Robert Anton Wilson Remembered: Interviews with Douglas Rushkoff, RU Sirius, David Jay Brown, Phil Farber, and Antero Alli, by Propaganda Anonymous.
My favorite memory of Bob, hmmm. Late one night during one of many infamous Discordian Salons that Bob and Arlen hosted for their fellow writers, scientists and misfits, I found my gaze drifting to the window and out to the blackened sky beyond. There I saw a steady light hovering in the distance like some planet or star until, that is, it slowly dropped, made a ninety-degree angle turn and then, sped away at a 45 degrees angle out of view. I recall my mouth opening speechlessly thinking, "I just saw a UFO". At that moment, I looked across the room where I saw Bob looking right back at me, smiling with that Irish twinkle in his eyes. -- Antero Alli
January 11, 2012 marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of Robert Anton Wilson. January 18, 2012 also marks the 79th anniversary of Bob's birth, so this is a very good time to post this interview. For those who do not know who Bob Wilson was, he was an icon for being an iconoclast; as well as the author of over 35 books, including the Illuminatus! trilogy (Co-authored by Robert Shea).
Wilson described himself as a "model agnostic," who utilized "maybe logic." In other words, Bob was of the opinion that the maps we create -- i.e. mathematical formulas, words written down or spoken, pieces of art, etc. -- are more telling of the individual interacting with an experience, than the experience acting upon an individual. Therefore, it made very little sense to him to speak about this universal "law" or that absolute Truth. Bob believed that everyday language should and could integrate the 20th Century scientific discoveries in mathematics and physics, that it would be most wise to drop our attachments to Aristotelian either/or logic, the Euclidean "left/right" dichotomy applied to politics, and all the other medieval philosophic detritus clogging perceptions and causing confusion. Hence, a model agnostic, utilizing maybe logic.
Five years after his death, Wilson's work may now be heading towards the threshold of greater recognition. Wilson often reproduced the quote, "It is dangerous to understand new things too quickly," attributed to the 19th Century American Anarchist Josiah Warren. Perhaps these increasingly dangerous times are calling us to understand all the new things Robert Anton Wilson had to say, and to do so quickly.
I have interviewed five writers who knew both Robert Anton Wilson, the satirical philosopher, and Bob Wilson, the laid back husband and father who managed to find the time to write such mind-blowing and hilarious treatises as Prometheus Rising and Natural Law: or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy. Douglas Rushkoff, RU Sirius, David Jay Brown, Phil Farber, and Antero Alli are all accomplished thinkers in their own right, and have been kind enough to reminisce about the man they considered a mentor, teacher, and friend.
David Jay Brown: The material about the 8-circuit model of the brain that I've been developing, updating its relationship to modern neuroscience and cutting-edge technology, has been incorporated into my new book, Over the Edge of the Mind: Exploring the Interface of Psychedelics, Culture, and Consciousness -- which will be published by Inner Traditions this Fall. I think that the 8-circuit model has stood the test of time and that it becomes more and more relevant the more that we learn about neurochemistry, the anatomy of the brain, and the function of neural circuits. The reason that the 8-circuit of the brain model is so powerful, I think, is because it is based on the law of octaves, which describes how all energetic systems evolve in the universe. The rainbow and the musical scale are examples of how nature follows this universal law, and it was Leary's stroke of brilliance to apply this idea to the evolution of consciousness and the development of the individual. In my new book I have a section about which neuroanatomical, molecular, atomic, and quantum structures might correspond with the 8 circuits, and I suspect that this will be developed in much more sophisticated ways by others in the near future.
PROP: RU, What value does the "8 Circuit Model" hold for you? What benefits have you personally garnered from thinking about consciousness within this metaphor?
RU Sirius: I generally don't think about this model very frequently until I'm reminded of it... at which point it becomes painfully clear that the first four circuits are really pretty precise. I mean, I know they're metaphoric and I don't think there are actual smooth, definable circuits in the brain, but as a model of evolutionary psychology, they're right on target. The higher circuits are much more complicated. Even with the aid of psychedelic drugs or various techniques, I don't know that we can explore their accuracy on a fairly hostile planet as pre-posthumans. There's too much static... too much interference.
PROP: Antero, In two of your books, Angel Tech and The Eight-Circuit Brain, you have expounded and expanded upon the 8-circuit model of intelligence. What benefits have you personally gained from thinking about and working with your own consciousness within Leary and Wilson's model?
