Robert Anton Wilson Week on Boing Boing

“I regard belief as a form of brain damage.”
― Robert Anton Wilson

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson's death. Bob was a writer of fiction and non-fiction, most notably the Illuminatus! trilogy (co-written with Robert Shea) and the non-fiction memoir Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. In all, he wrote 35 books, countless articles and essays, and a couple of plays and screenplays.

Bob was an intensely curious, intellectually playful, and profoundly insightful person and his writing and talks influenced my world view more than any other writer. He wrote about conspiracy theories, government nuttiness, the future, Freemasonry, quantum physics, magick, occult and paranormal phenomena, human behavior, mental models, psychedelic drugs, cult psychology, and the nature of reality. He had a knack for giving straightforward explanations of hard-to-grok concepts without stripping them of their power or complexity. Before I read RAW's books, the world was confusing and mysterious. After I read his books, the world became much more confusing and mysterious -- but in a good way! Bob converted me from atheism to agnosticism (which, in his words, means "never regarding any model or map of the universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial").

One of my favorite things about Wilson was his skepticism towards skeptics. From Wikipedia:

Wilson also criticized scientific types with overly rigid belief systems, equating them with religious fundamentalists in their fanaticism. In a 1988 interview, when asked about his newly-published book The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science, Wilson commented: "I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they're governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They're so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic... I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity... I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical... The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they're rational! ...They're never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They're only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They're actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college..."

Philip K. Dick spoke for many RAW readers when he said, "Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity. I was astonished and delighted." Over the next week, Boing Boing will be posting a series of remembrances, interviews, videos, and other material about Robert Anton Wilson that we hope will astonish and delight you, too.

Here's the link to the page that will have all of our RAW Week posts.


  1. Awesome. RAW was an equally profound influence on me as well. I second everything you say here, and thanks in advance for the week of content to come!

  2. What Good News that you’re doing a RAW week. He died 5 yrs ago “today” (Jan 11), and his birthday was Jan 18. He had roughly the same effect on my nervous system as he did on Frauenfelder’s. The fundy materialists never really answered him back (except a few clueless ones, with brief, absurd rejoinders, my favorite being Robert Sheaffer, who wrote, “Wilson describes himself as a ‘guerrilla ontologist,’ signifying his intent to attack language and knowledge the way terrorists attack their targets: to jump from the shadows for an unprovoked attack, then slink back and hide behind a hearty belly laugh.” – RAW saw fit to quote that in his revised edition of Prometheus Rising. 

    I do think RAW had some effect on the fundy materialists, though they’d never admit it: the Skeptical Enquirer is less fundy the past few years, or so it seems to me. 

    KEEP THE LASAGNA FLYING and All Hail Eris!

  3. RAW on atheism: “I used to be an atheist, but I had to give it up because I couldn’t think of anything to say during a blowjob.  Blind chance just didn’t seem to cover the gravity of the situation!”

  4. He’s been on my ‘to read’ list for years. But I’m still sceptical. What’s a non-fundy sceptic?

          1. Firstly, @wysinwyg:disqus , I’m not certain what you want out of life. You present an article that although biased towards ‘evidence for God’ is nonetheless quite effectively portraying Einstein as a  thoroughly open minded man with enough intellect and hubris to come to conclusions that question his own ideology. That’s pretty non-fundy sceptic. But I prefer the term non-fundy intellectual.

            Secondly, @boingboing-de7092ba6df4276921d27a3704c57998:disqus, I honestly thought that the article cited by wysinwyg was accurate and edibly small for a quick read, albeit with it’s own dose of opinion supporting a personal God. It doesn’t misrepresent Einstein, except to make an assumption about his final ideas about human suffering. Am I wrong about this?

        1. Sorry, BoingBoing.  I cannot read you any more.  I do not live up to Avi Solomon’s Standard for Internet Pedants.

          1. Nor do I live up to your standard for Internet Crackpots. I prefer citing source materials directly as in Einsteins complete speech above, instead of an haphazard amalgamation in the link you provided. BTW, if you are in Jerusalem, I highly recommend a visit to the Einstein Archives where his manuscripts are on display along with all his human foibles:

          2. Did you notice that the crackpot webpage actually quoted the text of a letter Einstein himself wrote to explain his position on religious belief?  Did you consider the possibility that I was providing a link to the primary source (the letter) rather than the derivative work (the rest of the page)?

