Some Comments on Colin Wilson’s ‘My Interest in Murder’ (Paupers’ Press: 2019)

(You can buy a copy of ‘My Interest in Murder’ here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Interest-Murder-discarded-introduction-Assassins/dp/0995597812)

On a Sunday afternoon I settled down to read Paupers’ Press’ latest release – Colin Wilson’s ‘My Interest in Murder’ (2019). While reading it, I decided to begin noting down some reflections on Wilson’s work on murder, in an attempt to align some insights I had along the way together with his overall philosophy. It resulted in this essay.

‘My Interest in Murder’ was originally intended as an introduction to Wilson’s 1972 book Order of the Assassins, which explores the psychology of murder. This short book comprises of a 40-page autobiographical reflection on why and how Wilson became so interested in this dark subject.

Furthermore, he describes the creative process, and psychological and philosophical shifts, that occurred while writing his first novel, Ritual in the Dark (1960) – which took the nine years to write. And how his later novel The Glass Cage (1966) – “perhaps my own favourite among my novels” – became a crystallisation of this project to explore the mind of a murderer.

Wilson was determined to become a writer, and despite the banalities of his working-class existence, he declared that he would “make literature out of my revolt.” He comments that he had “tasted the pleasures of the imagination and intellect” and “wanted the pleasure to pursue them.” This of course led to Ritual in the Dark; or, in its earlier incarnation, Ritual of the Dead (originally titled after the Egyptian Book of the Dead). The novel is a pacey and fascinating reflection on frustration, alienation and moreover outsiderisim. It also has something of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment about it – with the main character being torn between intensities of both himself and the often shady people with whom he’s become embroiled.   

Gerard Sorme, the protagonist and Wilson’s alter-ego, is what Wilson himself described as a ‘Simple Simon’, who wonders around London meeting eccentric and intensely-driven individuals, each with a backstory of semi-mystical visions which define them – for better or for worse – as outsiders.

Having recently read Wilson’s The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988), I could clearly see how he had his own ‘Simple Simon’ moments. He fully admits that it dawned on him, perhaps too slowly, that a broad-shouldered, deep-voiced Charlotte Bach was, in fact, a robust Hungarian transvestite called Karoly Hajdu. Bach posited an evolutionary theory based on a dynamic and creative ‘tension’ and inter-play between the male and female counterparts in each individual (Wilson explored these themes in his book Mysteries (1978), and then later on in The Misfits). She was, in many ways, a character that could have been lifted straight out one of Wilson’s early novels.  

Nevertheless, it was through meeting these liminal characters, and by exploring the psychology of the outsider or the ‘misfit’, that Wilson could begin to explore motives for such extremities – whether it be sexual fetishes or, indeed, murder.

After all, what fundamentally defines these outsiders is a search for intensity consciousness – control over one’s own emotions, environment and achieving a sense of ultimate reality. In ‘My Interest in Murder’ Wilson quotes Watson’s observation of Sherlock Holmes: “He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century”, to which Wilson responds: “And why not? – for such knowledge was a part of his working equipment.” Wilson adds that by working with such morbid and extreme material, he began to feel like a “pathologist, working with unpleasant material, but viewing it with detachment.”

What Wilson was saying is that the sexual impulse and/or the impulse for murder and sadism is driven by an intense stimulus; that is, in both acts, there is a release of enormous energy – an energy, moreover, that has the potential for great acts of creativity, but, in sadism or murder, has somehow turned against itself.

Says Wilson:

“[T]here are certain people who possess the potentiality of creation, of purposive action; if this is frustrated it turns rotten. The mind is like a forward flowing river; if it is dammed up, it will turn the land around it into a swamp.”

So, you can clearly see the trajectory of Wilson’s work from his first non-fiction book, The Outsider (1956), which explored existentialists, ballet dancers, poets, mystics and esoteric teachers like G.I. Gurdjieff. There was not so much the ‘Simple Simon’ in Wilson, but an immense openness that enabled him to actualise in his work what Alfred North Whitehead described as the most important undertaking that any existentialist should adopt: experience everything; drunk, sober, depressed, ecstatic, and so on. Not out of mere hedonism or naiveite, but as an attempt to understand the extent of the human instrument through its entire experiential spectrum.

Murder emerges out of an immense damming up of frustration, which then bursts out as a destructive and pointless act. However, it is these implicit creative potentialities that Wilson was so fascinated by. Ritual in the Dark originally developed as a literary expression of frustration, much in the same way books like Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Eugene Ionescu’s The Hermit and – the most famous novel of its type – Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea, were attempts to describe this essential feeling of alienation and the slippery texture of reality. But Wilson was driven by something altogether more optimistic.

Wilson began writing out of an act of emotional revolt that creatively expressed itself; and then, once circumstances in his life began to lighten up – and his naturally cheerful temperament kicked back in – the tone and philosophy of Ritual in the Dark began to change correspondingly. This in turn provided the novel with the protagonist’s recognition that the murderer in the book, whom Sorme even shows some admiration for, is in fact insane and sick. And that these murders were, as Wilson says, a “gesture of revolt” against reality – a reality, moreover, that the murderer had completely lost touch with.  

This is essentially the insight at the heart of Wilson’s work on criminology: that, in low moods, we have a weak grip on reality; and that if we let go, we fall into a ‘worms-eye view’ and our lives and the world around us – and even other people – begin to feel meaningless and uninspiring. Murderers and criminals have fallen down this hole further still, becoming stuck in a loop where reality becomes increasingly unreal, which in turn requires increasingly extreme experiences to reinvigorate what Pierre Janet called their ‘reality function’.

Now, one of the things that has always interested me is how we observe ourselves in certain moments, and how we can quickly take things for granted. I’ve worked in a number of industries, ranging from office work to apple picking and as a drayman for a brewery in the Midlands. When I first began reading Wilson’s books, I felt an immediate sense of kinship; I too had sat on lorries for long journeys and had worked in tedious offices full of neurotic petty-mindedness. Being a true existentialist, Wilson looked to his own life experiences for insights into the human condition.

Around February-March in 2018, I was working as a drayman during the ‘Beast from the East’, which was a cold wave which had blown over from Russia and North Asia, covering most of the Midlands in fine snowdrifts and freezing temperatures. I would have to get up very early, walk down a huge hill and into a warehouse full of steel casks. A forklift truck driver would come out and I’d have to jump on the back of the van and roll these heavy, ale-filled casks and secure them into place.

After the van was full, we’d seal up the curtain and drive off to about four pubs, where we would have to open the gate, crawl down into the cellar and then start lowering the barrels down with a rope as the snow whipped up, and our feet froze. The snow made it enormously difficult to push eighteen-gallon barrels, with the snow gaining up in front of it and causing a barrier which you would have to kick out of the way.

After a long day which inevitably led to exhaustion, I had to walk back up the huge hill. And on the way back, I walked past a salon full of beautiful women blow-drying hair and manicuring nails. The comparison between the two worlds was jarring – and it suddenly occurred to me the shocking ‘divide’ between these two realities. I could easily see how – if you had a severe job that involved intense labour – that the opposite sex would appear as immensely delicate and enchanting; beautifully intoxicating against your everyday reality. (I could suddenly clearly see why men working with tarmac or up scaffolding, for example, would whistle at pretty women as they walked by!)

This was a simple and fairly commonplace insight that contrasted very starkly against when I began to work in an office that same year. This work demanded far more attention to detail and concentration, and soon enough I found the atmosphere extremely constricting. Not only did the work fail to engage me – writing about Health & Safety for various councils and so on – the whole environment was such a vast contrast to working outdoors with burly, outspoken men, that I felt like I was trapped in some nightmare of pedanticism and bureaucracy.

I had had a similar experience while working at an academic bookshop in Nottingham in which the manager was immensely short-tempered and had an attention to detail that I would simply describe as ‘maniacal’. Again, here I found a curious neurosis that was lacking from working in labouring jobs, in which people could – and often would – talk loudly and honestly about their feelings – and, of course, their sexuality. There seemed to me to be a ‘pent-up-ness’ about the bookshop and office that I failed to adjust to.  

This brief digression into my own experiences has been an attempt to point out how – and in what form – energies take, and how in our ordinary day-to-day lives they become frustrated, leading to tensions and forms of outburst. Of course, if you were a physical-type, you would prefer physical labour; and if you were an intellectual-type, you would perhaps prefer more intellectually-engaging pursuits and find the physical work a tedious bore.

But the crucial difference here is the level and type of frustration.

One day (in the bookshop) an electrician was fitting in some new strip lights. The atmosphere was particularly dull, with an overcast sky outside and some syrupy acoustic music playing as background music. You could describe the whole situation as the very essence of stale and static. We caught eye contact and a devilish light seemed to gleam in both our eyes, and he shouted: “Put some Cannibal Corpse on!” (Cannibal Corpse is a raucous and very heavy-heavy metal band.)

His comment, as out-of-place as it was, released the tension – the frustration we both had with the boredom of our jobs. Anybody who has children of their own will know that a child cannot bare long car journeys, and will often talk incessantly to re-direct his energies, or, kick his legs frantically. Or, there is the persistent question of ‘Are we there yet?’ – exaggerating his sense of time passing slowly.   

The vitality of the child siphons off into what is called a form of displacement activity, which is defined as:

“A human activity that seems inappropriate, such as head-scratching when confused, considered to arise unconsciously when a conflict between antagonistic urges cannot be resolved.”

It seems that murder too is a form of displacement activity; an attempt to express, or channel, pent-up energy into a destructive act rather than something creative. The serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, once told police: “I was bitter at the world… Killing someone is just like walking outdoors.” For Lucas it was a matter of reconnecting with a ‘sense of reality’ which had been numbed by his own bitterness against the world.

And yet for many of us, simply walking outdoors in itself would be a release – but not for Lucas; his mind would have been unable to grasp its reality due to his mind being awash in negative emotions and frustration. Like any drunkard, the only way he could kick-start his emotional enjoyment of life would be to reach for extremity. The same, of course, relates to sex and such extreme fetishes that, for most of us, make little sense. All of these ‘extremities’ are attempts to re-experience a life that has been lost to the ‘worm’s-eye view’ of low-pressure consciousness.

Reading about murder, says Wilson, reminds us most forcibly that we could quite easily misdirect our energies. That is not to say, however, that most of us would become murderers – but simply that we can easily sink into states of passivity in which the world seems deprived of meaning. A violent act such as murder, of course, already suggests that the killer has a low estimation of the meaning of his own life – and as a result, those of others.

Wilson describes the purpose of his novel The Glass Cage as being “to confront the two extremes: the mystic and the criminal: the man whose sense of the goodness and worth-whileness of life is constant and fully conscious, and the man whose self-pity and lack of self-belief have driven him to expressing his vitality in the most negative way he can find.” Essentially the murder – in both Ritual and Cage­ – are failed mystics in the sense that their violent energies have turned into negation rather than affirmation.  

He describes the murderer, Gaylord Sundheim, in Cage:

“[H]e is a man of immense and violent energies and appetites, whose conscious attitude to life is so negative and defeated that they cannot find ordinary expression. When he eats, he eats ravenously, with the sweat pouring down his face; when he drinks, he gulps it down until he is unconscious. And when he has sex, all the vast energies roar out like a volcanic explosion there is a desire to eat, to drink, to entirely consume his sexual partner. If he possessed the power to remould his personality to express these energies positively, he might be a Michaelangelo or a Beethoven.” [my italics]

This is, of course, no defence of the act of murder – or a celebration of the murderers’ innate potential for genius – but a recognition of intensely frustrated energies that could have been put to good use, had they found a more fulfilling, and evolutionary, outlet. The problem with a destructive act is that it is self-cancelling and is fraught by diminishing returns – no one evolves their consciousness through murder, in fact it devolves and, once the criminal is caught by the police, or when his energies are depleted, the killer often commits suicide.

I think that each of us, in his/her own life, can notice how in moments of frustration, or after an exhausted day’s work, we notice how our perceptions of things correspondingly change. Here I have used my own examples of hard-labouring work and then walking by a very alluring salon; being struck by the contrast of environment and finding in myself a strange yearning for this different world. Psychologically-speaking it is exactly the same as walking down a blustery, icy street and looking into a coal-fire-lit cottage window and wishing you were inside.

In fact, Wilson calls this experience ‘duo-consciousness’ – when you can stay in bed on a rainy day, knowing you’ve got to get up in 5-minutes, and savouring the comfort and warmth of those sheets as if your life depended on it. By contrast, however, this all changes when we know we don’t have to get up. Due to our inability to place our mind in two places at once, we cease to enjoy the moment – the actual and the symbolic fail to reflect each other and make us self-aware. Of course, we are perfectly self-aware when we await the dreaded alarm-clock. . .

Reading about murder, Wilson argues, is a phenomenological act that enables us to recreate a deeply existential version of duo-consciousness. We can read these accounts of horrific crimes and, by using it as a sort of mirror, we can contrast these stupid and destructive acts against our everyday reality, and effectively reminding ourselves that our lives could be a lot worse. Wilson says that the purpose of studying murder ought to be to “throw light upon its opposite: the passion for order, creativity, sainthood.”

‘My Interest in Murder’, in all its autobiographical digressions was written in the spirit of pleasure – much like his later book on wine and alcohol, The Book of Booze (1974). And by reading books of its kind, and understanding our essential creative drives, we too can use it as a sort of psychological mirror to ‘throw light upon its opposite’, achieving moments of duo-consciousness – and most importantly – to improve our own lives and those of others!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Defeating the Mind Parasites

Introduction  

There are a number of ways in which Colin Wilson’s fiction can be approached.  The variety of literary criticism in itself varies widely, from dry academic analysis of structure, to the placing in social context something which, perhaps, would benefit more from a philosophic, poetic, or even a more subjective approach.  What would constitute the most ‘correct’ or effective means of criticism again demands much meditation.  And yet, as I approached Wilson’s science-fiction, I was drawn inevitably into reading the criticism by others, most notably Nicolas Tredell’s excellent work, The Novels of Colin Wilson (1982), Sidney R. Campion’s enlightening guide to Wilson’s ideas – in and out of fiction – The Sound Barrier: a study of the ideas of Colin Wilson (2011).  And of course, Howard Dossor’s comprehensive tour-de-force on Wilson’s work, Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind (1990).  From the above choice of reading, it is quite clear that this present work of criticism is biased in favour of Wilson’s work.  That is: it is a subjective approach from an appreciative reader.

However, and admittedly rather strangely, this was not always the case.  Because although I had always been an admirer of Wilson’s non-fiction work due to its great intellectual stimulation and passionate, engaging prose, I turned to his fiction, nevertheless, with an odd sense of reluctance.

It was predominantly Wilson’s ideas that I found so compelling, and, for some reason or other, the idea of a ‘Wilson novel’ seemed to detract slightly from what I considered Wilson-the-philosopher.  Quite simply, the idea of an allegory of his ideas did not pique my interest, for I thought I had merely to turn to his non-fiction works for the most direct expression of his ideas.  And moreover, if I wanted an engaging novel, I would be better off turning to a full-time novelist.

I confess that this was due to almost complete ignorance and a basic laziness on my part.

And yet I think the most significant contributing factor to my reluctance lay in the fact of Wilson-the-novelist’s relative obscurity.  It was, before the recent publications by Valancourt Books, a mysterious and un-explored territory, particularly to a 21st century reader.  They were easy to acquire from second-hand book shops, and of course the internet, but there was very little way in reviews or recommendations.  Often, I would even mistake the titles, such as Necessary Doubt (1964), as a work of non-fiction (thinking that perhaps it was a defence of the pessimism that underlies existentialism, seeing it as a necessary first-step in an individual’s – and of culture’s – evolution beyond it).  They seemed to me an unusual and rather unimportant current in Wilson’s enormous body of work; for again I felt that he would most powerfully and effectively present his core insights in the form of his books on psychology, philosophy, the occult and criminology.

The general lack of availability of the novels, at least in modern editions, seemed to confirm my suspicion that they were probably pot-boilers to fuel his more serious works in ideas.

Subsequently, of course, my opinion has changed dramatically.  Being drawn particularly to his science-fiction, due to my preference for the genre, I began with The Mind Parasites (1967) and then continued on to The Philosopher’s Stone (1969).   It was the latter that drew me in the most, because the central character’s obsession with death, time and the purpose behind evolution was clearly Wilson directly expressing his own obsessions – obsessions, moreover, that we both share. And yet, in this exciting new context it raised the ideas to a more visceral level, where one could see their practical application – it gave them, so to speak, a new dimension.  Indeed, it has been generally acknowledged by many of Wilson’s critics that The Philosopher’s Stone has a captivating narrative.  Due to its addressing of universal questions about human existence in a fast-paced bildungsroman, it successfully involves the reader in a search for longevity; the search for the Philosopher’s stone as an idea with which one can understand to improve their own lives.  The ideas are certainly convincing, invigorating and have a certain practical, hands-on quality to them.

Indebtedness to the late novels of H.G. Wells and Robert Musil is clear in Wilson’s adoption of the ‘novel of ideas’ – that is, a novel with a heavily philosophical underpinning that drives the narrative rather than that of the characters, the emotions or plot.  Wilson described his own approach to the novel as an attempt to create his own version of what the parapsychologist Rhea White called ‘exceptional human experience’, and he felt it his duty as a novelist to “enable readers to absorb that experience through the medium of imagination” (2004: p.382).  In the tradition of philosophical fiction, this approach is in many ways a counterblast against the prevailing pessimism found in such ‘novels of ideas’ as Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea (1938) and Albert Camus’s The Stranger (1942) – Wilson instead offers a heroic and optimistic interpretation of the existential problems mankind faces, and directly attacks the problem of absurdity, meaninglessness and the gloom underlying much of modern culture’s materialistic pessimism.  Of course, Wilson had addressed the problem of pessimism in literature and society in his Outsider cycle, in books like Age of Defeat (1959) and The Strength to Dream (1962).   This is not heroism in relation to society, in the style of some great social reformer, but of an internal one, more in the domain of idealism.  Axiomatically he describes the hero as dependent upon “the sense of purpose, and the highest sense of purpose is the least personal, the most idealistic” (1959: p.23).

