Horizons of Distant Fact: Wilson and Creativity: An Idea to Grow Towards

Mandelbrot’s Hedgehog?

As the prolific author of over 182 books, hundreds of essays and introductions, Colin Wilson is the supreme example of a ‘full-time writer’.  After being catapulted to fame in 1956 with The Outsider, he continued to write furiously, producing the ‘Outsider Cycle’, a series of dense and penetrating philosophical works, alongside many novels.  No mean feat.  So there is little wonder why any would-be writer would look up to Wilson – who was self-taught – as a model of a self-disciplined man blessed – or more precisely developed through sheer determination! – with a highly effective, easy-to-read style for conveying often obscure and fascinating ideas.  Certainly he never alienates his readers (if you deduct a rigid academic orthodoxy), and many have commended his leisurely style and brilliant analogies.

Human beings, he says, are like “grandfather clocks driven by watch springs”, thus highlighting our immense powers and our comparatively weak trickle of will-power; our lack of motivation and tendency towards passivity.  There are many such examples, and one of the most popular is: “opportunities increase as they are seized”; which is, in my opinion, exactly the mechanism behind both evolution and the writing process itself.  For behind Wilson’s ‘will-to-write’ was tremendous self-discipline, vision and a sense of increasing returns and moreover a grasping of new insights with the invigorating sense of self-expression that writing can provide.

Self-discipline and a direction was the reason I started to write this Blog in the first place, for it was intended to ‘make the leap’, to properly begin to write down and express my ideas.  The reason I chose Colin Wilson in particular is because he parallels my own obsessions very closely; I also regard his work as a fundamental expression of the ‘Outsider’s’ crisis, after all, he most clearly defined it!

His work also has a developmental quality to it which is infectious.  I found that I was always waiting for Colin Wilson’s next book to see how he fits together another part of the jigsaw, and I was saddened when he passed away in 2013.  It was not an ordinary sadness, but a realisation that I had been journeying along with him in his explorations.  His writing is so infused with a personal obsession – which I share – that he felt, like he probably does to many, a ‘friend you never met’.

Wilson’s voice has a great familiarity to any ‘Outsider’.

Colin Wilson is obviously one of my favourite thinkers and represents my ideal writer – someone who can share his own personal insights in a warm and accessible way, but also offer a constructive and imaginative expansion of knowledge.  One only has to pick up The Outsider to realise that Wilson had read an incredible amount of books, and not only that, he understood them deeply; he read, moreover, because of some sort of basic survival mechanism: he grew out of meaning; he also thrived on it.  He was, in short, a typical existentialist who cannot, for the life of him, passively accept existence on its own terms.  He must have an active knowledge and understanding of his existence, and to this end, literature is one of the most direct voices of the human experience.

Music, art, and other forms reach deep into us, affecting us in tremendous ways that can also inform us of a meaning in our own lives as well as the cosmos.  But it is literature which, in the end, communicates quite directly by asking the question: “Well, what is it all about?”.  Literature, in my own experience at least, has a more explicit quality, where we can ‘hear the author’s voice’ as if partaking in a dialogue.  Novels, by such writers as Hesse, Sartre, Rilke and Ionesco all seem to be diaries of existential anguish and revelation, whereby the reader can gain a phenomenological mirror into which one can more clearly see his or her fundamental position on life.

We can feel like the Steppenwolf of Hesse’s novel (Harry Haller), who is divided between the strong, animal lusts and violence of one’s primal aspects, that are furthermore in conflict with our reserved, rather tepid (by comparison) personality which is refined, restrained by our social responsibility.  And by reading the novel, we can gain the added benefit of an analysis of what it is that plagues, not simply Hesse or the protagonist himself, but also ourselves in those Steppenwolfian moments.

Wilson was fascinated with the idea of a ‘self-image’, which he also felt was the purpose of the novel (see The Craft of the Novel).  That is, not only the reading of a novel should enable the reader to examine his own inner thoughts, but also by writing – either a novel, non-fiction or even a Blog like this one – the individual should be able to understand himself with more exactitude.  My own aim is to both increase my skill as a writer; but, more fundamentally, to gain insight into my own mechanisms as well as more deeply understanding the work of Colin Wilson.

Wilson dedicated himself to understanding the mechanisms of human existence, and geared it primarily towards self-expression.  Anyone who took him on his word, with his tremendous gift of providing us with psychological and, not a word I use lightly, spiritual insights, would be a fool to drift passively in life and allow their deepest yearnings to go unanswered.  He often invokes this important realisation when he uses the example of Abraham Maslow’s patient who was so bored with life that she ceased to menstruate.  Or as in The Occult he uses the example of the film Forbidden Planet, where one character, left alone on a planet with a peculiar amplifying effect on the unconscious, generates semi-physical invisible monsters which forcibly demonstrate his own inner-conflicts and hatreds (rather like the poltergeist phenomenon).

To write is to somehow give shape to both conscious and unconscious forces, bringing them if you will into a dialogue in which the self-image can be more properly integrated.

Indeed there is, as Wilson pointed out, an important integration of brain hemispheric sympathy involved in writing.  In his book Frankenstien’s Castle, which is about the two hemispheres of the brain, he discusses the idea of two ‘me’s’, how in each of us there resides two individuals, one silent, rather like the unconscious mind, and the other the ordinary ‘I’, which we take for granted.

He uses an example of his own career as a writer:

“When I started writing in my teens, it was because I was fascinated by the possibilities of self-expression as I saw them in writers I admired.  But as soon as I began trying to turn my own intuitions and insights into words, I found I crushed them flat. Words seemed to be the enemy of insight, and their inability to reflect intuition seemed a mockery.  But I went on writing, because there seemed nothing else to do; and gradually, I got better at it”

He continues, using the hemispheres of the brain to describe the process, with the “left was slowly becoming more expert in turning the insights of the right into language”.  This is a very important and, at first, disarmingly simplistic notion that can be acknowledged, but not properly understood.  This idea of ‘understanding’ something is what the author John Shirley meant when he said that true understanding was a “hologram of knowledge”. A hologram is something which, if broken down into smaller pieces, nevertheless includes the whole even in the fragments.  So an understanding, in its true sense, has a vast, implicitness which folds and enfolds on itself like some endless Mandelbrot fractal.  When we truly understand something we say “A-ha! Now I understand it”.  It’s a strange phenomenon when it happens, because we felt we understood it before, but when we ‘truly’ understand it, is arrives like a revelation.

Good writing, I believe, has this quality; and Wilson’s certainly does.  He remarked that he had wrote the same book a hundred times over, as all his work is obsessed with the same fundamental thing, what he called ‘the other mode of consciousness’.  In that sense, all of his work is interconnected by that fact alone, but, with a more careful consideration you can take a book, such his science fiction novel, The Mind Parasites, and see that in it he presents all of his work from beginning to end: the ‘outsiders’, psychic vampirism, the occult, criminality, even ancient archaeology and extra-terrestrials.  But there is more to it than that, and that is what gives it its timeless quality.  It reaches deeply into these phenomena, and even though they are the same fundamental themes, they are nevertheless nearly inexhaustible in their vastness and sheer breadth.  When we say a work ‘resonates’, we basically mean the same thing: it sounds like a gong and vibrates many such notes simultaneously; it is rich, inspires alertness and attunes us into another way of seeing, feeling or understanding.  And, in turn, it is relational; that is, it connects us inevitably with everything else, like William James’s ‘horizons of distant fact’.

Wilson’s huge corpus of work is the resonation of this ‘birds-eye view’, and by discussing these modalities of being, it leads the sympathetic reader inevitably into either practicing this mode-of-consciousness, or at least being aware of it when it does happen to them: those spontaneous feelings of a ‘peak experience’, or even a sense of larger horizons of ‘fact’.  By being reminded of this alone makes it all the more easier to fully grasp the mechanisms of consciousness; we can begin hoist ourselves upwards, using as it were the various topics, such as esotericism or the ‘new existentialism’, as what Joyce-Collin Smith called spiritually-enriching climbing frames for the mind.  They each exert and stimulate our imaginations, giving what Rhea White called ‘the exceptional human experience’ (which Wilson aimed at achieving in his fantasy series, Spider World).

As the Zen teacher often pointed out, it is not the finger itself that is doing the pointing that we should concentrate on, it is the object to which it refers.  Wilson was, in every one of his works, pointing to a ‘further shore’ of possibility, urging us towards self-actualisation.  His own act was our own, if we too felt the same impulse to increased consciousness, for his books are developmental journals of a man passionately dedicated to evolving himself as a human being and even into the superman.

‘Outsider’ as Dominant ‘Mental Escaper’

In reflecting on his own work, Wilson remarked that there are a small percentage of people who were in “revolt against the confinement of everyday consciousness”, and these are precisely his ‘Outsiders’.  He continues by saying that this is why people find it hard to understand them, and particularly their obsessions and omnivorous drive towards understanding themselves and the universe.  If one man’s life is all about ego, he will interpret it as an egotistical drive towards knowledge for its own sake, and towards an expansion of ego.  All other priorities are basically seen through this stained-glass window of subjectivity, whereby the ‘Outsider’ is perceived as just another one of them i.e. another deluded ‘Insider’ driven by the same basic impulses as the rest.

However, I believe that the Outsider’s drive is towards objectivity at all costs.  And this is an enormously difficult challenge, for we too easily fall back into life as human-all-too-human, with all of our habits, neuroses and worldly-problems.

