Robert Anton Wilson was a strange, enigmatic man whose primary career goal was to convince you, the reader, that nothing you experience is actually real. His work at times is deeply divisive; he had the magical ability to irritate both religious true believers and scientific materialists using the exact same words.
In part one of this series, we observed his life through the autobiographical Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati and learned that the core of RAW’s philosophy is compassion. In part two, we examined Prometheus Rising’s 8 circuit brain model, an interesting metaphor that Wilson was fond of. For all its flaws, the 8 circuit brain model is a good jumping off point for understanding how spirituality changes the brain and is part of our evolutionary heritage.
In this third and final part, we’ll tackle Quantum Psychology, the book that allowed Wilson to more fully develop many of his ideas on how screwy our perspective truly is.
Interestingly enough, Quantum Psychology was released in 1990, long after his most famous works, such as the Illuminatus Trilogy, had their cultural impact. Some consider it a sequel to Prometheus Rising, as it expands on many of his ideas and includes exercises.
The basic premise behind the book is that mankind in general and the field of psychology in particular is trapped in old scientific models, which severely limits our ability to understand the world around us. Under older, Aristotelian models, it was presumed there existed a reality independent of human beings, a solid, unwavering, unchanging world that we could observe and measure, confident that we all perceived the same things in the same way. RAW points out that quantum physics has slowly (and often begrudgingly) come around to the idea that no such thing exists and we are somehow an integral part in creating the world around us.
The observer-created universe is an idea that, while new to science, is an old one in spirituality. Mystics, shamans, and Pink Floyd fans have been telling us for years that the world around is just an illusion, man. In 1990, this sort of research was considered fringe. 27 years later, however, it’s gaining ground. Medical doctor and scientist Robert Lanza’s recent book, Biocentrism, backs up many of Wilson’s earlier claims. Lanza points out, for example, that the old Zen Koan If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound? has a very simple explanation: no, it does not. The falling tree produces a sound wave, but it takes an ear and a brain to convert that wave into sound. The wave may be external, but the sound is strictly in your head. Like many enlightening ideas, the concept that nothing exists unless you’re directly observing it is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
Wilson provides several examples drawn from psychology to demonstrate how our brains can fool us: the picture that can be seen as either a sad old woman or a young girl turning her head is still being bandied about the internet.
A large part of Quantum Psychology is devoted to how our perceptions are tied in to language. E-Prime is a writing style where all forms of the word “is” are abolished. “Is” is the most damaging word in the English language because it locks us into a single interpretation. We cannot, for example, state conclusively that someone IS a heterosexual; all we can say is that, up until now, they have only initiated romantic relationships with members of the opposite sex. But, even with that, we’re on shaky ground. The late David Bowie had sexual encounters with males, but preferred to marry women. Do we classify him as heterosexual because of his love interests, or bisexual due to his amorous activity? The answer, at least according to Wilson, is that neither definition is satisfactory because we are trying to embody Bowie with the essence of something that only exists in our minds. Bowie’s behavior only becomes problematic if we attempt to force an arbitrary classification on him (I suspect RAW would have enjoyed today’s gender-fluid language).
Removing “is” from our language forces us to alter our belief systems and form less definite judgements about the world around us. It’s quite useful as an intellectual exercise and as a means of understanding how complex life can be. “Is” tends to oversimplify. But, in daily life, I’ll still tell people that “Gracie is my cat” instead of “Gracie appears to conform to my internal representation of a cat.” You’ll get some strange looks and possibly an invitation to speak to a therapist if you try and use E-Prime in every situation. Politicians often use forms of “is” to manipulate our perspective, which is a clue as to how damaging it can be.
In the end, we have to look at Robert Anton Wilson for both his genius and his flaws. RAW resisted being anyone’s guru and never considered any of his ideas dogma. People often miss the compassion and humor in his works. Some even develop a smarmy arrogance towards spirituality and mainstream science alike, believing themselves to have seen the truth behind the false perspectives. RAW himself would have found this pattern of behavior abhorrent.
If anything I hope these beginner’s guides allow you to appreciate what RAW brings to the table without transforming him into a bizarro New Age messiah. If you can remember to laugh, show other people compassion, and refuse to allow you mind to grow rigid, you will have grasped the essence of the man’s message. Enjoy life and keep learning. That’s what RAW did and it’s not a bad pattern of behavior to emulate.
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