The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental.
—Robert Anton Wilson
I first read Robert Anton Wilson’s The Cosmic Trigger in 2009. It was a period in my life where I encountered, for the first time, a number of related thinkers & their ideas—including Timothy Leary & his “8-Circuit Model Of Consciousness,” Philip K. Dick & the concept of “VALIS,” and Terence McKenna’s notion that reality might be far weirder than we can possibly conceive of.
But out of all these concepts, the one that resonated with me the most was Wilson’s belief that we needed to keep a sense of humor about the entire enterprise—that taking one’s self and one’s perceived experiences too seriously was the first step towards madness (or: entering “Chapel Perilous” and never leaving).
And indeed, listening to R.A.W.’s lectures was like listening to a stand-up comedian. It’s no wonder that George Carlin said he had learned more from Wilson than any other person; the latter was not as cynical, but there were definitely parallels between the two’s “performances.”
Wilson believed that no matter how “sure” we were about our particular epiphanies, no matter how “enlightened” we thought we had become, no matter how convinced we were about a particular philosophy or religion…it was, in the end, our subjective perception. And it would always be our subjective perception (“reality tunnel”), at least on this plane of existence.
And that the root of a lot of the strife in the world was people insisting their reality tunnels were the absolute truth, to the exclusion of all others—a mindset that was, ultimately, madness itself (though any good chaos magician could advise you how to manipulate those tunnels and that madness to the achievement of certain aims…a tantalizing proposition that could also lead one straight to Chapel Perilous without a return ticket).
Before reading R.A.W., I had grown really wary of religious types, “mystic” types, “conspiracy gurus,” and etc.—for there often seemed to be, no matter how much sense they made (or, rather, how much their words resonated with me), a point where they would they would fly out to Chapel Perilous. I remember reading L. Ron Hubbard’s prototype book to Dianetics, which I had found in some Goodwill store…and you know, honestly, some of it seemed like really practical life-advice. I was like “this is really great stuff!” And then 2/3rds into it was some line about “the unbelievers” and how dangerous they were…and it just “killed” the book for me.
And I would read another book with great information and insights…and then about 2/3rds in (it’s ALWAYS 2/3rds in) the author said he knows this stuff because he’s God and should be worshipped. And I just began to think that I should avoid these esoteric inquiries completely—because they would seem to either fall into straight-up dogma…or I would take myself and my own experiences too damn seriously to be of any usefulness (being hypnotized by my own navel).
And Robert Anton Wilson changed my life because his work encouraged me to have “fun” with these inquiries…to be playful with the Unknown. His philosophy provided me with a “filter” with which to enjoy the works of Philip K. Dick and others, without falling headfirst into their reality tunnel and staying there. I couldn’t have seriously approached the philosophy of P.K.D. without that filter from R.A.W. to “protect” my sanity. And I believe a crucial part of that “sanity filter” has to be a sense of humor.
And so: this post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview of Robert Anton Wilson and his works, but simply to describe what his work has meant to me. Your mileage may vary, but it works for me; and that’s the point.