Colin Wilson talks about the achievements of
author Stan Gooch
It has seemed to me for many years that Stan Gooch is one of the most underrated writers of our time. The reasons are complex, but obviously connected with the fact that he began life as a respectable academic, a research psychologist whose first work was a textbook on child psychology.
Under normal circumstances, he would have continued to write textbooks and become a member of the British academic establishment. But in 1958, when he was 26, he had an experience that was to change the direction of his life. A schoolteacher in Coventry at the time, he was invited to a 'seance' in the home of a friend. He went out of curiosity.
But as he sat in an ordinary hardback chair, facing the 'medium' he experienced a sense of light-headedness, then a rushing sensation, as if the room was full of a great wind, and he heard a noise like roaring waters. He felt as if a barrier had collapsed and became unconscious. When he came to, he was told that he had entered a trance state, and that several 'entities' had spoken through his mouth, including a cousin who had died in the war.
At one of these seances, everyone became aware of an ape-like creature crouched in the corner of the room, a 'cave man', which soon faded away. Gooch later came to suspect that he had seen a 'Neanderthal.'
In spite of these bizarre spare-time activities, he proceeded with his academic career, became a senior research psychologist at the National Children's Bureau in 1964, and wrote his textbook. But he also wrote a novel and short stories, and a chance meeting with a director of Penguin Books led to a commission for Total Man (1972).
This was a remarkable work. On the surface it was a fascinating combination of literary criticism and 'depth psychology'. Arguing from works like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he suggested that man is a dual being, consisting of a rational ego, and a darker more instinctive being, which he calls the 'Self'. So far this sounds like fairly orthodox Freudian (or Jungian) psychology – Gooch had first been excited by the mysteries of psychology as a result of reading Karen Horney in his teens.
But it is soon obvious that his involvement with his ideas is on a deeper, more personal level, than with most psychologists. He regards the 'Self', which inhabits the 'old brain', as the source of legends about vampires, troglodytes, demons and other creatures from the world of the 'occult'. Clearly, his experience of mediumship has made him aware of the unconscious as a mysterious realm of strange, dark forces. He argues that the unconscious mind is located in the part of the brain called the cerebellum.
Total Man was bold and imaginative, but was clearly the work of a scientist; it seemed to promise that Gooch would become, like RD Laing, one of the gurus of the 1970s. (Publisher's Weekly compared him with Jung.) His next book, Personality and Evolution, subtitled The Biology of the Divided Self, reinforced that expectation. It is partly an attack on Darwinism and the notion of evolution by survival of the fittest. But Gooch points out that ice ages may occur so abruptly that there would be no time for natural selection.
He goes on to look at the work of Tinbergen on 'releasers' – stimuli that release certain instincts, like a mother's reaction to a baby, or a man's to a girl taking her clothes off. Tinbergen discovered that some creatures prefer 'bigger than normal releasers' that seem oddly illogical but which suggest inner-freedom to develop responses to situations that have not yet arisen.
Gooch is suggesting that there is an element of choice that must have sounded to orthodox Darwinians dangerously like the Lamarckian heresy. But then, Arthur Koestler and many others were also attacking orthodox Darwinism at the time, and Gooch might have been a maverick, but he was part of a non-orthodox mainstream, and there was every reason to expect him to achieve his own kind of respectability.
What happened was that his next book, The Neanderthal Question (1977) appeared to make a disconcerting sideways leap into another field. In fact the book was a logical development of his interest in man's 'two selves'. He had come to believe that Neanderthal man was not exterminated by Cro-Magnon about forty thousand years ago, but that he was 'bred' out of separate existence by interbreeding with Cro-Magnon. We are the result of this combination, with Cro-Magnon characteristics predominating. Critics found the arguments of The Neanderthal Question a little too bold and strange, although I, as an admirer of Gooch's work, regarded it as an exciting new departure that was firmly based on his past preoccupations.
I was even more excited by his next book The Paranormal (1978) in which he begins by describing in detail his experiences as a medium and he goes on to produce a classic study of the whole realm of paranormal experience. This is the book of his to which I most refer. Yet I am also able to see that, to many critics, it must have seemed that Gooch had abandoned the scientific and academic approach of Total Man and Personality and Evolution, and plunged into what Freud called 'the black tide of occultism'.
The title of his next book, Guardians of the Ancient Wisdom (1979) must have confirmed their worst fears. In fact the book is an important backward-look over his past work and an attempt to advance cautiously into the realm of the 'lunar' being, the 'Self'.
