Tag: Gary Lachman

What’s On Its Way in 2022

Here are some talks on their way in the new year – one, I hope, that will be kind to us all.

January 11 I’ll be giving the first of three talks providing a Short History of Modern Occultism for the Last Tuesday Society. The opener is Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was one of the most remarkable and influential women of the nineteenth century, and the Theosophical Society, which she founded in NYC in 1875, profoundly shaped modern culture. And yes she was a deft hand at materialising all sorts of things, and studied occultism in a secret monastery in Tibet.

January 13 I’ll be on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking discussing my precognitive dreams with Matthew Sweet on a program devoted to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.

January 16 I’ll be speaking to the Theosophical Society about the mysterious figure, Hermes Trismegistus, fabled founder of magic and philosophy, whose teachings influenced ancient thought, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the modern occult world. The talk will be based on my book The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus.

January 18 my online course on The History of Western Esotericism begins for the California Institute of Integral Studies. The course will follow my books The Secret Teachers of the Western World and The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus. It isn’t open to the public; you need to be enrolled at CIIS to attend.

January 27 is the UK publication date for my new book Dreaming Ahead of Time: Experiences with Precognitive Dreams, Synchronicity and Coincidence. In it I look at my experiences with “dreaming ahead of time,” – that is, of the future – over the past forty years, and how other “time haunted men,” such as J.W. Dunne, J.B. Priestley, Arthur Koestler, C.G. Jung, and others have tried to understand what must be the strangest paranormal phenomena of them all.

February 17 I’ll be giving an online talk for Watkins Bookshop about Dreaming Ahead of Time.

February 20 I’ll be discussing precognition and other odd things about dreams with Carl Abrahamson at Morbid Anatomy. It’s not up on their events page yet; when it is I will let you know.

March 8 I’ll be giving the second talk of my three part series A Brief History of Modern Occultism for the Last Tuesday Society. This time’s it’s everyone’s favourite bad boy, Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Magician in the World. Crowley did more in his rambunctious, super-sized life than most people do throughout all their incarnations. I’ll take the scenic route through his magical, sexual, drug and other excesses, providing a blow-by-blow account of how the Great Beast became the “man we’d like to hang!” If you want to prepare, you can read all about in my book Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World.

March 27 I’ll be winding up my Brief History of Modern Occultism with a look and the life and strange times of C. G. Jung, the Lord of the Underworld, who shared with Crowley a place among “those we like” on the cover of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s album. More than anyone else in the 20th century, Jung re-introduced magical and mystical ideas about the human soul, through his profound exploration of the human psyche, mostly his own. Jung’s descent in the unconscious following his breakup with Freud led to his discovery of the Collective Unconscious, with its mysterious compelling archetypes. And his notion of synchronicity – “meaningful coincidence” – put magic on the psychological map. All is told in my book Jung the Mystic.

April 25 I’ll be telling my dreams again, this time to the Science and Medical Network.

June 25 I’ll be speaking about the paranormal life of C.G. Jung to the Guild of Pastoral Psychology, a talk based on my book Jung The Mystic.

June already. The year’s half gone. Funny thing, time.

A New Book – And Sex!

My new book, Dreaming Ahead of Time, about my experiences with precognitive dreams, synchronicity and coincidence, will be published by Floris Books this January. In it I look at some of the dreams I have been recording over the last forty years, in which bits and pieces of the future have turned up. How does this happen? Beats me, but I am as convinced that it does as I am about anything else. In the book I look at some of the ideas about precognitive dreams of earlier explorers, J. W. Dunne, J. B. Priestley, T. C. Lethbridge, and also at Ouspensky’s ideas of a “three dimensional time,” Jung’s synchronicity, some very remarkable coincidences, and Colin Wilson’s notion of Faculty X, which allows us to travel to “other times and places.” I have a premonition you will enjoy it

Here are some thoughts about sex that I’ve had to cut from a book I am working on. They seemed too interesting to leave in my files.

Sex and Imagination

By

Gary Lachman

In a book I’ve been working on recently, sex has turned up quite a bit. Here I’d like to spell out in some detail ideas and intuitions about it that, at least where the male of the species is considered, strike me as being of fundamental importance. This should not be surprising. Nietzsche once remarked that “The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit.” What I hope to briefly explain here is exactly how that can be the case.

My analysis is based on the “phenomenology of the sexual impulse” carried out by the existential philosopher and novelist Colin Wilson. For readers not familiar with the term, phenomenology simply means a close observation and descriptive account of experience, of, that is, phenomena, whether they appear to our senses or to our mind. The tree that we see in the garden is a phenomenon; so is the one we see in our mind. Phenomenology is interested in how each of them “appear” to consciousness. There is, of course, a whole philosophical school based on the work of Edmund Husserl, the founding father of phenomenology, with much lively debate about its aims and premises, but that needn’t concern us here. Fundamentally phenomenology is about observing and understanding our inner states. Put in the simplest terms, it is about paying attention to what is going on in your head. It is essentially a method of grasping the “structures” or processes making up our conscious experience, of becoming aware of the interior gestures, we could say, that allow for that experience to take place.

An example would be biting into an apple and enjoying the taste: that’s the experience. A phenomenological analysis of the experience would seek to grasp how it is that you enjoy it, what mental “acts” are involved in the enjoyment. The enjoyment is not in the apple, or at least not solely in it, because there are times when, for whatever reason, we don’t enjoy apples. So where is it? Listening to music is another example. We are carried away by Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Then we decide to listen again and try to grasp how Mozart achieves his effect with such surety and simplicity, and not in musical terms, but in those of our own inner structure. This may spoil our enjoyment – it often doesn’t bear thinking about, hence the unpopularity of that pursuit – but we can come to understand it, and what mental acts we perform that enable us to enjoy it, acts of which we are usually unaware, that is, of which we are unconscious.

It may seem that our enjoyment of the music requires no acts at all: it simply happens. Husserl says no. At a level below your enjoyment, making it possible, your consciousness is reaching out to meet the music, as it were. If we are distracted, or bored, or something else “takes our mind away,” as we say, we no longer hear the music, although the CD may still be playing. The soundwaves may be hitting our ears, but the signal isn’t getting through. Our attention is elsewhere. The opposite experience happens when a piece of music we have heard countless times and that we think we know very well indeed suddenly sounds new and fresh, and we are surprised at the enjoyment we are receiving from it. How does this happen?

Husserl’s answer, and the basic premise of phenomenology, founded on empirical observation, is that our perception, our consciousness is intentional, although we are not immediately aware of this.[1] To put it simply, our consciousness does not merely reflect a world that is “already  there,” as a mirror reflects what happens to be in front of it. Consciousness reaches out and “grabs” the world, as our hands do the apple we have just bitten, and indeed, as our teeth do the apple as we bite it. It “intends” it. Its relationship to the world, to experience, isn’t passive, but active. I could extend this metaphor and say that we “digest” experience just as much as we do the apple. And just as we can have a weak or strong “grasp” on our experience, we can digest it well or badly too.

I say  “consciousness intends,” but what I really mean is that we do, my consciousness and your consciousness, but at a level below our surface awareness. That is why I think that when I bite into an apple and enjoy it, it “just happens.” It doesn’t. As Wilson writes, “there is a will to perceive as well as perceptions.” Most of the time we are unaware of this will; our acts of intentionality occur below our conscious awareness. We are usually only aware of our perceptions, not the will behind them. But there is one intentional act that we can become aware of, and it occurs in a heightened state of consciousness, one more intense than our usual passive state. This is the sexual impulse.

In a series of books written over several decades, Wilson developed what we can call a kind of “sexistentialism,” a phenomenological investigation of exactly what is behind the sexual impulse; what, that is, it “intends,” its aim.[2] Exactly what that aim is, was the question Wilson posed himself. Or, as he put it, he wanted to “be able to express the meaning-content of the sexual orgasm in words.”

When it comes to the orgasm, most men are satisfied with groans; and to them the answer to the question of what the sexual impulse aims at would be glaringly obvious, as obvious as a hungry man’s aim in having a meal before him. Wilson wanted to articulate the intentional structure of the sexual orgasm, and in doing so, he soon saw that the relation of the male sexual impulse to its object is almost nothing like that of a hungry man to a steak. What makes for a satisfactory sexual experience is far more subtle than what makes for a satisfying meal, although both can be enhanced with a bit of spice. Wilson’s conclusion was that, far from being driven by an insatiable libido, as Freud would have it, sex in human beings – male and female – has more to do with achieving states of intensified consciousness than with satisfying any animal appetite. That is, it has to do with our evolutionary drive, our inherent urge to grow. And that intensified consciousness, that growth,  is rooted in the imagination. Wilson anchors this point in the very observable fact that if we are hungry, an imaginary meal will not satisfy our appetite, nor will an imaginary drink satisfy our thirst. But an imaginary sex partner can satisfy our “sexual appetite” as much as – and often better than – a “real” partner can. This is why more than one writer on sex has remarked that masturbation can be a more gratifying means of sexual satisfaction than “real” sex.

For most of us, sex is the closest we get to anything like a mystical experience – if, of course, we are lucky: it is not absolutely reliable and there are no guarantees. But when it does work – and what we are looking at here is precisely why it does, when it does – it is an experience of tremendous power, beyond anything we experience in everyday life, what Nietzsche called “the Dionysian,” referring to the ancient Greek god of drunkenness, ecstasy, and abandon. Some of us are so impressed with this power that we spend our lives seeking it out, or at least seeking out the experience that enabled us to feel it. We call these men Don Juans or Casanovas. There are female equivalents, although the urge behind nymphomania is not the same as that behind the seduction addict. And of course, there is a whole body of literature relating to the spiritual and mystical aspects of sex, from Tantra to various other kinds of spiritualised sexuality. As Wilson writes, “The ‘origin of the sexual impulse’ is not the ‘libido’, “it is an intentionality that is not confined to sex alone, but that also projects the ‘meaning’ of man’s aesthetic and religious activities.”[3] This is why Wilson argues that the same “intentional act” that transforms a two dimensional image in a magazine into an object of intense sexual excitement – i.e. a centrefold – so that it can elicit the same physiological response as the “real thing,” is the same intentional act that allows us to enjoy Van Gogh’s Starry Night or to see the flower in the garden as beautiful.

