Hippocrates v Hypocrite  






Wilson concludes Beyond the Outsider with the unequivocal statement ‘The way forward lies through the development of language’, (1) and in Introduction to the New Existentialism Chapter 4 is devoted to the subject ‘Language and Values’; and the conclusion is:

 ‘The ‘new language’ of existentialism will be created out of a patient attempt at phenomenological description of man’s inner states, particularly the abnormal inner states that can be induced by drugs or by mental illness’. (2)

And he goes on to indicate that this work is already under way in the work of existentialist psychologists like Boss, Binswanger, Straus, Frankl, Caroso, Laing & Maslow. (The last of course came to occupy a central place in Wilson’s thinking).

The critical line here is ‘particularly the abnormal inner states that can be induced by drugs or by mental illness’, and if we review the panoply of Outsiders that Wilson reviews through his first two books we can see that every one of them could be identified as being under the influence of either drugs or mental illness. Particularly pertinent is the instance of Rimbaud who argued for a systematic derangement of the senses. (3)

Wilson admitted to being ‘a stranger to revelation’ but he knew that revelation was of the essence when it came to Man realising his full potential. In a passage in Man Without A Shadow where Sorme has just used these precise words he acknowledges that he has experienced moments of ‘power consciousness’ through sex and reflects:

...... I despair when I think of the inability of my language to fix their meanings. Yet it can be done; we can create new language, and language and sex will become allies, language clarifying and purifying the sexual impulse, sex powering language to achieve a new complexity. (4)

It is debatable to what extent Wilson at the end of his career still felt this was a realistic objective.

Already in Introduction to the New Existentialism, Wilson’s summation of the philosophy he had been developing through the five books of the Outsider cycle, he is acknowledging something essential about the limitations of ordinary language. He writes:

‘’Our ordinary language is definite because it has a scaffolding of everyday experience around it, and this scaffolding acts as a co-ordinate system, enabling one to define any point with a certain precision. But to give a new word a definite meaning, one has to erect a system of scaffolding to support it....’’ (5)

And in his last published book, Superconsciousness, he refers to the work of the mathematician Kurt Gödel who showed that in any system ‘there are always certain truths that cannot be proved within the system; they can only be proved within a larger system still, a meta system...And within that meta-system there are again truths that cannot be proved – and so on ad infinitum’. (6)

In other words all human systems of knowledge, whether mathematical, linguistic, philosophical or merely experiential operate from within a system of matrices. Something can only ever be true from within the matrix - or the scaffolding, to use Wilson’s earlier analogy - that you happen to find yourself working within.

This should not be cause for despair, but it does very clearly identify that there can be no ultimate language capable of expressing everything that there is to be expressed – without recourse to a meta-system.

I have suggested (see Chapter 1) that music is just such a meta- system for ordinary language, and, as we have seen, a meta-system that actually precedes language from an evolutionary perspective, a language that expresses much that is inexpressible in mere words.

In Introduction to the New Existentialism Wilson cites the case of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal who started out as a gifted poet producing Rimbaudesque lyrics that quickly established his reputation, but who quickly became disillusioned with language as a means of expressing anything essential. (7)

What Wilson doesn’t point out is that Hofmannsthal became the chosen librettist for Richard Strauss and in so doing ceded the responsibility of expressing anything essential to a composer of genius. Hofmaansthal will almost certainly be remembered by posterity principally as R. Strauss’ librettist rather than as a poet in his own right. His lack of faith in his own chosen mode of expression ultimately consigned him to the status of a second rate poet, though liberated him to become a librettist of genius, and in so doing unleashed the genius of another artist.

Hofmannsthal discovered that a great composer like R Strauss could express things about the human condition in music with an immediacy that would never be possible solely from the Either/Or perspective of linguistic semantics - for words are only signifiers of reality.

When Kierkegaard entitled his youthful masterpiece Either/Or he was ostensibly referring to the choice facing each human being between a hedonistic or an ethical approach to life. In reality he was exposing the whole universe of polarities by which human existence is circumvented. Ultimately he was observing that we make a critical mistake in assuming that we are floundering in a welter of polarities for in truth there is only one polarity – and that is encoded in our way of seeing, our way of thinking, of interpreting the lives we find ourselves living. This polarity is a way of regarding the world dictated by the internal structures of language and cognition.