He asks the most poignant question: ‘What shall we do with our lives?’, and throughout his many novels he addresses this problem through a variety of genres.  Furthermore, he continues the search from his non-fiction works, and it is especially obvious in books like Ritual in the Dark (1960), a book originally penned before his notorious The Outsider (1956). And certainly most clearly demonstrated in The Mind Parasites (1967), for this even emerged from a section in Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966) where he expressed the limitations of existentialism in science fiction terms:

“. . . it would seem that there is some mysterious agency that wishes to hold men back, to prevent them from gaining full use of their powers.  It is as if man contained an invisible parasite, whose job is to keep man unaware of his freedom.  [William] Blake [1757-1827] called this parasite ‘the spectre’.  In  certain moments of vitality and inspiration, the spectre releases his hold, and man is suddenly dazzlingly aware of what he could do with his life, his freedom” (2011 [1]): p.108).

Therefore the novels are incredibly important extensions of his ideas, placing them in a context that forces them to manifest in the unfolding events of the plot; or inside the protagonist’s psyche where they are understood through trials that demand enormous self-discipline, and correct application of the philosophical and psychological insights.  Howard Dossor perfectly summarises the importance of Wilson’s novels, for when they are “[placed] in the setting of a carefully developed philosophy and acknowledged as an illustration of that philosophy, the novels attain an ever greater significance”.  He continues: “They are more than an entertainment; they are an invitation to the reader to realise something of his own potential” (1990: p.285).

In the essay below I intend to explore the richness of ideas in Wilson’s first excursions into the genre of science fiction.  There is an immense benefit, as a critic, of having an acquaintance with Wilson’s work both before these novels were written and after, for they show just how many of his ideas were either embedded in the novels themselves, or even how some ideas were in their embryonic stage, later to be properly realised in his subsequent works.  To use his term Faculty X, which means a sudden sense of ‘other times and places’, we can step outside of time itself and analyse Wilson’s work using his huge oeuvre to explore both his development as a thinker, and moreover, how the novels themselves richly evolve when placed alongside his philosophical works.

I refer to other times and places – other thinkers and ideas – to enrich the readings of the novels, and I hope this inspires future readers to re-evaluate the importance of Wilson’s fiction in the light of contemporary culture.  I believe I have taken the Hippocratic Oath to heart in the below essay, and have, above all, done no harm.  This is my position as a writer on Wilson’s fiction, for I believe the ideas are first and foremost valuable for their ability to shed light on the human experience – everything else, in fact, I regard as of secondary importance.  In the course of my research and close-readings of the texts, I have identified two major themes: time and its relation to meaning, and the emergent Outsider as an embryonic Superman.

Firstly, I will analyse Wilson’s approach and contribution to the science fiction genre.

 

Wilson and Science Fiction

Science fiction, according to the literary critic Nicollas Tredell, “would seem an ideal medium for Colin Wilson” (1982: p.97).  Indeed, Wilson most explicitly weaves his philosophy through the science fiction narrative; whereby the threats and horrors are quite often internal ones, similar to that felt by the 19th century Romantics, Sartre and the late existentialists with their attacks of nausea and the ‘absurd’.  But instead these moments of ‘life failure’ are presented in a science fiction context.  That is, portrayed as extraterrestrial threats or prehistoric ‘old ones’ which, slumbering after a mass psychic catastrophe, attempt to curtail human evolution by a series of automatic mental traps and alarms – again their main method of attack being within the realm of the human psyche.  These further prevent mankind investigating the mysteries of time and space – and, in turn, his existential mysteries.  Furthermore, they bind him to the present, thus limiting his perspective, and creating a spiritual vacuum conditioned by what Wilson calls ‘the fallacy of insignificance’ – a general state of passivity that restricts mankind’s evolution.

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Curiously Wilson read a lot of science fiction as a teenager, but it was only in the 1960s when he revisited it again.  Indeed, it is quite clear that in The Philosopher’s Stone that there is a lot of autobiographical material; and it could be argued that its first seeds of an idea can be taken back to when Colin Wilson read a comic book called, ironically, The Truth About Wilson.  This is essentially about a young boy who turns up at a sort of Olympic sports event, quite mysteriously, and shows extraordinary and superhuman feats of skill.  It turns out later that this mysterious young boy is not young at all, and has somehow conquered mankind’s most feared and inevitable destiny – death.  The Philosopher’s Stone, as Wilson said himself, is a ‘parable of longevity’ directly influenced by Bernard Shaw.  However, it was in The Truth About Wilson where he first felt this profound dissatisfaction about the inevitability of death, of contingency, and felt intuitively that there is “no good reason why human beings should not learn to cheat death” (1998: pp.8-9).  Later on he read Shaw at the age of fifteen, and felt that he “alone had the courage to assert that man is potentially a god” (1998: pp.8-9).

Wilson’s science fiction is particularly curious due to the fact that it emerges from over a decade’s worth of philosophical work.  Although he had written novels before, from Ritual in the Dark (1960) to the crime thriller Necessary Doubt (1964), it offers many insights by looking into just how he utilised the expansive, imaginatively vast canvass that science fiction can offer.  It could even be said that his science fiction novels are a sort of ‘acid test’ for how far Wilson’s philosophy can go.  Tredell noted that the purpose of science fiction, like all of Wilson’s work, is the “redefinition of man in the light of the future” (1982: p.97).

This is how he approached the novels himself – fully aware that they can be extraordinary vehicles for ideas about the future.  Wilson had always been an admirer of H.G. Wells, for example, and he had recognised the impressive concepts and vistas of possibility in novels such as the The Time Machine (1895) and Star-Begotten (1937).  To take one example of its impressive range: the extraordinary finale to the The Time Machine used the time-machine as a device to explore man’s evolutionary destiny; to which H.G. Wells projects an empty, cold cosmos writhing with malignant beasts on a dark, starless Earth thousands of years in the future.  This highlights Wells’ feeling of the futility of science and all of human destiny, for, in an indifferent cosmos, mankind’s attempts at order are finally perceived for what they are: mere ‘attempts’ that have no ultimate value in cosmic time; a temporary anomaly perpetrated by an accident.  In a sense, he envisions the ‘mind at the end of its tether’ (the name of his last book), where mankind is tethered to the merciless forward march of time.  But it is not only death that is inevitable for each individual, but that the universe itself will die despite our most valiant efforts against its merciless entropy.  The story’s incredible pessimism aside, it still remains an enormous piece speculation, utilising the great uncertainty of time as an imaginative canvass of which one can project one’s philosophies.  This ability of science fiction is perfectly suited to Wilson’s ideas of ‘evolutionary existentialism’, and his phenomenological investigations into the intentionality behind evolution, of which he wrote at length in Beyond the Outsider (1965).

Furthermore, science fiction, Wilson claims, is an attempt to “liberate the human imagination”, and it achieves this by evoking “wonder and amazement” (1976: p.117).  Its ultimate aim, he believes, is to: “[jerk] the imagination out of its anthropocentric prison yard and stirring it into a new kind of perception” (1976: p.120).  Again, these are high expectations for a genre, especially at the time Wilson wrote this, in 1963, that was considered low-brow or pulp fiction.  This, it will be generally agreed, is quite a task for any author to successfully achieve.  However, what is most significant about Wilson’s opinion of science fiction is his lack of focus on its technological aspects, such as the great space ships found in Isaac Asimov, or the technical wonders of Arthur C. Clarke (or if he does employ technology, it is mainly in relation to man’s psychology).  Instead, he is impressed by A.E. van Vogt’s novels on supermen like Slan (1946) and The World of Null-A (1948), and particularly the short story, ‘Far Centaurus’ (1944), which he analyses in his book on literature and the imagination, The Strength to Dream (1962).  And yet, the most important insight is his notion that science fiction can evoke Pascal’s ‘eternal silences of these infinite spaces’; his belief that science fiction can achieve an “almost theological note” – that, so to speak: science fiction does not need to rely on technological marvels to merely impress materialists, but that it can in fact emerge out of a deeper, more mystical – and thus evolutionary – impulse in man’s relation to the universe (1976: p.120).  Indeed the Wilson critic Howard Dosser noted that science fiction “seems to touch one of our deepest needs; some mythic, Jungian, deeply human requirement for a voyage beyond ourselves” (1990: p.68)

This notion is supported by Wilson in his extended essay on the subject, Science Fiction as Existentialism (1989).  Again, he states his belief in the importance of the genre by emphasising its position as “the most important form of literary creation that man has ever discovered” (1989: p.19), and that it will “serve as a catalyst in the evolution of a new human consciousness” (1989: p.32).  After such a statement, one can approach the genre in a whole new way: to see just what it offers in terms of glimpses into mankind’s inner evolution.  And, if we take Wilson’s estimation of science fiction seriously, we should be able to discern this most readily in his own work in the genre.

We will now consider his debut, The Mind Parasites.

The Mind Parasites

“It was an attempt to state symbolically what I felt to be wrong with human beings” said Colin Wilson of The Mind Parasites (1989: p.29).  It is indeed, as his bibliographer Colin Stanley put it, the “ultimate allegory”. For it is in this novel that Wilson adopts Lovecraft’s mythos in order to present his own notions about Original Sin; or as critic Thomas Bertonneau called it: “the modern betrayal of consciousness” (Bertonneau: 2009). And more importantly for Wilson: to go beyond its consequences, its limitations.  Of course, Original Sin cannot be defined as one singular thing, and Wilson certainly has an arsenal of phrases to describe aspects of it, from ‘the fallacy of insignificance’ to ‘the indifference threshold’.  It is rather a collection of problems that branch out from the same essential mistake: our tendency to devalue life and sink into passive states.  And Wilson’s ‘mind parasites’ clearly represent these devitalising qualities in man.  For example, in one of his lectures, Wilson starts by discussing his own experiences of ‘nausea’, due to a period of overwork, and uses The Mind Parasites as an example.  He goes on: “I had written this novel [. . .] about powers that get into the depths of the unconscious mind and drain our energies like vampires.  And I suddenly began to wonder if I had been writing about something real!” (2013 [1]).  This places the novel in quite a unique context; that is, aside from all the mentions of the ‘Tsathogguans’ – the name of which he christens the parasites -, they can be instead treated as psychic problems, our tendencies to devalue life and succumb to low-pressure consciousness.

The protagonist, Gilbert Austin, is an archaeologist who admits that he has “never tried to hide the powerful element of the romantic in [his] composition” (2005: p.19).  He even came to be an archaeologist through a mystical experience, for one day he was staying at a farm, and after having just read a book about the civilisation of Nineveh by Austen Henry Layard, he glanced upon a large muddy pool of water.  He then “forgot, for a moment, where [he] was or what [he] was doing there” and the surroundings became “as alien as a sea on Mars” (2005: p.19).  And all of a sudden, he experienced a “sensation of happiness and of insight” which gave time and space a sense of simultaneity – where Nineveh and the present became “such a reality that [he] felt a kind of contempt for [his] own existence, standing there with [his] arms full of clothes” (2005: p.19).  Early on in the novel, we are presented with a fascinating insight into the importance of time perception and meaning, which Wilson would later call Faculty X – a sensation of ‘other times and other places’.

On the other hand, the parasites themselves appear to be a sort of inter-dimensional intelligence that exists as a form of hive mind.  Their aim, Austin concludes, “was to prevent human beings from arriving at their maximum powers, and they did this by ‘jamming’ the emotions, by blurring our feelings so that we failed to learn from them, and went around in a kind of mental fog” (2005: p.73).  The first appearance of the parasites emerges out of an archaeological excavation in Karatepe, Turkey, where Austin experiences their presence.  Although at this point, he is not able to identify them as anything extraterrestrial, or ‘other’, but simply as a sensation.  He later suspects their existence after reading his close friend and colleague Karel Weisman’s notes, entitled Historical Reflections, which describes his experiments with mescalin and his discovery of the parasites.  After using Husserl’s method of phenomenology under the influence of mescalin, he has a “direct feeling of something living and alien” (2005: p.55) which scurry out of perception, and leave Weisman feeling terrified and insecure.  Eventually he commits suicide under the influence of the mind vampires, and this leaves Austin dissatisfied – he does not believe his old friend would do such a thing of his own accord.  Eventually, during the archaeological dig, Austin experiences this force for himself, and this validates Weisman’s own historical conspiracy theory regarding human development:

“In the history of art and literature since 1780, we see the results of the battle with the mind vampires.   The artists who refused to preach a gospel of pessimism and life devaluation were destroyed.  The life-slanderers often lived to a ripe old age” (2005: p.58)

Those who insult and degrade life are blessed and encouraged by the parasites, whereas those of a healthy ‘yea-saying’ attitude are killed off young, so as to not spoil the parasite’s food of negative emotional energy.  Austin continues: “In other words, once a human being has been ‘conditioned’ by the mind parasites, he is like a clock that has been wound up”, and in this state, “human beings ‘condition’ one another, and save the parasites work” (2005: pp.70-71).  This then continues to poison culture, where writers and thinkers – that have been ‘conditioned’ – affect “a whole generation of writers, who in turn affect almost every educated person in the country (2005: pp.70-71).

In short, it is a domino-effect of self-perpetuating negativity, and it has been happening for over two hundred years – a state of affairs all orchestrated by the moon-dwelling mind parasites.  They thrive on what Wilson called the ‘the indifference threshold’, a phrase that can also be interpreted as the “the law of entropy in prehension” (1972: p.16).  In fact, the parasites encourage the illusion entropy itself.

The ‘indifference threshold’ is a state of psychological passivity, or habituation, that takes existence for granted.  Indeed, Wilson himself came up with this very idea when he was forced to become active in a situation, which just moments before was a tiresome bore of which he was entirely indifferent.  He describes the ‘indifference threshold’ as “a borderland or threshold of the mind that can be stimulated by pain or inconvenience, but not pleasure” (1979: p.27).  Due to some immediate emergency, consciousness can suddenly jolt out of its usual passivity and again engage with the world; reality becomes prehensible, graspable, once more.  Wilson compares our ability to grasp reality to a ‘focusing muscle’, which of course may succumb, like real muscles, to a sort of dystrophy – a weakening disintegration due to lack of use.  This is the sort of entropy he is talking about; existence starts to lose its meaning, its sense of purpose and complexity, due to a habitually lazy ‘focusing muscle’, which refuses to apprehend the phenomenal world.  Fortunately, he emphasises, it does not necessarily mean we have to seek out dangerous situations and place ourselves in positions of crisis; for it can be achieved far more safely.  The nature of our ability to grasp meaning is due to our ‘intentionality’, our ability to fire our attention outwards, and simultaneously to maintain a strength inside; for it is this contraction of inner and outer pressures by which we ‘feedback’ meaning.  Psychologist William James, who experienced this intense mode of consciousness, described it as a “sudden vision of increasing ranges of distant facts”.  However, contrary to this, and which the mind parasites encourage, is a decreasing range of ‘facts’ – or ‘the entropy of prehension’.

This form of ‘psychic entropy’ has been described by the psychologist Steve Taylor in his book, aptly titled, Making Time (2008):

“Our perceptions become progressively less fresh; a larger and larger proportion of them become filtered through this desensitising mechanism.  And as the world becomes more familiar, we take in progressively less information from it, so that time gradually speeds up.  Eventually the grey, shadowy half-reality of the world as seen through a filter of familiarity becomes our normal vision, and we come to assume that this is the correct and objective way of seeing the world.” (2008: p.51)

Austin’s experience, when he was glancing at a muddy pool, is very much the opposite of this.  For he suddenly sees the pool as ‘alien’, that is, completely new – as if he had never seen a grey muddy pool before.  With age and experience we tend to habituate our own consciousness, and the world around us loses its charm and sense of wonder, that as children we felt more readily.  Now this is a variety of the ‘indifference threshold’.  The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead cites a good example of this in his book Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (1927).  It concerns the early 19th century English Prime Minister, William Pitt, for as he “lay on his death bed […] he was heard to murmur: “What shades we are, what shadows we pursue” (1972: p.112).  Again, right at the end of his life, and in an incredibly low state of vitality, the world is divested of any sense of ‘novelty’ and becomes Taylor’s “shadowy half-reality”, of which no doubt Pitt felt to be an absolutely objective reality.  Whether we become habituated to reality, or we are simply in a low state of vitality, there is a dangerous feedback loop that tends to confirm our most gloomy suspicions about existence.

This is precisely what the parasites do to Austin, who in an attack from the psychic vampires describes it as if “abysses of emptiness were open beneath my feet”, and that it “was like contact with an icy reality that makes everything human seem a masquerade, that makes life itself seem a masquerade” (2005: p.97).  Interestingly, to shake off this attack he thinks of what he calls ‘the god of archaeology’.  This is an idea presented earlier on in the book by his colleague, Wolfgang Reich, who tells him of bizarre ‘coincidences’ which often happen to archaeologists, such as the “strange destiny that had guided Schliemann to Troy, Layard to Nimrud”, including Austin’s own experiences.  This leads him to become convinced that there is “some ‘divinity that shapes our ends’” (2005: p.22) – some sort of cosmic benevolence which guides us through what Jung called synchronicity, which is a significant and meaningful coincidence.  Austin’s recognition that the universe is meaningful and that synchronicities are real, floods him with vitality, and although he was not aware of it at the time, temporarily wins a victory against the first wave of attacks from the Tsathogguans.

