The Philosopher’s Stone, by Colin Wilson

Why this book:I’ve already read this book twice before, but the last time was 20 years ago. I was interested in revisiting it with the sensibilities of greater “maturity.” Several of my friends have experienced interest in exploring Science Fiction and so I got a few of them to agree to join me in reading this book – for me, again.

Summary in 4 Sentences: The Philosopher’s Stone is written in the first person as an autobiographical account of Howard Lester exploring the potentialities of the human species to move to the next level on the evolutionary spectrum.  His story begins when he is a precocious young man who is particularly moved by literature and music, and adopts an older mentor with whom he spends most of his spare time as a youth and eventually lives with him, and together they explore the possibilities of the mind.  The remainder of the book is our narrator’s journey in developing his own mental strengths and powers, exploring the works of others in the same field and eventually developing a metaphysics and theory of human evolution that have at their center, the power of the human subconscious and imagination to transcend the trivialities and needs of our physical existence.

My Impressions:  A powerful statement of Colin Wilson’s philosophy and his belief in the capacities of human beings to become more than they are.  One must be ready for this book, and this, my third time reading it, I believe I finally am.  I’ve read a lot Colin Wilson’s work – but not for a while – and I’m fairly familiar with his philosophy.   As a novel, The Philosopher’s Stone  gives him the freedom to create the world he wants, to express his views freely through his fictional character, mixing what he believes to be true with what might be true about the potentiality of humans to become much more than they are.  In this novel, Wilson accelerates the development of the human ability to harness the subconscious with a  brain operation which makes it much easier for people to relax the mind, focus attention, tune one’s senses to the environment, and put on hold most of our normal survival instincts which distract us from the insights that our subconscious mind could offer us. 

The ideas he expresses are familiar to me, as I’ve recently read Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (several times, Shatki Gawain’s  Creative Visualization, and Henriette Klauser’s Write it Down, Make it Happen – all emphasizing that the subconscious mind is somehow connected to a dimension of reality that we don’t understand, and that putting effort into developing that connection, and learning to use it can give us greater freedom and power. 

The novel takes our narrator and protagonist from being a youth to a man in his late 30s or 40s through his journey to understand his own mental powers and the nature of our true powers by experimenting on himself, and then drawing inferences from his experiences and the experiences and ideas of others to better understand the nature of reality and where human beings fit into the universe. One cannot help but be impressed with the Lester’s (and therefore Wilson’s) familiarity with the canons of Western culture, literature, philosophy and art that he draws upon to make his argument for the powers of the mind, man, and potentialities for the future.  In fact he digresses in his explorations to make the case from some of his insights, that indeed, Francis Bacon was the secret author of many, if not most of Shakespeare’s works – an idea that has been around for centuries.

He emphasizes the Value Experience as a flash of insight that gives one a bird’s eye view that transcends the immediacy of the moment.  He says that Value Expeience depend on health, vitality, and will power.  I read a separate work by Wilson, written much later in his life entitled Super Consciousness: the Quest for Peak Experiences (which I review here) in which he expands on the Value Experience he describes in this book, and notes that he got the idea of Peak Experiences from Abraham Mazlow. 

There are strong echoes of Nietzsche’s ubermensch in his description of the powers that the few who indeed do develop their minds will attain, and the weak will of the majority who are satisfied with the banalities of following the rules of social convention, pleasure-seeking an self-indulgence.  

At the end of the novel, some of these ideas get a bit outlandish, proposing the “existence” of supernatural beings who have created and guided human civilizations over millennia – to include civilizations that pre-date what we currently understand as the trajectory of the development of civilizations.  

That said, there are many unanswered questions about how ancient civilizations developed, and if one takes his Ancient Great Old Ones as a metaphor for the God of most cultures and civilizations and religions, the ideas that Wilson proposes, through Howard Lester may not be so preposterous. 

I do have a couple of quibbles with Wilson’s philosophy. It is indeed very individualistic and I don’t believe he gives adequate attention to our human communitarian instincts – our needs for social support and family.  Of the three great approaches to ethical living – autonomy, community, divinity – Wilson’s approach neglects “community.”   I also don’t believe he gives adequate attention to the mind-body connection. He emphasizes the importance of exercising the mind and making it stronger, and he does recognize that being tired depletes vitality and energy, but he doesn’t acknowledge that putting energy into being physically healthy and robust can indeed enhance the energy and vitality of the mind.  I suspect that the world of English Intellectuals with which Wilson associated probably never exposed him to that idea.

