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Colin Wilson

Pictured in Cornwall, 1984
Born 26 June 1931 (1931-06-26) (age 78)
Leicester, England, UK
Occupation Author
Nationality English
Period 1956 to Present
Genres Non-fiction and fiction
Literary movement Angry Young Men
Notable work(s) The Outsider
The Occult
Official website

Colin Henry Wilson (born 26 June 1931 in Leicester), a prolific British writer, first came to prominence as a philosopher and novelist. Wilson has since written widely on true crime, mysticism, and other topics.



Born and raised in Leicester, England,[1] Wilson left school at 16. He worked in factories and at various occupations, and read in his spare time.[2] Gollancz published the then 24-year-old Wilson's The Outsider in 1956; the work examines the role of the social "outsider" in seminal works of various key literary and cultural figures. These include Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William James, T. E. Lawrence, Vaslav Nijinsky and Vincent Van Gogh, and Wilson discusses his perception of social alienation in their work. The book became a best seller and helped popularize existentialism in Britain.[3] Critical praise proved short-lived, however, and Wilson was soon widely criticized.[4]

Wilson became associated with the "Angry Young Men" of British literature and he was widely regarded as "advanced, forthright, significant". [5] He contributed to Declaration, an anthology of manifestos by writers associated with the movement, and wrote a popular paperback sampler, Protest: The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men.[6][7] Wilson and his friends Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd, were viewed as a sub-group of the "Angries" - one more concerned with "religious values" than with liberal or socialist politics. Critics on the left swiftly labeled them as fascistic; commentator Kenneth Allsop called them "the law givers".[8][9]

Life and works after The Outsider

After the initial success of Wilson's first work, critics universally panned Religion and the Rebel (1957). Time magazine published a review, headlined "Scrambled Egghead", that pilloried the book.[10]

Wilson's works after The Outsider focused on "positive" aspects of human psychology -- such as peak experiences -- and the narrowness of consciousness. He admired the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow and corresponded with him. Wilson wrote The War Against Sleep: The Philosophy of Gurdjieff on the life, work and philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff — an accessible introduction to the Greek-Armenian mystic - in 1980. He argues throughout his work that the existentialist focus on defeat or nausea provides only a partial representation of reality and that there is no particular reason for accepting it.[citation needed] Wilson views normal, everyday consciousness buffeted by the moment as "blinkered", and argues that it should not be accepted as showing us the truth about reality.[citation needed] This blinkering has some evolutionary advantages in that it stops us from being completely immersed in wonder, or in the huge stream of events, and hence unable to act. However, to live properly we need to access more than this everyday consciousness.[citation needed] Wilson believes that our peak experiences of joy and meaningfulness are as real as our experiences of angst and, since we are more fully alive at these moments, they are more real. These experiences can be cultivated through concentration, paying attention, relaxation and certain types of work. Wilson argues that compulsive criminality is a manifestation of a pathological attempt to gain peak experiences through violence. This leads the criminal to greater extremes of violence or to a desire to be caught.[citation needed]

Other non-fiction writing

Wilson has written non-fiction books on metaphysical and occult themes. In 1971, he published The Occult: A History featuring exegesis on Aleister Crowley, G. I. Gurdjieff, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Kabbalah, primitive magic, Franz Anton Mesmer, Gregor Rasputin, Daniel Dunglas Home, and Paracelsus (among others). He also wrote a markedly unsympathetic biography of Crowley, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, and has written biographies on other spiritual and psychological visionaries, including Gurdjieff, C.G. Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Rudolf Steiner, and P.D. Ouspensky.

Originally, Wilson focused on the cultivation of what he called "Faculty X", which he saw as leading to an increased sense of meaning, and on abilities such as telepathy and the awareness of other energies. In his later work he suggests the possibility of life after death and the existence of spirits, which he personally analyzes as an active member of the Ghost Club.

He has also written non-fiction books on crime, ranging from encyclopedias to studies of serial killing. He has an ongoing interest in the life and times of Jack the Ripper and in sex-crime in general.


Wilson explored his ideas on human potential and consciousness in fiction, mostly detective fiction or science fiction, including several Cthulhu Mythos pieces.

Much of Wilson's fictional output, like his non-fiction work, from Ritual in the Dark (1960) onwards, has concerned itself with the psychology of murder — especially that of serial killing. However, he has also written science fiction of a philosophical bent, including the acclaimed Spider-World series.

In The Strength to Dream (1961) Wilson attacked H.P. Lovecraft as "sick" and as "a bad writer" who had "rejected reality" — but he grudgingly praised Lovecraft's story "The Shadow Out of Time" as capable science-fiction. August Derleth, incensed by Wilson's treatment of Lovecraft in The Strength to Dream, then dared Wilson to write what became The Mind Parasites — to expound his philosophical ideas in the guise of fiction.[citation needed] Wilson also discusses Lovecraft in Order of Assassins (1972) and in the prefatory Note to The Philosopher's Stone (1969). His short novel The Return of the Lloigor (1969/1974) is also rooted in the Cthulhu Mythos - its central character works on the real book the Voynich Manuscript but discovers it to be a mediaeval Arabic version of the Necronomicon - as is his more recent novel The Tomb of the Old Ones (2002).

