My father was a big fan of Robert Anton Wilson.
I read the Illuminatus! trilogy in the summer between 8th and 9th grade (it changed my life). All through high school, I would occasionally pick up one of my father’s Wilson books and read some random bit of it, but aside from Illuminatus!, I never read all the way through them. (I’m not entirely sure I even read all the way through Illuminatus!; there were times when I read bits of that in random order too.)
As part of my unread-books-reading project, I’m now finally reading Cosmic Trigger, most of which is more or less an autobiography about how Wilson learned about (and from) drugs, conspiracy theories, humanity being guided by aliens from Sirius, physics, magick, tantra, Crowley, Leary, synchronicity, metaprogramming, psychic abilities, cryonics, and more.
I’m finding it reasonably interesting, especially now that I have some more context for some of what Wilson’s saying than I did when I was in high school. (For example, I don’t think I understood at the time that he was an ardent Libertarian.)
But one thing I see him doing over and over in this book is to assume that two things that have a point of (possibly metaphorical) similarity are essentially the same.
For example, he takes it for granted that some aspects of physics are equivalent to some aspects of mysticism. He doesn’t quite explicitly say “both of them involve energy, so they’re the same thing,” but he comes pretty close to that. Another example: he claims that Castaneda’s “Mescalito,” a peyote spirit, “takes many forms in many myth-systems,” including Peter Pan and Mr. Spock; my impression is that he’s saying that any being who has pointed ears and/or green skin is a manifestation of the same idea. (The picture of Peter Pan that he includes appears to have pointed ears.)
I recognize the allure of this general approach to things. Similarities are cool, synchronicity is neat, metaphors and analogies can be very useful, and combining disparate things into a simple unified system is very tempting.
And yet, if you make an analogy but then forget that it’s just an analogy, you’ll often end up coming to incorrect conclusions. Over and over again, I feel like Wilson is essentially saying something like the following:
“I’ve heard of this thing called a couch. Sources that talk about it say that it has four legs and a back, and you sit on it. Obviously that’s the same thing as what our culture refers to as an ‘elephant.’ Therefore, we can conclude that couches have trunks and tails, and sometimes stampede. For the rest of this book, I’m going to make casual references to couch stampedes as if they were a scientifically proven fact.”