Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Illuminati Papers (Robert Anton Wilson)

This book carries with it a flavor of flippant irony and dry humor weaved together with the thread of a keen and discerning intellect. Wilson's style encourages the reader to explore uncommon views and ideas using common everyday language, continuously challenging the reader to question the status quo. Not only is the reader educated and informed in the process, but s/he is thoroughly entertained. The book is essentially a collection of informative essays, with more light-hearted material interspersed throughout as a kind of information overload relief valve (e.g. "Conspiracy Digest"), usually with additional generous helpings of erudite Wilsonian wit. A great deal of area is covered, including science, literature, art, music, politics, economics, sociology, psychology, and religion. The key ideas in each essay are summarized below.

There is a brief article outlining the eight circuits of the nervous system adapted from Exo-Psychology by Timothy Leary, which is a nice condensation of Timothy Leary's model of the human being. This eight circuit model is referred to repeatedly throughout the book when describing patterns of behavior and the specific neural circuitry being employed. In brief, the eight circuits are in order, biosurvival, emotional-territorial, semantic, sociosexual, neurosomatic, metaprogramming, neurogenetic, and neuroatomic. The first group of four are termed the "terrestrial circuits," and the second group of four, the "extraterrestrial circuits."

The Abolition of Stupidity is an essay whose main idea is to encourage a War on Stupidity. The essay moves to arguments in support of such a war by examining some examples of the effects of stupidity on science, politics, economics, and religion. The most memorable and amusing quote by Voltaire is extremely appropriate, "The only way to understand the mathematical concept of infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity."

Neuroeconomics is an extraordinarily perceptive essay that describes the effects of modern western economic policy on the human mind. It makes the point that human beings have the biosurvival circuitry that in former times imprinted pair and group bonds for security. Today however, "Paper money becomes the biosurvival imprint in capitalist society. [...] The capitalist citizen learns neurologically that money equals security and lack of money equals insecurity." We become so fixated on acquisition of money, that we literally take leave of our senses, and "the conditioned token, the symbol money, controls our mental well-being." Parallels between capitalism and heroin addiction? An interesting comparison by William S. Burroughs.

Coex, Coex, Coex! is an excellent essay about Finnigan's Wake by James Joyce. 'Coex' stands for 'condensed experience,' and 'coex systems' are condensed experience montages. This means you are experiencing a variety of images, feelings, memories, etc. all at the same time. This is a powerful concept, as it suggests what happens to consciousness in certain expanded states, where everything takes on profound depth of meaning due to sheer numbers of interconnections between symbols. A single phrase can have dozens of meanings through clever manipulation of symbols—a testimony to the genius of Joyce. As Wilson states, "To learn to read Finnigan's Wake with ease and pleasure, is to learn to think with your whole brain, 'conscious' and 'unconscious' circuits included [...] Finnigan's Wake is not just a great novel and a semantic symphony; it contains a whole science of psychoarchaeology, and historical linguistics."

Beethoven as Information makes some fascinating points on the importance of art, in particular, how the artist so dramatically expresses the struggle which every human being must fight: "the struggle to see and hear with one's own eyes and ears, not with the circuitry of social conditioning." Wilson states (through Maynard Solomon) that the formula for all creative endeavor is given by "irresistible motion and intolerable strain"—the typical structure of Beethoven. How important is the function of art? Well, it is hinted at in the statement: "The mystic, unless he or she is also an artist, cannot communicate the higher states of awareness achieved." And it is this profoundly important communication that serves to establish individual transcendent experience, which in turn transforms society. Listening to Beethoven, one shares in his expanded perceptions.

Mammalian Politics: Thackeray via Kubrick is an interesting essay that describes some of the powerful Brechtian-Joycean "artistic judo" techniques employed in an attempt to disintegrate the viewer's emotional identification of traditional patterns of human socio-political behavior. More specifically, in Kubrick's portrayal of Thackeray's Barry Lyndon (but also in Thackeray's sister work, Vanity Fair). To quote Wilson, "Barry Lyndon is a precise neurological dissection of the robot imprints that underlies predatory politics."

Beyond Theology, The Science of Godmanship is a brilliant essay that explains succinctly and with great lucidity Quantum Theory and it's three interpretations: the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Multiple-Universe Model, and the Hidden Variable Theory. The story begins by presenting an incident described in Carl Jung's autobiography concerning a psychokinesis event occurring in the presence of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (which incidentally so shocked the latter, that the incident was never spoken of again). Wilson then proceeds to explain this phenomenon by way of Quantum Physics and the notion of nonlocality that was examined by Einstein, Bohm, Bell and others. In fact, Bell had published a demonstration that seemed to prove nonlocality of quantum phenomena, which was later experimentally verified by others. The resulting implications are, of course, tremendous. Ranging from how we view ourselves, the universe, and the pursuit of knowledge in general. The end result is the tantalizing view that consciousness is everywhere, everywhen, in all things, and not localized to our brains or even our bodies. And that it is our task as sentient beings to discover how to step outside our prevailing slice of space-time consciousness, so we may experience consciousness in myriad other forms, and make weird and wonderful things happen. One of the most accessible and inspiring explanations of Quantum Theory that I have yet come across.

