By Colin Wilson.
Berkeley, CA: Oneiric Press, 1967.
ISBN # 914728-27.
Comments of Bob Corbett
The strange and inexplicable suicide of Karel Weissman and the discovery of a gigantic city some two miles beneath earth combine to provide narrator Gilbert Austin with the beginnings of a weird tale of inner beings and some ultimate threats to human existence and advancement. Among many odd details of Weissman’s suicide is a note indicating that Austin should receive his papers immediately. Austin is justly curious as to what is there, but it ends up taking him many months to discover Weissman’s secrets. In the meantime Austin teams with Wolfgang Reich and these two archeologists add to Weissman’s work in psychology to unearth the world of the mind parasites.
Colin Wilson’s challenging and entertaining novel is both a sci-fi romp into the improbable, but a philosophical tour de force of the existentialist problem of authenticity. I was fascinated and disappointed by turns, but couldn’t stop turning pages, often amused by what was going on and at times frustrated, almost angry at Wilson for letting us humans off so easily. There is a bit of a surprise ending, so I will leave these comments somewhat incomplete and not fully rounded to Wilson’s tale. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s read.
Weissman’s journals and the world of Gilbert and Reich discover the existence of these mind parasites; beings living deep in each individual psyche and limiting the human exercise of the mind. It some way that never becomes fully clear the mind parasites sponge off human energy and were the humans to exercise full clear control over their own minds they would know the mind parasites were there and would defeat them, driving them out, which Gilbert and Reich eventually set out to do. However, as it exists now (the setting of the novel is the year 2012 and the book was written in 1967), the human is only able to use a tiny tiny fraction of the power of the mind, being inhibited by these parasites.
For those familiar with the movement of existential philosophy this is the problem which Martin Heidegger first made famous with his 1927 work BEING AND TIME and in 1942 Jean-Paul Sartre approached it from a slightly different perspective in BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Wilson is quite aware of these works and has even written a work on “New Existentialism” a movement of which he is a self-named member. In the work of the existentialists there are no hidden beings. Rather, humans, on Heidegger’s account because of basic laziness and lack of intellectual skill, do not take hold of their own lives, examining the meaning of existence and making their own choices. Rather, the strong tendency is for humans to act out of habit, tradition, learned behaviors of our families and cultures, from religion and various other modes, all of which evade the personal human responsibility for our own choices. The existentialists generally unveil this hidden mode of what they label as “inauthentic” living and urge humans forward to take control of their own lives in an “authentic” personal responsibility. Not all thinkers are convinced that all humans can or will actually do this. Fyodor Dostoevsky the mid-19th century novelist and early existentialist has argued powerfully that the great mass of humans will never take such responsibility and the world is divided into the tiny minority of people who will take responsibility for themselves and others and in so doing will disburden the rest of the masses who much prefer to turn over this personal responsibility for security and evading the terror and hard work involved with it.
Given that Wilson and I share a common background of deep commitment to and interest in the existentialists, and both of us clearly share the notion of authenticity as a human virtue to be aimed at, I was in great measure saddened, even disgusted by his device of using the mind parasites to account for this phenomenon of humans not taking full personal responsibility for their own minds. In the contemporary literature there are a number of theories which most of us are aware of which explain this human lapse from taking full conscious responsibility for ourselves:
What frustrated me in Wilson’s analysis with the mind parasites is that the entire notion of the mind parasites brings in outside beings who are the responsible agents and not us humans. This seems a complete caving into the notion that humans are either not capable of human freedom and responsibility, or at least drastically limited.
But, one can certainly view the fight of Austin and Reich to lead humans to defeat the mind parasites and reclaim their minds as an exercise in authenticity.
Once we get to the TOOLS to be used to fight the mind parasites I simply burst out laughing aloud. When the existentialist movement came into the intellectual world in the earliest days of the 20th century Heidegger, Sartre and other were deeply influenced by the work of Edmund Husserl, the developer of the method of inquiry called Phenomenology. So are Austin and Reich and they decide that the only “scientific” tools capable of combating the mind parasites are the principles and practices of Husserlian Phenomenology. This had me alternating between giggles and out right belly laughs as I recalled back my graduate school days of the 1960s when I struggled under the guidance of Professor Herbert Spiegelberg to grasp the extremely difficult and esoteric moves of Husserlian Phenomenology. Here we have a novelist instructing us readers in Phenomenology so we can follow the path of Austin and Reich as they begin to enlist other scientists in the up coming Phenomenological war against the mind parasites.
At least Wilson had the common sense to know he could not really instruct us readers in the details of Phenomenological analysis so we get the window dressing without the details. But after living some 36 years as a professor wedded to Phenomenology as a philosophical method, knowing it was far from being a popular or dominant school of thought in the modern American intellectual world and seeing how difficult it was over the years for me to teach even the most basic rudiments of the method to undergraduates, I felt vindicated to see Colin Wilson saving the whole of human kind with Husserl’s theories!!!
However, at this point the novel does spin off into some rather wild sci-fi fiction. Austin and Reich and another few dozen of their disciples use their Phenomenology (a form of it I never saw in Husserl!) to learn psycho-kinesis and other tools of the occult and the mind parasites are soon on the ropes.
What will not ruin anyone’s read is to realize that the humans sort of do defeat the mind parasites in the end, but even that is a bit confused. Wilson seems torn between defeating these foreign beings and in sticking to the Dostoyevskian notion that most humans are hopeless and will never embrace freedom and responsibility for their own lives with all the hard work which that implies.
I have never been a strong fan of sci-fi type novels. There are often exciting logics of alternative worlds that don’t operate by the rules of our world, and that is fun and challenging. Yet, as occurs in Wilson’s novel, there are often inconsistencies which are glossed over in the telling, but, if one has a nagging and rather compulsive sense of logic and consistency which I seem to have, then such inconsistencies are bothersome. Such inconsistency is central to this work since Wilson never fully makes up his mind if the mind parasites are actually independent beings which are tied to humans in a symbiotic necessity, or if they really don’t exist at all, but are a trick of our own minds. At times the logic of the story flows in one direction and at other times in the other, and these are flatly contradictory. Given that actual physical events of this psycho-kinetic war take place against the mind parasites in some parts of the novel, he is strongly committed to their actual independent existence. Thus, when later in the novel the author seems to switch gears to deny all this, the logic of the work is in deep question.
I’ve limited my remarks to the centrality of the battle with the mind parasites and the critical role of Husserlian Phenomenology in this battle. That is quite fair to the novel. Yet two other themes come out here and there throughout the novel, and though they aren’t developed in detail and thus leave little for me to say about them, there is enough mentioned of them to intrigue. These are Carl Jung’s notion of a collective unconsciousness which is itself something beyond the sum of individual consciousnesses of each of us, and the evolutionary work of the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin who also saw evolution moving beyond the individual human as the central “entity” of humanity and pointed toward a notion of cultural consciousness as an independent existence. I wish Wilson had developed those themes. They are fascinating speculations.
Colin Wilson is a learned man and fills this novel with references to various philosophers, psychologists and natural scientists in such a way that one can’t help but be impressed with the breadth of his knowledge. The Mind Parasites is a very fun book to read and philosophically challenging to boot. I recommend the book to all serious readers.Bob Corbett email@example.com
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org