Antero Alli: Having interacted with, applied and written about this model for 30 years has pushed me well beyond Leary's and Wilson's modeling of the 8-Circuit Brain. This has been due to 30-plus years of doing para-theatre (asocial group ritual work) and the embodiment bias these processes have stamped in me. In other words, the eight circuits are no longer abstract concepts for me but a language linking to vital forces in my physical body and the energetic body and its sheath: the central nervous system. I don't really think about circuits anymore (unless I am teaching my online circuit course which I run once a year every Spring); it's all become more instinctual at this point. The benefits of learning and applying the 8-circuit model have been higher levels of discernment between differing states of consciousness and how they interact with and influence each other. Most especially in how the upper and lower circuits impact each other and can be made to work together. This discernment process has also given rise to a fluidity of self-detachment allowing more autonomy and integrity in my interactions with others. This same process has also afforded more perception into states of consciousness other people are engaging, whether they know it or not, which can be a mixed blessing -- depending on how I choose to interact with what I see and feel and, how others react to that.
PROP: Which book of Bob's has had the greatest affect on you?
David: My favorite of Bob's nonfiction works is Prometheus Rising, and my favorite fiction by Bob is The Schrödinger's Cat trilogy. But the book that undoubtedly had the most effect on my life -- out of every single book that I've ever read -- is Cosmic Trigger. It not only inspired the structure of the current book that I'm writing, Over the Edge of the Mind, it was the book that initially inspired me to become a writer. Many of the people that I later came to interview and work with, were first brought to my attention when I first read Cosmic Trigger as a wide-eyed teenager.
Douglas Rushkoff: Honestly, it was Bob the person who turned me onto his work. I ended up meeting him before really engaging with his stuff. And at that point it was Cosmic Trigger - both for the autobiographical aspects and how it teaches you how to be alive.
RU: The greatest for me is still the Illuminatus! trilogy which is the only novel series I've ever read repeatedly. It never bores. It's always dynamic and filled with interesting and strange ideas. He even explains a lot of obscure and semi-obscure political theories at the end of it all with perfect precision and clarity.
PROP: Phil, you have been a magickal practitioner for many years, and have offered your knowledge and experience in courses you've led at the Maybe Logic Academy, as well as in your new book Brain-Magick: Exercises in Meta-Magick and Invocation. When it comes to Magick, how would you rate Bob as a magician?
Phil Farber: I rate Bob up there with the best. More so than any other writer on the subject, he was able to reconcile critical thinking, modern physics and linguistics with the ancient traditions of magick. Privately, Bob was a devoted practitioner and explorer. He brought his wide-ranging intellect and his personal spark of creativity to the job of understanding and updating the techniques. He did the work, for real. In person, he was somewhat reticent to discuss his ongoing practices, but after they were, for him, history, he gave us some limited accounts in the Cosmic Trigger series and in a few other places. As a result, Bob is probably responsible for bringing more new students to magick and, specifically, to Thelema, than anyone else, perhaps Crowley included. As a writer, he brought uncommon sense to the subject and not only made magick appealing, but also understandable to the modern mind.
PROP: Antero, You have described the effect that Wilson's writing was able to elicit within you while reading such books as Cosmic Trigger. You have said, in 'The 8-Circuit Brain,' that Bob's writing 'had this unique way with words that acted on my ear-brain loop just like drugs.' Did you ever get to speak with him about how he developed such a dense and powerful style?
Antero: Bob Wilson was serious about brain change and maybe even more serious about writing. During my personal interactions with Bob and his friends, circa 1979-83, it was clear to us all that he was consciously experimenting with new ways of writing, of arranging words to trigger chemical reactions in the reader's brain. At the time, I likened this idea to the ancient arts of casting of spells to induce trance states. In his own way, I think this was how Bob embodied the Magus archetype. He was a highly skilled caster of spells with a wicked talent for breaking the very trances he created to procure a series of little awakenings in the reader's psyche. Bob told me once that the Olde English word for "magic" was grammarye. I think Bob knew what he was doing and he did it on purpose. I knew him as genuinely rebellious. He did not care as much about protesting against any abstract nemesis, like "The Man" or "The Machine" or "Society," as he did about daring others to question the authority of their own sleeping assumptions. He rebelled against his own assumptions all the time by claiming that all perceptions were gambles.
PROP: RU, One major theme in your 2004 book Counterculture through the Ages was that Counterculture is "the tradition of breaking with tradition," Bob Wilson's work showed an affinity for the heretic, as it were. If you were to play Sigmund sawed-off fucking Freud here, what aspect of Bob's personality do think attracted him to being a champion of such outlaw luminaries as Dr. Timothy Leary, Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, etc? And where would you place Wilson's work within this historical spectrum you so thoroughly lay out?
RU: I'd like to think that anyone of such great intelligence would be attracted to outsider ideas, although that's seemingly not the case. But maybe Bob really was just a heck of a lot smarter than many better known, more critically praised intellectuals. Anyone who understands Joyce's books inside out and upside down is operating at a level that can turn linguistic flow into a puzzle and vice versa. That's pretty incredible.
