Selections from Evolutionary Metaphors

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of the Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plasma, Signatures and the Life Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9781782504450

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BOOK REVIEW: An Evolutionary Leap: Colin Wilson on Psychology by Colin Stanley (Karnac Books Ltd: 2016)

            An Evolutionary Leap: Colin Wilson on Psychology (2016) by Colin Wilson’s bibliographer, Colin Stanley, is a scholarly précis of Wilson’s own impressive contribution to psychology. Although Wilson is best known as either an existential philosopher with the release of his 1956 The Outsider, or otherwise as a writer on the occult with books like The Occult (1971) and Mysteries (1978), which effectively revived his career after his unfortunate and undeserved fall from respectability throughout the 1960s (during which he worked on some of his most definitive work which culminated in a completed Outsider Cycle), it is perhaps too little known – and properly realised – that what Wilson was really posing, or implying, in his earliest work was a revolutionary form of Existential Psychology.  It is also little known that The Outsider was a huge impact, in style, form and content, on R.D Laing’s famous work in existential psychology, The Divided Self.

Wilson’s own work, it could be said, is a synthesis out of which emerges a new vision of man.  Again, his early work was an in-depth look at modern philosophy, culture and the religious impulse as it stands in the post-war West; a West stripped, essentially, of a meaningful context. Modernism’s departure from the traditional values left a metaphysical black hole in man’s psyche, and the rift caused a radical departure from the meaningful foundations of religion, which at least provided a stabilisation mechanism for many sensitive individuals.  When the truly modern man stood up to his own existence, only a void stared back – a void where God had metaphorically died – which in turn either lead to the vacillating affirmations, of Yea-saying, and resultant slumps into suicidal despair as felt by the Romantics, to the eventual emergence of Existentialism and its bold attempt to provide at least a defiant stoicism against meaninglessness (it was, in a sense, a healthy impulse that affirmed man’s freedom, but nevertheless, at heart, yet still without firm foundations).

This hollowness at the heart of man in turn lead to what Wilson called a tendency towards a “sense of defeat that permeates our culture”, this resultant pessimism which informed literature, science and psychology was given critical scrutiny in Wilson’s book The Age of Defeat (1959) (otherwise known as The Stature of Man in the United States) which American psychologist Abraham Maslow read and was deeply impressed enough to initiate correspondence with its author.  This developed in a warm camaraderie, for both were unconvinced that man was a merely contingent creature adrift in a meaningless void, and believed that both man and his symptomatic culture needed to somehow recognise this fallacy, and in doing so would re-establish a sense of values from which man could productively flourish.

Wilson and Maslow were deeply convinced that a new psychology of health, rather than as a mere theory of human sickness, should be somehow developed in order to revitalise culture.  And in turn further mankind’s evolutionary leap, which would afford man more freedom and a precise directive towards which to eventually actualise (or self-actualise, in Maslow’s terms).

Colin Stanley’s book provides a chronological set of essays which introduce each of Wilson’s books on psychology and their historical and intellectual context, together with brief histories about how each book came about, and furthermore how Wilson developed his own theories by applying contemporary psychological studies in split-brain research, Maslovian psychology, and his insightful biographies into such mavericks as Wilhelm Reich, Carl Jung and the then emergent Post-Freudian Revolution.  It is to the latter which Wilson felt as the “greatest advance in psychology”; a discipline he identifies as being forwarded by “Binwanger, Minkowski, Medard Boss and others”.  He stated, again in Beyond the Outsider (1965), that existential psychology “recognises that neurosis is not the result of man’s maladjustment to society, but to the whole of existence”.

Stanley’s essays, beginning with The Age of Defeat (1959) and The Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963) and ending with Wilson’s last book, Super Consciousness: The Quest for the Peak Experience (2007/2009) effectively covers this whole spectrum of human existence, from the sexual impulse, literature, the powers of the Right Brain to Wilson’s own meetings with extraordinary individuals like Brad Absetz who seemed to embody aspects of Wilson’s own theories evolutionary psychology and its hidden powers – hidden powers, moreover, which are chillingly becoming more openly manifest in many of Wilson’s own case studies of remarkable individuals, alerting us to the sheer immanence of such an evolutionary leap.

