Cosmic Network

Alan takes us from the very small to the very large, explaining the interrelatedness of all things in the universe as a vast network which weaves us into a united yet unnamable divinity.


Seminar 1

The Noösphere Awakens


Now, if everybody’s comfortable, we can get started. I’ve announced that this seminar is to be about the cosmic network, and therefore we’ve got to spend the first evening understanding something about the nature of networks. Because in order to get the principle of a network across I have to convey to you an idea which is extremely simple, but which is difficult to grasp only because we’re not used to it. We are used to thinking, as Westerners, as having a certain kind of language, and therefore a certain kind of logic that goes with it. We’re used to thinking of the world in terms of the game of billiards. In other words, we are still thinking about our psychology, our bodies, and their relationship to the outside world in terms of what would scientifically be called Newtonian mechanics. And Newtonian mechanics has a very long history because it goes back to some of the atomic theories of people like Democritus, who were among the great pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece.


And so we may as well begin with a little bit about the history of the idea of an atom, because this has always fascinated people. What is the world, fundamentally? What is all this? Well, one way of finding out is to take a knife and chop something in two so you can see what’s inside it. What is an apple inside? What is a seed inside? What is a human body inside? And then you find that, when you chop a thing in two, you’ve got two pieces. But the cutting reveals that it has a structure inside. And this structure is composed of what we call organs, or parts. And then, in turn, in order to inquire into them, we take them and we chop them apart. And in our curiosity to find out how it’s made in just the same way that a child will take a toy to pieces, we chop and chop and chop until we’ve got bits so small that they’re the same width as the edge of the knife. And they can’t be cut anymore unless we find a finer knife. And so, when we get down to that bit beyond which there is no bit-er—that is to say, it can’t be chopped any further—it is called in Greek ἄτομος, which means: the first letter, , means “non;” τομος, “cuttable.” And so the word “atom” means that smallest particle of the world which can’t be cut into any smaller particle. That’s the original idea of atomism.


So then, we went further than that to the notion that the world was built of atoms in the same sort of way that a house could be built of bricks or stones. The world is seen, therefore, as a composite of fundamental particles. Then what remained to be discovered was the laws governing the relationship between these particles. And so, naturally, one thought of them as little balls. Why balls? Because balls are hard to cut. If you take a ball bearing and hit at it with a sword it’s liable to jump right off to one side. A cube will submit to being cut, but a ball is very difficult to get at. Very strong form of nature. So people have always tended to consider atoms as balls, especially atoms of liquid. There was a notion, you see, that the atoms of the element of earth were cubes, because cubes all sit together rather firmly. Liquid—which, when you put out—goes blwwwub; that was balls. Fire was made of—if I remember rightly—little pyramids. Air… I can’t remember what air was made of; what their atoms were shaped like. Maybe sausages or something like that, because air is pretty difficult to get at, too. But they had some ideas. But fundamentally, what has influenced Western thought and still influences Western thought is the idea of an atom as some sort of fundamental little planetary system. And so these things come into relationship with each other, and they bang each other around as in the game of billiards. And so if we are to understand the world profoundly we have to find out what are the laws governing the relationship of the atoms?


Now, you must understand, first of all, a principle about what are called laws of nature. We inherit the idea of laws of nature from our theology. And our theology that we’ve grown up with is in certain ways peculiarly different from the theologies of Oriental peoples. Jewish theology and Christian theology, which have entered very profoundly into the common sense of the average person, have an image of the world which is quite basically political, and we’ll go further than that and say it’s monarchical. It’s based on the idea that the world is a construct evoked out of nothingness by the commandment of a celestial king.


Now, there may be Jews in this room who are practicing and devout Jews, and there may be Christians in this room who are practicing and devout Christians, and I don’t want to offend you by any imagery that I choose or remarks that I may make about this imagery. Because I don’t suppose that anybody has come to this room and to this particular place who is either a practicing Christian or Jew who has what I would call a naïve idea of God. But the funny thing about our ideas of God is that our symbols—the images, the mythological forms which we use to describe God—have an extremely powerful influence on our feelings and on the way we behave.