Like sex, art and religion are other means of intensifying consciousness. What all three have in common is that they can temporarily lift us out of our everyday, ordinary consciousness, and make us aware of wider horizons of meaning and of deeper areas of our being, that are ordinarily obscured. Religion and art have always been associated with man’s higher nature, his values and ideals, with, we can say, his evolution into something more than an animal. Sex has rarely, if ever, shared this status, at least in the west.[4] In fact, it has more often been vilified as a regrettable remnant of our animal past, although in fact, human sexuality is as unlike that of animals as it could get; we do them and ourselves a disservice when we speak of “beastly lusts.”

Why?

Because as mentioned, sex in human beings has more to do with the imagination, with what is going on in the mind than in what is taking place in the genitals. Many of us are all too familiar with the fact that it is invariably the case that if the mind isn’t involved – if we aren’t “into it” – then it is easy for the genitals not to be too. As far as we can tell, there is little going on in the minds of animals as they mate; often enough the operation is over too quickly for them to have had any thoughts about it, were they were capable of having them. This is why the Russian religious existentialist philosopher Nicolai Berdyaev could say that “It is quite possible to say that man is a sexual being, but we cannot say that man is a food-digesting being.”[5]

Clearly, sex has to do with organs – penises and vaginas – in the same way that digestion does, but it isn’t limited to them as digestion is limited to our stomachs; it reaches beyond them to permeate our entire life. I love food as much as the next man – indeed, Bernard Shaw said there was no greater love -but I am unaware of any great works of art based on digestion; there is, I believe, no Romeo and Juliet, no Carmen or Tristan and Isolde inspired by an appetizing dinner. And we rarely have to be “into it,” in order to enjoy our meal; we simply have to have an appetite. Indeed we often read, watch television, or carry on a conversation while eating, in a way that we couldn’t while engaged in sex. And if our sex partner were so involved in some additional activity as these, it would, more than likely, put us off. With sex, there is a need to focus our consciousness in order to get its full benefits in the same way that an artist needs to focus his consciousness on his work and that we need to focus ours on his finished product when we stand before it in a gallery.

Because of this, Wilson argues that it is a mistake to see sex as a “low” or “base” drive, as Freud did, or as an annoying but unavoidable necessity for perpetuating the species, as the church does. The truth is that the drive behind sex is exactly the same as that behind the highest forms of human creativity. That is, it is a drive for greater consciousness.

How did Wilson arrive at this conclusion? From a study of sexual perversions – or I should say from becoming aware of the difficulty in determining what sexual behaviour counted as a perversion. This was – is- difficult because we don’t have a clear idea of exactly what constitutes “non-perverted sex.” Which is another way of saying that we don’t have a clear idea of what “normal sex” is, although we may think we do. For nature’s purposes, sex means offspring; that is, its aim is procreation, and for the most part, animals do not engage in many perversions about it. Clearly, humans mate in order to have children, but they do not mate only for that reason, and I think it is safe to say that most of the sex we engage in isn’t concerned with that at all; indeed we go out of our way to ensure that no progeny will result from our revels.[6] The Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev wrote a book, The Meaning of Love (1892), that rejected the utilitarian or Darwinian views of sex as a means of improving the race through selective breeding, and argued instead for its transformative power for the individuals concerned. Wilson agrees. The question he asked himself was “What part does sex play in man’s total being?,” to which we’ve seen replies from Nietzsche and Berdyaev.[7] But this only raises the question of what we mean by “man’s total being?” Wilson concluded that “the problems of sex and the problem of teleology (man’s ultimate purpose) are bound together, and neither can be understood in isolation.”[8]

But if offspring – bigger and better ones – aren’t the aim, or at least not the central one, of the sexual impulse, then what is? Wilson argues that the notion of “sexual fulfilment” is linked to what we perceive as the limits of “human nature,” limits that the sexual orgasm undeniably exceeds – hence its popularity. Its power suggests “an intuition of some deeper, more ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction for the individual.”[9] If this is the case then, as Wilson writes, “A satisfactory notion of ‘ultimate sexual satisfaction must be bound up with some larger mystical vision about the purpose of human existence.”[10]

The notion of some “ultimate sexual satisfaction” leads us into the realm of perversion because it is in quest of such satisfaction that perversions arise. If one was satisfied with the usual roll in the hay, they would not appeal. What do sexual perversions actually do? They act as a spice, making the ordinary, normal act more interesting, just as cayenne pepper puts a kick into your casserole. We know how a spice works on food. How does it work with sex? What exactly is the spice that is added?

For Wilson, it is “the forbidden.” “The major component of the sexual urge is the sense of sin – or, to express this more moderately, the sense of invading another’s privacy, of escaping one’s own separateness.” “The idea of the forbidden is essential in sex; without the sense of the violation of an alien being, sexual excitement would be weakened, or perhaps completely dissipated.” “Sex can never, on any level, be ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’. It always depends on the violation of taboos – or, as Baudelaire would have said, on the sense of sin.”[11] And as Wilson points out, “the forbidden” is an idea and needs to be grasped by the mind, by, that is, the imagination. You need to know you are breaking the rules in order to get the kick out of breaking them.

Yet, in our time, this requires a certain amount of self-deception. Why is it that now, in the twenty-first century, when we all know sex is just a normal part of life and that there is really nothing “wicked” about it, we nevertheless still talk of being “naughty” and having a “dirty weekend,” and of acting out some of our kinky “secret desires?” Escort services cater to this frisson of “transgression,” offering a variety of fantasies in which the client can indulge in a spectrum of “forbidden” activities from fairly standard perversions like sodomy and oral sex, which are by now more or less mainstream, to sadism, masochism, and more acquired tastes such as urophagia (drinking urine) and coprophagia (eating faeces), to any number of role-playing sex games involving nuns, schoolgirls, even aliens. The fetishism that drives these forbidden acts is itself proof that the main element in sexual satisfaction is the imagination, for what else bestows the seemingly magical power of evoking considerable sexual excitement on ordinarily non-sexual items such as a raincoat, an umbrella, or an apron, to name just a few? And I should point out that the same intentional act that animates these otherwise ordinary items and transforms them into objects of sexual excitement is the same intentional act that makes you “into” the sex you are having with your partner. In this sense, even a real partner is a fetish – and those who understand this remark have understood the point I am trying to make.

Yet, as Wilson points out, these spices soon lose their savour, or rather, we soon grow used to them and require something a little more spicy to get the same kick. Readers of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom are soon weary of the spices he provides, heaping them up on each page, and which fairly soon have very little to do with sex and more to do with providing any kind of shock possible. And what exactly is the kick? It is a sudden vivid awareness of the reality we have let slip from our mental grasp, which in this context is the sexual act. (And it is the same reality that we catch glimpses of in aesthetic, mystical, and ‘peak’ experiences.) That is, it is increased, intensified consciousness. This is why some couples install mirrors in their bedroom, so that they can see themselves in the act. (These days perhaps they take selfies…) The spices – or perversions – serve as “alarm clocks,” to take a metaphor from Gurdjieff, that “wake us up,” reviving our flagging consciousness so that, if only for a brief moment or two, we feel that “intuition of some deeper, more ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction” in the throes of the orgasm. The sense of the forbidden, the prospect of something unknown and new tightens the mind, unifies our being and gives us a taste of what human consciousness should be like, but which we feel now only rarely, if at all. It is this unity of being that is the object of the sexual impulse. And as Wilson has pointed out in his many studies of the psychology of murder, some individuals so lack it that it is only in the most brutal acts of violence that they can feel some sense of it.

It is that tightening, that focus, that concentration, that is the source of the ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction – not the spice, whatever it may be. But the devotees of perversions – those with a jaded palate in need of heavily spiced food – do not grasp this, and rather than discipline themselves to achieve this focus through their own efforts, believe their “ultimate sexual satisfaction” will come through ratcheting up their intake of spices yet one more notch, oblivious to the law of diminishing returns inherent in the procedure. For just as a drug addict needs stronger and stronger doses of his poison in order to feel any effect, the sexually perverted – in the sense we are speaking of perversions – need greater and greater stimulants to “get it up.”

Yet achieving that focus through one’s own efforts, and not being reliant on the stimulus of the “forbidden,” would not only make sex more exciting, that is more real, but everything else too.


[1] The interested reader may wish to consult Herbert Spiegelberg’s classic The Phenomenological Movement (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976). To get an idea of Wilson’s approach to phenomenology see Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967)

[2] See Origins of the Sexual Impulse (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963), Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (London: Rupert-Hart-Davis, 1972),  and The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (London: Grafton, 1988). Wilson has also used the novel as a means of exploring his ideas about sexuality: Ritual in the Dark (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2020); Man Without a Shadow (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2013; and The God of the Labyrinth (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2013). For a summary of Wilson’s ideas about sex, see my Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2016) pp. 105-08.

[3] Colin Wilson Origins of the Sexual Impulse (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963) p. 239.

[4] In the east it is a different matter, as the Christian missionaries who encountered religious sculptures depicting explicit sexual acts on Hindu temples discovered.

[5] Nicolai Berdyaev The Meaning of the Creative Act (New York: Collier’s, 1962) p. 168.

[6] From the procreation point of view, one could argue that any number of perversions would be acceptable and ‘normalised’ if in the end, sperm entered the womb and fertilised an egg. It would also seem to legitimise rape.

[7] Wilson 1963 p. 15.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. p. 96.

