Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007)

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RAW was a futurist, novelist, scientific philosopher, libertarian and a Ph.D in psychology. He's written many great works of fiction and non-fiction. In a 2003 interview with High Times magazine, RAW described himself as a "Model Agnostic" which he says "consists of never regarding any model or map of Universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial. Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes... My only originality lies in applying this zetetic attitude outside the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, to softer sciences and then to non-sciences like politics, ideology, jury verdicts and, of course, conspiracy theory."
More simply, he claims 'not to believe anything,' since 'belief is the death of thought.' Wilson described his writing as an "attempt to break down conditioned associations" to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps and no one model elevated to the Truth.

"My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything." - Click here to jump to more quotes and this article on Belief Systems.


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  • Robert Anton Wilson: Belief Systems

    Cosmic Trigger Preface to the Falcon Press Edition, 1986

    Cosmic Trigger was originally published by And/Or Press about ten years ago, and by Pocket Books shortly thereafter. Although some of my novels have sold far better, in two dimensions at least it is my most "successful" book in human terms.

    1. From the date of the first printing to the present, I have received more mail about Cosmic Trigger than about anything else I ever wrote, and most of this mail has been unusuallly intelligent and open-minded. For some reason, many readers of this book think they can write to me intimately and without fear, about subjects officially Taboo in our society. I have learned a great deal from the correspondence, and have met some wonderful new friends.

    2. On lecture tours, I am always asked more questions about this book than about all my other works together.

    This new edition presents an opportunity to answer the most frequent questions and to correct the most persistent misunderstandings.

    It should be obvious to all intelligent readers (but curiously is not obvious to many) that my viewpoint in this book is one of agnosticism. The word "agnostic" appears explicitly in the prologue and the agnostic attitude is revealed again and again in the text, but many people still think I "believe" some of the metaphors and models employed here. I therefore want to make it even clearer than ever before that

    I DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING

    This remark was made, in these very words, by John Gribbin, physics editor of New Scientist magazine, in a BBC-TV debate with Malcolm Muggeridge, and it provoked incredulity on the part of most viewers. It seems to be a hangover of the medieval Catholic era that causes most people, even the educated, to think that everybody must "believe" something or other, that if one is not a theist, one must be a dogmatic atheist, and if one does not think Capitalism is perfect, one must believe fervently in Socialism, and if one does not have blind faith in X, one must alternatively have blind faith in not-X or the reverse of X.

    My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. The more certitude one assumes, the less there is left to think about, and a person sure of everything would never have any need to think about anything and might be considered clinically dead under current medical standards, where absence of brain activity is taken to mean that life has ended.

    My attitude is identical to that of Dr. Gribbin and the majority of physicists today, and is known in physics as "the Copenhagen Interpretation," because it was formulated in Copenhagen by Dr. Niels Bohr and his co-workers c. 1926-28. The Copenhagen Interpretation is sometimes called "model agnosticism" and holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. Alfred Korzybski, the semanticist, tried to popularize this outside physics with the slogan, "The map is not the territory." Alan Watts, a talented exegete of Oriental philosophy, restated it more vividly as "The menu is not the meal."

    Belief in the traditional sense, or certitude, or dogma, amounts to the grandiose delusion, "My current model" -- or grid, or map, or reality-tunnel -- "contains the whole universe and will never need to be revised." In terms of the history of science and knowledge in general, this appears absurd and arrogant to me, and I am perpetually astonished that so many people still manage to live with such a medieval attitude.

    Cosmic Trigger deals with a process of deliberately induced brain change through which I put myself in the years 1962-1976. This process is called "initiation" or "vision quest" in many traditional societies and can loosely be considered some dangerous variety of self-psychotherapy in modern terminology. I do not recommend it for everybody, and I think I obtained more good results than bad ones chiefly because I had been through two varieties of ordinary psychotherapy before I started my own adventures and because I had a good background in scientific philosophy and was not inclined to "believe" any astounding Revelations too literally.

