Introduction to Robert Anton Wilson’s “Prometheus Rising”

We are all giants, raised by pygmies, who have learned to walk with a perpetual mental crouch. Unleashing our full stature—our total brain power—is what this book is all about.
—Robert Anton Wilson

I ran into Prometheus Rising and Robert Anton Wilson during a time in my life when I was trying to figure out why some people were assholes to other people. In my naïveté, I sought “granular” reasons for humanity’s inhumanity to others, training my magnifying glass on specific ideological and political issues. But these explanations were unsatisfying—and ultimately led down relativistic and semantic rabbit-holes.

There had to be a more basic reason. And there was.

The answer is in Prometheus Rising, and has everything to do with evolution.

Humanity is on a continuing course of evolution. It didn’t stop with the rise of Homo sapiens. We’re still on it. And a LOT of the problems we see today—which seem so highlighted by negative interactions online—is the result of people on different evolutionary levels trying to coexist with one another.

Robert Anton Wilson, riffing off of a model devised by Dr. Timothy Leary, devised a system of levels—or, circuits—reflecting the mindset or imprints a person might be operating from.

from “Prometheus Rising”

There are 8 circuits:

  1. The Oral Bio-Survival Circuit: Imprinted by the mother’s interaction with the baby, and involving the most primal security needs of infancy.
  2. The Anal Emotional-Territorial Circuit: Imprinted by the toddler first learning to walk, this circuit deals with matters of power: domination and submission.
  3. The Time-Binding Semantic Circuit: Imprinted when the child learns language, having everything to do with communication and the use of symbols.
  4. The “Moral” Socio-Sexual Circuit: Imprinted during puberty, and concerning sex roles, sexual pleasure, and various taboos.
  5. The Holistic Neurosomatic Circuit: The first of the higher evolutionary imprints, this circuit involves ecstatic spiritual/”religious” experiences and the shifting of consciousness.
  6. The Collective Neurogenic Circuit: This imprint moves from the highly individual nature of the ecstatic experience to one of a more collective, archetypal nature. The feeling of being “One” with All.
  7. The Metaprogramming Circuit: The circuits now progress towards such a radical understanding of the nature of reality that one may choose consciously their own reality from an endless number of possibilities.
  8. The Non-Local Quantum Circuit: With this imprint, you “pop” out of the body and “reality” completely and can be anywhere (or “nowhere”)—the stuff of near-death experiences, out-of-body-experiences, shock,  etc.

A human may have one circuit predominate in their world view. For example, a person “stuck” on the 2nd Circuit may process life through a filter of “bullies” and “victims”—a perpetual battle between “Winners” and “Losers” in which “might makes right.”

A person in which the 6th Circuit predominates, on other hand, may find the attitude of the 2nd Circuit individual to be horrifying and inexplicable. Centered on an inclusive worldview in which we are all part of the same same whole, such “power games” may seem intolerable and barbaric.

And to the 7th Circuit-minded person? Both the 2nd and 6th Circuit mindsets are just that—mindsets, as easily taken on and pulled off as a hat.


Ideally, a human has the flexibility to move across most or even all of these circuits, as life demands of it. And yet, some tendencies do seem to be stronger than others in certain individuals. Get two or more of these persons from different circuit orientations together…and that’s where the problems start:

Each of us has a ‘favorite’ circuit—that is, a circuit that has been more heavily imprinted than the others. Miscommunication, misunderstanding and general misjudgment of one another is vastly increased by the fact that few of us know about these levels of circuitry, and we all tend to assume that the person we are interacting with is on the same circuit we are.

And so Prometheus Rising goes over each of these circuits in great detail, giving the reader a practical foundation from which to assess human behavior. Along the way, Wilson takes a number of thought-provoking diversions into topics such as the writing of James Joyce, the brainwashing of Patty Hearst, the acceleration of knowledge throughout human history, and the curious intersection between UFO & Virgin Mary sightings.

I can’t recommend this book enough, and could spend a hundred posts riffing off of its ideas. First published in 1983, Hilaritas Press recently came out with a new edition of it, which you can purchase in print or digitally here. It’s well worth the small investment—and you’ll never see life the same way again!