[10] Ibid. P. 98.

[11] Ibid. pp. 147, 155, 247.

Recent talks, and a forgotten teacher

Here are some links to some talks I’ve given in recent months.

A Secret History of Consciousness, a three part series of lectures for the Theosophical Society, based on my book A Secret History of Conscious

In Part One: The Search for Cosmic Consciousness, I look at some contemporary scientific views about consciousness, and contrast these with the experiences of R.M. Bucke, William James, P.D. Ouspensky and others with what they called “cosmic consciousness.” How cosmic was it? Find out.

In Part Two: Esoteric Evolution, I trace a counter-tradition of evolutionary thought, beginning with Madame Blavatsky’s critique of Darwin, and leading to Rudolf Steiner’s strange union of theosophical cosmology and Goethean epistemology.

In Part Three The Presence of Origin, I give an overview of the life and work of the German-Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser, whose ideas about the “structures of consciousness” offer important insights into our contemporary post-everything world.

Here’s a video of a symposium on the Swedish mystic and artist Hilma Af Klint that I contributed to some years ago at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, 2013.

A cheery conversation about death.

A talk about Owen Barfield.

The “forgotten teacher” mentioned above is Maurice Nicoll, who taught the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Work in England for many years in the first half of the last century. Nicoll started out as the leading British disciple of Jung, but after meeting Ouspensky in late 1921, he switched his allegiance to the Fourth Way. Nicoll spent a year at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France, and on his return to London continued his studies under Ouspensky. In 1931, he was deputised to teach the Work himself, which he did until his death in 1953. He is most known for his exhaustive Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and for his books The New Man, The Mark, – which deal with an “esoteric” reading of the Gospels – and Living Time, which marked him as, in J.B. Priestley’s words, a “time-haunted man.” He was also the author of the first book on Jung’s psychology written in English, Dream Psychology. Nicoll was also a deep reader of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and those familiar with Swedenborg’s, and Jung’s, ideas, will be aware of their presence in the later volumes of Nicoll’s Commentaries.

I have been asked to write a book about Nicoll, a sympathetic but critical study to complement the portraits of him left by some of his followers. A Go Fund Me page has been set up, asking support for this project. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written books about Jung, Ouspensky, and Swedenborg, and that Gurdjieff often turns up in my other books. I’ve written an article about Nicoll, published in Quest magazine a few years back, that should explain why he is important. The fact that he had Jung, Gurdjieff, and Ouspensky for teachers is enough to make him unique among modern seekers of wisdom. But that he introduced Jungian and Swedenborgian ideas into a Fourth Way teaching makes him an unusual instructor in that tradition. Nicoll was also keenly interested in the latest developments in science, in the work of Erwin Schrodinger, and the early findings in split-brain psychology, which was just beginning to get started toward the end of Nicoll’s life. Gurdjieff had entrusted Nicoll with the task of bringing the science of the west and the wisdom of the east into some creative union and in his last days he began to do just that.

Nicoll has been served well by his earlier biographers, Beryl Pogson and Sam Copley, but they were students and understandably biased toward their teacher. A recent discovery of a 1000+ page set of Nicoll’s diaries, covering crucial times in his life, also makes a new, non-partisan study of his life and work timely. Among other things, Nicoll’s diaries show a man struggling to find some way of life, some discipline, that could help him to unify and harmonise what for him were two mutually powerful but often antithetical drives, toward the spirit and toward the senses, toward the inner life of the soul, and the outer one of the body. A short video of an interview with me about Nicoll and why he deserves a new look can be found at the Go Fund Me page.

A Season of Consciousness

Here’s a round up of some upcoming talks for spring and summer. One hopes that sometime soon they can take place in real time, but until then, we must zoom – which, of course, doesn’t mean that I will lecture at a breakneck speed…

On 24 April I will be speaking about Owen Barfield, consciousness and language, for the Santa Cruz branch of the Anthroposophical Society. Barfield was the great friend of C.S. Lewis, one of the Inklings – along with Lewis and Tolkien – and a follower of Rudolf Steiner. But he was also a brilliant thinker in his own right, and I will be speaking about how in the history of language, Barfield discerned an evolution of consciousness. If you are interested in getting some background to the talk, I write about Barfield in A Secret History of Consciousness and Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Starting 13 June, and continuing on 27 June and 11 July, I will be giving a three-part series of talks for the Theosophical Society in London based on my book A Secret History of Consciousness.

Part 1, The Search for Cosmic Consciousness, looks at the limits of the “nothing but” school of consciousness studies, and at the work of R.M. Bucke, William James, P.D. Ouspensky and others in their quest to expand the field of human consciousness so that it can encompass the cosmos.

Part 2, Esoteric Evolution, looks at the influence of Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophy on Rudolf Steiner, and how, by grafting elements from German Idealism and the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great poet and scientist, onto Blavatsky’s Theosophy, Steiner developed a suggestive philosophy of consciousness.

Part 3, The Presence or Origin, looks at the work of Jean Gebser, a little know philosopher and spiritual thinker whose ideas about the “structures of consciousness” and the “breakdown” of our current “mental-rational” structure can help shed some light on our turbulent times.

On 19 June, I will be giving a two hour presentation on “Beyond the Robot: Consciousness and Existentialism,” based on my book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, for the Pari Center, in Tuscany, Italy. (And yes, I would very much have liked this one to have been in real time…) Some of my readers will know that Wilson was one of the most important and insightful philosophers of consciousness of the past two centuries. My talk will focus on his attempt to create a “new existentialism,” a positive one driven by optimism and meaning, to replace the grim, stoical vision of Heidegger, Sartre and Camus, which ended in a cul-de-sac. My presentation is part of a series, “What is Consciousness,” which includes presentations by Iain McGilchrist, Bernardo Kastrup, Roshi Richard Baker – whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, at the end of 2019, just on the cusp of Coronamania – and others.

On 26 June I will be the keynote speaker at the Annual Convention of the Swedenborg Church of North America. I will be speaking about my new book, Introducing Swedenborg: Correspondences, an essay on the influence Swedenborg’s ideas about “correspondences” between the natural and spiritual worlds had on modern culture. I’m not sure if this is open to the public. If it is, I will post the details forthwith.

On 18 July, my talk for the Last Tuesday Society, “A Dark Muse: Writers and the Occult,” based on my book The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse (published in the US as A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult), will look at how ideas about the occult and esoteric have influenced some of the greatest writers and poets of the past few centuries. August Strindberg, Fernando Pessoa, Arthur Rimbaud, J. K. Huysmans are some the recipients of this seductive muse’s inspiration.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the letting up of locking down, but remember to stay safe and well.

Superhuman, Transhuman, or Fully Human: Whose Future Is It?

This is the text to the talk I gave at the Deus ex Machina conference sponsored by Masaryk University, Brno,Czech Republic on 26/2/21. The conference was fascinating, with many excellent presentations, covering wide areas of contact between traditional notions of the occult and the technological developments that seem to parallel many aspects of the esoteric. I hope you get something out of it.

Superhuman, Transhuman, Fully Human: Whose Future is It?

A Talk for the Deus Ex Machina Conference 26/2/21

         Let me begin by saying thank you for inviting me to speak at this conference. I was happy to accept the invitation because after looking at some of the themes that were going to be addressed, they all struck me as in some way related to a question that I believe will become more and more dominant as the century goes on. This is the question of what it means to be human. We are already well on our way to eroding the meaning of “man” and “woman,” a concern C. S. Lewis addressed long ago in his little book The Abolition of Man, which is well worth reading. I recently read somewhere that in Canada, I believe, in order to differentiate between the sexes, science professors are no longer allowed to use the terms “man” and “woman,” or even male or female, but must refer instead to “egg producing” and “testosterone producing” humans, I guess. It may be the case that in a few years that term “human” too will be jettisoned.

Not long ago at a symposium at the Esalen Institute in California, I had one very earnest academic tell me that he had a “real problem with the term human.” Personally I don’t – which isn’t to say that I am entirely happy with the species to which it refers. In fact, a certain dissatisfaction with the “only human” will inform what I am going to say today.

As my title suggests, I’ll be looking at three different ways of understanding what it means to be human. Or perhaps I should say that I will be looking at what some ideas of “transcending” the human, going beyond our apparent limitations, suggest about what we used to call “human potential,” our untapped resources, the possibilities latent within us. I am of a generation that believed in and experienced some of these possibilities – I still do – and which remain fundamentally potentialities of consciousness, the actualising of which informs the process of becoming what the psychologist Abraham Maslow – incidentally one of the most important figures from the early days at Esalen – called “fully human.” I am borrowing the term from Maslow here, as I have done in some of my books, as a general notion of a state of being more fully “ourselves” than the one which we usually unquestioningly accept as given. That doubt about the term “human” should arise at the Esalen Institute, which began in the 1960s, and which is dedicated to the discovery and actualisation of human potential, seems to suggest that confusion about what it means to be human has spread rather far.

I should point out that technically, the attempt to arrive at a metaphysical or ontological answer to the question “what does it mean to be human,” or, as it used to be asked, “What is man?”, rather than a biological or political or social one, was the province of a school of thought from the last century known as philosophical anthropology. In the early twentieth century, among others, Ernst Cassirer, Max Scheler, and Nicolai Berdyaev were some of the major names associated with philosophical anthropology, and I write about their work in my book The Caretakers of the Cosmos. This is where I take my own shot at an answer to the question of the purpose of humanity, the part we play in the grand cosmic process.

Maslow’s “fully human,” the self-actualised human being, who has made real his or her potential, is a goal, an ideal. No one is ever completely self-actualised, just as in the Jungian school no one is ever completely individuated. But we can be more actualised or less, and in this sense Maslow remarked that it seems that some people are “more human” than others, in the sense that they have “made real” more of themselves than others have. After all, to “actualise” something is to make it “actual,” that is, to make it real. So to actualise yourself means to make yourself real.

