Maybe Logic: The Lives & Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson
Everybody abstracts a different reality. When you come through a room, you abstract the reality you’re prepared to abstract. You pick up the signals that interest you. Your brain records them and organizes them.
We all have our own reality tunnel, and in our reality tunnel we pick out some things and ignore other things. And we got 10 billion cells in our brain receiving hundreds and hundreds of millions of signals all the time. We just pick out the ones that fit into the established grooves in our brain, the reality tunnel that’s been laid down by past experience. We all have our own belief system, and the signals that fit our belief system get in. The signals that don’t fit our belief system get ignored, or if they keep coming back we go to a psychiatrist to get cured and make them go away.
Once you get used to thinking in terms of whether we’re tuned in or not tuned in, then all of the problems in philosophy about being and non-being and so on, seem absolutely nonsensical. We don’t know what is or what isn’t, all we know is what we tuned in or what we didn’t tune in. If you keep track of what you tuned in, that’s what you can talk about meaningfully; what you didn’t tune in, you can only make guesses about, or noises or garbles, or frantic hand gestures, but you can’t really know anything about them, you only know what you’ve tuned in.
What you haven’t tuned in isn’t necessarily nonexistent, it’s just not tuned in. That takes care of the whole problem of being and non-being, which philosophers have been debating for the last 2,500 years. We don’t know anything about being or non-being, all you know is what you’ve tuned in.
Well, to quote Bucky Fuller, I seem to be a verb… I can’t seem to find any constant Robert Anton Wilson. It seems to be a process of change all the time. I’m certainly not the guy I was at 40, and I certainly am not the kid I was in Catholic School at 7 or 8.
I started out in a little tiny Irish Catholic ghetto in Brooklyn or Long Island, I’m not sure which, and somehow I have traveled from Maui in the East to Berlin in the West, which is half of the time zones on the planet. And I feel like as I’ve expanded my travel in space, I’ve expanded my travel through the world of ideas also. And I can’t believe I started out a good Catholic school boy.
There must have been some good times, but when I think of my childhood, I just remember how frightened I was of the nuns in the school I went to, how sadistic they were.
There is so much mystery and ambiguity about everything, maybe that’s why there’s so much in my novels. But why else does no one give a straight answer to a child about anything? Everything was lies, hypocrisy, evasion. I knew there was something going on they were hiding from me, and it used to scare me. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. It might have something to do with the wolf man, or Frankenstein monster — I didn’t know what the hell it was. And I didn’t trust them at all. At one point, somewhere around 7 or 8, they admitted there was no Santa Claus, and as soon as I recovered from the shock my next thought was, “When are they going to admit there’s no God?” They never did. And I went back to believing in God under the hammering and pounding of the nuns, up until I was about 13, I guess.
I was a very obedient child. Everybody agrees to that. Everybody I can remember from my childhood. I started rebelling in my teens, and I’m rebelling more every year. I remember, I don’t know how old I was, 14, 15, another unbeliever and myself at Brooklyn Tech got into an argument with a student who was still a Catholic, and he said, “If you really believe what you say, you would have the courage to ask God to strike you dead right now to prove that you believe he doesn’t exist.” And I got scared for a minute, but then I went ahead and did it and nothing happened. And I felt totally liberated. “Fuck you, you’re not there after all!” That was a great moment of liberation which I hardly ever recalled until tonight. My God, a very important turning point in my life. Here’s to the good nuns for telling me what books not to read.
Interacting, processing. Interacting, processing. Interacting, processing!
Spectacles, testicles, brandy, cigars — you’re all popes! You’re all absolutely infallible. I have the authority to appoint anyone a Discordian Pope, because I’m a Discordian Pope. The first rule after you become a Discordian Pope is to excommunicate every Discordian Pope you meet. This is based on the basic Discordian principle that we Discordians must stick apart.
Discordians don’t have dogmas, which are absolute beliefs; we have catmas which are relative meta-beliefs. And the central discordian catma is, as I said before, any affirmation is true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense. And if you repeat this 666 times, you will achieve supreme enlightenment — IN SOME SENSE!
There are approximately 12 million discordian popes now. Originally, Malaclypse the Younger, founder of Discordianism, had cards printed and he’d just hand them out to everybody he met making them popes. And then I printed the Pope Card in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, but then I was living in Ireland and the Pope came to the Phoenix Bar, and announced — the guy who thinks he’s the only pope — he announced that bishops could give indulgences over television, which was a new thing in Catholic doctrine, and I got the idea, “Well, if they can do indulgences on television, I can do pontifications.” And so, instead of giving out cards, every time I got on radio or television, then I made the whole audience popes. Eventually, we’ll make every man, woman and child on this planet a pope.
Most religious people take themselves too damn seriously, which is why they act like such damn fools. I’m using the word damn for the paradoxical effect.
REMEMBER: KING KONG DIED FOR YOUR SINS.
I’m also a Buddhist, a Taoist, and a Confucian as well as a Discordian, a Subgenius, and a Witch.
I will officially announce that everyone in this room is now a Discordian Pope, just like me.
Spectacles, testicles, brandy, cigars. You are all absolutely infallible. And don’t take crap from anybody. Okay.
Well, I’m an ordained pope in the Church of the Subgenius, which means I’m absolutely infallible. So don’t dare contradict anything I say. As for my relationship with Einstein, I deny all the rumors.
