Colin Wilson Quotes

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About Colin Wilson

Colin Henry Wilson (26 June 1931 – 5 December 2013) is a British writer, noted for his first book The Outsider and over one hundred other books, including seventeen novels and numerous works in criminology, existential philosophy, psychology, religion, the occult, mysticism, wine, and music.

Born: June 26th, 1931

Died: December 5th, 2013

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Quotes: 146 sourced quotes total (includes 3 about)

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p. 116
We all observe that the reality of sexual intercourse is far from perfect; yet this does not convince us that sex is a greatly overrated occupation. Every time a man glimpses a pretty girl pulling up her stocking, he catches a glimpse of what might be called the "primal sexual vision." It is unfortunate that there seems to be a certain disparity between this primal vision and most ordinary sexual experience. But it dances in front of us like a will-o'-the-wisp, luring us into tormented effort. It can lead novelists to write novels, poets to write poems, and musicians to write symphonies.
No art can be judged by purely aesthetic standards, although a painting or a piece of music may appear to give a purely aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic enjoyment is an intensification of the vital response, and this response forms the basis of all value judgements. The existentialist contends that all values are connected with the problems of human existence, the stature of man, the purpose of life. These values are inherent in all works of art, in addition to their aesthetic values, and are closely connected with them.
I had never doubted my own abilities, but I was quite prepared to believe that "the world" would decline to recognize them.
Christianity was an epidemic rather than a religion. It appealed to fear, hysteria and ignorance. It spread across the Western world, not because it was true, but because humans are gullible and superstitious.
Cézanne's painting is strictly painting, and its value is immense; but Van Gogh's painting has the Outsider's characteristic: it is a laboratory refuse of a man who treated his own life as an experiment in living; it faithfully records moods and developments of vision on the manner of a Bildungsroman.
The effects of mescalin or LSD can be, in some respects, far more satisfying than those of alcohol. To begin with, they last longer; they also leave behind no hangover, and leave the mental faculties clear and unimpaired. They stimulate the faculties and produce the ideal ground for a peak experience.
You've got the temperament of a scholar, and you live on your own and write books. You don't have anything to do with civilization. You've been in London a few days and you can't wait to get back home. But how about the people who can't write books -- people there's no outlet for in this civilization? What about your new men who don't know what to do?
What so impressed me on that first reading was the self-containedness of Tolkien's world. I suppose there are a few novelists who have created worlds that are uniquely their own -- Faulkner, for example, or Dickens. But since their world is fairly close to the actual world, it cannot really be called a unique creation. The only parallel that occurs to me is the Wagner Ring cycle, that one can only enter as if taking a holiday on a strange planet.
It may seem to be a long way from Blake's innocent talk of love and copulation to De Sade's need to inflict pain. And yet both are the outcome of a sexual mysticism that strives to transcend the everyday world. Simone de Beauvoir said penetratingly of De Sade's work that 'he is trying to communicate an experience whose distinguishing characteristic is, nevertheless its will to remain incommunicable'. De Sade's perversion may have sprung from his dislike of his mother or of other women, but its basis is a kind of distorted religious emotion.
History has a way of reducing individuals to flat, two-dimensional portraits. it is the enemy of subjectivity, which is why Stephen Dedalus called it "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". If we think of Kierkegaard, of Nietzsche, of Hölderlin, we see them standing alone, outside of history. They are spotlighted by their intensity, and the background is all darkness. They intersect history, but are not a part of it. There is something anti-history about such men; they are not subject to time, accident and death, but their intensity is a protest against it. I have elsewhere called such men "Outsiders" because they attempt to stand outside history. which defines humanity on terms of limitation, not of possibility.
In fact, the real problem with the thesis of A Genealogy of Morals is that the noble and the aristocrat are just as likely to be stupid as the plebeian. I had noted in my teens that major writers are usually those who have had to struggle against the odds -- to "pull their cart out of the mud," as I put it -- while writers who have had an easy start in life are usually second rate -- or at least, not quite first-rate. Dickens, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Shaw, H. G. Wells, are examples of the first kind; in the twentieth century, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Beckett are examples of the second kind. They are far from being mediocre writers; yet they tend to be tinged with a certain pessimism that arises from never having achieved a certain resistance against problems.
Nietzsche's great concept of Yea-saying gave him a notion of purpose that is seen as positive. Nietzsche, in short, was a religious mystic.
In the mid nineteenth century, the typical murderer was a drunken illiterate; a hundred years later the typical murderer regards himself as a thinking man.
Husserl has shown that man's prejudices go a great deal deeper than his intellect or his emotions. Consciousness itself is 'prejudiced' — that is to say, intentional.
The twenty-first century may look back on Colin Wilson as one of the novelists who foresaw the future of fiction, and something, perhaps, of the future of man.
For Jung, the 'psychic world' (i.e. the world of the mind) was an independent reality, and it was possible to travel there and make the acquaintance of its inhabitants.
Phenomenology is not a philosophy; it is a philosophical method, a tool. It is like an adjustable spanner that can be used for dismantling a refrigerator or a car, or used for hammering in nails, or even for knocking somebody out.
These are the visionary, mystical moments, when a man 'completes his partial mind'. His everyday conscious self is only a small part of the mind, like the final crescent of the moon. In moments of crisis, the full moon suddenly appears.
The Americans have always been more open to my ideas. In fact, I could earn a living in America just by lecturing. One of my brightest audiences, incidentally, were the prisoners in a Philadelphia gaol — brighter than my students at university.
Jung fiercely resented the implication that he was a hypocritical, self-seeking Judas, a 'rat'. Yet there was just enough truth in it to strike home. He was undoubtedly a man who liked his own way, no matter what the cost to others.
I was aggressively nonpolitical. I believed that people who make a fuss about politics do so because their heads are too empty to think about more important things. So I felt nothing but impatient contempt for Osborne's Jimmy Porter and the rest of the heroes of social protest.
The key to understanding Crowley is the same as the key to understanding the Marquis de Sade. Both wasted an immense amount of energy screaming defiance at the authority they resented so much, and lacked the insight to see that they were shaking their fists as at abstraction.
This in turn suggests an answer to our question: what happened between the birth of De Sade and the birth of Krafft-Ebbing? The rise of the novel taught Europe to use its imagination. And when imagination was applied to sex, the result was the rise of pornography -- and of "sexual perversion."
This is a strange -- and rather alarming -- realisation. For it clearly implies that masturbation is one of our highest faculties that human beings have developed. Many animals masturbate -- but never without the presence of another animal, or some similar stimulus. A human being can masturbate in an empty room: a triumph of pure imagination.
No matter how honest scientists think they are, they are still influenced by various unconscious assumptions that prevent them from attaining true objectivity. Expressed in a sentence, Fort's principle goes something like this: People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.
The rather more dubious side of Nietzsche's 'evolutionism' is his glorification of the warrior -- particularly when, as an exemplification of the warrior-hero, he chooses an archetypal 'spoilt brat' like Cesare Borgia. Nietzsche's own physical weakness and consequent inability to escape the atmosphere of the study leads him to take a rather unrealistic view of the man of action.
The original Golden Dawn was not always as serious as it should have been. Mathers was a clown, and Yeats was just a romantic trying to deceive himself. Most of them were interested in personal power, and it ended up by destroying them. The aim of our group is the scientific exploration of the hidden powers of the human mind.