If being “fully human” is the goal, the starting point is what we can call the “only human,” or the “good enough human,” as it were; presumably below this would be a realm of the “almost human,” but that doesn’t concern us.  The “only human,” of whom we can expect only so much, is the standard, commonly accepted view of ourselves as perhaps well-meaning, but deeply muddled, severely limited creatures, devoid of free will and entirely dependent on the environment for our behaviour, a kind of walking stimulus/response machine. We are reminded of this assessment in a variety of ways by science and culture, and I trust I need offer no examples. We are flawed, inconstant individuals, and the best we can hope for is to declare our inadequacies outright – indeed little else is popular in “serious” culture and self-help chat shows these days – and huddle together to share some human warmth.

Perhaps the noblest expression of this highly restricted perception of mankind is the existentialist, that sees humans as “authentic” when we stoically endure the meaninglessness of life and the universe and our inability to make sense of either. The more common expression is the average person, who works to achieve the satisfaction of what Maslow calls our “deficiency needs”, what we lack – food, shelter, sex, and self-esteem – and is happy if he does.  He feels no strong urge to go “beyond” himself. This urge to go beyond, Maslow tells us, is a “creative” or “being” need, not one of deficiency, an expression of the hunger to self-actualise, for which mere happiness is irrelevant. In fact, it can often be a hurdle.

Superheroes as models for self-actualisation

Now, what does all this have to do with comic book superheroes? Well, were I asked to say when my interest in consciousness, the occult, the esoteric, the mystical, philosophy, psychology, literature and everything else I have devoted quite some time and energy to studying and writing about began, I would have to say it started when I was around five years old and that the source was comic books. That was the revelatory moment. I know I was that age because I have a very vivid memory of one day asking my grandmother for 10c to buy a comic–  it was The Flash and when I got to the candy store, the owner told me they had gone up in price to 12c. I had a considerable time getting the other 2c from my grandmother, so the event stayed in my memory. I must have been reading comics before this, because the hike in price was a shock. The price increase happened in late 1961, in the midst of what is known as the Silver Age of comics, before my sixth birthday, so I must have been a devotee from fairly early on.

         Another vivid, even earlier memory associated with comics involves the meaning of the word “cosmic.” I started out, as many other young boys did (comics really were a “boy thing” then) as a reader of DC comics, with Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and so on. It would be a few years before I discovered Marvel. My favourite comic at the time was the Justice League of America – the nationalist tag was later dropped – because in it you got six heroes for the price of one. Another team effort was the Legion of Superheroes, superpowered teen agers from other planets, one of whose members was Superboy; they appeared in Adventure Comics.

One member of the legion was a character called Cosmic Boy. He wasn’t a favourite but I was curious about his name. His superpower was magnetism – rather like Marvel’s supervillain Magneto – and I wondered why he wasn’t called Magnetic Boy. I asked my sister, who was a few years older than me, what “cosmic” meant. She couldn’t tell me, so I asked my mother, who didn’t know either. So in one sense you could say that I’ve been trying to find out ever since.

         This is merely to say that like many other young boys at the time, comic books introduced me to a world rather different than the one I knew around me, a much wider, deeper, more interesting world, in which anything was possible. The everyday world of parents, siblings, school, friends and relatives was implacably there and would become more so as time went on. As Wordsworth says, “the shades of the prison house” close in as we move from the paradise of childhood into the dreary world of adults. But there was an escape, a portal into another world, in which one could travel in space and time, to other planets, and meet remarkable people and have amazing adventures, and in which one felt more at home than at the dinner table or in the classroom.

And just as the superheroes who took you on these adventures kept their secret identities hidden, you too felt that you were two people: one who had to get the homework done and listen to boring lessons, and another who travelled to the far reaches of the galaxy or into the depths of the earth or into the past or future, with, if I am allowed the metaphor, a comic book as the flying carpet to take you there.

Romanticism

In other words, comic books were my earliest introduction to romanticism, not as a school of literature and thought – that wouldn’t be for another few years – but as a hunger for something more than what I later learned the philosopher Heidegger called “the triviality of everydayness.” My refusal to accept the world on its own terms started at a young age. I can remember some adult asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Before I could say anything my sister intervened and said “And you can’t say a superhero. They’re not real.” I think I left the question hanging but I can honestly say that I never entertained any idea of occupying some serious, normal position in life. For some reason still unknown to me, I have always thought that I would be a poet, or artist, or writer or something along stereotypically romantic lines. I might add that the one time that I did contemplate admitting defeat and accepting that I would have to find a place for myself in the “real” world – rather than forge one of my own – proved utterly disastrous, although it was the kind of disaster that led to better things.

Evolutionary appetites

This hunger for something more than everyday life, which is the essence of romanticism, is also the essence of what I call the “evolutionary appetite.” This is our inbuilt urge to transcend ourselves, to self-actualise; in other words, to grow and to develop our powers and abilities in order to master life and explore our own being. At this stage we can say that the “only human” are those who, once entered into adulthood, jettison the interest in “other worlds” and reluctantly or otherwise, accept the “triviality of everydayness” as unavoidably inevitable. These seem to make up the majority of people and whatever loss they feel in “putting aside childish things” they seem to make up for in satisfying their deficiency needs: earning a good living, having a home, a family and the good opinion of their peers. There is nothing wrong with this and in many cases it warrants respect. It is difficult enough to achieve any success in life, which is a pretty grim business.

Some individuals reach the furthest limits of these lower needs and achieve the esteem of thousands of people; these are celebrities. Maslow posited a level of actualisation beyond this, a creative level free of the need for immediate gratification – that is, of the good opinion of others – that could sustain itself through its own activity, what Nietzsche called becoming a “self-revolving wheel.” These are the self-actualisers. They are motivated by something coming from within, not by the pursuit of external rewards.

         Romantics who are unable to make the transition to the real world, but who lack the vitality, talent, and sheer stubbornness to force the world to take them at their own valuation, usually have a difficult time of it, and their appetite for other worlds generally takes on a different character, their magic carpets often coming in the form of alcohol, drugs, or some other means of escape. We can say that in a sense the superhero is the romantic who is not defeated by life, who maintains his inner vision in spite of it. The romantic who is defeated, sinks into a fantasy world as a compensation. The romantic who isn’t defeated, in some way is able to transform life, to re-create it, to, in a sense, make the fantasy real. That is, to actualise it.

Adam Strange

It was while writing The Caretakers of the Cosmos that I realised that one comic book hero, who was a favourite of mine, embodied the essence of romanticism. I don’t know if Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, and Mike Sekowsky, who developed the character, realised it, but in Adam Strange – who appeared in Mystery in Space – they had hit on the perfect metaphor for the romantic consciousness, which is, in essence, as mentioned earlier, the sense than man is a creature of two worlds.

         In the Adam Strange stories, this notion was taken literally. The hero is an archaeologist and on a trip to the Andes something remarkable happens: he is hit by a weird ray of light coming from outer space – he later learns it is called the “zeta beam” – and finds himself transported to the planet Rann, an earth-like world, orbiting Alpha Centauri, some 25 trillion miles away. There he meets a beautiful woman, has adventures, saves the planet, and becomes a hero, while all the while sporting a nifty rocket pack and ray gun. (It is, of course, a variation on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars novels.)

But then the effect of the zeta beam wears off and he finds himself back on earth. He discovers that he can calculate where and when the zeta beam will again appear, and for the rest of the series he is off, heading into the jungle or up a mountain, to intercept the zeta beam and return to Rann, only to be sent back to earth once again. But he is determined to become a citizen of this new world and to find a way to remain on Rann forever…

This is, of course, the romantic’s dream. It is also the neurotic’s fantasy and the creative individual’s model for how the world should be. Not that he would wish an exact copy of Rann – that would be too much to hope for; it is quite a fantastic place – but he can wish that life on earth should be as exciting and interesting as it is on Rann. And that, Maslow would say, is within the realm of possibility.

So here we have comic book superheroes as gateways as it were to the romantic side of the human psyche and also to our inherent, latent evolutionary possibilities. The two, indeed, are practically synonymous, with one suggesting the other.

Teenage mutants on the rise!

It was while writing my first book, Turn Off Your Mind, about the “occult revival” of the 1960s, that I noticed that this notion of some coming evolutionary change in humans, that would produce a new race of supermen, was at the centre of the popular culture of that decade. It was also at the heart of the burgeoning youth movement. The book that kickstarted the 60s occult revival, Pauwels and Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians, spoke a great deal about mutants and a coming mutation affecting the human race.  I saw a correspondence of this idea with several other products of sixties pop culture, specifically the film Village of the Damned, which came out in 1960 – the same year as The Morning of the Magicians – and which was based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, published in 1957, and the Marvel comic The X-Men, which started in 1963, the year in which I discovered Marvel and switched my allegiances from DC. I also suggested that this idea of a breed of children possessing strange powers who threaten the older generation with extinction was also hitting the streets in Haight-Ashbury. By 1966, in the San Francisco Oracle,the hippies were declaring themselves “mutants” and were encouraging others like them to join them in order to “be free.”

I might mention that Jeffrey Kripal, whose Mutants and Mystics looks at the connection between superheroes, mysticism and the paranormal in fascinating and exciting detail, tips his hat to me in the book, remarking that Turn Off Your Mind had pointed him in that direction.

