Robert Anton Wilson

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Robert Anton Wilson

Wilson at the National Theatre, London, 1977, for the ten-hour stage version of Illuminatus!
Born Robert Anton Wilson
January 18, 1932(1932-01-18)
Brooklyn, New York
Died January 11, 2007 (aged 74)
Capitola, California
Spouse(s) Arlen Riley Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson or RAW (born Robert Edward Wilson, January 18, 1932 – January 11, 2007) was an American novelist, essayist, philosopher, psychonaut, futurologist and libertarian.

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."[1] ... "My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything."[2]


[edit] Life

"Is", "is." "is" — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don't know what anything "is"; I only know how it seems to me at this moment.

Wilson was born Robert Edward Wilson in Methodist Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York, and spent his first years in Flatbush, moving with his family to Gerritsen Beach around the age of 4 or 5, where they stayed until he turned 13. He suffered from polio as a child and was treated with the method created by Elizabeth Kenny. Polio's effects remained with him throughout his life, usually manifesting as minor muscle spasms causing him to use a cane occasionally until 2000, when he experienced a major bout with post-polio syndrome that would continue until his death.

He attended Catholic grammar school, most likely the school associated with Gerritsen Beach's Resurrection Church. He attended Brooklyn Tech for high school to remove himself from the Catholic influence. While working as an ambulance driver he attended New York University, studying engineering and mathematics.

He worked as engineering aide, salesman, and copywriter and was associate editor for Playboy magazine from 1965 to 1971. He adopted his maternal grandfather's name, Anton, for his writings, at first telling himself that he was saving the "Edward" for when he wrote the Great American Novel and later finding that "Robert Anton Wilson" had become an established identity.

In 1979 he received a Ph.D. in psychology from Paideia University in California,[3] an unaccredited institution that has since closed.[4] The reworked dissertation was published in 1983 as Prometheus Rising.

He married the freelance writer Arlen Riley in 1958; they had four children. Their daughter Luna was beaten to death in an apparent robbery in the store where she worked in 1976 at the age of 15. Luna Wilson's brain was preserved by the Bay Area Cryonics Society.[5] Arlen Riley Wilson died in 1999 following a series of strokes.[6][7]

[edit] Writings

Wilson wrote 35 books,[8] and many other works.

His best-known work, the cult classic[9] The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975), co-authored with Robert Shea and advertised as "a fairy tale for paranoids," humorously examined American paranoia about conspiracies. Much of the odder material derived from letters sent to Playboy magazine while Shea and Wilson worked as editors of the Playboy Forum.[10] The books mixed true information with imaginative fiction to engage the reader in what Wilson called "Operation Mindfuck." The trilogy also outlined a set of libertarian and anarchist axioms known as Celine's Laws (named after Illuminatus! character Hagbard Celine), concepts Wilson revisited several times in other writings. It included a subplot about biological warfare in which a pimp contracts a deadly form of experimental anthrax. While the pimp is able to elude agents of the US Government — which reacts to the crisis by overriding the Bill of Rights — the pimp is eventually tracked down by operatives associated with Hagbard Celine. The story also gives a detailed account of the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which no fewer than five snipers, all working for different causes, were prepared to shoot Kennedy as he passed in his motorcade. The book's climax occurs at a rock concert in Ingolstadt where Hagbard Celine tries to rescue the audience from an Illuminati plot to make them victims of a massive human sacrifice. Illuminatus popularized Discordianism and the use of the term "fnord." It also incorporated experimental prose styles influenced by William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound.[11] Although Shea and Wilson never partnered on such a scale again, Wilson continued to expand upon the themes of the Illuminatus! books throughout his writing career. All of his later fiction contains cross-over characters from The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which won the Prometheus Hall of Fame award for science fiction in 1986, has been reprinted in many countries, and was adapted for the stage by Ken Campbell into a ten-hour epic drama. It has been adapted into a Steve Jackson role-playing card game called Illuminati and a trading-card game called Illuminati: New World Order. A comic book version was first produced by Eye N Apple Productions, then by Rip Off Press.

Wilson also wrote a play called Wilhelm Reich in Hell, which has been performed at the Edmund Burke Theatre in Dublin, and two illustrated screenplays: Reality is What You Can Get Away With and The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1997).

In Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977) and other works, he examined Discordianism, Sufism, Futurology, Zen Buddhism, Dennis and Terence McKenna, the occult practices of Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff, the Illuminati and Freemasons, Yoga, and other esoteric or counterculture philosophies. He advocated Timothy Leary's eight circuit model of consciousness and neurosomatic/linguistic engineering, which he also wrote about in Prometheus Rising (1983, revised 1997) and Quantum Psychology (1990), books containing practical techniques intended to help one break free of one's "reality tunnels." With Leary, he helped promote the futurist ideas of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE). The New Inquisition is quite a serious but very entertaining book arguing that reality is much weirder than we commonly imagine, and citing, among other things, Bell's theorem and Alain Aspect's experimental proof to suggest that mainstream science has a strong materialist bias, and that in fact modern physics has already disproved materialist metaphysics.

