SCIENCE FACTION SHELF
Exo-Psychology, By Timothy Leary, Peace Press, Los Angeles, 134 pp.; $7.
The Eighth Tower, By John A. Keel, Signet, New York, 1977, 250 pp., $1. 75.
Prolongevity, By Albert Rosenfeld, Knopf, New York, 1976; 250 pp., $8.95.
The Immortalist, By Alan Harrington, Celestial Arts, Millbrae, 1977, 313 pp., $5.95.
Reviewed By Robert Anton Wilson
from Science Fiction Review, No. 23, November, 1977
It is getting harder and harder to draw a line between science-fact – and science-fiction, because the implications of current science are often more staggering than anything published in Analog or Galaxyten years ago. The rate of acceleration of social-technological change is itself changing at an accelerating rate; Prof. Gerard O’Neill’s space-city designs are already more Futuristic than the Clarke-Kubrick spaceships in 2001.
Dr. Timothy Leary, typically, has accepted the interpenetration of science-fact and science-fiction cheerfully, as an inevitable development; he calls his new book, Exo-Psychology, “science-faction,” on the grounds that his facts come from science and his style or way of organizing the facts is deliberately science-fiction in flavor.
Exo-Psychology is an astonishing performance even for the Most Controversial Man in America. It’s only 134 pages long, but it incorporates literally hundreds of bright new ideas in psychology, neurology, ethology, astro-physics, genetics, sociology and dozens of other sciences, making it one of the most compressed, condensed, highly charged books I’ve ever seen. Attempting to summarize it is like attempting to summarize the Britannica; to review it is like reviewing 20th Century culture itself.
Leary asserts that DNA was seeded on Earth (and on millions of other planets) by Higher Intelligence. This does not mean “the police-court Jehovah” of monotheism; he says precisely. Higher Intelligencemight be (a) an advanced interstellar civilization, as suggested by Nobel geneticist Sir Francis Crick, the first to propose that DNA was seeded here; or (b) ourselves-in-the-future traveling backwards in time, as suggested by physicists Jack Sarfatti and Saul Paul Sirag; or (c) sun-atomic consciousness, as suggested by physicist Evan Harris Walker.
Higher Intelligence, Leary proceeds, designed the DNA to evolve, through metamorphoses and migration, into ever more complex and. more intelligent forms. Evolution is not guided by “least possible effort and greatest possible blunder” (Neitzsche’s caricature of Darwinism) but by a pre-programmed “brain” within the DNA tape-loop.
All living organisms, then, are survival-machines designed by DNA to transport itself about, reproduce itself and create more and better DNA. In short, we are, as geneticist Herbert Muller likes to say, “giant robots” programmed by DNA for its own purposes; we are “fragile, easily replicable units,” Leary adds, because DNA can make myriads of duplicates of us.
At each stage of development, each individual robot takes a new imprint in the ethological sense and thus mutates from one “tunnel-reality” to another. For instance, the emotional game-playing of the toddling infant recapitulates mammalian territorial rituals, and the infant lives in a primate tunnel-reality at that stage. The school-child learning to parrot lessons lives in a Paleolithic tunnel-reality. The adolescent gang recapitulates the barbarian horde (Attila, Genghis Khan, etc.) The domesticated adult lives in the tunnel-reality of his or her tribal guilt-virtue game.
No conditioning techniques, Leary insists, can permanently change such imprints. Skinner’s Behavior Mod works only so long as the conditioner has the victim more or less imprisoned and totally controls reward and punishment. Once the subject gets free of the conditioner, behavior drifts back to the biochemical circuits of the original imprint.
The only way to change an imprint, then, is to dissolve it chemically at the synaptic level. If anybody but yourself alters your imprints this way, by chemical intervention in the nervous system, that person can totally brainwash you.
On the other hand, Leary says, if you can learn how to use neurochemicals for serial re-imprinting of your own nervous system, you graduate to a new level of evolution, which he calls 12, which means intelligence-squared, or intelligence studying-intelligence, i.e. the nervous system studying and re-imprinting itself. You can then become as smart as you wish, as brave as you wish, as happy as you wish, as wise as you wish. This is a quantum jump above the robot-level at which animal life, and most of humanity, have functioned hitherto.
There is no end to this serial imprinting. “The more intelligent you become,” Leary says, “the more you see the advantage in becoming even more intelligent.”
The result of this self-metaprogramming is that all the Utopias and Heavenly visions of our imagination can be achieved; we need only imprint these possibilities to make them neurologically real, and then we can begin making them physically real. “Since no one can allow the game to become bigger than Hir concept of the game (what is not imprinted is pot real to the primate brain) therefore let us define the game as large, fast, intense, precise as possible: Unlimited Space, Unlimited Time and Unlimited Intelligence to enjoy same.”
Leary’s summarizes this goal into the acronym, SMI2LE, which means Space Migration, Intelligence Squared, and Life Extension. After the neuropsychology of imprinting is clarified, most of Exo-Psychology deals with the practicality of beginning this Triple Mutation immediately.
Albert Rosenfeld’s Prolongevity deals with 1/3 of Dr. Leary’s Triple Mutation program – Life Extension. Rosenfeld, who was science editor of Life for 11 years and is now science editor of Saturday Review, seems to have interviewed everybody engaged in Life Extension research in the United States – or, if not, he probably didn’t miss more than a few of them. They all agree that a quantum jump in human lifespan is a very real possibility very soon.
There are degrees of optimism, of course; some speak of merely doubling human lifespan, adding another 70 years; others talk of extending life into centuries or thousands of years; one chapter is devoted to scientific Immortalists, who think we can conquer death entirely sooner or later.
Prolongevity (a title James Joyce would have loved) is sheer science-faction; the implications are staggering, but the sources are all reputable scientists, who have hard facts to back up their hopes.
Rosenfeld concludes with a 40 page philosophical discussion titled “Shoud We Do It?” in which he discusses the arguments against Life Extension and finds them all weak and short-sighted.
Longevity, to Rosenfeld, means “To have time to travel everywhere” – he neglects to note that this must eventually include Leary’s Unlimited Space – “and go back again and again to favorite places. To go on learning – new skills, new sports, new languages, new musical instruments… To read everything you want to read. To listen to all the music, to look at all the pictures, and even paint a few. To savor and re-savor experience and arrive, not at boredom but at new levels of appreciation…” (Serial re-imprinting, or I2.)
“There could arise a new breed of human being,” Rosenfeld says, “who, merely by virtue of longevity, through acquisition of a steadily maturing wisdom and a steadily expanding awareness, could finally become… a being worthy to be the trustee of our future evolution.”
Rosenfeld agrees with Leary that DNA has programmed us (all life-forms on this planet) to survive, reproduce and die. He also suggests that, in creating humanity, DNA programmed a robot conscious enough to resent death and intelligent enough to do something about it eventually.
Leary and Rosenfeld could say, like Gurdjieff, “Our way is against God and against Nature” – except that they see DNA (the modern equivalent of what mystics meant by “God” and “Nature”) as programming this rebellion also. As a “self-developing organism” (Gurdjieff’ s term), Humankind seems to have been programmed with all the characteristics necessary to transcend the limitations of biological life as it has hitherto existed on this planet.
The ultimate, or a kind of ultimate, in this line of speculation is Alan Harrington’s The Immortalist, which may be as important as Das Kapital or The Origin of Species or The Golden Bough.Harrington, an old friend of Kerouac and Ginsberg and one of the original creators of the Beat Generation of the 1950s, has not mellowed out on Buddhism, tranquilized himself with Transcendental Masturbation, or collapsed into paranoia and bitterness. Instead, he has become more revolutionary and more Utopian over the years. The Immortalist is one of those rare books that challenges you to re-think your basic philosophy about the universe totally. It is the literary equivalent of finding a rattlesnake in your bedsheets; you can’t ignore it you have to take a stand and make a decision about it.
When Harrington last spoke in Berkeley, a few months ago, he was shouted down and booed off the stage in a demonstration of hooliganism that hasn’t been seen here since Alan Watts was similarly mistreated by Left Fascists back in 1966. It is, of course, a tribute to both Watts and Harrington that they were not permitted to speak; this shows how powerful their ideas are, and how frightening such ideas are to certain neophobes.
The Immortalist carries current life extension research and theory to the logical conclusion: Humanity, Harrington proposes, can and should ultimately conquer death.
“Death,” Harrington says, “is an imposition on the human race, and no longer acceptable.”
“Let us hire the scientists,” he says,’ “and spend the money, and hunt down death like an outlaw.”
Where Rosenfeld provides the, scientific evidence that longevity and eventual immortality are possible, Harrington tackles the much heavier question of their desirability, and does not hesitate to damn and blast every organized ideology based on the acceptance of death. Christianity has never received such a brilliant philosophical assault since the days of H. L. Mencken, and Buddhism and other, more intellectually fashionable religions are treated with no more tenderness. Those who love death, Harrington insists, have the right to die; but they have no right to tell those who love life that we have no moral ormetaphysical right to extend it indefinitely. He is quite willing to dance on their graves, but he is not going to let them persuade him to crawl into the grave next to them.
The Immortalist smashes more sacred cows, questions more “unquestionable” dogmas, assaults more prejudices, than any single book I have ever read. Gore Vidal has already said, with some awe, “Mr. Harrington may have written the most important book of our time.” I would go further: Alan Harrington has written the most important book of the millennium.
“Poor Allen Ginsberg,” Tim Leary said to me recently. “He lives in constant fear that the future is going to be different from the past.” The same fate has overtaken most of the radicals of the 50’s and 60’s, who are now the most nostalgic and reactionary people around. Alan Harrington stands head and shoulders above all of them, looking bravely into the future while they day-dream wistfully of a dead and irrelevantpast.
“Let us now turn to the gentiles,” as St. Thomas once wrote. John A. Keel’s The Eighth Tower is as apocalyptical as the works of Leary, Rosenfeld or Harrington, but in an entirely different way. It is the UFO book in the “revisionist” tradition of Dr. Jacques Vallee, Dr. J. Alan Hynek and Brad Steiger; that is, it accepts UFOs as real and tangible, not hallucinatory, but it rejects the extra-terrestrial interpretation of these beasties offered by most pro-UFO writers and almost all “Contactees.”
Keel, in an. earlier book, Our Haunted Planet, had attributed UFOs to a group he caned “Wings Over The World” (WOW), a hypothetical super-mensa frankly derived from H. G. Wells’ Things to Come. He has also called them “ultra-terrestrials,” an inconveniently ambiguous term, or “the crew that never rests” (a phrase borrowed by Sir Walter Scott’s Letters on Witchcraft.
WOW or the crew that never rests has been around since the beginning of history, Keel argues. Where skeptics ask, “Why haven’t they contacted us,” Keel asks instead, “Why the hell won’t they leave us alone?” They created all the miracles of the major religions and can manifest gods, demons, angels or UFOs as easily as a stage magician pulls rabbits from a hat. The Bavarian Illuminati, the Nine Unknown Men, the Ascended Masters, the Secret Chiefs, etc. are other routines this versatile magical theatre has used in its games with humanity.
Keel presents an enormous amount of evidence in only 200 pages, and he does not make comfortable reading. If you want to regard WOW as a single intelligence and call it “God,” Keel will go along with you on that metaphor, but he insists that you face the consequences. On the basis of its dealing with humanity, he points out, it looks as if “God is a crackpot.”
The only other book I’ve seen that goes that far was called God Rides a Flying Saucer (author forgotten, alas) which concludes clinically, on the basis of the same sort of evidence that Keel sifts through here, that “God” is a paranoid schizophrenic.
Keel Once admitted (in Our Haunted Planet) that some of his theories are tongue-in-cheek; although he doesn’t admit that here, I suspect that it is still true. He does quote The Master of Those Who Don’t Know, Charles Fort, to the effect that there is no way to discover something new without being offensive, and he certainly is offensive. I suspect that his ultimate aim is agnostic: to make us aware that there are mysteries we cannot yet explain.
I suppose Keel will be experienced as a royal pain-in-the-neck by Fundamentalists of all persuasions, whether they stopped their intellectual growth with the theology of the 13th Century, like religious conservatives, or with the science of 1950, like Martin Gardner, high priest of the Materialist Church.
To those with really open minds, Keel is bracing, provocative and even amusing.