John Wyndham, overlooked evolutionary novelist

The hippies are long gone but the X-Men have become a highly successful film franchise. In some ways, it pays to be a mutant. However it strikes me that John Wyndham’s work has not been mined for its evolutionary themes as much as it should be, and I’d like to take advantage of this talk to mention this. The Day of the Triffids is known, mostly through the film and television versions. But novels like The Chrysalids, Plan for Chaos, The Kraken Wakes all deal with the idea of another race taking over from humanity. A reader of George Bernard Shaw who also read Wyndham would recognise that he engages with the same evolutionary questions that Shaw did. Man and Superman, which adds a Nietzschean spice to the Don Juan story, is the best known of Shaw’s works of “creative evolution.” The notion of a creative evolution, rather than the mindless Darwinian variety, goes back to Henri Bergson, and is at the foundation of any notion of “human potential.” But Back to Methuselah, Shaw’s “metabiological Pentateuch,” was also familiar to Wyndham, who treated the question of longevity – a central concern of transhumanism –  in Trouble with Lichen. Incidentally, someone should tell the feminists about this book. In it, it’s women who receive the gift of life-extension and upon whom the next step in human evolution depends.

Although Marvel cornered the mutant superhero market – and had other evolutionary themed characters, such as the Inhumans (Fantastic Four) and the New Men (Thor) – science fiction had got there before them. Bookshelves in most hippie households held copies of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human, and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. (Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Clarke’s story “The Sentinel,” was about “ancient aliens” tampering with human evolution.)These works, and others, approached the mutant theme with more seriousness than the comic version. (Readers of today’s comics must shake their heads at the lack of sophistication in the comics I was reading; but comics were for kids then, and were not considered “serious” material, and I must admit that I’m not entirely sold on their own mutation into the “graphic novel.”) But one work of science fiction dealing with the idea of a sudden change coming over the human race rarely gets mentioned. It was not a hippie “must read,” and was written decades before they appeared. And the change coming over humanity was not one the hippies would have welcomed.

H.G. Wells and Star Begotten

Star Begotten is a late novel by H.G. Wells; it was published in 1937, well after the early science fiction that made him famous. In it the protagonist, a historian, begins to feel that some strange change is coming over the people around him. The normal, ordinary world he is used to seems somehow – wrong. People close to him now seem distant, and his own work strikes him as insipid. When he overhears a conversation about how cosmic rays may be increasing human intelligence, he begins to wonder if someone is doing this purposefully…

He suspects that the Martians are using the cosmic rays to turn human beings into – well, better people, actually. The powers the cosmic rays are imbuing humanity with include a new seriousness about life, a disinclination to waste time on trivialities, a rejection of old, inefficient behaviours, and above all a desire to apply their energies to some worthwhile purpose beyond themselves, not to the pursuit of riches, power, or fame, the means of shelter, sex, and self-esteem, the lower rungs on Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.”

In fact, the Martians are making people more the way Wells himself wanted to be, as he makes clear in his Experiment in Autobiography, published in 1934. “I do not now in the least desire to live longer unless I can go on with what I consider to be my proper business.” What was his proper business? To do “originative intellectual work.” “The originative intellectual worker is not a normal human being and does not lead nor desire to lead a normal human life. He wants to lead a supernormal life.”

We can say he wants to lead a self-actualised life. And what difference is there between the supernormal and the superhuman?

Wells hit on a suggestive metaphor to describe people like himself – creative workers – and the people like those in Star Begotten who have been affected by the Martians’ cosmic rays. He says they are like “early amphibians… struggling out of the waters into the air, seeking to breathe in a new fashion and emancipate ourselves from long accepted necessities…But the new land has not yet definitively emerged from the waters and we swim distressfully in an element we wish to abandon.”

This is a corollary to Wells’ assertion that just as birds are creatures of the air and fish creatures of the sea, human beings are creatures of the mind. Or at least we should be. We are not there yet, but it is our evolutionary destiny. Most of us still need to be subsidized by large helpings of approval from others to top up our self-esteem, and after a few hours of intellectual work, are happy to sink back into stupid living. But in people like himself and other creative workers, Wells saw the beginning of a race that would be able to maintain itself purely through mental activity, without the props and supports that come from outside. In other words, he had a sense of a generation of Maslow’s self-actualisers on the rise.

And if being able to stay on land without having to return to the water is Wells’ definition of a human doing his proper work – if I can stay with his amphibian metaphor – we can say then that there is no sense in talking about transhumanism, when most of us aren’t fully human yet.

Attack of the Mind Parasites

One writer of science fiction who took Wells at his word was the British existentialist Colin Wilson. I said that my interest in the sort of thing I write about began with comic books when I was five years old. Another major event in this line of development happened some fourteen years later, in 1975, when I was living on the Bowery in New York and making a precarious living playing in a rock band. It was in that milieu that I came upon a copy of Wilson’s book The Occult, published in 1971. Until then I had no interest in the occult and what gripped me about Wilson’s work – and literally changed my life – was that he approached the occult from the perspective of existential philosophy – phenomenology, in fact – and that it interested him because in it he saw evidence for potentialities of human consciousness far beyond those allowed by official accounts. In fact, early UK paperback editions called The Occult “the ultimate book for those who would walk with the gods,” which is, one must admit, quite pitch.

I can’t go into detail about Wilson’s attempt to create a new “positive existentialism,” to avoid the dead end reached by Heidegger, Sartre and Camus – I do so in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson – but I can mention here that in it he drew on Maslow, particularly his notion of the “peak experience,” the sudden bursts of “newness,” bringing vitality and joy – mini mystical experiences – that Maslow believed were experienced by all healthy people.

Another thinker bubbling in Wilson’s evolutionary brew was Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, which is essentially the study of the structures of consciousness. Again, time forbids any detail. Those unfamiliar with Wilson’s work will have to take my word for it that for our purposes here the place where these two thinkers come together most effectively in Wilson’s oeuvre is in his Lovecraftian novel The Mind Parasites, written at the behest of August Derleth for his Arkham House press, and published in 1967.

Wilson too believed that a change had come over humanity. He placed the start of it in the late eighteenth century, with the rise of romanticism, which in essence was informed with a sudden sense of man as something godlike, and which we can find  in Beethoven’s symphonies, Blake’s visionary epics, Hegel’s vast metaphysical system, and other, similar titanic works. Yet so many of the later romantics died young or went insane. Wilson’s first book, The Outsider, asked why they did. In The Mind Parasites he arrived at an phenomenological answer to that question, in the form of a kind of psychic vampire, that has been sucking away at human vitality and creativity and killing off its visionaries for the past two centuries. The hero of the novel discovers their existence, but he also discovers the means of expelling them: intentionality, which is the central point of Husserl’s philosophy. We can say the parasites are defeated by phenomenology – a first, I think, in science fiction, or any genre.

Cracking the Black Room

Husserl’s central insight is that perception is intentional. We have a “will to perceive” as well as perceptions. Consciousness is not a passive reflection of the world, as Descartes believed, but an active reaching out and “grabbing” it. We “intend” the world, but are unaware that we do. Wilson’s protagonist is able to reach into himself, to the source of intentionality, with the result that he is able to throw off attacks by the parasites – coming in the form of existential despair, madness, bleak depression and thoughts of suicide – by inducing Maslow’s “peaks.” But he discovers that intentionality can also have an effect on the physical world. He and his colleagues develop enormous psychokinetic powers which eventually defeat the parasites by pushing the moon, where their base is, out of earth’s orbit and further into space. (Readers familiar with the Gurdjieff’s cosmology will note the allusion.)

We can say that the protagonists of The Mind Parasites develop what we would call superpowers, solely through understanding their own consciousness. That is, by becoming “fully human.” Through the discipline of phenomenology, Wilson’s “evolutionary existentialism” reveals powers latent in the human mind that we call psychic, or occult, but which are exactly like those attributed to superheroes. (There in nuce is the theme of Mutants and Mystics.)

I might mention that in another novel, The Black Room, a spy story, the hero attains a similar power over his mind while trying to crack the challenge of a sensory deprivation chamber, designed to break his will. I said earlier that the official view of humankind is that we are entirely dependent on stimuli coming from the environment to motivate us. This view has been at the centre of western ideas about human psychology since John Locke first argued that there is “nothing in the mind that wasn’t first in the senses.” This means that we are tabula rasa , blank slates, until impressions from the outer world “write” something on our minds. This suggests that our minds are like empty flats, and that we have to go to the equivalent of Ikea to fill them up with stuff. 

Wilson rejects this, and in The Black Room, the hero manages to make contact with the wellsprings of intentionality and so is able to remain in the chamber indefinitely, when others had gone mad. He is no longer dependent on outside stimuli because he has got in touch with an inner purpose. We are at our best, Wilson noted, when faced with a challenge. This is why his “outsiders” throw themselves into “living dangerously.”  But when the challenge recedes, we slip back down to our “only human” selves, just as Adam Strange found himself sent back to earth. If we are ever to become “self -revolving wheels” as Nietzsche says, we need to find a way to draw on the vitality we tap when faced with a challenge, without the challenge. Without, that is, the need for anything outside to stimulate us. Oddly enough, this is something many of us have had to face in some form during the Covid 19 crisis.

When we are able to do this, we would then be on our way to being fully human.

We’re only transhuman, aren’t we?

Now, what does this have to do with transhumanism? It strikes me that transhumanism is a kind of literalising of the powers associated with superheroes, a way of “actualising” them in a very literal way through technology. In some ways I would say that transhumanism is similar to the ideas that the gods were “ancient aliens,” that magic and the supernatural are expressions of an extra-terrestrial  “super science,” turned into myth by our overawed ancestors. But my main question about transhumanism is: Is it really transhuman at all? That is to say, does it aim for something that truly transcends the human in the way that Maslow’s “fully human” transcends the “only human,”  or is it really interested in only an extension of what humans already do – which in essence is what technology can achieve, and what thrilled adolescents like me when reading about our favourite superheroes?

