the real—that ‘solid ground’—being the motivating force behind the will. As a result of this realization Wilson fell into a state of despair and despondency. It was enormously difficult for him to fight off the futility of all endeavors, intellectual or otherwise, after this frightening realization of the unknowable void. There suddenly seemed an impossibility of knowledge, and as a result, an impossibility of being in its wake—for how can one go on living, at least satisfactorily, after such an earth-shattering realization of our own universal insignificance?
Effectively it this problem that the whole Outsider Cycle was pitted against, for it is the fundamental question of the Absolute Yes versus the Absolute No. The Romantics, as they are studied in The Outsider, certainly show many instances when they are able to feel sensations—intellectually as well as emotionally—that gave assent to a sense of universal optimism. And yet they were unable to pin it down—the next day each vision would be difficult to articulate, to be known, in the fullest sense of the word. Certainly, the vision, which may have been authentic and real, begins to recede, taking upon it a cadence of bitter and ironic unreality.
Certainly, they could capture these visions in powerfully evocative poems and vivid landscapes infused with vitality and ecstatic yea-saying, but so few of them were able to construct a philosophy strong enough to hold back the tumultuous currents of suicidal despair. The sense of ‘unreality’ returned with an overwhelming fullness of force. Wilson writes, ‘The Romantics . . . believed that the ‘moments of vision’ cannot be controlled. Pushkin compared the poet’s heart to a coal which glows red when the wind of inspiration blows. But he cannot make it blow; he just has to sit and wait.’ (2009: 9) It is this fundamentally passive and defeatist tone that underlies many of the romantics, and again, Wilson attempted to show an active methodology by which we could fully comprehend and integrate this fundamental sense of a greater reality, and allow the coal of the heart once again glow with flame—but this time, by an act of motive force based on something existentially substantial and real.
In his introduction to Mysteries (1978) he also notes that there is something ‘fundamentally queer about the universe’ and that it ‘contradicts our assumption that there are no questions without answers’ and, most disturbingly, our very minds seem somewhat unsuited for thinking about these problems. Furthermore, this leads to philosophers taking the position that human existence is basically a short, brutal accident that evolved a painful form of self-consciousness. For some philosophers and writers, such as the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft; the Romanian arch-pessimist Emil Cioran; to the contemporary British philosopher, John Grey, consciousness itself is a mournful agony that is better off not existing at all. Indeed, the latter seems to prefer the ‘silence of animals’; animals whose consciousness has not yet come to grips with time and what it infers—an end to its own being; death and universal contingency. Our ontological sense of motive, in the face of a pessimistic epistemology, recedes proportionally.
A death-haunted mankind aware of his own demise in a meaningless cosmos results in the belief that the cosmos had best have remained uninhabited by mind. That is, the awareness of non-meaning is the most ironic development of all. From this point of view, their visions of an all-seeing, all-knowing God—in whatever shape or form—are perceived as a sadomasochist and should be disowned. None of them, apparently, seemed to see this as a type of projection implicit in their own philosophical conclusions. This, essentially, is what Wilson challenged in his Outsider Cycle.
Nevertheless a cosmology ejected of all meaningful content and purpose is still a cosmology. That is, even if it is a chaos rather than a cosmos (cosmos is the Greek word for an orderly universe rather than a chaotic one). And in any cosmology, as Heyneman points out, our knowledge and imagination are entirely ‘contained, consciously or unconsciously, within it’ and, furthermore if ‘… the vessel is shattered and the image has no shape, impressions have no meaning.’ She continues:
‘We have no stomach for them—no place inside ourselves to keep them. We are immersed in them, they flow over our surfaces in a ceaseless stream, but we are unable to extract any nourishment from them to add to the structure and the substance of an understanding of our own upon which we might base a coherent and deliberate life.’ (2001: 6)
Again, we are back to Wilson’s original formulation that motivation—through belief or a cosmology—is a priori crucial for a healthy will. Once this has been shattered, one falls into a lower state of vitality, even despair, without any real reason to will anything at all. So, in effect, our beliefs and our cosmologies are fundamentally one and the same, for they are internal models of the universe. Now, what is real is not necessarily what is ‘out there’, but also ‘in here’; that is, within our deeper layers of consciousness. Indeed, it is reminiscent of what the Indian mystic, Nisargadatta Maharaj, meant when he said ‘The real does not die, the unreal never lived.’ The ‘real’, in short, is also an act of becoming into being; it is a motive force that wills itself into existence.
Now this is the point where we can return to Wilson’s outline of philosophy and, more importantly for this essay, return to the UFO phenomenon. For the real question is: into what philosophical context do UFOs emerge into our human story? This is the same approach as descriptive phenomenology, for it attempts to understand the psychological reality of the UFO phenomena rather than the technological or physical reality. This is fundamentally the contradistinction between two modes of philosophic thought which Wilson identifies as the ‘two pockets in the billiard table of philosophy: materialism and idealism’ (2009: 178). What we might ask here is how the UFO emerges from—or into—a collective philosophical zeitgeist, and if this is so, what does it signify philosophically as well as phenomenologically?