            I didn’t know Einstein wrote the article you cited.  I knew he wrote the letter I cited.  So I hunted the letter down and happened to find it quoted on a crackpot page.  I was linking to the letter, not the commentary. If a letter written by Einstein himself is not a good enough citation then I don’t know how to help you.

  5. “Bob converted me from atheism to agnosticism”. I’m curious as to what sort of change this entails. When speaking to someone of a keen intellect, I would imagine most atheists would admit they are agnostic. It’s only when speaking to people that believe in a religion of some type that you are required to take the stance of being an atheist as they don’t understand the nuance of agnosticism.

    1. Sadly not always; I know several other atheists who are atheists because of an underlying rejection-of-religion, without possessing the underlying philosophical framework necessary to be an agnostic.

    2. It’s only when speaking to people that believe in a religion of some type that you are required to take the stance of being an atheist

      Im sorry, but you’re totally wrong here. Many religious fundamentalist today are using an sweeping “anti-science” stance as a way to further their own agendas. If you choose to confront them within that false dichotomy of science vs religion, you’re just validating their narrow world-view and filling their sad straw man with your own flesh.

  6. Hm, I still consider myself an atheist after reading a lot of his works and admiring him very much. I admit that I might be wrong, but looking at the world as it shows itself to me I think it is so highly unlikely to the point of irrelevance. And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t seem to have any impact.In the end, my view is probably not so different from RAW’s but if I’d use the word agnostic I’d loose an opportunity to piss religious and esoteric nutjobs of, give an invitation to try to convert me to whatever mumbojumbo and give an impression I’d be much more ambivalent on the issue than I really am.
    I don’t dispute the fact that we don’t (and surely never will) know everything, but everything that has been understood so far has proven to have it’s cause in what is called the natural or physical world, so I really don’t feel the need to be to diplomatic about it by calling me an agnostic. 
    Maybe the problem here is that all those words like god, atheism or agnosticism are so ambivalent and loaded with associations that it’s really hard for people to guess what one actually means and how one distinguishes from others who use those words.

    1. I don’t think agnosticism necessarily means that you need to believe in magic, just an awareness that our senses and intellect can’t fathom the breadth and dynamism of the universe, which seems pretty rational to me. 

      RAW’s position is what science wants to be, but so called sceptics are always only sceptical of things that do not conform to their established world view, which is hardly sceptical.

      Also, not to pick on you in particular, but I’m always perplexed by this need to antagonise religious people. When I meet one I don’t exclaim “OMG you believe in fairies and imaginary sky demons!! Are you insane?!!” Instead I identify the bit of their religion that I like, because all religions have at least some  nice things going for them.

      Then again I was never indoctrinated into a religion, nor do I live in the US or some other theocracy. I imagine that experiencing such a thing might engender a need to antagonise.

      1. “so called sceptics are always only sceptical of things that do not conform to their established world view, which is hardly sceptical.”
        saying that is not better than saying all religious persons are insane fundamentalists. Science has an ideal but as with all ideals it’s often hard to completely adhere to it. after all, nobody is perfect. If you give me some facts I’ll change my views about any subject, I’ve been there and done that some times already. Maybe I’ll find it harder to change when I get older, could be.

        “When I meet one I don’t exclaim “OMG you believe in fairies and imaginary sky demons!! Are you insane?!!””
        I usually don’t do that either, only to those who don’t accept that I’m an atheist. And when I think something is ridiculous, I’ll say so, with varying levels of politeness, depending on how much I respect the person and how they treat me and my views.

        I accept the existance of religions and believers, the ammount of respect I have for them depends on how much their views and morales differ from mine and how they view and treat their surroundings. And there are some manifestations I’d be really happy if they’d just go away although I probably can’t do anything about it.

      2. “” I imagine that experiencing such a thing might engender a need to antagonise.””