We can put it this way: which Superman does transhumanism aim at? Nietzsche’s or Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s? (I should say I’m a fan of both.) We know the comic book Superman is “faster than a speeding bullet” and “has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man.” Without going into detail – the literature is there if you want to check– we know that much of the transhuman agenda involves the kind of invulnerability, super strength, speed, flight and so on that Superman possesses, provided not by our yellow sun and earth’s low gravity (compared to Krypton), but by technology and science. Superman was known as the “man of steel” and the “man of tomorrow,” and that’s whom the transhumanists have on their agenda.

Nietzsche’s Superman possesses no powers, unless you want to call his ability to say “Yes!” to life and to will its eternal return a power. He is able to do this because he has tapped the inner springs of power and health – psychological health – the Dionysian “yea-saying”. He cannot fly or see through walls, but no technology can induce sense of “zest and well-being” that comes to those who become “self-revolving wheels, “ or who can endure the challenge of the black room without sinking into insanity. The heroes of The Mind Parasites achieve extraordinary power over the outer world, of a kind that a “super science” could conceivably match. But can technology produce the ability to perceive a meaning independent of the senses, a certainty of inner purpose that defeats the black room? This seems to be achieved, if it is, solely through our own efforts at understanding the mental actions involved in intentionality, which is essentially the process of becoming aware of the active character of consciousness. It is something that depends on us, not that happens to us.

Transhuman, all too transhuman

Nietzsche, I think, would regard the techno-superman as “transhuman, all-too-transhuman,” meaning that his aims and purposes remain on the level of the “only human,” indeed perhaps even of Zarathustra’s “last men,” and are not “transcendent” at all. They strike me as the dreams of clever school boys who are determined to really fly, or whatever, in a very literal sense, rather than discover how to take the interior journey that the hero of the black room does.

It is interesting that the term “transhumanism” was coined by the biologist Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous, in the early 1950s. Huxley’s picture of man as “the managing director of evolution” has much more in common with Wells’ “Martians” or Maslow’s self-actualisers, than it does with the transhumanism of today, which acknowledges Huxley’s coinage, but is quite clear about its own agenda. More than half a century ago, Huxley recognised that humanity had reached a unique position, both in its own development and in that of the planet. We had reached the point where we could determine what direction human evolution would take, rather than remaining the passive recipients of environmental forces and the chance helpful mutation. Huxley saw that the way to our evolutionary future lay in “exploring human nature” in order to “find out what are the possibilities open to it.” He saw those possibilities in art, culture, spiritual achievement, social improvements, science – but he said little about technology. Indeed, if anything, like many at the time, Huxley was concerned about technology’s increasing dominance and its effect on society, just as his brother was. One wonders what he would have said about the usurpation of his belief in a “transhuman” future by the very technology that worried him? He might agree too that it was sadly, “transhuman, all too transhuman.”

One point I wanted to make but did not allow time for, is that the transhuman ethos has much in common with the sorts of occultism that we find all over the internet today, and in which the net itself serves the purpose of the old school “astral light,” akashic record, or some such medium through which occult forces work. I would say that just as the internet has in many ways “literalised” these ideas, so too transhumanism has literalised a variety of occult powers: immortality, clairvoyance, astral travel – or, I should say, it would like to. If there isn’t one already, a book about how the transhuman agenda is a techno re-tread of ancient Hermetic ideas – along the lines of Erik Davis’ Techgnosis – is waiting to be written.

I would suggest that unless what goes by the name of transhumanism today is willing to forget its emphasis on technology and embrace something along the lines of the “fully humanism” I’ve tried to present here, it should really change its name. I would suggest “non-humanism” or “unhumanism”, since the future it envisions seems, to my mind at least, aimed at doing away with the human altogether, and replacing it with some technological version of the hermaphrodite, part human, part machine, which is, I guess, what we know as Star Trek’s Borg. And we know how that worked out, don’t we?

Thank you.

Authenticity, Holy Russia, Superheroes, and more…

One of my sons is studying existentialism at university, and he asked for some help on the topic of “authenticity,” living an “authentic” life. I wrote up some notes that you can find below. But before that, here are some updates.

On 25 February, at 6:30 PM UK time, I’ll be speaking online about my book The Return of Holy Russia for the Kensington Central Library.

On 26 February, I’ll be giving the keynote address at the Deus Ex Machina conference, hosted online by Masaryk University, at Brno, in the Czech Republic. My talk will look at how the comic book superheroes of my youth strike me as models for the transhumanist agenda, but also for something much more evolutionary…

My first book, Turn Off Your Mind, is back in print after a considerable absence. It’s new incarnation, as Turn Off Your Mind: The Dedalus Book of the 1960s, includes more than 100 pages of new material. It’s available on amazon.co.uk and should be available on amazon.com this spring.

My book on Swedenborg’s Correspondences – a long essay, really – is now available direct from the Swedenborg Society.

And there’s a thoughtful review of my Jung the Mystic at Steven Greenleaf’s very thoughtful blog.

And now for authenticity…

Notes on Authenticity for Joshua

We might say that concern with living an authentic life can be traced back to the beginning of philosophy, in the command to gnothi seauton, “know thyself”, that hung above the oracle at Delphi. We can also see it in Socrates’ criticism of the Sophists, who did not pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful, but were adept at using words to their personal advantage, making the “worse argument the better,” in other words, sophistry. And we can find it in the Gospels, when Jesus criticises the Pharisees and Saducees for their very visible acts of piety, which belied their lack of true humility. But we can say that the modern expression of this concern begins with the nineteenth century Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard, a witty, eccentric outsider figure, was critical of the limp, complacent, hypocritical Christianity of his day, and with the abstract philosophy of Hegel. Kierkegaard believed that a true Christian, one who lived by the spirit and not only the letter of the Gospels, would feel what he called angst, anxiety and despair, because of his awareness of the reality his own limited, imperfect self in the face of God. The Christians of his day, much like many today, would go to church on Sunday and make the proper noises, but the rest of the time they were rather less than religious, and lived lives aimed at material comfort, ignoring the demands made on them that living as authentic Christians would bring.

Kierkegaard rejected Hegel because, although his system could account for everything, existence itself, in terms of logic and the Absolute Idea, it was useless in guiding him in how he should live his life. Kierkegaard compared Hegel’s philosophy to a map on which Copenhagen, where he lived, was the size of a postage stamp. It was of no help in getting him around town. Kierkegaard used the term “existential” to refer to these kinds of questions, of meaning and purpose – “why do I exist, and what should I do now than I do?” They referred to his existence, here and now, and what he should do with it, not to the historical unfolding of the Absolute Spirit. These were the kinds of questions religion used to answer but no longer did. Hegel’s magnificent system, in which everything fit into place, could not answer them either.

Most people aren’t bothered by these questions, and just live, doing what other people do. Kierkegaard and the existentialists who followed, believed that if one ignored these questions, one lived “inauthentically,” that is, one accepted a more comfortable, but false, way of living, in order to avoid the demands that come with living a true life.

Kierkegaard would be rediscovered in the 1920s, but before that, there was Nietzsche.

Dostoyevsky is also considered one of the founding fathers of existentialism, although he was a novelist, not a philosopher. (But Sartre wrote novels and plays, etc. too…) His novels deal with existential questions existentially, because he explores them with characters in life, not abstract ideas. But I don’t think you’re covering him.

Nietzsche didn’t know of Kierkegaard, although he did read some Dostoyevsky. Nietzsche’s ideas on authenticity are different than Kierkegaard’s, although both rejected the lukewarm, complacent Christianity of the time. Although Kierkegaard was a Christian and Nietzsche rejected Christianity, they were alike in their demand to live an authentic life. For Kierkegaard this meant a life that did not ignore the true reality of human existence. This meant to live a true Christian life, which Kierkegaard believed required what he called an “absurd leap of faith.” It is “absurd” because we cannot “know” in any scientific or rational way whether God exists (Hegel’s system notwithstanding), so we must take a chance and believe in spite of not knowing – and believe in a real, existential way, and not give lip service, as the Sunday Christians do. It demanded taking a risk, and the bourgeois Christians of Copenhagen, quite happy with themselves and their comfortable lives, rejected any risk.

Nietzsche’s command was not a leap of faith, but a perhaps equally absurd “yea-saying” to life, that he encapsulated in the motto amor fati, “love of fate.” It was absurd in the sense that such a love meant that one wishes nothing to be changed in one’s life, in the past or present, and that further one not only accepts but affirms and celebrates the “eternal recurrence” of this life. This was the test that Nietzsche presented to his readers, who were very few in his lifetime, but could be counted by the thousands soon after his death. Can you say “yes” to your life, so that were you to live it over in exactly the same way, you would wish for nothing more? Those who could pass this heavy test – Nietzsche’s calls it a “great weight”  – are candidates for becoming what he called the “overman,” which is often mistranslated as “superman.” The overman is able to accept the challenge of creating a meaning of his own, through his own zest for life and his creative engagement with it.

Nietzsche did not accept the idea of some transcendental world, which gave this world its meaning, whether the Christian heaven or the platonic Idea (or Hegel’s, for that matter). There is no heaven or higher world, and we can not find a meaning in this one, as if it was misplaced, or in terms of ideas such as “progress” or “emancipation” or other social developments. Nor can science help us here. Through our own engagement with life, we give it meaning, by living in such a way that we feel the affirmation, the “yea-saying,” that will allow us to accept the challenge, the heaviest weight, of recurrence.

But overmen are few and far between. More prevalent, for Nietzsche, are the “last men.” When Zarathustra comes down from the mountain top in order to proclaim the doctrine of the overman, the people in the marketplace are not interested. But when he speaks of the last men, they perk up their ears. Why? Because the last men live for comfort, pleasure, easy living. They are all alike, have no interest in the high ideals and creative challenges that being an overman bring, and reduce reality to triviality – much like our own post-post-post-everything world… They are like the pseudo-Christians Kierkegaard rightly detested, and the idea of recurrence, if not ridiculous, strikes them as a kind of hell.