Perhaps in all ‘Outsiders’ there was some ‘promise’ they made to themselves at some point, and have firmly stuck to it.  They have had a flash of awareness where they have noticed their own – or other people’s minds – suddenly become stuck in spiritual mud, pulled down by reality and turned into strange and ghostly automatons.  Children understand this process better than most, for they are more clearly right-hemisphere orientated, but it is rather underdeveloped without the precise grasp that a left-hemisphere provide.  It is rather like swearing an oath never to become unconscious, dead inside; and sadly, the world seems hell-bent on trivialities and boredom.  One realises that it is too easy to become robotic and riddled with habits; we start to hand over our mental energies for a sort of numbed lethargy.  This is the point where we cease to ‘do’ anything, and this was the mystic Gurdjieff’s primary message, that mankind cannot ‘do’ without first becoming conscious – or for the rest of his life he will merely drift, victim of circumstance and animated only by the endlessly churning relativisms and excuses of a dream-filled mind.

The ‘Outsider’ has managed to maintain above the threshold and, due to this, he remains an ‘Outsider’; to go further beyond the threshold would be a step into self-actualisation, whereby he could produce something out of himself and establish, rather like driving a nail into a mountain, a strong  grip and maintaining an upward surge of being through creative self-expression.  It is little wonder when The Outsider was being written, Wilson felt like a boat finally setting out from its harbour – he had built his being and now it was setting sail for the first time. He had concentrated his being, his conflicting ‘I’s’ and made them coordinate an active manifestation of objective values (unlike the insubstantial, vapour-like quality of our usually more subjective expressions).

Writing as Self-Actualisation

Writing has often been the refuge of the sick, the outcast and reclusive.  One only has to look at the correspondence of someone like H.P. Lovecraft to realise he was most manifestly a man of letters, if of little else (although my own temperament finds great catharsis in Lovecraft’s brilliantly evocative cosmic horrors)!  To write is a means of directed attention and creation, and even if it is horror or slander directed at the universe, the act of writing is nevertheless an act of creation.  A fully honest pessimist would probably not even put pen to paper, resorting instead to a sitting out of his time until death, contributing nothing to a world he believes not worthy of contributing.  But to write is a solitary affair, and even if you have no friends, or any sympathetic family, to express your ideas is to crystallise them to some degree, to actualise your ideas rather than allowing them to float in and out of consciousness.  In fact, it is a great way of building a scaffolding around one’s psyche so the real work of integration can begin; the great novels always seem to have flowed naturally out of their authors, and I believe some of the recent great novels – I am thinking Atomised by Michel Houellebecq – are a strange sort of catharsis for its author, who would probably implode otherwise from despair.

Even though these are deeply pessimistic works which state the authors’ hatreds and violence towards the world, they nevertheless give expression to it in a way that transmutes the energies into more creative endeavours.  But it is to Colin Wilson’s work where this can be properly balanced, for he deals primarily with the darkest expressions of mankind – particularly in his books on murder – and tries to understand their essential vitality, and, once understood, this upsurge of a war cry can in turn be transformed into a triumph of expanded consciousness, rather than a vicious collapse into despondency.  He identified their basic intelligence and sensitivities, and diagnosed their wrong method of expression; their violent and undirected expression of a force that was perhaps objectively correct in its analysis (the modern world certainly can bore and sometimes does deserves nothing but contempt and rejection), but sadly offers no convincing alterative, and mere acknowledgement of a situation is still passive.  But, Wilson argues, there is an alternative, and it is to firmly understand – objectively – that meaning is there all the time, and it is only our consciousness – our everyday consciousness – which reduces its impact through habit, ‘generalised hypertension’ and our entrapment in the trivial.  Above all of this is required a purpose that is beyond our personality, beyond the mere horizontal axis of linear entrapment in the present.  It is the sun to which D.H. Lawrence referred to when he said:

And be, oh be,

A sun to me

Not a weary, importunate

Personality.

 

Any form of evolution is towards something, even if it is unconsciously groping blindly by means of experimental development.  Writing too, is a form of experimental development towards a perfected form of self-expression.  All music attempts to emanate the feeling, the sensation and the emotions of whatever it is attempting to represent in its bodiless form.  Everything infers something greater or beyond itself, and so does writing or thinking – it is a connective act of becoming of yet more.  This is why Wilson realised to never retreat from meaning, into a ‘particular’ and isolated world-view, for it can suffocate an individual from the vast horizons of implicit ‘more-ness’.  For to retreat from meaning logically absurd, and when we do, we have merely been duped by one of our ‘I’s’, which is the more absurd as it is precisely our very own selves who should adhere firmly – with full support of the intellect and the left-brain – to the sense of an infinitely vast and eternally fascinating reality.

The Faculty X experience could just as well be a literary experience of ‘other times and other places’, for that is one of its greatest benefits.  And so, writing itself is an act of passing insights and intuitions into the capable hands of the left-brain’s ability to place one word in front of another, sculpting, as it does so, the extra-dimensions with which the right-brain provides it with.  It is fundamentally about building a bridge between the explicit and the implicit, and creating something that resonates the ‘web of relationality’.

Conclusion: An Idea to Grow Towards

One of my own insights came through reading Wilson’s work, and in some ways owes its debt to Maurice Nicoll and Ouspensky.  It is the notion of an idea having a growth, or sort of geometrical network of growth rather like tree branches emerging from a central trunk.  Indeed, ideas seem to have a life of their own, and the more you think about one idea, the more it seems to increase in its dimensions.  There is even a certain limit to which you can entertain one idea, but once this is reached, it is as if there was a ‘moment of grace’, where once again it expands and continues to grow once more.  I had this when I wrote about The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone, for there came a point where I thought I had said everything about those two novels, but then a quote from The Philosopher’s Stone encouraged me to continue:

“For several hundreds of years now, evolution has been aiming at creating a new type of human being, who sees the world with new eyes all the time, who can readjust his mind a hundred times a day to see the familiar as strange”.

To see the familiar as strange is an act of ‘intentionality’, we have to actively shift our perspective to see it from an angle we may have missed due to the habituation of our own thought.  And as I practiced this ability to ‘see with new eyes’, I realised that a novel, as much as anything else, has a strangely interior quality that can simply continue on forever.  These are basically what William James meant when he talked about ‘horizons of distant fact’, when everything seems to unveil yet more dimensions.  Again it is the ‘hologram of understanding’.  It is not at all strange to think of the act of writing as an act of intentionality, indeed, as an active attempt to ‘see with new eyes all the time’.  Wilson obviously understood this to a profound degree, and purposely cultivated it in his novels, particularly, perhaps, with his larger works of imagination in science fiction and fantasy.  Yet it informs all of his works.  So if he is indeed what Isaiah Berlin’s ‘hedgehog’ (a writer who only writes about one thing), unlike a ‘fox’ (who writes about many things) he nevertheless explores a single vision, a persistent modality of being which can unify the whole.  All of his work is about a way of seeing newness, of meaning; a meaning which infers more, growing each aspect of us like branches of a tree.  He provides an inner-sun, as such, which is as enlightening as it is conducive to growth and development.

This ‘modality of being’ is curiously called a ‘dance’ by essayist Martha Heyneman, in her book The Breathing Cathedral (1993).  She describes her experience as a zoology student at the University of California, when one day she was looking through a microscope at a section of a kidney, and she suddenly thought “I will never understand this thing by this method”.  Her description is insightful, for it precisely describes Wilson’s own ‘Faculty X’, or more precisely relationality and the ‘bird’s eye view’:

“When I tried to make clear to myself what I meant by “understand”, the best I could come up with was that I would have to be able to dance the development of this remarkable organ from its origin in the fertilized egg to its maturity, and moreover to dance the development of the whole of which it was a part – and of the whole of which that whole was a part, and so on”

Heyneman felt that, for her at least, nature could be best known through poetry instead of science.  For the expressions of poetry enabled her to dance, to gain a ‘bird’s eye view’ of reality as it stands correspondingly with everything else.  It is, again, a right-hemisphere function of the extra dimension of meaning added to isolated facts; where in our day-to-day experience we apprehend both our lives and even our dearest out of the larger contexts in which we exist.  Abraham Maslow often used the example of a woman washing her dishes and suddenly realising how lucky she was, to have a family, to be alive and so on, and due to this she achieved the ‘peak experience’.  Some dance of sunlight enabled her mind to launch itself into its meaningful context, and for a moment at least both hemispheres of her brain were functioning simultaneously.

It is important, in any creative activity, to have a symbol, and through this essay and my idea of a ‘tropism of meaning’, or a sort of sun to which one grows ideas, is basically such a symbol.  In The Craft of the Novel (1976), Colin Wilson emphasises this importance of a symbol of freedom, and it usually felt as a being ‘cool and clear inside’.  If one recognises this sensation when creating something, it should, in theory flow outwards, rather like what the Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi meant in his book The Flow (1992).  However, the trouble with the idea of ‘flow’ seems to be its insinuation of a stream-of-consciousness, a mere abandonment to the whims of the unconscious, rather like taking mescalin, or daydreaming to no purpose.  Wilson did not mean this, and was especially fond of the left-brain’s ability to grasp, to discipline and direct the unconscious forces towards increased complexity, development and self-knowledge.  The symbol, then, is what he identifies as something which “contrasts… with the dreariness or chaos of the world of immediacy.  A writer’s ‘symbol’ is basically his own idea of freedom, and his work is about the journey towards freedom”.