        I think you just hit the nail on the head with that statement. I don’t think that enough of my fellow Americans realize quite what a stranglehold religion has on our country, and how subtle an influence it has on our daily lives. The Judeo-Christian strain and more recently Islam. More than we would like to think.

        1.  I imagine that experiencing such a thing might engender a need to antagonize

          Quite so, but we always need to keep our eyes on the price when confronting someone who challenges our beliefs. Your strategy must be totally different depending on wether you seek to : A) defend your own position B) bring the other party over to your position or C) “win” the confrontation in order to settle a score or whatever. 
          Always take a long, hard look at your own motivations, and if the answer turns out to be C, maybe your most successful approach would be to abandon arguing altogether and just use a baseball bat on the other guy’s kneecaps instead.

      3. “our senses and intellect can’t fathom the breadth and dynamism of the universe, which seems pretty rational to me.”

        That is the exact opposite of rationalism.

        “but so called sceptics are always only sceptical of things that do not conform to their established world view, which is hardly sceptical.”

        People who do not challenge the dominant paradigm are not and never have been skeptics. Those types of people are rightly called conservative reactionaries. But just because someone doesn’t accept one’s pet pseudoscience doesn’t mean they are defenders of the status quo.

        “nor do I live in the US or some other theocracy.”

        The US is not a theocracy. The internet is like a rear view mirror, objects appear larger and closer than they actually are. The things that people worry about on the internet are not realistically matters of great concern.

        1. That is the exact opposite of rationalism.

          This criticism would be relevant if rationalism was supposed to be rational.  As it is, there’s nothing irrational about rejecting rationalism.

          And if you think that seems absurd try reading up on what “rationalism” actually means.

          The US is not a theocracy. The internet is like a rear view mirror, objects appear larger and closer than they actually are. The things that people worry about on the internet are not realistically matters of great concern.

          Not quite a theocracy but a lot of people are trying very hard to make it so.  You are entirely too sanguine about this.

          1. “This criticism would be relevant if rationalism was supposed to be rational.”

            This is, quite literally, incoherent and it highlights my main objection to Anton Wilson. Simply reversing the logic of what someone says and throwing it back at them is not being profound. It’s being glib and superficial.

            “You are entirely too sanguine about this.”

            Thank you for the complement. I do not act as though my hair is on fire because fundamentalists in Alabama have been saying nutty things a long time. They were saying those things 50 years ago. It hasn’t changed and they haven’t taken over the country and they won’t in the future. Why? Because social institutions are remarkable resilient to change.

            Goat herders in Afghanistan have cell phones and check for good market prices. As a result everyone sees everyone else as being closer to their own social group than they actually are and people naturally react to the close proximity of the other. The world is still a very big place. Worry about the things that really matter like the fact that we are apparently not having winter this year.

          2. @ wysinwyg — I took Pablito to mean rational as in logically coherent and did not think he meant the philosophy of Rationalism. So saying that our senses cannot fathom some aspect of the universe is like saying that are things to be seen which cannot be seen. Which is not coherent.

          1. I know what you mean too, and objects appear smaller so they may seem farther away. But the stereo disparities (difference between what your two eyes see) also can make them seem closer to the mirror than they are. I guess that this is too long for a mirror caption.

          2. Just to continue this analogy, objects may be whatever size or distance in relation to you they please. If they have little congressional or constitutional power to actually rear end you then the following distance is acceptable. Also, I hate it when politicians hog the fast lane.

        2. Why would you rationally expect that the conceptual/calculative operations of the human brain are, even in principle, perfectly adequated to representing the total/ahistorical logic (even assuming there is such a thing, and that it is not simply the next primitive anthropocentric projection in our long line of them) of the universe? Is it rational to assume that we are somehow uniquely, unlimitedly rational and cognitively capable organisms, make sweeping foundational assumptions about reality on that basis, and then turn around and use the interpretive consequences to attempt to justify the original assumption?

          Earth to wannabe ‘scientific’ theologians: We’re just large-brained primates that started walking upright and freed two limbs up for dedicated tool fabrication and use. Our knowledge, ideas, language, and formalisms are not in any way, shape, or form historically disconnected statements in a Platonic ur-system of Reason that can be isolated from their own material and temporal context. We were not created in the Universe’s image. Grow up and get over yourselves; science is a collection of apparatuses, methods, and institutions developed to enable effective technical operations to be robust under boundary conditions of absolute indeterminacy and uncertainty, not secure repose upon foundations of Truth.

