Robert Anton Wilson
Author, Playwright and Mystic
Talks about the Nature of Reality
by Sander R Wolff
Heís written countless books, both fiction and nonfiction. Personal change, quantum physics, mysticism, conspiracy and James Joyce are reoccurring themes in many of his works. Robert Anton Wilson, armed with humor, soft-spoken enthusiasm and a keen mind, has carved out a place in literature that really didnít exist before. His fiction doesnít fit easily into any category.
Wilsonís first historical novel, Masks of the Illuminati, is set In England in the late 1800ís. Itís the tale of Sir John Babcock who demonstrates that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. By claiming to have an understanding of the occult information coded into Clouds Without Water, a privately printed book of sonnets, he unknowingly enters into an initiation process.
"Initiation is always the attempt, sometimes more successful sometimes less, but always an attempt to create a new Imprint," Wilson said. "Primitive initiations, by and large, are more effective than the ones in the modern world because so-called primitives are willing to go a little bit further with those things. If you read up on the initiation rites of African tribes or native American tribes youíll see the attempt is to create a powerful shock that will create a new imprint, to create the same chemical releasers in the brain that a near-death experience would create."
In Masks, Babcock believes he is being initiated into a Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, an ancient fraternal organization. Little does he know that heís being manipulated by The Beast, Master Therion, 666, the drug-crazed sex fiend Aleister Crowley. Wilson has studied Crowleyís work in depth and had a few observations.
"There are essays and letters by Aleister Crowley that make it quite clear that he was trying to come up with a technique of initiation that would be a lot stronger than what Freemasons were currently using, and one of the things that Crowley wrote about was [that] itís hard, in the modern world, because the candidate is pretty clear in his head that youíre not going to murder him, whereas in primitive conditions they think, ĎJesus, maybe they are going to kill me. í"
The near-death experience is reenacted in almost all of his fictional writings. In The Illuminatus! Trilogy itís George Dorn, hippie journalist for Confrontation Magazine who gets blown up while locked up in the Mad Dog, Texas jail. In The Schrodingerís Cat Trilogy, however, a different kind of shock is employed.
Using complex theories found in the field of quantum physics, Wilson creates a tapestry of eigen-states, or alternate realities, that all exist simultaneously. It flings the characters, and the reader, into alternate universes that are mostly similar, but always with differences that challenge the understanding of objective reality.
"Like Ulysses, itís a parallel to Homer's Odyssey but itís all from the point of view of quantum mechanics; there isnít one universe, but many," Wilson said. "Schrodinger said that the only way to understand quantum physics is in terms of the Upanishads, with the concept of unity, that everything, no matter how different it seems, itís all aspects of one hidden thing we donít see.
"I think the dominant tendency in physics is to say that we shouldnít ask questions about the objective universe. All we can talk meaningfully about is the experimental universe, which involves us. Any method of observing imposes upon the thing the structure youíre observing It through; your eye, your microscope, whatever. You canít leave the observer out."
I asked Wilson why so many people are fearful of in-depth analysis of human existence, and shy away from philosophy and ethics.
"People are afraid of anything that makes them aware of the game element in human behavior. They donít want to know itís a game. Itís like the old Sufi legend about Allah. He decided to drive everybody crazy so he changed the water so that everybody who drank it would go crazy. And then he decided there was one man he liked a lot so he told him ĎDonít drink the water for the next month!í And after the first couple of days of living among all these lunatics the guy couldnít stand it any more and he went and drank the water too. It happens every day. Every day people become aware weíre living in a crazy world and then they realize they canít live with that insight so they go crazy themselves so they can fit into that world."
Another element common to many of Wilsonís writings are UFOs. In his autobiography, Cosmic Trigger, he speaks of having a first hand experience.