Once we can see how this question of freedom of the will has been vitiated by post-romantic philosophy, with its inbuilt tendency to laziness and boredom, we can also see how it came about that existentialism found itself in a hole of it’s own digging, and how the philosophical developments since then have amounted to walking in circles round that hole.
I do not regard the late Carl Sagan as any kind of authority. On the contrary, as this book will show, I regard him in many ways as a dubious publicity seeker and careerist, more concerned to maintain his reputation as the brilliant and sceptical representative of hard-headed science than to look squarely and honestly at the facts. In short, a bit of a crook.
For me [fiction] is a manner of philosophizing ... Philosophy may be only a shadow of the reality it tries to grasp, but the novel is altogether more satisfactory. I am almost tempted to say that no philosopher is qualified to do his job unless he is also a novelist ... I would certainly exchange any of the works of Whitehead or Wittgenstein for the novels they ought to have written.
We might liken the 'two selves' to Laurel and Hardy. Ollie is the objective mind, 'you'. Stan is the subjective mind, the 'hidden you'. But Stan happens to be in control of your energy supply. So if you wake up feeling low and discouraged, you (Ollie) tend to transmit your depression to Stan, who fails to send you energy, which makes you feel lower than ever. This vicious circle is the real cause of most mental illness.
Now the basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. Its aim — like that of science — was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
It reminds us that a man driven to desire to possess a certain female is a highly purposive individual. We have already noted that evolution tends to mark time when individuals have no reason to evolve. The same applies to individuals; they may be talented and intelligent, and yet waste their lives because they somehow lack the motivation to make use of these faculties. The best piece of luck that can befall any individual is to have a strong sense of purpose.
Wilson constitutes one of the most significant challenges to twentieth-century critics. It seems most likely that critics analysing his work in the middle of the twenty-first century, will be puzzled that his contemporaries paid such inadequate attention to him. But it is not merely for their sake that he should be examined. Critics who turn to him will find themselves involved in the central questions of our age and will be in touch with a mind that has disclosed an extraordinary resilience in addressing them.
About Colin Wilson
• Howard F. Dossor in Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind, p. 318-319 (1990)
• Source: Wikiquote: "Colin Wilson" (Quotes about Colin Wilson)
The Diary of Vaslav Nijinjsky reaches a limit of sincerity beyond any of the documents that we have referred to on this study. There are other modern works that express the same sense that civilized life is a form of living death; notably the poetry of T. S. Eliot and the novels of Franz Kafka; but there is an element of prophetic denunciation in both, the attitude of healthy men rebuking their sick neighbors. We possess no other record of the Outsider's problems that was written by a man about to be defeated and permanently smashed by those problems.
The progress of human knowledge depends on maintaining that touch of scepticism even about the most "unquestionable" truths. A century ago, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was regarded as scientifically unshakeable; today, most biologists have their reservations about it. Fifty years ago, Freud's sexual theory of neurosis was accepted by most psychiatrists; today, it is widely recognized that his methods were highly questionable. At the turn of this century, a scientist who questioned Newton's theory of gravity would have been regarded as insane; twenty years later, it had been supplanted by Einstein's theory, although, significantly, few people actually understood it. It seems perfectly conceivable that our descendants of the twenty-second century will wonder how any of us could have been stupid enough to have been taken in by Darwin, Freud or Einstein.
Imagine a book of unexplained mysteries written by a contemporary of Shakespeare. It might include the mystery of the falling stars that sweep through the sky foretelling disaster; the mystery of the Kraken, the giant sea devil with 50-foot tentacles; the mystery of monster bones, sometimes found in caves or on beaches. Such a book would be a curious mixture of truth and absurdity, fact and legend. We would all feel superior as we turned its pages and murmured: "Of course, they didn't know about comets and giant squids and dinosaurs." If this book should happen to find its way into the hands of our remote descendants, they may smile pityingly and say: "It's incredible to think that they knew nothing about epsilon fields or multiple psychic feedback or cross gravitational energies. They didn't even know about the ineluctability of time." But let us hope that such a descendant is in a charitable mood, and might add: "And yet they managed to ask a few of the right questions."
Pessimism is a leaden weight around the feet. Defeat is always self-chosen.
Crowley wanted to be a magician because he wanted power -- power over other people.
The "passion for incredulity" can produce as much self-deception as the uncritical will to believe.
Could it be that sexual perversion and romanticism sprang from the same longing for distant horizons?
The self-surmounter can never put up with the man who has ceased to be dissatisfied with himself.
The mystical impulse in men is somehow a desire to possess the universe. In women, it's a desire to be possessed.
It was Rousseau who was largely responsible for the problem by giving currency to the idea that freedom can exist without responsibility and discipline.
One gloomy and pessimistic writer with a powerful style affects a whole generation of writers, who in turn affect almost every educated person in the country.
The characteristic of the really great writer is the ability of his mind to to suddenly leap beyond his ordinary human values, into sudden perception of universal values.
Sexual activity is driven by the same aims and motives as reading poetry or listening to music: to escape the limitations imposed by the need for particularity in the consciousness.
The main problem for the average reader -- particularly of The Great Beast -- is that Crowley seems such an intolerable show-off that it is hard to believe anything he says.
In reading Jung's account of his cases, it is impossible not to be aware that his success was due partly to an element of ruthlessness; he was dominated by curiosity rather than compassion.
The exploration of oneself is usually also an exploration of the world at large, of other writers, a process of comparison with oneself with others, discoveries of kinships, gradual illumination of one's own potentialities.
I've always believed that a writer has got to remain an outsider. If I was offered anything like the Nobel Prize for Literature, I'd find it an extremely difficult conflict because I'd be basically disinclined to accept.
Jung believed that he was proceeding scientifically, but most Freudians remain convinced that he was inventing his own underground realm, rather as Tolkien invented Middle Earth. There is at least an element of truth in this view.
What is necessary at this stage in our evolution is not a 'return' to the psychic powers of our ancestors, but an expansion of our own potential powers, based upon the certain knowledge that such powers exist.
These left me in no doubt that something was trying to communicate with us, but that direct communication would be counterproductive. It seemed to be an important part of the scheme to create a sense of mystery.
But as I listened to him, I felt a touch of coldness inside of me, as if I had suddenly become aware of the eyes of some dangerous creature. It passed in a moment, but I found myself shuddering.
We are now living in an age of literary exhaustion; we get used to the bleak landscape. Cyril Connolly said that the writer's business is to produce masterpieces; but what masterpieces have been produced in the past fifty years?
But Zarathustra made it clear in which direction the answer lay; it is towards the artist-psychologist, the intuitional thinker. There are very few such men in the world's literature; the great artists are not thinkers, the great thinkers are seldom artists.
The history of the Romanovs is an Elizabethan tragedy that lasts for three centuries. Its keynote is cruelty, a barbaric, pointless kind of cruelty that has always been common in the East, but that came to Europe only recently, in the time of Hitler.
The chief impression left by a study of Crowley's life and works is that he wasted an immense amount of time and energy trying to shock everyone he came into contact with, and his dislike of orthodoxy turned him into an unconsciously comic figure, like Don Quixote.
