Robert Anton Wilson

prometheus rising

cosmic trigger

Robert Anton Wilson (1932 –  2007) was a futurist thinker, libertarian, and writer. He held a Ph.D in Psychology. At one time he was a writer for Playboy magazine. Wilson was the author of the ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ trilogy (1979). He also co-wrote (with Robert Shea) the ‘Illuminatus!’ trilogy (1975), which took a humorous look at the American fear of conspiracies. These books mix true facts with fiction. In ‘The Cosmic Trigger’ (1976), he introduced Discordianism, Sufism, futurism, the Illuminati and other unusual subjects to the general public. He also worked with Timothy Leary to promote futurist ideas of space migration, life extension, and intelligence enhancement.

Recognized as an episkopos, pope, and saint of Discordianism, Wilson helped publicize the group. He described his work as an ‘attempt to break down conditioned associations, to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps, and no one model elevated to the truth.’ His goal being ‘to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything.’

”Is,’ ‘is.’ ‘is’—the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything ‘is’; I only know how it seems to me at this moment.’

In 1979 he received a Ph.D. in psychology from Paideia University in California,man unaccredited institution that has since closed. Wilson reworked his dissertation, and it found publication in 1983 as ‘Prometheus Rising.’

Among Wilson’s books and many other works, perhaps his best-known volumes remain the cult classic series ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ (1975), co-authored with Robert Shea. Advertised as ‘a fairy tale for paranoids,’ the three books philosophically and humorously examined, among many other themes, occult and magical symbolism and history, the counterculture of the 1960s, secret societies, H.P. Lovecraft, and author and occultist Aleister Crowley, and American paranoia about conspiracies and conspiracy theories.

Wilson and Shea derived much of the odder material from letters sent to Playboy magazine while they worked as the editors of the Playboy Forum. The books mixed true information with imaginative fiction to engage the reader in what Wilson called ‘guerrilla ontology’ which he apparently referred to as ‘Operation Mindfuck’ in ‘Illuminatus!’ The trilogy also outlined a set of libertarian and anarchist axioms known as Celine’s Laws (named after Hagbard Celine, a character in ‘Illuminatus!’), concepts Wilson revisited several times in other writings.

Among the many subplots of Illuminatus! one addresses biological warfare and the overriding of the United States Bill of Rights, another gives a detailed account of the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which no fewer than five snipers, all working for different causes, prepared to shoot Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, and the book’s climax occurs at a rock concert where the audience collectively face the danger of becoming a mass human sacrifice.

Illuminatus! popularized Discordianism and the use of the term ‘fnord.’ It incorporates experimental prose styles influenced by writers such as William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. Although Shea and Wilson never partnered on such a scale again, Wilson continued to expand upon the themes of the ‘Illuminatus!’ books throughout his writing career.

Wilson wrote another popular fiction series: ‘Schrödinger’s Cat, a trilogy with each book set in differing alternative universes. Most of the characters remain almost the same but may have slightly different names and different careers and background stories. The books cover the fields of quantum mechanics and the varied philosophies and explanations that exist within the science.

In the nonfiction and partly autobiographical ‘Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati’ (1977) and its two sequels, as well as in many other works, Wilson examined Freemasons, Discordianism, Sufism, the Illuminati, Futurology, Zen Buddhism, Dennis and Terence McKenna, Jack Parsons, the occult practices of Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff, Yoga, and many other esoteric or counterculture philosophies, personalities, and occurrences.

Wilson advocated Timothy Leary’s eight circuit model of consciousness and neurosomatic/linguistic engineering, which he wrote about in many books including ‘Prometheus Rising’ (1983, revised 1997) and again in 1990 with ‘Quantum Psychology’ (which contain practical techniques intended to help one break free of one’s ‘reality tunnels’). With Leary, he helped promote the futurist ideas of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension, which they combined to form the word symbol SMI²LE.

Wilson’s 1986 book, ‘The New Inquisition,’ argues that whatever reality consists of it actually would seem much weirder than we commonly imagine. It cites, among other sources, Bell’s theorem and Alain Aspect’s experimental proof of Bell’s to suggest that mainstream science has a strong materialist bias, and that in fact modern physics may have already disproved materialist metaphysics.

Wilson also supported the work and utopian theories of Buckminster Fuller and examined the theories of Charles Fort. He and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman became friends, as he did with media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Neuro Linguistic Programming co-founder Richard Bandler, with whom he taught workshops. He also admired James Joyce, and wrote extensive commentaries on the author and on two of Joyce’s novels, ‘Finnegans Wake’ and ‘Ulysses,’ in his 1988 book ‘Coincidance.’

Although Wilson often lampooned and criticized some New Age beliefs, bookstores specializing in New Age material often sell his books. Wilson, a well-known author in occult and Neo-Pagan circles, used Aleister Crowley as a main character in his 1981 novel ‘Masks of the Illuminati,’ included some elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s work in his novels. He warned against beginners using occult practice, since to rush into such practices and the resulting ‘energies’ they unleash could lead people to ‘go totally nuts.’

Wilson also criticized scientific types with overly rigid belief systems, equating them with religious fundamentalists in their fanaticism. In a 1988 interview, when asked about his newly-published book ‘The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science,’ Wilson commented:

‘I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they’re governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They’re so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic… I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity… I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical… The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they’re rational! …They’re never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They’re only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They’re actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college…’

In a 2003 interview with High Times magazine, Wilson described himself as a ‘Model Agnostic’ which he said ‘consists of never regarding any model or map of the universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial. Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes… My only originality lies in applying this zetetic attitude outside the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, to softer sciences and then to non-sciences like politics, ideology, jury verdicts and, of course, conspiracy theory.’

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