"Prometheus Rising is one of that rare category of
modern works which intuits the next stage
of human evolution. Wilson is one of the
leading thinkers of the Modern age."
- Barbara Marx Hubbard
Robert Anton Wilson's stated intention is to mess with your mind. He wants to do it. He wants to show you how to do it. He wants everyone to learn how to use their brains better, more happily, more efficiently, for the benefit of all and the harm of none. He wants to save the world. He wants to trick you. He doesn't care what you think at all, and yet how you think is the whole thing he is trying to change. His intentions are so (apparently) weird, in this age of cyncicism, where everyone has to protect themselves from being exploited by unscrupulous "teachers" who are trying to put one over on you, that sometimes his books themselves seem odd, paradoxical, or even plain naive.
Prometheus Rising is no exception. Many people will agree that this book "blew my mind, man," but will be pretty vague as to what, exactly, blew their mind, or what the results have been. Chaosmind says that Prometheus Rising turned him on to "whole bunches of other weird shit." Is that good? Bad? Do books like this encourage gullibility, open-mindedness, or psychosis? What is it even about?
The format is apparently like that of many self-help books. There are chapters expounding on a particular topic, followed by questions or 'exercises' for the reader, from the tongue-in-cheek mundane ("Treat yourself to a nice big gooey ice cream dessert once a week") to the extremely difficult ("Try to go for a whole week without saying the word "I") to the simply puzzling ("Visualize a quarter very clearly, then go for a walk. See how many quarters you find on the street").
The structure of the book is based on Timothy Leary's model of the levels of human consciousness, which divides human experience into eight categories or 'circuits'. Normal hominid intelligence, Leary says, is based on our experience of the first four circuits, and a lot of our seemingly intractable personal and social problems arise from the fact that very few humans have (so far) learned how to activate the higher circuits of the brains. Leary and Wilson associate these higher circuits with the various forms of mystical, artistic and religious experience which have been reported by unusual humans throughout history. Prometheus Rising addresses each circuit in order, illustrating the scientific and philosophical discussions with quotations, cartoons, questions and anecdotes.
Which brings us to Wilson's style. Many people who have read Prometheus Rising find the self-help-style exercises to be inane, and get much more enjoyment from the more discursive parts of the text. Wilson is definitely erudite and highly intelligent, and Prometheus Rising makes many challenging and complex observations about the human mind and human experience. However, readers have also reported, on reading Wilson, that the metaphysics and scientific jargon leaves them cold, but that his conversational, informal style and witty interjections, combined with the exercises and cartoons, gave them an intuitive understanding of the points he tries to make. This is the key to his style: he will say the same thing in as many different ways as he can possibly think of, because there are so many different kinds of people, and so many different modes of expression in which to make his basic point.
What is this point that he tries in so many different ways to get his readers to understand? He expresses it, in the introduction, in the following sentence:
What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves
In other words, he is trying to make the point that the reality
we perceive is largely (but not wholly) conditioned and warped by our own assumptions. Our brain, he says, is hardware
, but it is also running a kind of software
which takes the form of beliefs, filters, interpretations, assumptions, memories and emotional overtones. We project our internal state
outwards into the world: if we are angry, the world seems antagonistic
. If we are sad, the world seems terrible and tragic
. If we are happy, the world seems simple and bright.
Wilson's intention, his greatest hope, is for his readers to understand this, and to begin to reprogram their own neurological software. He thinks that if enough people do this, the human world will naturally begin to improve - he is a Utopian, who believes that it is possible for humanity to learn to live in relative peace and happiness once we have learned, as a species, to use our brains more efficiently, transcending 'Belief Systems' which condition us to interpret our experience in only one of a million possible ways.
PARTICIPATE IN YOUR OWN MANIPULATION.
I didn't do all the exercises in this book, but I did some. All of the exercises I did helped me to understand a little more viscerally what I'd already understood intellectually from each chapter - I tried not to say "I" for a whole week, and found it almost impossible , though it got easier in the last couple of days. I wrote down many thoughts and observations about my perceptions of myself and others, and gained quite a few insights. I even tried visualizing a nice shiny new Irish ten pence piece, really hard, and opened my eyes, walked about five steps, looked down, and saw one glittering in the gutter right at my feet. What does that mean? Don't ask me. Don't ask Wilson either, you'll just end up with more questions than answers. Because:
...reality is weird. It's very weird and complicated and much bigger than we give it credit for. We can't possibly fit it all into our heads. This is not real life. This is text. The more you learn, the less you realize you know. You can't come away from Prometheus Rising a bigger, better person, with a little more information in that 1-terabyte brain store. It may blow your mind, but you might not be able to explain to anyone exactly how it happened. It may not appeal to you at all, in which case, as Wilson would say, "Next please - step right up."
Robert Anton Wilson: http://www.rawilson.com
Order Prometheus Rising online: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561840564/therobertantonwi/103-3658688-03846 54