After all, I was a member of the Church of England when I was a small boy, and that had a very powerful effect on me. And in the Church of England it’s quite obvious—from an emotional point of view as distinct from a very intellectual point of view—that God stands behind the King of England. And the King of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the whole hierarchy of lords and ladies and noblemen and officials who descend from this point are somehow involved—at any rate, this is perfectly clear to a small boy—are somehow involved with the hierarchy of heaven. Because at morning prayer, to which we went every Sunday, the minister would pray a prayer which began, “Oh almighty Father, high and mighty King of kings, Lord of lords, the only ruler of princes who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: most heartily we beseech thee with thy favor to behold our most gracious sovereign Lord, King George…” et cetera. And so this was a very courtly procedure at which the clergyman, dressed in his proper robes, proceeded to the altar—which is a kind of earthly symbol of the throne of heaven—made due obeisance and present in this petition with all proper humility.


Now, these are things that—if you’re brought up in that environment—you take for granted. That seems to be the natural attitude to God. But imagine someone coming in from a culture where God is not conceived in the image of kingship. How strange he would find this behavior! What’s all this bowing and scraping? Because you know very well that places where they bow and scrape, and where there are thrones, are places of terror. Because anybody who rules by force must be, basically, terrified. That’s why he has to have all these protections, why he has to be addressed in the right form of language.


Say you go into a court today—an ordinary U.S. law court: there is a very strict etiquette. And if you start laughing the judge will bang the gavel and threaten contempt of court, and all sorts of dire punishments. Because here, everybody has to be serious. It’s like on the parade ground. All those Marines lined up, you know? And they salute the flag. And I have to have a very grim expression on. Because it’s serious. And so,in the courts of Kings they have to be serious because Kings are afraid of laughter. They’re also afraid of being attacked suddenly, so everybody has to kneel down. Because if you kneel down or prostrate yourself, you’re at a disadvantage. And the King stands or sits at his throne with his bodyguards ranged on either side, see? Like that. We’ve already got the form of a church. The bishop at his throne, his attendant canons and clergy flanking him on either side.


And so, certain great Catholic cathedrals are called—they’re described with the word “basilica.” And “basilica,” from the Greek βασιλεύς, is the king. So the basilica is the court of the king. The very titles of God in the Bible—“King of kings” and “Lord of lords”—are, of course, borrowed from the Persian emperor Cyrus, and to the Greek word, κύριος, meaning “lord.” So the mass begins with the invocation Kyrie eleison: “lord have mercy upon us.” The titles are borrowed from the Persian emperor. And so the rites that have become associated with Christian religion, and to some extent the Jewish religion, are reflections of those great autocratic monarchs of the ancient Near East. Cyrus of Persia, the Pharaohs of Egypt, and people like Hammurabi—who were the great Chaldean monarchs.


The universe was conceived, then, as being ruled on a political pattern like that, so that Hammurabi in particular and Moses after him were great lawgivers. They were the wise ones who laid down the rules. They were the patriarchs who said, “Now, this is the way everybody’s got to behave. Somebody’s got to tell what the rules are. And since you can’t all agree among yourselves as to what the rules are going to be, I’m going to tell you what to do. And since I’m the toughest guy around here, and I got these brothers of mine who are pretty tough too, we’re gonna say this is the law.” See? “And you’ve got to obey.” So this is how we have got, historically, the idea of there being a law of nature: that somebody told nature what to do. Somebody told—for example, a wonderful poem by Father Feeney about bees. God—to some sticky stuff not yet alive in a hive—said, “Come! Hum! Be my bee and buzz as I bid!” And sure enough, it was and it did. See? And in the beginning: “Let there be light!” A commandment.


So commandment is the fundamental idea. So the quest of the law of nature is the quest for the true understanding of the word of God. “For by the word of the Lord were the heavens made. And all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth. In the beginning was the word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” What is that word? If we could find out the Word of God—here is the idea, you see—we could perform incredible magic. That’s why, for example, the name of God in the Bible is not to be uttered except once by the high priest in the holy of holies once a year. Otherwise that name, yaad hai vo ha in Hebrew—we don’t really know how it was pronounced, and Jehovah mixes up those consonants with the vowels of Adonai. And then it’s all mixed up in translation. But anyway, Jehovah is a polite way of saying what can’t be said. Because if you know the word, if you know the name of God, you have power. You have the power of God. And so all ancient ideas of magic were based on knowing the names of God. It is said that there are 100 names of God, and 99 are revealed to us, and the camel knows the hundredth name—which is why he looks so snooty. But so, also, a person in what we now call primitive orders of society are loath to reveal their names. Because if I know your true name I can utter it and have power over you.


