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John Hanks talking on Robert Anton Wilson. CHEERING AND APPLAUSE Thank you. Can you hear me OK? Yeah. Yeah? Well, thanks, Scott. Thanks to the horse hospital for putting us on. Thank you all for coming along. Normally, when I do a talk about Robert Anton Wilson, it's to a room full of people who have never heard of him. LAUGHTER I'm suspecting that's not the case today. LAUGHTER So instead of my normal talk, which is, who was Robert Anton Wilson, I want to talk more about why, in 2013, I'm writing about Bob, I'm talking about Bob, I'm tricking innocent KLF fans into reading about Bob. LAUGHTER It's because I think his legacy. . . It's a delicate time at the moment for his legacy.
The way these things normally happen, for the natural rhythm, is when a writer or an artist dies or stops producing. Interest in their work dwindles for a decade or two, and then it either is reassessed and rediscovered and they get their place in the pantheon, or it's not, and they're forgotten. And we like to think, well, that's down to the quality of the work, but I think we all know it's a bit more arbitrary than that. It's a little bit more chaotic than that. And this has been. . . What the fate of Bob's legacy has been on my mind ever since the Guardian obituary, when he died.
There was a great obituary in the Guardian, a good-sized thing, about a week after he died, and the headline was, Robert Anton Wilson, he turned Playboy readers' fantasy conspiracies into drug-assisted cult fiction. LAUGHTER That's his legacy. That's not bad. Do you want that on your gravestone? But they also asked me to write a little bit at the bottom of the obituary, on a more personal level, sort of describing what he was like as a human being. And, of course, I was delighted and I was honoured. But I felt slightly that I wasn't quite qualified to do that. I mean, I'd met him once, sure, but that was only once.
And I thought I was probably taking the job from someone who should have been doing it. But the more I thought about who should have been doing it, the more I started to worry that no-one was springing to mind. There weren't any writers talking about Robert Anton Wilson at that time. And, you know, writers talk about all sorts of stuff. If there's something good, it seems weird that they're not talking about it. So I think at that point, I started to question what his legacy would be. And I'm at the age now where I can go and see bands that I saw in the 80s.
And occasionally, you know, you get there and there's a whole generation of teenagers and young kids and, you know, the old guys and families and everything in between. But that's rare, you know. I'm thinking Iron Maiden. If you go see Iron Maiden, it's like that. Normally, you go see a band and you turn around and you look at the crowd. And it's not pretty. It's. . . I'm thinking of Julian Kope, actually. You know, he's not. . . Much as I love Julian Kope, he's not picked up any fans at all over the years.
And so I have started to wonder a lot about what is it that makes a new generation go, oh, these old guys, that's really good, we like that. We've got no interest at all in those old guys. And it's partly because I've written this KLF book and I very much want young bands to read it. Because I think if you're growing up and you're thinking the Simon Cowell career-minded approach is how you become a musician, I kind of want to get this book in their hands. So I've thought a lot about that. And I have worried that it doesn't look that great for Robert Anton Wilson. I think there's two main ways people come to him.
And the first is obviously his books. He wrote 30-odd books, fiction, non-fiction. But they look like shit. LAUGHTER They're very much a product of the 1970s Californian counterculture. And it shows with all the airbrushed pyramids and the dolphins and things like that. And the subjects he writes about, he writes about UNF, and conspiracy theories, and those don't feel that relevant to the next generation. They feel a little bit like a dead end. And even though I would argue, no, it's the approach he takes, it's the way he talks about them that makes that all relevant. That's a subtlety that doesn't kind of come across from these covers. LAUGHTER And they're hard to find.
And really we want the whole thing to be republished globally in low-cost e-books. With new covers. But that's not happening for various reasons. And when you start looking at him, he could be wrong about things as well. I mean, in a lot of his later books, he talks about how he doesn't think he's going to die. You know, he's seen the revolutions of the 20th century, he's seen DNA being discovered, he's researched life extension science and projected forward and come to the conclusion that he isn't going to die. And of course he is dead. Which would be very embarrassing if he was alive, that he was dead.
LAUGHTER And the other way to Bob, I think the most common way that people get to Bob is through discordianism. Now, discordianism is great and it's funny. And the more you look into it, people get drawn into it like a little trail. They hear a little thing, they get pulled towards it themselves. It's not something that's thrust at people. And they just explore and then they get hit by this wall of synchronicity and they're never quite the same again. But culture is sort of changing.
