Wilson takes us on a journey through a period of his life starting from when he was making good money working at Playboy magazine, through to his period as a broke, out of work writer, trying to get his 'Illuminati Trilogy" works into publication. The book then culminates in a very deep and personal tragedy that Wilson experienced, a tragedy that left me truly shocked (no spoilers). The very real tragic ending was a stark contrast to the playfulness Wilson uses around the subject matter of his book. For those who don't know, the subject matter is basically the occult/mysticism practices of reality and consciousness expansion. A central player in the book is former Harvard psychiatrist turned psychedelic-drug guru, Timothy Leary. Wilson clearly had a close friendship with Leary and we get a glimpse into Leary's extraordinary life, as Wilson and Leary exchange contact with each other. The Wilson-Leary exchange occurs while Leary both flees government authorities and battles the government authorities, in the process, occasionally finding himself in federal jails. Wilson also delves into the intellectual ideas of Leary and his theories on consciousness expansion. Some of the speculations in this book (written in 1976) now seem embarrassingly optimistic. For example, Wilson sights contentions by some thinkers at the time that by the year 2000 there will exist a pill that allows humans to live to 300-400 years of age. He sights the work of another psychedelic guru, Terrance McKenna, who suggested that in 2012 an exponential increase in creative evolution (novelty) would hit a singularity point of peak novelty. For those of you who are like me and can't even remember what you were doing in 2012, McKenna's prediction seems to have been wildly off. Personally, I found the lofty and way-off predictions of this book as adding to its charm, after all, Wilson openly declares that his speculations in the book could all just be total non-sense, and perhaps that's the point. What I like about Wilson's book, is that he treats the occult world and occult practices with both wide-eyed acceptance and deep skepticism. I know this sounds contradictory, but ironically at the heart of much of Occult philosophy (and Zen Buddhism) is embracing contradiction in nature. The human mind, faced with contradiction, often responds with laughter and Wilson (and Leary) were clearly men who wanted to be in on the joke. Wilson indulges in speculations that extraterrestrials from the star Sirius were and are in contact (possibly extra-sensory contact) with human beings, that the number 23 has a deep synchronistic resonance with his life and he embraces the Discordian principles of breaking down our models of reality and embracing conspiracy. It all seems like good fun, but what about the tragedy at the end? Was it an awful cosmic joke being played on Wilson? Did Wilson unwittingly pull some 'cosmic trigger' that led to his own personal tragedy? Or perhaps life (and death) are just a series of random events? When our sense of meaning and purpose are confronted by seemingly random tragedies, the absurdity of the world and our human condition makes us not know whether we wish to laugh or cry, or both. Welcome to the world of Discordianism.
A truly magical work, Robert Anton Wilson, with humor and insight tells us how he came to know the "Final Secret of the Illuminati".
Wilson uses brilliant narrative devices to be our guide through the Chapel Perilous, the dark gauntlet every true Master passes through to Illumination, a land where previous maps no longer work, where you model your own reality.
When it comes to Illumination, Robert Anton Wilson is your wise cracking guide to keep you "sane" when insanity and misdirection are the perceived reality.
Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1 is a brilliant synthesis of what was known and experienced about spiritual awakening by 1977, and Wilson takes a very fresh and experiential (intelligent but not intellectual) approach to explaning it all and making it personal - a mix of modern science, occult experimentation and Taoist playfulness. It is also one of those rare and remarkable books that in itself can be an initiatory experience, and induce liberation through reading/hearing.
There are so many memorable quotes - my favorite being, "Whatever you believe imprisons you" (p.62) - and fascinating ideas, collections of ideas, implications of such collections, and the playful absurdity of such implications, that it seems each sentence has as much synthesized into it as the average person synthesizes in a lifetime, each page as much as a great person (thinker or doer) may synthesize in a life time, and the whole book perhaps more than a whole species may synthesize in its life...
The section on Leary's 8 neuromental "potential circuits" (p. 197-209) is worth devoting a whole book (or college course) to itself - a truly brilliant synthesis of personal and transpersonal, human and transhuman, understanding and experience - and yet it seems Leary has been ignored and marginalized due to his use of LSD. It's a shame. (Its clear that by making LSD illegal the government stifled its research and use by trained disciplined scientists, driving it instead into a juvenile druggy underground. Not unlike how outlawing the piano would make it so no more Rachmaninoff 3rd's would be written, or even played, but lots of grunge bands would continue to bang on the keys.)
Fortunately for us there are many ways to approach the numinous, LSD being one but not essential. But these kinds of writings ARE essential for helping activate our cosmic triggers, and so take our place in the host of the numinous... Thank you RAW.
Not much to say that i'm sure hasn't already been said. Have bought this book over and over again. Every copy inevitably disappears into a friends care ne'er to be seen again. i don't mind at all. This book is too delightful to gather dust on my shelf.