Noam Chomsky reckoned that there is just one linguistic substrate from which all languages originate and that the structure of language is biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted. He therefore argues that all humans share the same underlying linguistic structure, irrespective of socio-cultural differences.

Now all languages by necessity are rooted in polarity – in a dualistic stance towards existence. Only thus is it possible to articulate anything about anything. Thus if it is the case there is just one linguistic substrate from which all languages originate and that the structure of language is biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted, it follows that this substrate must be rooted in polarity – in the tendency to divide the world and our experience of it out into opposing parcels in order the better to take control of it. For this is how language functions. From the moment we make a proposition, we automatically place that proposition in the context of an opposing proposition – whether we’re aware of it or not.

In examining what did and didn’t work in the human machine Wilson was consistently uncovering what Viktor Frankl made central to his psychology – namely that human beings are principally motivated by meaning, and deprived of it they flounder. But what is meaningful does not arise out of our capacity to conceptualise and articulate, that is, it does not arise out of language per se. What is meaningful to us is inextricably linked to our sense of values. And values are acquired through our experience of life at all levels – physical, emotional and intellectual. Above all values are dictated by what matters to us.

If our theory is correct, that alienation occurs as an inevitable result of our capacity for identifying and articulating, then it can be seen Chomsky’s theory would seem to suggest that the tendency to alienation, which arises always from an either/or perspective, may be physically encoded. Could it be this is the something Wilson was referring to when he said ‘There’s something wrong with human beings?’, namely a genetic predisposition to alienation?

The Other Mode is about accessing meaning and meaning cannot be accessed from an Either/Or perspective. It can only be accessed from a Both/And perspective. But if Chomsky’s theory is correct it would seem we are genetically primed to view the world from an either/or perspective – making the Other Mode often seem almost impossible to access.

It must follow therefore that the Both/And way of looking at things cannot be achieved from a purely rational perspective, that is by using the very faculty through which the bifurcation has occurred in the first place. It is thus well nigh impossible to articulate an all inclusive sense of meaning in language; only the greatest poets and philosophers have even come close.

Wilson knew this. In Man Without A Shadow Sorme reflects in a moment of supreme insight:

‘Nothing we can say about life cannot be negated by another statement that appears equally true. Our moods and mental climates are more changeable than England’s weather.’ (8)

The conclusion must be the Other Mode is rooted in a non rational way of looking at things, that is: it cannot be conceptualised; though Wilson spent a lifetime attempting to do just that....


Why do we talk about the ‘other mode’? Is not the ‘other mode’ about annihilating all polarities, all distinctions, all otherness, and feeling only with? Is it not about removing ourselves from what Husserl called ‘the natural standpoint’ – a misnomer if ever there was one, for this ‘natural standpoint’, our customary way of looking at the world, the standpoint from which most human beings negotiate their way through the world, is about as far from Nature as it would be possible to be. Husserl’s ‘natural standpoint’ is a condition of unawareness and comes about as a direct result of our being physically programmed to bifurcate the world we arrive in from the moment we come to self consciousness; it is about being locked in an abstract universe inside our heads that keeps us separated from what could genuinely be referred to as the natural standpoint of a bird, a cat or a fish.  

The other mode is thus always linked to states of feeling that transcend the ordinary – to the orgasm experience, the peak experience - which can only be articulated through inference. It cannot be captured from a purely dualistic perspective.

Wilson states this most clearly in one of the five chapters of his first autobiography Voyage to a Beginning that were only published in America. The Chapter was entitled ‘Insights’ and was eventually made available to English readers by the indefatigable Colin Stanley who published all five chapters in two pamphlets, through his publishing house Paupers’ Press in 1991 to commemorate Wilson’s 60th birthday. On page 60 of ‘Sex, America and other Insights’ Wilson writes:

‘...The peculiar glory of the human mind is its ability to move in a stepwise progression: that is to say that when it confronts a problem, it treats it as a series of steps, and surmounts the problem by climbing step by step. Now I have pointed out that the problems of philosophy, as distinct from those of everyday life or mathematics, cannot be attacked on this logical principle. They look insoluble to discursive thought. You seem to exhaust them; you certainly exhaust yourself, and yet they remain untouched. They can be attacked only by varying consciousness itself (my italics). Then consciousness achieves the ‘peak experience’, you suddenly become aware that there are new roads to the heart of the problem.’