You’re only infallible about your own nervous system. You know what’s going on in your own nervous system. Whatever realities you’re creating out of the infinite flux of being, you don’t know anything about anybody else’s reality unless they tell you about it. You gotta listen very sympathetically in order to understand them. So it’s a limited infallibility.
- She wants to know what quantum physics is? Quantum physics. Explain it simply.
- Explain quantum physics simply? When I moved from Los Angeles, I moved into what I thought was Santa Cruz. Then we had something stolen from our car, and we called the police, and I found out we didn’t live in Santa Cruz, we lived in a town called Capitola. The Post Office thought we lived in Santa Cruz, but the police thought we lived in Capitola. I started investigating this, and a reporter on the local newspaper told me we lived in neither Santa Cruz or Capitola, we lived in an unincorporated area called Live Oak.
Now, quantum mechanics is just like that, except that in the case of Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Live Oak, we don’t get too confused, because, remember, we invented the lines on the map. Quantum physics seems confusing because a lot of people believe we didn’t invent the lines, so it seems hard to understand how a particle can be in three places at the same time without being anywhere at all. But when you remember that we invented all of the boundaries, borders and lines, just like the Berlin Wall, then quantum mechanics is no more mysterious than the fact that I live in three places at the same time.
No Chinese raised on I Ching has ever found quantum mechanics puzzling. It’s only puzzling to people raised on Aristotelian logic where things are either A or not A. In the I Ching, things are A and not A at the same time.
With quantum mechanics, you can prove that light is made out of particles experimentally. You can build up a whole mathematical theory of light traveling in little particles called photons, and you can do experiments, and the experiments will give you a pattern showing that light is traveling like particles. We’ve also got a whole mathematical theory built up showing that light travels as waves, and we’ve got experiments that will show you that light travels as waves. As one physicist in the 1920s said, “It looks as if the damn light is waiting to see how we’re going to do the experiment and then deciding which way it’s going to travel. Schroedinger said, “I wish I never got mixed up with this radomptoquantumschringereit. This goddamned quantum jumping.” The modified Copenhagen view is light is neither waves nor particles until we look, and then it adjusts itself depending on what we’re looking at it with. An electron is not anywhere until we look, and when we look, the electron decides to be somewhere as long as we’re looking. As soon as we stop looking, the electron is everywhere again.
Every model we make tells us how our mind works as much as it tells about the universe. These are just human symbolic games. The universe itself is bigger than any of our models.
According to Zen Buddhism, and most forms of Buddhism, and quantum mechanics, any description of the universe which leaves you out is inaccurate, because any description of the universe, and the description of the instrument that you use to take your reading of the universe — if the only instrument you use is your own nervous system, you gotta include your own nervous system in your description of the universe.
So, ergo, any model we make does not describe the universe, it describes what our brains are capable of seeing at this time.
Long before quantum mechanics, the German philosopher Husserl said that all perception is gamble. Every type of bigotry, every type of racism, sexism, prejudice, every dogmatic ideology that allows people to kill other people with a clear conscience, every stupid cult, every superstition-ridden religion, every kind of ignorance in the world, are all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see, and then we believe our interpretation of it, but we don’t even know we’re making an interpretation most of the time.
We think this is reality. But in philosophy, that’s called naive realism: “What I perceive is reality.” And philosophers have refuted naive realism every century for the last 2,500 years, starting with Buddha and Plato, and yet most people still act on the basis of naive realism.
Now the argument is, “Well, maybe my perceptions are inaccurate, but somewhere there is accuracy, scientists have it with their instruments. That’s how we can find out what’s really real.” But relativity, quantum mechanics, have demonstrated clearly that what you find out with instruments is true relative only to the instrument you’re using, and where that instrument is located in space-time. So there is no vantage point from which real reality can be seen.
We’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find that it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from.
All the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnel as us do not seem ignorant, or deliberately perverse, or lying, or hypnotized by some mad ideology, they just have a different reality tunnel. And every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world if we’re willing to listen.
The idea every perception is a gamble, seems to me so obviously true that I continually am astonished that I could forget it so many times during the course of 24 hours. But to the extent that I remember it, I just can’t stay angry at anybody, so it’s a thing worth keeping in mind.
My last birthday seems like a dinosaur. I seem more like a dinosaur myself.
Sometimes I feel as old as the Mojave desert. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think I look like a dead mule. That’s only when I first get up in the morning.
My leg hurt this morning for about an hour after I got up, that’s about all. As you may have guessed, I have post-polio sequelae which is symptoms of polio sometimes 20 years later, sometimes 40 years later. In my case, it took 60 years before they caught up with me. One of them is a lot of leg problems, which is why I’m in a wheelchair. Another one is that I feel 20 degrees colder than the average person whatever the temperature is.
I had polio at the age of four. I was cured by the Sister Kennedy method at a time when the American Medical Association was announcing her as a quack and a charlatan and a witchdoctor.
It was about 6 years after I was cured by the Sister Kennedy method, that the AMA finally admitted that the method worked. Now nobody needs it anymore because nobody gets polio anymore. They got the vaccine for it. But I knew all my life that I had post-polio syndrome, but it was always mild. I had what they call myoclonism which is spasms in the feet, which can be a damn nuisance when you’re trying to sleep at night — the feet start jerking and waking you up.
And then I had pains in the legs when I had to stand in long lines. I got to hate airports.