And the central assertion of his philosophy is that this inner realm is the 'spiritual world' and that once man has learned to enter this realm, he realizes that it is not a mere imaginative reflection of the external world, but a world that possesses its own independent reality.
It is the fallacy of all intellectuals to believe that intellect can grasp life. It cannot, because it works in terms of symbols and language. There is another factor involved: consciousness. If the flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless.
The basic paradox about sex is that it always seems to be offering more than it can deliver. A glimpse of a girl undressing through a lighted bedroom window induces a vision of ecstatic delight, but in the actual process of persuading the girl into bed, the vision somehow evaporates.
This, I feel, is missing a vital point: that the sceptic is often a totally honest person who, for perfectly good, sound reasons, simply cannot see a case for belief. In fact many -- like Courty Bryan -- admit that they would like to be convinced, but find it impossible.
And in a flash I understood the meaning of sex. It is a craving for the mingling of consciousness, whose symbol is the mingling of bodies. Every time a man and a woman slake their thirst in the strange waters of the other's identity, they glimpse the immensity of their freedom.
All men are stuck in a kind of fog. They're surrounded by a wall of fog. They think this is perfectly normal, but it's not. It means that since they can't see much beyond their own little situation, they tend to vegetate. They need some immediate stimulus to keep them alert.
Taken as a whole, the Cross Correspondences and the Willet scripts are among the most convincing evidence that at present exists for life after death. For anyone who is prepared to devote weeks to studying them, they prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Myers, Gurney, and Sidgwick went on communicating after death.
Sadism is plainly connected with the need for self-assertion. At the same time it cannot be separated from the idea of defeat. A sadist is a man, who, in some sense, has his back to the wall. Nothing is further from sadism, for example, than the cheerful, optimistic mentality of a Shaw or Wells.
I have said that, in a sense, the parasites were a 'shadow' of man's cowardice and passivity. Their strength could increase in an atmosphere of defeat and panic, for it fed on human fear. In that case, the best way to combat them was to change the atmosphere to one of strength and purpose.
Jung believed that alchemy is about the transmutation of of the mind and the discovery of the self. Inevitably, he saw the male and female elements of the prima materia -- the king and queen of alchemy -- as the animus and anima; this seemed to indicate the (sic) alchemy is about psychological processes.
Steiner goes further than this -- and this is his own central contribution to modern thought. He states that once we have made a habit of remembering Mozart and the stars, we shall find ourselves developing powers of 'spiritual vision.' We shall never again feel ourselves to be helpless victims of the external world.
He was a man born into a world dominated by scientific materialism. His objection to this materialism was not merely intellectual, or even egotistical (the feeling 'If the world is wholly material, then I can't be very important'). It was the feeling that man is cut off from his inner powers by this superficial attitude.
I began with a strong bias toward skepticism. Besides, to tell the truth, I still find occult phenomena a little preposterous and irrelevant. What do they really matter if you place them against the truly great human achievements — against the creative genius of a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven, an Einstein? In that context they seem almost trivial.
There is in Shaw, as in Gurdjieff and Nietzsche, a recognition of the immense effort of Will that is necessary to express even a little freedom, that places them beside Pascal and St. Augustine as religious thinkers. Their view is saved from pessimism only by its mystical recognition of the possibilities of pure Will, freed from the entanglements of automatism.
The case is a good example of what Van Vogt came to call "the violent man" or the "Right Man." He is a man driven by a manic need for self-esteem — to feel that he is a "somebody." He is obsessed by the question of "losing face," so will never, under any circumstances, admit that he might be in the wrong.
'You', the ego, live in your left brain. When we say that man is the only creature who spends 99 per cent of his time inside his own head, we mean, in fact, inside his left cerebral hemisphere. And in the basement of the left hemisphere is the library full of filing cabinets -- the stuffy room that we mistake for reality.
The everyday world demands our attention, and prevents us from sinking into ourselves. As a romantic, I have always resented this: I like to sink into myself. The problems and anxieties of living make it difficult. Well, now I had an anxiety that referred to something inside of me, and it reminded me that my inner world was just as real and important as the world around me.
It seemed perfectly possible that, in spite of my certainty of my own genius, I might die of some illness, or perhaps even in a street accident, before I had ever glimpsed the meaning of life. My moods of happiness and self-confidence convinced me that I had a "destiny" to become a famous writer, and to be remembered as one of the most important thinkers of the century.
The evolutionary urge drives man to seek for intenser forms of fulfillment, since his basic urge is for more life, more consciousness, and this contentment has an air of stagnation that the healthy mind rejects. (This recognition lies at the centre of my own 'outsider theory': that there are human beings to whom comfort means nothing, but whose happiness consists in following an obscure inner-drive, an 'appetite for reality'.)
When I'm bored, my sense of values goes to sleep. But it's not dead, only asleep. A crisis can wake it up and make the world seem infinitely important and interesting. But what I need to learn is the trick of shaking them awake myself . . . And incidentally, another name for the sense of values is intelligence. A stupid person is a person whose values are narrow.
The point I wish to make is that I became aware that we discipline our minds to see only certain aspects of the world; life is complicated, and we need all our wits about us to deal with its complexities. There would be no great point in having second sight or thaumaturgic powers for most of us. But it is worth observing that they can generally be developed where needed.
On the whole, the scientist is better off if he collects his facts by accident, little by little, so he can study them before he tries to fit them into a jigsaw puzzle, This is how the late Tom Lethbridge came to arrive at his theories about other dimensions of reality. It is also how Guy Lyon Playfair came to develop his own theories about the nature of the poltergeist.
Yet its essence was the certitude that his life was not totally at the mercy of chance. Somehow, it was more important than that. This sense of power inside his head — which he could intensify by pulling a face and wrinkling up the muscles of his forehead — aroused a glow of optimism, an expectation of exciting events. He knew that for him, fate held something special in store.
And at once I saw with great clarity that human beings possess two bodies. One is the physical body, the other -- just as real, just as self-contained -- is the emotional body. Like the physical body, the emotional body reaches a certain level of growth, and then stops. But it stops rather sooner than the physical body. So most of us possess the emotional body of a retarded adolescent.
Maslow explained that, some time in the late thirties, he had been struck by the thought that modern psychology is based on the study of sick people. But since there are more healthy people around than sick people, how can this psychology give a fair idea of the workings of the human mind? It struck him that it might be worthwhile to devote some time to the study of healthy people.
In fact, we had a number of extreme leftists and trade unionists among us, and they seemed to take it for granted that we all agreed that the rich must somehow be forced to surrender their ill-gotten gains. Yet there was an air of good humor about their idealism that made me feel they would not be too offended if I admitted that I regard socialists as well-meaning but muddle-headed brigands.
The problem is that sex is the most dangerous way of trying to achieve personal growth, because the life force has mixed it so liberally with a string sense of "magic", which, in the attempt at possession turns out to be an illusion. The attempt to possess a woman through an act of sex is as frustrating as trying to possess the scent of a rose by cooking and eating it.
One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of 'life' which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to use as human beings.
Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic 'feeling' about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes 'pick up' accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick, lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things.
What is so remarkable about Crowley the 'magician' is that he remains Crowley the scientist, and always applies the same probing intellectual curiosity to every field he surveys. This is ultimately the most impressive quality about his mind, and the one that might -- if he had concentrated on developing it to the full -- have brought him the fame that he craved. Crowley's tragedy was that he never concentrated long enough to develop anything to the full.