Here are some of the major themes and ideas that I took from Wilson in The Philospher’s Stone:

  • Man’s most important capacity for self development is his will.  It is the primary tool by which he can overcome the limitations of his instinctual desires and the trivialities of daily life.
  • It takes a strong will to transcend the instinctual impulses for food, pleasure, and comfort, to achieve something greater – a vitality that can overcome the erosion of aging and increase life and health-span.
  • He emphasizes the “Value Experience” as a key to inspiring the will to transcend the trivialities of daily living.
  • The mind has the power to open the senses to subtler dimensions of reality and the environment -such as history, relationships, mood and possibilities.  These extra-sensory capabilities include second sight, time-vision, and sensing peoples feelings and intentions.
  • Most people don’t have the courage to develop themselves to become what they are capable of; they are bored with the trivialities and repetitions of life, and this drives them to find excitement and stimulation thru drugs, alcohol, crime, and evil behaviors. 
  • Developing mental will, focus and transcendence are the most important next steps in human evolution. 

This is not a book for everyone – it is not a page-turner novel.  But for those who have thought about and explored the potentialities of the mind, and explored some of its hidden powers, it will be thought provoking and perhaps even inspirational.  As Wilson says on page 276, “Who could possibly prefer being asleep to being awake, especially on a spring morning?”


BELOW are ALOT of quotes and ideas from The Philosopher’s Stone.  Some are paraphrases, some are quotes.   Going thru my underlines and adding them here helped me to review and better understand the book.  Some are paraphrases, some are quotes.  Page numbers are from the paperback edition pictured above:

When one is completely absorbed in a project, one’s work, a meaningful task, a discussion of “happiness” is a “pointless irrelevancy.”22

What is the point of studying science and “dead facts” if not to make a difference in the lives of the living.23

“The main problem of human life is easy to define.  We live too close to the present, like a gramophone needle travelling over a record.  We never appreciate the music as a whole because we only hear a series of individual notes.” 25-26  (My note: Transcendence?)

Deepest insight of all: Science is not man’s attempts to reach  ‘truth.’  He wants wider consciousness, freedom from this strange trap that holds our noses against the gramophone record – which is why he has always loved wine and music….26

….wider consciousness, those breathing spaces when you feel like a bird, contemplating your existence from above, instead of from the gutter…..The mystics, like the poets, knew all about this ‘birds eye consciousness’ that suddenly replaces our usual worm’s eye view. 26-27

a symphony was always an incantation to induce the same state of mind, the sense of detachment from our humanity,  of entering into the eternal life of mountains and atoms. 31

The past five years had flown by like 6 months. Time’s a confidence trick.  It like a crooked guardian who keeps dipping his hands into your bank account. You think you’ve still got a  fortune left, and then realize that you’re on the edge of bankruptcy.32

The scientist is unwilling to face death and so he sacrifices his humanity and tries to identify himself with the abstract and the eternal.  And the religious man has the same motive, except that he may believe in an after-life for which he has to prepare.  32

If life is consciousness, then the problem of prolonging life should be the problem of increasing consciousness – the aim of science as well as art.32

Shaw: “Minding your own business is like minding your own body – it’s the quickest way to make yourself sick.”   Why should thinking about yourself increase the sickness, and thinking about something else diminish it?35

Science is not a meaningless abstraction, unrelated to human life.  Like art, literature, music, religion, it is the pursuit of an ‘other-ness’ that connects us to some obscure source of power inside ourselves. 36

Is the final end of human knowledge to teach man his own unimportance? 38

The no-man’s land between philosophy and psychology.39

The “value experience” (VE) – the bird’s eye moment, the Buddhist’s ideal of nirvana, rapt contemplation, moments of ‘contemplative objectivity.’40