I can walk; I can take steps. As a matter of fact, I can walk more than a few steps. But I’m not going to try it because if I fall down, everybody will be embarrassed and feel sorry for me. So you can see I can walk a few steps, which I couldn’t do two years ago when the thing was at its worst.
Post-polio syndrome really flared up, it will be two years ago next month. And boy, there was a week there where I could hardly move. Everything hurt. Going to the bathroom was like going to the South Pole. Oh, God, I couldn’t move anything without terrible pain.
Maybe some of the dead muscles are coming back to life. The cell bodies are putting forth axons and dendrites. That’s what’s supposed to be happening, anyway.
Somehow, dealing with the post-polio has given me self-esteem, as they say nowadays. Hell, I’m dealing with it very well. I feel pretty good about myself. And I still have time to think about other people, which is very important. The worst thing about illness is that it makes you self-centered. I don’t think that’s happened, really.
I think you can get a lot out of an illness.
Processing, interactions. Tuning interactive processes. Processing interacting is all I ever tune in. I cannot tune in anything but interactive processing.
I agree with Buddha: there is no meaning in life. Meaning is in sentences.
Meaning is in symbols that symbolize life. Life itself does not have a meaning, because that’s what meaning refers to. Meaning refers to life. To look for meaning in life is like looking for trees on a map. You can find squiggles that represent trees, but you won’t find the trees there, the squiggles only represent the trees. Or the rivers. You can’t wash in a river on a map, you gotta find a real river not in Map World. Is that clear? I’m trying to make a difference between the words and metaphors and the existential experiences.
The greatest relief I get from pain is marijuana brownies made by a wo/men’s collective of people with muscular dystrophy, post-polio syndrome, AIDS, cancer, and a few other problems which are very clearly and obviously helped by marijuana brownies. And when the federal government announces that they’ve canceled the 10th amendment, and the states have no right to legalize anything the federal government is against, I am naturally furious. They are threatening me with a life of steady pain until I die. That’s what they’re threatening me with. Of course I’m pissed off at them. And it’s not only for my own sake, it’s for the sake of all the AIDS patients, all the cancer patients, all the other people for whom life is bearable because they can get some marijuana in one form or another. It is one of the best pain killers known, and it’s not addictive, and it has an extra added benefit, the high, which is what T.S.O.G. (tsarist occupational government) is afraid of. They don’t want anybody to get high because people who are high get happym and people who get happy get ambitious and uppity and rambunctious. They want everybody to be depressed. But the high is part of the cure. I think every goddamned disease in the world is improved by feeling happy and good, and any compound that not only relieves pain but makes you feel happy and cheerful and think of funny things is helping your cure.
And the remnants of the cannabis muffin that I had around 6:00, God’s own medicine, nothing is bothering me. Around 6:00 the light was starting to bother me again, now nothing is bothering me.
Most of today I spent on the couch, listening to the atmospheres channel. That’s New Age music. I don’t know why, sometimes I look for some Classical, but today I was in the mood for atmospheres. I was doing visualizations. Yeah, I was following the rhythm of the music. I had lights flowing up through my body trying to cure the pain in the legs. Between that and the muffins, I finally got rid of the pain. But it took a long time. Sometimes it’s quicker than others.
I think pain is a mistake. If I’d been around at the Creation, I would have had a lot of helpful suggestions, as Mencken said. And I would have said, “We don’t need pain. Just put a little neon light on the forehead that lights up and says ‘See a doctor.’ ‘Hey, your sign is on, go see a doctor.’ You don’t need pain to tell you. You know, seriously, what I’m getting at is I think pain can be abolished. I don’t see any reason why all forms of pain can’t be abolished with the proper drugs. And I think the Government’s attempt to control drug research out of fear that people may feel too good is the last dying gasp of the dinosaur age. I think we are governed by Tyranosaurus Rex and Raptors and types like that. I really think the abolition of pain is the noblest goal we can aim for. Also, clean water for everybody. And enough food. I think these are quite attainable goals, if society would say these would be our goals. Spread clean water, adequate food and the absence of pain all over the planet, and who would want to become a terrorist? What would they be angry about? What would they be mad about to start throwing bombs at somebody else?
- What about the eye in the triangle?
- It’s rather inconspicuous. I just want to point out how often the eye in the triangle is there. It pops up frequently. And this, of course, is the symbol of the Illuminati, the alleged secret society, that controls the whole world according to a lot of occult theories, and you’ll find it on the back of your dollar bill.
It’s great to see all of your faces out there, ladies, gentlemen, and narcs. Everybody look around and see if you can spot the narcs. They are the ones who look like hippies.
- For an expert in conspiracy, you’re probably the least paranoid person I’ve ever met. You have all of the data, but none of the fear that most everybody else who is involved in conspiracy theories …
- Well, my belief is I don’t believe in one big conspiracy that runs everything. I prefer to think that there’s at minimum, at any given time, there’s about 24 conspiracies afoot. And as far as I’ve been able to discover in all my years of being involved, more or less unwillingly, in this field, I cannot find any proof of any conspiracy that really existed, was really brought into court and convicted, that lasted more than ten years before everybody double-crossed everybody else and the conspiracy fell apart.