Wilson also supported many of the utopian theories of Buckminster Fuller and the theories of Charles Fort (he was a friend of Loren Coleman),[12] media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Neuro Linguistic Programming co-founder Richard Bandler, with whom he taught workshops. He also admired James Joyce, and wrote extensive commentaries on him and two of his novels, Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, in his book Coincidance.[13]

Ironically, considering Wilson long lampooned and criticized New Age beliefs, his books can often be found in bookstores specializing in New Age material. He was a well-known author in occult and Neo-Pagan circles; he wrote about Aleister Crowley and his ideas, and used him as a main character in his novel Masks of the Illuminati. Elements of H. P. Lovecraft's work are also found in his novels. He claimed to have perceived encounters with magical "entities," and when asked whether these entities were "real", he answered they were "real enough," although "not as real as the IRS" since they were "easier to get rid of."[citation needed] He warned against beginners using occult practice, since to rush into such practices and the resulting "energies" they unleash can lead people to "go totally nuts." [14]

Wilson also criticized scientific types with overly rigid belief systems, equating them with religious fundamentalists in their fanaticism. In a 1988 interview, he was asked about his recent book The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science. Wilson commented: "I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they're governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They're so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic... I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity... I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical... The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they're rational! ...They're never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They're only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They're actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college..."[15]

In a 2003 interview with High Times magazine, Wilson described himself as a "Model Agnostic" which he says "consists of never regarding any model or map of the 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."[16] More simply, he claims "not to believe anything", since "belief is the death of intelligence."[17] He has described his approach as "Maybe Logic." Wilson wrote articles for seminal cyberpunk magazine Mondo 2000.[18]

While he had primarily published material under the name Robert Anton Wilson, he had also used various pen names associated with the Bavarian Illuminati, which he allegedly revived in the 1960s.[citation needed]

In one interview he was asked the first thing he would do if he became President of The United States of America. Robert Anton Wilson gave the simple and curt answer "Resign!"

[edit] Other activities

Robert Anton Wilson and his wife Arlen Riley Wilson founded the Institute for the Study of the Human Future in 1975.

In 1976 Robert Anton Wilson founded the Starflight Network[citation needed], a society to propagate the philosophy of Dr. Timothy Leary. The group met at Wilson's home in Berkeley, California[citation needed]. John Draper was a member of the group[citation needed]. Discussions at the group centered on how to practically implement the futurist ideas of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE) that were three central concepts of Leary's philosophy[citation needed]. One of the activities of the group was setting up and manning tables to sell Dr. Timothy Leary's and Robert Anton Wilson's books at Star Trek conventions[citation needed]. Also, a color chart called The Periodic Table of Evolution (by Timothy Leary) and a diagram called "The Octave of Energy" (Robert Anton Wilson) were distributed which were summaries of the eight circuit model of consciousness[citation needed]. [19]

From 1982 until his death, Wilson had a business and social relationship with the Association for Consciousness Exploration, with the organization hosting his first on-stage dialog with his life-long friend Timothy Leary, in 1989,[20] entitled The Inner Frontier.[21][22][23] Wilson's book The New Inquisition is dedicated to the co-directors of A.C.E., Jeff Rosenbaum and Joseph Rothenberg.

Wilson was also a member of the Church of the SubGenius, who referred to him as Pope Bob.[24] He was a contributor to their literature, including the book Three-Fisted Tales of "Bob", and shared a stage with Rev. Ivan Stang on several occasions. Wilson also founded the Guns and Dope Party and its corresponding Burning Man theme camp.

As a member of the Board of Advisors of the Fully Informed Jury Association, Wilson worked to inform the public about jury nullification, the right of jurors to nullify a law they deem unjust.[25] He was a supporter of E-Prime, a form of English lacking all "be" verbs, and preferred "maybe logic".[26]

He coined a new word, sombunall (some but not all),[27] which never quite caught on. In response, he coined another word, mosbunall (as in "mosbunall humans wouldn't know an awesome new word if it bit them in the ass.").[citation needed] This word caught on even less.