An Evolutionary Leap: Colin Wilson on Psychology offers new and/or seasoned Wilson readers alike a brilliant opportunity to evaluate, all in one place, Wilson’s contribution to existential and evolutionary psychology, and it will, I believe, inspire and breathe a new lease of life into many of the cul-de-sacs prevalent in modern culture – and particularly in relation to ourselves as evolving individuals in search of a purpose from which to grow.  Stanley has provided the go-to book for a radical re-understanding of contemporary psychology, and as an increasing interest in positive psychology grows – in and outside of academia – I believe this book will stimulate a wider readership for those who want new, practical ideas of how to motivate a positive change within themselves, and in the modern psychoanalytic infrastructure.

The evolutionary leap that Wilson felt so near is here presented in impressive clarity of style and precision with which Wilson himself would have admired.  Stanley elaborates Wilson’s work with expertly chosen quotations, bringing Wilson’s work into such a sharp focus that effortlessly directs readers to much fruitful and stimulating future reading.

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The book itself also provides an impressive list of references and further reading for anyone wishing to undertake further research for a dissertation or thesis. Colin Stanley has also produced other useful study guides for those approaching Wilson for the first time, or indeed more veteran readers who need to brush up on Wilson’s often overwhelming oeuvre. His own publishing house, Pauper’s Press, has an invaluable collection of highly focused and authoritative series of books dedicated to Colin Wilson Studies, a growing and highly exciting field which offers much opportunity to a reinvigoration of a wide variety of disciplines.

Karnac Books have also provided an excellent service to psychology and Colin Wilson Studies by publishing such a professionally presented book with such a charming front cover!  It is a commendable piece of work, and their variety of other publications is an inspiring collection of specialist and alternative books on psychoanalysis.

 

Climbing the Ladder of Selves

Innovative Innervations

On the 11th August 2016 Nature published the results of an experiment in which they effectively utilised a virtual reality environment to help paraplegics regain sensation in their paralyzed limbs[1].  Not only that, for as a result of this returned feeling they were able to walk again, thus dramatically improving the daily life of the candidates.  In the study they took special note of the “potential occurrence of functional cortical plasticity”, which was “evaluated through longitudinal analyses of EEG recordings”.  It continues by stating that all “patients were instructed to imagine movements of their own legs while EEG signals from 11 scalp electrodes were recorded over the leg primary somatosensory and motor cortical areas”.  Each candidate was instructed to imagine movements of their legs, something most of us take for granted.

There have been several similar experiments repeated before, but one particular example will suffice, and it involves a group of physically healthy Israeli soldiers.  The experiment was conducted by Shlomo Breznitz at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He conducted the soldiers to march twenty-five miles, but provided each group of marchers with varying and incorrect information about how much they had actually marched, or were going to march.  For example he would either exaggerate or dramatically underestimate the marcher’s mileage.  Michael Talbot summarises Brezniz’s results in which he found evidence that the “stress hormone level in the soldiers’ blood always reflected their estimates and not the actual distance they had marched”.  He continues, “[i]n other words, their bodies responded not to reality, but to what they were imagining as reality” (The Holographic Universe: 88).

This is all highly significant when considering the notion of an evolutionary self, for the embryo of the future self must also exist in the present; however, it has merely not been actualised, as Abraham Maslow may have put it. It demands the question, what if we were able to imagine a higher reality for ourselves, a more integrated and powerful form of being? Indeed to become self-actualised is an enormous challenge, and as I have mentioned before alpinism seems to be an often used metaphor for this task of self-development.  Wilson, in The New Pathways of Psychology, coined the term ‘the Self-Image’, the fact that we are only so much as capable of being what we imagine ourselves to be.  ‘The great man is the play-actor of his own ideals’, said Nietzsche.  Says Wilson:

“A man could not climb a vertical cliff without cutting hand-holds in the rock.  Similarly, I cannot achieve a state of ‘intenser consciousness’ merely by wanting to . . . We tend to climb towards higher states of self-awareness by means of a series of self-images.  We create a certain imaginary image of the sort of person we would like to be, and then try to live up to the image” (34)

This ‘series of self-images’ is precisely the means by which we can grapple with the tough and turbulent terrain of reality.  However, it must correspond with a possible and latent reality.  The Nature experiment provided the imaginary stimulus – the virtual reality headgear and exoskeleton – which provided a new, body-enhancing self-image.  Again it awakened the mind to correspond with a latent reality and thus innervated the previously derelict limbs, that is, they were re-imbued by a sort of psychological leap which became a physiological reality.

The Mind as Programmer

Wilson emphasised this in his 2006 essay, ‘The Psychology of Optimism’, in which he discusses the implications of Roger Sperry’s type of mind-body monism.