To redefine the power elite as somebody else, I regard that as a loser script. I define the power elite as myself and my friends. And that’s a winner script. And the way to accomplish things is with a winner script. I define myself as a winner. I define my program as winnable. And I count down the stupidity of whoever seems to be in power to undo them eventually because as I said, every conspiracy has a natural life span, every conspiracy collapses through double-crosses from within or by superior cleverness by rival conspiracies. And stupidity has a definite evolutionary function. I am all for abolishing stupidity, but before it goes, while there’s still a lot of it around, we should pay tribute to it.
The strongest conspiracy on the planet is the conspiracy of the stupid to prevent schools from educating their children, because they want their children to be as dumb as they are, to prevent television from putting anything intelligent on, as much as possible.
- What is it about the human psyche that seems to be drawn towards these conspiracy theories? Is it some love of the unknown, or some idea that there may be forces out there that are controlling our destiny?
- Well, I think there are three factors. A, nobody likes to take the blame for their own problems, so they look for somebody else to blame. And if you can find a big enough group, you’ve explained everything in your life that doesn’t work.
- Like parental conspiracy theories.
- Yeah, it’s not your fault, or your parents, it’s the Jesuits, the Freemasons, the Jews, the Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations. And you have a wide choice to pick who to blame.
- Rich white men …
- Yeah, as long as you don’t have to blame yourself. That’s one motive. And another motive is that we are living in very weird times. The world is changing faster and faster, which I think is due to the acceleration of information flow.
Information is increasing, and the transmission of information is going faster and faster, due to Internet and the whole computer revolution, which means that most people are living in a world they can’t understand. And when people can’t understand something, they tend to go for sinister explanations of it: somebody is manipulating things in a way that I don’t like. That’s the way people feel when things change too fast and they can’t understand it. And the third reason, of course, is that there are lots of conspiracies around.
Nonsimultaneously apprehended; apprehended nonsimultaneously interacting processes. Interacting processes apprehended nonsimultaneously.
- Let me switch gears with you a little bit. I’d like to talk about your interest in occultism. You’ve been a student, quite a student I think, of writings and teachings of Aleister Crowley who was a writer about occult magical rituals. And I believe you participated in a variety of magical rituals. What’s that about?
- Well, the background is I believe that what we perceive is based on the culture of our parents, and our teachers, and the people around us, and the language we speak. And I’m interested in ways of changing perception. And I have a lot of exercises I’ve tried for changing my ways for perceiving the world and myself. Crowley’s system of magic, his system of fucking with your brain until the impossible becomes possible, and you get out of your imprinted reality tunnel into an infinity of mirrors where anything is possible, I think the major thing you can learn from Crowley is how to change your focus, and how to look through different grids, different reality tunnels as Leary would say.
Bruno represents the point in our culture where science and mysticism were allied. They were both attempts to find out what the hell was going on in this universe. And by experimental method and by trust in the ability of the individual to figure out what the hell is going on just through the method of experiment.
And anyway, the background is experiments on altering consciousness and perceived reality tunnels.
In Bruno’s day, the three terms were divided up differently. You had science and mysticism on one side, and religion on the other side. Science and mysticism were allied in their struggle against religion. Science and mysticism were both based on experience, and they were both based on respect for the individual. The idea of science and mysticism was to go out and discover for yourself, find out what works, find out how the universe is actually structured, and how you relate to the structure of the universe. And so there were basically two areas of scientific exploration: the external and the internal. But they both pursued the same method, the experimental method.
Originally I was just trying to find out what the hell is a mystical experience. But then I very soon got the idea of re-imprinting, and then I got the idea of using Crowley’s magic along with the re-imprinting.
A ritual is to the internal science what an experiment is to the external science.
Mysticism understood in that way is basically a branch of science, a branch of neuro-science, what Timothy Leary calls “neurologic” as distinguished from orthodox neurology which involves dissecting animals, or dissecting corpses or something. Neurologic is studying the nervous system directly by varying the parameters on which your nervous system functions.
There are different levels of reality, obviously, and the psychedelic level is one of the most fascinating ones, one of the most erotic, and above all one of the funniest. I recommend it highly to everybody over 40. I’m not going to repeat Leary’s mistake. I don’t recommend it to anybody under 40. Over 40 you’re on your own, you’re responsible for yourself. Don’t blame me for what happens.
Those of you who have read my book Cosmic Trigger note — oh, a lot of you! — oh, that’s nice — hey, that’s very flattering! You all know what happened on July 23, 1973. That was the day I achieved contact with an extraterrestrial from Sirius and started hallucinating like mad, depending on which way you want to look at it. I’ve varied between both theories over the years. But I just found out recently, since I’m still into synchronicity — this one really struck me — July 23, 1973 was also the birthday of Monica Lewinsky.
Around 1973, I became convinced for a while that I was receiving messages from outer space. But then a psychic reader told me I was actually channeling an ancient Chinese philosopher, and another psychic reader told me I was channeling a Medieval Irish bard. And at that time, I started reading neurology, and I decided it was just my right brain talking to my left brain. And then I went to Ireland, and I found out it was actually a six foot tall white rabbit. They call it the Pookah, and the Irish know all about it. So it depends on who I’m talking to which views to explain where these weird patterns come from, that jump out of the books and take hold of the readers and change their lives. It’s not me, it’s a six foot tall white rabbit from County Kerry.
While looking back, I accept that metaphor as pretty accurate. All writers are channelers in some sense. Faulkner talked about the demon that dictated his books to him. Norman Mailer talks about the navigator in the unconscious. William Blake said the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah dictated his poetic prophetic books to him. Most artists traditionally have talked about the muse. And for people in County Kerry, it’s a six foot tall white rabbit. For me, it was an extraterrestrial from Sirius. There are different metaphors for the experience.
