Conspiracy Theoy

Ep16 – Robert Anton Wilson: The Great American Conspiracy Theorist

America today is awash with conspiracy theories.

We hear that protests and demonstrations in Portland and Seattle are part of a Marxist plot to overthrow the United States constitution.

We are told that a Satanic cabal of globalist elites is practicing ritual child abuse in secret lairs underneath the streets of Washington D.C.

Meanwhile, the newly introduced “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2021” under pending consideration by Congress, orders the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice to investigate the infiltration of the federal government by white supremacists and neo-nazis.

Increasingly, modern people around the globe are in the grip of deep paranoia. Conspiracy theory believers, doubters, alike, all of us pass through a dark place as the planet’s politics are clouded by the instability taking place around the globe. From lockdown protests in Holland, U.K., and Germany, to Belarus, Russia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Portland, Chicago, and Washington D.C., and even this week to the U.S. stock market where an open conspiracy of day-traders fomented on Reddit may have been squashed at the behest of powerful hedge funds managers. Instability, uncertainty, and paranoia are now the new normal.

As an antidote to the world going mad, this podcast will go back a half-century to look at the life and work of the master of conspiratorial thinking – Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson wrote the quintessential American conspiracy novel – Illuminatus! He worked directly under Hugh Hefner at Playboy Magazine during its heyday in the late 1960s. A writer, editor, and journalist who was friends with everyone from psychologist turned psychonaut Timothy Leary to computer scientist turned UFOlogist Jacques Vallee. Wilson would be pulled into the web of allegations and recriminations surrounded the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Wilson didn’t take the paranoia lying down. He helped organize one of the most radical civilian-led psychological counter-intelligence operations in the history of the United States – Operation Mindfuck (pardon my French, but that was the official name for a multi-pronged, real-life counter-conspiracy organized by a rag-tag group of hippies, mystics, freaks, writers, and acidheads, broadly unified under the banner of an alternative spiritual movement called “Discordianism.”) This unlikely alliance sought to strike back against powerful paranoids through prayer, magick, hoaxes, pranks, and science fiction, all in service to the Goddess Eris.

But it wasn’t ALL zany hijinks. Tinkering with the very foundation of objective reality itself led Robert Anton Wilson down a darker path. In the early 1970s, he and his family beat a retreat from Chicago’s political scene to Northern California. Instead of escaping from the web of conspiracies and paranoia, he was plunged into the darkest and weirdest chapter of his life – a paranormal encounter with a, possibly extraterrestrial, intelligence. He later called this experience “Chapel Perilous” Was it was some kind of extended acid flashback? Was it trauma sustained from half a decade of fighting against political persecution? Was it telepathic communion with angels, aliens, or literal demonic oppression? This will be left to the audience to decide for themselves. Still, everyone agrees – even Wilson himself – that his intellectual giant went through a period of his life where his hold on consensus reality became strained. He stepped onto the threshold of another realm.

Today we begin a two-part series exploring how Robert Anton Wilson marshaled Timothy Leary’s teachings, the spirit of the 60’s counter-culture, and his obsession with alternative spiritual practice to fight back against paranoid politics. This was a man who, indeed, stayed strange while staying sane. In the second part of this series, we will focus on Wilson’s retreat to California and his passage through Chapel Perilous.

In writing this episode, I drew heavily from Wilson’s works, notably his three-part autobiography – Cosmic Trigger, also Illuminatus! written with Bob Shea and published in 1975. I also drew from the counter-cultural historian and scholar, Erik Davis. His book “High Weirdness: Drugs, Psychedelica, and Visionary Experiences in the 1970s” has two excellent chapters on Wilson.