To know or to even seek out this symbol is in a sense Heyneman’s dance.  It is a cause worth growing towards; and an evolutionary imperative that is at the heart of Wilson’s huge volume of work.  The task of writing is like any other journey: it must begin somewhere.  By careful steps you may find your symbol of freedom, and when you have, you grasped the first step up an evolutionary staircase.

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The Outsider and the Physical, Emotional and Intellectual ‘Bodies’

“It is far better to struggle with a purpose than to struggle with no purpose.”

­– The Personality Surgeon

I have always been interested in the way various philosophers, esoteric teachers and writers have divided the human mind and body.  There is, of course, the popular ‘mind, body and spirit’ section in many popular book stores, but although this is interesting, I was most struck by Gurdjieff’s division – along with many others – into the ‘physical’, ‘emotional’ and ‘intellectual’ bodies.  Now, as we experience ourselves we know that these are not so neatly divided; they are seamlessly connected, and if one observes oneself in an impartial way, you can see how one ‘centre’ or ‘body’ can quickly usurp the other.  My own tendency, for example, is to allow my emotions to guide my intellect.  And although I think that it is my intellect doing the work, it is in fact my emotions masquerading as my intellect.  Often this is the case in philosophy, for Nietzsche encapsulates this when he said: “It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of – namely, the confession of its inventor, and a sort of involuntary and subconscious biography”.

A misanthrope, for example, can rationalise his contempt for mankind all he likes, but he is essentially misdirecting two centres: one validates the other, and in turn, the confirmation – through so-called logic – then sinks the emotions lower, until eventually he is afraid to go outdoors or engage with the general public.  And eventually, such as the fate of many misanthropes, their physical body too starts to suffer.  Even Ouspensky, the author of In Search of the Miraculous (1949), later in his life, succumbed to alcoholism and urged that it was the ‘higher emotional’ centre that needed to be developed.  Colin Wilson pointed this interesting fact out in his short biography on Ouspensky, noting that although an enormous intellect, he was sadly underdeveloped in the emotional sense and turned to alcohol.  Interestingly it was the same Ouspensky who, in Tertium Organum (1931), wrote:

“Emotions are the stained-glass windows of the soul; coloured glasses through which the soul looks at the world.  Each such glass assists in finding in the contemplated object the same or similar colours, but it also prevents the finding of opposite ones.  Therefore it has been correctly said that the one-sided emotional illumination cannot give a correct perception of an object.  Nothing gives one such a clear idea of things as the emotions, yet nothing deludes one so much”

Low emotions, or a sense of apathy, can quite easily be remedied by alcohol, for it induces a relaxation and a sudden sense of excitement which feeds itself with reminiscences, associations, and the freedom of being freed of too much self-awareness.  It bubbles up from below, sometimes over spilling and turning sour.  The trouble is that emotions have a vacillating quality, and behave like a spoiled child all of a sudden excited and then quickly bored, evacuating all its energy with little self-control or discipline.  And it has a sort of feedback-loop effect, whereby the more energy wasted in depression leads to more of the same, until we are finally led into a form of absolute passivity.  The vision of life becomes so narrow we are, as Wilson says, prone to ‘close-upness’, a vision of reality so reduced of its grandeur that it is difficult to see any reason to carry on.  Again, he basically suggests this as the problem with the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and others.  In Beyond the Occult (1988), Wilson calls this state ‘Upside-Downness’ and diagnoses many writers and artists whose vision of the world was almost completely inverted, so they only saw the ‘close-upness’ of reality without ever really being able to step back and allow larger meanings to re-establish themselves.  Like the misanthrope, they closed all the windows, locked all the doors while intellectually validating his choice to withdraw from society.  However, he is left alone with poor air and reduced experience which in turn makes him feel even more certain that human existence is a bad joke.

However, if key figures in our intelligentsia are stricken with this same fallacy, it quickly leaps into everyday culture, and thus causes a validation of the lowest instincts in man, and produces a certain misplaced pride in being cynical and misanthropic.  In fact, to have a low opinion of human existence is now associated with a degree of intelligence, for to utter a remark about the blight of man on the environment, or the meaninglessness of the cosmos, will no doubt inspire congratulation for your perceptive and state-sanctioned remarks.  Whereas to suggest the other would perhaps be misconstrued as naïve and/or ‘the very reason we got into this mess in the first place!’. For it is perhaps seen as mankind’s high-opinion of himself, and low opinion of nature, that we have generated the ecological crisis.  Usually the perceived intellectual who is driven by social mores will agree, not out of logic or reason, but because he or she finds mutual agreement too emotionally gratifying – so therefore it is fundamentally still an emotional drive, however masking as a reasoned opinion.

Amusingly, it would seem that what we are after here is what Gurdjieff subtitled his book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, that is, ‘an objectively impartial criticism of the life of man’.  But how does one go about approaching this?  It seems to me that Wilson attempted to do just this with phenomenological analysis, and he made a huge leap with the identification of the ‘outsider’. For in his first book, The Outsider (1956), he presents extremely insightful character studies into men who were intensely driven – either by their emotions, their physical bodies or their intellect.  He argues that, in a sense, these drives were precisely the death or demise of them, and had they been able to step-back from themselves, and correctly identified their impulses, these men would have been even greater, that is, more fully integrated.  And yet they kept slipping gear, falling into deep depressions, suicides or toxic ennui.

The ‘outsider’, with which he identifies these intensely driven, socially detached individuals, I believe is somewhere within us all (to a lesser or greater extent, depending on the individual).  It is certainly not difficult to identify with one or more of them.  One can see, I think, that in certain moments of our lives we are  taken over by one of these ‘modes’ of being; we may over-intellectualise, be victim to our emotions or pulled along by the physical body and its desires.  We know intuitively that if these could be correctly understood, we would cease to struggle with our identities and become great, evolutionary individuals.  Instead of being a victim, we could instead make a start at evolving our being.  In moments of ‘peak experience’ we know this, for we are above our normal state of consciousness and have momentarily stepped into a ‘birds-eye view’, where we can as if from a mountain, our lives in a suddenly intensely meaningful context.  Yet when we slip back down, we are subject to a ‘close-upness’, and deprived of any large-scale perspective.  The ‘purpose’, whatever it might be, suddenly seems so distant as to be basically irrelevant, barely worth pursuing.  It is what Gurdjieff basically meant when he said most people are incapable of ‘doing’ anything; and that the development of the individual increases freedom to ‘do’.

Mysteries is perhaps Wilson’s most Gurdjiefian book, dealing as it does with a ‘Ladder of Selves’ and the notion of multiple, conflicting ‘I’s.  Indeed, Wilson’s ‘schoolmistress effect’ is basically what Gurdjieff called a ‘shock’, which causes a change in the ‘octave’ of being, thus silencing, if you will, the collective of squabbling I’s and bringing them under discipline.  Wilson has always referred to Gurdjieff throughout his work, and it is remarkable that it is in The Outsider, for it tallies so well with the ‘outsider’ that it may well be ‘the Work’ – as it is called by individuals involved in the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff’s method – was particularly designed for outsiders!

There is a tremendous and invigorating sense of a ‘way out’ of the ‘outsider’s crisis’ by reading The Outsider and In Search for the Miraculous in tandem, for the two complement each other wonderfully.  Indeed, a non-‘Work’ writer on Gurdjieff’s ideas, Michel Waldberg, dedicates a chapter (in Gurdjieff An Approach to his Ideas) particularly to ‘The four ‘bodies’ of man’ and ‘Man’s possible evolution’, which argue that the emotions, in the ‘second body’, are prone to “whims and crazes” which may lead even to a form of sickness, where the man not only knows what he likes, but becomes obsessed with what he dislikes.  Of course, most existentialists seem to be in the ‘second body’, obsessed with what they dislike – for if one reads a lot of existentialist literature, it is effectively a diary of a misanthrope, trapped as he is, in a cosmos reduced of value.  Even the work of the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, or the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran strikes one of this sickly man, obsessed with the void.

In The World of Violence (1963) Wilson has a character called Uncle Sam who locks himself away in a room as a revolt against god, a character who is very much an intellectual-emotional in extremis.  He has entirely ceased to ‘do’ anything apart from a metaphysical strike against existence itself.  Uncle Sam describes his realisation thus:

“Certain malcontent intellectuals have taught the workers to feel dissatisfaction with their employers.  But it seems to have struck no one that human beings are grossly exploited by God.  We are expected to bear misfortune, to learn from experience (like obedient schoolchildren), to offer thanksgiving for benefits received; our role is in every way that of a slave and the sycophant.  We are entrapped in the body, which we carry around like a suit of armour weighing a ton, and we have to endure with patience its stupidities and enfeeblements”.

