by Zack Kopp
The most valuable stuff turns up in unexpected places. As an experiment, walk into a library sometime and look around at all the books and think of all the people involved in writing all those books, and all the people who knew all those people. Interaction of all these disparate perspectives, or reality tunnels, as they’re called by Robert Anton Wilson in various of his writings, disallows prevalence of any singular truth. Yet here we all are, stuffed inside a blueprint grown increasingly more regulated as time passes. There’s a trend away from imagination in modern manners, easily blamed on all the “fake news” perverting the media voice, and the voices of statesmen affected or opposed to it. In fact, the rise of “Creative nonfiction”–as opposed to fictionalization of fact, which had formerly been the standard–and “Reality TV” not scripted teleplays came on around the shortly after the internet. Uncovering facts became the new adventure for most people, instead of creating or imagining. Western leaders of spiritual thought who emerged from the 60s psychedelic scene are generally regarded with skepticism if not outright disrespect, like some kind of social fallout. Perhaps this is how things have always been concerning the relationship of establishment to underdog. Popular culture has changed so greatly since those days, the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana across the United States notwithstanding, that these thinkers’ valuable discoveries have been replaced with buzzwords, catch phrases and groupthink by the reductive U.S. public relations machine. There can be a lot of misdirection for overly trusting seekers of instruction and direction. It’s a game show (sorry, jungle) out there. Thankfully, a little objectivity shows that nothing “is” as it appears to be, except on the level of personal opinion.
I had heard of Robert Anton Wilson as co-author of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, which I’d never enjoyed or felt drawn to. One day I saw his name on a library shelf on the spine of a book I’d never heard of and looked inside. It was the second volume of Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger Trilogy, Down to Earth. In it, this reporter first came across the word “zetetic,” meaning, essentially, super skepticism (even unto thine own seemingly well-founded bias), which Wilson adopted as a personal ideal for which to strive, as it seemed to him the optimum setting to allow practicality of the apparently impossible, Anything can be proven, nothing is meant to be. I don’t mean to be writing a book review here, but I want to give credit where credit is due. By passing along that definition, R. A. Wilson became the latest and one of the strongest in a long line of writers to supply names and a formalized purpose of sorts for territories I had always unthinkingly inhabited. That was about seven years ago, and in the time ensuing I seem to have trained myself into a fair approximation of that perspective, one in which all things are possible. Hardly anything surprises me, and I second guess every assertion while believing hardly any.
More than once in those Cosmic Trigger books, erudite Wilson quotes the Zen riddle, “Who is the master who makes the grass green?” in various contexts. After taking the time to break down the structure of the optical nerve as proof, he implies the only sure answer: who sees the grass green makes it green, and employs this chestnut in the case of several instances of human selective perception throughout the three books. The ability of an atom to appear in more than one place at the same time, formerly a mathematical abstraction, but recently verified in the visual spectrum, combined with the effect of Wilson’s handbook on quantum thought, causes me to see much more around me than ever before. I feel proudly grateful. Elsewhere in his writings, the better to avoid contradiction and account for the multivalent nature of existence, Wilson employs an idealized form of English writing called E Prime, in which no forms of the verb “to be” are permitted to appear (except in quotes, by way of illustration). My own experiments with this method have resulted is a richer, more specific prose form, without opinionated definitions.
Zetetic thinking has the distinction—like using media broadcasts of various types as background noise while studying or creating works of art, or keeping multiple tabs open to keep tabs on different virtual spaces at once—of seemingly patently illogical yet somehow proper adaptations to these unprecedented times, where so much information’s running loose at every second and everything’s provided for the citizen consumers by the corporate and political movers. Normalization of multi-tasking might be part of evolution, in this time of many tasks. Suspension of disbelief might be essential in this time of impossible firsts. In it lies the potential for thinking outside the black hole (sorry, box) of convention at a time in human history when just that sort of thing might utterly make or break us.
Noted zetetic thinkers include Galileo, Isaac Newton, More recently, John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) won a game show five or six years ago by proposing that scuba divers’ wetsuits be made to resemble poisonous water snakes rather than defenseless seals—an observation so right-minded it seems incredible designers overlooked it—but I never thought of it, not once. Did you? If every time honored and unquestioned habit like that one were flipped over and reexamined from another angle, more solutions of seemingly obvious long overlooked sort would surely crop up. To my thinking, countless like examples of our own unconsciousness await discovery all around us, however haphazardly linked and/or as yet unnoticed. It’s very exciting.
In Down to Earth, Wilson explores the myriad Illuminati-based synchronicities that have taken place since his ground-breaking satire, Illuminatus! was first published, illustrating the ancient principle that life adjusts to itself. The chronology alternates techtonically with the plates of Wilson’s history, a chapter set in 1955, followed by one set in 1989, then one set in 1967, and so on in this manner, emphasizing the multiple nature of reality and repositioning events and ideas synergistically, a method likely influenced in Wilson’s case by Joyce’s meta-narrative Ulysses. Robert Anton Wilson, who refers to himself as an “infophile” rather than an “infophobe” is one the most intelligently entertaining philosophers of the late 20th century, with a broad scope of interests and an inspiring commitment to growth and change over stagnancy and fear.
Four or more plotlines alternate in Cosmic Trigger’s semi-autobiographical, semi-historical Volume Three, My Life After Death—among these is the death and investigation of Vatican banker Roberto Calvi, the discovery and investigation of a dead baby in Kerry, Ireland, Wilson’s aborted suicide attempt and his marriage—all of them complimentary but unrelated. Parts of this book end in the present while others conclude in the past. All the narrative lines are resolved at the novel’s conclusion, without converging in space or time, exemplifying the concept of subjective “reality tunnels” determining perception and by necessity influencing political and social behavior globally. This book is a masterpiece of serious fun with philosophy and scientific thought.
Wilson’s Quantum Psychology: How Brain Software Programs You & Your World, published by New Falcon Publications, like his Cosmic Trigger Trilogy (three books I count among my all-time favorites), reads like an instruction manual designed for the equipment of its readers with new modes of perception, the better to think their way through the meta-scientific conception of reality necessitated by the advent of non-Aristotelian logic, General Semantics and more recently, Quantum Mechanics.
A little objectivity shows that nothing “is” as it appears to be, except on the level of personal opinion. All the disparate perspectives, or reality tunnels, disallow any singular truth. Yet here we all are, stuffed inside a blueprint grown increasingly more regulated as time passes. The better to avoid this kind of contradiction and account for the multivalent nature of existence in his writings, Wilson employs an idealized form of English writing called E Prime, in which no forms of the verb “to be” are permitted to appear (except in quotes, by way of illustration), like this. My own experiments with this method have resulted in a richer, more specific prose form, without opinionated definitions.
The ability of an atom to appear in more than one place at the same time, formerly a mathematical abstraction, but recently verified in the visual spectrum, combined with the effect of Wilson’s handbook on quantum thought, has increased my regard for reality’s inherent purpose and power, and, I hope, increased my humility.