I said that Kierkegaard was rediscovered in the 1920s. One of those who rediscovered him was Martin Heidegger, who started as a follower of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Heidegger eventually rejected Husserl’s phenomenology, and plunged into what Heidegger called a “fundamental ontology,” a study of being. Heidegger believed that what was wrong with people in the modern age was that they had become “forgetful of being.” In the German, they suffered from Seinsvergessenheit, “being-forgetfulness”. What does this mean? Essentially it means the same as Kierkegaard’s complaint that people ignore the reality of things, their mystery and sheer strangeness, and comfort themselves by living complacent lives, ignoring the fundamental question of their own existence.

When we do confront these questions – briefly, every now and then, in moments of despair and uncertainty – we experience what Heidegger called a sense of being “thrown into existence,” Geworfenheit, “thrownness.” We find ourselves here, now, in this strange universe, but have no idea why we or it exists. An “existential moment” occurs when you realise that none of the stories or reasons you had until then accepted as adequate accounts of the world and yourself in it, work. Most people quickly retreat into some more comfortable view of life, and for Heidegger, they live “inauthentically.” They are always aware of what the anonymous mass of others – the “They” – think, are doing, believe, and so on, and are happy and eager to do the same. For Heidegger, living authentically means accepting the reality of our radical finitude – the idea that we will die someday – and affirming the challenge of giving meaning to your existence, which means to remember your being, and all the sense of urgency that comes with, and not to forget it in losing yourself in the They.

I’ll end with Sartre, who took Heidegger’s notion of inauthenticity and repackaged it in what he called mauvaise foi, “bad faith.” This is when someone ignores or avoids the reality of his own existence and the responsibilities that come with it, and loses his own identity in some stereotypical one. So, a politician is always a politician, a professor is always a professor, a celebrity is always a celebrity. Their persona – the face they show the world – takes over from what we might call their “authentic” self. They no longer have to agonise over choices, because they already know what to do, they act in a stereotypical way. Their identity comes from other people, not from themselves. Their inner emptiness is hidden from themselves by the role they play.

Reflections on Recent Events

Tlon, who publish Dark Star Rising in Italy, have asked me for some comments on recent events in America to post on their blog. I’m posting here my reply to Michele Trionfera, who was an indispensable guide on my mini-Italian book tour back in 2019.

Dear Michele,

Many thanks for asking me to comment on recent events in America. I have to say that I was deeply saddened and dismayed at what took place at the Capitol, but the saddest thing was that I was not surprised. The only thing that did surprise me is that events didn’t take an even worse turn. That may be because of the nature of these sudden, volcanic social eruptions: pressure builds up and then the lid blows off the cooker. But after the initial explosion, unless there is some plan or guidance to lead it, the energy dissipates and dies down: the pot boils over and puts out the fire… I am reminded of something the Joker says in the film The Dark Knight, when he compares himself to a dog that chases after a car, biting at the hubcap. If the dog ever got the hubcap, the Joker says, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. If you look at the faces of the ‘patriots’ who stormed the Capitol last Wednesday, on the CCTV recording, you can see them looking around, half like tourists amazed to be there, half like looters who didn’t know what to take first, or ‘iconoclasts’ who don’t which statute to smash. We could also say they were like people who play around with magic and then, when it actually works, say to themselves “What the f**k! This is real?” It was a good thing that among the crazies who broke into the place, there wasn’t anyone who could have organised an “occupy the Capitol” event in the way that other people occupied Wall Street.

Many things came to mind when I watched the news reports here in London. As you know, I’m American, but I’ve lived in London now for twenty-five years; in fact today, 10 January, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of my relocation here. During that time I’ve seen America go through some remarkable, extraordinary changes – the UK has too – but if anything brought home the idea that in the twenty-first century, things would be different, what I saw on the BBC Wednesday night did. Many have said that the twentieth century was the American century. Well, the twenty-first isn’t. The end of the twentieth century may have been 9/11, in the way that the true end of the nineteenth century was the First World War. I would say confirmation of this was Trump’s election – with the years of Obama’s administration a brief stopgap in the process. But the final nail in the coffin, as it were, were the ‘patriots’ party-crashing the Capitol. I want to say “Olympus has fallen,” but I don’t want to draw attention to a bad film. One hopes that similar ‘patriots’ don’t recognize the need to organise. They’ve seen that it can be done. If there’s a next time, it may be more purposeful.

One of the things that Trump’s refusal to admit his election defeat brought home to me is that he is a perfect example of the psychological type that in Dark Star Rising I call “the Right Man.” I borrow the idea from the writer Colin Wilson, who first heard of it from the science fiction writer A.E. Van Vogt. Simply put, the Right Man is someone who under no circumstances will admit to being wrong, and who will stop at practically nothing to get his way, even resorting to violence. This is why Van Vogt also called him “the Violent Man.” This is not an example of so-called “toxic masculinity,” as there are Right Women too. We can see this in Trump’s refusal to accept any “reality” that does not suit his purposes. Trump’s whole agenda has been about “creating” his own reality. He has been very good at it. More than 70 million Americans like his reality, and some of them have taken it to the streets.

Like other demagogues, Trump has been able to project some of his seemingly inexhaustible self-confidence into his followers, which is what all demagogues and, I should add, gurus do. In Dark Star Rising I speak of a gradient ranging from the magician, to the guru, and to the demagogue. Each operates in a similar way; what is different is the size of the audience, as it were. The magician puts a spell on one person, the guru controls a cult, and the demagogue hypnotizes a whole nation. (There are, of course, good magicians and gurus; I’m talking about the bad ones. I don’t think there can be a good demagogue; that would be the benevolent dictator.) When thus under the sway of the guru or demagogue, the individual can temporarily rise above himself, become something “more,” filled with the guru’s power or with the sense of mission given to him by the demagogue. (He or she can’t generate this themselves, hence the need for someone who can. If they could, they wouldn’t need him.) Clearly, many people who have got behind Trump had an interest and background in far-right political ideas. But many also did because, for better or worse, he gave their life a meaning it didn’t have.

This is something that progressive critics don’t get. Many people who voted for Trump were not necessarily gun-loving, racist red-necks. They were people who lacked some sense of their life being about something more than decent housing and having enough to eat, which, of course, are important but not enough. Men, and women, we know, do not live by bread alone – if I can quote scripture when speaking of a devil… For better or worse, Trump gave them a sense of purpose. A misguided, misdirected purpose, to be sure, but something that, in a warped way, was something of an ideal. As I say in the book, this is something that Hitler and Mussolini did too. We have an appetite for this just as much as we have an appetite for food, and we can satisfy that appetite with the equivalent of a healthy meal or junk food. This is something that progressives don’t get because it smacks of religion or mysticism – and that, we know, is the “opium of the people.” But sadly, people need a kind of opium in the sense that they need dreams, and opium or the equivalent provides them. I would say what we need is to find a way to provide the meaning, the dream, without the drug. We also need better dreams.

Another thing I talk about in the book, is the way in which what we can call the “acceptability barrier” has moved during Trump’s years. This is the Overton Window, or what is considered “acceptable discourse.” We can say it is the measure of what you can “get away with.” (I want to say that people have been “getting away with” a great deal in the art world for years; has the fashion  now moved into the sphere of politics?) The Alt-Right, who were for a time fashionable – where are they now? Richard Spencer supported Biden! – raised that window considerably, and Trump pretty much threw a brick through it. The barbarians (I am thinking of the fellow with the horns) who broke into the Capitol took advantage of this. From what I saw on the news, it looks like they broke some real windows too.

In a way, the images I saw of the ‘patriots’ in strange costumes and bizarre get ups, reminded me of two leftists outbreaks in the 1960s: the anti-Viet Nam War march on Washington in October, 1967, and May ’68 in Paris. If we want to say that what happened at the Capitol was an expression of the ‘occult politics’ that has surrounded Trump’s administration – and I believe it was – then it has antecedents in what happened in ’67 and ’68. In ’67 Abbie Hoffman tried to levitate the Pentagon, while the filmmaker Kenneth Anger, a devotee of Aleister Crowley, tried to exorcise it. May ’68 was all about “creating reality.” “Take Your Desires for Reality,” and “Power to the Imagination!” were some of the slogans that brought Paris to a standstill. Trump has always “taken his desires for reality,” and he has had decades of practice in bringing “power” to his imagination, being a devotee of “positive thinking.” The imagination is a tremendous force, kept in check by reason, and when it is unleashed and allowed to let rip, it is difficult to control, and it has no political allegiance. That the gate crashers were followers of Qanon secures the link with the occult politics of the 60s even more: ironically, many today who would have found themselves among the hippies now share an online “alternative reality” with far-right advocates the flower children would have abhorred.[1]

Something else that Trump has helped undermine is our ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, or truth from falsehood. This is not limited to the right side of the political spectrum. People who deny biology in favour of what they see as an individual’s “right” to be whatever sex he or she wants, can be said to be “taking their desires for reality.” This has left us, I believe, in what I call a “war of all against all,” in the sense that there is no common ground, no shared baseline reality, but instead a kind of continuous battle on all sides among competing causes, again, rather like one of the “survivalist” Reality TV shows, in which participants contest each other on a deserted island.

In a recent essay, “Trickle Down Metaphysics: From Nietzsche to Trump,”[2] I show how Trump took advantage of the erosion of our belief in a stable, ‘objective’ truth or reality that had been underway since the late nineteenth century and which became de rigueur, in American universities at least, in 1980s and 90s, with the rise of intellectual fashions like deconstructionism and postmodernism. Trump no doubt has never heard of deconstructionism or postmodernism – both of which are decidedly of the left – but he nevertheless took advantage of the atmosphere of epistemological uncertainty they created. (Odd how intellectual fashions, arising among “men of the left,” helped to put a “man of the right” in power; is it too much to see a kind of intellectual French Revolution followed by a Reality TV Napoleon in this?) 