It is clearly absurd to say that if you go on adding atoms together until they have fused into a complex molecule, that molecule will become capable of self-reproduction. It is like saying that a skyscraper is more capable of reproduction than a bungalow. And suppose life did come into being through some accidental interaction of molecules, sun and cosmic rays; why should it not be content to rest passively? Why should it have been possessed of a desire to persist and evolve?
They certainly demonstrate that Seth, whether an aspect of Jane Robert's unconscious mind or a genuine "spirit," was of a high level of intelligence. Yet when Jane Roberts produced a book that purported to be the after-death journal of the philosopher William James, it was difficult to take it seriously. James's works are noted for their vigour and clarity of style; Jane Robert's "communicator" writes like an undergraduate . . . there is a clumsiness here that is quite unlike James's swift-moving, colloquial prose.
A child might be overawed by a great city, but a civil engineer knows that he might demolish it and rebuild it himself. Husserl's philosophy has the same aim: to show us that, although we may have been thrust into this world without a 'by your leave,' we are mistaken to assume that it exists independently of us. It is true that reality exists apart from us; but what we mistake for the world is actually a world constituted by us, selected from an infinitely complex reality.
It was not until the ant and Veig had passed each other that Niall realized that he had been reading the ant's mind. It was a sensation like actually being the ant, as if he had momentarily taken possession of its body. And while he had been inside the ant's body, he had also become aware of all the other ants in the nest. It was a bewildering feeling, as if his mind had shattered into thousands of fragments, yet each fragment remained a coherent part of the whole.
From that point, my universe went on crumbling; new cracks appeared all the time. I could see that the pleasant securities of childhood, all of those warm little human emotions, all of those trivial aims and purposes that we allow to rule our lives, were an illusion. We were like sheep munching grass, unaware that the butcher's lorry is already on its way. I got used to living with a deep, underlying feeling of uncertainty that no one around me seemed to share. It was rather like living on death row.
If space in infinite, how about the space inside man? Blake said that eternity opens from the center of an atom. My former terror vanished. Now I saw that I was mistaken in thinking of myself as an object in a dead landscape. I had been assuming that man is limited because his brain is limited, that only so much can be packed into the portmanteau. But the spaces of the mind are a new dimension. The body is a mere wall between two infinities. Space extends to infinity outwards; the mind stretches to infinity inwards.
This provides us with our first major clue to the solutions of the problem. Even if the left cannot see the world as full of potentiality, it can hold on to the moments of insight and refuse to let go of them. If I know that present difficulties will end in triumph, I am un-discourageable; I merely have to know it intellectually. And if I can 'know' that reality actually has a third dimension, I shall never fall into the mistake of complaining that there is nothing new under the sun and that life is futile.
We have all experienced the moments that William James calls melting moods, when it suddenly becomes perfectly obvious that life is infinitely fascinating. And the insight seems to apply retrospectively. Periods of my life that seemed confusing and dull at the time now seem complex and rather charming. It is almost as if some other person a more powerful and mature individual has taken over my brain. This higher self views my problems and anxieties with kindly detachment, but entirely without pity. Looking at problems through his eyes, I can see I was a fool to worry about them.
The fundamental tenet of Steiner's teaching is that if we take the trouble to recognize the independent existence of the inner worlds of thought, and keep the mind turned in that direction, we shall soon become increasingly conscious of their reality. We are not, as Sartre believed, stranded in the universe of matter like a whale on a beach. That inner world is our natural home. Moreover, once we grasp this truth, we can also recognize that we ourselves possess an "essential ego," a "true self," a fundamental identity that goes far beyond our usual feeble sense of being "me."
In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), H.G. Wells pointed out that ever since the beginning of life, most creatures have been 'up against it'. Their lives are a drama of struggle against the forces of nature. Yet nowadays you can say to a man: Yes, you earn a living, you support a family, you love and hate, but -- what do you do? His real interest may be in something else -- art, science, literature, philosophy. The bird is a creature of the air, the fish is a creature of the water, and man is a creature of the mind.
Considered as a whole, Hesse's achievement can hardly be matched in modern literature; it is the continually rising trajectory of an idea, the fundamentally religious idea of how to 'live more abundantly'. Hesse has little imagination in the sense that Shakespeare or Tolstoy can be said to have imagination, but his ideas have a vitality that more than makes up for it. Before all, he is a novelist who used the novel to explore the problem: What should we do with our lives? The man who is interested to know how he should live instead of merely taking life as it comes, is automatically an Outsider.
Sex also concentrates the mind wonderfully, and that is why civilised man is so obsessed by it. It enables him to "savour every fraction of an inch," not merely of the act of sexual intercourse, but of living itself. But that, of course, only underlines the basic problem: after coitus, "man becomes sad," because he quickly returns to his unconcentrated and defocused state. In sexual excitement, it is the spirit itself that becomes erect, and becomes capable of penetrating the meaning of life. Normal consciousness is limp and flaccid; its attitude towards reality is defensive. This is what Sartre called contingency, that feeling of being at the mercy of chance.
Man should possess an infinite appetite for life. It should be self-evident to him, all the time, that life is superb, glorious, endlessly rich, infinitely desirable. At present, because he is in a midway position between the brute and the truly human, he is always getting bored, depressed, weary of life. He has become so top-heavy with civilisation that he cannot contact the springs of pure vitality. Control of the prefrontal cortex will change all of this. He will cease to cast nostalgic glances towards the womb, for he will realise that death is no escape. Man is a creature of life and the daylight; his destiny lies in total objectivity.
I could see clearly that this problem could only be solved on the individual and personal level; political revolt is irrelevant. Both Camus and Sartre had been neatly hog-tied by their earlier radicalism. Camus came to see that rebellion is a political roundabout that revolves back to the same old tyranny; too ashamed to admit that he had outgrown his leftism, he found himself in an intellectual cul-de-sac. Sartre accused Camus of being a reactionary; but he paid for his own refusal to reexamine his political convictions by congealing into a grotesque attitude of permanent indignation, shaking his fist at some abstract Authority. Where politics is concerned, he seemed determined to be guided by his emotions.
As man loses touch with his 'inner being', his instinctive depths, he finds himself trapped in the world of consciousness, that is to say, in the world of other people. Any poet knows this truth; when other people sicken him, he turns to hidden resources of power inside himself, and he knows then that other people don't matter a damn. He knows the 'secret life' inside him is the reality; other people are mere shadows in comparison. but the 'shadows' themselves cling to one another. 'Man is a political animal', said Aristotle, telling one of the greatest lies in human history. Man has more in common with the hills, or with the stars, than with other men.
Anyone who can understand that the Buddhist idea of Nirvana is not merely negative, and that the Buddha himself who (like the Superman) 'looks down on suffering humanity like a hillsman on the planes' is not an atheistic monster, will instantly see how this misses the point. Nietzsche was not an atheist, any more than the Buddha was. Anyone who reads the Night Song and the Dance Song in Zarathustra will recognize that they spring out of the same emotion as the Vedic or Gathic hymns or the Psalms of David. The idea of the Superman is a response to the need for salvation in precisely the same way that Buddhism was a response to the 'three signs'.
