Robert Anton Wilson was a giant of the 20th century underground. Here’s the four essential books you need to understand his thinking—and warp your own.
Robert Anton Wilson is one of High Weirdness’ most cherished psychonauts, and one of the most infamous of the 20th century’s underground figures. He worked with iconoclastic figures like as Timothy Leary, as well as doing a stint as an associate editor for Playboy. Wilson also wrote cult classics like Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, and co-authored The Illuminatus! Trilogy with Robert Shea.
In his works, Wilson explored a diverse range of themes including conspiracy theories, quantum physics and radical politics, but what he’s arguably best known for are his writings on consciousness change. These include his work with Timothy Leary’s 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness, general semantics, yoga, meditation and Aleister Crowley’s system of magick. (Check out our guide to some of his most out-there thought experiments here.)
A huge figure in the counterculture movement, Wilson has influenced a huge range of other authors—among them Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and R.U. Sirius. Here’s a list of his four most essential works:
1. The Illuminatus! Trilogy
The Illuminatus! Trilogy is best described post-modern science-fiction detective novel. Winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame award of 1986, Wilson coauthored the psychedelic tome with fellow Playboy editor Robert Shea. Illuminatus! follows a nonlinear narrative, often switching between first and third person, about an ancient fight between shadow societies. Filled with copious amounts of drugs and sex, the novel covers themes like conspiracy theories, magick rituals and Discordianism. It’s an example of Wilson’s idea of “guerrilla ontology”: the reader, never left with a direct answer and dealt numerous contradictions within the text, is left on their own to decide how much is actually real and how much is satire.
2. Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati
In many ways, this book is even weirder than The Illuminatus! Trilogy. The first and most important installment of his autobiographical trilogy, Cosmic Trigger is part autobiography and part philosophical head trip. In this book, Wilson relates his experiences contacting a nonhuman intelligence hailing from Sirius, but somehow manages to keep his shit together. He elaborates on much of what was covered in Illuminatus: secret societies, synchronicity, Sufism, Discordianism, quantum physics, Crowleyan magick, among many other topics. Like all of his works, Wilson wants the reader to decide for themselves what is real and to draw their own conclusions.
3. Prometheus Rising
Described as a guide book of “how to get from here to there,” with Prometheus Rising Wilson has the intention of giving the reader more control over how their mind works. Published in 1983, Prometheus Rising began as Wilson’s Ph.D. dissertation, but he eventually rewrote it, adding more chapters and exercises at the end of each chapter. In this book, Wilson walks the student through Timothy Leary’s 8-circuit model of consciousness, examining techniques such yoga, Tantric breathing, general semantics and psychedelic drugs. Each chapter ends with a set of exercises designed to explore consciousness evolution and achieve intelligence increase.
4. Quantum Psychology
Quantum Psychology follows much the same formula as Prometheus Rising, only it is intended to be read with a group. Wilson covers much the same territory as he did in his previous work, but still keeps it fresh and interesting.
In the video below, Bob himself passes on some of his best techniques for brain change.
(Image via RAWilson.com)