And people now, young people now, they've got so little time and there's so many demands on their attention and they've become very, very good at filtering out anything that doesn't seem entirely meant for them, you know. And when you first come across discordianism, you sort of get hit by this blast of, you know, fnauds and callisto apples and laws of fives and it just feels like a bewildering in-joke. And it is a bewildering in-joke. That's the whole point. It's supposed to be a jolt. It's supposed to sort of shock you in a certain way. One of Bob's books got a review that described it with just two words which was deliberately annoying. And he was delighted.
That's what he wanted the book to do. So as much as all this stuff is great and I love all this sort of stuff, it's not drawing people to it, it's not drawing this next generation to it. When I do talks and try and describe what happened to Wilson to people, they like this very much. They like the fact that he stood for governor of California for the guns and dope party on a platform of, let's get this right, a platform of guns for those who want them, no guns for those who don't, dope for those who want it, no dope for those who don't and equal rights for ostriches.
People like that but I don't kind of think it does him justice somehow. It's a bit sort of screaming Lord such. It doesn't kind of get the. . . In fact, I find the one thing that I can make Robert Anton Wilson seem relevant when I'm giving talks is the fact that it was his fault that teenagers nowadays or some of them, some teenagers nowadays genuinely believe that the reason Rihanna is famous is because Jay-Z has sold her soul to Satan to begin and to the Illuminati. And that's the thing, you can Google that or just ask a teenager. And that's the only sort of way I had to find, you know, of making him relevant.
So all that concerned me, you know, all that concerned me about his legacy. But obviously the fact I'm here implies that, you know, I don't think that's going to be the case. I think there's a lot of hope. I want to read you how he described himself in Prometheus Rises. That bit I mentioned earlier about how he thought he wasn't going to die. Well, he looks at himself thinking that in this book. And as he says, Robert Anton Wilson is the author of Cosmic Trigger, Schrodinger's Cat, Sex and Drugs, and several other books.
Wilson believes that life extension techniques and intelligence raising drugs will be discovered in this decade, which is the 80s, and will be widely available by 2010. He does not expect immortality to be achieved until the middle of the next century, but he expects life extension drugs will keep him around until then. So that's what he thought. Obviously he was wrong. But he goes on. Wilson believes that these are good guesses based on scientific probabilities, but he does not think there are any hard economic or karmic laws guaranteeing them.
He recognizes that this reality tunnel, by which he means his worldview, was generated by his own brain, that he is the artist who created it, and that it expresses his own hopes and desires as well as scientific probabilities. It is, he knows, the reality tunnel that keeps him happy, creative, busy, and full of zest for life. He doesn't think it is any crazier than anybody else's reality tunnel, and he claims it's a lot more fun than any other. So yes, he was wrong. But every fucker's wrong. He was wrong in a more insightful way than say how, compared to say how Michael Gove is wrong. Michael Gove has no idea how wrong he is, sadly.
But to be fair to Michael Gove, I was trying to rehearse this early and I couldn't get out my throat. I'll try again. To be fair to Michael Gove, I'll never say that again. Most people don't. Most people do not realize how wrong they are. And the reason why I think Bob is important and Bob is different, well, I think it could be summed up in a principle he talked about, calls the cosmic schmuck principle. That goes like this. If you wake up in the morning and you do not realize that you're a cosmic schmuck, you will remain a cosmic schmuck.
But if you wake up in the morning and you think, oh, God, I'm a cosmic schmuck, you'll be very embarrassed. You'll want to be less of a cosmic schmuck. You'll try to be less of a cosmic schmuck. And slowly, over time, you'll become less of a cosmic schmuck. And the fact that the underlying principle of Robert Anton Wilson's philosophy is I know I'm wrong. I want to be less wrong. It's very different to now our current internet type sort of network, sort of culture, where the underlying philosophy is I'm right and I want you to know that.
And if you go onto any internet discussion or debate or things like that, you find people declaring certainties loudly, people with very fixed positions that they can express in 140 characters. They hunker down and defend and don't listen to anything else and attempt to drown out all the others. That's so different to Robert Anton Wilson. You know, he believed that what you believe, the word belief is difficult with Bob, he thought that what you believe imprisons you. He thought convictions create convicts. His philosophy can be called multiple model agnosticism. That's not just agnosticism about God. That's agnosticism about everything. On the first slide, I had that quote of his that summed him up nicely.
I do not believe anything, but I have many suspicions. And yeah, so why is he different? Why does he have that different philosophy? Well, there's just a key core point to it, which he mentioned a lot in that bit I read out. This phrase, reality tunnel, that's at the heart of all Bob's thinking. So I think it's worth defining for you. The reality tunnel is the model of reality that you build in your head. It's not reality. It's what you think reality is. Just as Kozimski said, the map is not the territory. As Alan Watts said, the menu is not the meal. In the same way, your reality tunnel is not reality.