And so I will begin with a reading from the late Robert Anton Wilson, taken from his 1998 book “Everything Is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults and Cover-ups.” This is a book, written as he was wrapping up his life’s work. You have to excuse the archaic language, but everything he says resonates beautifully with our current situation here in 2021:

When I first developed a taste for books (around age 8 or 9, I guess), one of the first I read had the daunting title Believe It or Not! and contained hundreds of almost unbelievable but allegedly factual yarns about strange doings on this planet. The author, a popular cartoonist of the time named Robert Ripley, began with a section on oddities of human religion, under the classical- looking headline, “Strange is the man when he seeks after his gods.” Even at this age, I do not know if Mr. Ripley invented that aphorism or found it in some real classic; but it lingered in my memory for more than half a century.

Men (and women) indeed become strange when seeking gods. As the present work will show, however, they become even stranger when seeking devils. And the narratives they invent have all the sinister charm and eerie cornball poetry of Bela Lugosi [Dracula] at his best moments. It almost seems that the human mind works like a giant magnifying glass: If you turn it to Positive Thoughts, it will enlarge them and multiply positivity endlessly, as it does for Christian Scientists …. but if you turn it upon Evil, it will soon show you everything you most fear lurking with slavering jaws and green tentacles right outside your front door.

Not since the heyday of St. Paul and St. Augustine have so many people felt obliged to look at everything with an Evil magnifying glass and howled in such despair at the magnified Evil they then saw in this “fallen” world. Neither the government nor medicine nor commerce has a monopoly on popular anxiety. Most right-wing Catholics fear the Freemasons, and most Freemasons have worrying anxieties about the Vatican and all its minions. Many Euro-American citizens have taken to the hills (in Idaho and elsewhere) believing that our Afro-American citizens are determined to exterminate the white race (either in revenge for slavery or because some other, more fiendish conspiracy has deliberately misled them). Probably a much higher percentage of Afro-American citizens believes that the Euro-American ruling class intends to exterminate them; see Tuskegee Syphilis Study and its links to other entries in the main text of this volume.

Black helicopters hover above our rural areas, and only potheads think the helicopters are part of the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking taboo herbs (so that the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry can go on gouging us with less reliable medicines at higher prices, according to the most popular theory); others have darker fears. Some believe the helicopters work hand-in-glove with a Satanic consortium of cattle mutilators, child abusers, demented preschool teachers, and punk rockers; and many citizens believe these sinister aircraft serve an alleged U.N./New World Order conspiracy, which intends to invade us any day now.

And, of course, nobody trusts the advertisements. Not even people who write them… “

……..ADVERT at 8:32

Robert Anton Wilson was born was born in 1932 in Brooklyn, New York. He suffered from a serious case of polio as a child that left him with an atavistic limp and leg pain. Throughout his life there were periods where he used a cane to help him get around. Wilson writes glowingly of his parents’ decision to use an unorthodox method of treatment. Called the “Sister Kenny Method” it consisted of treating the afflicted muscles of a polio sufferer with hot baths, and vigorous massages. At the time, doctors condemned it, recommending plaster casts and leg braces, Wilson credits his parent’s willingness to think for themselves and act contrary to the medical authorities with saving him from total lower-body paralysis. Indeed, by 1941 the American Medical Association officially endorsed the Sister Kenny Method. After a public apology from medical authorities, a 1952 Gallup poll found that Sister Kenny was considered the most admired woman in America.

Wilson attended a Catholic grammar school, then later attended a science and technical high school.There he discovered that he was not particularly good at science or math, but had a love for poetry, especially the works of Ezra Klein and James Joyce. His interest in avant-garde poetry and high-brow literature would follow him throughout his life.

After high-school he worked various jobs as an ambulance driver, engineering aide, salesman and medical orderly. He began studying bebop, and reading philosophy, eventually becoming a devotee of the works of Timothy Leary. He attended two different Universities from 1952 until 1958, but he never managed to graduate with a degree. According to his autobiography, Cosmic Trigger, he underwent two different forms of psychotherapy to help with his “sometimes intense bouts of anxiety”. One of those psychotherapists was a practitioner of Dr. William Reich’s school. Reich had a very unconventional philosophy of therapy that focused on sexual liberation.