No artist can develop without increasing his self-knowledge; but self-knowledge supposes a certain preoccupation with the meaning of human life and the destiny of man. A definite set of beliefs — Methodist Christianity, for example — may only be a hindrance to development; but it is not more so than Beckett's refusal to think at all. Shaw says somewhere that all intelligent men must be preoccupied with either religion, politics, or sex. (He seems to attribute T. E. Lawrence's tragedy to his refusal to come to grips with any of them.) It is hard to see how an artist could hope to achieve any degree of self-knowledge without being deeply concerned with at least one of the three.
I must confess that my estimate of Lovecraft would not have pleased his most ardent admirers. The view I expressed in that book was that, while Lovecraft was distinctly a creative genius in his own way, his pessimism should not be taken too seriously; that it was the pessimism of a sick recluse, and had about it an element of rassentiment, a kind of desire to take revenge on the world that rejected him. In short, Lovecraft was a 19th century romantic, born in the wrong time. Most men of genius dislike their own age, but the really great ones impose their own vision on the age. The weak ones turn away into a world of gloomy fantasy.
That passivity was the essence of the problem. The human being was intended to be passive only in a condition of fatigue, and not always then. Too much passivity of body produced surplus fat, short-windedness, indigestion: passivity of mind produced the same symptoms on the mental level. a feeling of spiritual dyspepsia. Since the average human being has no purposes that are not connected with the activities of keeping alive, the black room was bound to produce passivity, increasing dullness, a state in which the mind is at once awake and static, motionless, stagnant. This sense of dullness was nothing less than the collapse of the sense of reality and of values, the retreat into one's inner world.
I found Randi likable and plausible; the only thing that bothered me was the sweeping and intense nature of his skepticism. He was obviously working from the premise that all paranormal phenomena, without exception, are fakes or delusions. He seemed to take to take it for granted that all of us — there were also two women present — shared his opinions, and he made jovial, disparaging remarks about psychics and other such weirdos. I began to get the uncomfortable feeling of a Jew who has accidentally walked into a Nazi meeting, or a Jehovah's Witness at a convention of militant atheists. As a supposedly scientific psychic investigator, Randi struck me as being oddly fixed in his opinions.
When we are lulled into somnolence by lack of challenge every molehill tends to become a mountain, every minor inconvenience an intolerable imposition. For a self-chosen reality tends to become a prison. The factors that protect and insulate civilized man can easily end by suffocating him unless he possesses a high degree of self-discipline, the 'highly developed vital sense' that Shaw speaks of. And since clever and sensitive people are inclined to lack self-discipline, a high degree of culture usually involves a high degree of pessimism. This is what has happened to Western civilisation over the past two centuries. It explains why so many distinguished artists, writers and musicians have taken such a negative view of the human situation.
But now we come to the real paradox: that something as explosive as sexual excitement can nevertheless become a matter of habit, But then that applies to all our pleasures. We discover some new product in the supermarket, and become addicted to it. Then our tastebuds become accustomed to its flavour, and or interest fades. In the same way a honeymoon couple may find an excuse to hurry off to the bedroom half a dozen times a day; but after a month or so sex has taken its place among the many routines of their lives. They still enjoy it, but it no longer has quite the same power to excite the imagination. Sex, like every other pleasure, can become mechanical.
One simple method is to take a pen or pencil and hold it up against a blank wall or ceiling. Now concentrate on the pen as if it is the most important thing in the world. Then allow your sense to relax, so you see the pen against the background of the wall. Concentrate again. Relax again. Keep on doing this until you become aware of the ability to focus attention at will. You will find that this unaccustomed activity of the will is tiring; it produces a sense of strain behind the eyes. My own perception is that if you persist, in spite of the strain, the result is acute discomfort, followed by a sudden immense relief - the 'peak experience'.
I have tried to show how religion, the backbone of civilisation, hardens into a Church that is unacceptable to Outsiders, and the Outsiders — the men who strive to become visionaries — become the Rebels. In our case, the scientific progress that has brought us closer than ever before to conquering the problems of civilisation, has also robbed us of spiritual drive; and the Outsider is doubly a rebel: a rebel against the Established Church , a rebel against the unestablished church of materialism. Yet for all this, he is the real spiritual heir of the prophets, of Jesus and St. Peter, of St. Augustine and Peter Waldo. The purest religion of any age lies in the hands of its spiritual rebels. The twentieth century is no exception.
For this is our central human problem: that we are almost constantly the victims of our emotions, always being swept up and down on a kind of inner-switchback. We possess a certain control over them; we can 'direct our thoughts' -- or feelings -- in such a way as to intensify them. This is certainly our most remarkable human characteristic: imagination. Animals require actual physical stimuli to trigger their experience. A man can retreat into a book -- or a daydream -- and live through certain experiences quite independent of the physical world. He can even, for example, imagine a sexual encounter, and not only experience all the appropriate physical responses, but even the sexual climax. Such a curious ability is far beyond the power of any animal.
The real importance of Swedenborg lies in the doctrines he taught, which are the reverse of the gloom and hell-fire of other breakaway sects. He rejects the notion that Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sin of Adam, declaring that God is neither vindictive nor petty-minded, and that since he is God, he doesn't need atonement. It is remarkable that this common-sense view had never struck earlier theologians. God is Divine Goodness, and Jesus is Divine Wisdom, and Goodness has to be approached through Wisdom. Whatever one thinks about the extraordinary claims of its founder, it must be acknowledged that there is something very beautiful and healthy about the Swedenborgian religion. Its founder may have not been a great occultist, but he was a great man.
Like Fichte, Brentano had one simple and powerful insight. He declared: there is a basic difference between a mental and physical act. if I slip on the snow and fall flat on my back, that is an unintentional physical act. But there is no such thing as an unintentional mental act. When I think, I have to think about something; I have to focus my mind on it. You could compare all mental acts (thinking, willing, loving, trying to remember something) to a searchlight beam stabbing into the darkness. There is an element of will, of 'intentionality,' in all mental activity. So it is quite inaccurate to compare mental activity to chemistry, or to a kind of drifting, like leaves on a stream. It flows purposefully or not at all.
Why is it so hard to keep the mind concentrated, and to live up to our good resolutions? The problem is the basically mechanical nature of our left-brain consciousness. We have a kind of robot servant who does things for us: we earn to type or drive a car, painfully and consciously, then our robot takes over, and does it far more quickly and efficiently. Because man is the most complex creature on Earth, he is forced to rely on his robot far more than other animals. The result is that, whenever he gets tired, the robot takes over. For the modern city dweller, most of his everyday living is done by the robot. This is why it takes an emergency to concentrate the mind 'wonderfully', and why we forget so quickly.
Mr. Wilson does not write as one who believes in a particular religion but rather as an intellectual who is being forced more and more into accepting religion as the only solution to the problem of the Outsider. In other words, the anxiety and uneasiness, the sheer horror of being oneself in the modern world is not to be cured by reason or even of study of philosophies which set out to explain them, like Existentialism; the unpleasant symptoms have to be lived through, leading to the worst, in order that the final, mystical experience may be attained. The Outsider has it within him to become a saint. Yet, though Mr. Wilson is drawn to religion, and all his arrows point that way, he never departs from his standards of intellectual analysis.