And he concludes:

‘This means that philosophy cannot be used in the same way as science – or at least, in the way an engineer would solve the problem of building a bridge over a ravine. It requires that otherelement, the intensity. A man without this ability is not qualified to be a philosopher (which of course rules out 90 percent of all philosophers). Without a certain glow of intensity, philosophy is like a car without gasoline’. (9)

From this perspective a poem is a much more efficient means of capturing reality than a philosophical textbook will ever be. Why? Because the poem does not rely solely on the precise culturally agreed meaning of each of the words employed but uses language in the same way as the composer uses notes, as instances of vibration, that when combined create a meaning beyond any meaning that can be precisely stated, and thus can convey something of the intensity of the poet’s inspiration.

In Religion and the Rebel Wilson wrote:

‘One cannot talk about the real issues of life: one can only show them. Critical language, discursive language, has no meaning other than its logical meaning. But consider Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Rilke’s Orpheus Sonnets, Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. This language has a meaning quite apart from the ‘logical syntax’ of the sentences. ‘True poetry can communicate before it is understood’, Eliot wrote in his essay on Dante. And one can go further, and say: What true poetry can communicate cannot be expressed in ordinary language.’ (10)

The Chinese symbol of the Tai ki, which was adopted by the nuclear physicist Niels Bohr as his symbol – see illustration – expresses a fundamental truth about life which Jean Gebser wrote about in his magnum opus The Ever Present Origin:

Vector illustration of Yin and Yang symbol isolated on white background

‘Each half of the symbol contains the other pole, the dark containing a light spot, the light containing a dark one. Darkness and light, in other words are not just complements of one another, but, seen in itself, each also contains the other.’ (11)

This sense of the infinite complexity of human consciousness was far more present in Wilson’s early work than in the later work. Indeed it is of the essence in The Outsider and its successor Religion and the Rebel (which would still be the book of all Wilson’s books that I would want to take to a desert island with me) and in the novels Ritual in the Dark and Man Without A Shadow.

Thereafter increasingly it would seem Wilson’s obsession was not so much to express the complexity as to explicate it; and I do believe that this was because he had found the solution for himself. He was living his ideal of what a human life should be – dedicated to his books and his music - and he wanted to share what he had discovered. But the problem presented itself:  the more you explicate a thing the more you bifurcate, and the more you bifurcate the further you get from your objective, which for the artist is always to give expression to the soul’s holistic understanding of the universe.

Increasingly it seemed as though Wilson was moving towards a Wellsian utopian vision further and further removed from the turbulent world of the human heart which became exclusively identified with the shadow side. Yeats’ ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’ became identified with serial killers, sex maniacs and fake messiahs while the ideal world of man would be that that he created in his science fiction novels, where the emotional mess has been sanitised and contained.

There was therefore a total polarisation of human experience into the evolutionary on the one hand and the unacceptably messy, uncontrollable and unacceptable on the other hand. (Early in his career Wilson had given eloquent expression to this dichotomy in the novel The World of Violence.)

And this I would contend is an inevitable outcome of the attempt to explicate that which is fundamentally inexplicable.

Wilson was at his best when expressing his awareness of complexity rather than attempting to explicate it, in spite of the fact his capacity for explication was extraordinary. Inevitably something is lost in the act of explaining – there is a reduction of the original complexity to manageable proportions. How else is it possible to explicate?

Wilson knew this. When he wrote “For me [fiction] is a manner of philosophizing … Philosophy may be only a shadow of the reality it tries to grasp, but the novel is altogether more satisfactory. I am almost tempted to say that no philosopher is qualified to do his job unless he is also a novelist … I would certainly exchange any of the works of Whitehead or Wittgenstein for the novels they ought to have written”, he was acknowledging the limitations of explication and the necessity to concentrate on expression. (12)

The novel can contain an infinite number of shades of meaning that are only available otherwise to the poet, songwriter or musician. And indeed Wilson did on several occasions express the wish that he had been a musician.