Jacques Vallee identified this problem in his 1975 book The Invisible College (1975), where he states that the UFO ‘constitutes both a physical entity with mass, inertia, volume, etc., which we can measure, and a window toward another mode of reality.’ (2014: 4) Vallee continues, ‘These forms of life may be similar to projections; they may be real, yet a product of our dreams. Like our dreams, we can look into their hidden meaning, or we can ignore them. But like our dreams, they may also shape what we think of as our lives in ways that we do not yet understand.’ (2014: 4) This ‘hidden meaning’ is the occulted aspect of the UFO phenomenon, for it is this element that is most readily interpreted, and offers, as it does, a tremendous amount of insight into our philosophical categories and phenomenological attendance to a phenomenon so intrinsically linked with the unconscious mechanisms of both the individual and society at large.
At this point it is worth returning to the genre of fiction that best navigates these ‘in-between’ territories—science fiction.
Stan Gooch, in his essay ‘Science Fiction as Religion’ provides an important idea which will help elucidate just why the genre of science fiction can provide glimpses into new and emergent metaphysics. For, where science fails—in providing meanings and speculations in the ‘large picture’ of human values—science fiction steps in and provides a ‘surrogate belief system’ and most of the modern cults—such as Scientology to the Aetherius Society—have as their psychological aim a unification of ‘science and religion’. In Gooch’s words, ‘modern religion and science fiction, therewith seem to be struggling towards a common meeting point—though they have as yet not reached it.’ Science fiction realizes that science cannot provide emotion and experience and, in doing so, compensates by trying to ‘infuse those elements into scientific frameworks or cosmologies’, also, of course, science cannot allow itself to wonder, so again science fiction makes up for this lack.
In his 2016 novel The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts has his protagonist—in truly Kantian fashion—that our ‘universe is being determined by the thing itself, and by say—the consciousness of the sentient beings perceiving the thing itself.’ The ‘thing itself’, of course, is Immanuel Kant’s notion of the noumenon, that which cannot be known outside of the limits of our perceptual ‘categories’. To return to Beyond the Outsider, Wilson describes Kant’s basic philosophy as being concerned with how the mind creates the universe as we perceive it. He continues to say that true, ‘there is an unknowable reality ‘out there’—the noumena, but it is unknowable precisely because it does not need to obey our laws, and so cannot enter our perceptions, or even our reason.’ (1965: 91) Nevertheless, Wilson argues, it was the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte who went beyond this problem and asked the crucial question of: ‘Can I ‘create’ the universe, and yet not be aware that I am doing so?’ (1965: 91).
Proceeding from this question, Adam Roberts presents the problem with a great deal of clarification. Upon reflecting on the mysterious ‘thing itself’, or noumenon, his character concludes that the ‘thing is vital, not inert’ and that the ‘twenty-first century atheists peer carefully at the world around them and claim to see no evidence for God, when what they’re really peering at is the architecture of their own perceptions.’ (my italics). Indeed, what they see, Roberts writes, is simply the ‘Spars and ribs and wire skeletons—there’s no God there . . .’ but, he asks with great insight, ‘. . . strip away the wire-skeleton, and think of the cosmos without space or time or cause and substance, and ask yourself: is it an inert quantity?’ (2016: 326-327).
Now, what is evidenced in Robert’s novel is an attempt to unify and explore the limits of science fiction and religious belief through the philosophic framework of Kant’s metaphysics. Through the ‘architecture of their own perceptions’ man perceives in his universe, and in himself, the limits of his own closed-system of values. Yet, what is implicit in this realisiation is what Wilson calls a ‘tri-alism’; that is, an addition to our usual understanding of Cartesian dualism—mind/body, spirit/matter, and so on. Instead, what is implicit in this understanding is that there is as well as a ‘contemplating mind (‘I think’) looking out at alien nature’ there is two I’s; ‘one is the ‘I think’, and the other the ‘transcendental ego’.’ Of course, this relates directly to Descartes’ famous edict that Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). What Fitche and Wilson are really pointing out is that, behind the scenes of our usual perceptions, there is an ‘invisible’ ‘I’ which manifests the ‘texture’, as it were, and meanings that appear to underlie our apprehension of reality. And instead of ‘looking out at the universe from its armchair’ we need now to recognise that there are two I’s, ‘two faces, one to look out, one to look inward towards the ‘hidden I’, the transcendental ego’. It would not be a stretch to say that the transcendental ego is our most esoteric dimension; for how it works, of course, requires a complex array of language and concepts to untie its mysterious involvement in our perceptions.
In an amended Epilogue to The New Existentialism (1966), Wilson provides some insights into what he calls his ‘basic metaphysic’, and this offers an incredible insight that may further our investigation into anomalous phenomena. As the UFO, according to Vallee, operates on the divide between dream and our ‘here and now’ reality—between our psychological and the material worlds—the transcendental ego too, in some odd way, may operate at a deeper level than we ordinarily understand. Indeed, one could say that the transcendental ego is a sort of ‘reality structurer’. Now by forwarding a basic ‘doctrine of the will’ that aims to uncover the ‘unconscious layers of will and intention, of which you were previously not aware’, it is significant that Wilson points out that the deeper layers of our intentionality awaken in mystical experiences. For in these experiences we lose our general sense of alienation—moreover, an alienation that is ‘due to lack of contact with one’s intentional layers’. Referring to this as our ‘deep intentionality’ what Wilson is really presenting here is his ‘basic metaphysic’—or cosmology—that enables us, like Robert’s protagonist, to see the universe not as an inert quantity, but instead as an active quality—constituting as well as sculpted by—the transcendental ego.