Tobe Hooper directed the film Lifeforce, based on Wilson's novel, The Space Vampires.[11] Wilson disavowed the film as untrue to the spirit of his novel.[citation needed]


Note: this bibliography, while extensive, does not list all of Wilson's work. For a complete bibliography see Colin Stanley's Colin Wilson, the first fifty years: an existential bibliography, 1956-2005. Nottingham, UK: Paupers' Press, 2006 (ISBN 0-946650-89-6)

  • The Outsider (1956)
  • Religion and the Rebel (1957)
  • "The Frenchman" (short story, Evening Standard 22 August 1957)
  • The Age of Defeat (US title The Stature of Man) (1959)
  • Ritual in the Dark (1960)
  • Encyclopedia of Murder (with Patricia Pitman, 1961)
  • Adrift in Soho (1961)
  • "Watching the Bird" (short story, Evening News 12 September 1961)
  • "Uncle Tom and the Police Constable" (short story, Evening News 23 October 1961)
  • "He Could not Fail" (short story, Evening News 29 December 1961)
  • The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination (1962)
  • "Uncle and the Lion" (short story, Evening News 28 September 1962)
  • "Hidden Bruise" (short story, Evening News 3 December 1962)
  • Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963)
  • The World of Violence (US title The Violent World of Hugh Greene) (1963)
  • Man Without a Shadow (US title The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme) (1963)
  • "The Wooden Cubes" (short story, Evening News 27 June 1963)
  • Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs (1964)
  • Brandy of the Damned (1964; later expanded and reprinted as Chords and Discords/Colin Wilson On Music)
  • Necessary Doubt (1964)
  • Beyond the Outsider (1965)
  • Eagle and Earwig (1965)
  • Sex and the Intelligent Teenager (1966)
  • Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966)
  • The Glass Cage (1966)
  • The Mind Parasites (1967)
  • Voyage to a Beginning (1969)
  • A Casebook of Murder (1969)
  • Bernard Shaw: A Reassessment (1969)
  • The Philosopher's Stone (1969) ISBN 978-0-213-17790-4
  • The Return of the Lloigor (first published 1969 in the anthology Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos; revised separate edition, Village Press, London, 1974).
  • Poetry and Mysticism (1969; subsequently significantly expanded in 1970)
  • "The Return of the Lloigor" (short story in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by August Derleth, 1969; later revised and published as a separate book)
  • L'amour: The Ways of Love (1970)
  • The Strange Genius of David Lindsay (with E. H. Visiak and J.B. Pick, 1970)
  • Strindberg (1970)
  • The God of the Labyrinth (US title The Hedonists) (1970)
  • The Killer (US title Lingard) (1970)
  • The Occult: A History (1971)
  • The Black Room (1971)
  • Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (1972)
  • New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution (1972)
  • Strange Powers (1973)
  • "Tree" by Tolkien (1973)
  • Hermann Hesse (1974)
  • Wilhelm Reich (1974)
  • Jorge Luis Borges (1974)
  • Hesse-Reich-Borges: Three Essays (1974)
  • Ken Russell: A Director in Search of a Hero (1974)
  • A Book of Booze (1974)
  • The Schoolgirl Murder Case (1974)
  • The Unexplained (1975)
  • Mysterious Powers (US title They Had Strange Powers) (1975)
  • The Craft of the Novel (1975)
  • Enigmas and Mysteries (1975)
  • The Geller Phenomenon (1975)
  • The Space Vampires (1976)
  • Colin Wilson's Men of Mystery (US title Dark Dimensions) (with various authors, 1977)
  • Mysteries (1978)
  • Mysteries of the Mind (with Stuart Holroyd, 1978)
  • The Haunted Man: The Strange Genius of David Lindsay (1979)
  • "Timeslip" (short story in Aries I, edited by John Grant, 1979)
  • Science Fiction as Existentialism (1980)
  • Starseekers (1980)
  • Frankenstein's Castle: the Right Brain-Door to Wisdom (1980)
  • The Book of Time, edited by John Grant and Colin Wilson (1980)
  • The War Against Sleep: The Philosophy of Gurdjieff (1980)
  • The Directory of Possibilities, edited by Colin Wilson and John Grant (1981)
  • Poltergeist!: A Study in Destructive Haunting (1981)
  • Anti-Sartre, with an Essay on Camus (1981)
  • The Quest for Wilhelm Reich (1982)
  • The Goblin Universe (with Ted Holiday, 1982)
  • Access to Inner Worlds: The Story of Brad Absetz (1983)
  • Encyclopedia of Modern Murder, 1962-82 (1983)
  • "A Novelization of Events in the Life and Death of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin," in Tales of the Uncanny (Reader's Digest Association, 1983; an abbreviated version of the later The Magician from Siberia)
  • The Psychic Detectives: The Story of Psychometry and Paranormal Crime Detection (1984)
  • [A Criminal History of Mankind][1] (1984), revised and updated (2005)
  • Lord of the Underworld: Jung and the Twentieth Century (1984)
  • The Janus Murder Case (1984)
  • The Bicameral Critic (1985)
  • The Essential Colin Wilson (1985)
  • Rudolf Steiner: The Man and His Vision (1985)
  • Afterlife: An Investigation of the Evidence of Life After Death (1985)
  • The Personality Surgeon (1985)
  • An Encyclopedia of Scandal. Edited by Colin Wilson and Donald Seaman (1986)
  • The Book of Great Mysteries. Edited by Colin Wilson and Dr. Christopher Evans (1986)
  • An Essay on the 'New' Existentialism (1988)
  • The Laurel and Hardy Theory of Consciousness (1986)
  • Spider World: The Tower (1987)
  • Spider World: The Delta (1987)
  • Marx Refuted - The Verdict of History, edited by Colin Wilson (with contributions also) and Ronald Duncan, Bath, (UK), (1987), ISBN 0-906798-71-X
  • Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (1987)
  • The Musician as 'Outsider'. (1987)
  • The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Mysteries (with Damon Wilson, 1987)
  • Jack the Ripper: Summing Up and Verdict (with Robin Odell, 1987)
  • Autobiographical Reflections (1988)
  • The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988)
  • Beyond the Occult (1988)
  • The Mammoth Book of True Crime (1988)
  • The Magician from Siberia (1988)
  • The Decline and Fall of Leftism (1989)
  • Written in Blood: A History of Forensic Detection (1989)
  • Existentially Speaking: Essays on the Philosophy of Literature (1989)
  • Serial Killers: A Study in the Psychology of Violence (1990)
  • Spider World: The Magician (1992)
  • Mozart's Journey to Prague (1992)
  • The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky (1993)
  • Unsolved Mysteries (with Damon Wilson, 1993)
  • Outline of the Female Outsider (1994)
  • A Plague of Murder (1995)
  • From Atlantis to the Sphinx (1996)
  • An Extraordinary Man in the Age of Pigmies: Colin Wilson on Henry Miller (1996)
  • The Atlas of Sacred Places (1997)
  • Below the Iceberg: Anti-Sartre and Other Essays (reissue with essays on postmodernism, 1998)
  • The Corpse Garden (1998)
  • The Books in My Life (1998)
  • Alien Dawn (1999)
  • The Devil's Party (US title Rogue Messiahs) (2000)
  • The Atlantis Blueprint (with Rand Flem-Ath, 2000)
  • Illustrated True Crime: A Photographic History (2002)
  • The Tomb of the Old Ones (with John Grant, 2002)
  • Spider World: Shadowlands (2002)
  • Dreaming To Some Purpose (2004)
  • World Famous UFOs (2005)
  • Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals (2006)
  • Crimes of Passion: The Thin Line Between Love and Hate (2006)
  • The Angry Years: The Rise and Fall of the Angry Young Men (2007)
  • Manhunters:Criminal Profilers & Their Search for the World's Most Wanted Serial Killers (2007)
  • 'The Death of God' and other plays (edited by Colin Stanley) (2008)
  • Super Consciousness (2009)
  • Existential Criticism: selected book reviews (edited by Colin Stanley) (2009)