I cannot think of a more succinct example of the existential problem, and this, in its logical way, is hard to disagree with – for life is full of banalities, boredoms and physical discomforts. And yet, by ceasing to move or evolve seems more like slavery than anything else, for one – despite the freedom of mind – has essentially consigned oneself to a vegetative state.  Neither do you alleviate the problem of the body, the emotions or the intellectual problem by simply refusing to go on like a character from a Samuel Beckett play.  Wilson understood this, and said that “opportunities increase as they are seized” and opportunities only come about in being active.  Passivity in fact reduces the development of opportunities.  What Uncle Sam is really asking for is to be blessed with a mystical insight, or profound alleviation out of the material realm by some sort of cosmic pity which hands out, to its stubborn ‘victims’ a get-out-of-jail-free-card!  To cease to ‘do’ is to pause the evolution of your mind, for the mind requires a certain discipline – that of friction of existence – to acquire a healthy purpose.  In fact, a purpose is a form of detachment from the trivialities of everydayness, and a re-focussing on what really matters.  Victor Frankl knew only too well that an impersonal goal in fact reinvigorates the mind and body, and that even death itself seems banal in the light of the meaningful purpose implicit in human existence.

Wilson expresses idea again in a much later essay, The Human Condition (1984), in which he talks about ‘left-brain awareness’ and its tendency to focus on the particulars out of their context, thus reducing the world to “magnified objects” where we can see the individual trees but not the wood.  He continues: “And at this point, the emotional body intervenes, with its negativity and self-pity and mistrust, and turns the wood into a forest of nightmare. . . It can be overcome only by recognising that it is a mistake”.

Modern life, unfortunately, blinds us with temporal values, which diminish as soon as they are grasped; instantaneousness seems to be the unifying goal for all things.  Long-distance purpose, the notion of a careful development of one’s psyche through ‘self-observation’ sounds, I think, too archaic for the modern mind.  It is little wonder why a book like The Power of Now can become a best-seller, as I have seen it, being placed alongside business and economic books alongside other entrepreneurship and prep-talk guides.  Ironically Eckhart Tolle’s book is precisely about expanding one’s awareness of the present moment, reducing the mind’s tendency to ‘magnify’ reality and time into consumable items, without the savouring quality present in appreciating the relatedness, the unfolding horizons of correspondences.  The over-active left-brain awareness tends to plague our reality in the modern world, and it is to this right-brained sense of an authentic meaningful context that we have unwisely ejected.  Moreover, the emotional body is starved, provided with no positive ‘background of values’ due to the overarching materialism and its rejection of a meaningful universe.  Instead materialism only has value, which, although fleeting and perfectly adapted to the emotional tendency to vacillation, ends up by cancelling itself out, causing a leakage of energy and an upsurge of anxieties, depressions and ennui.

In an important insight from Gurdjieff, the struggle with emotions is given a very significant purpose:

“In the sphere of the emotions it is very useful to try to struggle with the habit of giving immediate expression to all one’s unpleasant emotions. .  . Besides being a very good method for self-observation, the struggle against expressing unpleasant emotions has at the same time another significance. It is one of the few directions in which a man can change himself or his habits without creating other undesirable habits.  Therefore self-observation and self-study must, from the first, be accompanied by the struggle against the expression of unpleasant emotions

Again, a struggle against oneself is precisely where evolution occurs.  And yet, there are more opportunities than ever in our society to express ourselves, particularly in public, online and so on, whereby the act of self-observation can become either more difficult, or, conversely, easier than ever.  This is why Wilson’s The Personality Surgeon is so important, in fact, and stands as one of his most accessible and contemporary novels.  The outsider who ceases to be an outsider through self-analysis and applied phenomenology is an extraordinary leap in human consciousness, for it has with it the higher development of self-consciousness directed towards an evolving purpose.  If man is defined by his self-awareness, which animals have a lesser degree, plants even less so and the mineral kingdom none whatsoever, the rising of a ‘life force’ can be seen as an exponential increase of conscious freedom, of matter being imbued with the inner world of consciousness and imagination.

To be able to ‘do’ as Gurdjieff expressed it is to struggle, but also to manifest one’s self in life most satisfactorily.  First there has to be a realisation of purpose, and a working towards it.  Learning to ride a bike is a painful and tedious process at first, but as the child tries more, and can balance for longer, his confidence increases until eventually he can freely glide along, predicting the terrain and compensating for the bumps and curbs.  A musician too, once he grasps his instrument finds that he can express himself in a most exciting way; he can feel himself evolving as he pursues his music, being transported by its relational aspects and touching others.  This is the positive side to emotions, that they can feed energy into other pursuits such as physical – in lovemaking or sports – and intellectual, for the sheer joy of thinking is buoyed up by the emotional body, providing an exciting dynamic where an individual becomes immensely satisfied by the energy his own creative impulses provide him.

A mystical experience, similarly, is an overwhelming feeling of joy, whereby all the facilities glisten with potentiality – that from upon the ‘peak experience’ they can see the relational canyons and vaulting possibilities of man’s coming-to-be.  The ‘higher emotional centre’ is a form of relationality of the emotions, reaching out over larger distances and pulling inwards and intentionally firing outwards the evolutionary impulse as it is realised as well as made manifest in acts of creativity.

To be able to ‘do’ is what freedom is all about, for without it we are effectively passively accepting our fate, and by doing this we are, as Gurdjieff pointed out, victims of circumstance; drifting and pulled under by any current of emotion, once again without ballast or steering.  Wilson often emphasised that it is always the mind which falls victim, being oddly separated both from the world and the body, and when this happens a sense of unreality sets in – much like Uncle Sam, who fled entirely from the world by locking himself in a windowless room.  The poet Zenrin Kushu expresses the mind-body problem in a satisfying metaphor:

Trees show the bodily form of wind;
Waves give vital energy to the moon
.

It is, of course, pointing out the ‘invisible’ forces which shape the more physical, visceral reality of matter.  Yet the mind is what bestows freedom into matter and particularly into physical existence – we can exist, and yet, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up and over the hill for eternity, still maintain a high degree of inner freedom.  The trouble is that left-brain awareness symbolises reality, and thus turns our experience into a surreal, dream-like set of simplistic associations.  We become detached from reality, which the right-brain adds a dimension of ‘realness’, or an extra dimension of meaning and relationships.  Alan Watts, in his book, The Way of Zen, describes this situation perfectly:

“Convention therefore encourages him to associate his idea of himself with equally abstract and symbolic roles and stereotypes, since these will help him to form an idea of himself which will be definite and intelligible. But to the degree that he identifies himself with the fixed idea, he becomes aware of ‘life’ as something which flows past him – faster and faster as he grows older, and his idea becomes more rigid, more bolstered with memories.  The more he attempts to clutch the world, the more he feels it as a process in motion”

Man thus becomes a victim of time, his own ‘immediacy perception’ and becomes adrift in the reduced meaning of a symbolic, detached form of consciousness which decreases the processing of sensory and existential information.  For our experience of time is very much relative to the amount of information-processing we undergo in our lives (time goes slower for a child because everything seems so new), and as we habituate our consciousness we thus become mechanical, passive and are therefore prone to developing a pessimistic, fatalist view of our existence.

The way out, then, it would seem, should be to develop the mind’s muscles, and to somehow shock it out of its passivity; its over-reliance on what Wilson called ‘the Robot’.  For we are like Roquentin in Sarte’s Nausea:

“… when I suddenly woke up from a six-year slumber . . . I couldn’t understand why I was in Indo-China.  What was I doing there?  Why was I talking to these people?  Why was I dressed so oddly? . . . Before me, posed with a sort of indolence, was a voluminous, insipid idea.  I did not see clearly what it was, but it sickened me so much I couldn’t look at it”

He had clearly been adrift too long, but, in a sudden flash he realises the essential absurdity of his existence.  What he does not proceed to do is identify it as his over-reliance on the left-brain, its automatisms which rob our experience from us by its tendency to habituate.  I believe Ouspensky, in his later life, also fell victim to this, but he knew that it was the ‘higher emotional centre’ that needed developing, that through drinking, he could experience its opening up, its widening of vision which allows more meaning in.  Sadly, Ouspensky seemed to fall a victim to it in the end.  However, Wilson managed to most clearly identify this problem, and this is his biggest contribution to philosophy.

Strangely, this act of reducing reality to symbols feeds back into the emotional centre, robbing us of its important energies; in turn, it becomes vacillating, undisciplined and trivial-minded.  Again, sensory information of the objective world is something it thrives on, and yet our left-hemisphere tends to push things away, place them into isolated, vacuum-packed chambers where the right-hemisphere can’t grasp and project its extra-dimension of inter-related facts upon the world.  It is as if we fire out the arrow of attention, but we get a trickle of a resonance from what it is we perceive; a mere echo, faint and vague returns, and we take this lack of hemispheric communication as if it were an objective fact of existence.  So it is not exactly only one ‘body’ of ours which robs the whole, it is a combination of all three, but also the way in which we apprehend reality.  There is a knock-on effect, where the energy of each centre steals from the other, which in turn, is confirmed intellectually, felt emotionally and expressed physically (we become lazy, tired, our eyes – we say – ‘fall upon the object’).

It is as important to see with all the centres, to energise the body, to suddenly look out of our eyes at the world, while being embodied, and also to bring the emotions up, to invigorate its excitability which in turn can stimulate the intellect – all of a sudden, if all three centres are working correctly, it is like a well-disciplined, highly motivated force singing, passing on energy and encouraging each and every one.  Eventually it grows, grasping meanings, increasing our ‘birds-eye view’ and resultantly leading into greater degrees of freedom as our purpose is grasped, our seized opportunities expand.