Now you say, “Well, that seems a very naïve idea.” But it is exactly through the knowledge of names that we have Western science. And that is magic. That is, through trying to understand the laws of nature. So that if you could understand the word underneath all the phenomena, you could change the phenomena and create magic. Only this: that many scientists have got rather sophisticated and have realized that the word comes later than the event. That in the beginning wasn’t the word. Of course, if you want to make new sense out of the phrase “In the beginning was the word,” you have to go to Hinduism, where they have the idea that vac, or “speech,” is the basis of creation. But by this they fundamentally mean vibration as sound. You see? It’s NyoooeeeooeeooeeooeeooeeooeeooeeooeeOOOOOHHHMM. If you listen to sound and go right down into it—fundamentally get what sound is all about—you understand the whole mystery of things. Because the whole mystery of things is vibrating energy. On and off. Simple as that. Life and death. Life is on, death is off. Have to have off to have on, have to have on to have off. Whew! It’s quite a relief.


But there they say, “That’s the beginning.” But they also say—in another sense, on another level—that the roots of Sanskrit—say, the the root form of the word Buddha comes from the root form budh, which means “to know” or “to be awake.” Bhāva, which means “becoming,” comes from the root bhū, which means “to grow.” So on. Karma, “doing,” comes from the root kṛ, “to act.” So they say, though, that the roots of Sanskrit are not simply the roots of a language, they’re the roots of life. Because, in another sense altogether, you see, you create the world by the word. And this is something that we’re not very conscious of.


It’s the way you think that determines your basic reactions to what happens. In the words of Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or ill, but thinking makes it so.” Thinking is talking to yourself inside your head. And we, through this, build up all sorts of weird notions. We say, for example, “Well, one day you’ll have to die.” Have to? What’s the emotional content of saying you’ll have to die? It means it’s going to be something imposed upon you against your will. So it’s put in this passive mode. “Have to.” You’ll be compelled to die. But I can’t be compelled to die unless I’m fighting it. If I—supposing I want to die? Supposing I commit suicide? Or supposing we look at it all in another way and say, “When I get a disease and die as a result of it,” getting a disease is something I do just as much as taking a walk. Only, we’ve got our thoughts arranged so that we say, “You ought not to get a disease,” even if it’s just plain old age. Somehow you ought not to do that. You ought to go on. And therefore, you can’t say, when death comes about, where—to put it in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson—“I laid me down with a will.”


Because we’ve got this hang-up about life being divided into two parts: things that we do on the one hand, and things that happen to us on the other. And Buddhists say what happens to you is your karma. And people don’t readily understand that. They think my karma… “Yeah. Something awful happened to me because of something bad I did in my last life, and therefore I’ve got bad karma.” Karma simply means “your doing,” “your action.” So that, when something that happens to me is called my karma, it means that it’s your own doing. And if you recognize that it’s your own doing, it’s never bad karma. It’s only bad karma if you refuse to admit that it’s your own doing, and merely blame someone or something else that it’s something that happened to you.


Now, I’ve digressed a little, because what I was getting at was the meaning of a law of nature. Laws of nature were taken over—the idea of the law of nature—was taken over by Western science from this ancient magical notion of the Word of God, the commandment of God, being the foundation for everything that happens in the world. But now, today, in Western twentieth-century science, there is an entirely new idea of the law of nature. The laws of nature are not things that exist in any real sense, which phenomena—like the motion of stars or the behavior of animals and rocks—they’re not phenomena which these things obey. The universe is doing its stuff. But because we have a certain kind of structure and brain, we want to make sense of it. And therefore, we find various ways of understanding the world by the principle of regularity. Now, what’s that?


Let’s take a clock. A clock ticks regularly. But the world does not tick regularly. Inconveniently enough, the sun does not go does not have the Earth go ’round it in a neat 360 days. This has always irritated calendar-makers: how to make a rational calendar. There is no solution. Because the rotations of the Earth upon its own axis do not neatly synchronize with its rotation around the sun. There’s always something a little odd about it. So what we do is, we superimpose over this rather odd elliptical path the ideal figure of a circle with its 360 degrees. Now, that is also like putting a ruler along a piece of wood and saying, “This piece of wood can be cut to twelve inches.” Now, there are no inches in the wood. Inches are a method, a technique, that human beings have invented for measuring things. And so we can cut out of a piece of cloth or a trunk of a tree so many feet. Well, originally, it’s simply comparing the trunk with us by putting our feet over it one after another, saying it’s so many feet long—or so many spans when you stretch out the hand. This is the fundamental idea of measurement. And the inches, of course, one joint. (Not your kind of joint!)