Unpublished works:

  • The Anatomy of Human Greatness (non-fiction, written 1964; Maurice Bassett plans to publish this work electronically)
  • Metamorphosis of the Vampire (fiction, written 1992-94)

Further reading

  • Bendau, Clifford C. Colin Wilson: The Outsider and Beyond (1979), San Bernardino: Borgo Press ISBN 0-89370-229-3
  • Dalgleish, Tim The Guerilla Philosopher: Colin Wilson and Existentialism (1993), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-47-0
  • Dossor, Howard F. Colin Wilson: the man and his mind (1990) Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books ISBN 1-85230-176-7
  • Dossor, Howard F. The Philosophy of Colin Wilson: three perspectives (1996), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-58-6
  • Greenwell, Tom Chepstow Road: a literary comedy in two acts (2002) Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-78-0
  • Lachman, Gary Two essays on Colin Wilson (1994), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-52-7
  • Moorhouse, John & Newman, Paul Colin Wilson, two essays (1988), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-11-X
  • Newman, Paul Murder as an Antidote for Boredom: the novels of Laura Del Rivo, Colin Wilson and Bill Hopkins (1996), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-57-8
  • Robertson, Vaughan Wilson as Mystic(2001), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-74-8
  • Salwak, Dale (ed) Interviews with Britain's Angry Young Men (1984) San Bernardino: Borgo Press ISBN 0-89370-259-5
  • Shand, John & Lachman, Gary Colin Wilson as Philosopher (1996), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-59-4
  • Smalldon, Jeffrey Human Nature Stained: Colin Wilson and the existential study of modern murder (1991) Nottingham: Paupers'Press ISBN 0-946650-28-4
  • Spurgeon, Brad Colin Wilson: philosopher of optimism, (2006), Manchester: Michael Butterworth ISBN 0-9552672-0-X
  • Stanley, Colin (ed) Colin Wilson, a celebration: essays and recollections (1988), London: Cecil Woolf ISBN 0-900821-91-4
  • Stanley, Colin Colin Wilson, the first fifty years: an existential bibliography 1956-2005 (2006) Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-89-6
  • Stanley, Colin Colin Wilson's 'Outsider Cycle': a guide for students (2009). Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-96-9
  • Stanley, Colin 'The Nature of Freedom' and other essays (1990), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-17-9
  • Tredell, Nicolas The Novels of Colin Wilson (1982) London: Vision Press ISBN 0-85478-035-1
  • Trowell, Michael Colin Wilson, the positive approach (1990), Nottingham: Paupers' Press ISBN 0-946650-25-X
  • Weigel, John A Colin Wilson (1975) Boston: Twayne Publishers ISBN 0-8057-1575-4