          1. @ kairos — I am not arguing for a Platonic sense of Reason or Truth and I have many times argued against that. I think it is rational to say that there is an external world independent of our desires and that we can represent that world through language. I don’t think it is rational to say there is some aspect of the world which is forever removed from our ability to say how it is in itself.

            No it would not be rational to assume we are rational and then justify that by appealing to rationality. The reason we can say that true statements are objectively true is because they accurately represent an objective reality that exists independent of us. That is what *makes* a statement true.

    2. “Maybe the problem here is that all those words like god, atheism or agnosticism are so ambivalent and loaded with associations”

      It’s pretty simple. Theists believe god exists, atheists believe god does not exist and agnostics are skeptical of both.

      1. This atheist does not believe that gods do not exist. This atheist does not believe gods exist. It’s the theists who are making the claims; I simply see no reason to believe them.

        1. “This atheist does not believe that gods do not exist.” — Then you are not an atheist. I accept the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition by J.J.C. Smart “‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the
          existence of God.”

          1. Q: Do you believe any gods exist?
            Me: No.

            End of story. Cherry-pick whatever definition makes you happy.

          2. LOL it’s like watching a shitty Public Forum debate round. “Yes, but according to an expert interviewed on CNN on 5/3/06, “terrorism” is defined as […], therefore your plan does not meet the correct definition of ‘counterterrorism’ and therefore I win! Judge, vote PRO.”

        2. This: “Do you believe any gods exist? Me: No.” directly contradicts this: “This atheist does not believe that gods do not exist.”

          You need to pick one, you can’t have both.

      2. Not quite.  “Agnosticism” is a statement about one’s knowledge, “atheism” is a statement about one’s belief.  Since one can believe something without actually knowing it these ideas are not mutually exclusive.

        There are some agnostics who set themselves up just as you describe but most atheists I talk to acknowledge that they are agnostic atheists.

        1. “Agnosticism” is a statement about one’s knowledge” – So are atheism and theism. Why? *Because* all three make knowledge claims. All three labels mark one as belonging to a particular group represented by three sets. Not all members of the set of agnostics belong to the set of atheists OR theists but some members belong to the set of atheists AND agnostics and some belong to the set of theists AND agnostics. However NO members of the set of atheists belong to the set of theists and vice versa.


          1. I understand what you’re saying but you’re wrong.  When I call myself an atheist I am merely saying that I do not believe in God.  I am not making a knowledge claim by saying “I am an atheist” (except for the trivial knowledge claim that I know that I am an atheist).  I do not know for certain that there is no God but nonetheless I do not believe in God.  I am an agnostic atheist.

          2. You can make a 2×2.  This is a completely coherent formulation.  I’m an agnostic atheist because I don’t know whether there’s a God but don’t believe there is.  A gnostic theist, in the opposite corner, might be someone like Plantinga who argues that belief in God is properly basic and that believers have a sensus divinatus that gives them direct access to God’s existence.  Plantinga not only believes in God but knows that God exists from first-hand experience (or at least he argues this).  Gnostic atheism is the most unreasonable of the four in most ways, it would be difficult to maintain positive knowledge of God’s nonexistence.  And agnostic theism describes the millions of people that have no proof or evidence of God’s existence and don’t need it because they have faith.

            That, to me, is a much more useful framework for describing belief than yours.

  7. has anyone noticed that there is not a proper working Robert Anton Wilson facebook page?

    someone should do something about this, me thinks.

  8. You know, there is already a word in the English language for skepticism of skepticism, it’s “gullible”.

    1. But (apart from the fact that should be gullibility) isn’t this the same as fundamentalism? Do we have a problem of language or logic? Which of the two forces us to take sides?