Philip K. Dick may have envisioned this when he posed the ‘Zebra’ hypothesis which posits the idea of a God that disguises himself as the environment. Similarly, in his essay ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’ he asks a similar question: if God ‘wears’ our universe like so many garments in a wardrobe, how do we know when this universe is being worn by this overtly style-conscious God? Now, it is not difficult to switch this idea around and say: what inhabits our universe is our ‘deep intentionality’ which, through us, ‘wears’ our perceptions of our world without us being aware of its presence. This is basically Fitche’s challenge to Kant’s notion of the noumenon. In fact, the transcendental ego is the part of us that bounds our consciousness of the thing itself. It does so by providing a ‘livable reality’ rather than an overwhelming influx of information—in short, it blinkers us in interest of our own practical survival. Man, bound by the phenomenal world, therefore has no direct access to the metaphysical realities that lie behind his categories—his structures and frameworks of perception—that en-frames human consciousness. That is, unless the intentional energies are fired up enough to access these deeper realms of the psyche.
Similarly to Philip K. Dick’s ‘Zebra’ and Adam Robert’s ‘active noumenon’, Madame Blavatsky in her enormous book, The Secret Doctrine (1888), states that the ‘noumenon can become a phenomenon on any plane of existence only by manifesting on that plane through an appropriate basis or vehicle’ (2012: 20). Now, whether the UFO manifests as an aspect of the noumenon becoming phenomenon, it is almost impossible to say. But, if we begin to understand the phenomenon on its own bizarre terms, we can see how it effectively subverts our ordinary categories and challenges our Aristotelian either/or sensibilities by posing a both/and anomalous ‘event’.
Here one may turn to Carl Jung’s curious dream of October 1958—briefly discussed in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)—in which he saw ‘lens-shaped metallic gleaming disks’, which he identified as two typical UFOs that proceeded to fly directly towards him as he was standing alongside his lake in Bollingen. As they briefly hovered about his person they quickly flew off, leaving him alone for a short period until another UFO appeared, again this was lens-like but this time it had an extension of a sort of ‘magic lantern’. As it was directing its attention towards him he suddenly awoke with the lingering thought that ‘We always think that U.F.O.s are projections of ours. Now it turns out that we are their projections. I am projected by the magic lantern as C. G. Jung. But who manipulates the apparatus?’ (1995: 355) [my italics]. Perhaps it was the transncendental ego, that deep intentional part of our being that showed itself to Jung in a symbolic dream?
Phenomenologically Jung’s dream leaves us with much to think about. For Jung is essentially passive in this dream; indeed, he is projected by the UFO itself. His very existence is bestowed by these lens-like disks, equipped as they are with a sort of projection unit in the form of a magic lantern. Like Blavatsky’s noumenon becoming the phenomenon, Jung is projected by the unknown incursion of anomalous flying ‘observers’, as it were. Now, as this was Jung’s dream we can ask the inside-out question—which nicely relates well to dream logic—by seeing if Jung’s own ‘dream identity’—his self as experienced in the dream—is indeed a product of an aspect of his higher-self. In other words, one might ask what part of Jung projected the dream in the first place?
The new existentialism lays important emphasis on the essential hierarchical nature of consciousness; lower levels of consciousness become increasingly diffuse, disintegrated, whereas higher forms of consciousness—such as the mystical experience or the ‘peak experience’—become synthesised and integrated into the greater whole of our being.
At this point it will benefit us to step back and once again ask the fundamental existential questions. Indeed, questions such as: Who am I? What is the meaning of existence? become impossible to answer in our ordinary states of consciousness because, in some sense, they are at the very substratum of our being. In other words, these questions are in a sense already answered for at a level below the iceberg of ordinary consciousness; they are what propel us into being in the first place—and the very reason for something rather than nothing at all. This ‘deep intentionality’ is effectively the Life Force.
Now, as we increase our consciousness we also include these deeper layers into our being; we integrate ourselves more fully and these answers become more self-evident. In fact, we might lose our general sense of alienation altogether—this, of course, being the fundamental insight of the mystical experience, or gnosis (meaning knowledge): all is one; our being and the universe are ultimately knowable and, moreover, inseparable. ‘When you awake’ writes Wilson ‘your top layers come to life first; i.e. are suffused with conscious energy, like blood flowing in the veins’ but when these deeper layers of you also integrate into your ‘top layers’ of ordinary consciousness, there comes bubbling up the ‘deep intentionality’ which is, for all intents and purposes, the ‘reality structurer’ as well as a source of our vital energies (1995).
Indeed, as we are not normally aware of these profound resources of energy they—rather like Jung’s dream UFO—effectively project our very being; they are, as it were, the foundational dynamism that maintains energises our ‘architectures of perception’. Just as Roberts points out the ‘dynamic’ quality of Kant’s noumenon, so it is with Jung’s two-way projecting UFO; both, in a sense, are representative of the deeper levels of consciousness—that level of what Wilson calls ‘deep intentionality’. It is this realisation implicit in the ‘new existentialism’ that constitutes Wilson’s essential cosmology, and furthermore it helps us illuminate the perceptual and consciousness-changing experiences associated with the UFO phenomenon in general.
To extend these insights further it is worth turning again to the work of Carl Jung whose ‘active imagination’ and ‘enantiodromia’ may provide us with further insights into the nature of anomalous phenomena. Firstly, the basic definition of the enantiodromia is the tendency for things to turn into their opposites; a sort of governing principle that ensures a general balance of opposites. And yet, to see the UFO phenomena merely as a sort of psychic compensatory mechanism is too reductive—but, in spite of that, its very actions—its theatrical and absurdist performance—may be an initiation of sorts. That is, representative of a challenge that is to be overcome—a kōan designed to integrate a deeper understanding into the nature of reality, and particularly consciousness’s role in the making of that reality.