Sperry came to reject the idea that the mind and body were two basically diametrically opposed realities, where the mind cannot influence the body.  He believed that “[e]mergent mental powers . . . must logically exert downward causal control over electrophysiological events in brain activity”.  The mind for Sperry was not merely epiphenomenal; it was something outside of the brain, in which the brain merely acted as a receiver.  However, there is an altogether more immediate correlation; the body is minded, if you like.  Consciousness for Sperry existed as well as the body, not necessarily because of the body, and therefore it takes the role of an active force, having an enormously important creative will which can generate profound physiological changes (like the innervations of a paraplegic’s legs).  Wilson concludes his essay by saying that we must “persuade scientists . . . to begin experiments to try and show that brain cells can be created by a focused effort of will” (Colin Wilson: The Philosopher of Optimism, 85).

One could say that consciousness is some sort of programmer from outside the material reality, something that tends to infuse it with higher dimensions of significance.

Time and the Transcendent Self

The virtual reality experiment proves this to be a significant area of research, and although it can improve the lives of many who have lost use of their limbs, it could also potentially act as a new method by which to stimulate unused areas of our own minds.  Of course, drugs, particularly hallucinogenic, have also had a similar effect on individuals, and are in fact an influence on virtual worlds themselves. For example, in 1998 there was even a Japanese computer game called LSD which was entirely based on Hiroko Nishikawa’s dream journal, released under the title Lovely Sweet Dream.  Imagination in itself is an important means by which to “stimulate the earth-bound imagination of man to grasp the immensity around him” (Existentially Speaking, 19-20).  The mind, Wilson reminds us, is also a muscle that needs to be re-innervated so as to be able to grasp – to contract its powers so as to assimilate its experience of reality more powerfully – with a vivid intensity which enables existence to be more powerfully experienced.  (Wilson also used the virtual worlds of computer science in his 1985 novel, The Personality Surgeon for the same reason).

Interestingly, this notion of imagination, the virtual worlds and dream being a means to stimulate the earthbound imagination out of its tendency to become robotic and passive, has been picked up by many novelists.  An example is the work of J.B. Priestley whose time plays, or the novel The Magicians, enables his characters to vividly re-live the past in what he called ‘Time Alive’.  Although the novel stems directly out of Gurdjieff’s and Ouspensky’s development of system known generally as The Fourth Way, it nevertheless provides and important psychological point.  It also appears most profoundly in an even earlier play, his 1937 Time and the Conways, whereby the character Alan Conway states the multiplicity of our selves:

“. . . now, at this moment, or any moment, we’re only cross-sections of our real selves.  What we really are is a whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us – the real you, the real me.  And then perhaps we’ll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream” (The Magicians, ix).

These theories of time and our multiple personalities emerged directly out of J.B. Priestley’s obsession with the time theories of J.W. Dunne, whose work An Experiment with Time (1927) postulated, as a result of Dunne’s idea of serial-time, that there must also be corresponding I’s which observe us as it were outside of time as well as inside of time; rather like an infinite hall of mirrors reflecting different versions of you – as you are, as you were, as you could be.

The late psychoanalyst Anthony Storr noted something which corroborates with this theory in a fascinating way, for he provides a cybernetic interpretation of consciousness, that is, it is essentially self-regulating and attempting to reach equilibrium.  Significantly this is noted in his aptly titled book The Integrity of the Personality (1960) when discussing the theories of Carl Jung, who also thought the psyche a self-regulating mechanism which knows what is best for it; and yet is ever thwarted in its path to self-actualisation by external and internal fluctuations. The body says Storr ‘knows’ what is “best of itself; but it is a knowledge without consciousness, and the goal of homeostasis is sought automatically without the deliberate direction of a conscious ego” (176).  Yet he presents the possibility that the psyche is also seeking a semblance of equilibrium, and that Jung provided this essential insight into the cybernetic quality of the personality, or being.  And this therefore infers a ‘right’ state of consciousness, a self that simply ‘knows’ – or is in some sense already actualised – as it were in the future, or vertically above i.e. outside of time.  Jung looked for signs of this other self in the mythologising of the unconscious mind, which seemed to him to be active in its will to equilibrium and the integration of the personality; the unconscious process which aims at developing an evolutionary self-image.  So all that was really needed to solve the problem of neurosis was to remind oneself that the solution lies inside of ourselves, and what is necessary is to correspond this ‘higher self’ and its will to integration with one’s existential reality – and then one would live more effectively at a higher level, a step towards an eventual self-individuation.