"That whole book is an account of self-induced brain change. I often think about ĎWild Kingdomí on television. There was a show there about these scientists who were going around planting radio transmitters inside the fur of grizzly bears. They shoot the bear with a tranquilizer dart and, while heís knocked out, they implant the radio transmitter in him and then they can keep track of the migrations and movements of the grizzly bear population. Well, on this show they showed this bear going down and these guys busy implanting the radio transmitter and the bear started to wake up and they had to finish really quickly and take off.
"I imagined the bear going back and telling the other bears, ĎI was just minding my own business and suddenly I was paralyzed and these unursine creatures started doing experiments on me and then when the paralysis wore off they all got into a mysterious craft and disappeared.í The others would appoint an ursine committee to investigate reports, and theyíd pronounce him crazy."
While living in Dublin, Wilson wrote Wilhelm Reich in Hell, an amusing yet deeply disturbing play about Manís right to be wrong. Reich was a scientist of sorts, and developed theories about energies which become trapped inside the body, causing physical and mental impairment.
In the mid 50ís, after being chased out of Europe, Reich came to America, the Land of the Free, to pursue his research. He was arrested, most of his papers and books were seized and burned, and he eventually died in prison. In the play, he is in a mock trial, with Satan judge and jury. Bound, not allowed to call witnesses or to testify on his own behalf, the trial escalates into a three ring circus.
I asked Wilson, based on current trends, what he thinks the future holds for us.
"I see more rapid transformations of the world. I think things are moving faster, and I think this part of the world will go through the same kind of flip-flop and transformation that the Eastern Bloc nations have gone through. I think weíll get Glasnost here, at last. Lord knows we need it.
"I think that, when the body bags start coming back from the Persian Gulf, people will discover that solar power really is easy to obtain. All these ads telling us that it would take forty years to develop solar power, those ads are all put in by the atomic energy companies who donít want us to close down the nuclear plants, and by the oil companies who want us to go on fighting for oil. I think weíre going to give up on oil and nuclear and switch over to solar much faster than anybody expects, once people realize how expensive it is to keep up these nasty habits, like oil and radiation.
"[The U.S. energy companies] are not nearly as entrenched as the dictatorships were in Romania and East Germany, for instance, and look how fast they collapsed. The 90ís are going to be the 60ís standing on their head- it shows that Gurdjieff was right. If people were awake, truly awake, they wouldnít be able to ship a half million people over there to die for the oil companies."
Wilsonís current series, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, is probably his most complex and subtle work to date, but has been plagued with problems. Actually, only one problem, but it keeps popping up. When first published by Bluejay Books, the first two books, The Earth Will Shake and The Widowís Son were released. Before the third book, Natureís God, could be printed Bluejay went bankrupt. Not to be deterred, he found Lynx Books in New York. Again, after the first two were released, Lynx goes bankrupt, and Natureís God, already printed and sitting in a warehouse, gets destroyed because of the legal proceedings.
"Well, I think anybody would find it discouraging to have two publishers in a row go bankrupt on the same series of books. A lot of people, when they hear what happened ask me, ĎDoes it make you believe in some of the conspiracy theories in the novel?í and oddly enough it doesnít. Iím just too skeptical. I suppose, if you told anybody, here I am writing this series on conspiratorial groups fighting over the world and two publishers in a row have gone bankrupt trying to publish it. But right now the whole series is due to be [published] by New American Libraries. If they go bankrupt, they're very well established you know, if they go bankrupt too then Iíll start to worry."
In doing research for the Chronicles, he relied somewhat on encyclopedias for the historical details. He made an interesting discovery in the process.
"One wonít do. Well, one is the best way. Thatís my 24th law: Certitude is possible for those who only own one encyclopedia. If you look at two, youíre going to get confused again, believe me. I looked up the height of the Bastille in three encyclopedias and got three different figures. So then I decided that, for the historical novels, Iíll only consult one encyclopedia so I wonít be confused all the time.
"You have to have a sense of humor to go on writing. The things that happen, not just to me but to writers in general, are so absolutely incredible that you have a sense of humor to continue, or at least thatís the rationalization. I suspect writers are addicted to writing and they canít give it up. Itís like having a word jones on your back."
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