Our Concepts Colour Everything We See


Essentially, the power to create is the power to grasp the world in concepts; but we end up by viewing the world through our concepts, as through the bars of a cage. They colour everything we see, as the world of a bad-tempered man is coloured by his anger. This is as true of men of genius as it is of idiots. Dante, Shakespeare, Balzac, were men enslaved by concepts. Dante’s cage, admittedly, was a large one, as large as the Catholic Church. But Shakespeare, for all his creative genius, was a slave to a pessimism that regarded human existence as meaningless, a tale told by an idiot. We find the same contradiction in Balzac: a vast world, seething with vitality, yet poisoned by a philosophy of despair, in which the greatest men are doomed to the same defeat as the stupidest.


The same thing applies to our science and the philosophy we have modelled upon it. Concepts have made us master of the atom; they have also reduced us to a bundle of conditioned reflexes. Science shows us a meaningless world of mechanical forces.


This explains the ‘existential dread’ that has haunted the Western mind for the past two centuries. Trapped in a dark universe of his own creation, man’s evolutionary drive is reduced to a hunger for security. This world around us may be meaningless, but at least it seems to be solid and stable. Perhaps death will snuff us out as if we had never existed, but we can bury our heads in the triviality of everydayness.


– Colin Wilson (1978, p 621)



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