(Storr often uses the word homeostasis, which may present the reader with a fairly static sense of being rather than a dynamic one.  Yet the integrated personality is entirely dynamic, resistant and able to absorb and distribute its energies to the highest degree of efficiency).

Energetic Leaks

We have a tendency to ‘leak’ energies, as Wilson put it, and these leaks are due to a poorly integrated sense of self; a tumultuous ego which is either too easily shaken or emotions which erupt or drop our spirits like pockets of air pressure effecting an airplane’s descent.  The psychologist Roberto Assagioli who termed his own movement of psychology, Psychosynthesis, also said the same thing: that we should integrate our multiple I’s in a skilful and efficient way.  He also noted the self-regulatory aspect of the will, stating that the true will has a “directive and regulatory function; it balances and constructively utilizes all the other activities and energies of the human being without repressing any of them” (Act of Will, 10).  Abraham Maslow called these self-integrators ‘self-actualisers’, who aimed towards “the creation of a superordinate unity”.  The ‘superordinate unity’ is what Assagioli called the ‘transpersonal self’, or what Wilson meant by the title of his book Superconsciousness (2009).  Maslow’s peak experiences being the unification of the selves, resulting in an invigorating focus of all the intellectual, emotional and physical energies – that is, they are all efficiently synthesised.

What is the driving force behind our urge to unify our multiple selves?

Wilson contends that it is meaning itself, for there is a certain healthy tropism towards meaning.  He states it in his ladder-of-selves theory, which he discusses at length in Mysteries (1978).  “In moments of intensity, of excitement, of creativity, I move up the ‘ladder’, and instantly become aware that the meaninglessness was an illusion.  For I can ‘tell myself my own story’ and grasp it as a reality; I can look in a mirror and experience myself as an entire object” (The Essential Colin Wilson, 147).

As one climbs the ladder it contracts our being more tightly until all the disparate elements of our psyche are satisfactorily integrated.  We cease to be victims of vacillating moods, and become our own programmers, the director of our own existence.

The positive and beneficial self-image provides the individual with certain traction, a grip, with which they can most effectively climb the ladder-of-selves.  Again, in Wilson’s quote above we can see both the virtual sense of self and the experience of grasping oneself as a whole unit rather than as a vacillating collection of impulses.  I can tell myself my own story and grasp it as a reality.  It must be emphasised that this must correspond with a potential reality that harmonises with one’s best aspects, and not be divorced from reality totally, for it would be a dangerous delusion that would be the contrary to integration – it would become dis-integration, a loss of a sense of self.  For example, Assagioli points out an amusing misunderstanding of education, for he quotes Gustave Le Bon who said that “education is the art of making the conscious pass into the unconscious”, when in fact it should be quite the opposite in some instances.  He notes that the etymology of ‘education’ means to “draw out”, to actualise our “latent possibilities from the unconscious, to activate the energies dormant in it, particularly in its higher sphere, the superconscious” (Act of Will, 57-58).

The self-image must abide by similar pedagogical practices, for they must ‘draw out’ those latent possibilities in the most efficient way.

The Self-Image as a Symbolically Authentic Metaphor

To return to the symbolism of the mountain, Julious Evola, like René Daumal in Mount Analogue, also adopted it as a powerful metaphor for human existence.  And, much like the peak experience and its vistas of meaning, and distant fact, exuberantly energising one’s consciousness, Evola too points to the seriousness of the alpinists as a contraction of disciplined and focused energy. Says Evola:

“The […] feature of serious mountain climbers […] is inner discipline: a total control of reflexes; the style of a deliberate, lucid, and purposeful action; a boldness that is not reckless or hasty, but which is connected to the knowledge of one’s own limitatations and strengths and of the exact terms of the problem to be solved. In relation to this characteristic, we also find yet another one: the control of one’s imagination and the capability to immediately neutralize any useless and harmful inner turmoil [my italics]” (33).

Evola’s discussion of the will comes dangerously close to what Assagioli described as the Victorian caricature of will as been cold and brutal (Evola’s continuing comments are on the Nordic and Mediterranean ‘types’ seems to be a typical example of this), but nevertheless in the context of existence the metaphor is significant, for the virtual and metaphorical nature of the mountain is a sort of simulation, or as Daumal called it, “symbolically authentic”, which is perhaps the most accurate description of the self-image theory itself – it must be symbolically authentic, to quote Nietzsche again: ‘The great man is the play-actor of his own ideals’.