Indeed, the therapy may have helped Wilson because in 1960, he married his first and only wife, Arlen, who had three daughters from a previous marriage. They would have two children together and remain married for 39 years, until the death of Arlen in the year 2000.

In 1960, the growing Wilson family moved to Brookville, Ohio, where they joined the “School of Living” – a back-to-the-land intentional community run along decentralized and proto-hippie lines. Wilson was fascinated by alternative communities, and he took over as editor of the community’s periodical “Balanced Living.” He also worked in town as a manager for a microscope distributor.

During this period of his life, now a kind of hippie family-man, Wilson began treating his anxiety with peyote. Peyote is a cactus found in Texas, which has long been used by indigenous Americans to induce visionary experiences. It contains the chemical ‘mescaline’ which is a psychedelic. Wilson reports 40 peyote trips over a period of 20 months. So, about every other month, he seems to have taken a Saturday to himself, away from his wife and kids, and he tripped on peyote. He says these were very positive experiences, but they had a ‘yo-yo’ effect of taking him to ecstatic bliss states,only to let him back down to reality. Wilson reports that he felt like it had some kind of brain-changing impact, but he also suggests that he didn’t feel he was sufficiently trained in the shamanic arts to be able to get the full therapeutic benefit. So he backed off of the psychedelics. Nevertheless, this admitted peyote use would haunt him, for in his 2007 New York Times obituary, the writers there strongly insinuate that Wilson’s weirder paranormal encounters could be explained by his peyote use. A little bit unfair if you ask me, since Wilson stopped the peyote years before he started having paranormal esperiences. But he also admits to using LSD on at least one occasion in the 1970s. That will be covered in the next episode.

Later in life, when he went through a period of unemployment, Wilson would report that 30 minutes of Pranyamana yoga was sufficient by itself for him to keep his anxiety under control, while he waited for publishers to accept his career-defining novel, Illuminatus!  

About a year after his peyote experiments ended, Wilson took a job as editor for Fact Magazine, and moved his family to New Jersey. And then in 1966 he got his big break – Wilson was offered a position as editor for Playboy magazine. So he moved his family to Chicago.

At Playboy, Wilson’s job was to edit the letters to the “Playboy Forum” and write italicized replies state Playboy Magazine’s official position, essentially Wilson was a ghostwriter for the political thought of Hugh Heffner. Wilson describes that position as “old-fashioned, mind-your-own-business, John Stuart Mill libertarianism.” Nevertheless, this job was the beginning of Wilson’s entry into the turbulent political world of late 1960’s America.

For some historical context, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in November 1963. Writing critically of the culture response to Kennedy’s death, historian Richard Hofstadter had introduced the term “paranoia” as a non-medical term in his 1964 essay on the paranoid style of American politics. Civil rights leader, Malcolm X, was assassinated in 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated in 1968. Overall, Chicago from 1966 through 1968 was rocked by demonstrations and riots. The 1968 Democratic National Convention has been described as “most tense and confrontational political conventions ever in American history,” after then-mayor Richard Daley denied so-called “anti-patriotic groups” permission to protest and surrounded the convention with barbed wire and armed troops. This was also the era of the Vietnam war, and the growth of the anti-war protest movement.

Despite having plunged himself into the middle of an unstable city during messy and chaotic time, Wilson saw his gig working for Playboy as a new epoch of his life. He was no longer the grungy, part-time farmer, and hippie living in Ohio. He was an “urbane and sophisticated” man. He went to parties, and his circle of friends and professional colleagues widened. And yet, it was that very widening would take him full-circle back into the counter-culture.

In 1965 – 1969, Robert Anton Wilson became friends with Kerry Thornley, who was editor of a libertarian magazine. Thornley was an Ayn Rand objectivist who had turned towards anarchism. Thornley invited Wilson to join his new religion: Discordianism. Wilson agreed. He became an enthusiastic participant in, and contributor to the development of this new movement.