The Goddess of Ezra Pound, is a brief examination of Ezra Pound's feminine religious principle in his Cantos. His beloved goddess is seen through the eye of neo-Confucianism and appears repeatedly in many diverse forms. As Wilson states, "The Cantos are full of references to Gnostic and Christian heresies, especially the erotic tantric ones." The "initiation" process of the soul was one that Pound decided must begin his entire Cantos, and this work seems to teem with the expression of the profound mystical experience of an initiate. This wonderful essay fosters a much deeper interest and appreciation for Pound and his Cantos, especially for those with a poetic-mystic bent.

Celine's Laws is a very appropos essay that discusses the issues surrounding security, surveillance, information, and disinformation. The first of three laws states, (1) National Security is the chief cause of national insecurity. The basic premise is that those who employ secret police must monitor them so that they do not acquire too much power. This group then must also be monitored to insure they do not acquire too much power, and so on, ad infinitum. Worry and suspicion lead to more worry and suspicion. As Henry Kissenger is rumored to have said, "Anybody in Washington these days who isn't paranoid is crazy." Once a secret police is established, we are then lead to the second law, (2) Accurate communication is only possible in a nonpunishing situation (i.e., non-authoritarian). Every authoritarian structure can be visualized as a pyramid. At each rung the individual bears a burden of nescience to those above. They must be very careful that their perceptions, or rather, inferences drawn from perception, as Wilson states, "be in accord with the wishes of those above them. [...] It is much less important that these perceptions be in accord with actual reality." As Freud noted, that which is objectively repressed (unspeakable) ultimately becomes subjectively repressed (unthinkable). Wilson makes the amazing but accurate statement, "It is easier to cease to notice, where the official reality grid differs from sensed experience." The third law states, (3) An honest politician is a national calamity. The idea here is that a typical dishonest politician is interested in enriching himself at the public expense, as is almost everyone. An honest politician, on the other hand, is sincerely committed to improving society by political action. This political action is invariably manifested by way of passing new laws. However, every new law creates a new class of criminals. The example that is given is the illegalization of marijuana in 1937, where several hundred thousand law abiding citizens instantly became criminals overnight by Act of Congress. As more laws are passed, more citizens become criminals, with increased restriction on freedoms. Wilson provides the perceptive and alternative view, "The chief cause of the rising crime rate is the rising number of laws being enacted." Brilliant.

Stupidynamics, is a supremely satirical but serious essay that examines some of the main categories of stupidity, and their remedies in modern society. Generally, "Stupidity is a blockage in the ability to receive, integrate, and transmit new signals rapidly. [...] Enculturation can also cause signal-blindness: signals not consistent with the tribal mythology are repressed, ignored, covered over with projections or distortions until they do fit the local mythos ..." According to Wilson, their are four main categories of stupidity, in correspondence with the four lower circuits of the nervous system: biosurvival, emotional, semantic, and sociosexual. Remedies? Martial arts or yoga alleviates biosurvival stupidity, pranayama alleviates emotional stupidity, proper nutrition and education alleviate semantic stupidity, and group encounter psychotherapy alleviates sociosexual stupidity. A fascinating approach to intelligence increase.

Paleopuritanism and Neopuritanism is a technically astute essay that dissects and analyses Puritanism and it's neo-variant, through the lenses of the lower level circuits of the nervous system. The Puritan personality begins from aversion-based second circuit emotional imprints during the crawling and toddling stages of infancy. As Wilson states, "Puritanism is imprinted when the child is taught aversive, loathing, shameful reflexes toward its own anal-genital parts." When the child has later learned to handle language, the emotional imprint is reinforced by a third circuit semantic imprint, by way of a special vocabulary "associating all sexuality with the anal shit-dirt-mess aversion reflexes." The forth, sociosexual circuit then imprints with a "Mr. District Attorney" or "Holy Inquisitor" persona. Stimuli that trigger the anal guilt-shame reflexes in the Puritan are mediated through the semantic circuit, where they are appropriately labeled, and the emotion is discharged by attacking the person who was the source of the stimuli. Most importantly, "Those who identify their own imprinted emotional-glandular response with the external stimuli, cannot imagine how the stimuli appear to someone else who has not had their imprinting." In short, they act as if the map is the territory—their own emotions are all that are real to them. As usual, Wilson does not fail to offer a humorous and pertinent epithet, "Emotional identification is a mild form of hallucination."

The RICH Economy is an inspiring essay describing a vision of the future, where individuals are transformed from modern "wage slaves," to independent creative producers. In this vision, unemployment is no longer viewed as a disease that must be eradicated, but rather as a natural and healthy functioning of an advanced technological society's increasing tendency to do more with less. But how will people sustain their lives without income? Enter the notion of a Negative Income Tax or Guaranteed Annual Income as devised by Nobel economist Milton Friedman and others. The Negative Income Tax or Guaranteed Annual Income simply asserts a minimum annual income for all citizens. This would gradually be raised to the level of a National Dividend, which calls for all citizens to receive dividends on the Gross National Product for the year precisely equal to the GNP. This would afford every citizen the living standard of the comfortable middle class. As Wilson states, "Delivered from the role of things and robots, people will learn to become fully developed persons, in the sense of the Human Potential movement. They will not seek work out of economic necessity, but out of psychological necessity—as an outlet for their creative potential."

A wonderfully illuminating read.

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