The whole point about the paintings of Van Gogh, the novels of Hermann Hesse, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the performances of a great dancer like Nijinsky - all those tortured geniuses who feature so prominently in The Outsider – is that they were expressing something of the totality of what it is to be a human being. They were creating out of the totality of themselves – which included not just the technical precocity that made them so extraordinary, but most pertinently all their visceral, emotional, intellectual and physical experience of life.


One begins to see the size of the problem Wilson was attempting to resolve: taking his cue from Nietzsche in developing the New Existentialism he was effectively debunking the whole philosophical endeavour as practised since the days of the early Greeks. In every one of his books he was stating categorically that life cannot be captured or expressed in purely dualistic terms and that what was needed was for the philosopher to assume the mantle of the artist and find a way to embrace every aspect of human experience, physical emotional and intellectual. (13)

While it might appear that Wilson was debunking the whole endeavour of philosophy in fact he was demonstrating through his work the only way, in his view, in which philosophy can, or should be, practised – that is through employing every conceivable means, including calling upon every thinker that has preceded you, all the arts, all the sciences , the whole panoply of human knowledge and experience to which you have access in order to draw general conclusions that equate with your own subjective experience ...

This is the true meaning of bird’s eye consciousness – the capacity to soar above the human world -  to soar above the world of polarity – the two are synonymous, Nietzsche’s human all too human.


By 2008 when Wilson was interviewed by Gil Dekel he was openly sceptical of the capacity for everyday language to express abstruse varieties of experience. Dekel asked him:

‘You also mentioned that the visionaries cannot express their experiences fully in words. Do you think that language is limited? Are there additional or better tools we could use?’

And Wilson replies:

‘Pretty obvious. What is the difference between a taste of an orange and a taste of tangerine…? There are so many hundreds of things that you cannot express in words.

Of course, the main thing we can’t express in words is the vision that Proust called ‘le moment bienheureuse’, these strange moments of absolute pure joy which Marcel experiences in Swann’s Way as he tastes the biscuit dipped in her tea, and is suddenly flooded in total affirmation. He actually says exactly this; that we think that we have taken everything into account, so to speak, in adding up what life is all about, and then in these moments suddenly you discover that there are millions of things that you have forgotten that are tremendously important. The trouble with human beings of course is that they actually become suicidal because they forget these things. Our real problem is what Heidegger calls forgetfulness of existence. We just forget…’  (14)


There seems to be here a tacit acknowledgement that ordinary everyday language can only make gestures and provide metaphors for Reality and is principally significant as a means of reminding us of what is important  - which is beyond the power of words to express.

‘Language is not accurate, for the most part.  A sentence like ‘the cat sat on the mat’ may be accurate enough; but as soon as we try to express an idea of any complexity, we have to start relying on metaphor and gesture. (By gesture, I mean the word that is not quite accurate, but points in the direction of the meaning it wishes to convey) (15)

The year previously to the Dekel interview (2007) Wilson had written in the Epilogue to his book The Angry Years:

‘Reality is a flow. A positivist would say that the beauty of a sunset is a purely subjective feeling, whose reality is energy vibrating in space. He would also say that a symphony consists of sound waves in the air. These two examples make us aware that when we try to grasp reality with the mind we falsify it. Even to try is like trying to pick up a peeled soft-boiled eggs with fire-tongs. Our most valuable and important experiences cannot be grasped with thought, only with intuition’ (16)


Now this might seem an extraordinary statement coming from a writer who spent a lifetime vaunting the importance of the intellect and spent most of his working life trying to ‘grasp reality with the mind’. But I do believe it is of the essence when trying to understand the New Existentialism; because what Wilson is saying is that Sartre et al left out whole swathes of experience that cannot be grasped by the mind alone. The inference must be that we must look elsewhere if we are to find a means to connect with reality.