Existence, in a sense, is a form of traction which we can get our feet into, and the gravity, although pulling us down, helps us not to float off into a dispersed, vaporous quality of a mind too detached from reality (which the intellect has a tendency to do).  And all of Wilson’s ‘outsiders’, in one way or another, represented each centre – each centre at its greatest and its weakest.  He knew that these individuals, despite their shortcomings, were also embryonic superman, making the leap, but without the necessary scaffolding of an insight to correctly judge, what it was necessary to do, to reach these summits of peak experience.

At this point Rene Daumal wonderfully demonstrates human existence in an allegorical description of mountain climbing:

“A climber far more experienced than I told me, “when your feet will no longer carry you, you have to walk with your head.” And that’s true. It is not, perhaps, in the natural order of things, but isn’t it better to walk with your head than to think with your feet, as often happens?

If you slip or have a minor spill, don’t interrupt your momentum but even as you right yourself recover the rhythm of your walk. Take note of the circumstances of your fall, but don’t allow your body to brood on the memory. The body always tries to make itself interesting by its shivers, its breathlessness, its palpitations, its shudders, sweats, and cramps. But it is very sensitive to its master’s scorn and indifference. If it feels he is not fooled by its jeremiads, if it understands that enlisting his pity is a useless effort, then it falls back into line and compliantly accomplishes its task”.

Its severity, at first, may seem too much.  And yet, it is a certain amount of self-discipline and perseverance that seems necessary to ‘do’ anything.  People are all very well, but it is more about realising your own existence first by an act of phenomenological analysis (or self-observation).  At some point, one may be able to crystallise a purpose higher than their three ordinary bodies, which understands that the three below it have a tendency to exaggerate.

The philosopher Edmund Husserl basically meant this with the idea of a ‘transcendental ego’.  It is a purposive, evolutionary aspect of our psyche which acts rather like an inner-sun to which we grow our mind and bodies.  An impersonal idea, which seems both distant and vividly more real, is often correctly positioned far in the distance like the real sun – for if it was too close there would be no life on Earth.  Meaning and purpose, when fully realise, are self-evident as the light of the sun illuminates every day.  And yet, it is taken for granted, habituated and we cease to grow.  Yet an idea, or an evolutionary philosophy like Wilson’s, can be used as a ‘guide for the perplexed’ (E.F. Schumacher’s book of the same name is a highly recommended), which acts and encourages our tropism towards some greater purpose. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, he continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(It is interesting to note a phenomenological description of the problem of modern atheism at this point, for Adam Roberts in his novel The Thing Itself (2015), expresses it perfectly: “Twenty-first century atheists peer carefully at the world around them and claim to see no evidence for God, when what they’re really peering at is the architecture of their own perceptions. Spars and ribs and wire-skeletons—there’s no God there. Of course there’s not. But strip away the wire-skeleton, and think of the cosmos without space or time or cause or substance, and ask yourself: is it an inert quantity? If so, how could… how could all this?”)

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

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

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

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

Or in one of Byron’s famous quotes:

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

Some reflections on The Personality Surgeon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3: The Tropism of Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

“For all these inaccessibilities caused a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organization, towards higher comprehension. So molecules become long-chain molecules, and these became replicating cells that transmitted information . . . till mind evolved, and higher mind. The universe, he realized, was an immense simulation: of itself, by itself. It was a registering of itself, a progressive observation of itself from ever higher points of view. Each higher order was inaccessible to a lower order, yet each lower order was drawn towards the higher – teased by the suction of the higher” (p. 187).

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

“Lower-order systems cannot fully grasp the Whole of which they are the parts.  Logic forbids.  It is the natural principle.  Which is why, when the processes of the Whole do show themselves, it is as unidentified phenomena – as intrusions into your own knowledge that can be witnessed and experienced but not rationally known: neither analysed, nor identified.  Such intrusions are inestimably important.  They are the goad towards higher organization.  They are what urges the amoeba to evolve towards a higher life form.  They are what spurs mind to evolve from natural awareness, and higher consciousness from simple mind.  They are the very dynamic of the universe” (p. 102).

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

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

Ouspensky continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

This will be continued in Part 4 . . .

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

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

Part 2: Zen ‘Shocks’ from the Miracle Visitors

 

“Mad or sane, metamorphosed or merely relieved, the chances were that Akeley had actually encountered some stupendous change of perspective in his hazardous research; some change at once diminishing his danger – real or fancied – and opening dizzy new vistas of cosmic and superhuman knowledge.  My own zeal for the unknown flared up to meet his, and I felt myself touched by the contagion of the morbid barrier-breaking.  To shake off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and natural law – to be linked with the vast outside – to come close to the knighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite and ultimate – surely such a thing was worth the risk of one’s life, soul, and sanity!”

From – ‘Whisperer in Darkness’ by H.P. Lovecraft

 

Asking the question: What does the evolution of consciousness look like? appears, at first, to be a paradoxical question. Thought itself, and consciousness, is an abstract quality – or an ‘epiphenomena’.  At best, one imagines an electroencephalograph (EEG) reading showing the physical, neurological changes in the brain, or electromagnetic flares of activity blossoming in usually quieter regions of the various lobes.  Often we see images of someone’s brain on LSD, with two brain scans of before and after the ingestion – we get, in other words, a materialistic-mechanistic reading of the brain as a machine, simply fed with a different fuel.  But the experience is within consciousness, which an EEG can only indicate in a crude way.

Now, the UFO and the extraterrestrial does have a visual element, that is, it appears as apparently solid – it also appears to have a reference in some objective reality.  Yet at the same time, when considering much of the literature by Jacques Vallee, John Mack and Whitley Strieber, one soon realises that there is an important psychological and psychic factor to both the state of consciousness one is in both before and after the experience.  And even the entities of these strange phenomena themselves often directly allude to the importance of human consciousness and its development.  Indeed, in a novel based on the phenomena, and a result of a great deal of research, Ian Watson coined the phrase ‘UFO Consciousness’.  For him it is not merely a physical event, but a new state of mind that manifests itself as phenomena.  In this instance, evolution itself takes the guise – or is subject to a psychic projection – of an intrusion, or as an unidentifiable ‘event’ haunting the collective unconscious.

When we talk of a ‘visionary’ we do not necessarily allude to what the visionary has seen – be it a Blessed Virgin Mary, God or some inexplicable, yet transformative, event – but more to the change in the quality of their perception of reality.  It is a common phrase, in many religions, and in Near-Death Experiences, that one has ‘seen the light’.  But sometimes, when one returns from these voyages into the unknown – such as in shamanism – the individual involved has not only witnessed something profound (a vision), but now sees by it.  He sees into reality as if illuminated by a new light.  These individuals are usually known for their deeply reflective quality, as if they are not only illuminating the problem themselves, but in turn receiving a deeper impression from what it is they are reflecting on.  Indeed, such is the source and effect of their wisdom – that, when we their contemplate their work, it speaks to us more deeply, much like the visionary paintings and poetry of William Blake, for example, who is generally accepted as a ‘visionary’.  Of course, Wilson often used the example of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which seems to be infused with a quality of life and light, a whirlpool of energy ripping throughout the sky and landscape as if that was how Van Gogh saw the universe – a great, interconnected ripple of charged vitality.  These people we call ‘enlightened’ or ‘visionaries, for their ability to relate and move the deepest parts of our nature.

I am not here suggesting that everyone who sees a UFO is by default enlightened (there’s plenty of dangerous cults based on that premise alone!).  But the experience itself can lend itself to that state of mind, or at least introduce a subtlety and quality to it which expands ones conception of reality and what is possible.  Indeed, there is a distinct element of trauma involved in a lot of witness cases, most notably Whitley Strieber’s (which we shall consider in more detail later).   However, a more down-to-earth example will help us gain a perspective on how our consciousness affects what we see, and how we see.  This particular example is about a South African prisoner:

“He said that for some years he’d been in a part of the prison where he couldn’t see out a window, couldn’t see more than 20 feet in any direction.  Everything there was either gray or dull brown, including clothing.  Day after day, month after month, there were no colours but those two.  Bright colours were so rare that after two years, if a brightly coloured thread was blown in on the wind to fall, say, onto a guard’s uniform, the sight of it struck like a thunderbolt.  A mere thread was almost overwhelming – because of its colour alone.  He said that for relatively sensitive people, prison changed one’s perspective on the outside world in many ways.  After a while, in prison, one becomes a kind of zombie to survive.  But once released, he said, the riot of colours and the sudden freedoms are startling, and the world seems overwhelming in its profusion of shapes and possibilities – you are shocked by this searing variety, shocked into waking up, into seeing things you didn’t see prior to prison” (p. 12-13; John Shirley)

This shock of newness, of an intrusion of novelty, is as if a “thunderbolt” had occurred in his everyday perception of greyness.  I have mentioned (in Part 1) that human beings – particularly most of the existentialists and scientific materialists – regard themselves as essentially trapped in human-made values, that we are in a closed-system where nothing really truly ‘new’ can enter from outside.  We are, it is often said, alone in this universe – a universe moreover actively hostile to life.  We are, pessimistically, like the South African prisoner, trapped in a universe stripped of any sense of significance left for either ourselves or the cosmos.  Any ‘intrusion’ into this closed system would, in a sense, have to come from outside. The shocks of a transcendent value, as it were, striking through the veneer of our human-all-too-human worldview.  The essence behind the appearances.