The paraplegics being able to walk again seems to support this idea of a bridging between the symbolical and the real – the symbolical world of the virtual reality headsets convinced the mind, and thus the body, to provide nerves and feeling to limbs that were felt – and known – to be paralysed; but in some loop of the unreal and the real, they manifested in actuality.

This posits the question: What is not impossible?  What can become an actuality?

Implicit Possibilities

“It seems preposterous that nothing except a little absent-mindedness stands between us and a life that is ten times as satisfying as the present one.  Anybody who realises this experiences [a] tremendous sense of frustration, and is willing to make the most exhausting efforts to ‘break through’” (The War Against Sleep, 60).  Opportunities, Wilson said elsewhere, have a tendency to increase as they are seized.  The spur of meaning as one ascends the ladder-of-selves should in theory make it easier and more invigorating as one is more properly integrated; but lower down the ladder there is more danger, for we can too easily become a victim of ourselves.  On the lower rungs we can much more easily become robotic and slip back into what Gurdjieff called ‘sleep’.  There must be a tremendous amount of phenomenological vigilance and self-discipline involved.

Existence itself provides us with humbling threats and reasons to be joyful, but it can – with its trivialities and bores – pull us back into a semi-comatose automaton, drifting and hypnotised by our untamed and unconscious forces.

The question of human existence itself is what Gurdjieff called “holy the firm”, the fact that “the only firm ground in human life is the seemingly uneasy ground of question, especially questions that can neither be answered nor left unanswered” (The Super Natural, 108).  The mere unanswerable nature of the question can either undermine our sense of self and cosmos, or in fact invigorate us to make a more concerted effort to create our own values.  The climbing is a means of creation, and the creative act is precisely another type of bringing together disparate facts and realities into a single actualised form. The philosopher Henri Bergson points out the essentially creative nature of evolution, whereby nature

“is more and better than a plan in course of realization.  A plan is a term assigned to a labor: it closes the future whose form it indicates.  Before the evolution of life, on the contrary, the portals of the future remain wide open.  It is creation that goes on for ever in virtue of an initial movement.  This movement constitutes the unity of the organized world – a prolific unity, of an infinite richness, superior to any that the intellect could dream of, for the intellect is only one of its aspects or products” (Creative Evolution, 106-107)

So, in a sense self-realization too is a form of creativity, a virtue of an initial movement.  It suggests therefore not an explicitness of something to become, but an implicitness that can become.  All sorts of paradoxes and contradictions can arise when considering this notion of an implicit nature, for what made the initial movement in the first place?  It was life – in whatever its form – taking a hold of matter, presenting it with a possibility of becoming more complex.  Buckminster Fuller similarly shares this notion of man, and more generally, life being a function against the automatism of the universe:

“My continuing philosophy is predicated, first, on the assumption that in counterbalance to the expanding universe of entropically increasing random disorderliness there must be a universal pattern of omnicontracting, convergent, progressive orderliness, and that man is that anti-entropic reordering function . . .” (No More Second Hand God & Other Writings, v).

If this is true, and we are able to use the Hermetic dictum of ‘As Above, So Below’, we can begin to map a correlate between cosmic evolution and psychological individuation, for as Bergson points out: the intellect is merely one of creation’s aspects.  Therefore, it would be a leap further to understand the evolutionary drive in man, who appears to be the most complex creature on Earth with apparently surplus potentialities yet to be actualised or ‘drawn forth’.  Colin Wilson, in The New Existentialism, calls the two polar states of consciousness ‘Inauthentic’ and ‘Authentic’, that is, in Fuller’s terms, he compares the mind of an entropic universe with that of an anti-entropic one, and the latter of course is the world of human consciousness.  Wilson continues:

“Inauthenticity is to feel futile, contingent, without purpose.  Authenticity is to be driven by a sense of purpose.  Such a sense of purpose cannot exist unless we first make the assumption that our sense of contingency is a liar, and that there is a standard of values external to every day human consciousness” (153).

At this point it is clear that an element of faith is necessary, and it quickly turns into the problem of religion.  However, it would be fundamentally correct to say that pessimism, like any other state, is an act of intentionality, and that the ‘act of faith’, as Wilson points out, is just another way of “concentrating these powers of intentionality” (117). We can will more intensely from a background of purposeful values.