If such phenomenon emerges out of a sort of deep wellspring of intentionality, that is not to say they are mere compensatory mechanisms acting on a sort of ‘automatic-response’ level. In other words, they are not the equivalent of an unconscious ‘reflex-arc’ that merely reacts to external conditions without any will of their own. In fact, there is the difficult realisation that these entities, which accompany either dream visions or waking experiences, are endowed with a degree of independence and autonomy—and, more disturbingly perhaps, a degree of consciousness which appears to be in advance of our own. Indeed, this is where it becomes difficult to differentiate between projection and independent ‘realities’, for these may be impressions rather than realities as such. Or impressions of a reality beyond what we ordinarily know. Furthermore, these very super-conscious abilities that the UFO entities exhibit may be precisely those same abilities are presently dormant—untapped—in the human psyche.
Of course, there are many presuppositions about how the universe works, and how, furthermore in what dimensions conscious beings can function. Spiritualism, of course, posits the notion of alternate dimensions and realms in which independent, conscious entities exist. This is present in the notion of an afterlife; another world or space in which consciousness voyages after the death of the physical body. Certainly, it becomes clear in UFO literature that these denizens occupy an in-between state; rather, they are like Blavatsky’s noumenon becoming phenomenon. Whatever they are, they clearly can switch between physical and dream realities at will; and, to confound things further, they obfuscate themselves from everyday believability by leaving behind a trail of absurdity and illogic, thus deliberately subverting what we know as a consensus—or categorical—reality.
In this sense, enantiodromia is one of the typical methods of the trickster in folklore. It is the sheer mercurialness of the phenomenon which demands a psychological, as well as phenomenological, approach to unveil both its methods (of unveiling itself) and its meaning and purpose (the reason for its unveiling). We shall return to the concept of enantiodromia. But first, we must clearly understand how Jung’s notion of active imagination ties in with Wilson’s emphasis on the importance of intentionality.
Metaphors and Meta-Logic
The UFO phenomena—like a Zen kōan or an esoteric secret—may yield to our comprehension but remain fundamentally inexpressible. There is a sense that, to communicate certain meanings, one must turn to symbol and to theatrics, even to dream logic and altered states of consciousness. This is fundamentally the reason why all the fields correspond or cross-fertilise each other; each remains at the periphery of our comprehension and expression. Indeed, there is a sense of an implicit truth that lies beyond the veil of what is apparent. Revelations which often accompany the UFO, the kōan and the esoteric insight, are often grasped on the threshold of both our rational mind and imaginative faculties; it is, therefore, at man’s most integrated in which his higher faculties can grasp extraordinary—or super-natural—logic. This is what Wilson meant by achieving a ‘birds-eye view’.
In a previous essay, I wrote: ‘Esotericism or the ‘occult’ can perhaps be summarised by this notion of transmuting the conceptually obscured, or hidden nature of reality, into everyday perception. And to do this, of course, is to increase the relationality of consciousness’ (Stanley; 2017: 111). This ‘step-over’ from the super-conscious mind of greater meanings into our conscious understanding, is the evolution of consciousness. When it happens there is a sense of new relationships between things that previously seemed infinitely and inexplicably separated. Enantiodromia—when things become their opposite—as seen from a ‘birds-eye view’ would be perceived for what it is: the ‘return of the repressed’; for something within consciousness is not being addressed because it is neither sensed nor perceived by the lower-levels of consciousness. Again, Wilson’s statement that ‘if the flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality’ becomes a key to our understanding this concept (1980: 112).
The UFO—existing in the difficult in-between hinterlands of respectability and reason—appears to be such a symbol itself. Says Jacques Vallée, ‘[if] you strive to convey a truth that lies beyond the semantic level made possible by your audience’s language, you must construct apparent contradictions in terms of ordinary meaning’ (2014: 27). Indeed, if the UFO is a symbol that intends—assuming it has its own raison d’être—to bypass most respectable institutions—and, as Vallée goes on to state, to nevertheless ‘implant deep within society far-reaching doubts concerning its basic philosophical tenets’— it must turn itself inside out; that is, by providing its own explanation. Vallée continues, ‘it would have to project an image just beyond the belief structure of the target society.’ This is what he calls the UFO’s ‘meta-logic’; precisely the same sort of logic that I have briefly outlined above with the nature of Jung’s enantiodromia.
Furthermore, there is the metaphorical and analogical nature of the UFO phenomena that appears to generate around it. There is a proliferation of theories, each closely related to each other. Patrick Harpur identifies these as effectively misreading of spatial metaphors, in which he goes on to list the analogous connections: ‘UFOs come from beyond, inside, outside, next to, above, below, within, etc.’ Comparing it to crop circle theory, he extrapolates the analogous connections further: ‘extraterrestrial theory: unconscious projection theory :: outer space: inner space :: physical : mental. . . extraterrestrial theory: “earth energy” theory :: above: below :: material : immaterial.’ (2003: 169) One only needs to look at the title of Stan Gooch’s excellent book, Creatures from Inner Space (1984), for an explicit example of Harpur’s observation.