There are several levels of significance in this first brush with the mind parasites.  Firstly, that Austin at this point is essentially passive: he is neither directly aware of the source of the problem, or the mechanisms by which he can prevent these attacks further; it is merely by luck (or synchronicity!) that Wolfgang Reich talks him back into a state of healthy mindedness.  He still remains what the Greek-Armenian mystic, Georges Gurdjieff, would have called a ‘machine’; a passive victim of external pressures.  If, however, he recognises the source of these attacks, and how to overcome them, he has made an important leap in self-discipline.  Indeed, Wilson emphasised the importance of this in Beyond the Outsider, where he states that “the first man to learn the secret of the control of consciousness will be the first true man, wholly in possession of the new dimension of freedom”,  and “phenomenological analysis of consciousness is the first step in this direction” (1972: p. 150).  (Austin, of course, later becomes that evolutionary man; along with the character Howard Lester in the later novel, The Philosopher’s Stone which will be considered in more depth later).

And as I have mentioned, the other significant element in Austin’s first encounter is what redeems him: the idea of ‘meaningful coincidence’, synchronicity.  This is interesting because it is one of Wilson’s earlier examples of his interest in parapsychological or ‘occult’ ideas, in which he would write about in his 1971 masterpiece, The Occult.

Carl Jung described synchronicity as “the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers” (1989 [1]: p.xxiv).  Again, the simultaneity of time and space is important in Wilson’s science fiction, and it is important for us to understand this to appreciate both novels’ central ideas and themes.  Indeed, Faculty X, also later termed by Wilson in The Occult, is this ability to see the world, in a sense, synchronicistically – that is, where vistas of meaning are perceived in a state of consciousness that is above space and time.  Jung emphasised the importance of time and meaning when he said that it seems “as though time, far from being an abstraction, is a concrete continuum which contains qualities or basic conditions that manifest themselves spontaneously in different places through parallelisms that cannot be explained causally” (1995: p.419).   The realisation that time is a continuum, rather than as a causal and linear process, enables Austin to overcome the time-bound entropic universe that the parasites attempt to impose on him – instead, he is able to understand events as entirely meaningful.

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“Human beings get so used to things ‘happening’ to them.  They catch a cold; they feel depressed; they pick something up and drop it; they experience boredom […] But once I had turned my attention into my own mind, these things ceased to happen, because I now controlled them” (2005: p.76).  Austin’s first great step towards becoming an übermensch is when he realises both the source of the attacks, and his ability to control his consciousness at will.  It is from here on that the parasites, knowing they have a true threat in their midst, cause bedlam to delay and destroy both Austin and Wolfgang Reich – together with the increasing coterie of what could be called initiates into the ‘secret’ (such members as Fleishman, an expert on the sexual impulse, and two twins known as the Grau brothers).

The Wilson critic, Stephen R.L. Clark, in his insightful essay The Mind Parasites: Wilson, Husserl, Plotinus (2011) highlights that in “Wilson’s world salvation comes only from the few, scientists and scholars inspired by phenomenology, and contemptuous of the ordinary mass of people” (2011 [1]: p.48).  Although it could be argued, during the course of the parasite’s invasion, that the dangers to ordinary people is that they could more easily won over – being comparatively undisciplined in the realm of intense rational or logical thought – by their emotions, and thus they would thus cause an unnecessary and uncontrollable global moral panic.  The ‘first men’, as Wilson refers to these men who have complete control of their consciousness, may well be expected to take some precautionary manoeuvres to both protect the public at large – and more importantly, themselves, for they are, in a sense, mankind’s only hope.  Indeed, Austin believes that human intelligence “is a function of man’s evolutionary urge; the scientist and philosopher hunger for truth because they are tired of being merely human” (2005: p.128).  He has, of course, already had the important advantage of having had a semi-mystical experience before, and this perhaps endows him with the necessary gnosis needed to make the extra evolutionary leap.

Indeed, earlier on in the book there is mention of the increasing suicide rates, because, as Austin says, “thousands of human beings were ‘awakening’, like me, to the absurdity of human life, and simply refused to go on”, he concludes by saying that if man continues along this awakening, there would certainly be an endemic of suicides (2005: p.21).  The realisation of the meaninglessness of life is no doubt an attack from the parasites, and it is only by Austin’s acquaintance with Karel Wiesmann’s papers later on, that he concludes that these feelings were the work of a malignant, outside force.  However, it must be considered that Austin appears to have a naturally rational and powerful intellect that makes him an ideal agent of evolution.

Indeed, there is a certain inherent dominance, and resilient healthy mindedness, enabled Austin to throw off a night time attack while staying on site at the archaeological dig.  After looking at the moon, and being overwhelmed by an “inexpressible fear”, he then sank into a mood of abject despair.  He describes it in a manner reminiscent of Sartre’s own descriptions of nausea:

“I suddenly seemed to see that men manage to stay sane because they see the world from their own tiny, intensely personal viewpoint, from their worm’s eye view.  Things impress or frighten them, but they still see them from behind this windshield of personality.  Fear makes them feel less important, but it does not negate them completely; in a strange way, it has the opposite effect, for it intensifies their feeling of personal existence.  I suddenly seemed to be taken out of my personality, to see myself as a mere item in a universal landscape, as unimportant as a rock or a fly” (2005: p.29)

This is an excellent example of Wilson’s ‘fallacy of insignificance’.  However, Austin says to himself, “you are far more than a rock or a fly.  You are not a mere object.  Whether it is an illusion or not, your mind contains knowledge of all the ages.  Inside you, as you stand here, there is more knowledge than the whole of the British Museum” (2005: p.29).  He again recognises that the mind is not merely a passive ‘unit’ trapped in time, but that it can soar above it.  The British psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll recognised this essential problem.  He states that if “the universe be in man (as a scale of reality) as well as man in the universe, then if a man gives an inferior explanation of the universe it will react on himself” (1976: p.30).  It is this reciprocity of the consciousness in relation to ‘outside’ world that needs to be understood to overcome the ‘the fallacy of insignificance’ – and thus the mind parasites that reinforce the ‘negative reciprocation’.  Austin’s first ‘time vision’ can be interpreted similarly, for Nicoll remarks that to “be told that time is an illusion does not help anybody unless they have already caught a glimpse of another idea of time” (1976: p.72).  But, he continues, “one can readily see that one’s ordinary consciousness is very much dominated by time and that a great deal of our fear and anxiety is a matter of ‘time’” (1976: p.72).

Austin understands this when he says: “Human beings exist in the physical world only in so far as they have no power to enter their own minds.  A man who can withdraw into himself on a long train journey has escaped time and space, while the man who stares out of the window and yawns with boredom has to live through every minute and every mile” (2005: p.107).  And armed with these relatively basic insights, Austin, Reich and the group of carefully chosen ‘initiates’ begin to take the offensive – and thus become architects and figureheads of a new stage of evolution.

The increasing disasters and hysteria on Earth seem to confirm that, if the general public could indeed inherit the powers of the mind, which came with this sort of superhuman mental discipline, it would surely be catastrophic.  This is what Johan Wolfgang von Goethe meant when he said “[everything] that liberates our mind without at the same time imparting self-control is pernicious”.  But luckily, Wilson’s evolutionary existentialism seems to have a ‘safety’ implicit in its process – an emotionally motivated or petty individual would not have the necessary self-discipline to even begin to achieve these states.  And if he did, he would immediately see the futility of the intent.  In fact, the character Georges Ribot is entirely under the parasites control, and has become, as much as his surname suggests, a sort of human robot who is totally enslaved to the will of the mind vampires.  He releases a damning report to the press on the activities of Austin and Reich, which is obviously an external attack on the physical level to cause political and bureaucratic distractions.  As readers, and knowing of their awful predicament, we are able to forgive some of the exasperations and morally reprehensible actions of both Austin and Reich.  And to dwell too much on these aspects unnecessarily detracts from the insights that the novel provides.  Yet there are several insightful remarks on their behaviour, at this point, that furthers discussion regarding their stage of evolution.

We are now at the point in the novel where critics like Stephen R.L. Clark and Nicolas Tredell condemn the way that Austin – and indeed Howard Lester from The Philosopher’s Stone – shows signs of incredible misanthropy.  Whereas the novels are clearly ‘Lovecraftian’, it is admittedly strange to see Wilson – ‘the philosopher of optimism’ – adopt one of Lovecraft’s most defining traits.  Interestingly, the novelist Michel Houellebecq makes an important point in this regard, for he saw, that Lovecraft had a tendency not to appear “fully human”, and that the “recluse of Providence” had a “heroic an paradoxical desire to go beyond humanity” (2008 [1]: p.77)

It could be that the transitory stage in Austin’s development into a higher being is, in a sense, forgivable, for as Colin Stanley points out, it is a “’so near yet so far’ stage in his development” (1990 [1]: p.25).  I would argue that it is perhaps a sign of frustrated vitality, the tension before the ‘break’ into higher consciousness.  Other people, with their triviality and – in the case of The Mind Parasites ­– life-threatening vulnerability to the parasites, make them not only an obstacle to the cause of evolution, but also downright dangerous.  It is as Houellebecq points out, a necessary point of which to pass if one wants to ‘go beyond humanity’; indeed it is a part of the reason itself. The fact is that Austin and Reich, at this point at least, are not yet truly higher men, but perhaps somewhere in the intermediary stage between man and God.

Maurice Nicoll in his book Time and the Integration of the Life (1952), offers a fascinating insight that throws light upon upon Wilson’s ‘Outsiders’, Maslow’s ‘self-actualisers’, and to Austin’s transition to a higher state of being.  It deserves to be quoted at length:

“Negation means saying no, the attitude of no, the fascination of deniala certain very powerful poison.  I will only say that it is possible to reflect that such a stage must be reached by everyone before any individual solution of the meaning of existence can emerge and before what I will call the active understanding can awaken fully.  In the darkness of no man must fall back entirely on himself, on all he has ever felt and understood, and struggle for himself [that is the point] to get beyond this stage – so that all getting beyond can only be done through what is most genuine, profound and sincere in him.  Previous enthusiasms will die because they are intrinsically false; the first flush of hope that all new understanding brings must fade; all collective things, outer devotion, faith as ordinarily understood, and dependent belief in others, must depart; because one is confronted by an internal obstacle that only I myself can pass, as through my own gate, that will open to nobody else’s key: my individual mark will be on that key.” (1976: p.150)

Although Austin is well beyond this more generalised form negation, perhaps being more along the lines of H.G. Well’s ‘originative intellectual workers’, he is nevertheless “swimming distressfully in an element we wish to abandon” (Strength to Dream p.103).  Friedrich Nietzsche understood this when asserted that the most significant experience one can have “is the hour of the great contempt.  The hour in which your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reasons and virtue” (1976 [1]: p.125).  He negates ordinary human society, thus going beyond good and evil to make the necessary evolutionary leap.  Whether this is ‘morally excusable’ or not, in the context of the novel’s events and real purpose, remains a question for the supermen themselves!

What is more important here is Nicoll’s own speculations on negation, in relation to Wilson’s ‘Outsiders’.  Certainly, one can see this in the example of the Indian mystic, Ramakrishna, and his attempt to take his own life.  And the novelist Graham Greene’s experiments with Russian roulette offer another example.  Both Greene and Ramakrishna were at their lowest point, and their attempts at suicide had the reverse effect: catapulting them out of their passive state, and thus flooding them with ‘meaning perception’ (Ramakrishna’s experience was much more powerful than Greene’s, however, and turned his life into a fascinating example of intensity consciousness).

Again, it is this idea that the most effective trajectory for greater consciousness lies in this initial experience of ‘Great Negation’.  Indeed, Wilson has acknowledged this as being quite necessary, for in one of his later books he remarks, “Deeper insight into the process of conscious evolution depends, to some extent, on having experienced the process of alienation and learned how to transform it” and: “what can emerge will emerge as a result of passing beyond alienation” (1996: p.13).  This is really the heart of the novel, for The Mind Parasites is as much about the mechanisms of the parasites as it is about as the protagonist’s techniques to overcome them.  In fact, overall, Wilson’s first science fiction novel deals more with indentifying the problem than with the solution.

The primary issue of Austin and of many Outsiders is that, as Wilson said in his Introduction to the New Existentialism, “he is not far-sighted enough to see new horizons of purpose” and develops “a deep dissatisfaction with his present values” (1980: p.165-166).  In fact, this is where The Mind Parasites falls short as a novel.  And this has been recognised by Nicolas Tredell, who is quite right when accuses “Wilson’s higher men” for “sounding suspiciously like their unelevated author” (1982: p.100), and indeed he admits that this is inevitable.  As a work of grand speculation, and being particularly focused on higher forms of consciousness, it struggles to really give a shape to just what these ‘new horizons of purpose’ might be for Austin.  Yet before we move on to explore this further, and in conjunction with The Philosopher’s Stone, we will examine more closely the mysterious destiny of the first science fiction ‘New Existentialist’ psychonaut.

*

“It was Reich who said: ‘It’s a pity we can’t simply move to another planet and start another race” (2005: p.135).  An eccentric remark, no doubt, but it is sound logic.  After all, explosions generated by the parasites has made the small group of supermen internationally suspect – and on top of this, there’s a brooding, and potentially catastrophic relationship with Africa.  This is headed by Gwambe, a mind-controlled slave of the parasites; there is even a lingering threat of World War Three.  Eventually, the American President, Melville, organises quick access to a rocket, which will be made available for the fifty potential ‘initiates’; these will take on the parasites in the outer-atmosphere – free of political dangers and other freak events.  However, the parasites being slightly ahead of the game, cause plane crashes and exacerbate political tensions, which end up killing two psychologists from Los Angeles.  The group ends up comprising of twenty-nine men, who undergo “a high speed course in phenomenology” (2005: p.136.).

Once in space, the novel becomes an interesting speculation on the origins and ‘state’ of the parasites.  In fact, the moon is discussed at length by Austin and Reich, and this in itself is interesting in the sense that it pre-dates Wilson’s The Occult, which used Robert Grave’s The White Goddess as a foundational text to describe different ‘modes’ of knowledge: solar and lunar.  “Solar knowledge is the kind of rational, daylight knowledge that is the basis of science; lunar knowledge is the kind of intuitive, instinctive knowledge that is the basis of poetry or mysticism” (2004: p.282).  The parasites exist in a luminal state, existing – or extracting most of their power – from the subconscious mind of man.  Yet, as Austin points out, “[t]he parasites are in space, in a sense, because they are on earth”, but they tend to exist in mankind’s collective unconscious, and thus have access to what Austin calls “the main reservoir” of psychic energy (2005: p.143).  Austin’s explanation for why the parasites tend to draw their energy from man, rather than other creatures such as mammals or fish, is because man is “‘split’, separated from his instinctive drives.  Frustrations build up, and turn into fiery little pockets of suppressed energy” (2005: p.162) (interestingly, this is basically the theory that Wilson later on went to develop in relation to the poltergeist phenomenon).  This leaking energy, which could be used to increase mankind’s powers dramatically, is instead absorbed by the parasites – and if man had access to this ‘reservoir’, he would become a superman.

It is ironic, now that Austin and company are in space, and further away from the moon’s influence, that their insights draw closer to the realms of mystical ‘lunar knowledge’.  Again, there may be some validation for their misanthropic tendencies: it is instead the evolutionary leap into the territories of the mind, and not of politics or anything as ‘mechanical’ as societal affairs.  It is perhaps the same sort of misanthropy that may be associated with a visionary, a poet, or an artist – yet, in a sense, they are indicators of society’s health, for they often take the greatest intellectual, cultural leaps.  Austin continues in true Romantic fashion:

“As man loses touch with his ‘inner being’, his instinctive depths, he finds himself trapped in the world of consciousness, that is to say, in the world of other people.  Any poet knows this truth; when other people sicken him, he turns to hidden resources of power inside himself, and he knows then that other people don’t matter a damn.  He knows that the ‘secret life’ inside him is the reality; other people are mere shadows in comparison.  But the ‘shadows’ themselves cling to one another.  ‘Man is a political animal’, said Aristotle, telling one of the greatest lies in human history.  For every man has more in common with the hills, or the stars, than with other men” (2005: p.162)

Curiously, the author of Naked Lunch (1959), the nightmarish dystopia of chaos and nausea, William Burroughs, was more sympathetic to this non-terrestrial, even somewhat antisocial, endeavour than Wilson’s other critics.  He makes an interesting point, stating that: “if man is to expand his horizons” he must “leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, priest talk, mother talk, family talk, love talk [. . .] You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies.  You must to see what is in front of you with no preconceptions”[1].  It is at this point in the novel that Austin is really going beyond these human-all-too-human notions, and is instead proceeding into a new state of consciousness.  Or, as will be the case later on: a new state of being as a member of the mysterious ‘universal police’.

In a sense, it could be a matter of ‘clearing the path to ascend’; the purging of all that is concerned with the ‘outer man’, the chrysalis of bureaucracy; or what is illusory and bound to the ordinary constraints of time.  While it may appear to individuals down on Earth that the scientists and psychologists involved in the mission are perhaps abandoning them – it may be otherwise, and that they have, in some way, been absorbed into a higher, more complex fabric of reality.  At this point of the novel, Wilson allows the readers small glimpses into what the potential of a superman may really be – and on what level he/she may work.  Indeed, it could be said that Austin becomes somewhat incomprehensible or unknowable, not in any literary or textual way, but in relation to dimensions.  If, for example, the ‘Universal Police’ are not necessarily individuals per se, but a force, a deeper substratum of reality that does away with simple concepts of ‘I’, it may be that their methods would not be understood by a lesser-integrated, lower-dimensional consciousness.

Now, Austin does make hint at the ultimate mysteries when he references Heidegger’s ultimate question: “Why is there existence rather than non-existence?”  This is, of course, the ultimate question that drives most of Wilson’s work.  Yet, Austin continues: “The answer may lie in a completely different dimension, as different from the world of mind as mind is different from the world of space and time . . .” (2005: p.184).  It may be this other dimension that Austin finally breaks into when he is fully free of the parasite’s control.  In fact, it could be argued that he became the force that goaded him in the first place, for Austin, earlier on in the novel said: “I remembered my frequent feeling [. . .] that there was some strange force of luck on our side – what I used to call ‘the god of archaeology’, some benevolent force whose purpose was to preserve life” (2005: p.99).  Could this be the ‘Universal Police’?