In other words we must understand, phenomenologically, what Bergson meant by the initial movement; the creative momentum that imbues matter with consciousness.  This is an enormous task, but clues may be found in what J.G. Bennett called hyparxis which has been described by Anthony Peake as traceable “throughout all levels of existence from atoms through the simplest living forms up to a man and it is this factor that entitles us to look beyond man to the attainment of superhuman levels.  Without this factor everything would be compelled to remain wholly determined by its own eternal pattern” (The Labyrinth of Time, 97).

Why would anybody climb a mountain at all?  In many ways, it is the same question as why would consciousness need to invade matter, for surely it would be easier not to – to simply exist in a state beyond matter, perhaps in a timeless Platonic realm?  Gary Lachman in his vast study of esotericism, The Secret Teachers of the Western World (2015), suggests a possible answer to this question when he says that the force behind evolution “does not want us to remain static.  It pushed us out of the cosmic nest, into the cold and difficult regions of left-brain consciousness, because it is in those unwieldy climes that we can best actualize our capabilities” (56).

At our point in evolution we have long yearned to know why we exist, and unfortunately science offers no satisfactory answer other than the mechanisms and the ‘How’ of nature, without providing a ‘Why?’.  In fact there is no Why? in science, and if there is, it is merely a cosmological fluke – a quantum flux in a vacuum that accidentally spewed out all matter as we know it, with consciousness as a mere epiphenomena of matter.  Yet it is possibly the best time to ask precisely that question, for now we are free from the restricting dogmatises of religion (at least on a large enough scale) and at a juncture in science where its determinism and reductionism is beginning to erode.  There is a sense, especially in quantum physics, where mind is altogether interactive with matter itself, causing quantum variations which may in turn shed light on the ‘initial movement’ of the cosmos, indeed, offering us a foundational insight into the evolution of consciousness alongside, or together with, the first emanations of matter into the ‘void’ – a void, as it turns out, that is teeming with potentiality.

In Bargaining with the Devil: The Work of Colin Wilson in a Cultural Context (2016), a generally critical view of Colin Wilson’s work, Nigel Bray nevertheless concludes with a call for optimism, for in a brief analysis of contemporary trends in science, particularly quantum physics, he sees Wilson’s work as a contribution to what could be called ‘quantum psychology’.  Nevertheless, quantum or not, the entire foundation of Wilson’s work was based on an ‘evolutionary phenomenology’, which naturally integrates anything that can be verified phenomenologically or existentially.  Yet as science becomes more bizarre, it nevertheless becomes more existential, for again it is returning to that basis of phenomenology – consciousness.

[1] http://www.nature.com/articles/srep30383

Mountains, Diamonds and Peak Experiences

In Peaks and Lamas (1948), about mountaineering as much as it is about higher mystical experiences and Tibetan lamas, Marco Pallis describes what could be either something from one of Gurdjieff’s lectures, or a phenomenological observation from such writers as R.D Laing or Colin Wilson.  Says Pallis:

“Our actions and thoughts are the products of our whole nature at a given moment, and become the causes of its further development for good or ill.  A nature which is still mainly emotional, and not brought under proper control by the intellect, is a weathercock turned by every impulse.  In such a condition of irresponsibility, even if an action happens to be right, it is largely an accident; for, not being based upon relevant motives, it is properly little better than a foolish action in masquerade” (128-129).

Pallis continues, offering us a way out by describing a certain detachment, a sort of phenomenological ‘bracketing’, from which to develop a sort of ‘transcendental ego’, a standpoint which can more accurately dictate our impulses from, as it were, ‘upon high’:

“It must be one’s constant aim to withdraw as much of life as possible from the power of outside influence and accidents and to bring it into subjection to one’s informed will, so that each act may be exactly what it purports to be, no more no less, each perception a genuine perception uninfluenced by anything irrelevant” (129).

Earlier in the book he makes the observation that this “impartial approach to life” is “too exacting for it to make an instantaneous appeal”.  In other words, it is ‘easier said than done’; we tend to move on, once again falling victim to the topsy-turvy nature of our emotions, intellect and physical impulses.  Not taking up the momentous task of exacting ourselves, honing our Will and integrating our warring selves.