The 5% of human beings are a dominant minority, driven by an urge for self-development and maturity, mostly expressing themselves through social dominance.  5% of the 5% – .00025% need to express their dominance by another kind of self-expression – the evolution of the mind – basically obsessed by the value experience – the highest form of self expression.  For these people, all other forms of achievement and dominance seem barren.  41

it is hard to achieve VE’s at will, unless you have outgrown the desire to dominate other people and replaced the old domination experience with the value experience.  41 (my note: In his book Super Consciousness, he gives guidance about how to achieve VEs with some regularity)

VE’s increase vitality. 42

People gradually lose the will to live as they get older because the future holds less in store by way of excitement, or love, or discovery43

Man has a deeply ingrained idea that old age is merely a running down – his evolution is frustrated by physical decay, which in turn is the outcome of the collapse of the will. 44

VE’s depend on vitality, health, and will power.44

Evil is the outcome of the frustrated evolutionary drive..  45

Marks’s experiments demonstrated that longevity depends on a sense of purpose..Frankl made the same observation in a concentration camp.  49

The essence of all poetry particularly of the romantic poetry of the nineteenth century. Detachment…floating freedom from one’s personal little problems… the sense of wider horizons.  51

…Clear glimpses of a godlike state of detachment  52

Man is normally trapped in the trivialities of his everyday life, scarcely able to see beyond the end of his nose.  But in certain moments of beauty, he relaxes; his soul expands; he sees distant horizons – of time as well as space.  his mind overflows with beauty – for what is beauty but this sudden expansion of consciousness into other times, other places  the delightful relaxation of tension, accompanied by the realization that man is not really himself unless he is contemplating immense vistas? (my note: Wilson’s Peak Experiences) 53

Nature is as interested in right and wrong as are the saints and moralists.  But it is attached to evolutionary success.  When the dog is in heat, it is impervious to heat, cold injury, because sex is the most primitive form of the evolutionary appetite. 55

What destroys the evolutionary urge in many – habit, repetition and triviality. 55

When man is able to develop this evolutionary faculty for “other-ness” he will be able to resist the erosion of death.  55

There is a reason why most people die fairly early. Their presence would only encumber the earth.  61

Value Experiences have the effect of raising vitality – cancers are the result of a sudden drop in vitality.  70

I saw with perfect clarity why the ‘value experience’ does not guarantee long life, or even immunity of illness.  It is totally unimportant.  It is like a flash of lightning.  But what is important is not the lightening,  but what you see by it.   73

What distinguishes the greatest men is precisely that ability to focus to concentrate the attention.  So my search for longevity through the value experience was a waste of time.  73

Since Husserl, we have realized that consciousness is ‘intentional’ – that you have to focus it or you don’t see anything.  73

Consciousness is not only intentional, it is rational – it keeps relating new meanings to one’s experiences 76

A healthy consciousness is like a spider’s web –  and you are the spider at the center of the web, which is the present moment.  the MEANING of your life depends on those fine threads which stretch away to other times, other places, and the vibrations that come to you along the web. 

Visions and ecstasies of the mystics are perfectly normal and any human being is capable of experiencing them – these moments of meaning are also moments of tremendous affirmation , a clear recognition of what human evolution is all about. 

Man’s freedom is the evolutionary urge which drives him upward, and which therefore provides a REASON when he is confronted by choices.  79

The mental activity involved in imagination is the highest form known to man 81

The mechanism of imagination – associated with ‘relational consciousness.’ – when the  narrow beam of our consciousness broadens and illuminates a wider area, these are Marks’s ‘value experiences.’82

**If we could achieve control over the ‘mental hormone’ that breaks habit patterns, we should be on the verge of becoming supermen.  For the chief human problem is our slavery to the trivial, which we can only break by rather dubious methods – alcohol, drugs, violence, and so on. Yet our need to escape the trivial is so compulsive that we prefer to commit crimes or start wars rather than remain bored.  83

A man does not die of ‘old age’  He gets fixed in old habit patterns until his capacity for ‘other-ness’ is destroyed, and then he allows himself to sink into death.  83

From the beginning I felt the answer lay in the prefrontal lobes of the brain.84

The talent develops as a result of a certain search – the search for value experiences, the childhood moments of universal ‘newness’ and happiness. Most people forget them; poets cling to them and spend their lives searching for them.  87

It is extremely hard for poets to divert brain energy from more practical areas of the brain to these great memory tanks; our animal caution refuses to allow it. So these strange moments of pure vision, of broad relational consciousness only occur when there happens to be a lot of brain energy to spare. 93