Philip K. Dick and I had a series of rather similar experiences. And out of his experiences he constructed Valis, which looks like a science fiction story most of the way, and then abruptly at the end, you suddenly find out maybe it’s not a science fiction story, maybe it’s an account of Philip K. Dick going crazy. Or maybe it’s an account of Philip K. Dick being contacted by extraterrestrials. In Cosmic Trigger, I had pretty much the same structures. Why would Robert Anton Wilson be contacted by extraterrestrials? No, it’s Robert Anton Wilson going crazy. No, it’s just Robert Anton Wilson experimenting with alternative realities and coming out of chapel perilous at the end without believing in any of them. But structurally, they are very similar because they are based on very similar experiences.
When I woke up after doing a ritual to the holy guardian angel, I woke up with this vivid memory of this guy with a long, white beard, long, long white beard, like Mr. Natural, an old white man looking rather like Jehovah in the illustrated Bible, writing on a blackboard things about time that I was supposed to memorize, “Sirius is very important to you.” And I went to the town library and looked up Sirius in all the astronomy books, and I found out that July 23rd is the day when Sirius seems to rise behind the sun, beginning what they call the dog days. Why did I have that dream on a day connected with Sirius? What had I invoked? It was my way of experiencing the world, and there were flashes of psychic ability which I to a degree never had before or since.
Well, I believed it passionately for a couple of months, and then I began to have doubts. And then suddenly, I had this flash of insight about 2-1/2 years later: “My God, this is the same sort of thing that has been called by different names in different traditions. This has been going on all over the world for centuries. And every shaman has an ally, and I was an apprentice shaman, I had to find an ally, and I found one, boy did I find one.
Chapel perilous a stage in the magical quest in which your maps turn out to be totally inadequate for the territory, and you’re completely lost. And at that point, you get an ally who helps you find your way back to something you can understand. And then after that, for the rest of your life, you’ve got this question: “Was that ally a supernatural helper, or was it just part of my own mind trying to save me from going totally bonkers with this stuff?” And the people I know who’ve had that kind of experience, very few of them have ever come to an absolutely certain conclusion about that.
The Pookah plays the same role as the Holy Guardian Angel in cabalistic magic, or the extraterrestrial in the Whitley Strieber type of experience, or the ghosts of dead relatives speaking through seance in 19th century spiritualism, or Ramtha speaking through J. Z. Knight. These are all different metaphors for basically the same experience.
I spent a year and a half, at least, half believing that I was in telepathic communication with a higher intelligence from the Sirius double star system, and as a matter of fact, I still believe that every Thursday for two hours. No, not really. I’m really cured on that one. I’m still an optimist, though. In the age of George Bush, that’s roughly equivalent of thinking you’re talking to intelligent dogs from Sirius.
You might say it hasn’t ended yet. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I like the giant rabbit from County Kerry because there’s no chance anybody will take that literally. Anything else I say they might take literally.
- How about yourself?
- That’s another reason why I like the giant white rabbit from County Kerry: I’m not going to take him literally. Well, not too literally. Sorry about that, Harvey.
My cosmic schmuck principle holds that if you occasionally notice that you’ve been thinking or acting like a cosmic schmuck, you will become less of a cosmic schmuck, and the more often you notice that you’re thinking and acting like a cosmic schmuck, the less of a cosmic schmuck you become. On the other hand, if you never, never, never suspect you might be thinking or acting like a cosmic schmuck, you will remain a cosmic schmuck for the rest of your life.
E-prime is English without the use of any form of “is” or being.
We’re trapped in linguistic constructs. All that is is metaphor. I believe somebody said that before me. I’ve decided we can’t get beyond words. What we gotta do is get more cynical about our words.
You’ll find that by dispensing with “is”, and trying to reformulate without “is”, you just naturally fall into the kind of expression which is considered acceptable in modern science. And also, it’s the type of consciousness that Zen Buddhism tries to induce. Using E-Prime, you will understand modern science and Zen Buddhism both, a lot better than you’ve ever understood them before. Martin Gardner has written a long essay proving that to think like this will destroy your mind. I think it adds tremendously to clarity. I am removing the “is” from my writing more and more. Removing it from your speech is even harder.
Instead of thinking, “The grass is green,” think that “the grass appears green to me.” And this saved me a lot of time. By the way, I don’t get embroiled in arguments like Beethoven is better than Mozart, or rock is better than soul. I define such things as meaningless. And so when people get into arguments like that I just say, “Well, Beethoven seems better to me than Mozart most of the time.” I don’t say, “Beethoven is better than Mozart.”
I return to E-Prime in my thinking whenever I find myself getting angry with somebody, or feeling depressed or hopeless, or having negative emotional states in general. Once you take out all of the “ises” out of all of your negative statements, you find out they are all relative to how you feel at the moment.
People, by and large, would act a hell of a lot more sanely, especially when they got rid of “is” they put “maybe” in more sentences. I think if everybody used “maybe” more often, the increase in general sanity would seem absolutely astonishing and completely flabbergast everybody. What the hell, suddenly we have a planet full of sane people? When did that start to happen? I didn’t even notice it. You just listen to the craziest people on the news and on television, or the craziest columnists in the newspaper. You notice they never say maybe, they are always quite sure. There is no “is.” They never say “seems,” they always say “is.”