See also


  1. ^ Colin Wilson, Dreaming to Some Purpose (Arrow, 2005)
  2. ^ Colin Wilson, Dreaming to Some Purpose, Arrow, 2005
  3. ^ Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade; A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen Fifties. London: Peter Owen Ltd.
  4. ^ Barber, Lynn. "Now they will realise that I am a genius", The Guardian, May 30, 2004. Accessed September 26, 2007.
  5. ^ Willans, Geoffrey. "Swete Lavender", The Guardian, May 30, 2004. Accessed September 26, 2007.
  6. ^ Maschler, Tom (editor) (1957). Declaration. London: MacGibbon and Kee. 
  7. ^ Feldman, Gene and Gartneberg, Max (editors) (1958). Protest: The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men. New York: Citadel Press. 
  8. ^ Allsop, Kenneth (1958). The Angry Decade; A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen Fifties. London: Peter Owen Ltd. 
  9. ^ Holroyd, Stuart (1975). Contraries: A Personal Progression. London: The Bodley Head Ltd. 
  10. ^ Colin Wilson, The Angry Years Robson Books, 2007
  11. ^ Mitchell, Charles P. (2001). A guide to apocalyptic cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 112. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I had never doubted my own abilities, but I was quite prepared to believe that 'the world' would decline to recognize them.

Colin Henry Wilson (born 26 June 1931) is a British writer, noted for his first book The Outsider and over one hundred other books, including seventeen novels and numerous works in criminology, existential philosophy, psychology, religion, the occult, mysticism, wine, and music.



  • No matter how honest scientists think they are, they are still influenced by various unconscious assumptions that prevent them from attaining true objectivity. Expressed in a sentence, Fort's principle goes something like this: People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.
    • Mysteries (1978)
  • I'd always, you see, even in my early teens, had these problems — problems of suddenly waking up in the middle of the night and having this horrifying vision that life is completely meaningless. You know — just thinking about something like the depths of space, and realizing it's got to come to an end somewhere, but apparently it doesn't, and then suddenly getting this terrible feeling that maybe life is a total delusion. G. K. Chesterton once said that in his teens he saw hell, and I really think I did too. I went through extreme depressions, glooms. There was one occasion on which I decided actually to commit suicide. I'd got into this state — I was working as a lab assistant at the school, and what would happen was that I'd make tremendous efforts to push myself up to a level of optimism. I'd do it in the evenings by reading poetry, thinking, writing in my journals, then I'd go back to the school the next day and blaaahhh, right down to the bottom again. This was the feeling of The Mind Parasites — there's something that waits until you've got lots of energy and just sucks you dry like a vampire. This sudden feeling that God was making fun of me made me feel one day, "For God's sake, let's not have any more of this nonsense. I'm damned if I'll be played about with like this. Let me kill myself." And immediately I felt this, I felt a curious sense of inner strength. So I went off to night school quite determined that what I was going to do was to take down the bottle of potassium cyanide from the reagent shelves and drink it. I knew that cyanide burns a hole in the bottom of the stomach and kills you within seconds. Well, I went into the classroom quite determined. There was a group gathered around the professor at the desk. I went over to the reagent shelves, I took down the bottle of potassium cyanide, I uncorked it, and as I started raising this to my lips I suddenly had an extremely clear vision of myself in a few seconds' time with an agonizing pain in the pit of my stomach, and at the same time I suddenly turned into two people. I don't mean that literally, but I mean that there was I, and there beside me was this silly, bloody little idiot called Colin Wilson who was in a state of self-pity and about to kill himself, and I didn't give a damn whether the fool killed himself or not. The trouble was, if he killed himself he'd kill me too. And quite suddenly a terrific sense of overwhelming happiness came over me. I corked up the bottle, put it on the shelf, and for the next few days was in total control of my emotions and everything else. I realized suddenly that you can achieve these states of control, provided that you put yourself in a crisis situation. And that's why throughout The Outsider I keep saying the outsider's salvation lies in extremes.
  • I've always believed that a writer has got to remain an outsider. If I was offered anything like the Nobel Prize for Literature, I'd find it an extremely difficult conflict because I'd be basically disinclined to accept.
  • The Americans have always been more open to my ideas. In fact, I could earn a living in America just by lecturing. One of my brightest audiences, incidentally, were the prisoners in a Philadelphia gaol - brighter than my students at university.
    • Interview with Paul Newman in Abraxas Unbound #7

The Outsider (1956)