It's a model that you personally have built over your entire life based on your experiences, your memories, your senses, your prejudices, your culture, and to a large degree, surprising degree, language. And that is fine. That's normal. We need models. We need models to understand what's going on around us, to predict what's going to happen next. But a model is by definition a simplified version of something. It may look roughly the same. It gives you a good idea of things. But there are going to be places where it lacks the detail or it's just wrong or it's different. And when your reality tunnel doesn't map reality, then you are wrong.
And the fact that we use these things means that we will always be wrong. Now, this shouldn't be a controversial idea. The opposite is called naive realism. This is the idea that reality is exactly how you think it is, exactly how you perceive it. And philosophers have been refuting that for thousands of years since Plato. And our authors, our great authors, also keep making the same point again and again and again that what we think is reality is just our particular version of it. But there's a problem. It's really convincing. It's utterly convincing. Of course it is. We don't know anything else. It's all we have. We have nothing to compare it to.
And the way it works reinforces this. If something happens that totally fits your model, and that's fine. You take it on board. You understand it. You recognize it. You remember it. There's no problems. But if something happens that your model has no way of comprehending, for example, a banjo like burn a million pounds and then say they don't know why. You've got one of two options. You can either misinterpret it in such a way that you can't just sort of get it to fit in your model somehow. You can say, oh, they burnt the money because they were pranksters or scammers.
And even though if you look at those ideas, they really don't hold up at all. They do fit people's models. So they sort of use them for that reason. And the other thing that happens is that you just simply ignore what's happened. You don't notice. You forget it quite quickly. And that's been great for me because I can't tell you the amount of music journalists I've had in the past month saying, I can't believe I never thought to write a book about the KLF. It's such a great story. And you say, well, why didn't you? And they just go, uh. It just doesn't fit in their head. Here's an example of this.
OK, there's this American psychology professor. And he was giving a lecture to a hall full of students. And he's arranged sort of halfway through the lecture, a guy came running in and ran straight towards him and went like that with a banana. At which point, the professor keeled over and the student screamed and they went running out of the lecture hall where they were accosted by all these volunteers who said, don't worry. It's all fine. It's just an experiment. No one's hurt. Immediately write down what you've just seen before you talk to anyone about it.
So they all wrote about how they had been sitting there working hard and they heard this noise and they turned. And it was this crazy guy. He was running down the hall. He had this knife. It was a big knife. It was a shining glittering knife. And some people said they saw the knife go into the professor's stomach. And some people said they saw blood everywhere. And they were all somewhat shocked to discover that it had actually been no knife and it was a banana that they'd seen. Because their reality, because as I say, reality is much more complicated than the reality tunnels.
In reality, odd, strange, weird things happen such as a professor may arrange for a man to come in with a banana halfway through a lecture. Most people's models don't allow for that possibility. And assuming you've watched enough TV, the only thing that makes sense for someone running towards someone going like that is, oh, someone's been stabbed. So that's your reality tunnel. So that's what you believe. And that overrides the visual side of it, what they saw was overridden by what they believed they should be seeing.
If you consider this room, for example, you've probably all got a model in your head of how you've all come to Bloomsbury from various places and you've come down these stairs and you're sitting there and the guy who wrote that book about the KLF is talking at you in red shoes and a David Lynch t-shirt. And that's a great model. That's going to get you through the night fine. That's all you need to know. That's good. But it's worth looking at what it's lacking. For instance, I don't know if many people noticed, but by that door there's this lovely iron sort of gate, iron bars and things like that, which we may not have seen.
And you'll notice it when you go out because I mentioned it. Oh, yes, there's this iron sort of gate. But before you knew it and after you knew it, your model still felt complete to you. You weren't aware of not knowing about things. It wasn't like there's gaps in it. We don't have gaps. Everything just feels fine. And you can look around and see what's going on. But we light, for instance, we only see a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. And if a bumblebee was here, it could see all the ultraviolet stuff that we can't see. And if a rattlesnake was here, it could see all the infrared stuff that we can't see.
And there are birds that would see the magnetic fields going through here that we know nothing about. And various machines could see all the data beeping out of everyone's phones at the moment. So we've got a very narrow slice of what there is. But then there's a thing called the cocktail party effect, where when you go into a cocktail party, it's all noisy and there's all people around. You just zone them all out to what you're talking about. They all sort of disappear. So from the real thing, we filter down, and then we sort of filter down it again. And if you consider, say, I'm very proud of my shoes, by the way.
