My friend Antero Alli, an amazing filmmaker, theater producer and provider of rich experiences to seekers of all stripes recently handed me a DVD of a lecture he gave on the Eight-Circuit Brain. It got me to thinking about this model, which is almost certainly familiar to some of you and no doubt unfamiliar to most of you.
The theory was developed by Timothy Leary in the mid-1970s and then expanded upon by Science Fiction writer and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson. In a reductionist nutshell (and put in a context that will be appreciated by technophile types), Leary theorized that their were circuits or potentials for intelligence residing inside the human skull that were – in some sense – laying in wait for the time when they would be useful for human survival (and enjoyment).
It was a sort-of evolutionary psychological system that presumed that human evolution didn’t end with contemporary, unaltered 20 C. humans, but that we were going to become posthuman in some interesting and exciting (and pleasurable) ways.
In simplistic terms, Leary theorized that when a civilization becomes advanced enough to offer some of its privileged members leisure time, this provides them the opportunity to open somatic potentials in the brain that allow them to experience the brain and body not as merely an implement for survival, but as something one can drive and control. One is privileged to enjoy mind states that are sensual, visionary, playful, fluid and creative. And in fact, some survival value ultimately comes from all that as well. He called this the 5th circuit. Naturally, this being Leary, the circuit could also be opened up by drugs… in this case marijuana.
The next circuit or potential was “neuro-electric” and was related to the idea of shared minds, minds hooked up, speeded up, linked up – your basic networked, online, twittered world perhaps ultimately extending out to direct mind link ups and borg like collectivities of mind. (I remind you, this was in the mid-70s). Again, Leary theorized that evolutionary potentials in the brain would open up under these evolutionary conditions (and of course, you could open them up a bit, prematurely, using psychedelic drugs).
The seventh circuit would open up when we gained control over biology, mutating into different physical forms.
The eighth circuit? Well, it depends which books you read. Variously, it represents control at the molecular level, control at the quantum level (time dilation perhaps?), hyperdimensionality… The Singularity was mentioned… it was the Singularity of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker.
These theories were written up in five books collectively called the “Future History Series.” The books don’t revolve primarily around science and technology. They’re, in a sense, the works of a former transactional psychologist on acid and science fiction, tempered by prison, exile and culture war. The emphasis is on the personal and social quality of various mind states — including the less exulted states common to humanity up until (and into) the 21st century, with lots of emphasis on the degree to which we are DNA robots and with methods for deprogramming yourself (frequently with psychedelic drugs). They draw on mysticism (it was the 70s) and particularly on Aleister Crowley and Gurdjieff, and are not for everybody. But even the most hardheaded radical technology freak will find astonishing bits of foresight contained therein.
Which brings me back to Antero Alli, Like Bob Wilson, Alli takes Leary’s 8 circuit concept into the realm of daily life. As Wilson did with his book, Prometheus Rising, Alli uses the eight circuit concept to develop exercises that are partly based on spiritual disciplines like yoga and the self-confrontational works of mystics like Gurdjieff and marries them to his sense of radical theatrics to give this whole thing its own spin… and he offers workshops from time to time to help people have experiences all up and down the circuits.