Personality-wise, Bob always struck me as more contrarian than maybe even he liked to believe. I mean, you wouldn't hang out with him and think... "well, here's a new age guy." He had this very wry incisive satiric wit that would be naturally impatient with received wisdom. I don't know. Maybe it's just because he was a New Yorker...with polio.
PROP: Douglas, you once told me that you thought Bob was next generation heroic. Could you elaborate on that statement?
Douglas: He didn't act like a hero. He was a regular person. He behaved without ego, and didn't try to get people to believe in him or what he believed. He would have been a good Occupier.
PROP: Phil, You lead seminars for learning Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Wilson was an avid practitioner of NLP. Why do you think Bob was attracted to Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
Phil: I think Bob and NLP were a natural combo. One of the roots of NLP was General Semantics, a field that Bob was heavily involved with over many years. Bob, prior to his involvement in NLP, was also very interested in Ericksonian hypnosis, another of NLP's antecedents. NLP also incorporates a form of model agnosticism - that our linguistic creations provide useful maps rather than objective "truth" - that would have been appealing to Bob. I also think that there was healthy friendship between Bob and some prominent NLPers, including Richard Bandler and the LaValles, who run the Society of NLP. Richard was a big fan of Bob's work and generally treated Bob like royalty when they worked together.
PROP: What is the most useful thing you have learned from Bob?
Antero: There were several "most useful things". His concept of "reality selection" stimulated my imagination and deflated my false certitudes (dogmas), allowing a freedom of thought I had not known before, a freedom based on entertaining multiple perspectives as a unique perspective unto itself. His down-to-earth attitude about all things mystical resonated strongly with me as a very useful outlook for my life's path. Perhaps the most useful thing I learned was how he managed to transform the tragic death of his daughter Luna through compassion, meditation, and yoga. This lesson was not truly learned until I lost my own daughter, Zoe, to sudden death some ten years later. This miraculous conversion of tragic into magic, as I called it, continues to this day as that kind of gift that keeps on giving.
Phil: Tough question. I learned so many useful things from Bob. How to find quarters (and, later on, twenties) on the ground was pretty useful. The eight circuit brain model has been a useful component of much of what I do. Some of Bob's story-telling style and technique was very educational for me.
One evening in the early '90s, my wife and I were driving Bob to a speaking gig at an area college that we had set up for him. We were running late and I was getting pretty nervous about getting to the lecture hall in time to see that things went off smoothly. As we neared the college, though, Bob spotted a pizza parlor and asked to stop for some slices. I protested that we were already late -- but Bob just chuckled and said, "It can't start without me." It may seem like a small thing, but that incident totally changed my attitude about my own speaking appearances. To this day, if I start to get nervous about it, I hear Bob's voice in my head saying "It can't start without me" and I become much more relaxed.
David: I learned more from Bob than probably any other single human being, so it's pretty hard to narrow it all down to the "most useful thing." But one of the most important things that I learned from Bob was how to write with cannabis, by alternating the states of mind the one edits from. In other words, if you write stoned, then edit straight; and if you write straight, then edit stoned. Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, John Lilly, and Terence McKenna all taught me that the most important research in the world isn't being conducted in university laboratories, but rather, among the brave psychonauts who are exploring the frontiers of consciousness with an ever-increasing range of psychedelic drugs and shamanic plants.
PROP: Last question, What is your favorite memory of Bob?
Douglas: Probably when he came to my first talk for my first book. It was at Capitola Book Cafe, and he was there sitting next to Ralph Abraham and Nina Graboi. Then he walked me back to his house for a drink with his wife. Like Uncle Bob and Aunt Arlen.
Phil: Favorite memories are mostly personal -- sitting in a diner, listening to his stories over Irish coffee; rescuing him from the vegetarian kitchen of a new age center and taking him out for steak and seafood; hanging around our apartment after a gig and shooting the shit well into the night. It was also fun to watch the way he handled audiences. You could watch faces go from total confusion to "aha!" in the space of an hour or so. I always got a blast from seeing him do that. That's my kind of magick trick.
RU: I don't really have a colorful anecdote to tell about Bob so I can really only say that my favorite memory was of really connecting with him for a long conversation at the Disinformation Conference in New York City in 1999. He was pissed off and discombobulated because they'd screwed up his pick up at the airport and he'd had a miserable day and he was expected to talk in another 4 or 5 hours after assuming he would have a full day to settle in. And I knew what that was like. And somehow I got him engaged in relaxed chatter about anything and everything... dealing with miserable book companies, his wife and family, how Europe is so much more civilized than the US and so on and I'm sure I made him laugh a couple of times. We probably hung out like that for about an hour -- each of us nursing a beer -- and I could tell that when we were done, he'd forgotten about being pissed off and burned out from the traveling debacle. So nothing particularly magical or psychedelic or revolutionary, just a chance to play a friend, I guess...