    Briefly, the main thing I learned in my experiments is that "reality" is always plural and mutable.

    Since most of Cosmic Trigger is devoted to explaining and illustrating this, and since I still encounter people who have read all my writings on this subject and still do not understand what I am getting at, I will try again in this new Preface to explain it ONE MORE TIME, perhaps more clearly than before.

    "Reality" is a word in the English language which happens to be (a) a noun and (b) singular. Thinking in the English language (and in cognate Indo-European languages) therefore subliminally programs us to conceptualize "reality" as one block-like entity, sort of like a huge New York skyscraper, in which every part is just another "room" within the same building. This linguistic program is so pervasive that most people cannot "think" outside it at all, and when one tries to offer a different perspective they imagine one is talking gibberish.

    The notion that "reality" is a noun, a solid thing like a brick or a baseball bat, derives from the evolutionary fact that our nervous systems normally organize the dance of energy into such block-like "things," probably as instant bio-survival cues. Such "things," however, dissolve back into energy dances -- processes or verbs -- when the nervous system is synergized with certain drugs or transmuted by yogic or shamanic exercises or aided by scientific instruments. In both mysticism and physics, there is general agreement that "things" are constructed by our nervous systems and that "realities" (plural) are better described as systems or bundles of energy functions.

    So much for "reality" as a noun. The notion that "reality" is singular, like a hermetically sealed jar, does not jibe with current scientific findings which, in this century, suggest that "reality" may better be considered as flowing and meandering, like a river, or interacting, like a dance or evolving, like life itself.

    Most philosophers have known, at least since around 500 B.C., that the world perceived by our senses is not "the real world" but a construct we create -- our own private work of art. Modern science began with Galileo's demonstration that color is not "in" objects but "in" the interaction of our senses with objects. Despite this philosophic and scientific knowledge of neurological relativity, which has been more clearly demonstrated with each major advance in instrumentation, we still, due to language, think that behind the flowing, meandering, inter-acting, evolving universe created by perception is one solid monolithic "reality" hard and crisply outlined as an iron bar.

    Quantum physics has undermined that Platonic iron-bar "reality" by showing that it makes more sense scientifically to talk only of the inter-actions we actually experience (our operations in the laboratory) ; and perception psychology has undermined the Platonic "reality" by showing that assuming it exists leads to hopeless contradictions in explaining how we actually perceive that a hippopotamus is not a symphony orchestra.

    The only "realities" (plural) that we actually experience and can talk meaningfully about are perceived realities, experienced realities, existential realities -- realities involving ourselves as editors -- and they are all relative to the observer, fluctuating, evolving, capable of being magnified and enriched, moving from low resolution to hi-fi, and do not fit together like the pieces of a jig-saw into one single Reality with a capital R. Rather, they cast illumination upon one another by contrast, like the paintings in a large museum, or the different symphonic styles of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler.

    Alan Watts may have said it best of all: "The universe is a giant Rorschach ink-blot." Science finds one meaning in it in the 18th Century, another in the 19th, a third in the 20th; each artist finds unique meanings on other levels of abstraction; and each man and woman finds different meanings at different hours of the day, depending on the internal and external environments.

    Read the rest of this great excerpt here at RAW's official website

    I just have to post the ending too cause it's too good:

    Finally as a matter of some entertainment value, not all the mail I have received about this book has been intelligent and thoughtful. I have recieved several quite nutty and unintentionally funny poison-pen letters from two groups of dogmatists -- Fundamentalist Christians and Fundamentalist Materialists.

    The Fundamentalist Christians have told me that I am a slave of Satan and should have the demons expelled with an exorcism. The Fundamentalist Materialists inform me that I am a liar, a charlatan, fraud and scoundrel. Aside from this minor difference, the letters are astoundingly similar. Both groups share in the same crusading zeal and the same total lack of humor, charity, and common human decency.

    These intolerable cults have served to confirm me in my agnosticism by presenting further evidence to support my contention that when dogmas enter the brain, all intellectual activity ceases.