The philosopher, P.D. Ouspensky, in his vastly stimulating book A New Model of the Universe (1934), makes an interesting point regarding dimensionality and meaning in terms of the superman.  And this could just as easily relate to Austin’s ultimate destiny:

“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”.

He 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)

Whether these ‘intrusions’ of meaning are supermen or Faculty X experiences; sudden and apparently inexplicable visions like Austin experienced with the grey pond; or even aforementioned ‘luck’ with his archaeological expeditions – could it be that some of these events were indeed orchestrated by the trans-temporal ‘Universal Police’?  For it could be that they worked from outside of time itself in a battle against the mind parasites, and therefore they could foresee that certain individuals could make the necessary evolutionary leap.  Furthermore, it could be that they were as the author Ian Watson described in his novel about UFOs Miracle Visitors (1978), a ‘goad towards higher organization’; or the evolutionary ‘dynamic of the universe’ (2003).

Ouspensky’s hierarchical structure of dimensions makes ordinary reality sound somewhat like a ‘school’, and this is indeed exactly the metaphor Austin uses in regards to ordinary earthly existence. The ‘Universal Police’ become a new ““government” for the earth” (2005: p.187), that is, instead of the malicious control of the mind parasites, it instead is replaced by a much more vital, more benign force.  Austin contends that “ever since the “death of God” in the eighteenth century, man has had a feeling of being alone in an empty universe, the feeling that it is no use looking to the heavens for guidance” (2005: p.187).  Indeed, the school metaphor he uses is about the feeling one has when he leaves his last year at school, and is suddenly thrown into a world where there is “no one above you any more”.  This, in turn, generates a sense uncertainty, emptiness and an ‘anything goes’ attitude that may be the cause of moral bankruptcy, perversions and a lot of completely wasted, unfocused and ill-spent energy.

Austin confirms that now there “were greater powers than man, powers that we could look up to.  Life would be really meaningful again, the emptiness would be filled . . . The human race could go back to school.  And why not, since it was largely composed of schoolboys?” (2005: p.188).  But it could be more interesting than that for mankind, for now the mind parasites had been effectively been removed completely, and that at least a few men have made the necessary leap.  For this suggests that society has evolved to the level where it is possible that men like Austin, Reich and others can successfully make the transition.

In Wilson’s later books, such as The Misfits (1988) and A Plague of Murder (1995), he has expressed interest in the biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, and his hypothesis called ‘formative causation’ – this is essentially a ‘mould’ that exists in another state, such as magnetism –, and its ability to remember qualities, say of a diamond or the shape of a bird’s wing, not necessarily through DNA, but in a ‘morphogenetic field’.  And furthermore, this ‘morphogenetic field’ is updated and shaped by necessity and acquired habits.  Ideas themselves can be more easily comprehended if hundreds of people have comprehended them before, for it has become a ‘habit’ in the morphogenetic field, and can more easily be – like a diamond – synthesised[2].  Wilson hypothesised that if more and more people experienced Maslow’s ‘peak experiences’, or flashes of ‘Faculty X’, it should in turn become, according to Rupert Sheldrake’s theory, easier for people to pick up the habit. . . And this, of course, would become a tremendous evolutionary leap.

It may well be that Austin – just one of the few men who have made this leap – has ‘widened’ the opportunities in human culture by showing them that it can be done.  One gets the feeling, in the world of The Mind Parasites, that Austin and his coterie will probably be remembered more on the level of a ‘myth’ – but this in itself could be enough, with the mind parasites no longer draining the vitality out of mankind, and a benevolent police force securing human destiny.  Indeed, being a ‘myth’ safeguards against the laziness that would occur if man was too secure and too reliant on outside forces – for it is an immense internal effort that is required, and not a return to the passive pleasures of Eden.  And, as the novel concludes: “Nothing could be more dangerous to the human race than to believe that its affairs had fallen into the hands of supermen” (2005: p.188). . .

The Philosopher’s Stone

Before we begin examining the second novel, there are several important points from The Mind Parasites that I have deliberately left up until this point.

The Mind Parasites was about a battle against a force which encourages ‘the entropy of prehension’, whereas the The Philosopher’s Stone goes somewhat further in its exploration of the nature of freedom, of ‘increasing ranges of distant fact’.  One could say that the former novel laid down the foundations by diagnosing the source of the problem: our tendency to allow our vital energies to become diffuse and unfocussed.  As a result we become victim to the worldview that is presented to us through our atrophied perception; one becomes duped into believing this to be a completely objective conclusion.  And yet not only do we allow ourselves to become convinced of this illusion, we proceed to apply it to ourselves and our own lives.  This is precisely ‘the fallacy of insignificance’.

The other problem is that we tend to project outward with our slackened intentionality, and fail to see meaning out there in the phenomenal world.  A combination of these two states would be no doubt the point at which people like Sartre conclude that “it is meaningless that we live and meaningless that we die” – absolute ‘life failure’.

Austin mentions that his colleague, Karel Weisman, considered ‘self-renewal’ to be “[the] most remarkable faculty of mankind” (2005: p.45).  Weisman’s prescription for this is cited in his Historical Reflections, in which he states that man “has to learn to relax, or he becomes overwrought and dangerous.  He must learn to contact his own deepest levels in order to re-energize his consciousness” (2005: p.49).  Implicit in the very idea of ‘self-renewal’ is the negentropic notion that consciousness need not succumb to indifference, passivity and boredom.  The Philosopher’s Stone is more concerned with negentropy.  This may be interpreted as the opposite of entropy, i.e. a tendency to increasing meaning, order and stability.  It is, in short, G.K. Chesterton’s ‘absurd good news’, which Wilson describes as an “odd feeling of ‘immortality’” that occurs “outside time”.  He continues: “one grasps that he himself is, in some important sense, above time.  [One] is experiencing what […] I [call] ‘duo consciousness’, the odd ability to be conscious of two places at once” (2009: p.113).  It is a whole new approach to time, meaning and a new relation to the problem of contingency.  And yet in this novel even biological processes can be saved from the “arrow of time”.  And even entropy’s role in the aging process itself!

*

The problem of ‘psychic entropy’ could be a result of our disposition towards understanding the world linearly – and of misunderstanding the nature of time – due to the over-dominance of the left-hemisphere of our brain.  The psychotherapist, Iain McGilchrist in his fascinating book on the brain, The Master and Its Emissary (2009), defines the left hemisphere’s perception of time as “unidirectional, ever onward and outwards, through a rectilinear, Newtonian space, towards its goal”.  However, this linear and mechanistic view of the universe leaves out context, which McGilchrist describes as “being a circular, concentric concept, rather than a linear one” (2012: p.446).

Now it is the right-brain which adds context, or as Wilson put it: “the left is obsessed by time”, whereas “the right strolls along with its hands in its pockets enjoying the scenery”! (1983: p.20).  Wilson often uses Yeats’ ‘Under Ben Bulben’ to illustrate this point:

Something drops from eyes long blind,

He completes his partial mind,

For an instant stands at ease

Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.

(Wilson’s italics).

It is for this authentic meaningful context, or the right-brained addition of an extra dimension of meaning, with which Wilson’s Outsiders, such as Gilbert Austin and Howard Lester of The Philosopher’s Stone, are truly concerned.  When discussing Nietzsche’s development, Wilson remarks that “he plumbed his purpose to its depths; not simply a will to truth […] but a will to life, to consciousness, to infusion of spirit into dead matter” (1978: p.156).  This is, of course, what Weisman meant when he talked about ‘self-renewal’; this ability to imbue ourselves and the environment with a sense of meaning and purpose.  And through this creative act of intentionality we complete the ‘partial mind’.

It is from this point that one can satisfactorily approach The Philosopher’s Stone.  For it is a sort of sequel to The Mind Parasites which advances its speculations on a number of themes, such as phenomenology, brain physiology, immortality and of course, man’s relationship to space and time . . .

After all, Wilson said himself that it is “a novel devoted entirely to the problem of Faculty X” (2006: p. xxiv)

*

The central protagonist, Howard Lester, like Gilbert Austin, has a distinctly romantic temperament.  Music is one of his most central passions.  Early in the novel he solemnly reflects on Skolion of Seikios, a mournful epitaph which foreshadows many of the novels’ themes.  Lester quotes from the ancient Greek epitaph:

May life’s sun upon thee smile

Far from pain and sorrow.

Life is far too short, alas.

Death the kraken waits to drown you

In the sea of earth.

(2013. p.9).

However, his first great conflict, he confides, was between his love of science and love of music (2013: p.8), and it happens at this point of the novel – right at the beginning – that the transition to a more poetic and romantic temperament overtakes his practical concerns (such as meeting his father’s expectations of becoming an engineer) (2013: p.10).  The skolion imparts in the young Lester a sense of time and of the inevitability of death.  In his Autobiographical Reflections (Pauper’s Press), Wilson expressed a similar preoccupation with the mysteries of existence.  Indeed, in a clay-modelling class at school, he was discussing the size of the universe and felt a “sensation of cold fear” (2013: p.8-9).  He continues by saying that reason “now seemed to contradict itself”, and that he felt as if he was “carrying around an intolerable burden of knowledge, a burden that seemed far too heavy for someone of my age” – from here on everyone else appeared to be living in a delusion, “motivated by ‘feelings’ that would not bear examination” (2013: p.8-9).  Both Lester and Wilson experienced this ‘Great Negation’ early on in their lives, and both proceeded to become obsessed by existential problems, or by what Thomas Carlyle called “the eternal No versus eternal Yes”.  This is really the essence of The Outsider.

Lester begins to feel that the “‘ordinariness’ of everyday life is an illusion” and develops a sense of unreality that is symptomatic of the first stages of development in any romantic: when the world seems crude, and almost meaningless and dangerous in comparison to the world of the mind.  Aldous Huxley recognised this to be a fundamentally religious impulse, for like religion “existentialism begins from the concept of the ‘fallen man’ – that is, of man’s feeling of the world’s hostile strangeness” (2004 [1]: p.141).  For Lester, however, “ideas are seen to be the only reality, and the mind that shapes them the only true power in this world of blind natural forces” (2013: p.17).  This is a significant statement, for he recognises, even early on, that the mind remains at least free in the sense that the mind has fewer laws than the physical universe.  And although he is dangerously close to becoming solipsistic, he is nevertheless redeemed by a friend who is an intellectual equal to himself, albeit that Sir Alastair Lyell is thirty-two years his senior with Lester being only thirteen. A polymath, much like Lester, he is utterly devoted to knowledge of the scientific variety; however he also enjoys music, literature, painting and philosophy.  This is enough to save Lester from what he describes as “an increasing desire to live a life of ‘sensations and ideas’” and a growing “hatred of the everyday world” (2013: p.17).  All of this makes Lester sound somewhat like a redeemed Lovecraft; free from the emotional disposition that is a result of a ‘curdled romanticism’.

In Lyell’s presence Lester’s mind becomes increasingly disciplined, and indeed he quotes Bernard Shaw’s notion that at the age of thirteen comes ‘the birth of the moral passion’, which Lester describes as “the period when ideas are not abstractions but realities” (2013: p.17).  His earlier sense of ‘nausea’, where the world was quickly becoming a meaningless nightmare, is now granted an authentic meaningful context; Lester now goes headlong – away from his family – into a world where ideas have value, and which grow with Lyell’s enthusiasm and encouragement.  It is from here on that Lester is taught the essentials of the scientific method and thinking.  The scientific methodology infused with his own romantic temperament causes a wild search for the highest meanings of life, and furthermore, how man can triumph over death and grasp his own destiny.

Sir Julian Huxley’s idea that “man has become the managing director of evolution in the universe” (1972: p.18) is of immense significance to the young Lester, who feels it to be self-evident.  Interestingly, this form of transhumanism is discussed at length in Wilson’s Beyond the Outsider, whereby he adopted Huxley’s ideas and placed them into the context of his ‘new existentialism’.  And like the sudden transitions of Austin and Reich in The Mind Parasites, Wilson remarked that there is an “absolute break”, or a sudden leap, from machine to animal, from ape to human.  The mind, for Lester and Wilson, has many extra dimensions of meaning which are not available to its lower counterparts such as sense stimuli; physical impulses; even emotions, which are basically divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories.  Yet they all have their place, but it is mind which is of primary importance, because it has free-will – that is, with increasing consciousness one adds more dimensions of freedom.

In many ways, this realisation of the infinite expanses of the mind, and its resulting freedom, is the complete opposite of Lester’s earlier feeling of being trapped in a universe of “blind natural forces”.  And much of the ‘nausea’, or feeling of ‘life failure’, is due to a sudden feeling of infinite futility, that all of reality – from society to the universe, subatomic particles to the all-encompassing whole, is based on a fundamental meaninglessness.  Aldous Huxley has a fascinating insight in The Doors of Perception (1954) when he talks about “the horror of infinity”; he goes on to say that for the “healthy visionary, the perception of the infinite in a finite particular is a revelation of divine immanence” however, the opposite entails a sense of a “vast cosmic mechanism which exists only to grind out guilt and punishment, solitude and unreality” (2004 [1]: p.87).  Here he is talking about two different reactions to the ingestion of the psychoactive cactus, mescalin, but nevertheless it offers an insight into two basic types of disposition.

The psychologist Maurice Nicoll expresses the basic problem by propositioning two points of view: inner and outer.  For Nicoll a man who is “sunk in appearances” is “connected like a marionette with outer things [and is] dead, through lack of realisation of the mystery of the world” (1976: p.216).  Yet for a visionary like Ramakrishna or William Blake, the “visible world vanishes into illimitable nature” for it is “seen with the eye of mind freed from time and sense – from things merely as they seem” (1976: p.209).

Now, this brings us to an important point in The Philosopher’s Stone, for if man is to achieve a semblance of immortality, would his consciousness be able to maintain a constant interest, a persistent sense of meaning that would last immense vistas of time?  Wilson navigates this with satisfying logic, and with an idea that is quite often overlooked in most discussions on immortality.  For Wilson greater consciousness infers longevity, and not the other way round.  Nicolas Tredell has noted that this is the fundamental difference between Shaw and Wilson, because for “Shaw, longer life produces greater consciousness”; and with Lester’s obsession for the meaning of life and death – which in itself necessitates increased consciousness due to the vast nature of the enquiry – he is already on an evolutionary quest (1982: p.109).

The evolutionary quest for Lester is therefore focussed within the mind, and the mind further infers power over matter.  Indeed, the philosophy of T.E. Hume is generally accepted in The Philosopher’s Stone, for like Hume, Lester feels that mind has ‘invaded the realm of matter’.  A human being, for example, is made of matter, but he has a greater degree of mind and therefore freedom – the more matter is imbued with mind, the freer it is.  Indeed Nicolas Tredell has noted that Howard is a dualist, and that there is a sort of war between mind and matter.  “This war is evolution: evolution is the increasing control of ‘life’ over matter: and in man this control is synonymous with an increasing ability to inhabit the world of the mind’” (1982: p.113).

Yet the real problem is that the mind can also succumb to automatism, and, as we have seen in regards to ‘the indifference threshold’, this fate is not entirely necessary.  Furthermore, if one was to become immortal his or her indifference threshold would certainly become a problem, because living for longer would increase habituation – both mentally and physically.  A child sees the world as a new and curious place and learns, in his or her toddler stage, by trial and error.  Soon enough the child has become quite well acquainted with its environment (he or she knows not to touch fire, for example).  There still remains the realm of the mind, however, and this lasts quite a bit longer.  However, as we have said, even the mind itself tends towards degrees of automatism: for example, as we get older we tend to notice less about our environment.  We have, in a sense, ‘tiled’ reality with a series of time-saving automatic responses; a sort of unconscious mechanism that reduces reality to the barest form of immediacy. Wilson called this mechanism the ‘robot’, the over-active servant that maintains the ‘indifference threshold’.  He uses the example of when one learns to drive a car: “I have to do it painfully and consciously.  But my robot valet soon takes over, and proceeds to […] drive the car far more efficiently than ‘I’ could.  He will drive me home when I am tired, and I can’t even remember the journey” (2009: p.86).  Yet this ‘robot’ often takes over other things that we might normally enjoy, such as listening to our favourite piece of music or even in love making; it reduces the amount of ‘conscious’ activity which is involved in these activities, and instead dissimulates them to a ‘shadowy half-reality’.

Lester believes this automatism to be of central importance in the search for longevity.  After Lyell’s death, and after a brief bout of madness and slippage into near delusion, he is saved, much like Austin in The Mind Parasites, by vaulting insights and serendipitous moments.  No doubt one of the most important discoveries in his rampant drinking, travelling, reading and investigations into the nature of death, is when he hears a psychologist called Sir Henry Littleway delivering a lecture entitled Man the Measure.  Lester describes his experience to the lecture as a “tingling in the nerve ends, a sensation of physical lightness; the feeling that I had arrived at the beginning of a new stage in my journey” (2013: p.38).  In a sudden rush of excitement he sends a letter to Littleway, and in return receives a book, Aging and the Value Experience by Aaron Marks.