False assumption of gerontologists that life is chemical in nature. Men die for the same reason they fall asleep – because the senses close up from boredom when there is nothing to occupy them.  But a man who is deeply interested in something can sty awake all night  (Bob’s NOTE-however the body DOES need sleep) 102

When we are young, the senses are wide awake; life is intensely interesting: anything might happen.103  

Life is sustained by will… but it is gradually creeping automatism that kills him off.  103

Control over the powers of the prefrontal cortex is the ability to widen the beam of attention at will.  103-4

Most human beings live like trains  they just chug forward through life, held on course by the railway lines of convention and habit. …evolution has been aiming at creating a new type of human being , who sees the world with new eyes all the time, who can readjust his mind a hundred times a day to see the familiar as strange. 106

Theoretically web-like consciousness should gradually reveal the deepest levels of the mind. Husserl’s ‘Transcendental ego,’ the hidden self…. the popularity of Christmas is a matter of web-like consciousness…the nearest to mystical experience that most human beings ever approach – forgetting petty worries and irritations and thinking in terms of universal peace. … feeling glad that life occasionally declares a truce.  112 

The insight that we live in the most beautiful planet in the solar system, but meanwhile we live in a dirty narrow claustrophobic life-world, arguing about politics, and sexual freedom and the race problem. 112

The seeds of distrust of life are  planted in us very early  and permanently stunt most human beings.  113

Man is the first objective animal. All others live in a subjective world of instinct, from which they can never escape; only man looks at the stars or rocks and says, “How interesting….” It is the first step toward becoming a god.113

The problem with most people is an obsessive desire for security. They want domestic security and sexual security and financial security and they waste their lives pursuing these until one day they realize that death negates all security, and they might as well have saved themselves the trouble from the beginning.114

They came so close, the romantics… they saw that our capacity to enjoy beauty for its own sake indicates that we have moved into the borderland between animal and god. 115

The senses are not intended to let things in, but to keep things out..most animals possess a degree of second sight… too much insight destroys efficiency. Our senses are so strong that they overwhelm imagination.  116-117

When I look at an object I assume that my senses are giving me its ‘reality;’  but this is not true….When I sink into a condition of meditation, the historical dimension becomes real to me, my senses give me more of its reality than when I am stuck in the present123-4

One of those total infatuations which virile old men are prone… who are cautious in business or political life are often prone to rashness in love.  129

The first stage was ‘contemplative objectivity,’ the simple ability to pass beyond the gates of my own personality and to really SEE things, to realize they exist   –  the objective multiplicity of the world. 134

The prefrontal cortex is supposed to rescue us from the present, to allow us to  approach the world from many different angles and points of view, instead of stagnating in a a subjective life world. To escape the subjective134

I had not yet learnt to stop seeing myself as Harry Lester, aged thirty-six, one of fortune’s favored children. Once I managed to lose this personal equivalent of provincialism, time would cease to negate me.137

What is the nature of time? it is a function of consciousness, nothing else. 145

The solution has always been within the reach of human beings – to deliberately increase the brains capacity for concentration by a sustained effort of will.  151

I came to realize that a racial subconscious really exists, and if this is so, then our notion of our individuality is in some sense an illusion, fostered by the separateness of our bodies. 154

“relational consciousness’ – and ability to sense people that can come from not thinking. 154

Time vision is merely an extension of our normal senses..  When the brain is dull, trivialities assume larger proportions.  184

The Great Old Ones?

What would happen if the senses were fully awake, so that every taste or sight or sound produced deep echoes throughout one’s being? Suddenly it seemed to me that I had found a subject really worth the fullest investigation – to find what man is capable of becoming when he is fully awake. The body’s dullness cuts us off from the outside world.   205

I was suddenly aware of the world as a huge sexual roundabout, and for a moment, I ceased to be either male or female, but became both, so that I could simultaneously feel delight of a man as he enters the softness of a girl, and the delight of the girl as she feels his maleness inside her.  206

p207 -desribes the mystic ideal

I was getting the reward that the visionaries in the past should have had: able to hold the world at arm’s length, to see its meaning, to grasp something of its complex pattern.209

his insight demonstrated to me that a man does not need to possess ‘time vision’ to grasp the realities of history215