The foundational story of Discordianism is that Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley were bowling at a night in Los Angeles in 1958. Complaining over coffee about the hassle of modern life, they were suddenly struck by a light. Time froze and a chimpanzee appeared “enumerating mysteries like nipples on males and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, finally declaring that “Somebody had to put all this discord here!” by way of an answer, the Simian then unrolled a scroll inscribed with the yin-yang symbol of the Tao now modified into the Sacred Chao – instead of the two dots, it contained a pentagon and an apple inscribe with the word “Kalistii”

Themselves scholarly esotericists, Hill and Thornley researched their vision and they linked the apple to the Greek Goddess Eris, known to the Romans as Discordia. Eris is best known for catalyzing the Trojan War. Snubbed by the Olympians who did not invite her to a wedding, Eris tossed a golden apple into the gathering inscribed with the phrase “Thi Kalistii” which means “to the most beautiful.” The Gods at the banquet began fighting, until Zeus commanded Paris to be the judge. He chose Aphrodite, who rewarded him by allowing him to kidnap Helen of Troy, this began the Trojan War.

Five nights after the bowling alley vision, the men both dreamt of Eris a beautiful goddess who told them

“I have come to tell you that you are free. Many years ago, my consciousness left man that he might develop himself. I return to find this development approaching completion, but hindered by fear and by misunderstanding.”

This story is recounted in one of the core sacred texts of the Discordian movement. It is a book titled “How I Found Goddess and What I Did To Her When I Found Her: Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything”. It is also identified as “The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse The Younger” and many editions also came stamped in large block letters: NOT JUNK MAIL”

The Principia Discordia would be continually rewritten over the years, with new members becoming official saints or popes of the movement and adding new elements to the Principia, or writing their own holy texts.

The core teaching of Discordianism is that there are three principles or catmas – they call catmas instead of dogmas – and they are:

  • The aneristic order – the existence of order
  • The eristic order – the existence of disorder
  • Both the aneristic and eristic order are illusions.

The audience may recognize that the antinomy here, is suggestive of the koans of Zen Buddhism.

And here is an entry on Discordianism from Robert Anton Wilson’s 1998 Encyclopedia of Conspiracies, Cults and Cover-ups:

Discordianism claims to be the world’s first true true religion and is based on the worship of Eris, goddess of Chaos. One of its two founders has been accused of complicity in the John F. Kennedy assassination.

While some claim the Discordian movement is a complicated joke disguised as a new religion, Discordians counter that it is actually a new religion disguised as a complicated joke.

The Discordians are divided into two camps, according to the rule, “We Discordians must stick apart.” On one side, the Erisian Liberation Front (ELF) led by Ho Chih Zen (Kerry Thornley) promotes anarchist/libertarian anti-authoritarianism, and on the other side, the Paratheo-Anametamystikhood of Eris Esoteric (POEE), led by Malaclypse the Younger (Gregory Hill), teaches a more mystic, passive doctrine, vaguely akin to Charles Fort, Pataphysics, and Deconstructionism. These two Discordianisms represent the material manifestation of the metaphysical Hodge and podge (see Sacred Chao). Other high Discordian priests/ priestesses include Lady L, […] Onrak the Backwards, Mordecai the Foul, Lola of Capitola, and Fang the Unwashed.

You might want to know what is going on here? Well, here is one of the founder’s, Greg Hill confessing in a letter:

We say that we worship the Goddess Eris….We then organize into a super confusing, funny, crazy church that a) points out how silly organized churches are and b) just ‘happens’ to have a lot of good religious philosophy in it. The result is both entertaining and instructive, and we are proud of it and plan to promote our message as much as we can.