The dramatic and unusual experience of abduction phenomenon as it is reported by many abductees complicates the issue further. As I have mentioned previously, this is one of the sub-categories of ufology, and has increasingly dominated the field over sightings of the ‘craft’ themselves. Indeed, the abduction scenarios often have an intensely dreamlike and apparently non-physical dimension, which further frustrates these spatial and physical-mental juxtapositions. Of course, there is the sense that the UFO and its occupants are inter‑dimensional travelers, utterly at odds with our customs as well as our fundamental experience of time and meaning. Rather like when anthropologists breaching the isolation of ancient tribes, the student—by the very act of integration—affects what it is he wants to observe; rather, it becomes a perceptual as well as cross-cultural mirage of information—in which both sides are quickly confused and misunderstood. To each party the rituals of the other are inevitably misinterpreted—or, indeed, remain altogether incomprehensible. The cultural bridging may take a long time, and even then, the communications may be tenuous and trivial until greater integration is achieved.
E.M. Forster in his 1924 novel A Passage to India depicts a poignant example of this problem when he compares the Englishmen meet with a group of Hindus, of whom one is requested to sing but, in apparently ignoring the request, continues on with the conversation while intermittently taking sips of tea. As the occasion draws to a close, he suddenly bursts out, ‘I may sing now’ and the novel continues:
‘His thin voice rose, and gave out one sound after another. At times there seemed rhythm, at times there was the illusion of a Western melody. But the ear, baffled repeatedly, soon lost any clue, and wandered in a maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible. It was the song of an unknown bird. Only the servants understood it . . . The sounds continued and ceased after a few moments as casually as they had begun—apparently half through a bar, and upon the subdominant.’
Of course, this is a basic difference in artistic form, but nevertheless it brings home an important point. Commenting upon this scene the philosopher William Barrett notes that the Westerner may find the ‘Oriental music “meaningless,”’ however, ‘the Oriental might very well reply that this is the meaninglessness of nature itself which goes on endlessly without beginning, middle, or end.’ (1990: 55) Again, the misunderstanding is a philosophical, ontological and even an epistemological one that relates to our understanding of spatial metaphors in regard to time and its processes.
All of this, of course, could be founded upon a series of misconceptions. The phenomenon, baffling as it is—and, as a result, leading us on by analogy to analogy—might yield to our comprehension upon a closer and less severely dualistic framing of our perceptual categories. In fact, upon closer inspection, a sense of an inner-consistency of meaning and purpose seems to underlie much of the phenomenon.
If we accept the idea of a ‘deep intentionality’ underlying nature, we might say, like Jung, that being born into the physical world is akin to how the unconscious makes itself explicit; that is, being born is nature’s unconsciousness (the unmanifest; or potential) becoming explicitly manifest in three-dimensional space—the ordinary world that we find ourselves in, with all its laws and limitations. Jung says that the each of us is ‘. . . begotten out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living Nature herself. It is a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of our conscious mind; of ways and possibilities of which our one-sided conscious mind knows nothing; a wholeness which embraces the very depths of Nature.’ Jung is here talking about the archetype of the ‘child’; however, one could apply this just as well to creativity itself. And, moreover, to those unusual events that frustrate our curiously ‘one-sided’ consciousness.
Two examples of what Jung called synchronicity will throw light on the problem of understanding these ‘meta-logical’ events. In each example there is a similar comprehension of information that challenges our notions of time and causality. There is, as it were, an incursion of our fourth-dimensional selves which, born from Nature’s unconscious, still exists in this dimension of radically different laws to the physical. We exist in the world most viscerally, but, fundamentally, we are not of it entirely.
In Gifts of Unknown Things (1976) Lyall Watson relates one of his experiences of travelling through the Amazon, when one of his fellow Brazilian caboclos developed an intense toothache. Developing an abscess the tooth and surrounding gums became inflamed and the man went into a delirious high fever. None of the boat’s crew had any access to any antibiotics or painkillers; they simply had to proceed through the Amazon while Watson attempted crude methods such as removing it with a pair of pliers. Giving up, his fellow traveler continued to suffer, when suddenly one of the boatmen suggested they visit a nearby famous healer that lived a few hours down further the river.
The ‘great healer’ to Watson’s astonishment was a ‘terrible disappointment’, described as a ‘small, hungry-looking, middle-aged man with little hair and fewer clothes’ sporting only a ‘tattered pair of shorts, plastic sandals’ and a t-shirt that was once the property of the State Prison of Louisiana (139). Nevertheless, with nothing to lose they presented to the healer the feverish, and no doubt by now delirious, patient. The communication took place in Amazonian-Portuguese and Watson noticed that the emphasis was not on the symptoms, but rather the ‘particular circumstances, the exact time and place, they were first noted’ (1976: 139). This was a sleight of hand, Watson believed, to reroute the ‘blame’ on to an external and apparently malevolent entity; a psychological trick, perhaps, to provide some sort of catharsis, or to place the patient into a particular relationship with his suffering.
The procedure began rather bizarrely. In fact, the healer started to sing to himself, in an Indian dialect, while he placed his hand into the patient’s mouth and began to rummage around, with the occasional grunt, and eventually pulled out the molar with an uncanny ease. The bleeding, as a result, was remarkably slight. And, furthermore, the healer began to sway with his eyes closed and suddenly, one of the boatmen pointed out that there was a trickle of blood flowing out the corner of the patient’s mouth. However, what happened next was far more inexplicable. Suddenly, along the line of trickling blood, emerged a column of black army ants. Watson observed that they were not a frantic, searching set of ants, but a strict regiment following the line of blood and apparently emerging all from the patient’s wound. They continued to flow, walking down his body and onto the log on which he was sitting.