    2. RAW chose the Greek word zeteticism, which seemed to precede “skepticism,” and meant a far more agnostic approach to language and ideas, and both scientific and philosophical “truths.” Regarding RELIGIOUS ideas and agnostic/atheism, RAW explained, esp when discussing the poetry of Ezra Pound and the meanings of various world-wide “gods” and “goddesses”: that they were poetic metaphors inherent in the human being, or at least at they evolved through the Paleolithic into the Neolithic and now Post-Lithic, and furthermore: that They were all malleable deities. RAW did wax sarcastic about the Yahweh OT “god”: He acts like the 2-year old in everyone. “You didn’t do what I wanted! Kill all those people over that hill!” 

      He really liked Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu, sufis, weird zen masters, much of Buddhism, and tantra…

      1. Or is it a problem of language/linguistics and epistemology? I find myself agreeing with both Chomsky and Foucault but don’t find the way out through grammatology and Joyce (for instance) particularly satisfactory.

  9. Hrm… and here I was calling myself a “skeptic” in preference to “atheist” because I felt it had less of an undertone of materialist dogma — effectively *because* I consider my philosophy to be influenced by RAW. Oh well, words are hard, Wittgenstein scores another point.

    Perhaps the two terms have switched places in that regard of late, since the Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris & Hitchens) popularized the notion of a more assertive atheism.

    1. I think the trick is not to worry so much about the words.  The more philosophy I read the more I see all these people have the same ideas in different languages.  For example, Sextus Empiricus’ elaboration of Pyrrhonic skepticism is pretty much exactly Descartes’ “brain-in-a-vat” argument.

  10. Robert Anton Wilson
    Short Clip on Pessimists vs Optimists

    Q: Will you, before you leave, in a few sentences tell us why it’s more fun to be optimistic than paranoid?

    A: […M]aybe things are gonna turn out okay — in which case the pessimists are killing themselves and being miserable for no good reason at all […] even if everything is going to turn out terribly, the optimists are having more fun before the final tragedy comes … whereas the pessimists are living in misery all the time!

  11. For me, RAW changed everything.  

    Had I known that he would invert and twist my world view until the very notion of “my world view” became obsolete, I never would have read a single word of his.

  12. The Man has done more to change the way I view the world than any other. Don’t know what else I can say about Bob other than that. If you haven’t read a little RAW, then you owe it to yourself.
    Sombunall of his books are classics, in my opinion.

  13. Also on a side note, I was unfortunate enough to to be the first person to leave a comment on his blog, of the news of his passing. One morning I woke up, felt the world was a bit lighter and looked at to see that he had indeed passed. Sad, to be sure, but I knew that he went with a smile, a wink and hilaritas. It will be a moment I shall never forget.

  14. A question for those of you who have read Mr. Wilson:
    For someone who has never read any of his work, where would you recommend beginning?
    Fiction or non-fiction matters not to me, just captivating prose.  
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Shea & Wilson’s Illuminatus! is indispensible.  My other favorites are Cosmic Trigger, which I think shows more of the remarkable wonderful person than any other book, and Prometheus Rising, which is relatively linear, and has concrete instructions.

  15. “I regard belief as a form of brain damage.”

    Yeah, the list of things that he was wrong about is very long. I read The Cosmic Trigger and then I read some actual science. He never impressed me, he was an intellectual lightweight prone to conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and a glib and superficial understanding of the world around him.

    He was entertaining, sure, but his books can be safely ignored by anyone looking to actually understand the world and how to think.

    1. “Yeah, the list of things that he was wrong about is very long.” I’ll bet he would agree with you. 

      Do you think the list of things you are wrong about is long, too?

  16. Yeah, RAW did it to me, too, as I grew up in the back woods of Central Florida.

    Let’s not fail to mention Robert Shea’s contribution, though, as co-author of Illuminatus!. He went on to surreptitiously push some of the same “guerrilla ontology” in a couple seemingly mainstream historical novels, Shike and All Things Are Lights (which I believe is available free online now).

    But it was RAW’s Cosmic Trigger and Right Where You Are Sitting Now that finalized the blowing of my mind as an impressionable teen. And Schrödinger’s Cat (which curiosity may, or may not have, killed).