If this were to intrude too ferociously into our lives, we may resort to ‘compensatory fictions’, madness or reductive explanations which decrease its full impact of implications.  The mystic Gurdjieff called this mechanism of consciousness our buffers.  John Shirley, novelist and biographer, explains the purpose of buffers as “cushion[ing] the shock of contradiction, keeping us comfortable enough with ourselves to remain asleep, enabling us to believe we’re always in the right.  They are to some extent practical, protecting us from feeling contradictions that would otherwise drive us mad” (p. 133).  This may explain the essential absurdity of the UFO phenomena as we see it, the apparent illogical nature of their actions, and oddly stream-of-consciousness dialogues they have with abductees.  Sometimes profound, sometimes nonsensical.  Rather like an un-graspable mystical insight that cannot quite translate itself into common language.

A somewhat clumsier metaphor that I have used in the past is that the UFO seals itself off from being known by leaving nothing but confusion behind.  Rather like a puncture in a tire which is definitely there, but as the rubber expands, is not visible to the naked eye.  It almost seems to re-seal itself in mystery, and any explanation for it is left on unstable foundations – crumbling and often contradicted.  It can be witnessed, usually spontaneously, but never confined or isolated in experiment.  It has that awkward position in science of an unfalsifiable theory or hypothesis.

Interestingly the UFO appears to intentionally confound science!  For Terrence McKenna, in summarising Jacques Vallee’s central thesis behind his book The Invisible Landscape (1975), notes that the “cultural thermostat theory” presents the “flying saucer [as] an object from the collective unconscious of the human race that appears in order to break the control of any set of ideas that are gaining dominance in their explanatory power at the expense of ethics.  It is a confound that enters history again and again whenever history builds to a certain kind of boil” (p. 59).  Similarly the researcher into the ‘high weirdness’ of lake monsters, ghosts and poltergeists and other Fortean phenomena, Ted Holiday, noted in his book The Goblin Universe (1986):

“A certain sort of ghost has always undertaken this function.  At its lowest level this may involve nothing more spiritual than an evening chase across the meadows after a mystery light of a lakeside glimpse of a dragon.  At its highest, the witness may perform miracles of healing or found a new religion.  These ghosts have this specific function: they mystify, mock, foment reaction and reveal.  They act as spiritual enzymes, posing problems, acting out elaborate spoofs, offering to guide yet leading the searcher into a swamp, conducting the hunter after treasure or power to a hideous travesty of the very thing he craves.  They are beautiful or ugly, according to circumstances.  The Jews of olden time called them Satan, the Tester, because they test with spiritual acid acting through karma in order that the inner laws of creation be well-protected” [111].

Nearly every respectable UFO investigator has often suffered from a sense of defeat, concluding after years of research that they are no closer to the truth than they started.  Andrija Puharich, speaking of his experience with an extraterrestrial entity who called itself Spectra, concluded that “[t]he secret of Spectra was safe because they had leaked out just enough information to convince me of their reality, but not enough for me to ever convince any other human being” [122].  The Harvard psychologist, John Mack, identified the problem as an issue with the “Western Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm”, being as they are phenomena both physical and non-physical, simultaneously objective phenomena and mental phenomena.  There is a certain qualitas occultus attributable to the entire experience; presenting itself as one thing and then just as a semblance of sense is made, it devours itself, leaving no trace.  And like a prankster it leaves the witness being perceived to be an utter delusional fool.  There is even a sense that one ought not to discuss UFOs in polite company, and to write a book about the phenomena is akin to consigning your ever being taken seriously to the bin.

Indeed there is a frustrating dream-like quality to the whole affair.  If the UFO is a ‘reflector of human values’, a mirror to our vacillating mental world, shifting as it does from objective to subjective, often confusing the two, we are led inevitably into the domain of dream interpretation.  Of course, this was essentially Carl Jung’s approach to the subject of flying saucers.  It is interesting to note at this point that Ouspensky saw dreams as almost entirely subjective phenomena, whereby consciousness is entirely passive and a victim of an endless churning of subjectivity with its endless relativisms.  Consciousness for Ouspensky was never constantly one thing or the other – unless one was fully self-conscious (objective towards oneself) or objectively conscious (objective to the world as it is) – and most people are subject to the logic of dream even in their ordinary waking consciousness (not necessarily in the sense of hallucinations), which explains the inconsistency of man’s ego (what he called man’s multiple and conflicting ‘I’s’).  And yet, the dream world can become involved in the world of matter, that is, in what is accordingly the ‘objective world’ of things.

The famous example of Jung’s patient and the scarab beetle is a case in point, in which a:

“[…] woman patient who recited a dream she had had in which she was given a costly piece of jewellery, a golden scarab (beetle). While she was relating the dream Jung heard something tapping at the window from outside. Jung opened the window and in flew a scarbaeid beetle which he caught in his hand, its gold-green color resembling that of the golden scarab in the woman’s dream. He handed the beetle to his patient and said, “Here is your scarab.”

The woman, who was highly educated and intelligent, had been resisting dealing with her feelings and emotions. She was very adept at rationalization and intellectualizing. After the scary scarab experience she was able to get to the root of her emotional problems and to make real progress in her growth toward wholeness”.

This fascinating experience shows that the world of the dream can carry over into the world of waking experience.  It is not only symbolised in the dream, it also comes through into a real-life situation, which in turn correlates with the unconscious processes of the dreamer to facilitate a “growth towards wholeness”.  In other words an integration of the ego with that of the unconscious mind (this is effectively what the synchronicity is for).  In effect she had achieved a form of Gurdjieff’s ‘self-remembering’.  I would argue that the UFO, in its vorticiating strangeness, is turning us inside-out and outside-in through the process of purposeful mystery, rather like the intentional mental ‘shock’ of a Zen kōan.  In short it encourages us to think, as Ouspensky was once urged to do in an altered state of consciousness, to ‘in different categories’.

*

Often these ‘different categories’ are to be found in mysticism or the occult.  For example, in his novel Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse makes one of his characters express the fundamental motivating force behind religious mysticism:

“It is what I call eternity.  The pious call it the kingdom of God.  I say to myself: all we who ask too much have a dimension too many could not contrive to live at all if there were not another air to breathe outside the air of this world, if there were not eternity at the back of time; and this is the kingdom of truth” [179].

Again it is yearning for a transcendent value behind the transience of matter.  It is not necessarily anti-materialist, but what Victor Frankl rallied against when he said that the “nihilism of today is reductionism. . . Contemporary nihilism no longer brandishes the word nothingness; today nihilism is camouflaged as nothing-but-ness.  Human phenomena are thus turned into mere epiphenomena” [14].  It is against this ‘nothing-but-ness’ that both the mystic and the new existentialist intuitively understand as false.  Wilson concluded that “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” [326].  And interestingly he notes:

“[T]hat it would seem that the UFO entities have no problems with solid matter.  And it is likely that we would be the same if we had reached their level of evolution.  Our problem, when we feel trapped in matter, is that we find it very hard to believe that it can be tamed by any mental discipline.  Yet, on another level, everyday life supports this contention.  Apparently insoluble problems yield to determined effort . . . But it [matter] has immense inertia, and yields slowly and painfully, like some gigantic rusty door.  Half the battle is realising that it will yield if you push hard” [368].

We are back to the premise of the new existentialism as I introduced in Part 1.  And more interestingly, it is to do with the effort of conscious thought itself.  The UFOs and their occupants appear to have extrasensory powers and varying degrees of control over time and matter.  They are, in some sense, supermen who reside outside and above the limits that most of us find ourselves – the limits of time, personality and temporality.  And yet, as Nietzsche noted when he said that this world is slow, cumbersome and dreary, and that only in flashes of light speed consciousness – that is above space-time – can one start to see in an enlightened way.  Again there are levels of consciousness which would, in effect, take away the contradictions we see in the UFO phenomena once we reach their level.  In the state of the ‘UFO Consciousness’, or ‘UFO Reality’ as Watson and Wilson respectively called it (Patrick Harpur called it the ‘Daimonic Reality’ in a book of the same name).  I have dwelt upon this notion of ‘light speed’ in these two parts, because it seems to me a fascinating answer to the problem; and it is bought up time and time again in terms of heightened states of consciousness.  For example, Uri Geller expresses his theory of his powers thus:

“I believe that in telepathy I am passing the light speed.  I feel that telepathic waves travel at a speed of light or faster.  Every object gives off radiation which moves out into the universe.  When we pass the light barrier, we can see into the past or into the future, and we can transmute materials one into the other.  Everything is based on the light speed.  And once beyond that there is no end to what can be done” [69].

Indeed, according to John Keel, UFOs even appear to “exist at frequencies beyond visible light”.  It is worth quoting Keel at length, for it presents a satisfying answer origin of the UFO phenomena:

“[…] they can adjust their frequency and descend the electromagnetic spectrum – just as you can turn the dial of your radio and move a variable condenser up and down the scale of radio frequencies.  When a UFO’s frequency nears that of visible light, it would appear first as a purplish blog of violet.  As it moves further down the scale, it would seem to change to blue, and then to cyan (bluish green). . .

I have therefore classified that section of the color spectrum as the UFO entry field.  When the objects begin to move into our spatial and time coordinates, they gear down from higher frequencies, passing progressively from ultraviolet to violet to bluish green.  When they stabilize within our dimensions, they radiate energy on all frequencies and become a glaring white.

