Book Review: Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson

tl;dr: The eight-circuit model of consciousness: survival, emotions, reason, society/reproduction, body connection, imprint selection, connecting to life, and connecting to everything. If this all sounds like some New Age bullshit to you, then you might want to try some of the exercizes at the back of each chapter, e.g., “Try living a whole week with the program: ‘Everybody likes me and tries to help me achieve all my goals.'” Watch how your expectation shapes reality.

The framework of Prometheus Rising is Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness. In Robert Anton Wilson’s (RAW) telling, most people are robots that are dominated by one of the first four circuits of consciousness. They are ruled either by survival and comfort, their emotions, reason or the drive to reproduce and shape society.

Within circuits of consciousness, there are largely random imprints that shape their expression. For example, people that were enculturated as children and now belong to one of the top four religions – whether Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist – are often going to have a default emotional and rational style shaped by their religion. Or, people that grow up in circumstances of poverty or during a time like the Great Depression are going to have a greater focus on survival than people that didn’t. Other examples could include how our first sexual experience or relationship tends to define what turns us on or mate selection later in life. Similarly, our home life as a child tends to shape whether we want to recreate it or its opposite as adults.

He suggests that humanity is on the cusp of breaking free of the constraints of the space-time continuum. Scientific breakthroughs making immortality possible and enable the exploration and colonizing of interstellar space are going to radically change our mental models. And, this change in constraints is going to require reprogramming our minds to higher levels of consciousness, beyond the first four.

The fifth level of consciousness is a freedom from the compulsions of the first four circuits, where they are recognized as largely random imprints. In this state, we reconnect with our bodies. Freed from the demands of our imprints, we generally experience a sense of well-being.

The six level of consciousness, according to RAW, enables us to reprogram our random imprints. We are free to recognize the influence of our early poverty and decide that wealth and power, which both aid survival, isn’t as important to us. Or, we can decide to break with the model of relationships we have seen throughout our lives, and we can choose new imprints, e.g., to be polyamorous or bisexual. For rationalists, there is the opportunity to come to terms with how limited the tool of rationality is and how frequently it is used in the service of our drives for survival, for our emotions and for our social needs.

The seventh level of consciousness is to tap into our being at the DNA-level, where we come to terms with how we as individuals fit into the grand sweep of human history and how we fit into larger schemes of life on this planet and in the universe. Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Over-Soul, the Hindu atman, the Rastafarian I-and-I, the Baul Moner Manush (the person of the heart), the Quaker Light Within, and so forth seem like shades of this idea of how we connect with other humans, other sentient beings and the divine spirit of Life to transcend ourselves.

The eighth level of consciousness is to tap into the quantum entanglement of everything with everything else. It transcends the limitations of mere life and connects all to all.

Throughout the book, RAW’s primary project is not to lay out this framework clearly as I have done here, much of which is filtered through my own mind and not using examples from his book. His project seems to be primarily opening people up to the possibility of taking these ideas seriously. At the end of each chapter, he has a series of “exercizes”, which seem to be chosen primarily to give people practice in seeing the limitations in their worldview and in changing it.

This points to a key insight. It is impossible to tell people anything. You can talk about reality-tunnels and discuss theoretical frameworks like the eight-circuit model of consciousness, but it is difficult to make these ideas real. Ultimately, people have trouble accepting different worldviews than their own or that their outlook on life might be largely random and/or limited.

Most of us are getting on with the business of survival. We are subject to the vagaries of our emotions. We pretend that our rationality isn’t largely just rationalizations. And, we are subject to the demands of instinct, such as when biological clocks drive us to reproduce. Acknowledging these facts is difficult for most of us.

But, this fact is precisely why a book like Prometheus Rising can be so useful. There are other worlds, other ways of being. But, if we are only interested in the world we are in and the way we are, we are unable to see them. The expectations of the world shape us, and we, in turn, shape the world with our expectations. The central idea of this book is: Isn’t it worth the effort to change our expectations and get into a mental space where we are in control and can transcend our circumstances and our personal history?

Changing Reality Tunnels

Open Question: How does one cultivate the skill of evaluating our world view, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and changing it when our situation changes?

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

—Robert Anton Wilson

“Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in — the one that we think is reality.”

—Alan Kay

Yesterday’s The Cost of the Club discussion starting me thinking about reality tunnels. Reality tunnels can shape not only how we view the world but also how we view ourselves, and vice versa.

If you identify with a political party, then how you view the world is shaped by this identification. It may be impossible to see the limitation of the field of view because you do not have a point of comparison.

Like depth perception, you have to have a slightly different frame of reference in order to see into three dimensions. Without a second frame, it can be difficult to judge certain qualities in our environment, such as distance.

And, we can extend this analogy. Add in space and time as proxies for our geography and our historical moment and we can try to adopt different frames of reference to look at our own and other times. This gives us increased flexibility in outlook, and perhaps, we can cultivate a sense of their strengths and limitations.

For example, in the current moment, we like to imagine that the mind is like a computer, subject to programming. Before computers, minds were compared to locomotives, houses, gardens, sponges and so forth. All of them provide some insight into how to think about our minds, but none of them are true. All of them have limitations.

Whatever else it is like, the mind is like a filter, taking in all the overwhelming information of our sense experience and trying to narrow it down to some desirable essence that helps us to live. This essence can change depending on our circumstances. The needs of civilians living in a town torn apart by civil war are different from the needs of military prisoners of war living in captivity. Princesses need a different way of interpreting the world than does the cook preparing her meals, even though they both ostensibly live in the same environment.

The ability to adapt to our environment and cultivate mental models that help us to survive in them is a great gift. But, it is also a great gift to be aware of their limitations and learn to be able to change them at will, when circumstances change.

How does one improve this skill? It’s a good question. I’m thinking that a good place to start might be with Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. It seems to be part of a larger question of: how do create an environment for yourself and others that is conducive to human flourishing? The ideas of Extropianism and their principles, particularly the other books in their recommended books near the bottom of the page might be a useful place to start.