In his next book The Double Helix of the Mind (1980) he takes up the cudgel against the split-brain theorists – those who believe that the difference between the left and right cerebral hemispheres is also the difference between the conscious and the unconscious mind. I can see why he felt it so necessary to write it, for it must have seemed to him that all the publicity given to Sperry and spilt brain physiology in the 1970s appeared to undermine his own basic theory, in which the source of the unconscious is the cerebellum, not the right brain. I felt so myself when I first read Robert Ornstein on the split brain.
Now I see that, in fact, it makes no difference whatsoever to the arguments of Total Man and its successors. The right and left distinction is convenient, but it is certainly not the whole truth. At the time I felt that The Double Helix of the Mind was a rearguard action against Sperry, Ornstein and the rest; re-reading it years later, I was struck by how far an advance it is on his previous work in discussing the 'dark realm' of the Self, and how powerfully he carries forward his argument.
I found his next two books, The Secret Life of Humans (1981) and Creatures from Inner Space (1984) his most fascinating since The Paranormal. The first covering a broad spectrum of oddities, from UFOs and astrology to reincarnation; the second dealing more fully than in any of his previous works, with the realm of the unconscious and with problems such as 'demonic possession' and multiple personality.
These two books made clear what was already very obvious to admirers like myself – that his work formed one enormous oeuvre, and that his attempts to probe the secrets of the mind were creating a total picture that was as exciting as – and in many ways more convincing – than the work of Freud and Jung. This was truly creative thinking on an awesome scale. I myself was disappointed that his explanation of phenomena such as possession leans so heavily towards scepticism; my own research into poltergeists had convinced me - reluctantly - that there are such things as spirits.
When he sent me a proof of Cities of Dreams, he told me that he was crossing his fingers this would finally make the impact he always hoped for. As I read the book, it seemed to me that this was highly likely – that this brilliant demonstration that Neanderthal man possessed as rich and complex a culture as Cro-Magnon, who replaced him, would excite widespread interest and controversy. In the event, he once more encountered the old problem: that his work was too original and wide-ranging for the academics, and too closely argued and serious for the general public. Yet that struck me as outrageously unfair since the book was so obviously a culmination of his work since Total Man.
I could see instantly that it had all started with that crouching figure in the corner of the seance room and that everything that Gooch had written since then was an exploration of the implications of what had happened to him at the age of 26.
When I wrote this article in 1995, six years after the first publication of Cities of Dreams, the intellectual climate was more receptive than ever before to his ideas. During the 1980s, John Anthony West, an expert on ancient Egypt, had become convinced that the Sphinx had been eroded by water, not by wind-driven sand, and in 1992, a Boston geologist, Dr Robert Schoch, supported his opinion, arguing that the Sphinx was probably built five thousand years earlier than modern scholars believed.
Subsequent evidence arising from the explorations into the astronomical alignments of the Great Pyramid complex by Robert Bauval have led West to put back the date to 10,500 BC (the widely accepted dating is 2,500 BC). In his bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock has argued that there is evidence for ancient civilisations dating back thousands of years before the accepted 'origin of civilisation' in the Middle East around 6,000 BC.
Charles Hapgood's Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings had long ago pointed out that mediaeval maps, called Portolans, must be based on far more ancient maps, and that one of these shows the continent of Antarctica as it was before it was covered in ice. Through radar soundings the bays shown in this map have since been discovered – under a mile of ice. Yet Antarctica has not been ice-free since at least 4,000 BC, and probably much earlier than that.
If there were civilisations that pre-dated Sumer and Egypt by more than ten thousand years, then Gooch's argument that Neanderthal man was a far more sophisticated creature than anyone has recognised also becomes far more plausible. In fact, the whole field has opened up, to an extent that even Stan Gooch could not have guessed in the mid 1980s. His work has never been more relevant and I must admit that I have drawn heavily upon The Neanderthal Question and Cities of Dreams for my book From Atlantis to the Sphinx (1996) which concerns this whole riddle of ancient civilisations and the mind of primitive man.
I am inclined to believe that Stan Gooch will only begin to be properly recognised when all his books from Total Man onward are available in a uniform cheap paperback edition. Then it will be clearly seen that his work represents one of the most impressive and exciting intellectual structures of the second half of the twentieth century. With luck, the updated version of Cities of Dreams (1995) will mark the beginning of that process.
Colin Wilson, 1995