“We are all giants, raised by pygmies, who have learned to walk with a perpetual mental crouch. Unleashing our full stature—our total brain power—is what this book is all about.”
—Robert Anton Wilson
I ran into Prometheus Rising and its author Robert Anton Wilson during a time in my life when I was trying to figure out why some people were assholes to other people. In my naïveté, I sought “granular” reasons for humanity’s inhumanity to others, training my magnifying glass on specific ideological and political issues. But these explanations were unsatisfying—and ultimately led down relativistic and semantic rabbit-holes.
There had to be a more basic reason. And there was.
The answer is in Prometheus Rising, and has everything to do with evolution.
Humanity is on a continuing course of evolution. It didn’t stop with the rise of Homo sapiens. We’re still on it. And a LOT of the problems we see today—which seem so highlighted by negative interactions online—is the result of people on different evolutionary levels trying to coexist with one another.
Robert Anton Wilson, riffing off of a model devised by Dr. Timothy Leary, devised a system of levels—or, circuits—reflecting the mindset or imprints a person might be operating from.
Writes Wilson on imprinting:
“In general, the primordial imprint can always over-rule any subsequent conditioning or learning. An imprint is a species of software that has become built-in hardware, being impressed on the tender neurons when they are particularly open and vulnerable.”
There are 8 circuits:
1st: The Oral Bio-Survival Circuit:
Imprinted by the mother’s interaction with the baby, and involving the most primal security needs of infancy. Whether the infant feels safe and loved by the mother will largely shape the lens they will use to see the world for the rest of their life; either a world full of possibilities and bountifulness, or someplace sinister and filled with lack.
“Any multi-cellular organism must, if it is to survive, contain a hard-wired bio-survival circuit, which very simply programs an either-or choice: GO FORWARD to the nourishing, the protective, or GO BACK, away from the threatening, the predatory.”
2nd: The Anal Emotional-Territorial Circuit:
Imprinted by the toddler first learning to walk, this circuit deals with matters of power: domination and submission. As their muscles develop and they make their way into the world, they will encounter for the first time issues regarding authority, hierarchy, status, and the Ego:
“Ego is simply the mammalian recognition of one’s status in the pack; it is a ‘role’ as sociologists say, a single brain circuit which mistakes itself for the whole Self, the entire brain-mind apparatus. The ‘egotist’ behaves like a ‘two year old,’ in the common saying, because Ego is the imprint of the toddling and toilet-training stage.”
3td: The Time-Binding Semantic Circuit:
Imprinted when the child learns language, having everything to do with communication and the use of symbols. While the first two circuits deal with primal issues of security and authority—sort of the “staples” of basic human survival, the third circuit is more revolutionary and willing to move beyond the boundaries of the tribe:
“In societies where the third, semantic circuit has been partially unleashed—it has never been totally freed in any society–the upward spiral immediately appears…these are secular, humanistic societies—cultures relatively free of taboo and dogmatism.”
4th: The “Moral” Socio-Sexual Circuit:
Imprinted during puberty, and concerning sex roles, sexual pleasure, and various taboos. Most of one’s attitude towards sex will be determined at this time, shaped in part by the rituals of one’s society, in part by happenstance:
“It is important to realize that chance, genetics, and malice (anger) are among the “accidents” that create imprints at the points of vulnerability.”
Wilson also refers to the fourth circuit as the “guilt” circuit:
“…almost everybody, almost everywhere is quite busy hiding their real sexual profile and miming the ‘accepted’ sex role for their gender in their tribe.”
5th: The Holistic Neurosomatic Circuit:
The first of the higher evolutionary imprints, this circuit involves ecstatic spiritual/”religious” experiences and the shifting of consciousness. This circuit is often experienced by those trying mind-expanding techniques for the first time such as yoga, meditation, or psychedelics. It’s important to note that this is not a circuit that will be experienced by every person:
“The neurosomatic circuit of the brain is much more recent than the antique circuits previously discussed. It does not manifest in all human beings, and appears late in life, usually, to those who do activate and imprint it.”
6th: The Collective Neurogenic Circuit:
This imprint moves from the highly individual nature of the personal ecstatic experience to one of a more collective, archetypal nature. The feeling of being “One” with All, a person experiencing this circuit realizes that they are part of a much larger, older, infinite “pool” of consciousness.
“Circuit VI neurogenetic consciousness allows you to ‘converse’ with the evolutionary architect who designed your body–and billions and billions of others since the dawn of life around 3-4 million years ago.”
7th: The Metaprogramming Circuit:
The circuits now progress towards such a radical understanding of the nature of reality that one may choose consciously their own reality from an endless number of possibilities. We develop what Wilson calls “cybernetic consciousness,” realizing that we can “program” ourselves and our own reality (or: reality-tunnel).
“The only sensible goal, then, is to try to build a reality-tunnel for next week that is bigger, funnier, sexier, more optimistic and generally less boring than any previous reality-tunnel.”
8th: The Non-Local Quantum Circuit:
With this imprint, you “pop” out of the body and “reality” completely and can be anywhere (or “nowhere”)—the stuff of near-death experiences, out-of-body-experiences, shock, etc. There are no words left to describe the circuit in any satisfactory way; you’d have to really “be” there.
“Mystics stammer, gibber and rave incoherently in trying to discuss this.”
Now, a human may have one circuit predominate in their world view. For example, a person “stuck” on the 2nd Circuit may process life through a filter of “bullies” and “victims”—a perpetual battle between “Winners” and “Losers” in which “might makes right.”
A person in which the 6th Circuit predominates, on other hand, may find the attitude of the 2nd Circuit individual to be horrifying and inexplicable. Centered on an inclusive worldview in which we are all part of the same same whole, such “power games” may seem intolerable and barbaric.
And to the 7th Circuit-minded person? Both the 2nd and 6th Circuit mindsets are just that—mindsets, as easily taken on and pulled off as a hat.
Ideally, a human has the flexibility to move across most or even all of these circuits, as life demands of it. And yet, some tendencies do seem to be stronger than others in certain individuals. Get two or more of these persons from different circuit orientations together…and that’s where the problems start:
“Each of us has a ‘favorite’ circuit—that is, a circuit that has been more heavily imprinted than the others. Miscommunication, misunderstanding and general misjudgment of one another is vastly increased by the fact that few of us know about these levels of circuitry, and we all tend to assume that the person we are interacting with is on the same circuit we are.”
And so Prometheus Rising goes over each of these circuits in great detail, giving the reader a practical foundation from which to assess human behavior. Along the way, Wilson takes a number of thought-provoking diversions into topics such as the writing of James Joyce, the brainwashing of Patty Hearst, the acceleration of knowledge throughout human history, and the curious intersection between UFO & Virgin Mary sightings.
I can’t recommend this book enough, and you can buy it here. It’s well worth the small investment—and you’ll never see life the same way again!