‘Starseed’: the neuro era

A brand new Robert Anton Wilson book is now available –
The Starseed Signals: A RAW Perspective on Timothy Leary.


‘It has the earmarks of Sixth Circuit all over it I think.’ – RAW

I intended reading only part of ‘Starseed’ over the weekend, but I read it all. RAW’s urgent, passionate prose takes you straight back, 45 years, to the barbarous incarceration of Dr Timothy Leary (who, as RAW recalls, was listed by National Review as one of “the three most dangerous men alive” – along with Marshall McLuhan and Norman O. Brown).

A previous book¹ about Leary is apparently to be adapted as a TV series starring Woody Harrelson, but I speculate that The Starseed Signals would make the basis for a more interesting dramatised film. I think it has the “right” structure and “emotional dynamic” for a movie – not to mention the epic themes, unsung heroism, etc. The Hurricane on acid? I jest, of course, but maybe you get my point if you’ve seen that prison-based drama starring Denzel Washington, in which the activists for his liberation share the starring role.

Some highlights of The Starseed Signals, for me:

⇒  A repeating theme – and a warning – that much social policy hinges on whether metaprogramming techniques and substances will be used “in a libertarian way or in an authoritarian way”. RAW remarks that “few aside from Dr. Leary realize that this issue will become the most important social debate of all as we progress further into ‘the neurological age’.”

Both Bob and Leary went on to adopt a terminology influenced by the new computer technology (with Tim apparently proclaiming that the “PC is the LSD of the 1990s”, etc). And in this context of “program or be programmed”, RAW adds:

‘Only those aware of the speed with which new techniques are appearing can appreciate the seriousness of this question.’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

Over four decades later, we can take RAW and Leary seriously by asking ourselves: What new techniques are appearing that tend to make us more robotic in our thinking and behaviours, rather than helping to liberate us? Currently, I would put BUMMERphone (ie social media) algorithms right up there – based on the research documenting both the addictive and the behaviour-manipulative aspects of these new and rapidly developing technologies. Unfortunately we may tend to dismiss the significance of new technologies whose workings we don’t yet fully understand.

⇒  RAW’s (often hilarious) deconstructions of conventional “authority” as Circuit 2 reflex have always been a highlight of his writings for me. ‘Starseed’ has some wonderful elucidations of this topic, several highly quotable:

‘the rumour that a political candidate might be a Third Circuit “thinker” rather than a Second Circuit “bully” is enough to defeat any candidate. (Most recently, Nixon, although widely recognized as shifty and crooked, was chosen as “the lesser evil” in 1972… This was because McGovern, rightly or wrongly, had acquired a Third Circuit scholar-teacher image.)’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

  Also relating to Circuit 2, Bob provides a fascinating take on emotionalism. I recall a debate, some years ago (involving Antero Alli²), in which Leary was criticised for his supposed “anti-emotion bias”. RAW clarifies this issue here, in Leary’s favour (to my mind):

‘the emotional person is “a lurching lunatic,” he [Leary] says, because the emotional-glandular circuits are turned on almost all the time, the person enters each situation with reflexes evolution formed only for emergency…’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

RAW goes on to say that it’s part of the tragedy of contemporary humanity that “the Second Circuit is actually glorified and worshipped by many”. As an example, he mentions how the “emotional-tantrum orientation” tends to get romanticised as “deep” and “profound”. He adds that ‘many “radicals” or “leftists” have climbed onto the Second Circuit bandwagon, regarding chronic emotional turmoil as the only “correct” attitude…’

Some people might take this the wrong way, given a conventional framing of “emotion” as one side of a dichotomy – with “cold” “unfeeling” “repression” on the other side. “Emotion”, in that sense, would seem to include every tender, loving feeling, every happy, blissful experience. But Leary’s 8-Circuit model – and interpersonal grid before it – has a somewhat different taxonomy of emotions! (In fact, in his book, The Politics of Ecstasy, Tim writes: ‘Love cannot exist in an emotional state’.)

  The above point becomes clearer when RAW gets onto the rapture circuit:

‘Circuit Two checkmates Circuit Three.
When Circuit Five, rapture, is imprinted, the emotional circuits finally become relatively dormant; and then objective reason becomes possible, as Gurdjieff predicted. Circuit Five plus Circuit Three can checkmate Circuit Two.’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

  A new meaning for “off the grid”:

‘the rapturous person is not on the interpersonal grid at all.’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

  RAW includes in the book a few of the articles he wrote (eg for the San Francisco Phoenix) in trying to draw people’s attention to Leary’s plight. Wilson in impassioned activist mode makes for great reading. One article opens as follows:

‘Vacaville is one of those little California towns that look as conventionally pretty as a brand new starlet just getting the taste of producer’s semen out of her mouth and flouncing merrily through a screen test.’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

  ‘I had abruptly realized that everything I regarded as human was merely a game humans have tacitly agreed to play with each other. We are all metaprogrammers, whether we know it or not.’ (RAW, The Starseed Signals)

  Bob cites Leary commenting on a project (‘Cyclops’) proposed by Carl Sagan to seek extra-terrestrial radio contacts: ‘”They’ll all go to work at nine and come home at five,” Leary says, chuckling, “and drink martinis and flirt with each other’s wives,” and here he began to laugh out loud, “and wait for the first message that says ‘We want to talk to the Cornell professors'”.’

  The very fact that the book acts as a powerful polemic against locking people in cages. Why does this barbaric practice seem a “normal” part of what we call “civilisation”? (Recall that a main slogan of the last US presidential election was “Lock her up!” What can we expect in future elections? “Gouge his eyes out with a rusty spike”?).

‘The future will look back on our cages with exactly the same horror that we look back at the torture rack, the iron boot, or the stake… Torture is torture. It does not magically become something else when we call it “punishment”.’
– RAW, The Starseed Signals

♦ Kudos to the publishers, Hilaritas Press, for doing such a great job on this book.


1. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD’, by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis. TV series adaptation listed here.

2. The link I noted at the time (around 2008) is here, but it seems dead now, unfortunately. I recall Antero Alli (posting under the alias ‘Sherpa’) suggesting Leary had “phobias” around emotion and an anti-emotion bias. And a few others argued against his claims.

8 thoughts on “‘Starseed’: the neuro era

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    1. I usually start with a so-called “AI” photo editor, such as Dreamscope. That’s hit & miss, but it occasionally gives an interesting effect when I combine the original RAW photo with some other image. Then I dabble with the image, with other filters and manual alterations, to get the effect I’m looking for.

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  1. I’m liking Starseed a lot, about a third through it. Doesn’t read like a movie script so far but quite heavy in theorising , altho RAW’s passion and typical intelligence does come through. I think John Higgs completely misses the point in his intro when he says it’s not Leary’s or Wilson’s finest hour and reduces Leary’s “prison-era claims” to a psychological defense mechanism. Remember it was early to mid 70s, the whole psychedelic explosion backdrop, and that’s how one should judge the terminology, the wild sci-fi exuberance. Not against smug know-it-all 2020 so-called insights.

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