The other thing that is a fond memory isn't even a direct interaction. Just an email that he really liked my book of quotes: "The Revolution" (which became the Little Red Book) and that he was excited to endorse it. I could tell he'd really read it and he was enthusiastic. That felt very special.
Antero: My favorite memory of Bob, hmmm. Late one night during one of many infamous Discordian Salons that Bob and Arlen hosted for their fellow writers, scientists and misfits, I found my gaze drifting to the window and out to the blackened sky beyond. There I saw a steady light hovering in the distance like some planet or star until, that is, it slowly dropped, made a ninety-degree angle turn and then, sped away at a 45 degrees angle out of view. I recall my mouth opening speechlessly thinking, "I just saw a UFO". At that moment, I looked across the room where I saw Bob looking right back at me, smiling with that Irish twinkle in his eyes.
David: After I completed writing my first book, Brainchild, at the age of twenty-six, I approached Bob after a lecture that he gave and asked him if he would be willing to write me a promotional blurb for the back cover of the book. This was the first contact that I ever had with him. He said, "maybe," and didn't really leave me with the impression that he was too eager to do it. I got the feeling that young writers bugged him all the time for back cover blurbs. But I had my publisher send him a copy of the book anyway. You can imagine my surprise -- and total radiant delight -- when I discovered that Bob had actually written an eleven page introduction for the book! Words simply can not describe what a thrilling experience this was for me!
In 1989, I moved to Los Angeles, where Bob and his wife Arlen were living at the time, and I became good friends with them. I began going to regular weekly gatherings at Bob and Arlen's home where a small group would read and discuss mind-expanding ideas together. We read virtually everything that James Joyce had written, Ezra Pound's The Cantos, each other's writings, and Bob's books. We watched Orson Wells' films and talked about quantum physics and primate politics. I felt like I was living through a powerful historical moment--that future generations will surely fantasize about -- when I got to take part in the Illuminatus! readings and discussions with Bob. I continued going to weekly gatherings at Bob's home right up until a few weeks before he died. He remained as sharp and witty as ever right up until the end. I saw Bob on average around once a week for seventeen years, during which time he played a huge role in my writing career. He was incredibly supportive of my writing. He wrote letters to cheer me up when I was down and even sent me money when I couldn't afford to pay my rent.
Bob often gave me credit for coming up with the abbreviation of "B.S." for "belief system" in his books, but one of the happiest days in my writing career came when Bob actually asked me to write a back cover blurb for his book, TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution. My book Mavericks of Medicine is dedicated to Bob.
Bob had an uncanny ability to perceive things that few people notice, and he had an incredible memory. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of many different fields -- ranging from literature and psychology, to quantum physics and neuroscience. He was unusually creative in his use of language, and he had his own unique style of humor. Despite many personal challenges over the years, Bob always maintained a strongly upbeat perspective on life, and - -regardless of the circumstances -- he never failed to make me smile every time I saw him. Everyone who met him agrees; there was something truly magical about Robert Anton Wilson. Along with so many other people, I miss him dearly. Thank the stars that he left behind so much of himself -- thirty-six books -- for us to learn from and enjoy for many, many years to come.
PROP: I'd like to include my own favorite memory of Bob. It was 2003, at the premiere of the movie about Bob called 'Maybe Logic,' where I met David Jay Brown and he was able to hook up an interview with Bob, which I conducted a day later at Bob's Santa Cruz apartment.
During the tail end of the interview Bob let out what George Carlin so aptly titled a "one cheek sneak." Bob kinda powerhoused it, and I heard the fart from across the room. I looked at him with a bit of surprise in my eyes, to which he met my baffled stare very nonchalantly and said, "Oh, ya heard that?" The shock quickly wore off with some laughter on my part. Having been raised in a fart-friendly family myself, I had long ago become accustom to the exuberant humor which sometimes arises from a perfectly placed moment of flatulence.
This fart lead to another turn of the interview where we spoke about famous writers and thinkers who also were not afraid of flatulence. I asked Bob if he read Benjamin Franklin's book Fart Proudly (which he just did) and he said he had. And Bob told me of story written by Mark Twain, entitled, 1601 about a group of writers from the Elizabethan period of England all attending a fancy event thrown by Queen Elizabeth. The party is interrupted when somebody lets loose a whooping fart, and the rest of the tale consumes itself with a conversation describing the fart and who may have laid it. At this point in the interview, I thought "Jeezus, is there nothing this man cannot flip into something enlightening and hilarious." There are many amazing things that I have learned from the works of Robert Anton Wilson, but to me, the old man farting in his apartment was like a lesson from a wise Zen master. "Like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy, and don't take crap from anybody." And I heard it, loud and clear.
Thanks Phil Farber, David Jay Brown, Douglas Rushkoff, Antero Alli, and RU Sirius for taking part in this interview.
Post Script: Hail Eris!