Robert Anton Wilson called it “Guerilla ontology”

The Discordians grew to comprise a network of counter-cultural figures and political activists, with Thornley at the center. And this network of fellow travelers would mobilize in 1968, when their founder was accused of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and faced imprisonment for a crime he almost certainly did not commit.

So, Thornley had been in the United States Marines. He served along another gentleman, Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald would later defect to the Soviet Union, then return to the U.S. with his Russian wife, before assassinating President John F. Kennedy. When Oswald returned from the Soviet Union, he and Thornley, had lived only a few blocks away from each other in the city of New Orleans in Lousiana. This coincidence becomes outright bizarre when you add to it that Thornley had been so struck by Oswald’s eccentricity during their time together in the marines, he had written a fictional book based on Oswald’s life.

So, Thornley felt personally invested in the Oswald matter. And after the Warren Commission he became convinced that his old roommate could NOT have shot the President. So he went down to New Orleans and he talked to the District Attorney there, a man named Jim Garrison.

DA Jim Garrison is said to have been looking to make a name for himself, but he was one of these people who had become destabilized by America’s climate conspiracy theories and paranoia. For he became convinced that Thornley had HIMSELF been involved in the assassination of JFK.

Garrison noted that Thornley had lived near Oswald before the assassination and even looked like Oswald. He decided that Thornley was a front-man for the CIA. That he had impersonated Oswald in New Orleans, running around the city and acting suspiciously, so that people would later remember Oswald as an unstable man. Garrison was so convinced of this theory, that he actually indicted Thornley and tried to bring him to trial in New Orleans.

And so Robert Anton Wilson, and Greg Hill, mobilized the Discordian network. They had connections to free-thinking and counter-cultural journalists, writers, editors around the country, and they conceived a massive counter-intelligence project called “Operation Mindfuck.”

The idea behind Operation Mindfuck seems to have been to have reverse gaslighting of Jim Garrison’s office. Gaslighting is where you try to make someone think they’re crazy when they’re not. But the Discordians aimed to actually make someone think they were sane, when in fact they were being pulled deeper into their own paranoia.

 They discovered that one of Garrison’s henchmen was a believer in the Illuminati. And so they began planting stories about different groups having connections to the Illuminati in the press. Everywhere they could they weaved an interconnected set of allegations and allusions.Thornley actually produced a “conspiracy theory kit” – it was a collection of tools for faking official-looking documents and he distributed this kit around to the Discordian leadership.

And, it had a huge effect, because Wilson writes in his autobiography:

New exposes of the Illuminati began to appear everywhere, in journals ranging from the extreme Right to the ultra-Left. Some of this was definitely not coming from us Discordians. In fact, one article in the Los Angeles Free Press in 1969 consisted of a taped interview with a black phone-caller who claimed to represent the “Black Mass,” an Afro-Discordian conspiracy we had never heard of. He took credit, on behalf of the Black Mass and the Discordians, for all the bombings elsewhere attributed to the Weather Underground. 

Other articles claimed the Illuminati definitely were a Jesuit conspiracy, a Zionist conspiracy, a bankers’ conspiracy, etc., and accused such worthies as FDR, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenin, Aleister Crowley, Jefferson and even Charlemagne of being members of it, whatever it was. 

The net effect of all of this was to discredit Jim Garrison, to make a mockery of the charges that were being brought against Kerry Thornely. And whether or not it had any impact, the charges against Thornely were ultimately dropped. The good guys – if that’s what you want to call them.- won the day.

The real winners were Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea. They were working at Playboy magazine though it all and processing an ever-increasing quantity of letters from paranoid psychotics, cranks, and JFK assassination researchers, and the John Birch Society – many of them raving about the CIA and the Illuminati.

Bob and Robert decided that they were going to turn Wilson’s prank into the ultimate conspiracy theory novel. And so the cult classic work of meta-fiction Illuminatus! was born.