Strangely enough, Watson’s fellow boatman began laughing at the spectacle. And yet, ‘it was not the nervous laughter of people in fear and discomfort. It was honest loud laughter over something that struck them as very funny.’ (1976: 141) For, as Watson relates, in the ‘local dialect, they use the same word for pain as they do for the army ant. The healer had promised the pain would leave, and so it did in the form of an elaborate and extraordinary pun.’ [my italics] (1976: 141-142).
This second ‘synchronicity’ is not so dramatic, but what it does have is an analogical quality that frames the above argument well; again, there is a meta-logic about it, and again, the curious sense of humour is present.
Fred Gettings, in The Secret Lore of the Cat (1989), describes the curious genesis of his book, which all began with a commission to take photographs of medieval cities in Europe. In doing so, he found himself wandering around the backstreets of Ghent, Belgium. Behind Lange Steenstrasse a ginger tom caught his eye—or, more accurately, the ginger tom directed Getting’s attention—by jumping up onto a nearby window sill. Juxtaposing itself against the lush plant life, red geraniums in terracotta pots; no doubt an idyllic vision perfect for a photographer. Gettings, grabbing his camera, immediately began to take snapshots of the stylish cat when a young woman appeared in front of his viewfinder, allowing the cat to enter into the house. Noticing that the man outside was interested, she smiled and offered him in for some coffee. It turned out that she was an artist and was, in fact, working on illustrations for a book on cats. This piqued Gettings’ interest, who had also written and researched art and art history for many years. Curiously, she suddenly asked whether he had seen the artist Arthur Rackham’s depiction of cats. He said he had indeed, and as he did so, she reached over for a book near the windowsill—astonishingly, it was a book on the Arthur Rackham which he had written over a decade before.
Gettings muses: ‘What a magical cat her ginger tom had been to draw me with such cunning into his owner’s house. That cat had not really been interested in having his photograph taken —he merely had access to the secret wisdom, and knew that his mistress and I should meet, talk about cats, Rackham and life.’ He continues by saying that long after the event that he ‘. . . could not get the ginger out of my mind. I knew already that the cat is a magical creature, with an arcane symbolism special to itself, yet I had never before become personally entangled in the feline magic it can weave.’ And yet why is the cat so different?—Why, he asked himself, was the cat so important to the Egyptians and witchcraft and so on. Of course, this all lead to the writing of The Secret Lore of the Cat.
Both of these cases of synchronicity are in keeping with the meta-logic of the UFO experience, although the UFO experience, in comparison with these essentially mild synchronicities, is far more intensive.
The sort of physical punning that takes place in Lyall Watson’s account is very interesting, for it presupposes that the healer works simultaneously on many levels—psychological as well as physical. In fact, the two worlds blend together seamlessly. Firstly there is the ritual or suggestion that one ought to displace the problem by attributing it some ‘outside’ force, or embodying the issue as the workings of some malignant entity. Secondly, there is the apparent ease of the extraction and curious lack of blood—there is a sense that he can, to some degree, command matter itself. And, thirdly, there is the symbolic bleeding of the ants that related directly to the boatman’s language; that is, the ants are etymologically linked with the word ‘pain’. Normally, if this story was told to someone it would appear to be entirely symbolic—and yet, Watson apparently witnessed it first-hand. This is typical of the UFO experience; particularly in regards to the bizarre abduction accounts that are often recounted in books like Strieber’s Communion (1987).
Jung, speaking of the UFO, believes that they are in fact:
‘impressive manifestations of totality whose simple, round form portrays the archetype of the self, which as we know from experience plays the chief role in uniting apparently irreconcilable opposites and is therefore best suited to compensate the split-mindedness of the age.’ (2002: 17).
Interestingly, one could posit two realities that intertwine, and that the reality of the ‘symbolic reality’ is not necessarily entirely separate. Indeed, this explains the synchronicity phenomena as well as the effect of enantiodromia; the one becomes the other—not because they are separated, or indeed polar opposites—but because the dimensions of the other ‘half’, so to speak, are interlaced with an aspect of experienced reality. The ‘totality’ of a synchronicity seems to play this out too, for the healer performs a ritual that is both symbolic and physical; that is, the synchronicity—such as in Gettings’ case—is both a message—an interpreted meaning—and simultaneously an unfolding of inexplicably related events. A universe constituted of meaningful connections would, in fact, have this curious quality of interplay between its dimensions. The synchronicity is a sort of ‘weighted meaning’ that drops down into reality, and, as it blends with the laws of our ordinary dimension of lived experience, acts itself out as a series of events. To use another analogy, it is rather like an ice crystal forms into a network of symmetrical shapes on the window; firstly, it crystallizes, hardens, and then begins to take form from its previous, less tangible form of liquid or gas. In a Platonic sense, it is as the evolutionary philosopher, Henri Bergson says: ‘The possible would have been there from all time, a phantom awaiting its hour; it would therefore have become reality by the addition of something, by some transfusion of blood or life,’—or, in this case, manifesting as events latent with metaphor.
Again, Madame Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine makes a similar point: ‘Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone, has ever been “created”, and it is only on this plane of ours that it commenced “becoming”, that is to say, objectivizing into its present materiality, or expanding from within outwards, from the most sublimated and supersensuous essence into its grossest appearance.’ This appearance, of course, is the phenomenal world of the senses. Synchronicities, too, seem to expand from within outwards, becoming both an event and simultaneously an inner-sense of meanings lying outside of time.