Wilson knew that the answer to life failure did not reside in his own obsessive brand of intellectualism. He once wrote ‘Intellect on its own is a triviality.’ (17)

In Origins of the Sexual Impulse he wrote, having just quoted Nietzsche re the Will to Power:

‘In Gurdjieff’s ‘well-balanced man’, the striving for sexual power is only one line of struggle towards ‘higher evolution’. The despair of philosophers and mystics springs from perception of the power of the ‘repeating mechanism’, which prevents maturity on an intellectual and emotional, as well as on a sexual level. One has only to read the work of HG Wells to become aware of a monstrous appetite for ideas, a vital enthusiasm. When this kind of enthusiasm has a strong emotional component it tends towards religion, or a kind of poetic idealism, as in Shelley, Wordsworth, Blake. But one only has to read about the lives of these men to realise that their ‘idealistic’ experience was as heavily taxed by the life force as De Sade’s sexual experience; that is to say, it was as inadequate as sexual experience to serve as a ladder towards ‘godhead’.’

Wilson might have been writing about himself here, for as we will see his work was emotionally driven, and he certainly had a ‘monstrous appetite for ideas’; but he knows that ideas on their own are not enough. He continues:

‘...the battle against the ‘repeating mechanism’ is conducted on many levels. The healthy and well-adjusted man (assuming for the moment that he could exist) would conduct his war against the ‘partial nature of consciousness’ on many fronts.....the Nietzschean ‘Will to Power’, the craving for complete consciousness, expresses itself on several levels. But it is always a striving to overcome the repeating mechanism.’ (18)

In other books Wilson was fond of quoting from Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas  and this is surely the capacity he writes about here – the need to include everything:

‘Nothing can be omitted, experience drunk and experience sober, experience sleeping and experience waking, experience drowsy and experience wide-awake, experience self-conscious and experience self-forgetful, experience intellectual and experience physical, experience religious and experience sceptical, experience anxious and experience care-free, experience anticipatory and experience retrospective, experience happy and experience grieving, experience dominated by emotion and experience under self-restraint, experience in the light and experience in the dark, experience normal and experience abnormal.’ (19)


But there is a problem, namely the fact that Nature seems to have set a definite limit on what it is possible for any one human being to experience in terms of ‘enlightenment’. Wilson uses the analogy of a thermostat that is determined to control the room temperature. It certainly sounds as though he writes from personal experience when he continues:

‘We hope continually for a steadily rising flood of consciousness, a flood that arises from some insight of intuition, and invades the brain with a sense of ‘otherness’,  other places, other people, other experiences, and new relations between half forgotten pieces of experience. But the thermostat switches off. It is like a miserly matron who holds the keys to the pantry, and who will only dole out minute quantities of food, enough to keep us from starving.’ (20)

Eventually of course Wilson was to arrive at a definition of this ‘sense of otherness’ with his concept of Faculty X.

In his later years Wilson was increasingly investigating, in books like From Atlantis to the Sphinx and Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals, other ways of being, represented by the ancient Egyptians and the Navaho Indians, and appeared to be turning his back on his earlier preoccupation with phenomenology and intentionality; but I believe this was an illusion and that in reality there never was a departure let alone a conflict.

He always maintained there was no conflict. When Rapatahana took him to task for his apparently having slipped into New Age issues Wilson replied precisely to this effect; but I’m not sure he ever explained clearly why there might appear to be a conflict in the first place.

My sense is that Wilson took ‘bird’s eye consciousness’ so much for granted himself that he never quite appreciated the mechanisms by which that state was reached – a bit like a natural singer who can’t begin to understand why some people are incapable of producing their voices to make beautiful sounds that other people might want to listen to.

In short I think Wilson undervalued the physical and the role that the body had to play in achieving transcendent states of consciousness - in spite of acknowledging throughout his career the power of sex and the role of the sexual orgasm as a quick fix means of achieving transcendent states. This was a curious blind spot which I think helps to explain his highly ambiguous attitude towards sexual mystics like Henry Miller, DH Lawrence and Wilhelm Reich.

This insight crystallised for me when I came across an article Steve Taylor wrote for the Abraxas magazine, where he wonders why it was that Wilson was so averse to DH Lawrence. Taylor finds this incomprehensible, since there are so many similarities between the two - not least the transcendist preoccupation and the need for more life in order to achieve a new way of seeing. Wilson equated Lawrence with Rousseau and a regressive back-to-nature stance that was anathema to him, and yet the whole issue of the sexual impulse was clearly central to Wilson's philosophy.....and whichever way you look at it you can't divide the sexual impulse from the life of the body. Nor can you divide the life of the mind from the life of the body. (21) (22)

One of the rare occasions where Wilson gives DH Lawrence his proper due is in The Occult where he writes:

‘D. H. Lawrence describes Lady Chatterley's sensations after lovemaking: 'As she ran home in the twilight the world seemed a dream; the trees in the park seemed bulging and surging at anchor on a tide, and the heave of the slope to the house was alive.

