“Faculty X: A latent, ineffable power of the human mind and soul to reach beyond itself, literally and figuratively.”
J. F. Martel reads Colin Wilson’s definition of Faculty X in the latest Weird Studies podcast, which looks at Wilson’s 1971 history of the occult and manifesto on human potential “The Occult”.
I cannot overstate Colin Wilson’s influence on my own approach to life and esoteric matters, so I thrilled to see his name pop up together with Weird Studies in my notifications. This episode is a great introduction to Wilson’s work for those not yet familiar, as Phil Ford and J.F Martel capture Wilson’s enthusiasm for really grappling with what these strange human experiences mean for us in our own lives, right now, and how we can use these weird stories as fuel to help us reach greater awareness and agency in our daily existence. J. F. puts it succinctly when he boils Wilson’s philosophy down to: “Thought in the service of life.”
Wilson conceived of Faculty X as a power unique to humans and key to our species future development. I found one of the metaphors he used to illustrate the capacity quite striking in it’s simplicity and effectiveness. Wilson describes a person sitting in a cozy room, fire going and book in hand, being aware of a raging storm outside. The cold, wind and wet don’t touch the person at all, yet through imagination they can be transported to the heart of the tempest. That capacity of mind which lets you be aware of both possibilities simultaneously, that is Faculty X.
For me, Faculty X always brings to mind my now deceased cat, the bouche. I lived with this cat for over 15 years so we had a chance to observe each other and grow close. My body is not strong, and I didn’t work outside the house, so we spent a LOT of time together.
Years ago I was going through one of my periodic Colin Wilson binges and was contemplating his ‘cozy vs. storm’ illustration of Faculty X. Probably because it was winter and we were having a lot of rain.
The bouche, used to shitting in the woods, was not happy about this. The configuration of our house made letting the cat out to do his business a time-consuming proceeding, as the bouche had four standard methods of ingress and egress – the back patio door (downstairs), the back deck door (upstairs), the bathroom window (upstairs), and the front door (downstairs). When it was raining, the bouche would ask to go out the nearest door. But when he saw inclement weather, he (being an empiricist) would then ask to check all the other doors/windows.
Now, at this point any sensible person would have realized that this cat (like innumerable other animals, domestic and wild) was exhibiting Faculty X. At every open doorway, bouchie knew he was in a warm, dry place but, as he hesitated or declined to go outdoors, was imagining the uncomfortable physical sensations he’d encounter if he left the house.
I am a slow learner, and didn’t truly grasp what I was witnessing until one particularly wet and wooly day. As usual, the bouche asked to investigate the meteorological conditions present at every door and window in the house. And, as usual, I acted as his faithful research assistant. Finally, we reached the front door and I opened it. It led onto a carport, with one side open and no wall opposite us, giving an unobstructed view to the lane beyond but with around twenty feet of well-roofed carport between the door and the weather.
The bouche sat in the doorway, looking intently at the water and rain out in the lane, where he’d have to walk to make his daily visit to the neighbor’s for supplemental feeding. I think it must have been his complete insulation from any physical sensation related to the storm which triggered my realization that yes, indeed, this cat was imagining a possible reality different from the one he was living. He was reasoning through and weighing his options against his desires.
He had Faculty X.
As I understand him, Colin Wilson was of the belief that Faculty X only showed up in humans. But I don’t find it difficult to imagine him being excited by Faculty X appearing in other creatures. On the contrary, I can feel his delight at a world enlivened by attention from those previously considered outsiders.
I enjoy this talk Colin Wilson gave to the first ever Jack the Ripper conference. Even when discussing the history of crime, Wilson uses the opportunity to get across his passion for human advancement in self-interrogation and development of our own agency. You can really hear him willing the audience to grasp the ideas which have been so profoundly influential on him, very inspirational.