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Eco and Wilson: Guerrilla Ontologists Are Mist

Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.—Umberto EcoIl costume di casa (1973); as translated in Travels in Hyperreality (1986)
"Belief in the traditional sense, or certitude, or dogma, amounts to the grandiose delusion, "My current model" -- or grid, or map, or reality-tunnel -- "contains the whole universe and will never need to be revised." In terms of the history of science and knowledge in general, this appears absurd and arrogant to me, and I am perpetually astonished that so many people still manage to live with such a medieval attitude.—Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger 1, Final Secret Of The Illuminati.

For Umberto Eco 1932-2016


I read Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco more than 18 years ago, and i found it very dense and difficult back then, but influential none the less. I also tackled ‘Apocalypse Postponed’ (from Stourbridge Library) which i enjoyed much more, probably because it was non-fiction, and so accessible to my non-classical taste at the time. Did Umberto get high? i asked in my 20s. Still, the text required a slow reading, and challenged me on every page. Although i enjoyed Eco, i did not continue my affair with his works. Although, i acknowledged his greatness among living philosophers, i did not ever think to compare him with Robert Anton Wilson. On the passing of Eco last week, i found myself doing this in my head, and thought. Dang, might just as well write it down and out. I apologise in advance for any misrepresentations and/or skewed interpretations on my behalf, when writing of these intellectual giants.--Steve Fly

Eco and Wilson: Guerrilla Ontologists

  Umberto Eco and RAW have much in common, not least being born in the same year,1932. They were intellectual titans, able to swim out to the vast ocean of philosophy and science, classical history, occultism, and the history of secret societies, and drag the full net back to the shore of humanity in the form of fucking good story, over and over again. They both produced a mixture of scholarly works and fictional novels. They were renaissance scholars who each produced work that inspired a flurry of imitators. The Da Vinci code, by Dan Brown for example, seemed to me like a watered down mixture of major themes from Eco, in particular his most popular ‘In the name of the rose’ and Wilson’s ‘Historical Illuminatus Chronicles’ but who can really put a finger or a paw on it?  

  Both had deep interest, and a unique methodology of expressing thoughts about ‘reality’, that old slippery fish. Eco developed a rich latticework to represent the premise of ‘hyperreality’ inspired by his study of semiotics, and he translated and share his complex ideas with a large audience, a pretty rare achievement for a public figure, an intellectual who writes novels.

  Eco studied at many great learning centres of the world, in the thick of academia, whereas Dr. Wilson travelled an unorthodox route, largely an autodidactic species of genius. You could say Eco was high brow and Wilson low brow, but any two-valued comparisons such as high and low should be treated with suspicion. Both philosopher novelists turned their back on Catholicism at a young age, but continued to include it as a recurring theme.   

Not accidentally, Standard English also assumes a sort of "glass wall" between observer and observed, while English Prime draws us back into the modern quantum world where observer and observed form a seamless unity.--Robert Anton Wilson, Quantum Psychology.

  Wilson was a strong proponent of many different theories of ‘reality’, or perhaps he might say ‘Reality tunnels’ with an accent on the pluralistic nature of things, the process oriented world view. Wilson trawled the fields of semantics, cognitive psychology, quantum mechanics and design science, together with a practical interest in mysticism and neuro-metaprogramming. Inspired by Alfred Korzybski and ideas from Aleister Crowley, together with his friends Alan Watts, Dr. John Lilly, Timothy Leary and Buckminster Fuller, Wilson also had a legendary sense of humour.   

  The following quotes from Wikipedia put a nice touch to the term ‘Guerrilla Ontologist’, a tag which RAW was fond of using. Wilson published one of his first essays on James Joyce in 1958. 

'In 1967 he gave the influential lecture "Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare", which coined the influential term "semiological guerrilla," and influenced the theorization of guerrilla tactics against mainstream mass media culture, such as guerrilla television and culture jamming. Among the expressions used in the essay are "communications guerrilla warfare" and "cultural guerrilla." The essay was later included in Eco's book Faith in Fakes.--

"His novels are full of subtle, often multilingual, references to literature and history. Eco's work illustrates the concept of intertextuality, or the inter-connectedness of all literary works. Eco cited James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges as the two modern authors who have influenced his work the most.--

I think that both Eco and Wilson, with their open pluralistic philosophy, or Guerrilla Ontology, and their interconnected novelistic techniques, of including real historical and literary forces, distorted by a surrealist mirror on set of lenses, would be delighted by the latest psychological research in the field of ‘Virtual Reality’. Here we have evidence that each individual perceives a different universe, due to the changing parameters of each human sensory system. In VR each participant gets a different audio visual experience, confronted with the fact that if you are not looking at something, how are you supposed to know it is there? and to a lesser degree this applies to sounds from behind too. 

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.—Philip K. Dick.

  Experiments show that even trained minds, fully aware that a they are in a simulation, perhaps walking across a steep drop on a plank, will wobble, shake and react almost unconsciously, as if, they were REALLY in the simulated scene. Meditation can have a similar effect, as can some drug use, and in fact all consciousness change techniques confront a similar question.    

  With VR, however, it’s like coming at it from another place altogether, a place where you are suddenly forced to face deep rooted questions of the nature of reality, identity, perception, likes and fears etc. You do not have to train the mind to be still, so that the clear images may emerge, or chemically alter your neuro-semantic system, no, although these techniques have their own plus and minus points. No, a convincing 3D immersive audio/visual simulation can trigger similar neuro-chemical activity, resulting in dormant, perhaps unconscious but instinctive sensory responses. It does not take much to pull the wool, or goggles, over the eyes, and influence the deep rooted physical responses to neural stimulation. I predict that soon, one may propose a new '360 immersive' expression of the meaning of Quantum Mechanics, or Quantum Entanglement, or Mirror Neurons. Make it new.

democratic civilization will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical reflection — not an invitation for hypnosis.—Umberto Eco"Can Television Teach?" in Screen Education 31 (1979), p. 12.

  This is my hacked together message, a trigger, whereby i hope you at least go and read Dr Wilson and Umberto Eco again. Contemplate for yourself the nature of reality and realities, and of virtual reality and virtual realities, and perhaps if you are fortunate, with the additional help of the latest VR hardware. With luck, in here, some of the the foundational principles of general semantics, and semiotics, can ride shotgun together, inside the latest 3D VR environments. 

  I think we are going to require innovative tools to help the public at large gain more empathy for what is beyond their senses, and learn to better discern the real from the unreal, or...the pretty much real from the not really so real, and so on...

...New tools to combat naive realism, together with captivating games, films, porn and beyond, all media that will shape and meta-program the minds of many generations to come. In VR, you may finally be able to go fuck yourself backwards, convincingly enough to never say that phrase again without wincing.        

—Steve Fly.

I'll leave you with these thoughts...
The conspiracy theory of society . . . comes from abandoning God and then asking: "Who is in his place? - Karl Popper. From Yesod, Chapter 118 of Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

"You need the "is of identity" to describe conspiracy theories. Korzybski would say that proves that illusions, delusions, and "mental" illnesses require the "is" to perpetuate them. (He often said, "Isness is an illness.”) Korzybski also popularized the idea that most sentences, especially the sentences that people quarrel over or even go to war over, do not rank as propositions in the logical sense, but belong to the category that Bertrand Russell called propositional functions. They do not have one meaning, as a proposition in logic should have; they have several meanings, like an algebraic function.— Robert Anton Wilson, Language as Conspiracy, p. 277.