You look at them and go, yeah, that guy's wearing red shoes. That's totally what I see. Color doesn't objectively exist in the real world. It's something entirely goes on inside your head. All these photons that hit my shoe and then bounce to your eyes. And certain wavelengths of them get sucked into the shoe and certain wavelengths get back. And those wavelengths hit the eye, and your eye goes, oh, wavelengths of photons. I'll tell the brain. And your brain goes, red. And that seems all right. That seems all right. But if my son was here, my son's colorblind. So he'd see something completely different.
And if people who spoke different languages were here, they could also see something different, especially not so much red, but blue and green. In Korea, in Vietnam, they have one word for blue and green together. It's all one color, as far as they see. Whereas in Welsh, the boundary between green and blue is different than it is in English. So it's glass for blue in Welsh, but that would also include certain silvery greens. And there are languages that have two words for blue, light blue and dark blue, with separate colors. They have separate words.
And when scientists, as they do, put people in MRI scanners and showed them colors and saw what happens in their head, and saw the speed at which they understood things and what parts of the brain they used to understand them, it depended very much on what language these people spoke, what they experienced. And language is strange like that. Robert Anton Wills was quite obsessed with that way language changes our reality tunnel. He was very, particularly with the phrase, the verb to be, you know, I am, you are, it is. That's a strange, we think nothing of it because English accepts that verb fine.
But to say that one thing is another thing is actually logically quite problematic. And I would say something like, oh, the American office is better than the British office. But really, if I've been truthful, why should be saying is, I prefer the American office to the British office. Well, because language tricks us into thinking that way. We accept all these things. And this is true in all the big political and religious ideologies where it says things like Jesus is love, property is theft, a fetus is a person. All these sort of ideologies have language at their core which shapes the way they appear.
And Bob, he grew up as a Catholic and totally believed the Catholic reality tunnel until puberty, I think funny enough. And then he totally got rid of it and then he became a Marxist and he totally believed the Marxist sort of thing before rejecting that. And then all the Crowley thing came in in the 70s and the psychedelia and all the rest of his story. But he became very, very astute at recognizing that, hey, this is this is a reality tunnel. This is not what this thing is. And so all his work was geared to doing that in other people. He didn't describe himself as a writer or philosopher.
He described himself as a guerrilla ontologist, which is just too long words. So we'll look for definitions. Ontology, study of reality being all the good stuff. And guerrilla as in guerrilla warfare where small bands do ambushes and sabotages to derail a much larger and bigger army. And so all his work was attempting to throw a spanner into your reality tunnels so that you'd recognize it for what it was. I in books like Illuminatus is probably the best example that takes as its basic idea.
What if all the real all the conspiracies were true? It's an absurd idea, but he writes it so brilliantly with Robert Shea, of course, that by the end of the book, you're just thinking, hey, that seemed plausible to me. And that's disturbed you. And then you start to think, well, what else seems plausible to me is really that absurd. So and it worked as well. Reading his books did actually work in that you would start to notice, for instance, if you read his books and then someone says to you, oh, the world is shit and we're all going to hell.
Or if someone says to you, everything's brilliant and it's going to be a golden age. You know, they haven't told you anything at all about the world. They've told you a lot about themselves. They've told you about their reality tunnels. And the greatest moment when you finally realize that you're seeing through Bob's eyes is when you go online and you see a really bitter argument going on in the comments section somewhere between two people being horrible to each other. But you can see that about what the subject is, they actually agree with each other. But neither of them know because they're looking at it through different reality tunnels, usually political ones, political models.
And they've got no idea that they're completely in agreement in agreements about the basic sort of facts of what's going on. And I think we kind of do we could do it a lot more of that, actually. This is why I'm sort of hoping that Bob is not forgotten, that Bob continues to be read. When I met him, it was about 2004. He was old and he was frail. But everything I'd heard about him, about his sense of humor, about the lovely humility to him and the lovely sort of kindness and compassion to him, it was all very, very evident. It was all obviously there.
And I kind of thought and he had a hard life. He'd been dealt bad cards. He'd had polio as a kid. He had post polio syndrome all his life. And he could have quite easily had a reality tunnel that made him bitter about these things, although he wasn't as famous as he should have been. And he wasn't at all. He was such, such a lovely man. I thought, yeah, that's what multiple model agnosticism does to someone. We sort of need more of it. So, yeah, thank you. So for that reason, obviously I'm talking about things like that. And I'm very excited about what Daisy's going to be talking about in a few minutes.
And before I do questions, I'll just encourage you all, if you are fans of it, and you see a young'un, shove a buck at the young'uns. .