    His books are written with a Gurdjieffian cleverness. They induce the reader to begin to question conventional reality, progress to questioning your own reality, and finally to the realization that you can’t trust anything the author himself says without checking on it yourself. If you’ll notice, most (if not all) of the quotes in Illuminatus! are subtly wrong. He misquotes Joe Hill, he misquotes Bride of Frankenstein, heck, he probably misquoted Dutch Shultz’s famous last words (I never checked that one). I am certain those misquotes are intentional safeguards against his own writings being given unquestioned authority.

    For those so inspired by his writings, it’s a message that it’s ultimately up to you to think for yourself.

    1. “If you’ll notice, most (if not all) of the quotes in Illuminatus! are subtly wrong.”

      Ahhh, I did not know that. Now I am doubly glad I never mistook him for a serious thinker. Not only was he a conspiracy theorist he was a hack as well. Good to know.

      1. A conspiracy theorist? You underestimate the trickster, if you think he believed all he wrote in that regard, or wanted others to. He had fun with conspiracy theory, and used it as an ontological tool.

        I’m sure he’d be glad you never mistook him for a Serious Thinker, though.

        1. “You underestimate the trickster” — Well no, I just think the role of trickster is really just that of a troll. Being a contrarian just to be a contrarian is not a particularly deep position. It’s immature and childish.

          “He had fun with conspiracy theory, and used it as an ontological tool.”

          And he had about the same luck doing so as a carpenter would using a banana as a hammer.

          1. Being a contrarian just to be a contrarian is not a particularly deep position. It’s immature and childish.

            Your lack of self awareness is hilarious.

          2. “You underestimate the trickster” — Well no, I just think the role of trickster is really just that of a troll.
            Ah.  So you don’t, after all, underestimate the trickster, you utterly fail to understand him.
            I wish you great initiations.

          1. That’s entirely true, and I apologize for my boorishness.  But labeling RAW a “conspiracy theorist” in the sense of one who believes in outlandish conspiracy theories is a misrepresentation rather than an opinion.  RAW’s beliefs regarding conspiracies were in line with those of most rational skeptics: he believed that a great many small conspiracies occur, but the grand, large-scale, decade-spanning conspiracies postulated by paranoiacs were a fantasy, since most conspirators will inevitably either screw up, or get overtaken by other, temporarily more clever conspirators.  (I’m quoting him more less directly here.)  Umberto Eco wrote about occult conspiracies in Foucalt’s Pendulum, but his intention was by no means to evince a belief in them.

  17. My favorite author of all time, and profound influence on my entire life. My fave non-fiction book of his is Prometheus Rising, which you can probably find as a pdf via google.

  18. “I regard belief as a form of brain damage.” – is a statement of belief. He disguises it with the more neutral word “regard” but in fact it is just an ideological statement. People can be enormously self-deluding when it comes to belief.

    1. I think Wilson probably would have been the first to admit that it is not possible to escape completely from ideological beliefs.  But his argument was that by maintaining a persistent vigilance regarding the tendency of belief systems to create cognitive dissonances and self-confirming biases, you at least had some chance of avoiding the type of self-delusion that you mention.  This is an old argument that goes back to the earliest expressions of philosophical skepticism.  The earliest skeptics weren’t skeptical in the modern sense, but more in the manner of RAW: they were skeptical about the ability of human beings to achieve an absolute knowledge of things.  Their  opponents responded with the same argument you have made there: that this position of radical skepticism is self-destructing, because to say that absolute truth statements are impossible is itself the expression of an absolute truth statement. The skeptics acknowledged the paradox, but maintained that to suspend judgement on things was the sanest, least error-prone option available :
      “By suspending judgment, by confining oneself to phenomena or objects as they appear, and by asserting nothing definite as to how they really are, one can escape the perplexities of life and attain an imperturbable peace of mind.” Pyrrho.

      1. I’m also sceptical about absolute knowledge, but one cannot act on suspended judgement so as a moral philosophy it is a complete failure. Since one must act, one must commit to a belief, if only temporarily. Or one could become a Jain ascetic and just sit very still and wait to die  (death from not drinking only takes a few days, though starvation takes longer if you drink water). Jainism survives but not in the extreme form recorded in ancient Indian texts.