Postmodernism aligned nicely with Trump’s embrace of “positive thinking,” which likewise ignores or rejects the idea of any ‘truth’ that is not malleable. Postmodernism was dealing in “post truth” and “alternative facts” well before Trump hit the campaign trail. Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, and Trump’s mentor, impressed upon him the idea that “Facts don’t matter. What matters is our attitude toward the facts.” This is a belief shared by what is known as “chaos magick.” I hastened to add that Trump most likely never heard of chaos magick, and in no way is it responsible for him. But as I point out in the book, he seems to have a natural talent for it, and if anything can serve as a example of this, I’d say what happened at the Capitol can be seen as a kind of chaos magick run wild. It was a transfer of what was happening online to the “real” world, the tweet made flesh, as it were. And this is what was supposed to have helped him get in the White House in the first place, the “synchromysticism” that the devotees of Kek and Pepe the Frog engaged in.

Trump’s years as a Reality TV star also contributed to the strange ontological milieu we now inhabit, in which once again there is no clear demarcation line between “reality” and “fantasy.” Watching the CCTV footage of the mob in the Capitol, they reminded me of contestants on Big Brother or Love Island. Yet perhaps the most drastic expression of our seeming inability to distinguish truth from falsehood is the dramatic rise in “conspiracy consciousness,” which is a direct result on the “assault on truth.” Let me quote from the essay I mention above. I write that:

At the same time as the postmodern party was turning into a somewhat disheartening morning after, an ambience of general distrust had taken hold of the popular mind. A “hermeneutics of suspicion,” as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur had called it, had settled in, a cynicism that, in its desire not to be taken in, subjected everything to doubt. Yet the popular mind had also acquiesced in a kind of discontented fatalism, convinced that the individual is at the mercy of forces well beyond his control, in the world and in himself, something that both postmodernism and deconstructionism had repeatedly repeated. The individual as such no longer existed; he was merely an empty space in which vague but omnipotent “social forces” operated. Ironically, this suspicion of once trusted sources was allied with a mind so open to a variety of “conspiracy theories” that it was ready to swallow practically any “alternative” account, as long as it contradicted whatever the “official” one was.[3]

Which is to say that we live in a time when everything is plausible but nothing is definite.

This susceptibility to conspiracies is, in a way, a good sign, in the sense that the psychologist C.G. Jung thought neurosis was a sign that the patient was trying in some way to deal with his problem. It was an ineffectual way, but it at least was an attempt. I would say that conspiracy theories are collective neuroses, in the sense that in the face of a world that seems increasingly out of control, they posit some kind of control, some intelligence, however insidious, behind the course of things. In other words, they posit some meaning behind what would otherwise seem real, true chaos. This is an expression of the hunger for meaning I mentioned earlier. Religion used to provide this, but we’ve outgrown it without gaining something to take its place. (This is the challenge we’ve faced for the past two centuries.) In the vacuum left behind, any powerful idea that can grip the individual takes hold. Unfortunately for many, in Trump’s case, one vacuum was filled by another.

          Sadly, I don’t see this as the end of Trump or Trumpism. Back in November, after the election, I found myself thinking: “Was that all it took? An election?” I found it hard to believe that the Trump Show had been cancelled. I don’t think it has. I think that just as Brexit was seen as the prelude to Trump’s presidency, what happened in the Capitol may be the opener for something else. What, I don’t know. But some barrier has been breached. “All things will be possible,” Ivanka Trump said when she introduced her father to the Republic National Convention in 2016. I’ll say. Those images from the Capitol alone, which will be turning up as memes and gifs soon enough, tell us that. Whom will they inspire? To be honest, I don’t really want to know. I don’t want to appear an alarmist, but Nancy Pelosi was right to want to make sure Trump couldn’t get at the nukes. I am wondering now if anyone has or can keep him away from them. Why do I say this? One thing I learned when researching my book is that Trump is driven by a need to do something bigger or better than it’s been done before, or, more to the point, to do something no one has done before. He also suffers from what is known as “gigantomania,” the need to create huge structures – like Trump Towers and his failed attempt to build the biggest casino in Atlantic City and other megastructures. It’s an affliction he shared with Hitler and Mussolini, who both enjoyed creating huge monuments to their power. One of the first things Trump did in office was to drop the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear explosive in the US arsenal, on Isis in Afghanistan.[4] He can go kicking and screaming and saying its fake news to the end, but given he came in with one, someone really should make sure he doesn’t go out with a bang.


[1] https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/yoga-wellness-and-qanon-conspiracy-theories/

[2] https://garylachman.co.uk/2020/09/01/trickle-down-metaphysics/

[3] Ibid

[4] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-drops-the-mother-of-all-bombs-on-afghanistan

Esoteric Evolution, Trickle Down Metaphysics, the Silver Age, and Colin Wilson needs your help.

Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of my three part online lecture series on Esotericism and the Evolution of Consciousness, given to the Theosophical Society in London, and based on The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Part 3 will be up sometime later this month or early next.

Here’s a link to my talk for the Explorers Club on “Trickle Down Metaphysics and the Goldilocks Theory of History.” The essay on which the talk is based is available here, on this site, or at academia.edu

Here’s another link, to a talk about the Silver Age I gave to a class in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. I was delighted that they were interested enough in my book The Return of Holy Russia to ask me to speak. The students were very engaged and their questions showed it.

The fund drive to finance the making of Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Life and Time of Colin Wilson, a much needed documentary about Wilson’s life and ideas, is still on and needs your help. We have less than a month left and so far have raised only a fraction of what we need. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Wilson’s books or any of mine, please contribute what you can and pass the link on to others who might also do so. It would be a true shame for this not to happen. I don’t have to tell you that Wilson is one of the most important thinkers about consciousness in recent times and his ideas and insights need to be saved for posterity. I’ve done my bit: I’ve written a book about him. Now you can do yours.

One last item: a new recording by my son, the maestro. He too is a struggling artist. It runs in the family.

Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Live and Times of Colin Wilson

A crowdfunding page aiming to help finance the making of new Colin Wilson documentary has gone live, and I’m writing to pass this information on to all the Wilsonsians out there who know there is a need for a good documentary about the original Outsider. Colin has appeared in other videos, but none so far has been adequate or able to convey the range, depth, and complexity of his work, all the way from existentialism, the psychology of crime, to the paranormal and higher states of consciousness. This project aims to do just that.

There’s a variety of Wilsoniana offered as rewards for donors, ranging from some of Colin’s own possessions – his Swiss Army knife among them – signed copies of his books – and mine too (Beyond the Robot) and other perks. Please check out the promotional video and the other material at the site. Here’s the link: Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Life and Times of Colin Wilson.

In other news, the release date for my book on precognitive dreams and synchronicities, Time and the Dreaming Mind , has been pushed back to 2022. Blame coronomania. In the meantime, along with the talks I have lined up – the dates are given in the previous post – I have an article in the Sept-Oct issue of New Dawn #182 about how the Covid-19 lockdown in London helped me to understand some of CW’s basic ideas. In “Getting Beyond the Robot” I show how Colin’s notion of “the paradoxical nature of freedom” is at the heart of our moments of “wakening.”

I trust you are all well and keeping safe.

Autumn Talks 2020

I’ll be giving several talks this October and November. Here are the details.

On 22 October I’ll be speaking about the Silver Age to students in the Slavic and Eurasian Studies department of the University of Texas at Austin. I write about the Silver Age, a remarkably creative time in Russian history that stretched from around 1890 to 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution, in my book The Return of Holy Russia. It was a time of great interest in mysticism, magic, and the spiritual, with a brooding sense of the apocalypse, not unlike our own… I am not sure if the talk will be open to the public or if it will be available online. Details to follow.

On 25 October, starting at 6:00 PM London time, I’ll be giving the first of a series of talks for the Theosophical Society in England about “Esotericism and the Evolution of Consciousness,” based on my book The Secret Teachers of the Western World . This talk will look at how an earlier, “participatory” form of consciousness predated our more “alienated” modern minds, and how, although obscured by our more rational consciousness, it remained as the source of another “way of knowing.”

Part 2 in this series will be given on 8 November (6:00 pm UK time). “Esoteric Renaissance and Underworld” will look at how, following the rise of Christianity, the Hermetic tradition was kept alive in the Arab world and later transmitted to the west, where it influenced the Renaissance and other movements until it was forced to go “underground” by the rise of modern science.

In Part 3, “Toward the Integral Mind,” given on 22 November (6:00 pm UK time), I will look at how for the past few centuries we have been moving toward a possible completion of our “partial minds,” and how from the “Golden Age” of modern esotericism, through to the “occult revival” of the 1960s and today’s post-everything world, we have been involved in an important process in the evolution of consciousness.

On 26 October, starting at 7:00 PM London time, as a part of London Month of the Dead, I will be raising the dead, literally, giving a talk on the Russian Cosmist Nikolai Fedorov, who saw as the “common task” of humanity, the actual resurrection of the dead. Fedorov impressed Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and his ideas later led to the foundation of the Soviet space program. You can find out more about him and the other Cosmists in The Return of Holy Russia.

On Wednesday, 11 November, starting at 6:00 PM UK time, I’ll be talking about “Trickle Down Metaphysics and the Goldilocks Theory of History” for the Explorers Club. “Trickle Down Metaphysics” is how I describe the process by which the philosopher Nietzsche’s prediction of a coming age of nihilism in the late 1880s, “trickled down” from the metaphysical heights of his mountain top, via postmodernism and deconstructionism, to the lowlands of the “post truth” and “alternative facts” that fill our TV sets and Twitter feeds. The Goldilocks Theory of History is about getting our crises “just right,” and I don’t have to tell you we have many to choose from. “Trickle Down Metaphysics: From Nietzsche to Trump” can be found in my previous post and at academia.edu. Goldilocks turns up in a few places in my books.