At this point there are again clear parallels with Wilson’s own life.  Aaron Mark’s is certainly modelled on Abraham Maslow; a man to whom Wilson became enough of a confidant to release a book that is largely a biography of Maslow, entitled New Pathways in Psychology (1972).  So quite clearly, Mark’s ‘value experiences’ are a slight variation on Maslow’s ‘peak experiences’.  Another important point is that Lester feels “a solitary pioneer in a field that might arouse more ridicule and interest”, a place that he suggests as a sort of “no-man’s land between psychology and philosophy” – which no doubt lands squarely in Lester’s own theories on gerontology (2013: p.39).  This is similar to Wilson’s discovery of Maslow’s ideas[3], for he draws parallels between the central question raised in The Outsider: ‘Why does life fail?’ a question to which Maslow effectively replied with: “Because human beings have needs and cravings that go beyond he need for security, sex, territory” (2013: p.24).  These are, of course, Aaron’s ‘value experiences’, which often transcend well beyond ordinary experience of pleasure and add a whole new dimension to our perception.  In Wilson’s autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose (2004), he divides the value/peak experience into three categories.  These can be summarised thus:

  • Level One is simply ‘feeling good’; a general sense of optimism.
  • Level Two is what he describes as Chesterton’s ‘absurd good news’: “This news was about human life […] and brought an absolute certainty that, in spite of practical problems, [one] had no cause for doubt or anxiety . . . [One has] a strong feeling that some power apart from [oneself] was in charge [of] life” (2004: p.211).
  • Level Three in The Philosopher’s Stone is referred to as ‘relationality’, which the author and biographer, Gary Lachman, describes as an addition to “Husserl’s essential insight that ‘perception is intentional” (2011 [1]: p.128), whereby ‘relationality’ and ‘intentionality’ converge into what is effectively Faculty X – a sudden knowledge of other times and other places . This can be encapsulated by the Hermetic dictum: “Conceive yourself to be in all places at the same time: in earth, in the sea, in heaven; that you are not yet born, that you are within the womb, that you are young, old, dead; that you are beyond death.  Conceive of all things at once: times, places, actions, qualities and quantities; then you understand God”.

The second level of ‘peak experience’ is similar to Gilbert Austin’s experience when he suddenly overcomes the mind parasites by realising that there are unseen, benign forces such as synchronicities and a general sense of meaning in life which is understood to be completely objective.  These may be driven either by powerful aspects of our unconscious mind, or indeed from forces outside ordinary time and space.  This is the general recognition that the universe means well; while the opposite being, of course, Lovecraft’s or the playwright Samuel Beckett’s feeling that the cosmos is either altogether indifferent or actively hostile.  The third level is what happens when Marks’ ‘value experiences’ are in harmonious accordance with ‘realationality’.  And this is in fact achieved through Lester and Littleway’s latter experiments with the ‘Neumann alloy’, a small piece of metal which activates the pleasure-circuits of the brain, and thus constantly providing the subject an intense feedback of psychic vitality or ‘life-force’.  With this additional energy, Lester and Littleway are able to see into the time-dimension of objects and the world around them.  Suddenly, their environment is imbued with an immense dimension of ‘distant facts’, all inter-related and infinitely interesting.

A fascinating part of the novel is when a farm labourer, Dick O’Sullivan – a victim of a drunken accident with some farming equipment – is mentally handicapped due to a brain injury.  Yet, as he recovers, friends, family and his doctor become aware of a profound modification to his personality and general temperament.  Before he had been a generally benign alcoholic, who excelled in his vitality – a vitality which manifested through impressive physical skill and muscular strength.  After the accident he is found to be rather dreamy, sensitive and easily moved to tears by beauty – in fact, he is entirely useless at his old manual labouring job, for he is simply too distracted by the grandeur and beauty of nature.  Here Wilson uses the character of O’Sullivan to make an important insight into the nature of the peak experience, and of mystical insight in general.  After all, it is all very well being in O’Sullivan’s state of consciousness, but if it overstays its welcome it becomes just as destructive and meaningless as boredom – for nothing can emerge from it but fairly vacuous sentiments.  It needs a certain amount of ‘gravity’, of discipline, which makes it practical enough to actually change reality – not merely observe it.  In fact, O’Sulivan is being constantly overwhelmed by ‘relationality’ to the point where he is entirely useless to do anything creative.  For us to do something truly creative demands a certain narrowing of focus that eventually moulds reality to its will.

Aldous Huxley, under the influence of the hallucinogen mescalin, expressed this when he said that “participation in the manifest glory of things left no room, so to speak, for the ordinary, the necessary concerns of human existence” (2004 [1]: p.19).  Interestingly, also under the influence of mescalin Wilson felt that “adult minds are intended to be the policemen of the universe” (1972: p.209) and this of course echoes the fate of the protagonist in The Mind Parasites.  O’Sullivan is clearly representative of the fate of an ill-disciplined dive into the world of the mind, for there must be a level of self-control over the constant incoming flux of overwhelming sensory information.  The philosopher C.D. Broad said that consciousness is necessarily eliminative in the sense that it reduces the incoming sense data into something which can be practically applied to ordinary reality; otherwise it would spiral out of control, being utterly useless in the everyday survival and practical affairs of human existence.

The overwhelming sensitivity in which O’Sullivan lives may even turn sour, developing into a more hallucinatory version of nausea.  An excellent example of this is the author Joyce-Collin Smith’s breakdown, for reality itself, for her, would not hold still for an instant; everything around her fluctuated into past and future.  She describes this as something that her “intellect had always known but the experience had not as yet appreciated: that everything in life is in a perpetual state of flux; that there is no stability anywhere; that the only constant is continual unrelenting change” (1988: p.179).  Collin-Smith would look at her hands, for example, which “[dissolved] from the competent, ringclad hands of a middleaged woman, to the slim, smooth young hands of a girl, the little fists of a small child, the tiny curled buds of the baby in the womb.  And at the same time they were old and gnarled with the knuckles of an aged crone, and finally the skeleton hands crossed on a body in a grave” (1988: pp.179-180).  After this experience had continued way past her patience, she decided to commit suicide by hanging, but found that as she looked at the rope, reality suddenly remained static – in the Now.  What is extraordinary about this experience is that it clearly shows that directed attention, which was no doubt due to the finality of her wish to commit suicide, actually acted much like Graham Greene’s revolver – it shook her out of the passive state, the variation on the ‘indifference threshold’, and enabled her to get a steady grip on the present, and thus sanity.

Lester considers time as “a function of consciousness, nothing else.  What goes on in the external world is ‘process’ – metabolism” (2013: p.145).   This is clearly a nod to Alfred North Whitehead’s ‘process philosophy’, because for Whitehead “mind and matter are related as phases in a process.  Time, not space, is the key to their relationship.  Reality consists of moments in process, and one moment informs the next” (2014 [1]: p.121).  So, in a sense, time-travel in our normal understanding of it – by physically occurring in the past as our material selves – is paradoxical, causing a cascade of ‘selves’ conflicting with each other’s existence.  What happened to Collin-Smith is that her mind was overwhelmed by the unconscious over-selection of possibilities in time – in a sense she time-travelled in much the same way the characters of The Philosopher’s Stone do so when they use psychometry to determine the age of objects.

The experiments with O’Sullivan are perhaps the most symbolic representation of Wilson’s interpretation of the essential problem with the romantics – he is permanently overwhelmed, or as Lester describes him, “a Wordsworth without the power of self expression, a Traherne who could only say ‘Gor, ain’t it pretty’ (2013: p.67).  Yet the continuing experiments offer many insights into the realm of parapsychology and even psychoneuroimmunology (the body’s ability to boost its own immunity by the power of the mind).  Not only can O’Sullivan overcome the common flu by being manipulated into a state of ecstasy, he can also ‘see’ or sense events from the past, such as an ability to see precisely a murder scene that had previously been a legend.  For example, he confirms Roger Littleway’s (Henry Littleway’s brother) knowledge of a murder in their house by pointing to the precise location where it happened.

By inducing ecstatic ‘value experiences’ in O’Sullivan, Lester finds that he relives “childhood innocence, perhaps with an intensity never actually achieved in childhood, and the result was a total certainty of universal goodness, complete affirmation” (2013: p.69).  This is basically a form of mystical insight which Lester compares to the miracle healings found in Christianity, where the wounded find themselves miraculously transformed by a sudden conviction of God’s divine providence.  Again this is due to a rush of psychic vitality induced by the peak experience.

Eventually, and despite all of the experiments and the promising results of miraculous healing, O’Sullivan is nevertheless diagnosed with a brain tumour.  This comes as devastating news to Lester and Littleway, who again turn to alcohol as means of comfort.  For it of course contradicts both of their convictions that the ‘value experience’ is a vital clue in the search for longevity – and it places them right back at the beginning, effectively none the wiser (and with the addition of a dead O’Sullivan on their hands!).  Lester even considers suicide.  Interestingly it is by looking upon a bookcase whereby his energy floods back, and endows him with the necessary feeling of optimism; a level two peak experience, a feeling of ‘absurd good news’.  The books become “a window on ‘other-ness’, on some place or time not actually present” (2013: p.73); books are mankind’s greatest triumph over time, of immense spiritual resource “just as oil derricks represented the release of physical resources to the world” (2013: p.74).  Lester concludes, after these insights, that the problem with O’Sullivan was his lack of will; he was awash with the experience, but with no central kernel of identity – therefore he could not will anything, let alone create anything as rich as a book or a piece of art.

Once armed with this important revelation, Lester renews his search.  He has finally grasped that the ‘value experience’ is merely the light by which we see; it illuminates our knowledge of what lies both inside our own mental worlds, and correspondingly, the external world.  Frankly, Lester realises, O’Sullivan had very little inside him, and he was, in effect, a baby.  Lester expresses this by saying that every “animal can experience ecstasy”, but the real issue is the difference between “the ecstasy of a baby and the ecstasy of a great scientist or philosopher”, for the latter has an incredibly rich interior, a vast region of knowledge, ideas and insights.  When they achieve a ‘value experience’, they instead make great intellectual and spiritual leaps, suddenly relating what it is inside them and projecting it outward – in fact, this is more or less the definition of what it is to be a genius: the ability to make connections of which no one else thought possible.  Even the word ‘insight’ belies just this very notion; that is being an ‘inwards sight’ which is increased by the ‘light’ of the ‘value experience’.  By suddenly seeing the internal-external connections, one can suddenly achieve revelations of web-like relationships – or what Lester calls his most important realisation, ‘relationality’.

At this point The Philosopher’s Stone progresses from a search for the Level Two type of ‘value experience’ into the Level Three variety.  We are now in the realm of Faculty X.

Nausea, or ‘life failure’, Lester argues, is due to a narrowing web of relations.  If this web becomes any narrower, there is in fact a danger of becoming completely catatonic – total lack of will and resultant unresponsiveness to the world due to a complete collapse of values.  This is the depth of meaninglessness that Wilson terms the ‘Ecclesiastes effect’, ‘all is vanity’.  Again, to linger near too near or too long in nausea can be catastrophic, leading to a general feedback loop of meaninglessness.  And although the idea of free will is at length explored in books like Sartre’s Nausea, it is basically perceived still as effectively meaningless, a negative freedom: for so what if we are free in a meaningless universe.  But a careful development up the various degrees of consciousness, as it has been shown in The Mind Parasites, leads to greater degrees of meaningful insights.  In fact, it becomes exponentially easier to see through Sartre’s fallacy, for one eventually reaches a certain plateau of security.

For example, a Level One ‘value experience’ is a pleasant experience, but it still remains essentially passive. It can quite easily slip back into ordinary consciousness, and then perhaps further into a state of ennui and so on.  A Level Two experience is securer still, for it is now more or less activated; there is a feeling of solid context of which one can actively build upon.  Level Three – Faculty X – is where meaning is increasingly related, where one thing leads to another, and so on, until the whole inner and outer world seems infinitely interesting; supplying a constant inspiration and an internally blossoming will to life and affirmation.

In fact, Lester provides an interesting context in which free will may flourish.  He states: “For man’s freedom is really a misnomer; what makes him free is the evolutionary urge which drives him upward, and which provides a reason when he is confronted by choices” (2013: p.75).  Evolution is increasing complexity; an unfoldment and enfoldment of horizons of distant fact.  It is to this understanding that completes Wilson’s Outsider cycle, and it is furthermore the fundamental conclusion of the ‘New Existentialism’.  The aim of evolutionary phenomenology is “to change man’s conception of himself and of the interior forces he has at his command, and ultimately to establish a new evolutionary type, foreshadowed by the ‘outsiders’” (1972: p.183).

Of course, all this bares careful consideration and analysis in the resulting pages of The Philosopher’s Stone.

Lester is the avant-garde of evolutionary phenomenology, he is, like Gilbert Austin, another ‘new existentialist’ psychonaut, representing the very extreme limits of Wilson’s philosophy.  The second chapter, Journey to the End of the Night, is clearly named after Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s deeply nihilistic 1931 novel of the same title.  But in this instance, it is a voyage both into the Lovecraftian horrors that wait beyond time and space, and the mysterious abilities of heightened consciousness.  Here, in the novel, the idea of ‘time-vision’ is introduced: the ability to see other times and places; to vividly experience moments in the past; to tap into residual energies that permeate either environments, objects, or even in consciousness itself.  This could be described as a sort of transtemporal relationality.

Both Lester and Littleway undergone the Neumann alloy surgery, and have essentially become immortal.  Their physical bodies are invigorated, while their mind ranges yet ever further – both continue to make careful discoveries about their own powers, and with deliberation they explore their powers either consciously, or sometimes by accident.   Lester gains an incredible insight when he and Littleway arrive in Stratford-Upon-Avon to meet Littleway’s late wife’s governesses.  For upon arriving at the Tudor cottage, Lester’s eye falls upon a shallow ditch in the garden, whereby he experiences a form of what Carl Jung called ‘active imagination’.  He sees, for example, how it once was: bearing water and with a bridge across it.  Although he emphasises that it is not a literal seeing, but more like “as if in a dream”, he describes it as a sort of inward vision of objective imagination.  This form of imagination is clearly a form of ‘relationality’, whereby the information Lester is picking up from his own expanded senses is – or was – entirely true.  Lester is somehow able to expand his relational-web beyond time, and draw in visions of the past into his mind’s eye.

The mind, Lester implies, needs to be relaxed in order to pick up these frequencies.  Indeed, he refers to the mind and imagination as a form of ‘mental radar’, and for it to be most effective it needs to be as still like the surface of an unperturbed pond, whereby the surface is perfectly reflective.  Another good metaphor for this would be a liquid mirror telescope, where a pool of mercury is perfectly gravitated as to be an incredibly light-sensitive, flawless mirror.  When the mind is like the still pool it allows in an increased amount of information, so, when Lester considers the shallow ditch, his imagination leaps to ‘complete the partial mind’, and furthermore enables him to sense the past in quite an objective way.   In an extended scene Lester and Littleway even venture so far as to explore the mystery of Shakespeare’s identity!

With their increasing ability to untangle historical mysteries, they go beyond most of the trivialities that thwart ordinary members of the human race.  The novel thus becomes a treatise on the ultimate freedom of consciousness: there are almost no limits to time and space, and they can continue without even the insecurity of death itself.  And it is at this point, that the horror must occur in typical Lovecraftian fashion.  After all, it is again like the Mind Parasites, a novel in which Wilson attempts to go beyond Lovecraft’s neurotic, passive characters that are almost always left defeated by evil or left demoralised and mad in a universe which they perceive as entirely indifferent.  And again, this takes the form of an archaeological mystery . . .

*

It must be said at this point that the novel has reached a position of ‘where can it possibly go next?’.  For Wilson has made the characters almost entirely infallible: immortal, able to access almost any information by merely firing a beam of intentionality at it, and unpacking its very essence through relationality; they can even, like Austin, read minds and manipulate people at will.  Tredell points this out when he says that the novel suffers from anything being possible, “so nothing happens” (1982: p.115).  Wilson has acknowledged similar flaws in the work of Bernard Shaw, comparing his work to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, in which he concludes that rather than a Shavian perfect immortal, the supreme intelligence of a Holmes is preferable because there are moments of dramatic humanity – therefore, Wilson concludes that human beings “love to admire a superman; but they greatly prefer a flawed superman” (1998: p.41).

As a work of science-fiction it is certainly in the vein of van Vogt’s incredible supermen like Jommy Cross in Slan (1946), for also Lester also seems to be an unstoppable evolutionary force.  And yet, it could be argued, this is a refreshing break of sheer optimistic science fiction, whereby the narrative is a reflection on the possibilities of human consciousness, rather than its pitfalls in emotional entanglement and triviality.  This same notion is expressed by Wilson himself in the ‘Prefatory Note’ to The Philosopher’s Stone, where he says that he “lack[s] sympathy for the emotional and personal problems that seem to be the necessary subject of a contemporary play or novel” – he goes on to say: “I’d like to make them stop feeling and start thinking” (2013: p.3).

Lester remarks that the “pessimism of the twentieth century has been a massive burp of indigestion” and that his own “powers that were embryonic”, not just in himself, but in mankind in general (2013: p.165).  The importance here is in the word ‘embryonic’, for it is this general assumption, that super-humanity may be possible, which excites people’s imaginations.  It inspires greater efforts, and solidifies an optimistic context for one’s self-image.  If this novel is read alongside Wilson’s non-fiction work, one can see that he is using as R.H.W. Dillard recognised: “the familiar pieces of science fiction […] in a new way to form his own myth, a metaphor for his own vision of human destiny” (1990: p.275).  It is this implication of the embryonic superman that is meant to excite and intrigue – and as we read the narrative, we partake in the revelations, the insights, the excitement of self-discovery, albeit it Lester’s own self-discovery in the form of a bildungsroman.

The Wilson critic, David Power, understood this when he read Wilson’s non-fiction book, Access to Inner Worlds (1983), and realised that “Wilson’s books are, in places, as much about inducing these states of consciousness as being vehicles for talking about them” (2011 [1]: p.200).  It could also be argued that the real purpose of ‘phenomenological fiction’ is to place the reader in-between the novel, the protagonist, and to analyse our own psychological habits – to use a novel’s ability to reflect, not just the world around us, but aspects of ourselves.  For just as the ‘mind parasites’ are a parts of ourselves that we need to overcome, so Howard Lester’s supernormal abilities are potentialities within us.

*

The Outsider takes it upon himself to understand – and to explain – the universe.  He questions his own position in the cosmos; so it is therefore also a problem of identity.  The visible world is also a primary concern – a world in which low-pressure consciousness is a “deliberate deceit”, and yet the world simultaneously hides an “internal reality which is so glorious that all men would be drunk with ecstasy if they could see into it” (1990: p.59).  His modus operandi is to internalise these problems, to submit them to constant analysis which eventually produces a profound psychological reaction: his thoughts tend to permanently digest and evaluate experience, hoping them to yield further insights into consciousness.  The Outsider is a full-time existentialist, phenomenologist and a potential superman in search of the ultimate reality.