And so, the this comparison of man’s body and its regular shape, you see—ten fingers on either side… I mean, you know, five fingers on either side makes ten; five toes on either side makes ten. And so, by stretching ourselves out, as it were, against nature, we measured it. And the idea of measurement is the same idea as the idea of the law of nature. A law of nature is exactly the same kind of thing as a ruler or a hammer or a saw. It is a way of thinking which enables us to control our environment by observing regularities and then by making a calculus, which is a process, really, of betting: will it be regular next time? And the odds are that it may be. If it’s done it once this way, it’s likely to do it again that way. So, in this way, you predict eclipses of the Sun, you predict the phases of the moon: you measured them, you counted how it went, how often it did it like this, how often they did it like that. And you say, “Well, it keeps on doing it.” And you think “Well, this is fascinating. It seems to obey me! Because now I can tell you any time it’s going to come up. And if the other people around haven’t figured it out, they think I’m magic because I’m going to say to them: the moon is going to change at such and such a time. So many days from now it’s gonna have a different shape. And they say, ‘My god, he was right!’ And they think I’m making it happen because I can do that.” And so I get a rather privileged position because I could predict.


But that’s the basic idea of the law of nature. The law of nature is a human network like the lines of celestial latitude and longitude. They don’t exist in the heavens, but we project them on the sky in order to measure the positions of the stars. Because the stars are scattered in a very confusing way, and just try and remember that mess and figure it out! Though the clever ones, you see, just sit and look at it through a network, a spherical network. Then you can number all the squares in the spherical network in accordance with the principles of the circle; the 360 degrees. You’ve thrown the network on the sky. It isn’t really there, see? Then, to help you a little further, pick out some of the big stars and see if they make a shape. You know? This is like a doing a Rorschach test. And you say, “Oh, look! There’s one over there that looks like a dipper.” Or some people call it a plough. And there’s one there that looks like a cross. There’s one there that, by some extreme wrangling, can be made to look like a virgin! And all these lines that join the constellations together are our ways of projecting a pattern upon this great and glorious confusion so that we can remember it and chart it. But obviously, you can very well see that, if you looked at the same pattern of stars from some completely different position in space, all those constellations and their arrangements would vanish. You would have to invent a new one. Because there is nowhere where the stars really are. It depends where you’re looking from.


So in this sense, then, man in nature—with his extraordinary symmetrical brain and its amazing complications—figures it out. And it’s man who introduces the law into the world. He invents it. But in a way—invenīre, “to invent,” is to discover. But what we discover, in a way, is not something that’s out there. When we invent the laws of nature we are discovering something about ourselves and our own passion for prediction, for regularity, for keeping things under control. Therefore, there has to be a law.


So then, going back right now to the beginning of what I started to say: the question was, then, what is the law of relationship between the atoms? Between the fundamental billiard balls of which the world is composed? Well, you watch the game of billiards, and there’s a cue and it hits that ball, and then it moves over and it hits that one, and then that hits that one, and then that hits that one. And so the final ball which moves into the pocket has its behavior explained through its contact with the other billiard balls and the final contact with the cue. That’s why it did it. And so this view of the world as something that happens by the mechanical processes of the law of cause and effect is one that is really basic to most people’s common sense, today, to most educated people. They would say it’s very difficult to figure it all out because the whole thing is so complicated, but if you could know all the details involved in, say, the behavior or a single act of a human being, you would find that it was the ineluctable result of a series of bouncing balls against each other; fundamental atoms that predisposed the great final event to be just like that.


So that theory of the relationship between the atoms is called, in technical language, catenary. A catenary effect, or a relationship between events, is like, for example—we use another illustration where you stand a row of bricks up end up, and you knock over the first one and they all go katta-katta-katta-katta-katta and fall down. That is a catenary sequence. But it becomes increasingly obvious today to the physicist and to the biologist that that will not do as a sufficient description of how various events affect each other. And so there’s another type of causal relationship altogether which is called, instead of catenary, reticulate. Reticulate, from the Latin rete, meaning a net. A net relationship, wherein, in other words, any given event is not simply ascribed to one or more previous events, but that the relationship between the past and the present and between the present and the future is all to be taken into consideration in understanding any one event.


In other words, let’s take one event—I drop a ball and it bounces. That’s… let’s say it’s an event. I don’t know how many events it really is, but we’ll just say for the sake of argument that it’s an event. Now, is it enough in describing this event to say I let the ball go, it obeyed the law of gravity and hit the floor, but because it was made of rubber and had some air inside it, it bounced and sort of slightly disobeyed gravity because it had an energy in it. But that’s not enough. Because that the ball dropped, that I let it go, that it bounced, depended not merely upon a historical sequence of events that you could lay out in a string along along a line of time. It depends also upon a present context there must be a certain density of air. All kinds of things have to coexist with this in order for me to be there to drop the ball at all! Much less manufacture a ball. So that what happens must be considered not merely as a historical phenomenon, but it must be seen in context.


