Interview with Robert Anton Wilson

copyright Gregory Bishop 1992

(also available in the collection Zen In The Art Of Close Encounters
Edited by David Pursglove)

Q: In the recent book Angels and Aliens, author Keith Thompson cites what he calls "metapatterns", which are repeated patterns in seemingly dipsarate phenomena which connect them. Do you entertain this concept, and if so, how?

Wilson: Yeah, I see metapatterns between evolution and human history. I see an acceleration of information throughout evolution and you can see a similar acceleration of information throughout human history moving faster than the evolutionary one, and I think cosmic--if you consider the universe as evolving--there's another accumulation of information over time on a bigger scale. That's one of the metapatterns I've found useful.

Q: You don't think that's just because we're noticing it, that the universe is ticking on its merry way?

Wilson: Well that's the deepest question of all! I don't know. John Archibald Wheeler thinks it's because we're noticing it. He thinks that we're fine tuning the big bang every time we measure it, or at least a measurement on a sufficiently small scale, so we're selecting this universe out of all possible universes by the measurements we make, but I don't know whether I believe that or not.

Q: Thompson also compares the UFO phenomenon and people that study it to absurdist theater such as Waiting For Godot where the waiting becomes robotic entertainment...

Wilson: Well, I think it's more like a little film by Idries Shah--The Dermis Probe---it's a dense leathery something and these voices arguing about it. The camera keeps moving back as the voices find more and more details and more and more to argue about, until finally the camera moves back enough so that you can see it's an elephant. It's an adaptation of an old Sufi tale. I think it's more like the, UFO mystery than any of Beckett's plays. Everybody gets ahold of their favorite end and...

Q: ...won't let go...

Wilson: That's what it is! ..."It's extraterrestrials" "It's angels" "It's demons...hallucinations..."

Q: Faries and elves...

Wilson: ...faries and elves...yeah I like that theory because it's very hard for anybody to take it literally, so it gets one thinking on a different level.

Q: Where did you first hear about that theory?

Wilson: From Jacques Valee in 1976.

Q: Around the time of Passport to Magonia ?

Wilson: Around that time, yeah. I met him and then I ran right out and got the book and read it, and then I read Invisible College, which was the next book he brought out.

Q: Do you see UFOs as an experiment or at least a fly in the ointment of modern (last 50 years or so) consciousness or at least ideas of consensus reality?

Wilson: Oh yes, very definitely. That's what I like about it. I like the metaphor that Brad Steiger used although I don't take it literally: In the reality game, everytime we think we understand it, the player on the other side introduces some new move that in all of infinity has never been done before, so we've got to start thinking again and trying to figure out the rules of the game all over. I like that as a metaphor because the UFO is very much like that--it's a new move that the universe has made. That explains why a lot of people don't want to think about it at all.

Q: It forces people to change their ways of thinking, and that's scary....What is your feeling that many of our major religions are the result of contact with the "alien" the "other", or at least what we now regard as anomalous experience?

Wilson: Well, major religions of all sorts, from shamanic to the most "advanced" (which is what they call themselves--the more successful ones with millions of followers). All religions seem to be based on some sort of encounter with an alien presence, or what seems like an alien presence. According to one theory, it's just the other half of our brain.

Q: Like the miracle of Fatima.

Wilson: At Fatima the number of people seeing odd things increased with each visitation until there were about 100,000 witnesses from all over Portugal who saw parts of the last one which was "a light brighter than a thousand suns and petals falling out of the sky" or something like that. Really it sounds like a cosmic Houdini was putting on a show for them.

Q: What would you think would have happened if this had happened in say, China, Japan, or India?

Wilson: Oh, It would have been dragons fighting dragons in the sky...these things always...on going through the human nervous system they get adapted to the local belief system.

Q: Do you think they would have taken it just as seriously as the Catholic church did?

Wilson: Oh sure. Whatever it was, it certainly struck a lot of people very hard, so it would have been a religious event wherever it happened. I was at a conference in Georgia a few months ago called Phenomicon and this was the first time I ever saw this: We had two eyewitnesses in the room in this final panel discussion. Two eyewitnesses to this UFO sighting that was seen by quite a few people in Atlanta. One of them saw a spaceship with portholes and the other one saw a weather balloon. I found that absolutely fascinating. This was the subject of my PHd dissertation--how our perceptions are adjusted to fit our belief systems. This was a fascinating example to watch. Neither one had any doubt--they were both women--which is irrelevant, but I have to say that to explain my grammar. Each one was convined that what she saw was what was "really there" in the external world. Neither of them had any awareness that their brain had taken thousands and maybe millions of energy-events in space-time and correleated them in their brains to put together this picture and project it outward. Leach has said that none of us realize what great artists we are. This is a prime example.

Q: There was a case in Kentucky where two people had been riding along in a car. One saw a craft land and typical aliens get out and abduct them, and the other saw a schoolbus going by. They both swore up and down that that's what they had seen.

Wilson: (Laughter) I think I've seen more UFOs than most people because have no dogmas about this, and so I'm always noticing weird things that I don't quite know what they are. I've seen UFOs, but I see UNFOs too--"Unidentified Non-Flying Objects". The world is full of things that puzzle me. I'm not quite sure what they are and how to classify them.