A decades-long researcher into drugs and strong opponent of what he called "the war on some drugs", he participated in the weeklong 1999 Annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.[28] He was photographed receiving medical marijuana at a 2002 demonstration in Santa Cruz to curb his chronic pain from post-polio syndrome.[29]

Wilson was a founder and primary instructor of the Maybe Logic Academy, named for his agnostic approach to all knowledge. Fellow instructors include Patricia Monaghan, Rev. Ivan Stang, Philip H. Farber, Antero Alli, Peter J. Carroll, Starhawk, R. U. Sirius, Douglas Rushkoff, Lon Milo Duquette, and David Jay Brown.

[edit] Death

On June 22, 2006, Huffington Post blogger Paul Krassner reported that Robert A. Wilson was under hospice care at home with friends and family.[30] On October 2, 2006 Douglas Rushkoff reported that Wilson was in severe financial trouble.[31] Slashdot, Boing Boing, and the Church of the SubGenius also picked up on the story, linking to Rushkoff's appeal.[32][33] As his webpage reported on October 10, these efforts succeeded beyond expectation and raised a sum which would have supported him for at least 6 months. Obviously touched by the great outpouring of support, on October 5 of 2006 Wilson left the following comment on his personal website, expressing his gratitude:

Dear Friends, my God, what can I say. I am dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and totally stunned by the charity and compassion that has poured in here the last three days.
To steal from Jack Benny, "I do not deserve this, but I also have severe leg problems and I don't deserve them either."
Because he was a kind man as well as a funny one, Benny was beloved. I find it hard to believe that I am equally beloved and especially that I deserve such love.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, know that my love is with you.
You have all reminded me that despite George W. Bush and all his cohorts, there is still a lot of beautiful kindness in the world.
Robert Anton Wilson[34]

On January 6, he wrote on his blog that according to several medical authorities, he was likely to have only between two days and two months left to live,[35] closing his message with "I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying. Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd." He passed on peacefully five days later, on January 11 at 4:50 a.m. Pacific time.[36] His remains were cremated on January 18 with his family holding memorial services on February 18, 2007. His ashes were scattered at the same spot as his wife's - off the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. [37] [38]

A one-off tribute show was staged in London as a part of the Ether 07 festival held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on March 18, 2007, featuring Coldcut, Mixmaster Morris, Ken Campbell, Bill Drummond and Alan Moore.

[edit] Works by Robert Anton Wilson

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Fiction

[edit] Autobiographical

  • Cosmic Trigger
    • The Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977)
    • Down To Earth (1992)
    • My Life After Death (1995)

[edit] Essay collections

[edit] Plays and screenplays

[edit] Non-fiction

[edit] Editor

[edit] Discography

  • A Meeting with Robert Anton Wilson (ACE) cassette
  • Religion for the Hell of It (ACE) cassette
  • H.O.M.E.s on LaGrange (ACE) cassette
  • The New Inquisition (ACE) cassette
  • The H.E.A.D. Revolution (ACE) cassette and CD
  • Prometheus Rising (ACE) cassette
  • The Inner Frontier (with Timothy Leary) (ACE) cassette
  • The Magickal Movement: Present & Future (with Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits & Selena Fox) (ACE) Panel Discussion - cassette
  • Magick Changing the World, the World Changing Magick (ACE) Panel Discussion - cassette
  • The Self in Transformation (ACE) Panel Discussion - cassette
  • The Once & Future Legend (with Ivan Stang, Robert Shea and others) (ACE) Panel Discussion - cassette
  • What IS the Conspiracy, Anyway? (ACE) Panel Discussion - cassette
  • The Chocolate-Biscuit Conspiracy music cassette with The Golden Horde (1984)
  • Twelve Eggs in a Basket CD
  • Robert Anton Wilson On Finnegans Wake and Joseph Campbell (interview by Faustin Bray and Brian Wallace) (1988) 2 CD Set Sound Photosynthesis ASIN: B000BJSF66
  • Acceleration of Knowledge (1991) cassette
  • Secrets of Power comedy cassette
  • Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything: or Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance (July 30, 2005) Sounds True ISBN 1591793750, ISBN 978-1591793755

[edit] Filmography

[edit] Actor

  • Túneis da Realidade, Os (a.k.a. Who Is the Master Who Makes the Grass Green?) (1996) Edgar Pêra (Portugal)
  • Manual de Evasão (September 16, 1994) Edgar Pêra (Portugal)

[edit] Writer

  • Wilhelm Reich in Hell (2005) (Video) Deepleaf Productions

[edit] Appearing as himself

  • Children of the Revolution: Tune Back In (2005) Revolutionary Child Productions
  • The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick (2001) TKO Productions
  • 23 (1998) (23 - Nichts ist so wie es scheint) Claussen & Wöbke Filmproduktion GmbH (Germany)
  • Arise! The SubGenius Video (1992) (V) (a.k.a. Arise! SubGenius Recruitment Film #16) The SubGenius Foundation (USA)
  • Borders (1989) Co-Directions Inc. (TV documentary)
  • Fear In The Night: Demons, Incest and UFOs (1993) Video - Trajectories
  • Twelve Eggs in a Box: Myth, Ritual and the Jury System (1994) Video - Trajectories
  • Everything Is Under Control: Robert Anton Wilson in Interview (1998) Video - Trajectories