In Religion and the Rebel (1957), Wilson notes that “if the modern Outsider finds the world an unrelieved prospect of futility, it is because his training and conditioning have made it difficult for him to see any meaning in the notion of increased intensity of mind” (1990: p. 56).  Lester, like Gilbert Austin, is of course obsessed by the further reaches of consciousness, and thus represents Wilson’s vision of an emergent superman – a man who has developed beyond the Outsider.   However, as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra said: “Man is a rope over an abyss.  A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking back, a dangerous trembling and halting”.  In other words, in order to grow further, one needs a challenge, a series of obstacles that one must surpass in order to evolve.  Indeed there needs to be a necessary form of ‘alienation’ which one needs to overcome before he can evolve any further.  A failure to do so may be even catastrophic.  Again, with the overcoming of Outsiderism, there is a certain amount development of self-discipline that comes with each increase in consciousness – of control and willpower.

In the 1974 edition of The Philosopher’s Stone, Joyce Carol Oates concluded quite perceptively that the novel used “horror not as an emotion so much as an idea, the stimulus for forcing the reader to think” (2013: p.9).  I would argue that it is this emergence of horror that most effectively frames the evolutionary psychology of Lester in stimulating contrast to the relatively free-drifting evolution of the earlier section.  One may recall that in The Mind Parasites the horrors of the Tsathogguans emerge most viscerally in the archaeological findings at Karatepe, Turkey.  But this is fundamentally a bluff on the part of the parasites, for it masquerades them as some external threat ‘out there’, so to speak, rather than a psychological disease that needs to be fought on the internal battlefields of the mind.  In The Philosopher’s Stone, however, the exposition of the ‘Old Ones’ – the slumbering, Lovecraftian ‘unnamables’ that exist in some sort of in-between state; both physical and non-physical – are described in far more historical, evolutionary terms.  Indeed, they are the architects of the human race.

What initially led Lester and Littleway on this search for ancient civilisations is a jadestone artefact from Chichen Itza, a pre-Columbian Mayan city.  And upon touching this artefact, Lester is immediately thrown back into time due to his ability to visualise, by means of psychometry, the past.  He describes the “feeling of disgust, of rejection” in which he reacts to the Mayan period, while condoning the sentimentalist’s rose-tinted view of the past as fundamentally inaccurate, for it mainly consisted of “stupidity and coarseness and brutality and inconvenience, and of human beings stuck in the present like flies on paper” (2013: p.172).  Indeed, Lester had experienced a similar sensation at Stonehenge, whereby he sensed a malignant force which blocked, stultified his ‘time-vision’.  Upon seeing a photo of the artefact from Chichen Itza, he realises that his ‘historical intuition’ had heightened, and furthermore he experienced a “distinct sense of something hidden, deliberately concealed”, in which he knew with certainty “that there is something in the world’s prehistory that cannot be found in any of the books on the past” (2013: p.167) – this malignant force, the Old Ones, has cloaked ancient history from the prying eyes of the time-visionaries.

And just when everything seems to be going almost too well for Lester and Littleway, there emerges a new mystery – a mystery to which even their powerful ‘time-vision’ cannot penetrate.

Lester and Littleway, of course, do not sit by passively; they take up arms, convinced that this is merely a barrier to their ever burgeoning mental abilities.

Time, throughout the novel, is treated as a ‘metabolism’, and the impossibility of physical time-travel is negated by time’s very nature as a process.  Yet, the imagination – the mind – is quite capable of grasping the past, and in certain instances, even the future, due to its ability to expand outwards its web of relationality.  In regarding the ‘time vision’ with the Tudor cottage, he concludes that everything must have a dimension which is not ordinary detected, which is the ‘time dimension’.  For if one sinks into a “condition of meditation, the ‘silence of the interior of a rose’, this historical dimension becomes real” (2013: pp. 123-124). A sudden prevention of this ability means that an objective view of human history is made impossible, for neither Lester nor Littleway can get beyond a certain boundary.  This is highly significant, because in a sense it means that their identity – in a very deep sense – is thwarted by the frustrating mystery of man’s initial developmental stages.  As the Gnostic Valentinian dictum goes: “He who possesses the Gnosis, knows whence he is come and where he is going”.

This prevention of Gnosis by the Old Ones, throws up an interesting challenge for the two advancing supermen by giving them some antagonistic principle of which to struggle against. By overcoming this struggle they inevitably become stronger; for it is still a matter of mental strength that needs to be acquired in order to smash the barrier of ‘time-blindness’.  Lester believes this to be the Maya’s ‘Great Secret’, and the reason for their strict social stratification.  Upon acknowledging that these mysterious, malignant forces exist, Lester and Littleway are targeted and, in methods reminiscent of The Mind Parasites, their vitality is sapped in such dangerous instances as driving down the M1 motorway, for Littleway is suddenly drained of his normally high attentiveness which results in a near-fatal crash with a lorry full of timber.  Lester concludes that their method of attack is merely a “blunting of the senses”, and this is also aimed at their colleagues, namely the anthropologist Professor Evans, who become paranoid and aggressively irrational towards them – clearly this is a result of the Old Ones, who appear to be attempting to prevent their investigations into mankind’s past.  Lester concludes that when “the brain is dull, trivialities assume larger proportions – for example, one is more inclined to worry when one wakes up in the middle of the night, because the vitality is low” (2013: p.184).

This is of particular importance in Wilson’s later philosophical development, for it is a basic recognition of what he later called ‘Upside-Downness’, a concept which he explored at length in his book Beyond the Occult (1988).  It could be argued that the ‘Old Ones’ – and the Tsathogguans’ – main methods of attack are this ability to invert or disorganise the ‘values’ of physical, emotional and intellectual.  He describes this basic problem thus:

“The intellect aims at a rational, objective view of the world but is continually being undermined by negative emotions.  When we allow these emotions to overrule the intellect the result is a state of ‘upside-downness’.  And the world seen from a state of ‘upside-downness’ is a horribly futile and meaningless place.  ‘Upside-downness’ produces ‘the Ecclesiastes effect’, the feeling that ‘all is vanity’.  It also produces what Sartre calls ‘magical thinking’, a tendency to allow our judgement to be completely distorted by emotion so that we cannot distinguish between illusion and reality” (2008: p.453)

Of course, anyone in a state of ‘upside-downness’ is in no position to battle an ancient, malignant and invisible force – and for the Old Ones this is not necessarily a means of attack, but more a means of self-preservation.  It is therefore concluded that the Old Ones are not an active force, but a slumbering and passive force that has established certain safety mechanisms to prevent a future species becoming aware of their existence.  Yet Lester, now equipped with the knowledge of the antagonist’s modes of attack, concludes optimistically that his and Littleway’s “control over [their] own minds meant that we could not be driven to paranoia by mental blockages” (2013: p.189).

At this point Wilson uses the novel to establish a fascinating creation myth which has much in common with his view of human evolution, particularly the evolution of man’s consciousness.  By drawing parallels between Wilson’s own philosophy and the fictional mythology he presents in the novel, the reader is given an excellent insight into the very foundations of Wilson’s optimistic philosophy – it is, in a sense, his own fictional Genesis story.

It has been remarked that Part 1 of the novel deals primarily with death, and this makes it an extremely satisfying tale of longevity, of life, and in short, the exploration of a real threat.  The first part of the novel is a bildungsroman with an almost universal appeal to the human condition.  The insights into the Lifeforce and our ability to ‘self-renew’ spiritually and physically, hold our attention because every reader is – to varying degrees – aware of his/her own mortality.  And more significantly the psychological problems of aging: the increasing habituation of our consciousness, and the almost boundless mystery and wonder that we felt as children at Christmas time.  It is these thoughts and insights that can be applied to our own lives.

However, Part 2, dealing mainly with the Old Ones, is essentially a fantasy.  It instead, some critics argue, reduces the novel to the level unreality.  For as Tredell concludes, at the “end of the novel, it is death, not the Old Ones, who still waits” (1982: p.112).  It can be argued that the novel loses its existential flavour and turns from a work of science fiction into a fantasy story.  And yet, this is not entirely true, for there are historical parallels and quotes from sources of occult, metaphysical and much literature of ‘alternative history’ (for example, René Guenon and Hanns Hoerbiger’s moon theories).  Wilson here fabricates a world-view, a fantasy variation on Genesis, to support the first part of the novel – and thus, in some sense, the foundations of his own philosophy.  Taken in this context, it offers an insightful and imaginative exercise in which we can see the essential scaffolding for a metaphysic.  For, if we strip down the fantastical elements of the novel’s Lovecraftian mythology, we can catch a glimpse into a view of man’s metaphysical and esoteric history that has a satisfying inner-consistency – and which moreover does not stray too far from possibility.

The “creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact” (1933: p.40) said Alfred North Whitehead.  And to what mysteries of our psychic heritage grants us the necessary gnosis of man’s possible evolution?  This is the essential purpose behind the second part of the novel.

*

Overcoming the restrictions on the ‘time-vision’ by mentally projecting simulacra – or even simply using a photograph of the original object – such as the basalt figurines that initially resisted their first attempts – Lester and Littleway are able to transgress the preventative mechanisms the Old Ones set in place centuries before.  They had apparently not foreseen this ability, and therefore did not prepare any ‘traps’ or limitations on representations of the original object.  Therefore Lester and Littleway can freely and safely explore the depths of time, and piece together a true account of mankind’s ancient past, and even most intriguingly the mysterious past of the Ancient Old Ones themselves.

As the creators of mankind the Old Ones arrested the development of an ape’s embryo – and with the emergence of this new modified species, they realised that they had accidentally created a creature too powerful for their control; so they limited his abilities by including a capacity to focus their immense powers.  Lester uses an interesting analogy by comparing it to when one is threading a needle, for if one hurries, there is simply an over-summoning of energy for the job.  To prevent this there needs to be a stepping-down; a concentration of energy.  Indeed, Lester concludes with the remark that no act of “creation is possible without repression of our energies” (2013: p.248).  This is precisely what men were created for: a tool for precise and delicate jobs.  This first prototypal civilisation, referred to in the novel as Mu, is a result of the Ancient Old One’s attempt to ‘step-down’ their energies, so they could instead direct their immense resources into shaping the world into their own design – and men were the tools by which they used to express themselves in a finer, more concentrated form.  However, they had not foreseen that in doing so they had repressed their own huge instinctual forces, which in turn welled up to result in a type of psychic implosion.   This enormous implosion forced the Ancient Old Ones into a coma in which they continue to remain unconscious – and the only remaining vestiges of their existence are the ‘time traps’, which are entirely autonomic and unconscious fail-safe mechanisms.

This is a creation myth that is curiously close to Gnosticism – a much debated group of Christian-era heretics – who according to Gary Lachman believed that the “world itself is evil, the product of an idiot demiurge who suffers from the delusion that he is the real god.  For them we remain trapped within his creation, slaves to the malevolent Archons, or ‘rulers’, who block our path to the true transcendent God beyond” (2011 [3]: p.90).  Indeed, the Old Ones and the Gnostic Archons seem interchangeable in the above example.  And yet, they are not necessarily malevolent – the Old Ones are in a certain sense, a failed experiment in intensity consciousness.  So much so that for centuries after the ‘catastrophe’ they were still worshipped and admired by shamans and priests in the guise of Mayan gods and demons.  Indeed their ‘return’ became a common theme underlying many religions, in which resulting sacrifices were subsequently dedicated.  They are, for aspiring supermen, examples of the danger of too much ill-disciplined power.  This power, if repressed – and like the vitality found in many of the Romantics or religious mystics – may implode, and thus shatter one’s psychic stability, perhaps resulting in nausea, hysteria, catatonia or even death.

The Old Ones, in their embodied state – the state in which the they built their great underground monoliths and succumbed to the ‘catastrophe’ – pursuing their own scientific knowledge, attempted to understand the universe; but all the while ignoring their own dangerously burgeoning subconscious forces.

This again can be interpreted as a variation on the Outsider’s essential problem of finding a creative outlet, and an authentic meaningful context that does not result in Lovecraft’s ‘curdled romanticism’.  It is also an obvious sociological observation that reflects the pitfalls of our own current time’s obsession with materialism, a materialism that the author and Wilson scholar Geoff Ward describes as resulting in a “general superficiality and nihilism”.  He continues: “our Faustian obsession with materialism, amounts to a kind of rejection, or at least a willing, or even wilful, diminution of consciousness, which is, of course, a disastrous backward step” (2006 [1]: p.155).  Modern civilisation, it could be argued, is similarly prone to the same diminishing of returns that resulted in the psychic catastrophe of the Ancient Old Ones – it is ignoring an important aspect of itself, repressing such important notions as higher consciousness and over-focusing only on the ‘outer’ pressures of life, and not the ‘inner’, psychological yearnings for more reality.  We live in a state where the “material world in time is regarded as a world of defect”, to which Maurice Nicoll continues:

“Our own insufficiency is that we live in a fraction of ourselves, in a narrow I, in a narrow vision, in time, in a belief that the material universe of the moment is all.  The perfecting of oneself, the attainment of unity, is connected with grasping the idea of pleroma [*the totality of relations which may be experienced in a moment of Wilson’s Faculty X], with a full-filling which must mean, to begin with, an overcoming of our narrow temporal vision – so that now we can understand why the Hermetist advices the exercise of thinking of the life as living at all points, as a movement towards ‘eternal life’.  But time – life – is only one track through the fullness of things” (1976: p.136) [*my comment]

K’tholo, the great leader of Mu, was privy to the development of the Old Ones.  He understood their purposes and fully comprehended “their need to establish some kind of solid foundation for their power . . . The Old Ones were all power; they could uproot forests and rend mountains; but they had no real control over their power . . . Man had ceased to be the tools of the Old Ones, and become their limbs” (2013: p.268).  And yet, humans evolved far too quickly by developing individuality and independence, rather than the communal, collective-mind of the Old Ones.  They developed separately from man – exceeding mankind tremendously.  But upon mastering the physical universe with their newly acquired bodies, and moving on to “learn all the laws of the universe, to become super-scientists”, they had overlooked a very important point, namely that the “conscious mind learned to project its visions of reason and order” whereas the “vast energies of the subconscious writhed in their prison, and projected visions of chaos” (2013: pp.271-272).  K’tholo watched this destruction which extended to the demise of Mu.  By means of remembrance, he kept the tradition alive that they would – when they had recovered after millennia of self-induced coma – return again.  And man, moreover, had better be ready, because they would certainly not make the same mistake twice . . .

It is therefore a matter of mankind’s survival that he makes the evolutionary leap before the Old Ones return.  And in the world of The Philosopher’s Stone, it is quite clear that Lester and Littleway have taken mankind’s biggest step so far in defeating the mind parasites – the misuse and undervaluation of our own inherent powers to shape both the universe, both internal and external . . .

The Supermen

In Religion and the Rebel Wilson summarised the aim of existentialism as a means of “building of many insights into a total vision, an attempt to extend the consciousness, to extend the sphere of the living being into the unliving” (1990: p.54).

The central theme of The Philosopher’s Stone is that more consciousness is synonymous with increased freedom, and this expansion of the mind may extend life indefinitely – or at least, become an effective conduit for the Lifeforce.  Indeed, Lester has an extraordinary experience which he describes at length:

“It was the mystic’s sense of oneness, of everything blending into everything else.  Everything I looked at reminded me of something else, which also became present to my consciousness, as if I were simultaneously seeing a million words and smelling a million scents and hearing a million sounds – not mixed up, but each separate and clear.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of my smallness in the face of this vast, beautiful, objective universe, this universe whose chief miracle is that it exists as well as myself.  It is no dream, but a great garden in which life is trying to obtain a foothold” (2013: p.203-204)

The core of Wilson’s philosophy can be encapsulated by “prehension operating through intentionality and relationality”, and Lester exemplifies all of these in the above experience (1990: p.65).  It not only captures the ultimate achievement of Faculty X, but also remarks upon the very nature of life’s aim – of increasing freedom.  Although in the novel mankind may be represented as slaves or tools of the Old Ones, it is perhaps more accurate to say that man is the spearhead of the Lifeforce’s advances.  Man is, after all, the most complex creature, and therefore, imbued with the greatest amount of evolutionary potential.  Lachman expressed the nature of the Lifeforce as “organised energy, organised matter,” that seems to “move in a direction against the general flow of matter; we can say that it flows uphill” (2013 [1]: p.220).  He goes onto quote Whitehead who saw life’s aim as an “offensive, directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe”.  This is precisely what is meant by the word ‘negentropy’, which I used at the beginning of this section.

Lester explains that for several hundred years “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” (2013: p.106).  And rather like Whitehead he describes it as a war, “a war against matter and automatism” (2013: p.106).  In a sense, the Old Ones were a conduit of the Lifeforce, undoubtedly greater than the human race at present – and yet we have the same ultimate potential to become the most creative, and thus focussed, expression of it.  Psychic entropy, ‘the indifference threshold’ – both problems of the ‘robot’ – is responsible for the universe appearing empty, meaningless and mechanical (it in fact reduces its dimensionality by pulling it down into our physical ream of impermanence).  Of course, in a higher dimension time itself may vanish altogether and be replaced with something more ‘whole’.  These sudden experiences of timelessness seems to support this idea, for in an experience of increasing relationality – of horizons of distant fact – reality seems to cohere, linking itself back up with the non-temporal realm.  Rodney Collin, a late disciple of Ouspensky, understood this when he said “The way towards unity lies in the escape from time” (1988: p.196)

The neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, in his excellent book The Map of Heaven (2014) uses the symbolism of the flower to evocate this fourth dimension:

“Flowers are present at beginnings . . . and also at endings.  We use them as “punctuation” times, because in times past people knew that the most crucial thing to remember at such times is the reality of the worlds above.  Like us, flowers are rooted in the earth.  But they remember where they came from, following the sun across the sky each day.  But most important of all, flowers burst into bloom.  That bursting is perhaps the most perfect earthly symbol of the completeness for which all of us yearn, and which comes into full existence only in the dimensions beyond this one” (2014: p.111).