In the white condition the object can traverse distances visibly, but radical manoeuvres of ascent or descent require it to alter its frequencies again, and this produces new color changes.  In the majority of all landing reports, the objects were said to have turn orange (red and yellow) or red before descending.  When they settle on the ground they ‘solidify’ and glow red again.  Sometimes reportedly they turn a brilliant red and vanish.  Other times they shift through all the colors of the spectrum, turn white, and fly off into the night until they look like just another star.

Since the color red is so closely associated with the landing and takeoff process, I term the end of the color spectrum the UFO departure field’” [171].

If this is the case, there are fascinating correlations to be made between colours, time and the speed of light, and indeed our own potential modes of consciousness.  For there could be a corresponding colour indicating our lower moods, to our higher, more ‘enlightened’ moods which are akin to the what Keel calls ‘all frequencies’ – that is, of the glaring bright white light, which is of course further down the spectrum from the invisible radiations to ultraviolet and so on.

This would enable us to create a direct relationship between the manifestation and powers of the UFO and their visitors, with the levels of our own potential modes of consciousness.  For in a sense, an interest in the esoteric or the occult is a fascination with the ‘end of the spectrum’ of known knowledge, and of the higher significance which may lie ‘hidden’ beyond mere appearances.  For the occult is primarily concerned with other modes of being, and other modes of knowledge.  So it is really a matter of us evolving to the same level of the UFO, and in its own way, the phenomena is teaching us about the limitations and potential powers of our own mind.  If they have an evolutionary agenda, it could be that they communicate through symbols, as Professor Jeffrey Kripal understood when he said:

“Although paranormal phenomena certainly involve material processes, they are finally organized around signs and meanings.  To use the technical terms, they are semiotic and hermeneutical phenomena.  Which is to say that they seem to function as representations or signs to decipher and interpret, not just movements of matter to measure and quantify.

He concludes:

“paranormal phenomena are semiotic or hermeneutical phenomena in the sense that they signal, symbolize, or speak across a “gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field” (p. 25).

I will attempt to address this notion in Part 3. . . 

***

Recommended Reading:

Ian Watson’s Miracle Visitors (1978)

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Part 1: The New Existentialism & Approaching the UFO Phenomenon

 

“[A] frog sees the sky as no bigger than the mouth of its well.  We think that we see the whole sky: this infinity of possibilities.  But perhaps we’re only a special sort of frog in a special sort of well?  We must seek the essence behind the appearance.”

– God’s World by Ian Watson

 

Alongside the UFO phenomena, this essay will be concerned with common existential themes; isolation, solipsism and the sense of being trapped in a meaningless universe.  It also aims to tackle these problems by using the insights of Colin Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ – a means by which to overcome the pessimism at the heart of many of the existentialist’s dour pronouncements.  Existentialism as a philosophy has a history that goes back to Kierkegaard, and was more recently expounded in the works of Sartre – but, particularly after the millennium, it has been treated as a somewhat anachronistic affair, and as a basically irrelevant philosophical trend of the 1950s.  Yet, it is my belief, and shared by many others (but perhaps too few!), that existentialism’s essential materialism, and essential sense of futility – even syllogistically accepted without further reflection – has been absorbed into our culture, and has merely taken up the guise in more contemporary approaches such as post-modernism, post-humanism and particularly in scientific materialism.  A science moreover which rejects philosophy, but nevertheless, still takes philosophical biases on-board without examination[1].  In other words, the basic problems that existentialism presented still remain unresolved, at least in popular culture.  The existential crisis, as such, remains repressed and ignored.

I hope to challenge these basic fallacies by considering something which the above approaches essentially reject (if the UFO is accepted, it is usually seen as a literal technological object from another planet – on materialistic terms), and which may, by its very nature, offer us something with which we can evaluate the human condition in a new light.  Whether or not these discredited phenomenon, the UFO and the extraterrestrial, will be accepted on their own terms or not, in this particular essay, is not pursued – it is however pursued as a phenomenological exercise of both the imagination and reason, much like the great works of science fiction attempted to illuminate urgent issues of both society and the psyche, and the hyphen that should lie between them (as space and time became, after Einstein, space-time, being as they were, inseparable).

Yet, this essay is less concerned with social panaceas, but with what Wilson expressed as “establishing a new dimension in human freedom”, a problem which runs obsessively throughout all his work.

Indeed, this essay may be treated as a work of speculation; a ‘What if?’ scenario which aims to offer a new and unusual way of thinking about ourselves in relation to the universe and our role thereof.  And for this task I have deliberately invoked the theme UFOs and extraterrestrials, which Wilson explored in his 1998 work, Alien Dawn.

Foremost Wilson was a philosopher, and throughout all of his work he presented an alternative ‘new’ existentialism which aimed to urge us out of the pervasive philosophical and cultural nihilism.  No doubt to many readers the notion that such a philosopher, concerned with such pressing and important issues of a philosophical revolution, should concern himself a phenomena that is generally dismissed, or treated as entirely trivial and irrelevant seems to be majorly side-stepping the point.  For how could this possibly give any light on the existential position of the individual?  The notion of existentialism being discussed in the same breath as UFOs may at first appear as a folly, an impossible divergence at odds with existentialism’s central premise – mankind’s freedom, or lack of it.

But a careful consideration of the facts, and in turn, a temporary suspension of disbelief, will benefit for the time being as we develop the ‘new’ existentialism from the bottom up.  For it will soon become apparent how the spectrum of existentialism can include extrasensory powers, extraordinary human potentialities and other realities.  In its crudest expression, it is really an expansion of man’s freedom beyond the normal limitations of matter and social circumstance (some existentialists felt that freedom, of the social kind, could be found in Marxism, for example, which is materialist in the extreme).  It aims, therefore, at an almost mystical extension of the human mind, whereby freedom is not merely a material circumstance, but a state of mind whereby the evolutionary urge is further encouraged.  It is not, to use Herbert Marcuse’s term, a ‘repressive-desublimation’ of mankind’s urge, but a positive encouragement of growth, of a freedom which is essentially one-and-the-same with the expansion and evolution of human consciousness.

The ‘new’ existentialism, in short, is an evolutionary philosophy concerned primarily with consciousness, and moreover, the application of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology towards understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the evolutionary impulse itself.

To this purpose, the imagination acquires a significant position in the new existentialism. And to this end – that is of an evolutionary phenomenology – the imaginative leap is in itself at the very heart of Wilson’s philosophy.  In a very real sense, it is the imagination and particularly the active use of it, that enables one to transcend Heidegger’s ‘triviality of everydayness’, or the contingent and futile world that Sartre portrayed in his novel Nausea.  The ‘everyday’ world may lose its freshness with age or depression, but this is as much an imaginative issue as it is a problem of perception (for the two are effectively one and the same) – the imagination being inextricably a part of one’s perception of the universe.  If, as Wilson argues convincingly, this imaginative organ of perception could be invigorated, the world would not appear as flat and lifeless as it is portrayed by the existentialists, but as an alien (in the sense of eternally ‘new’) and vivifying place of possibilities and could, moreover, even usher in an evolutionary leap.

It will be wise to consider the worldview presented by scientific materialism, and just how it understands mankind’s position in the universe.

*

The German computer scientist, Joseph Weizenbaum, noted that:

“Time after time science has led us to insights that diminish man.  Thus Galileo removed man from the center of the universe, Darwin removed him from his place separate from the animals, and Freud showed his rationality to be an illusion.  Yet man pushes his inquiries further and deeper.  I cannot help but think that there is an analogy between man’s pursuit of scientific knowledge and the individual’s commitment to psychoanalytic therapy”. (p. 201: Nature of Things)

In a sense, the UFO phenomena, added to this simultaneously morbid and valiant effort of mankind to understand himself and the world in which he lives, offers itself up as a panacea.  Or at least a mirror in which to examine himself.

The alien is often invoked as a metaphorical stance, as a possible observer of mankind’s progress and follies, having with it the advantage of being impartial and exempt from the fog of subjectivity and bias.  I have often noticed this position being adopted by anthropologists or psychologists who want a context from which to observe mankind as if from outside.  For example, Steve Taylor in his book, The Fall (2005) begins his social and psychological survey of man with this insightful paragraph:

“If alien beings have been observing the course of human history over the last few thousand years they might well have reached the conclusion that human beings are the product of a scientific experiment which went horribly wrong.  Perhaps, they might hypothesise, other aliens chose the earth as the site for an experiment to try to create a perfect being with amazing powers of intelligence and ingenuity.  And create this being they did – but perhaps they didn’t get the balance of chemicals exactly right, or maybe some of their laboratory equipment broke down half way through because, although the creature did possess amazing intelligence and ingenuity, it also turned out to be a kind of monster, with defects which were just as great as – or even greater than – its abilities”. (p. 12)

Of course this is using the notion of an extraterrestrial intelligence in a metaphorical sense simply to make a point, and to bring in a larger context with which to diagnose – and generalise – large swathes of the human experience as it looks to an outside observer.  Suddenly through imagination we are projecting ourselves into the mind of a visiting extraterrestrial, and are able to simulate a modicum of self-consciousness (although this of course is basically impossible, for the alien itself is merely anthropomorphism, and would no doubt have a radically different set of criterion with which to compare its own developments and mankind’s).  Nevertheless, this is an interesting example of phenomenology in action, and particularly one of the uses of mankind’s imagination towards a degree of self-consciousness which is almost entirely absent in most animals.  We can already see that, if we were to approach the alien symbolically, we receive a reflection of ourselves – and whatever we project on to the backcloth of the concept of an alien, we are in turn given insight into conscious and unconscious drives behind our perceptions.  It is an imaginary concept by which we intend meaning upon (again consciously or unconsciously).  Therefore the alien quickly becomes a vehicle of metaphor, presenting as it does aspects of the psyche or society into which it comes into contact – that is, by the author’s conception of what the alien ought to be.  This, moreover, makes the alien a very mercurial concept that cannot be fully grasped, for it is always out of reach, being as it is, fundamentally ‘other’.