Q: Actually, I have some non-UFO questions here...I read your last book (Cosmic Trigger Part 2) and it seemed very pessimistic or even paranoid. I probablyshouldn't ask this now because you'll get offended.

Wilson: Well, now I'm curious.

Q: Well, your last book seemed very acidic. Anyway, if you say we're the artists of our own reality, do you enjoy painting pictures of insane government figures and their plots to ruin our lives?

Wilson: That's a very good question and that book presents various ways of looking at reality. Sometimes the world does look that way to me. Some people see the world that way all the time. What I was trying to do in that book is show that we can see the world that way part of the time, but you don't have to get hung up on seeing it that way all the time.

Q: It was startling because I had never read anything that dark in your books.

Wilson: Well in my novels--you probably read only my non-fiction. People who have read only my novels tend to think I have tragic and somewhat paranoid view of the world. People who have read only my non-fiction think I'm unrealistically optomistic. I try different reality tunnels in different books.

Q: What made you start doing that, do you think?

Wilson: The Kennedy assasination. I was reading all the controversial literature and I got to see more and more how everybody in that debate, on all sides, how they were adjusting the data to fit their prejudices. So in Illuminatus, my first long novel (in collaboration with Bob Shea) we gave a couple of dozen alternative scenarios and everybody in the book figures it out differently, and the reader has to figure out which version they're going to believe, or are they going to become agnostic.

Later I realized it was not just the Kennedy assasination, I could apply that to the whole world. That attitude is called Model Agnosticism and it's very popular in modern physics, and to some extent it's reaching the other sciences too. It's the idea that the model is useful for a time, but you don't ever believe in it the way people used to believe in religious dogma.

Q: Here's one a bit off the track...What are your two or three favorite films and why?

Wilson: The Trial by Orson Welles, because it's an unsolvable mystery. If it was solveable, I'd lose interest eventually, as it is, I can look at it over and over and always have a new attitude towards it. I always find something new in it.

Q: And...?

Wilson: Another one by Orson Welles, F Is For Fake, which is a documentary about the impossibility of making a documentary. It's a documentary in which everybody is lying, including Welles himself. You never can figure out who's the worst liar and how much you can believe. Some of it is true, but you can never be sure which part. Other documentaries are terribly dishonest, compared to that one, which admits it's lying. A documentary that admits it's lying is honest, a documentary that prentends to be honest is lying... And Stardust Memories, by Woody Allen.

Q: That's one of my favorites.

Wilson: That's very much like F Is For Fake. You never know what's real and what's part of one of his movies. Sometimes the characters seem to escape from his movies into so-called "reality", except reality itself is a movie that we're watching, right? His hostility escapes from his movie into reality...

Q: And attacks his ex-wife and mother and it's about to get his psychiatrist...

Wilson: (Laughs) It gets one of his fans too. It suddenly reappears when somebody is asking him about the sexuality of artists and "have you ever had intercourse with a horse".

Q: Yeah "with some kind of wild animal" or something like that.

Wilson: And his hostility suddenly appears on screen and drags the guy off! (laughs)

Q: What is "utopia" and do you still see it as a possibility in the next few decades or so? (Relatively anyway).

Wilson: Utopia is a world where there's no nuclear arms race. Where I don't wake up every morning wondering whether the Soviet Union or the government that alleges it's mine are going to start hurling nuclear weapons at each other. So we've already achieved utpoia. That's obviously not going to happen.

Q: It'll be another country that's buying weapons off the Soviet Union.

Wilson: I refuse to worry about that. They scared me most of my life. Now they're claiming there's holes in the ozone and I'm supposed to worry about that. I am too old, I refuse to fall for this crap anymore. The rest of my life I'm going to enjoy myself and I'm not going to let them scare me anymore with these...the Russians turned out to be...they just fell apart. They never had any plan to attack this country. They were afraid of this country all along.

Q: Well, it kept a lot of people going on fear.

Wilson: And I won't worry about the ozone layer. It'll fix itself, or we'll learn how to fix it. I'm not going to ruin the rest of what I've got left of life with worrying about that.

Q: It seems like there's a different finding every week. "No, it's not going as fast as we thought", "Yes, it's going much faster, time to take steps" etc. I don't sense you have as much hope in the future as you once did. Is this incorrect? And do you agree with Israel Regardie's statement that things will get worse before they get any better?

Wilson: I think I'm as optomistic as I ever was in the long-run evolutionary perspective. This idea that we have to go through some horror before we're cured, if that were true, we'd have been cured long ago. We've been through enough horrors, especially in this century. After Hitler's death camps and Hiroshima and Viet Nam, how many horrors do we have to go through before we're ready to be happy? I think we're ready to be happy right now. I'm not going to let Regardie stop me.

Q: Well he can't object now. Do you think all this is "millenium jitters" or is the shit really going to hit the fan?

Wilson: I regard myself and my friends as the power elite. That way I don't have to worry if someone else is manipulating me. They're trying, but we're outsmarting them every step of the way. Most people want to believe somebody else is in charge. Then they don't have to take responsibility. Then they have the supreme pleasure of perpetually complaining that somebody else is in charge, and it would be better if only they were in charge. As long as I think I'm in charge, I've got nothing to complain about. I've got to take the responsibility for all of it. How can I go on? (laughs) Well, some of us have more balls than others. I'm sixty years old. In any traditional society I would have been hanged long ago.

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