In his testimony of his own near-death experience, Alexander reflects on why the Romantics used the flower (as often symbolic of tragedy); that even beauty itself fades into entropic oblivion.  It is, he notes, based on the fallacy that growth stops when we die.  In universal terms this fades away, for, in an insight that came to him after his near-death experience, we “are not transient, momentary mistakes in the cosmos – evolutionary curiosities that rise like mayflies, swarm for a day, and are gone.  We are players who are here to stay, and the universe was built with us in mind” (p. 113).  We reflect the universe, he says, “with our deepest loves and loftiest aspirations, just as it reflects us” (2014: p.113).  This is a very significant remark, for it signifies an ‘anthropic principle’ in our universe, that it is, not apart from us, but inside us and expressing itself through us – much like the Old Ones used mankind as a ‘focusing’ tool to express aspects of themselves which were too diffuse, and powerful to channel sufficiently.

We often find ourselves stuck in the present; we are as it were always here ‘now’, and yet, in moments of relationality it is clear that this is not necessarily true.  It is rare that we even ascend, for a moment, outside of the present and feel a sense of ‘wholeness’; rather we are trapped in cross-sections of time.  Lester’s time-vision emphasises this fact that we can know ‘other times and places’.  The philosopher Henri Bergson believed that the past was accessible through consciousness, for it “still exists, . . . is still present to consciousness in such a manner that, to have the revelation of it, consciousness has no need to go outside of itself . . . It has but to remove an obstacle, to withdraw a veil” (2003 [1]: p.23).  It can be seen that Wilson’s characters, and particularly the element of time-vision, is an ability attributable to increased consciousness.  And mind, in some way, is dimensionally higher than that of the material world.  It inter-penetrates, but is infinitely freer.  What this signifies is that inside man there lies the ultimate evolutionary potential, for in a sense it lies in the ‘future’.  Ouspensky expresses this in a way which has an incredible relevance for Wilson’s supermen, for he says if “infinity lies in the soul of man and if he is able to come into contact with it by penetrating within himself, this means that the “future” and the “superman” are in his soul, and that he can find them within himself if he seeks in the right way” (1984: p. 144).  The central protagonists in both The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone appear to be going the right way, and its methods appear to lie in an active power over our imagination, which in turn neutralises our over-dependency on the robot, and enables us to grasp an infinitely complex evolutionary directive.

The overtly individualistic – even elitist – nature of this course of evolution has been attacked by critics in the past.  However, an individual’s evolution appears to be the most significant step, for it is, in some ways, simultaneously a social evolution.  Ouspensky’s essay on the superman in A New Model of the Universe can be applied to Wilson’s philosophy, and it gives a satisfying interpretation of both Lester and Austin’s chosen destinies.  The notion of ‘evolution of the masses’ he argues is rather like demanding that every cell of a tree evolve, simultaneously, into fruit – and therefore the tree would cease to exist.  And furthermore, it would not function as a tree, for it would yield one harvest and then quickly die off due to lack of leaves, trunk, and an inability to photosynthesise and so on.  Certain ‘needs’ first require to be addressed in the individual, and the individual is also inevitably apart of the society into which he is born.

And yet, as Wilson’s studies in criminology show, the murders of the past appear to be based on a hierarchy of needs – to use Abraham Maslow’s words – in which, after one is satisfied, the next must develop and be succeeded.  If, for example, we take the emergence of the apparently sex-motivated murders of Jack the Ripper in the Victorian era, we can see that this first emergence of the sex killer is due to society’s repression of the sexual urge in which resulted in the phenomena of people like Jack the Ripper.  Yet, crimes further in the past manifested more along the lines of basic needs such as resources, food and water, and so on.  And then, of course, there was the relatively recent development of self-esteem killers who murdered for recognition from their peers.   Each of these ‘needs’ is grasped by the murderer, or the Outsider, and manifests either creatively or destructively.

Of course, the murderer has much in common with the Outsider, for he too is in search of some sort of satiation, some sense of intensity through which he can transform himself.  Certainly, the parallels are clear enough, for as Dossor highlights, instead of:

“persisting in the struggle to escape from the sense of meaninglessness – which is precisely the ongoing struggle in which the Outsider is engaged – or transmuting his anger into a creative act such as writing of a poem or symphony, he succumbs to grasping at any easy solution and gives vent to his frustration in an act of crime” (1990: p.149)

And for Wilson “the process by which civilisation develops is a humanisation of our environment” (1990: p.148).  Both the Outsider and the murderer may be equally frustrated with the limits of society; either its bourgeois, low-pressure satisfactions, or even its repression of the religious impulse; this may emerge as a neurotic outburst of violence, or as a creative act of writing, art, or social-reform.  It is essentially a vitality that yearns, often painfully, for some sort of expression; and this may emerge as either self-destructive or as a self-actualising impulse.  For “murder confronts us with this act of decision about the value of life more directly than most human acts”, and therefore the creative act rather makes the advance of humanising our environment, rather than, quite literally, dehumanising it (1990: p. 149).  Again, this is basically a variation on the question of “Why is their existence rather than non-existence?” for the conclusion, if it is reached, is either of absolute nihilism or affirmation; of less life or more life.

Self-actualisation, of course, is what Karel Weisman in The Mind Parasites meant when he was so deeply impressed by humanity’s ability to ‘self-renew’ – it is a deeply humanising property; a defiant act against mechanisation and automatism.  The attraction to the idea of the Superman is also prevalent among many murderers, as Dossor notes, for this validates their will-to-power, but in this case, to a negative end.  For the Outsider, like Lester and Austin, it is to the contrary: it is a symbol for ultimate humanity, of an enormous leap into vitality and the resultant freedom thereof; and also of a Bergsonian victory over the limitations of matter and time.  Indeed, in the latter part of The Philosopher’s Stone, the need to humanise society is a matter of life or death, for if the Old Ones return to a struggling, pessimistic human race who devalues his own existence, it would surely be dehumanised and reverted to its original state of collective slave-mentality.  Lester even concludes with the statement: “The Old Ones must awaken to find a society of Masters, with whom they can collaborate on equal terms.  What is more, they must be awakened by these Masters” (2013: p.275).  The Romantics – perhaps the least mechanical and least imaginatively limited generation – were even snuffed out by the mind parasites due to their powerful sense of human destiny and belief in the enormous powers of the mind.   Therefore the Outsider, the embryonic Superman, is a member of society – and society consists of a sum of its parts.  And moreover the Outsider represents what Lachman, and the Russian political philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev believe is a sort of ‘creative minority’.  A group of people who have sacrificed a part of themselves to suffering and frustration, and whom pass beyond it to positively contribute to our culture.  And this “readiness to sacrifice”, Berdyaev remarks, “has nothing in common with anarchy, with chaos” but “is always cosmic in character” (2013 [1]: p.138).

And I can think of no greater example, in science fiction or elsewhere, than of The Mind Parasites or The Philosopher’s Stone which demonstrates this ‘cosmic’ revolution in consciousness so evocatively, or in such a direct manner. . .

*

In reading Wilson’s science fiction alongside his works of philosophy, one comes away with the sense that the Outsider and the Superman are related at the point where the former evolves beyond himself, and taps into an immense reservoir of meaning and energy.  Its source appears to lie in the Faculty X experience, which in itself is a state of mind that appears to exist vertically out of time and space, observing the world from a ‘birds-eye view’ – from this perspective William James’ ‘horizons of distant fact’ seem to sprawl outwards, with each fact relating with each other, infinitely.  Certainly, this appears to be a true expression of the religious or mystical experience, for it attempts to unite with the mind of God, of creation directly through one’s own consciousness.  Yet, Wilson time and time again suggests that this is inside us, a part of us, and is in fact an evolutionary development of our natural faculties for the apprehension of meaning.  It is a potentiality of consciousness to become God-like.  The characters Gilbert Austin and Howard Lester are exemplary fictional pioneers of Wilson’s evolutionary existentialism – they are akin to the Voyage of the Beagle to a new internal-landscape hinted at in mystical literature for centuries.

For Meister Eckhart there were three kinds of knowledge: “The first is sensible, the second is rational and a great deal higher.  The third corresponds to a higher power of the soul which knows no yesterday or today or tomorrow” (1976: p.39).  By accessing this third level, the characters in Wilson’s science fiction ascend into a domain of boundless possibility. Perhaps becoming architects in the immaterial world of meaningful relations.  They may, like the Universal Police in The Mind Parasites, communicate to us through the juncture between mind and matter; the timeless and the transient; mortal and immortal, by giving us glimpses of another mode of being through synchronicity or sudden flashes of peak experience.

At this point, we have reached a level of speculation that is suitable science fiction territory. It is to Wilson’s immense credit that he can offer us a possible insight into – and the techniques to achieve – experiences like the one William Wordsworth expressed in his aptly titled poem, Intimations of Immortality:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

For by defeating the mind parasites, we too may convert this dream into a permanent reality by imbuing our material lives with increasing consciousness.

In fact the characters in Wilson’s science fiction represent the ultimate realised aspect of our selves – a higher self that exists beyond time, and is, in a sense, immortal.  And in these moments, perhaps we see by a ‘celestial light’ emitted by our future self communicating across time and space . . .

 

 

[1] http://realitystudio.org/texts/reviews/mind-parasites/

[2] There are many such examples of these in Sheldrake’s own books, such as A New Science of Life (1981) and The Presence of the Past (1988).

[3] Although technically speaking it was Maslow who discovered Wilson first, for he read Wilson’s sociological study, Age of Defeat (1959) (the American edition is entitled The Stature of Man) and sent him a letter enclosing some of his own papers.

Colin Wilson books cited in this study:

Wilson, C.  (1959) Age of Defeat.  London, Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Wilson, C.  (1978) The Outsider.  London, Picador.

Wilson, C.  (1996) From Atlantis to the Sphinx.  London Virgin Books.

Wilson, C.  (1998) The Books in My Life.  Charlottesville, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Wilson, C.  (2004) Dreaming to Some Purpose.  London, Century.

Wilson, C.  (2005) The Mind Parasites.  New York, Monkfish Book Publishing Company.

Wilson, C.  (2006) The Occult.  London, Watkins Publishing.

Wilson, C.  (2008) Beyond the Occult.  London, Watkins Publishing.

Wilson, C.  (2013) The Philosopher’s Stone.  Missouri, Valancourt Books.

Wilson, C. (1972) Beyond the Outsider.  London, Pan Books Ltd.

Wilson, C. (1976) The Strength to Dream.  London: ABACUS.

Wilson, C. (1979) New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution.  London, Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Wilson, C. (1980) The New Existentialism.  London, Wildwood House Ltd.

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

Wilson, C. (1984) [1] Religion and the Rebel.  Bath, Ashgrove Press Limited.

Wilson, C. (1989) Existentially Speaking: Essays on the Philosophy of Literature.  California, The Borgo Press.

Wilson, C. (2009) Superconsciousness: The Quest for the Peak Experience.  London, Watkins Publishing.

 

Bibliography:

Alexander, E & Tompkins, P (2014) The Map of Heaven.  Great Britain, Piatkus.

Bertonneau, T. (2009) Colin Wilson: The Persistence of Meaning.  Available at: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/3902 (Accessed on: 8th October 2015)

Campion, R. S.  (2011) [2] The Sound Barrier: a study of the ideas of Colin Wilson.  Nottingham, Pauper’s Press.

Collin-Smith, J.  (1988) Call No Man Master.  Bath, Gateway Books.

Dossor, H.F. (1990) Colin Wilson The Man & His Mind.  Dorset, Element Books Ltd.

Houellebecq, M. (2008) [1] H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life.  London, Gollancz.

HulksOperaDoc (2013) [1] Colin Wilson talk part 1.  Available at: https://youtu.be/Wg0Q4p4CZMo (Accessed on: 8th October 2015)

Huxley, A. (2004) [1] The Doors of Perception and Heaven & Hell.  London, Vantage.

Jung, C.G. (1989) [1] Foreword In: I-Ching. London, Penguin Group.

Jung, C.G. (1995) Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  London, Fontana Press.

Kaufmann, W (1976) [1] The Portable Nietzsche.  London, Penguin Group.

Lachman, G.  (2011) [3] The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus.  Edinburgh, Floris Books.

Lachman, G.  (2013) [1] Caretakers of the Cosmos.  Edinburgh, Floris Books.

Lachman, G. (2003) [1] The Secret History of Consciousness.  Great Barrington, Lindisfarne Books.

McGilchrist, I. (2012) The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.  London, Yale University Press.

Nicoll, M.  (1976) Living Time and the Integration of the Life.  Colorado, Shambhala Publications Inc.

Ouspensky, P.D. (1984) A New Model of the Universe.  London, ARKANA.

Sartre, J. P.  (2000)  Nausea.  London, Penguin Group.

Sheldrake, R.  (2014) [1]  The Science Delusion.  London, Coronet.

Stanley, C (ed). (2011) [1] Around the Outsider: Essays Presented to Colin Wilson on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday.  Hants: Zero Books.

Stanley, C.  (1990) [1] ‘The Nature of Freedom’ and other essays.  Nottingham, Pauper’s Press.

Taylor, S.  (2008) Making Time.  Cambridge, Icon Books Ltd.

Tredell, N.  (1982) The Novels of Colin Wilson.  London, Vision Press Limited.

Ward, G.  (2006) [1] Spirals: The Pattern of Existence.  Somerset, Green Magic.

Watson, I.  (2003) Miracle Visitors.  London, Gollancz.

Whitehead, A.N.  (1933) Adventures of Ideas.  New York, Macmillan.

A Reflection on The Black Room (1971)

                        Although a large novel at 348 pages, The Black Room (1971) stands alongside The Personality Surgeon (1985) in the minor league of Wilson’s fiction – that is, neither of them have been re-printed anytime recently, and are often either ignored, misunderstood or are regarded as somewhat peripheral in Wilson’s oeuvre.  Nevertheless, Wilson himself regarded it highly enough to include an excerpt from it in The Essential Colin Wilson (1985).  However, and with the exception of the Wilson scholar Nicolas Tredell, who has written at length about every one of Wilson’s novels — including unpublished and proposed — in his immense and masterly work, Novels to Some Purpose (2015), there is, according to my own research, few other works engaging with one of his central ideas: the black room (or a sensory deprivation chamber) and its challenge to the evolution of human consciousness.

In this essay I intend to investigate the idea of the black room closely, and hopefully at the same time provide a short introduction to some of Wilson’s obsessions which run throughout all of his work.  There is always a practical aspect to Wilson’s work, and I will attempt to bring this to the surface: seeing just where, if you will, the theory becomes practice.

The theory – expounded in Wilson’s philosophical works – becomes the practice for the central character, Kit Butler, who has to maintain mental strength and sanity in a room so deprived of stimulus that the mind starts to canibalise itself.  It is in novels such as these — The Mind Parasites (1967), The Personality Surgeon (1985) — that Wilson’s philosophy is most effectively applied in hypothetical situations, and developed – even challenged – by the developing plot.  In other words, these particular novels have a dialectic which presents Wilson’s ideas in a most satisfactory manner.  Indeed a triangulation of these three novels would provide the reader with a good insight into the development of Wilson’s work, for all his novels are explorations of his philosophical concerns.

The black room itself is based on a real premise: that the human being requires outside stimulus to remain sane, healthy and, above all, just free enough to evolve his own consciousness.  Deprived of these stimuli man falls into disrepair, useless and unmotivated – his consciousness is, in this environment, not sovereign at all; but entirely a victim of the body and environment.  It simply cannot exist separately, or satisfactorily generate enough power to maintain itself independent of external reference.

And yet, this question of whether man can survive in an environment deprived of stimulus may at first appear to be basically pointless, because very few of us are involved in cutting-edge espionage, nor is our consciousness, or body, likely to experience a total sensory blackout in our everyday lives.

It is wise for us, therefore, to ask the question why Wilson felt it so urgent, and so piquant a metaphor for the limits of human consciousness; and indeed why he felt a need solve a problem as apparently unsolvable as the black room.

To further understand its significance, one must begin from Wilson’s central obsession, which could be summarised as overcoming our robotic nature; our tendency towards passivity and automatism.  The black room, therefore, becomes the ultimate challenge; for under such deprived conditions the robot part of ourselves becomes entirely dominant, sapping our energy, shutting down our mind, and eventually either leading us into sleep, or even madness.  Hence the man who could endure the black room could become a sort of superman – never succumbing to the robot’s negative effects, such as boredom, ennui and pessimism; he would, moreover, be entirely in control of himself, embracing a degree of freewill that extends beyond our usual reliance on external stimuli.

His mind would very much become his own, independent, to a degree, of the body, and strongly dictated or directed by an intensely active and powerful consciousness, a higher, more fully integrated ‘I’.  Moreover, this would be an ultimate triumph for the human imagination, in which it would become an invaluable tool for defeating pessimism, and our tendency to a sense of diminishing returns as a result of our over-reliance on the robot.

Tredell notes that the black room “was an important symbol for Wilson; it is a crisis situation on the edge of everyday life, in which human beings can either fall deeper or raise themselves higher by moving towards that independence of the physical world, through the release of hidden mental powers” [my italics] (2015: p.297).  In many ways, the black room is the problem of the physical world and the mental world; it is where the two are essential to one another.  Wilson’s emphasis is on the mind, and how it can in some way detach itself from the limitations of the physical – it can, as it were, reach what he commonly refers to as a ‘birds-eye view’.  This ‘birds-eye view’ allows consciousness to rise out of the body’s tendency to react passively to its environment.  According to Howard Dossor’s analysis, this may free him from the black room’s stifling lack of stimuli by inducing a “profound sense of crisis” which can either lead to abject terror or “a feeling that he is capable of controlling his response” (1990: p.271).  This recognition is of central importance to understanding the basic philosophic problem presented in The Black Room, that is to gain full control over one’s own mind.