Gettings’ case is more explicit and simple; the cat simply leads him to a fortuitous meeting that resulted in a creative as well as intellectual endeavor. Whether or not this was the cat’s intention is beside the point—although one could suppose that the cat, like Watson’s ants, could be guided by some deeper current of meaning than we yet understand. A synchronicity, if it involves an object, or a unique arrangement of events, etc., presupposes that meaning can somehow organise apparently chaotic matter into aggregation of interconnected, meaningful ‘events’. Indeed, they may remind us that each moment is pregnant with blossoming potential, and, when we feel sufficiently relaxed or acutely perceptive, we can perceive this apparent miraculous nature of the present moment. Now, did the cat know what it is doing? Probably not. But as it is perhaps more deprived of free-will than man, it can, in some sense be a part of the background of an ‘intentionality principle’. To speculate further, one could say that Gettings’ ‘transcendental ego’ telepathically utilized the cat to set up a series of complex interactions!
Nevertheless, the cat for Gettings’ became a living symbol—and not only for himself, as he found out, but that it has always been interpreted as a symbol of unseen forces throughout time. In fact, he includes in his book an image of a cat adorned with the Egyptian symbol of the Udjat (the eye of Horus), otherwise known as The Gayer-Anderson Cat now found in the British Museum. He goes on to ask the question, ‘Are occultists wrong in claiming that this Udjat is the symbol of the so called ‘third eye’, that organ of higher vision which is as yet undeveloped in ordinary men?’ Furthermore, he presents a brief history of this eye: ‘Horus was the king-god whose eyes were associated with luminaries—his right eye with the Sun, his left eye with the Moon’, and similarly that the ‘left’ and ‘right’ motifs were symboised in two lions which ‘posted on the couchant on either side of the large solar symbol of Horus, the sun-god’ representing, respectively, the past (left) and the future (right)—and, more significantly for this essay, a point which lies outside of time (1989: 27).
Of course, there is an immense amount of analogous thinking required to see these events in such a deeply meaningful way. And if, indeed, either of these synchronistic events truly happened as reported, we can see why they would affect the witnesses so deeply. Indeed, it took Lyall Watson years to openly admit his experience with the Amazonian healer. And Fred Gettings devoted an entire book in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the cat as a mythological as well as an esoteric symbol.
Implicit in Getting’s conclusions is the interesting awareness of the hemispheric functioning of the brain. Turning to Egyptian symbolism Gettings’ is able to navigate himself into a new way of seeing; the cat is just one of many metaphors that remind us of these significant perceptual differences. Time, of course, has a primary role to play in synchronicities, for the event takes place in an unusual contradiction of meaning influencing time and space; the event is so significant due to its apparent transcendence of time. In each instance a deeply meaningful synchronicity happens there is a sense that time and space is not what it appears to be; in fact, we suspect that reality as we experience it works on a whole new set of principles previously overlooked. Again, this has much in common with the UFO experience. It seems to work on the same principle: that of a reminder: or as a phenomenon deliberately ‘churning’ up our preconceptions of time and space, rather like a plough heaving up the soil for the season’s new growths to flourish.
Now, regards time and space the two hemispheres of the brain function differently; each has its unique processing mechanism when it comes to meaning, interpretation of sequence and each even has a predisposition to either order or chaos: analytical logic or ‘lateral’ thinking. In fact, the left hemisphere has a preference for orderliness, routine and predictability, whereas the right is quite at home in the fuzzy world of analogy and metaphor, timelessness and unusual juxtapositions. In other words, the synchronicity and the UFO, as an experience, would be accommodated by the right brain and rejected, perhaps, by the left brain. Jordan Peterson in his recent Bible series lectures even went so far as to suggest that the brain, roughly divided, can be mapped onto dualistic dynamics such as order and chaos, light and dark, etc. This can best be symbolized by the Yin and Yang symbol, in which a small section of each is situated at the heart of the other. That is, as both have strictly delineated frontiers, there is nevertheless an aspect—or an essence—present in each respective territory. Fundamentally it is a dynamic, with its two opposing forming a creative cooperation rather than mutual destruction.
In essence the interplay between two hemispheres—or two ‘essences’ as found in Jung’s concept of enantidodromia—becomes a type of switching between opposites, or, in which something becomes inside-out or upside down; our perceptions flip over and suddenly another aspect, which we had overlooked before, seems palpably self-evident. This is what I meant when I said that the central dictum of esoteric philosophy is to transmute the conceptually obscured into a conscious sense of deeper meanings. The incursion of unusual and anomalous events is precisely the challenge to at least one of our perceptual mechanisms, and the only way in which to unravel its logic—the logic of a synchronicity or a mystical revelation—is to balance the two hemispheric processes of the brain; to recalibrate what Kant’s categories obscure, that is, the noumenal is only unknowable to one half of our perceptual systems. In fact, each hemisphere has difficulty knowing great swathes of the others’ capacities and capabilities—each half is in a sense alienated from the other. What are for one side phenomena remains inaccessible—noumenon—to the other; so, to transcend this self-limiting boundary dispute, they must work in a harmonic and dynamic tandem. And if they did, synchronicities would become commonplace. Our existence would become populated by the esoteric concept of ‘the language of the birds’, a language that allows direct communication and understanding of the deeper dimensions of reality—a reality usually occulted from our normal perceptual systems.