I am continually astonished at all of the people in the world who think they know the answer to everything. None of them ever suspect they might be cosmic schmucks and have the wrong answer. And I find that any explanation that makes sense to me is in Korzybski’s Science and Sanity. These people don’t know how to use language properly. They are using language in an overly-dogmatic way which sets their brain in totally dogmatic modes. So they think dogmatically, they perceive dogmatically, they even smell dogmatically, they hear dogmatically. They are locked in a trap of fixed neurosemantic circuits in their brains. Whereas, knowing I’m a cosmic schmuckm, I always think of at least five alternatives.
When people start arguing about words, they are mostly arguing about whether the words that they apply to objects they have created out of the infinity of possible objects that could be put together, they’ve picked up a few of them, then they put words on them, then they quarrel about the words. And if these people get to the stage where they are willing to kill one another over the words, they should be put in a nice, quiet home in the country with kindly doctors, and beautiful nurses, and a good sedative. But generally, they end up in government and start bombing one another. Or they lead religious crusades for the true faith and kill one another with swords or some such thing.
As Ezra Pound writes in one of the latter cantos, ‘The water-bug’s mittens show on the bright rock below him.’ DUH! Interaction. You know how the water bug’s mittens on the bright rock, without the water bug, the rock, and the sun to cast a shadow, and of course you need a planet that will produce a water bug and a rock, and you need human eyes to see it all. That’s Tao-Duh, interacting processing.
One of the introductory koans in Zen Buddhism is “Who is the great magician who makes the grass green?”
Who is the great magician who makes the grass green? Who creates every reality?
The word “yoga” means “union.” Yoga comes from the same root as the English yoke: two things hitched together. You need a human brain — dogs see grass differently — you need the human brain and the grass, hitched together to make the yoga which we call the greenness of the grass. Everybody thinks it’s very hard to be a mystic — you gotta go through a helluva lot of effort to realize your union with everything — but actually you’re experiencing your union with everything all of the time. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be experiencing anything. You make the grass green. You make your highs and you make your lows. But you don’t make it alone. You are making it out of your union with the universe. And so everything is a coincidence of contraries, a coincidence of you being there, and the universe being there. And everything is one at the same time, because there’s no green without the grass and there’s no green without you. So the greenness is a transaction that ties you and the grass together.
There’s an infinite expanse of signals flooding into our nervous systems and being processed by our higher neural centers in the brain. We’re all organizing and orchestrating according to our own particular life history, our genetic background, our early imprints, our conditioning, our learning, or any re-imprinting techniques we may have learned since then. So we’re all living in different worlds. It’s astonishing that we can communicate at all.
You are the co-creator of the sights you see, the sounds you hear, and your general impression of the universe. Our experiences are generated out of us. We’re not generating it out of nothing, but we are generating it. We are creating the reality tunnel we are experiencing moment to moment. So this total unity between you and the universe, whether you are aware of it or not, the universe you live in is your creation. You’re not doing it consciously.
When you have seen the one who makes the grass green, it’s like meeting your own father in a crowd — you’ll have no doubt whatsoever.
Nasruddin went galloping through Baghdad one day on his donkey. He went up every street and into every alley and across every plaza. Every place he goes, an unending race, a hunt and search. Everybody got curious, everybody came out of their houses, and they were all yelling, “Nasruddin, Nasruddin, what are you looking for?” He said, “I lost my donkey, and I’m looking for it.”
The donkey represents what everybody is looking for, which is a mystical school. It’s the answer to all the riddles of the universe. And you hunt for east, west, north, south, up, down, everywhere you can imagine, and all the time it’s carrying you around. It’s the human nervous system which takes out of the infinity of the universe the little reality tunnel that you consider reality, which is your creation, which you think is the whole of the universe, unless you went to a Sufi school, or studied General Semantics, or did a lot of Zen meditation, or dropped LSD once or twice. Then you realize the universe is much bigger and more complicated than any little map we can make of it. The map is not the territory. The words that describe the map are not the territory, are even further from the territory.
What I’ve been trying to do is put the donkey on your back in such a way you’ll never forget the master, the great magician who makes the grass green, the one who creates the whole universe you live in.
Interacting processing. Tao Duh! That’s all I tune in. Interacting processing. No nouns anywhere. I never met a noun yet.
I often thought of myself in terms of that old Chinese proverb, “The wise become Confucian in good times, and Buddhist in bad times, and Taoist in all days.” And I’ve always had a lot more sympathy for those three religions, in quotes, than for any of the Occidental ones, like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which seem to me fanatical, intolerant, or violence prone. The Judaeo-Christian monotheistic trip has been the worst nightmare this planet ever endured. They just never stop killing one another. Meanwhile, the Confucians, the Taoists, the Buddhists, each in their own way have tried to create a peaceful and amicable society. And what I like in Buddhism is the basic idea of forgiveness, because nobody realizes how wonderful it is to develop some talent at actually doing it. Because, the more you forgive, the less burden you got to carry around with you. When you reach the point where you can forgive everybody, you’re almost entirely free from burdens.
What’s important to me at this point in my life? Making really sure that I have forgiven anybody who has ever hurt me or seems to be an enemy, and making sure that I have nothing but forgiveness for everything.