[edit] Documentary

  • Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson, a documentary featuring selections from over 25 years of Wilson footage, was released on DVD in North America on May 30, 2006.[39]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Patricia Monaghan: "Robert Anton Wilson". Booklist, May 15, 1999 v95 i18 p1680
  2. ^ "Robert Anton Wilson". Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007
  3. ^ "Robert Anton Wilson." St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th ed. St. James Press, 1996. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.
  4. ^ Martin van der Werf: "Lawsuit U." The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 4, 2006
  5. ^ Patricia Luna Wilson at
  6. ^ Robert Anton Wilson obituary mentioning Arlen's death
  7. ^ The Beltane Celebration
  8. ^ "The author of 35 books on subjects like extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, metaphysics, paranormal experiences, conspiracy theory, sex, drugs and what he called quantum psychology..." New York Times obituary.
  9. ^ " author of The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- a mind-twisting science-fiction series about a secret global society that has been a cult classic for more than 30 years..." from "Robert Anton Wilson, 74; Wrote Mind-Twisting Novels"; [Obituary (Obit)] Dennis Hevesi. New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Jan 13, 2007. pg. A.16
  10. ^ "The Illuminatus saga stumbles along" by Robert Anton Wilson
  11. ^ Conspiracy Digest Interviews printed in Illuminatus Papers, 1980
  12. ^ 23 Skidoo Cryptomundo
  13. ^ Bray, Faustin / Wallace, Brian (interviewers)/ Wilson, Robert Anton (speaker). Robert Anton Wilson On Finnegans Wake and Joseph Campbell [Audio CD]. Mill Valley: Sound Photosynthesis. ISBN 1-56964-801-8
  14. ^ "Robert Anton Wilson". Robert Anton Wilson Explains Eveything. 2000
  15. ^ 1988 interview
  16. ^ Krassner, Paul. A Paul Krassner Interview With R. A. W - High Times, March 2003 issue.
  17. ^ Wilson, Robert Anton. Cosmic Trigger: Volume I. Tempe, Arizona. New Falcon Publications. 1977. pg ii.
  18. ^ "CybeRevolution Montage", Mondo 2000 no. 7, 1989
  19. ^ A black and white copy of the chart The Periodic Table of Evolution may be found on the inside front of the following book: Leary, Timothy - Info-Psychology, New Falcon Publications. ISBN 1-56184-105-6
  20. ^ Lesie, Michele (1989) "High Priest of LSD To Drop In", The Plain Dealer
  21. ^ Local Group Hosts Dr. Timothy Leary by Will Allison (The Observer Fri. Sept. 29th, 1989)
  22. ^ Two 60s Cult Heroes, on the Eve of the 80s by James Neff (Cleveland Plain Dealer October 30, 1979)
  23. ^ Timothy Leary: An LSD Cowboy Turns Cosmic Comic by Frank Kuznik (Cleveland Magazine November 1979)
  24. ^ Winterstar 2001
  25. ^ Interview of Robert Anton Wilson, (conducted August 1997) Paradigm Shift, Vol. 1 No. 1 (July 1998), accessed January 11, 2007
  26. ^ Andrea Shapiro: "Taking the High Road". Santa Fe New Mexican, December 5, 2003
  27. ^ []
  28. ^ Paul Krassner: "The High Life", LA Weekly, December 17, 1999
  29. ^ "In Santa Cruz, an Official Handout of Medicinal Pot." Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2002.
  30. ^ Robert Anton Wilson The Huffington Post
  31. ^ Robert Anton Wilson Needs Our Help
  32. ^ Illumninatus! Author Needs Our Help Slashdot
  33. ^ Robert Anton Wilson needs our Help BoingBoing
  34. ^ Robert Anton Wilson Home Page
  35. ^ Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night
  36. ^ RAW Essence
  37. ^ RAW Data: Robert Anton Wilson Cosmic Meme-Orial
  38. ^ YouTube - Robert Anton Wilson Meme-orial Procession
  39. ^ Maybe Logic

[edit] External links

[edit] Official sites

[edit] Interviews

[edit] Online writings, profiles and press

[edit] Obituaries

NAME Wilson, Robert Anton
DATE OF BIRTH January 18, 1932
PLACE OF BIRTH New York, New York
DATE OF DEATH January 11, 2007
PLACE OF DEATH Santa Cruz, California
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