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Creativity, psi, and synchronicity: “The demon knows more than you know”

Robert Anton Wilson speaking at Phenomicon, Atlanta, GA, 1991

The link between creativity and the paranormal or supernatural is an old and enduring one, beginning with ancient ideas about the muse, daemon, and genius, which connected the inner world of artists and poets to the realm of the divine. For a detailed laying-out of this point, see especially chapters one and two of my A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius.

This link has received an increasing amount of very prominent attention in the past couple of years. Jeffrey Kripal, for instance, has written (in his book Mutants, Mystics, and Superheroes) about the bizarre synchronicities and paranormal perturbations that have long attended the work of comic book writers and artists, some of whose fictional envisionings have had a disturbing tendency to manifest in real life.

In a more formally scientific vein, clinical psychologist and parapsychologist James C. Carpenter devotes an entire chapter of his new and paradigm-defining book First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life to exploring the connection between psi and creativity. He writes, “The human act of creation, the production of some extraordinary poem or symphony or play or scientific theory, seems as mysterious and awesome as the furtive flashes of preknowing or distant seeing that we term psi. Human in their expression, both seem somehow extrahuman in their source. Logical consciousness can marvel at them and study them, but it cannot produce them at will.”  He then demonstrates with an abundance of experimental evidence and astute theoretical interpretation that psi and creativity “emerge from similar preconscious processes and are expressed by the same principles of operation.” (Look for a full review of Dr. Carpenter’s amazing book to appear here in the near future, and also at the New York Journal of Books, where I may be coming online as a reviewer.)

Then there’s the case of Robert Anton Wilson, who not only experienced the link between creativity and paranormality in his own life (as I explore in considerable depth in my essay about his, Aleister Crowley’s, and Timothy Leary’s interlinked engagement with a “higher intelligence,” available in the October 2012 issue of the journal Paranthropology) but had very compelling things to say about it. The main source of this material remains, of course, his many books, and particularly the original Cosmic Trigger, which is an extended account of the way his life was upended and taken over for several years by daimonic and paranormal weirdnesses that appeared directly related to his creative philosophical and philosophical creative endeavors. But when you comb through his various other materials, including his articles, essays, and interviews, you end up frequently running into additional statements and one-off comments that he made about the very same subject.

A current case in point — current because I stumbled across it just this morning — is found in an interview he gave to UFO writer Sean Casteel in 1998. Wilson’s observation that “the writing process does have a spooky side,” and that it seems worthwhile to preserve and honor this recognition in the words and concepts we use to think and talk about it, as opposed to inadvertently dismissing the mystery with knee-jerk references to “the unconscious mind,” could serve as the seed for a lifetime’s meditation on, and fruitful practice of, authorial creativity as a primary path to realizing one’s destiny.

ROBERT ANTON WILSON: I’ll tell you, the movie [Wag the Dog] seems to be a combination of what happened in the novel [American Hero, on which the movie was loosely based], in which George Bush started a war to goose up his popularity without any sexual scandals to motivate him, and the sexual scandals of the Clinton administration, which came after the book was written. So it is another example of the astonishing way in which writers, using their imagination, take something that happened already and embroider on it and describe something that is going to happen later also. Writers often write about things they don’t know and only later they find out they were doing that. When I first wrote that Beethoven was a member of the Illuminati, that was a joke. Then I read a biography of Beethoven that made it seem extremely likely.

SEAN CASTEEL: But when you have cases like that of synchronicity between a novel or a movie and real events, is that something they can in any way do consciously or deliberately?

RAW: No, you’ve just got to, as William Faulkner said, “trust the demon.” That means trust whatever it is that drives you to create fiction, to write creatively — trust it and see what comes out. It is always astonishing when you find out that the demon knows more than you know. Norman Mailer calls it the “navigator in the unconscious.” You don’t have to call it a demon. Faulkner just liked to be Gothic.

SC: They taught us the same thing in a fiction class at college. The best stuff just kind of wells up from the unconscious of its own will.

RAW: That is the modern jargon for it. I actually prefer Faulkner’s poetic language, because the writing process does have a spooky side, which psychological models seem to ignore. But everybody uses the metaphors that work for them.

— Sean Casteel, “Robert Anton Wilson Q and A,” Conspiracy Journal, 1998

(A hat tip to the RAW Online Library — which can provide hours or days of great reading — for turning up this gem via a link on their RAW interviews page.)

Image by frankenstoen [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Recommended Reading 28

This week: posthumously offered words of warning and encouragement to an America in decline from Ernest Callenbach, author of the 1975 classic Ecotopia; insightful meditations on the intrinsic value of the humanities and their inherent resistance to being explained (as in, explained away) by quantitative scientific methodologies and approaches; a 1908 essay by a French author celebrating the philosophical value of “the scientific-marvelous novel,” i.e., science fiction; a penetrating essay by Adam Curtis on a classic 1990s BBC television series about ghosts and what it reveals about the real residing place of phantoms and specters in our modern mass media culture; and an essay by clinical psychologist and paranormal researcher James Carpenter on his fascinating theory about the fundamental and a priori place of what’s commonly called “psi” in the basic workings of human consciousness and perception. Read the rest of this entry