The Illuminatus! Starts from a historically accepted premise. There really was an organization founded in 1776 by an ex-Jesuit, Adam Weishaupt. It was a freethinking order of German Freemasonry. The group was banned by the Bavarian government in 1785, but anti-enlightenment writers in the 18th century blamed it for the French Revolution. Fear of the Illuminati was widespread in the early days of the United States. These fears were revived by the militantly anti-communist John Birch Society in the 1960s before the Discordians began their counter-intelligence operation. The John Birch society was an anti-communist organization that maintained that an international cabal of bankers and political leaders were working to establish a New World Order.

The plot of Illuminatus! Begins with Detective Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon investigating the bombing of a leftwing magazine whose editor has also disappeared. Going through the notes of the bombed office, they find all sorts of documents connected to the Illuminati. Reading through those documents, the narrator summarizes what becomes the central premise of the book:

The theory, in essence, was that the Illuminati recruited people through various “fronts” turned them on to some sort of illuminizing experience through marijuana or some special extract of marijuana, and converted them into fanatics willing to use any means necessary to “illuminize” the rest of the world. Their aim, obviously, is nothing less than the total transformation of humanity itself, along the lines suggested by the film 2001 or by Nietzsche’s concept of Superman. In the course of this conspiracy, the Illuminati….were systematically assassinating every popular political figure who might interfere with their program.


That’s the quote.

Also important to note, the good guys of Illuminatus! are the Discordians. Wilson and Shea creatively reimagined their own friends in the Discordian movement as heroes, armed with rock music and a nuclear submarine, and waging a global war against the evil Illuminati.

And if you get a paper copy of the book Illuminatus! what Wilson and Shea did was actually produce illustrations that look like photocopies of notes and memos in the book. And those notes and memos reference both existing conspiracy theory literature, including Bircher pamphlets. But they also contain references to letters printed in Playboy Magazine. Often, but not always, these letters are ones that Robert Anton Wilson had previously planted as part of Operation Mindfuck.

So, you can see how Robert Anton Wilson literally wrote himself into conspiracy theory history by literally participating in a conspiracy himself – a conspiracy to reverse gaslight District Attorney Jim Garrison. And then, he published a book that declares itself to be fiction but draws from real historical fact while mixing that fact in with hoaxed material in a way that blurs the line. 

This is the same kind of mythos building realism that we see in the works of HP Lovecraft, who Chris and I discuss in our Christmas episode of Spectral Skull Session. Interestingly, Lovecraft is himself a figure in the Illuminatus!

Illuminatus! was a success. It secured Wilson’s entry into the world of full-time writing. And yet, this willingness to blur fact and fiction in a kind of meta-myth-making project would actually haunt Wilson for the rest of his life. Wilson writes in his autobiography that at public speaking events, he would be accused of being a member of the Illuminati himself. Here is a quote from Wilson:

Once when I was appearing on a radio show on KGO-San Francisco, where listeners call in and talk to the guests, a woman phoned to say I knew so much about the Illuminati that I must be one of them. 

I became whimsical. “Maybe,” I said, “the secret of the Illuminati is that you don’t know you’re a member until it’s too late to get out.” 

This was too metaphysical for the caller. “Furthermore,” she said triumphantly, pursuing her own script, “you’re the people who control the Federal Reserve and the Morgan and Rockefeller banks.” 

“Well,” said the Writer of Satire, temporarily displacing the Skeptic, “I certainly won’t deny that. It can’t help but improve my credit rating.” 

That woman is probably still telling her friends how she got one of the Illuminati to confess right over the radio. 

Actually, I no longer disbelieve in the Illuminati, but I don’t believe in them yet, either. Let us explain that odd re- mark quickly before we go any further in the murk. In re- searching occult conspiracies, one eventually faces a crossroad of mythic proportions (called Chapel Perilous in the trade). You come out the other side either a stone paranoid or an agnostic; there is no third way. I came out an agnostic.