‘All Lawrence's work is concerned with the need for civilisation to take a new direction, to concentrate upon the development of these 'other' powers instead of continuing to develop the intellect. It is not a matter of sinking into a kind of trance, a passive state of 'oneness with nature,' like the cows Walt Whitman admired so much. The nature of which Lady Chatterley is aware as she runs home sounds more like those late canvases of Van Gogh in which everything is distorted by some inner force – by Russell's 'breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vastness and fearful passionless force of non-human things.' (23)

In ‘L’amour, the Ways of Love’ (1970) Wilson was to write ‘’Sex is not the interaction of personalities but impersonalities. It is the wind that turns waves into an explosion of surf’’. (24)

The quote of Bertrand Russell with which I opened this book occurs throughout Wilson’s writings from The Occult onwards and I believe is the clue to the meaning of the New Existentialism; and it has to do with the ‘taking the world into your own soul’, (to quote the Steppenwolf as Wilson does in The Outsider) – not just the world but the entire created universe of which we are a part - and identifying with it.


In Below the Iceberg in his essay ‘A Brief History of French Philosophy’, explaining the insufficiency of Auguste Comte’s positivism, which became all too clear when Comte had a total mental breakdown Wilson writes:

‘The crisis made him aware that Man has deep emotional needs which cannot be satisfied by the worship of mere reason – or even of art. Man has a craving to open his soul to the whole universe, to be flooded by a feeling of awe and wonder, to lose his individuality in the contemplation of something greater than himself’. (25)

And I think it is this sense of the infinite strangeness and mystery of the universe that explains the fascination Wilson had with the Occult. In a chapter of his biography of Wilson entitled ‘Our Other Self’ Gary Lachman writes:

‘Wilson felt that fixing the seat of paranormal activity— or the unconscious mind, for that matter— in some specific location in the brain is really not that important. What is important is to recognize that we are really two, that along with our everyday rational self, there is also another, unknown self. This unknown self is involved not only in paranormal phenomena but also in what Wilson calls the “other mode of consciousness,” the deeper, more relational consciousness responsible for our poetic, aesthetic, and mystical experiences.’ (26)

Recently Anthony Peake has postulated the existence of a daemon that co-habits our mortal body and guides us through our lives if we allow it to. This is of course nothing new – and Peake itemises many instances throughout history of poets and philosophers who have relied upon their Daemon for inspiration – Socrates and Goethe are only the most obvious. (Interestingly this is a rationalisation of something the author Phillip Pullman - an ardent fan of Wilson’s work - makes central in his Dark Materials Trilogy). The daemon is only another name for the other self.

I recently coined the term sublunary (literally: under the moon) to describe what Granville-Barker called the ‘Secret Life’ – the life of the individual that exists beyond any of the day to day interactions in the mundane world. It was observing my cat one night in the garden under the moon that made me think of the expression.

We all have a secret life that is sub – lunary; in more common parlance it is the subjective level - the level that is below and beyond the objective: the inner world through which we connect with ourselves and the universe, as opposed to the objective self with which we connect with the world beyond ourselves, the mundane world of getting and spending and surviving on the planet.

This is what distinguishes the human being from all other creatures on the planet. As we have seen we are bifurcated from the moment that we can look in a mirror and say ‘I am’.

My cat exists purely as one. She does not know that she is. She does not look in the mirror. She just is. She knows that she needs to eat and excrete but she doesn’t reflect on it – she just senses it. She is a little bundle of appetites. She knows that she likes a cuddle; but she is not conscious of the fact. She is impelled from without (or within – whichever way you look at it); she is impelled by her appetites. Her life is almost entirely autonomic. And yet she is connected; by the very fact that she is not conscious. Thus it could be said that being conscious- or more accurately being self-conscious - and being connected are totally exclusive of each other.