Yet that is considering it in the form of a concept only, and if the reality of an extraterrestrial were to present itself, it would inevitably be subject to the similar misunderstandings and projections.  But this time perhaps with a clearer context of having a visible physiognomy, customs and a language which may have certain recognisable linguistic structures – there is something objective there to study, and it obeys – if it obeys at all – strict laws of matter and mind.  Perhaps the closest we can get to this, in effect, is two cultures developing in isolation, and then one finding the other, rather like the conquistadors and their conquest of the Americas.  However, meeting an extraterrestrial would have of a more disorientating quality, for it is two or more intelligent species – man and alien – coming into contact.  This would no doubt have fundamental biological, cultural, psychological and perhaps even chemical and neurological differences which makes the gap far harder to bridge – and within this gap, this essential unknowableness, man projects compensatory fictions, and again falls victim of unconscious forces, habits and pitfalls of anthropocentrism – of our minds being Earth-bound.  This sort of thing is one of the most painful effects of colonialism, and plagues us here on Earth, let alone with visitors from another solar system.

This may appear at first to be an unnecessary digression, but I think at this point we arrive at an interesting existential problem – that is, that man’s own values are entirely relative to himself, and have no objective reality out of his small domain.  If the world were to implode tomorrow, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven would have never have left the Earth’s atmosphere – all that man knows is the work of man’s knowing. The projection of ‘compensatory fictions’ is exactly what Sartre was obsessed with, and this is the realisation behind the nausea that so plagues Roquentin in the novel Nausea.  The problem is, fundamentally, that nothing is knowable in any objective sense, for this would require what the Greek-Armenian mystic, Gurdjieff, called ‘objective consciousness’ – the ability to know Kant’s noumenon, ‘the thing in itself’ or reality as it is.

The existential crisis may have more personal origins, but the above examples are fundamentally the ‘visionary’ sort of existentialist, and has much more in common with a religious crisis.  He has something of a drive towards the impersonality of a God, of an ultimate Truth, or a standard of values which have a transcendent source rather like Plato’s forms.  When he has this crisis, he knows that now his own life – personal or otherwise – is based on false values which are entirely fictional, mere compensatory fictions which ease the pain of the realisation of man’s ultimate contingency in a meaningless universe.  In this state, it is easy to resort to solipsism, whereby one thinks that one’s own mind is the closest thing to any sort of ultimate value – for you realise that, at root, experience is an entirely personal one, shared only through the ephemera of language and the five senses.  And even those have enormous subjective ‘fuzziness’, having almost no relation to the object to which they refer.

Consciousness is accepted as essentially passive.

It is understandable that from this position man feels entirely a slave, and if he is free, he is free for nothing, for there is no transcendent purpose.  At best he can commit to a political ideal, or be concerned for the welfare of others – which is an admirable enough commitment in itself – but deep down, and in any dimension of life, there remains only death, our bondage to time and the laws of matter.  And the mind is merely epiphenomena of matter, subject to its laws, and beyond that, a limited sort of tool cursed with a dismal self-awareness of its limitations.  There is even, in a bleak sort of way, a celebration of this struggle; that in spite of this, man marches on, stoically accepting the bleak fate of annihilation – with the universe eventually cooling down, removing even the possibility of further life, or consciousness, ever occurring even in the remotest galaxy.

No one nor no thing is safe.

Hospitality, or a ‘cosmological anthropic principle’, in the universe is at best treated with contempt, dismissed – in scientific materialism – as a throwback to religious thinking, or as a fantasy dreamed up out of an inability to stare the grim truth in the eye.  In fact, I believe the latter to be a part of the appeal of existentialism (aside from its aesthetic appeal, or its often penetrating analysis of the human condition), and especially some of the more despairing writers like the Romanian philosopher, Emil Cioran (who in his work, Syllogisms of Bitterness, encapsulated his own disposition in the aphorism: “How I’d like to be a plant, even if I had to keep vigil over a piece of shit!”) or in the works of the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, for it gives the sense that you are brave enough to look into the void – that in some way, you are valiantly accepting reality on its own terms.  Or, perhaps, a sort of masochism.

Optimism, from this perspective, seems like a weakness, or at best a poor measure of character, a basic naivety.

For Lovecraft all of us “live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not mean that we should voyage far” and even science, with its visions of technological progress and resulting social change, should come to such “terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (p. 61).  These philosophies of pessimism are essentially a closed-system of human values, whereby nothing ‘higher’ can enter, for it goes on the assumption that nothing ‘higher’ exists, and if it did, it would probably be malevolent or indifferent – having at its core, a merciless need to survive, fitted – like the rest of us – with an inherent Darwinism.  An extraterrestrial, from this point of view, would also be at the mercy of the cosmos to greater or lesser degrees – so in a sense, to meet one would only further entrench us in a materialistic cosmos, shared with a variety of life forms, but nevertheless still fundamentally no better off in the grand scheme of things.

We would still remain Nietzsche’s madman, proclaiming the unanswerable questions such as “Are we not plunging continually?  Backwards, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left?  Are we not straying through an infinite nothing?  Do we not feel the breath of empty space?  Has it not become colder?. . .”.  The infinite relativity undermines all of our values, of extraterrestrial origin or not.

Yet it was the same Nietzsche who wrote in 1875 that the highest reason would truly liberate “if only it could be produced consciously, [and this] would result in a still greater feeling of reason and happiness; for example, the course of the solar system, begetting an educating a human being” (p. 50 Portable Nietzsche).  In one of the earliest insights which predicted the ‘new existentialism’ by over a hundred years, he notes that: “Happiness lies in the swiftness of feeling and thinking: all the rest of the world is slow, gradual, and stupid.  Whoever could feel the course of a light ray would be very happy, for it is swift” (p. 50).

Nietzsche’s vision of the universe above is not presented as purposeless, but as a higher dimension of rationality, of meaning and in terms of relationships.  Significantly the artist, for him, represented one of the highest expressions of reason, for it is a creative force of increasing complexity and, strangely in the last note, of light speed.

At this juncture of speculation, it is interesting to note that as one proceeds towards the speed of light, time starts to slow down, when the speed of light is reached time effectively stops altogether – for a photon there is no time.  At this point, the levels of consciousness may be reconsidered, not as necessarily restricted to the three dimensions of space, but also within that of time – and beyond.  The philosopher E.F. Schumacher, for example, divides consciousness into a number of levels, whereby at the lowest level there is time:

“only in the sense of duration.  For creatures endowed with consciousness there is time in the sense of experience; but experience is confined to the present, except where the past is made present through memory, and the future is made present through foresight.  The higher the Level of Being, the ‘broader’, as it were, is the present; the more it embraces of what, at lower Levels of Being, is past and future.  At the highest imaginable Level of Being there would be the ‘eternal now’” (p. 46).

If one’s consciousness were to somehow reach the speed of light, these feelings of contingency would be seen as an illusion of the lower-state of consciousness; a consciousness lumbering behind, unable to outreach the limitations of the gravitational well of personality and triviality.

Indeed, these levels of consciousness are in themselves different dimensions of levels of freedom.

Now this is really where the ‘new existentialism’ really begins, for it recognises that there are certain levels of consciousness which cannot be ignored when taking into account human experience.  And within these higher states, the relativity of human values suddenly becomes a self-evident absurdity, and a mere problem of one’s perception.  Contingency fades away and reality loses its ephemeral, vague and subjective quality and becomes vividly real, and one becomes infused with a sense of life-force, an élan vital which vivifies our perceptions by flooding them with a re-energised intentionality (intentionality will be considered more in depth in Part 2).

In Religion and the Rebel (1957), Wilson argues that the ‘old existentialism’:

“make[s] imprisonment in time, consciousness and personality – to which human beings are only too prone – seem quite natural and inevitable.  And since this way of thought has become the prevalent way in our modern world, the Outsider must raise the banner of a new existentialism, and make war on civilised modes of thought” (1984: p. 192).

And it seems to me that the UFO phenomenon is, as good as any, making war on our ‘civilised modes of thought’ (much like Wilson’s advance into the occult later on in his career was an enormous rebuff to ‘civilised modes of thought’).  But without drifting far from the implications of Wilson’s optimistic existentialism, – indeed remaining steadfastly close to this form of phenomenological analysis – we shall now see just how this odd phenomena of strange lights seen in our skies, and hallucinatory abduction scenarios, somehow tie in to a development of a new human consciousness.  From this position some of the ambiguities of the phenomena come more sharply into focus, offering up a potential view in to the workings of mankind’s evolution of consciousness, and particularly, how the unconscious, in some instances, may be facilitating the necessary challenges of human experience.

After all, one lifelong UFO witness and abductee, Whitley Strieber, said that the phenomena “might be what the force of evolution looks like when it is applied to a conscious mind”. . .

This will be continued in Part 2 . . .

Notes:

[1] As pointed out, somewhat ironically, by the arch-materialist Daniel Dennett.