        I think the Pyrrho quote is just as much brain damage. As an ideal it just about passes muster, but in fact we are almost incapable of confinsing ourselves to things as they appear. As a more recent philosopher, Thomas Metzinger has said “we are all naive realists”. Getting around this is not impossible, but the only people I know who can do it are people who regularly spend long stretches in samādhi or deep meditative integration – specifically choosing not to react to external stimuli. That builds up an ability to stay with the perception rather than the stories we tell about it under more challenging circumstances like normal perception. I have never observed this under other circumstances, and I’m not aware of any scientific studies of this ability.

        1. I’m not entirely advocating Pyrrho’s stance here, but with regard to morality, one might argue that since morality affects our physical well-being and bodies and in the direct here and nowness of things, so to speak, it might to some degree be seen as separate from the more metaphysical, ultimate nature of things speculation about which the Pyrrh0ist suspends his judgement.  But I do think that morality is the one dimension of life wherein absolute rather than relative standards are necessary.

    2. I’ll pick up on that, Jayarava, because it’s a good example to explain a lot of what RAW was about.

      RAW does not ‘disguise [his statement of belief] with the more neutral word “regard”, like you say. He would have very deliberately choosen that word to accurately express the situation.  He was specifically not writing ‘belief *is* a form a brain damage’.

      He regarded belief as a form of brain damage, so he expressed that as a statement about his current view, rather than a statement about belief. In that way, he spoke truthfully. He was well aware that his worldview was not the world.

      IIRC, he wrote ‘Quantum Psychology’ without using the verb ‘to be’ at all. A lot of his work is about how semantic traps (such as saying ‘something *is* something) derail our understanding of the world. 

      When you say ‘People can be enormously self-deluding when it comes to belief’, you are of course correct, but RAW probably worked harder than most other writers to express the extent that we are all trapped by beliefs – himself as much as in others.

      1. I’m happy to bow to your greater knowledge of RAW. But I was responding to a stand alone quote which itself sounded like brain damage. Context is everything.

  19. Multi-model agnosticism or BUST. Fort will cherish this week, as an informational existential operator. Lo!

  20. If you admit that you might be wrong, you are an agnostic.  

    agnostic:  a = not, gnostic = secret knowledge or insight – generally relating to the divine or the nature of the universe

    atheist: a = not; theist: one who believes in one or more gods or forms of divinity.

    Atheism is every bit as dogmatic as evangelical Christianity.  It is based on the logical fallacy that divinity cannot exist because it is impossible to collect evidence of it.  This is doubly stupid since even physics and cosmology acknowledge that there are things that are fundamentally unknowable and immeasurable based on our current understanding of space and time still can and do exist ( things beyond our light cone for example ).

    If you believe that God is a question to be answered by Philosophers and not scientists, you are agnostic, and only the Reverend Richard Dawkins would try to tell you otherwise.

    1. Atheism is every bit as dogmatic as evangelical Christianity.  It is based on the logical fallacy that divinity cannot exist because it is impossible to collect evidence of it.

      This is quite simply not correct.  If you’re not an atheist you’re probably better off asking atheists what they believe than trying to tell them what they believe.

  21. I’m also a big fan of RAW, although I must say after trudging through the works of Alfred Korzybski I can see where Bob gets  many of his ideas. General Semantics had a huge influence on the guy, and he incorporates many of Korzybski’s ideas with his own weird storytelling prowess. RAW was a genius at bringing obscure, complicated ideas from the likes of Korzybski, Leary, Crowley, etc and presenting them in a mentally stimulating, often funny way.

  22. “I regard belief as a form of brain damage.” 

    I regard statements that consider mental illness and brain damage to be inherent moral defects as not particularly enlightened. In fact, I think they are extremely insipid.

  23. Thanks for the RAW tribute.  He turned me on to so many things and other writers that I’ll be forever in his debt.

  24. One humble suggestion regarding comments,  RAW’s main linguistics tool to overcome doctrine and antagonism was to use English Prime (distilled from Korzybski’s work), basically refraining from using the “is of identity”. He had high hopes that this would help reduce antagonism in communications and eventually reduce conflict on a large scale, but maybe the comments section would be great place to try:)

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