It would seem that you can only have one or the other: the sub-lunary, or subjective, state is the state of being connected; the self conscious state is a state of alienation. This is the conclusion of the old existentialism: we are adrift in the universe, life is absurd, we are absurd, it is meaningless that we live and meaningless that we die, we can never find a way of being connected because by the fact of being human – ergo self conscious - we are automatically disconnected.

And yet this in itself is a logical error; because when we look at ourselves from an evolutionary perspective we can see that we have all that my cat has and a whole lot more.  If I so choose I could live my life precisely as my cat lives her life. I could find somebody or something to support me and live my life entirely on an autonomic level.

Indeed this is what most human beings do when they go out in search of a job or a wealthy partner that will resolve the issue of subsistence and allow them to live their lives at an entirely autonomic level. I have seen it over and over in the case of people who have worked all their lives to earn enough to retire early and do what they want. When it comes to retirement their lives become a round of committee meetings and holidays abroad and they very soon die of boredom.

What the New Existentialism is saying is that this is a waste of what it is to be human; that we are capable of so much more; and this is also the conclusion of existential psychology, certainly of Viktor Frankl’s logo therapy, that says that in order to be fully functional human beings we have to have a sense of meaning – we have to feel that our lives are meaningful, that it is meaningful that we live and meaningful that we die; and we can see that this sense of meaning cannot be accessed by the intellect alone; because it is this very faculty of intellect, of rationality, that disconnects us, that cuts us off from the source of ‘ power, meaning and purpose’.

And this is where the New Existentialism goes beyond the old existentialism.

What Wilson is actually saying - almost in spite of himself - is that in order to become fully human we have to re-connect with the sublunary self, our subjectivity, which is responsible for accessing the other mode, and this can only be done through the experience of transcendence, which in turn can only come through the peak experience, through non ordinary states of consciousness. And these in turn can only be achieved through changing our intrinsic chemistry, through addressing the nervous system that is responsible for our entire experience of life: ‘the ‘new language’ of existentialism will be created out of a patient attempt at phenomenological description of man’s inner states, particularly the abnormal inner states that can be induced by drugs or by mental illness’, -and thus enable us to bypass the self consciousness that keeps us separated from our deepest selves and the rest of the universe. (27)

The reason I use my cat as an example of sublunary consciousness is that it is so clear to me in the instance of a cat that the cat automatically possesses what Whitehead calls an ‘absoluteness of self enjoyment’. This is all that motivates her: to be at all times in a state of quiescence almost to the point of ecstasy.

When I stroke my cat every cell in her body responds to the touch. She revels in the sensation. She is ecstatic in the true sense of the word - removed from herself, removed from her normally vacant state of just being - to a state of actual enjoymentof her being. Intellectual man has almost entirely lost this capacity; yet on the evolutionary scale we have all the capacities of the cat – and how much more. The aim of the New Existentialism may not be a Rousseauesque return to nature but the implications of the peak experience, the orgasm experience et al, invite the realisation that we still have the capacity to enjoy our lives in the same way as does the cat, and that paradoxically this is a critical part of realising our full potential as human beings.

In his essay on Whitehead in Religion and the Rebel Wilson quotes from an essay of Whitehead’s called ‘Immortality’ in which he wrote:

‘Our sense-experiences are superficial, and fail to indicate the massive self-enjoyment derived from internal bodily functioning. Indeed human experience can be described as a flood of self-enjoyment, diversified by a trickle of conscious memory and conscious anticipation’ (28)

The problem is we become so stuck in our heads we cease to be aware of ‘the massive self-enjoyment derived from internal bodily functioning’ with which our days are filled.

Wilson comments ‘Whitehead’s way of expressing  it is so flat and matter-of-fact that the startling content of this sentence is likely to escape us’ and goes on to equate it with three of his (Wilson’s) favourite analogies for life affirmation Kirilov’s ‘everything is good’, Mearsault’s ‘I was happy still’ and Yeats’ ‘my body of a sudden blazed’  (29)

Later in this book we will look at how Tantric yoga and meditation aim to reconnect us with this ‘pipe of flesh’ that we inhabit, the better to reconnect us with ‘the massive self-enjoyment derived from internal bodily functioning’.


These reflections suggest irresistibly that it is a mistake to think that our salvation lies solely in a greater and greater development of intellectuality, as might be inferred from many of Wilson’s writings, for this only serves to increase our sense of alienation from our existence.