  • Considered as a whole, Hesse's achievement can hardly be matched in modern literature; it is the continually rising trajectory of an idea, the fundamentally religious idea of how to 'live more abundantly'. Hesse has little imagination in the sense that Shakespeare or Tolstoy can be said to have imagination, but his ideas have a vitality that more than makes up for it. Before all, he is a novelist who used the novel to explore the problem: What should we do with our lives? The man who is interested to know how he should live instead of merely taking life as it comes, is automatically an Outsider.
    • p. 77
  • Cézanne's painting is strictly painting, and its value is immense; but Van Gogh's painting has the Outsider's characteristic: it is a laboratory refuse of a man who treated his own life as an experiment in living; it faithfully records moods and developments of vision on the manner of a Bildungsroman.
    • p. 103
  • The Diary of Vaslav Nijinjsky reaches a limit of sincerity beyond any of the documents that we have referred to on this study. There are other modern works that express the same sense that civilized life is a form of living death; notably the poetry of T. S. Eliot and the novels of Franz Kafka; but there is an element of prophetic denunciation in both, the attitude of healthy men rebuking their sick neighbors. We possess no other record of the Outsider's problems that was written by a man about to be defeated and permanently smashed by those problems.
    • p. 115
  • Anyone who can understand that the Buddhist idea of Nirvana is not merely negative, and that the Buddha himself who (like the Superman) 'looks down on suffering humanity like a hillsman on the planes' is not an atheistic monster, will instantly see how this misses the point. Nietzsche was not an atheist, any more than the Buddha was. Anyone who reads the Night Song and the Dance Song in Zarathustra will recognize that they spring out of the same emotion as the Vedic or Gathic hymns or the Psalms of David. The idea of the Superman is a response to the need for salvation in precisely the same way that Buddhism was a response to the 'three signs'.
    • p. 135
  • The self-surmounter can never put up with the man who has ceased to be dissatisfied with himself.
    • p. 139
  • But Zarathustra made it clear in which direction the answer lay; it is towards the artist-psychologist, the intuitional thinker. There are very few such men in the world's literature; the great artists are not thinkers, the great thinkers are seldom artists.
    • p. 158
  • The exploration of oneself is usually also an exploration of the world at large, of other writers, a process of comparison with oneself with others, discoveries of kinships, gradual illumination of one's own potentialities.
    • p. 231
  • Nietzsche's great concept of Yea-saying gave him a notion of purpose that is seen as positive. Nietzsche, in short, was a religious mystic.
    • p. 275
  • There is in Shaw, as in Gurdjieff and Nietzsche, a recognition of the immense effort of Will that is necessary to express even a little freedom, that places them beside Pascal and St. Augustine as religious thinkers. Their view is saved from pessimism only by its mystical recognition of the possibilities of pure Will, freed from the entanglements of automatism.
    • p. 292

Religion and the Rebel (1957)

  • When Shaw is read in the light of the existentialist thinkers, a new philosophical position arises from his works as a whole, a position of he himself was probably unconscious. It is this: that although the ultimate reality may be irrational, yet man's relation to it is not. Existentialism means the recognition that life is a tiny corner of casual order in a universe of chaos. All men are aware of that chaos; but some insulate themselves from it and refuse to face it. These are the Insiders, and they make up the overwhelming majority of the human race. The Outsider is the man who has faced chaos. If he is an abstract philosopher — like Hegel — he will try to demonstrate that chaos is not really chaos, but that underlying it is an order of which we are unaware. If he is an existentialist, he acknowledges that chaos is chaos, a denial of life — or rather, of the conditions under which life are possible. If there is nothing but life and chaos, then life is permanently helpless — as Sartre and Camus think it is. But if a rational relation can somehow exist between them, ultimate pessimism is avoided, as it must be avoided if the Outsider is to live at all. It is this contribution which makes Shaw the key figure of existentialist thought.
    • p. 289
  • One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of 'life' which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to use as human beings.
    • p. 309
  • I have tried to show how religion, the backbone of civilisation, hardens into a Church that is unacceptable to Outsiders, and the Outsiders — the men who strive to become visionaries — become the Rebels. In our case, the scientific progress that has brought us closer than ever before to conquering the problems of civilisation, has also robbed of us spiritual drive; and the Outsider is doubly a rebel: a rebel against the Established Church , a rebel against the unestablished church of materialism. Yet for all this, he is the real spiritual heir of the prophets, of Jesus and St. Peter, of St. Augustine and Peter Waldo. The purest religion of any age lies in the hands of its spiritual rebels. The twentieth century is no exception.
    • p. 320

The Strength To Dream (1961)

  • No artist can develop without increasing his self-knowledge; but self-knowledge supposes a certain preoccupation with the meaning of human life and the destiny of man. A definite set of beliefs — Methodist Christianity, for example — may only be a hindrance to development; but it is not more so than Beckett's refusal to think at all. Shaw says somewhere that all intelligent men must be preoccupied with either religion, politics, or sex. (He seems to attribute T. E. Lawrence's tragedy to his refusal to come to grips with any of them.) It is hard to see how an artist could hope to achieve any degree of self-knowledge without being deeply concerned with at least one of the three.
    • p. 197
  • Art is naturally concerned with man in his existential aspect, not in his scientific aspect. For the scientist, questions about man's stature and significance, suffering and power, are not really scientific questions; consequently he is inclined to regard art as an inferior recreation. Unfortunately, the artist has come to accept the scientist's view of himself. The result, I contend, is that art in the twentieth century — literary art in particular — has ceased to take itself seriously as the primary instrument of existential philosophy. It has ceased to regard itself as an instrument for probing questions of human significance. Art is the science of human destiny. Science is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of nature; art is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of man. At its best, it evokes unifying emotions; it makes the reader see the world momentarily as a unity.
    • p. 214

The Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963)

  • Sexual activity is driven by the same aims and motives as reading poetry or listening to music: to escape the limitations imposed by the need for particularity in the consciousness.
    • p. 75
  • It may seem to be a long way from Blake's innocent talk of love and copulation to De Sade's need to inflict pain. And yet both are the outcome of a sexual mysticism that strives to transcend the everyday world. Simone de Beauvoir said penetratingly of De Sade's work that 'he is trying to communicate an experience whose distinguishing characteristic is, nevertheless its will to remain incommunicable'. De Sade's perversion may have sprung from his dislike of his mother or of other women, but its basis is a kind of distorted religious emotion.
    • p. 90
  • Sadism is plainly connected with the need for self-assertion. At the same time it cannot be separated from the idea of defeat. A sadist is a man, who, in some sense, has his back to the wall. Nothing is further from sadism, for example, than the cheerful, optimistic mentality of a Shaw or Wells.
    • p. 158

Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966)

  • Some years ago, an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, felt the same kind of instinctive revolt against the 'atmosphere' of Freudian psychology, with its emphasis on sickness and neurosis, and decided that he might obtain some equally interesting results if he studied extremely healthy people. He therefore looked around for the most cheerful and well-adjusted people he could find, and asked for their co-operation in his studies. he soon discovered and interesting fact: that most extremely healthy people frequently experience of intense affirmation and certainty; Maslow called these 'peak experiences.' No one had made this discovery before because it had never struck anyone that a science calling itself 'psychology' and professing to be a science of the human mind (not merely the sick mind), ought to form its estimate of human beings by taking into account healthy minds as well as sick ones. A sick man talks obsessively about his illness; a healthy man never talks about his health; for as Pirandello points out, we take happiness for granted, and only begin to question life when we are unhappy. Hence no psychologist ever made this simple and obvious discovery about peak experiences.
    • p. 15
  • Husserl has shown that man's prejudices go a great deal deeper than his intellect or his emotions. Consciousness itself is 'prejudiced' - that is to say, intentional.
    • p. 54
  • A child might be overawed by a great city, but a civil engineer knows that he might demolish it and rebuild it himself. Husserl's philosophy has the same aim: to show us that, although we may have been thrust into this world without a 'by your leave,' we are mistaken to assume that it exists independently of us. It is true that reality exists apart from us; but what we mistake for the world is actually a world constituted by us, selected from an infinitely complex reality.
    • p. 63
  • In a book called Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect, Whitehead points out that perception is usually a matter of symbols, just like language; I say I see a book when I actually see a red oblong. The Transactionists (who have been influenced by Whitehead rather than Husserl) take this one stage further, and point out that when I 'perceive' something, I am actually making a bet with myself that what I perceive is what I think it is. In order to act and live at all, I have to make these bets; I cannot afford to make absolutely certain that things are what I think they are. But this means that we should not take our perceptions at face value, any more than Nietzsche was willing to take philosophy at its face value; we must allow for prejudice and distortion.
    • p. 66
  • The effects of mescalin or LSD can be, in some respects, far more satisfying than those of alcohol. To begin with, they last longer; they also leave behind no hangover, and leave the mental faculties clear and unimpaired. They stimulate the faculties and produce the ideal ground for a peak experience.
    • p. 88
  • Phenomenology is not a philosophy; it is a philosophical method, a tool. It is like an adjustable spanner that can be used for dismantling a refrigerator or a car, or used for hammering in nails, or even for knocking somebody out.
    • p. 92
  • Now the basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. its aim — like that of science — was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
    • p. 96
  • It is the fallacy of all intellectuals to believe that intellect can grasp life. It cannot, because it works in terms of symbols and language. There is another factor involved: consciousness. If the flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless.
    • p. 112

Postscript to the Outsider (1967)

  • I was aggressively nonpolitical. I believed that people who make a fuss about politics do so because their heads are too empty to think about more important things. So I felt nothing but impatient contempt for Osborne's Jimmy Porter and the rest of the heroes of social protest.
    • p. 2
  • I had never doubted my own abilities, but I was quite prepared to believe that "the world" would decline to recognize them.
    • p. 3

Bernard Shaw: A Reassessment (1969)

  • When we are lulled into somnolence by lack of challenge every molehill tends to become a mountain, every minor inconvenience an intolerable imposition. For a self-chosen reality tends to become a prison. The factors that protect and insulate civilized man can easily end by suffocating him unless he possesses a high degree of self-discipline, the 'highly developed vital sense' that Shaw speaks of. And since clever and sensitive people are inclined to lack self-discipline, a high degree of culture usually involves a high degree of pessimism. This is what has happened to Western civilisation over the past two centuries. It explains why so many distinguished artists, writers and musicians have taken such a negative view of the human situation.
    • Introduction, p. xiii
  • This is what fascinates Shaw: this enormous force that ignores our human preferences, our logic and intellect. It fascinates him because to be suddenly gripped by it is to see that human beings are not the accidental products of a mechanical universe — that they are not 'alone'. As social animals, we live in a narrow but apparently logical world with a well-defined identity and position. But man is the satellite of a double-star; there is also an inner-world that seems to have a completely different set of laws from the rational universe. And in fact, if we judge this 'rational universe' by its own laws, we see that it is not self-complete and self-explanatory; space must end somewhere, time must have a stop; but the alternative propositions sound equally 'logical': space is infinite; time has neither beginning nor end. The answer to these paradoxes must be that the outer universe is not self-complete; it is only half a universe. The inner world is the other half. But at present we know very little about this inner world. It is only within the present century that its existence has been clearly recognized by psychology.
    • p. 167