About Colin Wilson
• Cyril Connolly in 'Loser Take All', Sunday Times, p. 5 (27 May 1956)
• Source: Wikiquote: "Colin Wilson" (Quotes about Colin Wilson)
When I was in my teens, I invented a term to describe them. I call it 'holiday consciousness' . . . because I often experienced this sense of optimism and wide-awakeness when setting out on a journey or a holiday. It was always the feeling that the world is self-evidently complex and beautiful, and that life is so obviously good that man's boredom and defeat is an absurdity . . . And then I used to ask: Why do men forget this so easily? And the answer seemed obvious: because the human will is so flabby and weak. Instead of being self-controlled, self-driven creatures, most men are little more than leaves on a stream, they drift along hoping for the best. I once wrote that men are like grandfather clocks driven by watchsprings.
What is beginning to emerge, then, is a theory about psychic sensitivity. It runs as follows. When I relax deeply, it is as if someone opened up the partition between the two compartments of my brain, turning them into a single large room. I experience a sense of mental freedom as if I can suddenly breathe more deeply, and a feeling of contact with things. Everyone has had the experience of being in a state of hurry or excitement, and failing to notice that they have bruised or scratched themselves -- until the excitement evaporates and the pain makes itself known. Hurry and tension raise our sensitivity threshold, and at the same time, erect a glass wall between us and reality. In the "unicameral" state, this wall vanishes, and everything seems more real.
My theory was that we are all fundamentally 'multiple personalities', beginning with the baby and the child, and slowly developing into more complex selves. If, for some reason, we abruptly cease to develop -- through some trauma that undermines self-confidence -- all those potential personalities are stunted and repressed. And some accident or violent shock may give one of them the opportunity to 'take over'. This suggests, of course, that in some mysterious sense, our 'future' personalities are already there, in embryo, so to speak, and that they also develop as we mature. We move from personality to personality, as we might climb a ladder. The Beethovens and Leonardos got further up the ladder than most of us; yet even they failed to reach the top, as we can see if we study their lives.
It was the normal working of the antisuccess mechanism. In our overcrowded modern world a hit record, a best-selling book, a successful film, can reach more people in a week than Shakespeare or Beethoven reached in a whole lifetime. And so fame has become the most romantic, the most desirable of all commodities, the dream for which a modern Faust might sell his soul to the Devil. Once attained, fame is never as easy to hold on to as some people believe. The people who achieve fame by some accident of fashion are usually forgotten within a week; the ones who remain on top have to work to stay there. But few people understand this. The result is that anyone who achieves sudden notoriety arouses envy and hostility. The greater the success, the greater the reaction.
What excited me was the recognition that this was simply another version of the problem that had obsessed me all of my life -- the problem of those moments when life seems entirely delightful, when we experience a sensation of what G.K. Chesterton called "absurd good news." Life normally strikes most of us as hard, dull and unsatisfying; but in these moments, consciousness seems to glow and expand, and all the contradictions seem to be resolved. Which of the two visions is true? My own reflections had led me to conclude that the vision of "absurd good news" is somehow broader and more comprehensive than the feeling that life is dull, boring and meaningless. Boredom is basically a feeling of narrowness, and surely a narrow vision is bound to be less true than a broad one?
Faculty X is simply that latent power in human beings possess to reach beyond the present. After all, we know perfectly well that the past is as real as the present, and that New York and Singapore and Lhasa and Stepney Green are all as real as the place I happen to be in at the moment. Yet my senses do not agree. They assure me that this place, here and now, is far more real than any other place or any other time. Only in certain moments of great inner intensity do I know this to be a lie. Faculty X is a sense of reality, the reality of other places and other times, and it is the possession of it — fragmentary and uncertain though it is — that distinguishes man from all other animals.
(Gardner) writes about various kinds of cranks with the conscious superiority of the scientist, and in most cases one can share his sense of the victory of reason. But after half a dozen chapters this non-stop superiority begins to irritate; you begin to wonder about the standards that make him so certain he is always right. He asserts that the scientist, unlike the crank, does his best to remain open-minded. So how can he be so sure that no sane person has ever seen a flying saucer, or used a dowsing rod to locate water? And that all the people he disagrees with are unbalanced fanatics? A colleague of the positivist philosopher A. J. Ayer once remarked wryly "I wish I was as certain of anything as he seems to be about everything." Martin Gardner produces the same feeling.
In a book called Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect, Whitehead points out that perception is usually a matter of symbols, just like language; I say I see a book when I actually see a red oblong. The Transactionists (who have been influenced by Whitehead rather than Husserl) take this one stage further, and point out that when I 'perceive' something, I am actually making a bet with myself that what I perceive is what I think it is. In order to act and live at all, I have to make these bets; I cannot afford to make absolutely certain that things are what I think they are. But this means that we should not take our perceptions at face value, any more than Nietzsche was willing to take philosophy at its face value; we must allow for prejudice and distortion.
Now he saw the problem with great clarity. If he lived here, life would be pleasant and safe. But it would also be predictable. A child could be born here, grow up here, die here, without ever experiencing the excitement of discovery. Why did Dona question him endlessly about his life in the burrow and his journey to the country of the ants? Because for her, it represented a world that was dangerous and full of fascinating possibilities. For the children of this underground city, life was a matter of repetition, of habit. And this, he suddenly realized, was the heart of the problem. Habit. Habit was a stifling, warm blanket that threatened you with suffocation and lulled the mind into a state of perpetual nagging dissatisfaction. Habit meant the inability to escape from yourself, to change and develop . . .
Now, obviously, the human race is on the point of an extremely interesting evolutionary development. The first step towards escape from this vicious circle is to recognize that the apparent "ordinariness" of the world is a delusion. If we could become deeply and permanently convinced that the world "out there" is endlessly exciting, we would never again allow ourselves to become trapped in the swamp of "taken-for-grantedness". And we would become practically unkillable. Shaw says of his "Ancients" in Back to Methuselah "Even in the moment of death, their life does not fail them". "Life failure" is that feeling that there is nothing new under the sun, and that we all have to accept defeat in the end. If we could learn the mental trick of causing the dynamo to accelerate, this illusion would never again be able to exert its power over us.
During his lifetime Gurdjieff did not publish any books on the techniques of his teaching, and his pupils were bound to secrecy on the subject. Since his death in Paris in 1949, however, many of his works have been published, and there has been a flood of memoirs by disciples and admirers. Gurdjieff was in almost ever respect the antithesis of Aleister Crowley. Whereas Crowley craved publicity, Gurdjieff shunned it. Crowley was forgotten for two decades after his death; Gurdjieff on the contrary, has become steadily better known, and his influence continues to grow. One of the main reasons for this is that there was so little of the charlatan about him. He is no cult figure with hordes of gullible disciples. What he has to teach makes an appeal to the intelligence, and can be fully understood only by those who are prepared to make a serious effort.
Art is naturally concerned with man in his existential aspect, not in his scientific aspect. For the scientist, questions about man's stature and significance, suffering and power, are not really scientific questions; consequently he is inclined to regard art as an inferior recreation. Unfortunately, the artist has come to accept the scientist's view of himself. The result, I contend, is that art in the twentieth century — literary art in particular — has ceased to take itself seriously as the primary instrument of existential philosophy. It has ceased to regard itself as an instrument for probing questions of human significance. Art is the science of human destiny. Science is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of nature; art is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of man. At its best, it evokes unifying emotions; it makes the reader see the world momentarily as a unity.