I think it’s a very liberating experience to realize how little you really know and how much of the time you’re just guessing. One thing that makes forgiveness easier, and believe me life without forgiveness ain’t worth living, mostly it keeps you from acting like too much of a damn fool if you’re not really sure. People who are really sure all act like damn fools at least half of the time. Maybe more than that. I haven’t really studied that closely. I’ll have to think some more about that. How often does being sure about everything make you act like a damn fool?
I’m now going to commit a federal crime. You want to see a federal crime committed? This is a pain killer provided by the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. It keeps my legs from hurting me too much.
- Tell me why you are here today, and what you hope to achieve?
- Well, in the first place, I hope to get my medicine so my leg won’t go on hurting the way that it’s been since I got off my ____. That is the immediate existential fact. I am in pain. I want medicine. The second reason I’m here is I happen to believe in State’s rights. I believe in the Tenth Amendment, which most people have never heard of. Look in the back of your dictionary. you’ll find the document called The U.S. Constitution, has nothing to do with the way this government is operating under George Bush. The way it’s supposed to operate under the Tenth Amendment is all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states respectively or to The People. Now the State of California and the People of California are behind me. And the federal government has no right to condemn me to a life of constant pain, which is what they’re trying to do. I don’t know what kind of sadistic sonofabitch George Bush is, why he wants to leave people in pain like this, but I don’t approve it, I don’t like it. I’m ready to fight for my right to be free of pain.
If you’re going to be in pain most of the day, you’re not going to enjoy your life much. And George Bush insists that God has appointed him to make sure that I spend the rest of my life in pain without any relief. And I say, “Fuck you, George Bush. You should have these pains in your goddamned legs.” I know it doesn’t sound very — I’m a Buddhist most of the time — but today I’m too angry. I’ll get back to being a Buddhist tomorrow.
- Anything else you want to add? Any final thoughts today?
- Yeah, I’m sorry for my bitterness against George Bush. He is equally empty, equally ___ and equally becoming Buddha. The trouble is the asshole doesn’t know it.
“I’d like to introduce Robert Anton Wilson, who is 72, who has post-polio syndrome.”
I am indeed Robert Anton Wilson, I do indeed have post-polio syndrome, but I am not 72, I am only 70. And I will go get my medicine after saying, “I like that sign.” I will pick up my medicine after saying, “Of all of the signs out there, the one I like best is the one telling the government to read the Tenth Amendment. The Tenth Amendment says that all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states respectively or to The People. Nowhere does it say a goddamned czar will be in charge of my medical care and interfere between me and my doctor. Anybody in Philadelphia in the 18th century who suggested putting something like that in the Constitution would have been considered a raving lunatic. This Constitution was not created to establish a czarist tyranny, it was established to create a free society.
I think my writing comes out of anger and optimism. Anger at the stupid, maniacal, corrupt crowd that’s running the world, and optimistic about the opportunities that are so real. This is, as I say, the result of my outrage, my horror, my grief and my anger at the way the world’s been going lately, and my continued optimism that maybe enough people can wake up in time to change the direction we’re going. So I’ve got both optimism and anger, which I think is a good mixture. It keeps me busy anyway.
I have a lot of hope. I may be the last optimist left on the planet for all I know. But at the same time, I see really terrible problems and injustices and violence all over the place. I just think we’re heading for a point at which that will no longer be viable. Somehow, we’re going to have to figure out a more decent form of society if we’re going to survive at all.
You can only write about what has impinged upon your nervous system strongly enough to leave a powerful imprint. And when I was 12 years old, they opened the Nazi annihilation camps. I think it’s a very vulnerable age for imprints. I grew up feeling like I was living in a race of monsters. And I’ve lived all through the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and a lot of other tragedies, personal and otherwise, and I can’t write fiction without violence, because violence is so much part of the world I’ve lived in.
It’s obvious they are getting closer and closer to the edge where they can cure anything. Meanwhile the world is moving closer and closer to the edge where they can kill us all. It’s very interesting: science is going in one direction and politics is going in the other. I’m still an optimist. I think when people give up doing stupid things, it’s like walking into a wall, eventually you start looking for the door and you do something intelligent. The human race has to do something intelligent in the next 10-20 years. It just can’t go on screwing up everything.
We’re living among infinite possibilities. And the prevalent philosophies of post-modern pessimism that come out of the universities are really a major tragedy. The opportunities for progress and change of a positive nature are absolutely tremendous, and anybody who tells you that we are running out of resources or in a terrible mess — they are idiots! We can’t run out of resources. Resources exist when the human mind sees how to use something. To say we’re running out of resources is like saying we’re running out of brain cells.
I don’t know why so many people spend so much time in a pessimistic reality tunnel. It’s a miserable place to live. But some people feel that if they leave it, they feel guilty. If you’re not in a pessimistic tunnel, you’re not responsible. But once I got out of it, I never wanted to go back into it.
As far as I know, I’m the only survivor of the 60’s who is just as angry and just as optimistic as I was then.
Besides, until I die, I may as well be an optimist. Every day you’ve got choices to make, and the more optimistic you feel, the more likely you are to make charitable and kindly choices rather than angry ones.