Poetry and Mysticism (1969)

  • These are the visionary, mystical moments, when a man 'completes his partial mind'. His everyday conscious self is only a small part of the mind, like the final crescent of the moon. In moments of crisis, the full moon suddenly appears.
    • p. 156

The Occult: A History (1971)

  • Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic 'feeling' about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes 'pick up' accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick, lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things.
    • p. 28
  • Faculty X is simply that latent power in human beings possess to reach beyond the present. After all, we know perfectly well that the past is as real as the present, and that New York and Singapore and Lhasa and Stepney Green are all as real as the place I happen to be in at the moment. Yet my senses do not agree. They assure me that this place, here and now, is far more real than any other place or any other time. Only in certain moments of great inner intensity do I know this to be a lie. Faculty X is a sense of reality, the reality of other places and other times, and it is the possession of it — fragmentary and uncertain though it is — that distinguishes man from all other animals.
    • p. 59
  • Christianity was an epidemic rather than a religion. It appealed to fear, hysteria and ignorance. It spread across the Western world, not because it was true, but because humans are gullible and superstitious.
    • p. 212
  • The real importance of Swedenborg lies in the doctrines he taught, which are the reverse of the gloom and hell-fire of other breakaway sects. He rejects the notion that Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sin of Adam, declaring that God is neither vindictive nor petty-minded, and that since he is God, he doesn't need atonement. It is remarkable that this common-sense view had never struck earlier theologians. God is Divine Goodness, and Jesus is Divine Wisdom, and Goodness has to be approached through Wisdom. Whatever one thinks about the extraordinary claims of its founder, it must be acknowledged that there is something very beautiful and healthy about the Swedenborgian religion. Its founder may have not been a great occultist, but he was a great man.
    • p. 280

They Had Strange Powers (1975)

  • During his lifetime Gurdjieff did not publish any books on the techniques of his teaching, and his pupils were bound to secrecy on the subject. Since his death in Paris in 1949, however, many of his works have been published, and there has been a flood of memoirs by disciples and admirers. Gurdjieff was in almost ever respect the antithesis of Aleister Crowley. Whereas Crowley craved publicity, Gurdjieff shunned it. Crowley was forgotten for two decades after his death; Gurdjieff on the contrary, has become steadily better known, and his influence continues to grow. One of the main reasons for this is that there was so little of the charlatan about him. He is no cult figure with hordes of gullible disciples. What he has to teach makes an appeal to the intelligence, and can be fully understood only by those who are prepared to make a serious effort.
  • p. 116

The Geller Phenomenon (1976)

  • It was the normal working of the antisuccess mechanism. In our overcrowded modern world a hit record, a best-selling book, a successful film, can reach more people in a week than Shakespeare or Beethoven reached in a whole lifetime. And so fame has become the most romantic, the most desirable of all commodities, the dream for which a modern Faust might sell his soul to the Devil. Once attained, fame is never as easy to hold on to as some people believe. The people who achieve fame by some accident of fashion are usually forgotten within a week; the ones who remain on top have to work to stay there. But few people understand this. The result is that anyone who achieves sudden notoriety arouses envy and hostility. The greater the success, the greater the reaction.
    • p. 28
  • The weakness of the attack lies in its lack of discrimination. It is possible that psychic surgery is a hoax, that plants cannot really read our minds, that Kirlian photography (photographing the "life-aura" of living creatures) may depend on some simple electrical phenomenon. But to lump all of these together as if they were all on the same level of improbability shows a certain lack of discernment. The same applies to the list of "hoaxes." Rhine's careful research into extrasensory perception at Duke University is generally conceded to be serious and sincere, even by people who think his test conditions were too loose. The famous fairy photographs are quite probably a hoax, but no one has ever produced an atom of proof either way, and until someone does, no one can be quite as confident as the editors of Time seem to be. And Ted Serios has never at any time been exposed as a fraud — although obviously he might be. We see here a phenomena that we shall encounter again in relation to Geller: that when a scientist or a "rationalist" sets himself up as the defender of reason, he often treats logic with a disrespect that makes one wonder what side he is on.
    • pp. 34-35
  • I found Randi likable and plausible; the only thing that bothered me was the sweeping and intense nature of his skepticism. He was obviously working from the premise that all paranormal phenomena, without exception, are fakes or delusions. He seemed to take to take it for granted that all of us — there were also two women present — shared his opinions, and he made jovial, disparaging remarks about psychics and other such weirdos. I began to get the uncomfortable feeling of a Jew who has accidentally walked into a Nazi meeting, or a Jehovah's Witness at a convention of militant atheists. As a supposedly scientific psychic investigator, Randi struck me as being oddly fixed in his opinions.
    • pp. 39-40
  • I began with a strong bias toward skepticism. Besides, to tell the truth, I still find occult phenomena a little preposterous and irrelevant. What do they really matter if you place them against the truly great human achievements — against the creative genius of a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven, an Einstein? In that context they seem almost trivial.
    • p. 120