And this in turn makes it plain that the Right Man problem is a problem of highly dominant people. Dominance is a subject of enormous importance to biologists and zoologists because the percentage of dominant animals — or human beings — seems to be amazingly constant. Bernard Shaw once asked the explorer H. M. Stanley how many other men could take over leadership of the expedition if Stanley himself fell ill; Stanley replied promptly: "One in twenty." "Is that exact or approximate?" asked Shaw. "Exact." And biological studies have confirmed this as a fact. For some odd reason, precisely five per cent — one in twenty — of any animal group are dominant — have leadership qualities. During the Korean War, the Chinese made the interesting discovery that if they separated out the dominant five per cent of American prisoners of war, and kept them in separate compound, the remaining ninety-five per cent made no attempt to escape.
Once again, I experienced that overwhelming joy in the universe that I had felt in London outside the V and A. But this time, my consciousness of the world seemed larger, more complex. It was the mystic's sensation of oneness, of everything blending into everything else. Everything I looked at reminded me of something else, which also became present to my consciousness, as if I were simultaneously seeing a million worlds and smelling a million scents and hearing a million sounds-- not mixed up, but each separate and clear. I was overwhelmed with a sense of my smallness in the face of this vast, beautiful, objective universe, this universe whose chief miracle is that it exists, as well as myself. It is no dream, but a great garden in which life is trying to obtain a foothold. I experienced a desire to burst into tears of gratitude; then I controlled it, and the feeling subsided into a calm sense of immense, infinite beauty.
The romantics of the 19th century thought that the artist is at war with society, and must be destroyed by it eventually; this is the theme of all of Hoffmann's stories. I suggested -- in The Outsider and the subsequent five books of the 'cycle' -- that the fault lies partly with the artist, for preferring pessimism and self-pity to serious thought, and that the 'outsider' must eventually learn to accept his position as a spiritual leader of society. The church once provided the link between 'outsiders' and society, standing for the world of values, of 'meanings; beyond the present. The artists of the 19th century found themselves without this visible symbol of non-material values, and were, as Hoffmann says, frequently destroyed by society, or by their own destiny of standing outside it. I concluded that they must learn to stand alone, to be twice as strong, for half the problems of our civilization are due to 'the treason of the intellectual', their tendency to opt out and collapse in self-pity.
I experience the same sense of absurdity when I listen to a cosmologist like Stephen Hawking telling us that the universe began with a big bang fifteen billion years ago, and that physics will shortly create a 'theory of everything' that will answer every possible question about our universe; this entails the corollary that God is an unnecessary hypothesis. Then I think of the day when I suddenly realized that I did not know where space ended, and it becomes obvious that Hawking is also burying his head in the sand. God may be an unnecessary hypothesis for all I know, and I do not have the least objection to Hawking dispensing with him, but until we can understand why there is existence rather than nonexistence, then we simply have no right to make such statements. It is unscientific. The same applies to the biologist Richard Dawkins, with his belief that strict Darwinism can explain everything, and that life is an accidental product of matter. I feel that he is trying to answer the ultimate question by pretending it does not exist.
These experiences are not 'religious' in the ordinary sense. They are natural, and can be studied naturally. They are not 'ineffable' in the sense the sense of incommunicable by language. Maslow also came to believe that they are far commoner than one might expect, that many people tend to suppress them, to ignore them, and certain people seem actually afraid of them, as if they were somehow feminine, illogical, dangerous. 'One sees such attitudes more often in engineers, in mathematicians, in analytic philosophers, in book keepers and accountants, and generally in obsessional people'. The peak experience tends to be a kind of bubbling-over of delight, a moment of pure happiness. 'For instance, a young mother scurrying around her kitchen and getting breakfast for her husband and young children. The sun was streaming in, the children clean and nicely dressed, were chattering as they ate. The husband was casually playing with the children: but as she looked at them she was suddenly so overwhelmed with their beauty and her great love for them, and her feeling of good fortune, that she went into a peak experience . . .
Some years ago, an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, felt the same kind of instinctive revolt against the 'atmosphere' of Freudian psychology, with its emphasis on sickness and neurosis, and decided that he might obtain some equally interesting results if he studied extremely healthy people. He therefore looked around for the most cheerful and well-adjusted people he could find, and asked for their co-operation in his studies. he soon discovered and interesting fact: that most extremely healthy people frequently experience of intense affirmation and certainty; Maslow called these 'peak experiences.' No one had made this discovery before because it had never struck anyone that a science calling itself 'psychology' and professing to be a science of the human mind (not merely the sick mind), ought to form its estimate of human beings by taking into account healthy minds as well as sick ones. A sick man talks obsessively about his illness; a healthy man never talks about his health; for as Pirandello points out, we take happiness for granted, and only begin to question life when we are unhappy. Hence no psychologist ever made this simple and obvious discovery about peak experiences.
This is what fascinates Shaw: this enormous force that ignores our human preferences, our logic and intellect. It fascinates him because to be suddenly gripped by it is to see that human beings are not the accidental products of a mechanical universe — that they are not 'alone'. As social animals, we live in a narrow but apparently logical world with a well-defined identity and position. But man is the satellite of a double-star; there is also an inner-world that seems to have a completely different set of laws from the rational universe. And in fact, if we judge this 'rational universe' by its own laws, we see that it is not self-complete and self-explanatory; space must end somewhere, time must have a stop; but the alternative propositions sound equally 'logical': space is infinite; time has neither beginning nor end. The answer to these paradoxes must be that the outer universe is not self-complete; it is only half a universe. The inner world is the other half. But at present we know very little about this inner world. It is only within the present century that its existence has been clearly recognized by psychology.
The real problem of living creatures is that for most of the time they are not aware that they are an active force. They become aware of it briefly -- as the lion tracks its prey, as the warrior gallops into battle -- but, for the most part, they feel as helpless as leaves carried on the wind. When we look back at our struggles, we often become aware of how much we have achieved. Meanwhile, as we plod along in the present moment, trying to anticipate the next problem, life seems a long uphill grind. Yet man has always had these moments in which he sees that things are not as bad as they appear -- those moments of exaltation or deep relaxation, when he suddenly becomes aware of the powers of his own mind. It is in these moments that he suddenly grasps the basic nature of his problem: that he is stifled and blinded by "close-upness" -- by the sheer pressure of the world against his senses. The moments of insight permit him a bird's-eye view of his own life, and make him aware that his everyday consciousness amounts to a worm's-eye view.
The other major impression to emerge from Magick Without Tears is that -- as odd as it sounds -- one of Crowley's chief drawbacks was his sense of humour. This is a disability he shares with Bernard Shaw: both were driven by a strange compulsion to be flippant. But when he becomes absorbed in an idea, Shaw can remain serious for a sufficiently long time to convince the reader of his intellectual stature. In Crowley, the flippancy has the tone of a schoolmaster trying to be funny for the benefit of the sixth form, or a muscular Christian trying to convince you that he isn't really religious. 'How can a yogi ever feel worried? . . . That question I have been expecting for a very long time!' (Crowley has never learned that exclamation marks give the impression of a gushing schoolgirl.) 'And what you expect is to see my middle stump break the wicket-keeper's nose, with the balls smartly fielded by Third Man and Short Leg!' It makes us aware that there was something wrong with Crowley's 'self-image.' He is one of those people who, no matter how hard they try, never feel quite grown up.