This is why Colin Wilson was fascinated by the idea of a sudden crisis fusing our conflicting I’s together; he often even referred to the mountain symbolically, as a sort of equivalent of Dostoevsky’s intense experience when he was withdrawn from facing the death penalty.  Interestingly, Dostoevsky divided his time, while awaiting his death, into thinking about his own life; past, present and future.  His future, of course, being the grim fate of death (and, as he was religious, perhaps an afterlife).  And yet when he was withdrawn from the claws of death, it is no doubt he grasped his future intensely, and was also immediately grateful for both his present being alive – and furthermore for having had a past at all!  In other words, life as a whole would have been completely revitalised by a sudden yea-saying affirmation.  It would have been an enormous “genuine perception uninfluenced by anything irrelevant”, all of his systems were working equally and powerfully, searing straight through banality, emotional trivialities and intellectual distractions; it was crystallised, refracting time and space into a sudden glistening awe of being.

In fact, Colin Wilson utilised a similar metaphor in his book The Black Room (1971).  This is symbolised in a section where the protagonist becomes involved in a conversation with a mountaineer, Gradwhol, who tells him about how he came to have a healthy subconscious mind.  It is the result of climbing mountains and facing the dangers head-on, where his Will had to be immensely disciplined in order to tackle the dangers and challenges climbers encounter.  In a moment of crisis, his friend asks the question: “Why are we doing this? Are we both mad?”.  To this Gradwhol is struck by a revelation, of just why they put their lives on the line simply to climb a mountain: “We have climbed this mountain to remind ourselves of something we ought to know anyway – that life is only worth living when the will is concentrated” (211 – The Essential Colin Wilson).

He continues, “For two million years man has been climbing a mountain of evolution, and his will is so weak that he dies when he is less than a century old”.  He turns to the protagonist Kit Butler, a composer, and announces that they both ought to know this fact, for their business is evolution, they both yearn for an impersonal goal rather than the personal goals of most people.  It is an end-point to which to strive, an exacting and withdrawal from mere circumstance.  One begins to act now towards an objective purpose, and with the Will driven by an objective sense of higher values; there is no more drifting in life-sapping relativism, distractions and the pains of a divided self-consciousness. In other words, one rises above time, seeing it for its vast potentiality; that is, rather than being lodged within the present like a fly on sticky paper, a mere victim of outside circumstances and triviality.

Again, this contraction of Will was realised in Dostoevsky’s close call in Siberia, and when it was withdrawn, his perception was widened enormously to grasp the essential Will to more life; the purpose of evolution rushed inwards as much as it manifested outwards with his subsequent works after the experience: he began to attack existence, assimilating it rather than being merely passive.

This is why Dostoevsky takes a central stage in Wilson’s The Outsider; he embodied the Nietzschean view of life in his novels: “six thousand feet above man and time”, the evolutionary impulse.  Aptly, this insight came to Nietzsche while looking at a huge pyramidal block of stone alongside the Lake Silvaplana. The mountain of course will always be a symbol of evolution, of an essentially evolutionary structure, for it implies a summit much like a pyramid.  The ‘peak experience’ of Maslow also implies the same, where one reaches – in a flash of insight – a taste of what he called ‘self-actualisation’.

(It has been mentioned, not entirely accurately, that the very word pyramid may be interpreted as a ‘fire in the middle’ (presumably because the word ‘pyromaniac’ and ‘middle’ sound so close phonetically!)  Yet it can serve as a useful metaphor, where the centre of our being is fusing together all of the disparate ‘selves’, rather as the heat is applied to a crucible unify a compound.  This interpretation inevitably falls victim to the symbolism of the volcano, which is altogether more volatile and unpredictable, and this is often compared to repressed emotions suddenly erupting irrationally and with devastating consequences).

Another author who used the mountain symbolically, in a non-Euclidian way, was the surrealist poet René Daumal.  He again uses the stability of a diamond’s internal structure to represent the symbolic peak of the mountain:

“There, at the summit sharper than the sharpest needle, alone stands he who fills all space.  Up there, in the finer air where all is frozen, there alone exists the crystal of ultimate stability.  Up there, in the full fire of the sky where all burns, there alone exists perpetual incandescence.  There, at the centre of all, is he who sees each thing done in its beginning and in its end” (110 ­– Mount Analogue).