The Encyclopedia of Modern Murder 1962-1982 (1983)

  • In the mid nineteenth century, the typical murderer was a drunken illiterate; a hundred years later the typical murderer regards himself as a thinking man.
    • Introductory Essay, p. xiv
  • It was Rousseau who was largely responsible for the problem by giving currency to the idea that freedom can exist without responsibility and discipline.
    • Introductory Essay, p. xx

The Essential Colin Wilson (1985)

  • The case is a good example of what Van Vogt came to call "the violent man" or the "Right Man." He is a man driven by a manic need for self-esteem — to feel that he is a "somebody." He is obsessed by the question of "losing face," so will never, under any circumstances, admit that he might be in the wrong.
    • p. 211
  • And this is turn makes it plain that the Right Man problem is a problem of highly dominant people. Dominance is a subject of enormous importance to biologists and zoologists because the percentage of dominant animals — or human beings — seems to be amazingly constant. Bernard Shaw once asked the explorer H. M. Stanley how many other men could take over leadership of the expedition if Stanley himself fell ill; Stanley replied promptly: "One in twenty." "Is that exact or approximate?" asked Shaw. "Exact." And biological studies have confirmed this as a fact. For some odd reason, precisely five per cent — one in twenty — of any animal group are dominant — have leadership qualities. During the Korean War, the Chinese made the interesting discovery that if they separated out the dominant five per cent of American prisoners of war, and kept them in separate compound, the remaining ninety-five per cent mad no attempt to escape.
    • p. 216

Spider World: The Desert (1987)

  • Yet its essence was the certitude that his life was not totally at the mercy of chance. Somehow, it was more important than that. This sense of power inside his head — which he could intensify by pulling a face and wrinkling up the muscles of his forehead — aroused a glow of optimism, an expectation of exciting events. He knew that for him, fate held something special in store.
    • p. 26
  • It was not until the ant and Veig had passed each other that Niall realized that he had been reading the ant's mind. It was a sensation like actually being the ant, as if he had momentarily taken possession of its body. And while he had been inside the ant's body, he had also become aware of all the other ants in the nest. It was a bewildering feeling, as if his mind had shattered into thousands of fragments, yet each fragment remained a coherent part of the whole.
    • p. 57
  • Now he saw the problem with great clarity. If he lived here, life would be pleasant and safe. But it would also be predictable. A child could be born here, grow up here, die here, without ever experiencing the excitement of discovery. Why did Dona question him endlessly about his life in the burrow and his journey to the country of the ants? Because for her, it represented a world that was dangerous and full of fascinating possibilities. For the children of this underground city, life was a matter of repetition, of habit. And this, he suddenly realized, was the heart of the problem. Habit. Habit was a stifling, warm blanket that threatened you with suffocation and lulled the mind into a state of perpetual nagging dissatisfaction. Habit meant the inability to escape from yourself, to change and develop . . .
    • p. 132-133

The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved (2000)

  • The progress of human knowledge depends on maintaining that touch of scepticism even about the most "unquestionable" truths. A century ago, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was regarded as scientifically unshakeable; today, most biologists have their reservations about it. Fifty years ago, Freud's sexual theory of neurosis was accepted by most psychiatrists; today, it is widely recognized that his methods were highly questionable. At the turn of this century, a scientist who questioned Newton's theory of gravity would have been regarded as insane; twenty years later, it had been supplanted by Einstein's theory, although, significantly, few people actually understood it. It seems perfectly conceivable that our descendants of the twenty-second century will wonder how any of us could have been stupid enough to have been taken in by Darwin, Freud or Einstein.
    • p. 4
  • Now, obviously, the human race is on the point of an extremely interesting evolutionary development. The first step towards escape from this vicious circle is to recognize that the apparent "ordinariness" of the world is a delusion. If we could become deeply and permanently convinced that the world "out there" is endlessly exciting, we would never again allow ourselves to become trapped in the swamp of "taken-for-grantedness". And we would become practically unkillable. Shaw says of his "Ancients" in Back to Methuselah "Even in the moment of death, their life does not fail them". "Life failure" is that feeling that there is nothing new under the sun, and that we all have to accept defeat in the end. If we could learn the mental trick of causing the dynamo to accelerate, this illusion would never again be able to exert its power over us.
    • p. 14

The Angry Years (2007)

  • Once we can see how this question of freedom of the will has been vitiated by post-romantic philosophy, with it's inbuilt tendency to laziness and boredom, we can also see how it came about that existentialism found itself in a hole of it’s own digging, and how the philosophical developments since then have amounted to walking in circles round that hole.
    • p. 214

Super Consciousness (2009)

  • We might liken the 'two selves' to Laurel and Hardy. Ollie is the objective mind, 'you'. Stan is the subjective mind, the 'hidden you'. But Stan happens to be in control of your energy supply. So if you wake up feeling low and discouraged, you (Ollie) tend to transmit your depression to Stan, who fails to send you energy, which makes you feel lower than ever. This vicious circle is the real cause of most mental illness.
    • p. 121

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