IN HIS LATEST work Colin Wilson addresses the same theme that has consistently threaded its way through all of his books, beginning with the The Outsider , which brought him world attention in his early twenties-that so-called "conscious" human beings are pygmies, mere fragments of their true selves.
But, he avers, "human beings will one day recognize, beyond all possibility of doubt, that consciousness is freedom. When this happens, consciousness will cease to suffer from mistrust of its own nature. . . . Instead of wasting most of its energies in retreats and uncertainties and excursions into blind alleys, consciousness will recycle its energies into its own evolution. The feedback point will mark a new stage in the history of the planet earth."
Part of Wilson's hopeful conclusion is directly based on his personal confrontation with a series of what he calls "panic anxiety attacks" which lasted several months and brought him to the edge of a nervous breakdown. In one of them-which struck him while in a sleeping -car berth of a night train-the panic was so overpowering he was afraid he might suffer cardiac arrest.
Wilson's account of how he finally overcame these attacks is a courageous example of how it is possible to deal with oppressive problems through introspection. And it leads him to pose a question: Why are most of us so stuck, like flies on flypaper, in our present predicaments, as to have lost the power to escape what amounts to a time-trap?
Wilson lays a large share of the blame for this state of affairs on our incessant search for security. He maintains that while freedom from risk and doubt is essential to human experience, to overemphasize it slow down the learning experience we have come upon this planet to acquire. A simple analogy would be that the easiest way to acquint oneself with the delights-and dangers-of a new city is to walk its streest alone. One would view one's surroundings with heightened perceptions, induced and enhanced by solitude; such an effect would be many times more difficult to achieve were one accompanied by a group, or even a single companion or, say, driven around the city by friends.
This is because, in Wilson's view, "a subconscious sense of security causes attention to to sleep. "Thus, most of us are parially or entirely asleep during our "waking" hours. Whithout a sentry's intensity of vigilance, which also implies apprehension in the several meanings of that term, all of us become robots (from the Czech for "compulsory labor" or "drudgery")-"unconscious servants" performing the automatic tasks of everyday life.
When we are alert, inquistive, energetic and imbued with awareness of the manifold mysteries surrounding us, the robot within us stays where it belongs, in the background. In states of fatigue, boredom self doubt and anxiety, it emerges to assert control and simultaneously causes everything in our environment to appear increasingly less real. If it assumes full dominance, life becomes a permanent unreality.
The unfortunate truth is that humans, in the present stage of their evolution, appear all too ready to accept lack of meaning, just as animals accept physical suffering. Wilson believes that only shock or crisis can release them from a state of suffocation and bring them to a realization of higher purpose and a feeling of being totally alive. Although, altruistic behavior would seem to prove that enlightened individuals in all walks of life can achieve such realization without the prompting need of trauma.
Throughout his book, and especially in the first quarter, Wilson pays homage to the little known writings of Tom Lethbridge, a Cambridge University archaeology don, who became fascinated with the as yet sceintifically unexplained art of dowsing. The verb "to dowse," of uncertain etymology, means to seach, with the aid of a simple hand-held instrument such as a forked stick, for anything from subtterranean water to an airplane downed in a mountain wilderness, a disabled ship helplessly adrift in a gale, a lost walled, a missing person, or a buried treasure. All of these have been located by competent dowsers when other means proved incapable of finding them.
Lethbridge's pursuit of the dowsing art, a method of information access that seems to transcend normal limits of both time and space, opened his scholar's vision to unimagined horizons. "From living a normal life in a three-dimensional world," he acknowledges in one of his early books, "I seem to have suddenly fallen through into one where there are more dimensions. The three-dimensional world goes on as usual but one has to adjust one's thinking to the other."
Readers of Mysteries will be called upon, as Lethbridge has been, to adjust their thinking to worlds beyond the bleakly materialist and limited version of the cosmos presently expounded by mainstream science. In so doing, they will be introduced ot an encyclopedic panoply of marvels and worthwhile philosophical insights, all of which are as entertaining as they are distrubing