The crystal is a result of great pressures, an intense fusion of rock which is so internally consistent that it reflects and refracts light in an enchanting way.  Indeed, Marie-Louise von Franz notes that a stone, in a sense “symbolizes . . . existence at the farthest remove from the emotions, feelings, fantasies and discursive thinking of ego consciousness” (209 – Man and his Symbols).  She continues by saying that the stone gives us a sense of something “eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable”, and similarly, the Irish author Thomas Sheridan, in his book The Druid Code (2016), says the same about megalithic sites, for they “present us with the paradox of solid stone being used to open pathways of perception towards the least tangible and material states”, being as they are a “solidified expression of the supernatural world expressed in stone” (106).  This may appear at first to contradict von Franz, but significantly the rock itself is still impersonal, yet it has been shaped to represent or to symbolise something beyond itself, an eternal idea, even a timeless Platonic ‘Form’.  What Sheridan is describing is the act of magic, of alchemy: the transmutation of a base substance into a higher form.

In alchemy there is, of course, the the ‘philosopher’s stone’ which bestows immortality on those who find it.  And in a novel of the same name, Colin Wilson presents this ‘stone’ as a state of consciousness which bestows more life.  This does not necessarily mean that one becomes immortal in the physical sense, but his experience of existence is so enhanced that he feels more life, his consciousness ‘takes’ more inside of itself, and thus enriches one’s experience of existence, which in effect ‘fills up’ time with more significance and meaningful content.

Again it seems to be about making a solid inside of oneself, rather than the inner-states being tumultuous like a fishing boat caught out in a fierce storm – no fish could be caught in such a turbulent state, just as nothing can be appreciated when one is distract, emotional.  It also applies to creation, for to create something demands concentration, self-discipline and Will power; it also requires an integration of self-consciousness, rather than being a victim of it, its discouragements and worries about what other people will think – one must proceed, experiment and become strong enough to persist until you have mastered your art.  Wilson often compared creativity to two tennis players playing so well that the ball goes to-and-fro, a synchronisation of the subconscious powers and the conscious mind, and both hemispheres of the brain acting harmoniously.  Where intuitions and insights are correctly handed over to the ‘you’ that has to do the typing, painting or whatever it might be.  Of course, self-consciousness can come between these two and disrupt the flow, creating a frustration of energies that can even develop into schizophrenia or a depleted sense of vitality.

Wilson himself, after taking a lot of criticism from the literary establishment, had to develop a strong sense of ‘I’, which effectively absorbed the attacks like the ballast on a ship maintains stability in choppy waters.   For after the rejection of his book Spider World books, he noticed that his heart did not immediately sink with disappointment.  He notes:

“I had, over the past year, achieved a little of what Gurdjieff calls ‘essence’, a feeling of inner solidness [my italics].  Gurdjieff said that the only way to create this is through what he called ‘intentional suffering’, like the painful self-disciplines of the ascetic.  This is the only reliable way of overcoming the laziness and weakness that does its best to hide inside you” (xxvii – Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism).

Concentration and attention is often what Wilson prescribed for this inner-development, for concentration and intentionality brings our energies into a fine focus, and suddenly it grasps what it is that it is firing its attention towards.  This does not have to be an external or physical object; it could even be an idea.  We suddenly direct our energies and pull it in, and fully digest the experience; a new idea, or an incredible book, often means that we ‘got something out of it’; but what has really happened, in a sense, is that we were inspired (which means to breath in) by what it was that we fired our attention at.  It is as Ouspensky symbolised with the two arrows, where one achieves ‘self-remembering’, as the two arrows of attention: one outwards and one inwards: work harmoniously as to jolt into us a sudden sense of reality.

*

To return to diamonds and pyramids, Gary Lachman in his biography on Colin Wilson emphasises that “attention and the concentration are what count. If we do it for long enough, often enough, the billiard balls of our consciousness will slowly come together, and fuse it into a hard, diamond-like pyramid that can withstand the forces of time even better than the monuments the ancient Egyptians raised in the desert sands” (340).  This sense of contraction, of a fusing together, developed in Wilson what Gurdjieff meant by ‘essence’, a solidified, integrated psyche that has permanence and a disciplined Will.

In New Pathways of Psychology (1972), Wilson again uses the mountain to emphasise his point:

“This is why we climb mountains and irrigate deserts and send up moon rockets: the great challenge tenses the will, produces concentration, pushes back the sluggishness of the flesh, unites the mind’s diffuseness.  Underlying it all is the drive to more life – what Shaw calls the appetite for fruitful activity and a high quality of life” (117).

But what is our equivalent of a mountaineer’s crampons?  To climb the sheer wall of existence, we need some tool by which to imbed ourselves, to maintain a firm grip and secure-binding to its surface lest we slip and fall.  For this, Wilson argues, we need to develop a strong ‘self-image’; we must climb the Ladder of Selves.

To Be Continued: Climbing the Ladder of Selves