In one of the most important passages of his biography of Wilson Gary Lachman summarizes the importance of the ‘other mode’. He equates the rational brain with the left hemisphere of the brain and the other mode with the right – as was Wilson’s wont for much of his career:

‘...... we are now in a position where we can regain our lost inheritance, while not giving up our new advantages. It is precisely the left brain that looks into its past and tries to understand it; the right brain is generally happy in the moment. The left brain can contemplate itself— something, Wilson suspects, our communally conscious ancestors were most likely not able to do. By doing this, we can see what our ancestors have to offer us and we can learn how to achieve it ourselves. And, as Wilson has shown in dozens of ways by now, this other mode of consciousness is ours for the taking, more or less. It is the knowledge that it is at hand that is important. And if, as seems accurate, we can define a peak experience as a sudden bird’s-eye view of what we already possess, then the third force that will push us out of the deadlock that western consciousness has been in for some time is a kind of peak experience on a global scale. This, Wilson says, is the “next step in human evolution,” and, he adds, “it has been happening for the past 3,500 years.”’ (30)

In other words the aim of the New Existentialism is to help us become conscious of all that we have become through centuries of evolution, and realise our possibilities rather than squander them through failure to understand what we have and what we are.

From this perspective Wilson’s entire lifework can be seen as a gigantic footnote to the work of G.I. Gurdjieff and his injunction to ‘understand the machine’.



1 Colin Wilson Beyond the Outsider Arthur Barker Ltd 1965 page 183

2 Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1966 page 148

3 Colin Wilson Religion and the Rebel Ashgrove Press 1984 page 73

4 Wilson, Colin. Man Without a Shadow Valancourt Books. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 858-860).

5 . Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1966   page  Page 138

6 Colin Wilson Superconsciousness Watkins Publishing 2009 page 179

7 Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1966 page 145-146

8 Colin Wilson Man Without a Shadow Valancourt Books. Kindle Edition Kindle Locations 3042-3044).

9 Colin Wilson Sex America and other Insights Paupers’ Press 1991 page 60

10 Colin Wilson Religion and the Rebel Ashgrove Press 1984   page 300

11 Jean Gebser The Ever Present Origin Ohio University Press 1985 page 220

12 Colin Wilson, Voyage To A Beginning Victor Gollancz 1968 p. 160-1

13 I’m aware there may be those who would quarrel with this statement. Is not dualism at the very heart of Wilson’s philosophy – the constant battle between bird’s eye consciousness and worm’s eye consciousness, between presentational immediacy and causal efficacy, between the triviality of everydayness and the peak experience...? Well yes and no. My contention in this book is that it is not possible to explicate anything except from a dualistic perspective; but the reality that Wilson seeks to explicate, the reality that all the great poets and mystics have attempted to explicate down the ages, is that of a unitary universe where all dualities are transcended.

14 See http://www.poeticmind.co.uk/interviews-1/suddenly-awakened/

15 Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism Hutchinson & Co Ltd  page 135

16 Colin Wilson The Angry Years Robson Books 2007 page 217

17 Colin Wilson Religion and the Rebel Ashgrove Press 1984 page 303

18 Colin Wilson Origins of the Sexual Impulse Granada Publishing 1978 page 137

19  A.N. Whitehead Adventure in Ideas The Free Press 1967   Chapter XV page 226

20 Colin Wilson Origins of the Sexual Impulse Granada Publishing 1978 page 138

21 Abraxas magazine Issue 16

22 Transcendist is a word coined by Abraham Maslow that George Poulos writes about in his essay on Beyond the Occult in the anthology Around the Outsider compiled by Colin Stanley for Wilson’s 80th birthday John Hunt Publishing 2011

23 See Colin Wilson The Occult Granada Publishing 1971 page 57

24 Colin Wilson L’amour, the Ways of Love’ Crown Publishers Inc New York 1970

25 Colin Wilson Below the Iceberg 1998 in his essay A Brief History of French Philosophy

26 Gary Lachman Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson Penguin Publishing Group. 2016 page 190

27 Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1966 page 148

28 Colin Wilson Religion and the Rebel Ashgrove Press 1984 page 315

29 Ibid

30 Gary Lachman Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson Penguin Publishing Group. Page 284