*

The protagonist, composer Kit Butler is enlisted in an experiment in espionage up in the Highlands of Scotland.  He is presented with many hedonistic distractions, with seemingly Dionysian indulgences between two beautiful, but mischievous twins (among many others).  Nevertheless, Wilson’s protagonists rarely experience anything without attempting to understand the conscious and unconscious mechanisms.  They often apply Wilson’s own brand of existential phenomenology to understand the human condition.  Sex, one of the most intense experiences, appears in this instance to be juxtaposed against the lonely isolation of the black room, and the rolling beauty of the Highlands.  For the mental excitation during sex, or even the mere thought of the act (during masturbation), reaches its apotheosis in the union of bodies – in this sense, the mind-body orgasm is the very opposite of the sensory deprivation experience.  Butler, even before his training, is indulged on all sensual levels by being surrounded by beautiful women, fine wines, brandies and gourmet food.  In the vast expanses and extravagant summers of the Highlands, he can freely swim and lay on the riverbanks meditating on his predicament, of his obsession – like Wilson’s – with the limits of ordinary human consciousness and how they can be overcome.  Still despite philosophical reservations (Butler has little initial faith in solving the black room problem) he remains there nonetheless, determined to take advantage of the rare opportunity.

Deprived of all these earthly pleasures in the black room, and given a fridge of bland food, the imagination remains the only source remaining for enforcing the mind against the tedium and inevitable tiredness that result from these long sessions (most can last a number of days, and very rarely, if at all, last a week).  Now Wilson has often said that masturbation is one of mankind’s highest faculties, for one can induce an orgasm entirely by imagination – and yet, this cannot be sufficiently maintained, and would moreover be impractical in a lightless room for a number of reasons.  Nevertheless this provides an invaluable clue to its possible solution.  In a flash of insight after reflecting on one of his many sexual encounters, Butler expounds a philosophy based on the importance of self-image and self-knowledge:

“He focused again the hardness of inner triumph as she had raised her buttocks to allow him to tug down the panties, a hardness that was a tumescence of the will itself, seeing in a lightning flash its own potentialities . . . The moment of self-knowledge, of optimistic self-knowledge.  Life is a long attempt to see your own face in a mirror.  Every defeat and humiliation reflects back the face of a weakling, of a victim.  One’s consciousness of oneself is soft, warm, almost indecent, like a worm.  He had been driven by romanticism to reject the notion of himself as a victim or a weakling, and had been favoured by a natural optimism, an excitable imagination, and an inborn preference for being alone, for rejecting the company of fools.  But the sense of defeat could never be entirely thrust out of consciousness, the sense of passing time, of the power of the envious and the stupid, of one’s vulnerability to chance.  And then, in the moment of self-knowledge, the doubts vanished, and the mind was suddenly staggered to confront its own strength and capacity for endurance.  The moments of doubt were seen clearly to be the result of ignorance” (1971: p.68)

The ‘hardness of inner triumph’ is exactly what is challenged in the black room, in which the will fatigues due to the lack of stimulus rather like a muscle with lack of exercise.  There is no opportunity to use perceptual ‘intentionality’, and the perception becomes entirely limited to the mind – and the mind is not strong enough to support itself.  The mind quite simply is too diffuse, it leaks energy, and begins to devour itself rather like one’s mood during a hangover or even a panic attack; an inner-chatter becomes – if undisciplined – a cacophony echoing itself into exhaustion, of moral collapse.  The black room induces this sensation, a crisis, a panic attack or simply a tiredness and boredom that leads to oversleeping.  The mind as it were goes on strike.  “Man”, wrote Wilson, “is the only animal who is prone to insanity; and this is because he spends so much time in this suffocating prison inside his own head” – the black room increases this mental suffocation (1983: p.14).

In a discussion about mountain climbing, Gradwhol, a professor of psychology, mentions to Butler that in extreme instances of crisis, such as the phenomena of ‘rock blindness’ or life-threatening predicaments can discipline a man’s will.  Of course, under such experiences there is a certain inner pressure which, to use a Wilsonian phrase, clenches one’s will and pushes it upwards into a higher tier of self-control (this is discussed at length in the introduction to his book Mysteries (1978), which is significantly titled ‘The Ladder of Selves’).  In The Black Room, however, the old mountaineer compares it to “small crystals of glass” which symbolise for him the “disconnected crystals, different feelings, thoughts, impulses”, and in such crisis situations of a powerful kind these crystals fuse together into a solid block of fully integrated and strengthened self-control, and an assertion of will over one’s fleeting and often diffuse emotions (1971: p.80).

William James’ essay ‘The Energies of Man’ is of central importance to The Black Room, for it underlines and certainly inspired Wilson’s evolutionary existentialism.  As we have seen, there appears to be breaking point in which, once succeeded, allows man to evolve beyond his robot, or as James called it, ‘habit neuroses’.  However, one of the key words in James’s essay is ‘dynamogenic’ which is defined as “the correlation of changes in response with changes in sensory activity”, in other words the relation between one’s energy, feelings and outside stimuli.  One could also adjoin to this word the mystic philosopher Gurdjieff’s notion of ‘self-remembering’, for a ‘dynamogenic self-remembering’ is effectively what Wilson implies in his phenomenology when he points out that a certain ‘feedback’ needs to occur, whereby the will is constantly strengthened and energised – through a sort of internal clench and release – until one experiences what Abraham Maslow called the ‘peak experience’.  This would cause a dynamo of sorts, a conversion of energies which sustain each other until they reach a zenith of almost overwhelming joy.  Furthermore this experience of the inter-relatedness of one’s existence, which spills over into the external universe, causes a bubbling up of optimism, of energy which gives one the sensation of being above time and space.  In short, not of being reduced to the body’s limitations; for the body exists in matter and obeys by its laws.   If this technique were perfected one could, in theory, survive for far longer in the black room.

In an interesting discussion Butler remarks that “people get so used to staying the same after the age of twenty or so that they can’t grasp the idea of a new level of human evolution.  You need a bombshell to wake up the subconscious – that’s why James says that the only religious conversion produces basic character changes” (1971: p.155).   Although less extreme, I have found that in many ways the modern ‘immersion tanks’, much like sensory deprivation chambers and the dark room, offer people, outside of their hectic lifestyles, a chance to experience a complete lack of distraction.  In effect, it is a form of technologically-aided meditation, placing oneself into a place which induces a sensation similar to that of meditation.  Curiously, in a recent article in Vogue, the author Nathan Heller, notes that once he emerged from the tank, he started to receive little “licks of hazily remembered dialogue” which “crystallize[d] into full scenes”.  He goes on to say that he “remembered everything much better” and that “it was as if I had a telescope back into my history, and the normal fuzzy light pollution of the atmosphere, the distractions of time and the moment, had been blocked, leaving the image sharp and pure”.  He concludes the article by saying that the “immersion had done what I had hoped: I’d found a way of rediscovering my mind”.

The example of Heller’s real life experience of something quite like the black room demonstrates that the lack of external stimulus can enable us to breakthrough our normal habituation.  Memories, a sense of one’s history, of other times and other places suddenly started to trickle into his mind without, as he describes it, the “normal fuzzy light pollution” of the mind.  The black room for Butler therefore not only becomes the antithesis or the challenge against habitual consciousness, but a means to overcome it, as a tool towards raising one’s mind above the usual flaccidity behind our intentionality.  In turn this may facilitate a practical approach to achieving a ‘dynamogenic self-remembering’ whereby the increased self-consciousness enables us to not only monitor, and thus to some degree control, our usual wasteful ‘thought chatter’ (an endless internal narrative of anxieties and triviality) but to become more resourceful with our psychic energy.  And moreover it brings us closer to achieving what Wilson called ‘Faculty X’, a vivid experience of other times and other places.

*

When Butler is employed as a counter-espionage agent and sent to Prague, in order to find out more about the mysterious, independent group Station K, he describes the city as being:

“all spires and great stone buildings, interspersed with green spaces.  The autumn trees looked soft and ghostly in the haze.  The falling snow brought a sense of other places and other times.  The sense of objective reality touched him suddenly, and for a moment he became aware of his identity as a temporary thing, false and unimportant against the immense, cold, infinitely real background of fact”  (1971: p.190)

Even though it is an evocative description of Prague, Wilson however loses no opportunity in describing the fundamental mechanisms behind his ‘Faculty X’, where time, place and the relational web of interconnected facts coalesce into a solid sensation of power consciousness.  In his later book, Access to Inner Worlds (1983) Wilson also shares with us an atmospheric and, at the same time, very profound description of Finland:

“There is something very soothing in the green, flat Finnish landscape, with its wooden houses and glimpses of water between the trees.  As we sat in the restaurant car, drinking watery beer, I experienced suddenly that curious sense of satisfaction that can only be described in the words ‘being where you are’.  That sounds absurd only until we reflect that for most of our lives we are not where we are.  I am walking down a lane in Cornwall, but only my body is there; by mind is ‘elsewhere’.  It is not in any particular place; it is just ‘not all there’ – a phrase we also use for the mentally defective.  And then, beyond a certain point of relaxation, it happens.  The left brain slows down; suddenly, it is walking in step with the right.  And you are there, in the present moment, wholly and completely.  You can taste the flavour of your own consciousness” (p. 32)

In describing either his own, or his protagonist’s environment Wilson takes particular note of a flowing peacefulness, particularly in water or gently falling snow.  Interestingly he has mentioned elsewhere that he was always obsessed with large surfaces of water of which he often saw through the bus window as a child.  However, he knew that if he managed to get out and attend to the water, the sense of mystery and odd obsession would soon subside.  Yet here, whether in Prague or Finland, these delicately beautiful sensations are suddenly grasped in phenomenological terms: that in these moments the thought-chatter and obsessive left-brain tends to obscure one’s immediate experience; but in modes of peace the right-brain is allowed to ‘breath’, letting in a sense of the ‘now’, and, significantly, a sense of history; of an optimistic existential context in which all minor anxieties are seen objectively as wasteful trivialities.

In the above quote Wilson’s experience in Finland is very similar to Heller’s experience in the isolation tank. For when he emerged his left-brain had slowed down to a healthier speed, allowing the right-brain to ‘complete the partial mind’ and add a dimension of richness often reduced in so called ‘ordinary consciousness’ – both he and Wilson had found their mind; a mind moreover in which the hemispheres are balanced and complimentary.  It is precisely these sorts of examples that give phenomenology its importance, for it is clear that these experiences are fundamentally the same thing: that the recognition is based on an objective fact, rather than mere subjective involvement.  The world has this dimension of beauty, and it is our minds – or our hemispheres – that often usurp our attention, blinding us to the immensity of existence, this objective dimension of inter-related facts.

Kit Butler calls these moments ‘holiday consciousness’:

“… when I have plenty of energy, I feel more awake than usual.  I’m like a fire with a good draught.  My consciousness is usually narrow, muffled, limited, like playing a piano with your feet on the damper pedal.  In moments of holiday consciousness, I take my foot off the pedal, and every thought and feeling seems to vibrate, to arouse all kinds of echoes and memories” (1971: p.71)

These vibrations and echoes which reverberate through the mind causes a feedback loop of optimism and results in the ‘peak experience’.  And furthermore, the Faculty X aspect of other times and places suggests a sort of vertical leap out of time, into a richer field of consciousness.  Now this would be the most effective way to overcome the black room experiments.  Indeed to be able to achieve this at will would presage a tremendous evolutionary leap.  It would not be inaccurate to say that the above examples of how to achieve power consciousness – self-remembering; Faculty, X; Heller’s experience after the deprivation tank and holiday consciousness – are the essence of Wilson’s entire lifework.

One can also see that it does not necessitate a crisis to throw us into these exalted states, but a careful understanding and moreover knowledge – perhaps gained through our own past experiences – of these deep reserves of energy.  Wilson emphasises time and again that these can be achieved by an imaginative technique.  An imaginative technique, moreover, which comes with the territory of our own minds.  It is an inherent evolutionary potential within all of us.

*

The mysterious Station K, as it turns out, appears to be a secret base for the development of the superman.  This I believe to be the most fascinating part of the book, giving an unusual twist to the plot by introducing a grand and fascinating conspiracy within Europe.  The head of which is Ernst Theodore Wilhelm Staufmann, a huge man who is severely scarred.  After being incarcerated and observed by Station K, Butler emerges and is treated very kindly by his captors – they admire his strength and ability to remain for so long in the black room.  Interestingly their own concerns run parallel with Butler’s, for they too are obsessed with human evolution.  They abide by a strict regimen of “austere diet, vigorous physical exercise, concentration sessions and a rigorous program of language learning” which all amount to an immense means of self-discipline (2015: p.308).  In a fascinating description of Hitler, Staufmann uses the word ‘dynamo’ in relation to ones will power; of the important feedback involved in reaching higher degrees of consciousness, in which, he describes how Adolf Hitler “deliberately cultivated will-power until it acquired the force of a dynamo”.  This is controversial for obvious reasons; however within The Black Room this is a part of an embedded story and wraps up a huge European conspiracy which is ever ongoing.  Station K, in some ways, is an extension of this will-to-power consciousness, and also attempts to sidestep – somewhat ironically under the circumstances – the limitations of conventional society by becoming a sort of elitist cult outside of nationalism and other political straight jackets.

However cult-like they might appear, their fundamental goal is that of the evolution of consciousness and not, per se, Europe’s political infrastructure.  This dynamo, which Staufmann refers to, is essential to understanding their fundamental point.  Butler encapsulates this conservation and dynamism of energy when he says:

“Anything that arouses optimism or gives [us] something to look forward to, re-charges the batteries . . . we completely underrate our capacities.  We should be able to discharge vitality like an electric eel, and recharge the batteries in five minutes. . . anyone  who could learn this would probably live twice as long as the average human being” (1971: p.292)

What unfolds is a fascinating experiment in which Butler can observe his own brainwaves on an electroencephalograph, which gives him a visual representation of his own highly-disciplined mind.  This is a common theme in Wilson’s work whereby physical apparatus or some chemical compound becomes an important step in developing a more direct control of one’s own consciousness.  However, it is rarely the source or the reason for reaching these states – it is always a tool, or a ‘means-by-which’.  It is important to recognise and have direct experience of these states of consciousness to understand their mechanisms, and once properly grasped one should be able to replicate these states by sheer willpower.  It is, in a sense, a natural mode of perception that should be cultivated in mankind, and should not be entirely mediated by drugs or any other outside source.  In fact, one could argue that this is the essential purpose of the black room: to discipline an individual to make an effort totally unaided by external stimulus.

*

This essay was intended as a short excursion into one of Wilson’s central themes first developed in his  Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966), whereby he describes the “world itself” as a:

“. . . gigantic ‘dark room’ that proves that we are too dependent on physical stimuli.  The countries of the mind may be vast, but man cannot get a visa to stay there.  He can only get a day ticket that forces him to return every night” (1980: p.125)

A common source of reference for Wilson is the nineteenth-century romantics who attempted to undertake the leap into the mind, and who found, upon return, that reality had been divested of meaning.  That, in their attempt to flee reality through their mind, they kept on meeting up with the inevitability of a cold, harsh reality.  Furthermore this caused a huge wave of depression and resultant mass suicide.  In effect, they concluded that the world of the mind was just as futile and as flawed as the material world; that the mind was chained to the body and its environment and could never ‘take off’.  They had slumped back into the ‘worms-eye view’ after having glimpsed, albeit briefly, the light and expanse of the ‘birds-eye view’.  And yet Wilson’s own methodology shows where their essential flaw lies: in the habitual mechanism of the robot.

Although Kit Butler is one of Wilson’s many protagonists who attempt to make the evolutionary leap into a higher tier of consciousness, he remains a better-rounded hero than can be found in some of Wilson’s early science-fiction novels like The Mind Parasites or The Philosopher’s Stone.  He is somewhere in between man and superman; who seems to be on the very cusp of understanding the real beauty and the enormous breadth of freshness within being and creation.  In one of the final scenes of The Black Room is a powerful image that urges the reader to pay attention, to make sure that his own ‘intentionality’ does not become flat and passive.  And in moments of crisis, or imaginative insight, or sharpened intentionality the objective world rushes both inwards and outward to generate a dynamic experienced as a fervent evolutionary Lifeforce:

“. . . the weight of cold metal in his hand brought a sudden hallucinatory memory of a perfume; it was so distinct that it might have been sprinkled on the furry lining of the collar that was now damp with his breath.  It was the perfume that Jane had been wearing when she had said goodbye on Victoria Station; he had intended to ask her its name.  This clear sense of another time and place brought with it a feeling of affirmation and detachment.  He was intensely aware of the night, of the trees, of the flowing water and the snow-covered stones at the edge of the stream, and also of his own identity suspended amongst these things.  But it seemed unimportant whether he was there or elsewhere.  It was as if he could make time standstill by an act of concentration” (1971: pp.347-348).

This is where the novel ends abruptly.  But in this standstill of time, it is implied that the future of Kit Butler is now in his own mind; that, no matter what, his mind can sustain its own integrity either in the intense world of international espionage, the sensorial barrenness of a black room, and, most importantly, under his own will.

Butler shows the dao, the way, of a New Existentialism. . .

Bibliography:

Dossor, H.F. (1990) Colin Wilson The Man & His Mind.  Dorset, Element Books Ltd.

Heller, A. (2015). Getting Tanked: One Writer’s 60 Minutes in Sensory Deprivation. Available: http://www.vogue.com/13294276/sensory-deprivation-tanks-float-spa/. Last accessed 28th Jan 2016.

Tredell, N. (2015) Novels to Some Purpose.  Nottingham, Pauper’s Press.

Wilson, C. (1971) The Black Room. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London

Wilson, C. (1980) The New Existentialism.  London, Wildwood House Ltd.

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