Now, back in 2009, I asked Colin Wilson what he’d recommend to someone who is an incorrigible pessimist like Louis-Ferdinand Céline, his answer was somewhat uncharacteristic. Usually skeptical about drugs (read the appendix to Beyond the Outsider, for example), Wilson nevertheless relayed an insight he obtained from R.H. Ward, who wrote the 1957 book, A Drug-Takers Notes. Of course someone like Céline would be completely sealed off to meaning, for he had made it a habit to discredit everything as ultimately meaningless, and viewed the world cynically. To regain this sort of ‘meaning perception’ would have been very difficult for Céline, and Wilson’s answer was to suggest some sort of experience that would change his mind. Wilson quotes at length R.H. Ward in The Occult (1971):
‘Last night as I was walking home from the station I had one of those strange experiences of ‘rising up within oneself’, of ‘coming inwardly alive’ . . . A minute or so after I had left the station, I was attacked . . . by indigestion . . . I thought to myself, though I suppose not in so many words, ‘I could separate myself from this pain; it belongs only to my body and is real only to the physical not-self. There is no need for the self to feel it.’ Even as I thought this the pain disappeared; that is, it was in some way left behind because I, or the self, had gone somewhere where it was not; and the sensation of ‘rising up within’ began . . .
First there is the indescribable sensation in the spine, as of something mounting up, a sensation which is partly pleasure and partly awe, a physical sensation and yet one which, if it makes sense to say so, is beginning to be not physical. This was accompanied by an extraordinary feeling of bodily lightness, of well-being and effortlessness, as if one’s limbs had no weight and one’s flesh had been suddenly transmuted into some rarer substance. But it was also, somehow, a feeling of living more in the upper part of one’s body than the lower, a certain peculiar awareness of one’s head as . . . the most important and intelligent of one’s members. There was also a realization that one’s facial expression was changing; the eyes were wider open than usual; the lips were involuntarily smiling. Everything was becoming ‘more’, everything was going up on to another level . . .
I found that I could think in a new way. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say that I could think-and-feel in a new way, for it was hard to distinguish between thought and feeling . . . This was like becoming possessed of a new faculty.’ (Quoted in Wilson; 1988: 736-737)
Everything ‘becoming more’ is also what Wilson called ‘relationality’ or ‘Faculty X’; that ability to connect meanings until an almost overwhelming sense of infinite meaningfulness rekindles and vivifies our perceptual—and intentional—fires. In this state each meaning, symbol and metaphor becomes intrinsically evolutionary. When the ‘flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless.’ A feeling of the relationality—as opposed to a feeling of the unrelated and diffuse world of a pessimist, or someone who is tired—is precisely the opposite; instead, for them, reality is grasped by an active intentionality, yielding further to a fuller and richer comprehension, or, as Alfred North Whitehead called it, prehension (the ability to grasp meaning). Suddenly, says Wilson of Faculty X, one would become intensely aware of ‘other times and other places’. Indeed, this is what R.H. Ward also calls this sensation of ‘becoming possessed of a new faculty’.
This faculty enables a new cosmological vision of our role in space and time, and moreover enables a direct perception of the underlying meanings inherent in the evolutionary process. For example, in his book The Paranormal, Stan Gooch paints a picture of a living cosmos in which ‘“spirit” takes a huge step forward’ by cloaking itself in the material world, for now it can ‘operate at an infinitely more meaningful level. It is now in a position (as ever, from outside ‘space’) to upgrade its broadcast transmissions—the transmission of itself into ‘space’. Far more complex and more purposeful messages now become possible.’ (1978: 297). Phenomena such as UFOs and synchronicity, it could be argued, are this meaningful level of spirit partaking in the phenomenal world, upgrading, to use Gooch’s terms, the ‘broadcast transmissions’ by expanding the witnesses’ understanding of the universal laws in which he lives. Gooch argues that these evolutionary faculties—R.H. Ward’s vision, Faculty X and others—are preformed or latent potentialities for the evolution of man’s consciousness. And what is so curious is that these very ‘magical’ faculities seem to exist in the transcendental ego, that super conscious element in our psyche which appears to hold the key to our conscious evolution. Indeed, this is what Wilson meant when he said that the ‘first man to learn the secret of the control of consciousness will be the first true man, wholly in possession of the new dimension of freedom.’ (1972: 150) Not only that, he will become the superman; man in his entire potential.
But the question remains: what leads us onwards and upwards? Goethe says it’s the ‘eternal feminine’; for Wilson and Husserl it is the transcendental ego; for Madame Blavatsky it is the interplay between noumena and phenomena; and in Watson’s Miracle Visitors it is the ‘inaccessibilities’ that tease out our greatest mental leaps. In a sense they’re all aspects of each other, bleeding over seamlessly into one another’s territory; eternally presenting a sort of meta-logical game that challenges our presumptions every time we become too complacent. Arthur M. Young captured this nature of the universal game in the title of his 1976, The Reflexive Universe. Similarly to Watson and Vallée he presents a theory of a ‘metalanguage’, which has been described elsewhere as a requirement ‘. . . for any evolving system, a pattern that can help to illuminate man’s destiny in the universe and instruct the process of individual and social transformation. In deciphering the universal kōan of process . . . [representing] the beginnings of a metalanguage for the higher-order paradigm shift that is so urgently required at this stage of human evolution.’
This sort of odd logic that we have explored is at the heart of esotericism and the occult—with such logic present synchonricities described above—and here I’ve here chosen to refer to these experiences as exercises in providing mankind with a series of evolutionary metaphors.
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Painting of Colin Wilson by Milda Vaičiuvėnaitė: