Outside the Outsider
"...we possess all kinds of unknown
powers, and the science of the future will be an exploration of these
with Colin Wilson
Colin Wilson was born in Leicester, England, in 1931, the son of a
boot and shoe worker. He left school at the age of sixteen, spent some
time working in taxes and the Royal Air Force, then became a tramp and did
various laboring jobs for several years while writing his first novel
Ritual in the Dark and then his first book The Outsider. Living
on almost no money, he would sleep outside at night in London, and spend
his days writing in the British Museum. After his first book became a
best-seller in 1956, he took to writing full-time and moved to Cornwall,
where he lives to this day. In the mid-1960s, he was commissioned to write
a book about the "paranormal, " became fascinated by the subject, and has
written a number of hooks on paranormal phenomena. He has also written
several works on criminology, psychology, and numerous novels with science
fiction and fantasy themes.
Colin is incredibly prolific, and has produced over sixty books to
date. Some of his well-known titles include The Occult, Mysteries, The
Mind Parasites, and The Philosopher's Stone. His favorite
recreation is listening to music and at his home he has a large collection
of opera recordings. Except for occasional lecturing trips abroad he lives
near Mevagissey in Cornwall with his wife and two sons. I interviewed
Colin, while Rebecca was abroad, outside the cafeteria at the Esalen
Institute on the afternoon of September 16, 1990. There is a
laser-beam-like intensity to Colin, and he has an extremely focused and
well-disciplined mind. Colin spoke eloquently about his interest in the
paranormal, the relationship between sex and creativity, certainty and
ambiguity, life after death, and the new emerging species that he believes
is evolving out of humanity.
DJB: Colin, what was it that originally inspired your interest in the
occult and the paranormal?
COLIN: I was simply asked to write a book about the paranormal by a
publisher in 1968. At first I was not very interested, although I'd always
been mildly interested in the occult. I would buy books in American
airports about ghosts, weird coincidences, or whatever. Never the less I
took it on as rather a lighthearted thing, and I would not have been the
least upset to discover that the whole thing was just a tissue of nonsense
and wishful thinking.
However, when I had agreed to write the book for the sake of money, and
began to go into the subject, I became increasingly fascinated as I saw
that there's as much evidence for the paranormal as there is for atoms and
electrons. Moreover, what excited me so much was that my work had all been
about this recognition that we possess powers that we do not normally know
about or use. This appeared to be the perfect example of all kinds of
powers we don't know about or use. So that it was a direct extension of my
work in The Outsider, as it were. I stumbled upon it at just the right
DJB: Aha, or it stumbled upon you. Why do you think that magic is the
science of the future?
COLIN: In a way this supplements the last question that you asked.
Because what I was saying is that we possess all kinds of unknown powers,
and the science of the future will be an exploration of these powers. But
at the present science does not accept the unknown powers, and it's still
putting up a terrific struggle against the paranormal. You know this
Society for the Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal, and so on.
It seems to me that this is old-fashioned science, of the most narrow and
materialistic kind. You have just got to be tolerant, and open up to this
other possibility of unknown powers, which at the moment, we do not fully
DJB: I believe that you have said that if your first book made
millions, you may have stopped writing at that point, implying that a lack
of money motivated you to write more. Now I have always thought just the
opposite--that a lack of financial freedom actually inhibits many people
from creative expression. Are you saying then that it was money that
motivated you to write your first book, and if not, what was it?
COLIN: Oh no, of course not. The first book, in any case, The Outsider,
was written simply out of this compulsion that I have been speaking about
all weekend. It was this basic fascination obviously that motivated me,
not money. Neither have I said that if I had become a millionaire I would
have stopped writing. I most certainly would not have. What I have said
is, that if my first novel Ritual in the Dark had been turned into a
movie, as it almost was in 1960, all of my subsequent novels would
probably have been filmed and I would have been very comfortably off. But
certainly I would not have been driven in the way that I have been driven,
and I can not help feeling when I look back on this that the way that I
have been driven is not necessarily a bad thing.
Once, Fritz Peters turned to Gurdjieff in a state of depression, and
Gurdjieff was forced to make a terrific effort to get him out of this
depression. Then at this moment crowds of people arrived, and Gurdjieff,
from looking exhausted, suddenly looked absolutely, magnificently full of
vitality. He said to Peters, you have forced me to make a terrific effort,
but this has been very good for both of us. Thank you for reminding me.
Now, very often the very efforts we do not want to make prove to be the
very best that we could make. So, in a sense, being too successful would
simply remove some of that inner pressure. You would slip into what I have
been calling ambiguity.
DJB: What similarities and differences do you see between pathological
or criminal minds and the creative process?
COLIN: Shaw said that we judge the criminal by his lowest moments, and
the creator by his highest moments. So obviously, in a sense, they are
absolute opposites, and that is what's so interesting about them. And yet
you can also see very often that the criminal maybe, particularly
nowadays, a quite interesting intellectual creative sort of person. And
that when he explodes, as let's say Bundy did, into crime, he's choosing a
path just as much as let's say a painter, like Picasso, or more Van Gogh,
chooses to create this kind of thing.
The explosive sort of force behind Van Gogh's painting is obviously a
force based upon a sort of frustration, and it's the same frustration that
you would find in a criminal. The only difference is, of course, that Van
Gogh deliberately makes the effort to transmute that to a much higher
level. The criminal merely says, oh the hell with it, lets go, and
invariably destroys himself in doing so, destroys something essential in
There's a play by Pushkin called Mozart and Salieri in which he
explores this myth that Salieri murdered Mozart. One of the main points of
the play is discussion in which they state that a man who is a criminal
cannot also be a great creator. When Salieri has poisoned Mozart, it
suddenly strikes him that he's poisoned Mozart because he considers him
his chief musical rival. But, in a sense, by poisoning him, he's proved
that he himself is no Mozart. He's a second-rater.
DJB: You said this weekend that it is mathematically provable that
"head consciousness is the answer." Do you think that the intellectual
mind is superior to the emotional circuit in regard to solving the
problems of human existence, as you seemed to imply here this weekend at
Esalen? Don't you agree that one should integrate many ways of "Knowing,"
as you say, besides the intellectual mode of interpretation? For
instance--sensory, emotional, phermonal, intuitive, perhaps telepathic,
COLIN: What I have said basically is that up to now, the twentieth
century culture has tended to emphasize these other modes you mention. So
that, for example, someone like D. H. Lawrence said, what we have to do is
so back to the solar plexus, to sexuality, and mistrust the intellect.
Henry Miller would have said the same kind of thing. Walt Whitman also was
saying in a way, trust the body. Now, all of this is perfectly correct in
its way, but if Walt Whitman had said trust only the body, or D.H.
Lawrence had said trust only the solar plexus, then they would have been
Now what I'm trying to say is that the body, the solar plexus, and all
of the rest of them, play their part in this synthesis. You know the old
Latin tag, men same encalporsano, a sane mind in a sane body. But, at the
same time we have to recognize that the ultimate arbiter is the mind, and
that when you see something to be true, as it were, you can see that it is
true intellectually, Now it is this intellectual recognition of truth that
must be the foundation of all these other things. No good having this D.H.
Lawrence attitude that you should not trust the intellect because it will
always tell you lies. This is the reason that Lawrence's novels,
particularly ones like Women in Love and so on, always end with a strange
feeling of bitterness, defeat, and futility.
DJB: What do you think happens to human consciousness after physical
COLIN: As a result of writing the book Afterlife, and studying this, I
came almost reluctantly to the conclusion that it does survive, that there
is survival after death. It would not worry me terribly if there weren't,
because it seems to me logical that when I fall asleep, I disappear. I
could not really complain if that happened to me after I died. It would
seem natural to say that the solution to the problem of human existence
lies elsewhere than in the notion that we have got to continue to exist.
And yet the evidence is that we do continue to exist. And I don't think
that there's any possible doubt about it.
DJB: Why do you think there's such a fear of death then?
COLIN: For the obvious reason that most people are not aware of this.
I'm not even sure that it would be terribly good for them to be aware of
it. As it is, people who have near-death experiences say that it's so
exquisite that they are often resentful about being pulled back. It would
be too bad if death became, as it were, the outlet for everybody in the
way that drugs or alcohol can be.
DJB: That sounds like a good design for the universe. Have you ever had
any experiences communicating with beings that you felt were
extraterrestrial in origin, or not from this world?
DJB: You have said that evidence for free will stems not from
recognizing that we robotically fulfill desires like hunger and sleep, but
from the recognition that we can think what we want. But how do you know
that you can think what you want--especially in light of the knowledge
that by changing neurochemistry we change consciousness?
COLIN: I said that William James' proof that he was not just a machine,
that he possesses free will, was this recognition that you can think one
thing rather than another. And there's no doubt whatever that we can do
that. You may feel that everything else is mechanically determined, that
what I do next can be explained in completely mechanical terms. I am going
to dinner because I am hungry, and so on and so forth. But there is that
one thing that makes it absolutely certain that we do possess free will,
and that is the fact that you can think one thing rather than another. You
can change in mid-stride, so to speak, and think something else.
DJB: Why do you view the psychedelic experience as a step backwards in
evolution--to our instincts, as you say--when so many people seem to claim
just the opposite?
COLIN: If Tim Leary's claim was that you could, use the psychedelic
experience to find your way into new realms of subjectivity, and then use
it to find your way back there without the psychedelic, I would agree, it
would be extremely valuable. What tends to happen is that when people get
into these realms they find that there are no words to express what they
are seeing, and so in a sense the experience is useless. They can just
say, well it was wonderful. And what's more, of course, this kind of
experience of--it was wonderful, but I can't express it--tends, I think,
to cause a kind of pessimism, a feeling that the only way I can get the
experience is by taking the psychedelic again. Which is the reason, you
see, that, as I say, after taking it once myself, I would not dream of
taking it again.
DJB: But if people were able to integrate it into their lives in a
COLIN: Yup. If they were able to integrate it, I would entirely agree.
DJB: How do you see human consciousness evolving in the future, and
what do you think the next stage in human evolution will be?
COLIN: That is something that I've been trying to explain all weekend.
At the moment we have passed through centuries in which the pendulum has
swung backwards and forwards between total materialism and a curious
desire of human beings to explore their own potentialities, a weird
feeling that you know there's far more than the material world. Succeeding
movements from the platonic movement in ancient Greece, right down to
Romanticism in the nineteenth century, and this present consciousness
explosion that you're now getting in America--all of these are back
You see, when I wrote The Outsider most people were determinedly sort
of Left-Wing. Any sort of intellectual you would talk to was almost
certainly a Marxist or a Left-Winger. And they thought the only sensible
question to ask was, how can we get a fairer, more balanced political
system. In the sixties all that disappeared, and you suddenly began to get
the consciousness explosion, which is still continuing. Now the swing is
towards the recognition that the consciousness explosion is the answer. We
have got to keep moving in that direction.
There must be no back swing into total materialism. This, you see, is
the really interesting and exciting thing that's happening. We've got to
stop thinking in terms of possibly going back. Whatever happens now, we
must go forward. I think that we have now reached a point in human
evolution where we could go forward and permanently get up to the next
step on which we would stay.
DJB: Do you know of any techniques to maintain what Maslow has termed
"peak experiences" in our day-to-day lives?
COLIN: No, except as I say, knowing this; you see, the business about
techniques, once again, means trying to do it the easy way. Obviously
psychedelics would be one technique, and alcohol is another technique.
Various yogic meditation exercises are another technique. But what's so
important is to have the precise knowledge of what you want to achieve,
and then to calculate how to get there. Now you must know what you want to
achieve. So I keep emphasizing you have got to know in advance. This is
what I am after.
It seems to me that what we are all aiming at is what Jean Gebser
called "integral consciousness," these levels of consciousness in which
you find yourself perfectly contented with the present moment. So if
everytime we experience that feeling of tiredness, that feeling of, oh god
what the hell, and so on, what we must do is to recognize clearly that
this is telling us lies. Whereas, of course, what we very often tend to do
is not only to accept it, but let ourselves therefore get into a state of
discouragement, and then suddenly into negative feedback, where as it
were, you're rolling down hill. This is the real danger--to go into
DJB: You have stressed the importance of people having a strong sense
of certainty about things in their lives. But we know from quantum physics
that we can never really be certain of anything, because everything that
exists, exists as vibrating waves of probable possibilities. What are you
COLIN: Now, as I say, that is not true in quantum physics. That is the
Copenhagen Interpretation. All that Heisenberg stated is you can not know
both the position and the speed of an electron. And Einstein said, well
yeah, maybe that's true simply because we are dealing with sub-atomic
events. In order to observe a sub-atomic event, you would need some way,
as it were, of getting inside the atom or the electron, which is not
possible without affecting it. So, in point of fact, it just appears to be
a simple consequence of the fact that you are observing something so
On the other hand, Einstein did not believe there is any fundamental
uncertainty about this. He went on to say, if you could devise an
experiment in which you could somehow bombard something so that two
particles shot off in opposite directions, you could in theory, measure
the speed of one and the position of the other. And if they're identical
particles shooting off in opposite directions, you would in fact have this
double measurement. Of course this whole Bell's Theorem business seems to
recognize that this is so. As far as I'm concerned, like Einstein, I do
not believe in Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation.
DJB: Do you see the non-local effect postulated by Bell's Theorem as
being an explanation for such unexplained psychic phenomena as telepathy?
COLIN: No, I just don't know. I don't think that the two electrons are
telepathic. But on the other hand, I have noted in my book Beyond the
Occult cases of identical twins, where you get absolutely absurd
similarities in their lives, even though they have been separated from
birth. They have married people of the same name, on the same day. They go
to the same place for holidays, and all kinds of other preposterous things
like this. They fell down and broke their leg on the same day. I do not
know how you explain this. It does seem to me that there is something very
weird going on.
DJB: What kind of relationship do you see--if you do-between sexuality
COLIN: Well, I don't know. It seems to me tremendously important
because sexuality is one of these examples where we experience ambiguity
so often. This sudden feeling of-oh my god, is this really what I want?
You know the old Latin tag about after sex one feels sad, because you
suddenly feel--oh it's gone. There never was anything there in the first
place. It's what I call the Ecclesiastes effect. There is nothing new
under the sun--vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Which is the state we
get into, when we get something we badly want, as Schopenhauer says. But
on the other hand, you don't let it depress you that when you have eaten
your dinner, you no longer want to eat another dinner. You just accept it
and take it for granted, and it seems to me the same thing applies in this
case. That the pessimism that Schopenhauer and Ecclesiastes believed is
simply a sort of logical howler.
It seems to me that obviously sexuality can play an important part in
creativity. But not simply because one feels that the essence of sexuality
is so immensely important, like D.H. Lawrence. You see, William Barrett,
writing about existentialism, used this phrase about return to the sense
of power, meaning, and purpose inside us. We all recognize that somehow
that's what it's all about--to get back to that sense of power, meaning,
and purpose inside us. Now sex does tend to do that for us. It will jar us
instantly, for example, into a sense of meaning.
If a man is feeling rather bored, and then suddenly catches a glimpse
of a girl pulling up her stocking, instantly he's wide awake. You can
learn from this to see your way, for example, through the kind of
pessimism we have been speaking about. But on the other hand, what I have
been saying today about this romantic revolution is the fact that I feel
that human evolution can be explained, to a very large extent, in terms of
woman and man's romanticism about woman. That may well explain the brain
explosion. I feel that the romantic revolution, Goethe's eternal woman,
draws us upward and on. This is really related to the creative process.
DJB: You have just begun to touch upon what 1 was going to ask you in
the next question. What role do you think having a sense of purpose--or a
lack thereof-plays in our lives?
COLIN: Obviously people are simply going to mark time. I mentioned
yesterday, one of the things that struck me a long time ago, is that if
you look at writers, the ones who produced something interesting and
significant have been, in fact, the writers who have been forced to
struggle like mad from difficult beginnings. So there's no question of
them suddenly saying, oh what the hell, and letting go. They have a very
powerful sense of purpose.
Proust is an example of a writer who started off from a pleasant
middle-class beginning, and although he is a great novelist, A la
recherche du temps perdu, is basically a vast pessimistic cathedral that I
personally have never succeeded in reading all the way through,
particularly the Albertine disparue volume, which really gets me down.
What I am saying is that if you've gone through extremely difficult
experiences that have forced you, whether you like it or not, to make
efforts, then from then on, you never fall back into this facile
DJB: Could you tell us about any projects on which you are currently
COLIN: I have just finished a book on serial killers. I intend to do
two more equally big parts to my Spider World--the first four volumes of
which are out in America, and which in a sense is complete in itself
already. That, as it were, is the first part. So that when it is finished
it will be a twelve volume work, about twice as long as The Lord of the
Rings. This sort of fantasy novel, which I started a long time ago,
strikes me as one of the most interesting things I have ever done. I have
a feeling that one day all kids will know my Spider World. They will know
me as the author of Spider World, in the way that they know Lewis Carroll
as the author of Alice in Wonderland. Apart from that, I want to write a
book called New Pathways in Human Evolution, to summarize all the kinds of
things I have been saying this weekend, and I'm intending to write a study
of the Female Outsider.