Maslow's psychology, firmly based upon Freud and Watson, simply points out that the optimistic side of the picture has been overlooked; the deterministic laws of our 'lower nature' hold sway in their won field; but there are other laws. Man's freedom is a reality -- a reality that makes a difference to his physical, as well as his mental health. When Frankl's prisoners ceased to believe in the possibility of freedom, they grew sick and died. On the other hand, when they saw that Dachau had no chimney, standing out all night in the rain seemed no great hardship; they laughed and joked. The conclusion needs to be stated in letters ten feet high. In order to realise his possibilities, man must believe in an open future; he must have a vision of something worth doing. And this will not be possible until all the determinism and pessimism that we have inherited from the 19th century -- and which has infected every department of our culture, from poetry to atomic physics -- has been dismissed as fallacious and illogical. Twentieth century science, philosophy, politics, literature -- even music -- has been constructed upon a weltanschauung that leaves half of human nature out of account.
The weakness of the attack lies in its lack of discrimination. It is possible that psychic surgery is a hoax, that plants cannot really read our minds, that Kirlian photography (photographing the "life-aura" of living creatures) may depend on some simple electrical phenomenon. But to lump all of these together as if they were all on the same level of improbability shows a certain lack of discernment. The same applies to the list of "hoaxes." Rhine's careful research into extrasensory perception at Duke University is generally conceded to be serious and sincere, even by people who think his test conditions were too loose. The famous fairy photographs are quite probably a hoax, but no one has ever produced an atom of proof either way, and until someone does, no one can be quite as confident as the editors of Time seem to be. And Ted Serios has never at any time been exposed as a fraud — although obviously he might be. We see here a phenomena that we shall encounter again in relation to Geller: that when a scientist or a "rationalist" sets himself up as the defender of reason, he often treats logic with a disrespect that makes one wonder what side he is on.
It is too easy to see Crowley as an overgrown juvenile delinquent with a passion for self-advertisement. But there was another Crowley, the Crowley recognized and admired by Frank Bennett. Unless we understand this, we totally fail to grasp the extraordinary influence that Crowley could exert on women like Rose and Leah, and on men like Neuberg, Sullivan and Bennett. They came to believe that Crowley was exactly what he claimed to be: a great teacher, the messiah of a new age. And this was not the gullibility of born dupes; Sullivan, at least, was one of the most intelligent men of his age (as his book on Beethoven reveals). Crowley was, in part, a great teacher, a man of profound insights. Mencius says: 'Those who follow the part of themselves that is great become great men; those who follow the part of themselves that is small will become small men.' But Crowley was a strange mixture who devoted about equal time to following both parts of himself, and so became a curious combination of greatness and smallness. A summary of his life, and his extraordinary goings-on, makes us aware of the smallness; but it would be sheer short-sightedness to overlook the element of greatness that so impressed Bennett.
We all possess, in our unconscious minds, a kind of servant who performs certain automatic functions. When I learn to type or drive a car or learn a foreign language, I have to do it painfully and consciously; then, suddenly, my robot takes over and does it automatically; in fact, he does it far more quickly and efficiently than "I" could. The main trouble with this mechanical valet is that he often takes over functions I would prefer to keep for myself -- for example, when I am tired I eat "automatically," and so do not enjoy my food. In fact, this is the reason that so much of our experience seems oddly "unreal"; the robot has taken it over. When I am feeling low, I may live for whole days in a "robotic" state, so that experience flows off me like water off a duck's back. And because I am not receiving any "feedback" of pleasure or interest from my activities, I become duller than ever, and experience becomes progressively less interesting. (This is, of course, the mechanism of depression and nervous breakdown.) And this is also why explorers deliberately seek out hardship and danger -- to cheat the robot and "feel the life in them more intensely."
When Shaw is read in the light of the existentialist thinkers, a new philosophical position arises from his works as a whole, a position of he himself was probably unconscious. It is this: that although the ultimate reality may be irrational, yet man's relation to it is not. Existentialism means the recognition that life is a tiny corner of casual order in a universe of chaos. All men are aware of that chaos; but some insulate themselves from it and refuse to face it. These are the Insiders, and they make up the overwhelming majority of the human race. The Outsider is the man who has faced chaos. If he is an abstract philosopher — like Hegel — he will try to demonstrate that chaos is not really chaos, but that underlying it is an order of which we are unaware. If he is an existentialist, he acknowledges that chaos is chaos, a denial of life — or rather, of the conditions under which life are possible. If there is nothing but life and chaos, then life is permanently helpless — as Sartre and Camus think it is. But if a rational relation can somehow exist between them, ultimate pessimism is avoided, as it must be avoided if the Outsider is to live at all. It is this contribution which makes Shaw the key figure of existentialist thought.
I'd always, you see, even in my early teens, had these problems — problems of suddenly waking up in the middle of the night and having this horrifying vision that life is completely meaningless. You know — just thinking about something like the depths of space, and realizing it's got to come to an end somewhere, but apparently it doesn't, and then suddenly getting this terrible feeling that maybe life is a total delusion. G. K. Chesterton once said that in his teens he saw hell, and I really think I did too. I went through extreme depressions, glooms. There was one occasion on which I decided actually to commit suicide. I'd got into this state — I was working as a lab assistant at the school, and what would happen was that I'd make tremendous efforts to push myself up to a level of optimism. I'd do it in the evenings by reading poetry, thinking, writing in my journals, then I'd go back to the school the next day and blaaahhh, right down to the bottom again. This was the feeling of The Mind Parasites — there's something that waits until you've got lots of energy and just sucks you dry like a vampire. This sudden feeling that God was making fun of me made me feel one day, "For God's sake, let's not have any more of this nonsense. I'm damned if I'll be played about with like this. Let me kill myself." And immediately I felt this, I felt a curious sense of inner strength. So I went off to night school quite determined that what I was going to do was to take down the bottle of potassium cyanide from the reagent shelves and drink it. I knew that cyanide burns a hole in the bottom of the stomach and kills you within seconds. Well, I went into the classroom quite determined. There was a group gathered around the professor at the desk. I went over to the reagent shelves, I took down the bottle of potassium cyanide, I uncorked it, and as I started raising this to my lips I suddenly had an extremely clear vision of myself in a few seconds' time with an agonizing pain in the pit of my stomach, and at the same time I suddenly turned into two people. I don't mean that literally, but I mean that there was I, and there beside me was this silly, bloody little idiot called Colin Wilson who was in a state of self-pity and about to kill himself, and I didn't give a damn whether the fool killed himself or not. The trouble was, if he killed himself he'd kill me too. And quite suddenly a terrific sense of overwhelming happiness came over me. I corked up the bottle, put it on the shelf, and for the next few days was in total control of my emotions and everything else. I realized suddenly that you can achieve these states of control, provided that you put yourself in a crisis situation. And that's why throughout The Outsider I keep saying the outsider's salvation lies in extremes.

End Colin Wilson Quotes