– Cosmic Trigger (part I)

We will be getting to Chapel Perilous in the next episode. Now, this episode is coming to a close.

I want to reflect on Robert Anton Wilson. The man who fought paranoid conspiracy theories by inviting a zany, counter-conspiracy. What is the lesson to take here?

Well, Wilson saw himself as working to expose and mock what he called “reality tunnels” these are set ways of thinking about the world that limit our sense of the possible. Wilson thought that becoming a true believer in any conspiracy theory involves entering a reality tunnel, but he also felt that the entire larger world was filled with people who were in the grips of reality tunnels. Wilson maintained that organized religions were reality tunnels, but so were political ideologies – on the left and the right.

Wilson himself was a skeptic, and not a skeptic in the sense of the contemporary skeptic movement – people who systematically work to deflate any proposition that runs counter to the orthodox teachings of contemporary science. He was more like those Ancient Greek skeptics who sought to achieve emotional tranquility by emotionally distancing themselves form their judgments. This is what Wilson means by calling Discordianism “guerilla ontology” he hoped that by introducing zany half-baked religions, and over-the-top conspiracy theories, he would shock people into letting go of their own “reality tunnels” and becoming a little bit more open-minded.

My hope is that this episode might be helpful to our listeners. A lot of us who are interested in the occult, supernatural, and unexplained have episodic encounters with the heebie-jeebies. There’s the feeling that you’ve seen something out of the corner of your eye. The sense that you’re being watched. The suspicion that you’re being stalked or your phone is being monitored can be all too real, especially in an era when eccentric really ARE subject to higher than usual amounts of scrutiny and distrust by the authorities. This is, of course, worsened by the news – from all ends of the political spectrum – from the far left, the center-left, the center-right, and far-right – are all screaming at us that we are surrounding by nefarious, sometimes supernatural forces. 

One way that he resisted his own biases should be noted: Wilson himself habitually sought out and read the works of people he disagreed with, claiming that each year he read two religious texts, even though he was a committed agnostic, to help him identify the ways in which his own reality tunnel might be filtering out relevant information.

I’m going to close with some of Wilson’s remarks on reality tunnels from his autobiography Cosmic Trigger:

Since we all create our habitual reality-tunnels, either consciously and intelligently or unconsciously and mechanically, I prefer to create for each hour the happiest, funniest and most romantic reality-tunnel consistent with the signals my brain apprehends. I feel sorry for the people who persistently organize experience into sad, dreary and hopeless reality-tunnels, and try to show them how to break that bad habit, but I don’t feel any masochistic duty to share their misery. 

This book does not claim that “you create your own reality” in the sense of total (but mysteriously unconscious) psychokinesis. If a car hits you and puts you in the hospital, I do not believe this is because you “really wanted” to be hit by a car, or that you “needed” to be hit by a car, as two popular New Age bromides have it. The theory of transactional psychology, which is the source of my favorite models and metaphors, merely says that, once you have been hit by a car, the meaning of the experience depends entirely on you and the results depend partly on you (and partly on your doctors). If it is medically possible for you to live — and sometimes even if the doctors think it is medically impossible — you ultimately decide whether to get out of the hospital in a hurry or to lie around suffering and complaining. Most of the time, this kind of “decision” is unconscious and mechanical, but with the techniques described in this book, such decisions can become conscious and intelligent. 

Next week, we will explore the tools that Wilson developed for altering one’s own reality tunnel and his personal journey into a world of cosmic paranoia known as “Chapel Perilous”

Until then,

Stay Strange and Stay Sane.


Davis, Erik. High Weirdness: Drugs, esoterica, and visionary experience in the Seventies. MIT Press, 2019.

Shea, Robert, Robert Anton Wilson, and Udo Breger. Illuminatus!. Sphere, 1975.

Wilson, Robert Anton. Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. New Falcon, 1977.

Wilson, Robert Anton. Everything is Under Control. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.