I launched myself into a sea of serenity, ignoring my personality; my interest in the people in the room, as if observing the earth from some distant point in space…I ceased to be aware of the room.  221

(When we have a sense of confidence that something is going to happen, or that we will win) is not an illusion, born of over-confidence. Our subconscious roots spread farther into the soil of reality than we realize, and in time of unity-of-mind, they control things.  This is not as strange as it sounds..229

The Shavian-Bergsonian philosophy – Running parallel to the universe of matter there is another universe, of pure life. And life has invaded matter.234

Life remained static – until some chance mutation introduced death. And with death came the possibility of reproduction; and with reproduction came new mutations. Evolution was launched.  235

Yes, “they” had created human beings as their servants.  “they” had power , but  no precision.  And for long ages, human beings served them faithfully, and were allowed insights into many secrets….their danger that their servants would themselves become the masters of the earth and learn the ancient secrets.  239

Now most of our human problems are due to the self-division that arises from individuality, for all our problems can be summarized in one word: triviality.  We are victims of the ‘demon of the trivial.’  All human evils can eventually be traced to the narrowness of human consciousness.   241

The intelligent man controls his frustration, examines the obstacle, and calculates how it can best be removed.  It is not that he is naturally patient. Impatience is a sign or high vitality, and intelligence should be more vital than stupidity, not less.  He DIRECTS his impatience as the barrel of a gun directs a bullet. 241

All neurosis and insanity is due to self-division, to self-criticism outweighing vitality. Self-criticism is a brake, and brakes sometimes jam. 242

The legendary civilization of Mu 242

Man has developed a conscious mind that marches in the opposite direction from his instinctive drives.  Every young man who becomes obsessed by literature or music or science is aware that he is creating a personality that has nothing to do with his more violent emotions: rage, lust, jealousy.247

Conscious powers of focusing are dangerous according to one’s degree of control of the subconscious levels of the mind.  248

The Old Ones observed these humanoids they had created, and they realized the power of the human imagination fueled by optimism and purpose…they went through the phase that every intelligent teenager experiences: of developing a new individualized consciousness, and leaving the instincts to fend for themselves.  248

The “focusing muscle” can be strengthened by exercise.250

I sat in the armchair, and allowed myself to sink into contemplative objectivity. 252

Time vision is a complex way of intuiting the inner-reality of an object, in the way a handwriting expert can ‘read’ the writer’s character in his formation of letters. 255

Ted Serios, the man who can make photographs appear on a photographic plate by concentrating on it…256

People needed fear and self-discipline, if they were not to become decadent.258

And then another feeling came upon me – a total,  deep ecstatic loyalty to the Great Old Ones.  It was simply self-evident that they were the most powerful beings in the solar system and deserved the greatest devotion, the deepest love . It was  the Blakeian principle; ‘Everything that lives is Holy, life delights in life.’264

The Ancient Old Ones had made an interesting discovery; that Man was basically a religious animal. 266

But it must be remembered that in a basic sense, the Old Ones were not ‘plural’; they were more like a single being…. Man was a mirror in which the Old Ones could see their faces – or rather their Face.  269

As the conscious mind learned to project its visions of reason and order, the vast energies of the subconscious writhed in their prison, and projected visions of chaos.272

the Old Ones will simple let man stagnate until he suffers the price of stagnation: death… The alternative is clear enough.  The Old Ones must awaken to find a society of Masters, with whom they can collaborate on equal terms. 275

The vast majority of the human race consists of people who will shrink from the great step to inner freedom 275

Who could possibly prefer being asleep to being awake, especially on a spring morning?  276

Man should possess an infinite appetite for life. It should be self-evident to him, all the time, that life is superb, glorious, endlessly rich, infinitely desirable.  At present, because he is in a midway position between the brute and the truly human, he is always getting bored, depressed, weary of life.  He has become so top heavy with civilization that he cannot contact his springs of pure vitality. 277



About schoultz

CEO of Fifth Factor Leadership - Speaker, consultant, coach. Formerly Director, Master of Science in Global Leadership at University of San Diego; prior to that, 30 years in the Navy as a Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) officer.
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