If you want to be the most depressed person in the world, get up every morning, and remind yourself that George Bush is still in the White House. And then listen to CNN for an hour, and you’ll find out that American bombers are pounding on another part of Afghanistan. If you think about George Bush, and other gloomy things every day, eventually you’ll get pessimistic enough that you eventually can overdose on a sedative your doctor gave you to control your depression. If you want to become a concert pianist, do it every day. You want to be a writer, do it every day. You want to become depressed, think depressing thoughts every day. You want to become an optimist, think a cheerful thought every day. Do it every day.
I think over the course of my life, I have evolved from basically a rational person to a basically intuitive person, without completely losing my reason, I hope. And intuitive people do tend to live in the future. I don’t believe in Golden Ages. I don’t believe in the past. But I do think the Golden Age is possible in the future, and I want to try for it. I think Barnard Shaw called it “The Life Force.” I got this tremendous drive to try and do what I can to add my contribution to making a much better future in our history of human ideas and up until the present.
And I think the joy of art is trying to convey what you perceive so that other people will perceive it more or less the same way. Art is a form of seduction. I mean, there are rapists in the intellectual world. They become politicians. The seducers become honest. We try to seduce people into our reality tunnels instead of leading them there with a gun. But we are trying to get them into our our reality tunnel, or our reality labyrinth, or whichever it is. In my case, it’s a reality labyrinth.
When I call the universe infinite, I do not assume it is infinite in space-time. But it has infinite aspects. Which means that anybody who looks out will see something different, but anybody else who looks out will come back a day later and look at it again and it will still be different. William Blake said, “I see infinity in a grain of sand.” And you can, if you’re open enough.
Everything that gets into your brain affects your reality tunnel, your world view, or your belief system, which I abbreviate B.S. The three main things I’ve been trying to teach in all of my books is, “Never believe fully in anybody else’s B.S.” I don’t care if it’s Rajneesh, the Pope, L. Ron Hubbard, George Bush, I don’t care who it is, don’t swallow all of their belief system totally. Don’t go with all of their bullshit, all the B.S.
The second rule is likened to the first: “Don’t believe totally in your own B.S.” Which means that, as Bucky Fuller said, “Universe consists of nonsimultaneously apprehended events.” Universe is non-simultaneously apprehended. What?
Nonsimultaneously … universe is non-simultaneously apprehended. What? Universe is nonsimultaneously apprehended events. Which means whatever belief system or reality tunnel you’ve got right now has to be revised and updated as you continue to apprehend new events later in time. Nonsimultaneously. You can’t apprehend, you can’t comprehend, you can’t perceive, you can’t understand the whole universe at once. That requires some thought, and some repetition: “Universe is non-simultaneously apprehended.” We go through our life, minute by minute, second by second, day by day, but we’re never seeing the same universe that we’ve seen. If we are, it’s because we start paying attention. That’s why you get bored, because you’re not paying attention.
We can’t comprehend the whole universe just right now. All space-time, how it takes 90 years for signals to get here from Sirius, even, think how long it would take to get here from the other end of the furthest galaxy. So, you know, in terms of our general relativity, it’s not the same time everywhere. So the universe is non-simultaneously apprehended. That means at any particular time we only know part of the universe; tomorrow we’ll know more. Maybe not much more; maybe a lot more. Who knows? I might turn on CNN tomorrow morning and find the greatest scientific discovery of the last five million years has just been announced. Who knows? And then, again, it may take 20 years for a breakthrough of that magnitude. But scenario universe is nonsimultaneously apprehended, which is why we need Maybe Logic.
Our maps of the universe, our ideas should be changing all the time, too. People who claim, “I’ve got the truth” just don’t realize they’ve comprehended the whole universe simultaneously. It can’t be done. It can only be comprehended as part of it. They haven’t comprehended everything up to date either because most of them don’t know everything that happened up to today. I don’t know everything that happened up until this date. And the people who are most sure of themselves know even less than I do in most cases, which means they are really dumb.
This is the natural functioning of the human brain. It’s the way children’s brains form before they are wrecked by the school system. It’s the way that all great scientists and artists work. But once you have a belief system, everything that comes in either gets ignored that doesn’t fit the belief system, or gets distorted enough so that it can’t get into the belief system. You gotta be continually revising your map of the world, or you lose more and more contact with reality. Anybody who has a belief system that covers the whole universe, that would be the Roman Catholics, Orthodox Islam, Scientologists, CSICOP, the Marxists, the Objectivists, and most of the assholes, well, what happened is, their brain stopped receiving new signals. Or to the extent that new signals do get in, they all have to be edited to fit into the belief system.
Now, I’ve shown you, you can’t say all about anything. You can’t say all about the Universe. You can’t know all about this room. You can’t know all about this! And yet we think we know ourselves. What you really are is totally unknown, and by definition, infinite, because you can’t experience all of it at one time, and you can never know it all at one time. Everyday you can find new aspects to yourself, if you allow yourself to change and grow. And the best way to allow yourself to change and grow is to realize how little you know, and to pay more attention to what’s going on around you.
Three years ago, I couldn’t get off the couch. A few months ago I could walk three paces. I can now walk the whole length of the apartment without falling down, I hope. I want the audience to see the truth of what optimism can do. Hooray for the optimists! The end.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Anton Wilson has written 35 books and published over 1,500 articles. For five years he was Associate Editor of Playboy Magazine (1966-1971). Since 1971, he has worked as futurist, playwright, screenwriter, poet, lecturer, and stand-up comic. In 1957, he married Arlen Riley with whom he raised four children. He currently resides in Santa Cruz, California. Maybe.