The great man is the play-actor of his own ideals

A few quotes from an article I came across on Medium (

“The philosopher Colin Wilson, in his book New Pathways of Psychology (1972), used the term ‘self-image’; the fact that we are only so much as capable of being what we imagine ourselves to be. “The great man is the play-actor of his own ideals,” said Nietzsche. Now, Wilson, significantly using mountaineering as a metaphor, comments:

“A man could not climb a vertical cliff without cutting hand-holds in the rock. Similarly, I cannot achieve a state of ‘intenser consciousness’ merely by wanting to . . . We tend to climb towards higher states of self-awareness by means of a series of self-images. We create a certain imaginary image of the sort of person we would like to be, and then try to live up to the image.”

This series of self-images, as it were, is precisely the means by which we can grapple with the tough and turbulent terrain of reality. However, it must correspond with a possible and latent — or implicit — reality within the psyche of the individual.”


“The […] feature of serious mountain climbers […] is inner discipline: a total control of reflexes; the style of a deliberate, lucid, and purposeful action; a boldness that is not reckless or hasty, but which is connected to the knowledge of one’s own limitations and strengths and of the exact terms of the problem to be solved. In relation to this characteristic, we also find yet another one: the control of one’s imagination and the capability to immediately neutralize any useless and harmful inner turmoil.”


“… the intellect is merely one of creation’s aspects. Therefore, it would be a leap further to understand the evolutionary drive in man, who appears to be the most complex creature on Earth with apparently surplus potentialities yet to be actualised or ‘drawn forth’. Colin Wilson, in The New Existentialism (1966), calls the two polar states of consciousness ‘inauthentic’ and ‘authentic’, that is — in Fuller’s terms — he compares the mind of an entropic universe with that of an anti-entropic one (and the latter of course is the world of human consciousness).

Wilson describes the fundamental differences thus:

Inauthenticity is to feel futile, contingent, without purpose. Authenticity is to be driven by a sense of purpose. Such a sense of purpose cannot exist unless we first make the assumption that our sense of contingency is a liar, and that there is a standard of values external to every day human consciousness.

At this point it is clear that an element of faith is necessary, and it quickly turns into the problem of religion. However, it would be fundamentally correct to say that pessimism, like any other state, is an act of intentionality, and that the ‘act of faith’, as Wilson points out, is just another way of “concentrating these powers of intentionality”


Colin Wilson is far too credulous of charlatans, but he often has interesting things to say, although sometimes in a muddled (and inaccurate) fashion. When I read him I take whatever is useful to me and the rest with a handful of salt. Really, Colin, Uri Geller can contact “another form of energy that can be used for bending spoons”*? Sigh. I have no trouble believing that we know very little, and that there is more to our existence than what science has explained or can explain, but I also think I  understand humans and human nature far better than Wilson seemed to. I think I admire his ability to believe, though. His facility with faith. Well, I’m envious of it. But his faith in other people, like Geller for just one example, makes me shake my head.

  • From The Ladder of Selves. The reference to Geller just happens to be on the page I am currently skimming past.

Anyway, the reason I was reading The Ladder of Selves was that I had randomly picked up the book and landed on that essay. Which, admittedly, was a great coincidence as I immediately read the following account, which I could have written myself after some recent experiences that have been very troubling. Emphases (bold text) in the quoted text below are mine.

“Lying there […] I felt my energies churning, like a car being accelerated when the engine is in neutral. […] rising panic, accelerating heartbeat, the feeling of being trapped.


I had experienced something of the sort in my teens […]. One day at school, a group of us had been discussing where space ended, and I was suddenly shocked to realize that the question seemed unanswerable. It felt like a betrayal. It suddenly struck me that a child’s world is based on the feeling that “Everything is OK.” Crises arise, apparently threatening your existence; then they’re behind you, in the past, and you’ve survived. Or you wake up from a nightmare, and feel relieved to realize that the world is really a decent, stable sort of place. The universe looks baffling, but somebody, somewhere, knows all the answers…. Now it struck me that grown-ups are, in this respect, no better than children; they are surrounded by uncertainty and insecurity, but they go on living because that’s all there is to do.

For years after that insight, I had been oppressed by a sense of some terrible, fundamental bad news, deeper than any social or human problem. It would come back with a sudden shock when life seemed secure and pleasant — for example, on a warm summer afternoon when I saw a ewe feeding her lambs, looking a picture of motherly solicitude, unaware that both she and her lambs were destined for someone’s oven.

Now, as I sat in the armchair and tried to repress the panic, I realized that it was important not to start brooding on these fundamentals — our total ignorance, our lack of the smallest shred of certainty about who we are and why we are here. That way, I realized, lay insanity, a fall into a kind of mental Black Hole.”