Context is terribly important, because it isn’t just when a thing happens that is important, it’s where it happens. In what setting. So that you could say that my blood in my veins is in a certain setting. In a test-tube it’s in a completely different setting. And in a test-tube my blood is not behaving in the way it behaves in my veins. Therefore, it’s not the same thing! So, an individual person in one setting will behave in one way, in another setting in a completely different way. I remember when I was a child: I was one boy when I was at home with my parents. When I went to visit my uncle and aunt I was someone different. When I was with my peers I was someone quite different. Because I changed according to the setting. And children are very well aware of this. It’s only as we go on that we keep having it drummed into our heads that we ought to have a consistent character. Because we are influenced by novels where the characters are supposed to be consistent—and so you ought to have a consistent character, you ought to behave the same in all circumstances and towards all people. That merely means you become inflexible.


So what things are, therefore, depend on the context in which they are found; upon their network relationship to everything else that’s going on. And one of the reasons for this—which is going to lead us to something more profound but much simpler—is, of course, that the whole notion of a thing or of an event in nature (and, of course, all relationships between different things and different events) is a purely abstract idea that does not really fit the facts of nature at all. In nature—in this physical world that you feel when you hold your head or hold somebody’s hand or just breathe—in that world there aren’t any separate events. None whatever. Sure, there are all sorts of wiggles around here, all sorts of lines, all sorts of colors, all sorts of surfaces, all sorts of forms. But they’re not separate. Because, you see, you can’t separate an inside, what you are inside your skin, from the outside of the skin. You can see that at once: if there weren’t anything outside your skin, there’d be no inside. It takes the outside and the inside working together to create this situation.


And, in the simplest way, the situation that I call my body wouldn’t be operating unless there was air around here to breathe. This physical phenomenon goeswith the situation of there being air. Now, true—it wiggles about inside the air in a rather complicated way, and other people watching say, “Huh, some something’s going on over there!” You know? Because the air you can’t see, and it remains rather constant except when there’s a gale, and so you don’t pay much attention to it because it’s always around. What you pay attention to is what changes rather rapidly. And you say, “Well, that’s a that!” “Hey,” you say to someone. You see this change going on; some wiggling over there, and say, “What’s that?” See? He knows what you mean by a “that.” A “that” means something on the end of a finger-point. It’s different, it’s peculiar. See? That’s a “that.” And so, from that comes the idea of an event or a thing. A “that.” But all these “thats” that are happening aren’t disconnected. They go with each other just as I go with this surrounding air, and just as this whole situation in which we are at this moment is a complicated goingwithness.


Now here, then, we get to the fundamental idea: this idea of goingwith. And from this we shall be able to construct the whole notion of network. And this idea, I said at the beginning, is extremely simple but very difficult for people brought up to use Western languages to understand. Now, goingwithness—we could call it “relativity,” “relationship”—means simply… let me first of all put it in a very extreme form. Consider yourself sitting here at this moment, being just exactly the sort of person you are—maybe a little neurotic, maybe a little sick, physically, maybe a little ashamed of yourself for some reason or other, or whatever; just the way you are, anyway; just like that: sitting here—that situation goeswith as back goeswith front. The entire situation of the rest of the universe. In other words, you as you are, exactly the way you are—and you really don’t know what that is. You may have some opinions about it, but you really don’t know. That goeswith the way the whole of the rest of boundless being is arranged.


Now, it isn’t that the way the rest of boundless being is arranged is determining you to be the way you are. Or, if it is that—if that’s true, if it determines you—then we must also allow the other side of the picture: that you determine it. It’s your karma. You did it. But you say, “No, but I didn’t! I couldn’t help it. It did me!” And you can say, “’Tis, ’tisn’t, ’tis, ’tisn’t, ’tis, ’tisn’t,” like two children arguing until you realize that the argument was stupid. Because you and it are one event, and it isn’t the question of it controlling you or you controlling it, it’s all one event. As Teilhard de Chardin said: “The whole universe is the only true atom; the only truly indivisible whole.”


So the human being, though—it finds this difficult to understand because we’re always telling each other, “Now, you should be different.” “You ought to change.” “Don’t be like that!” “Now, listen: you’re sick and I’ve got a system. See? I’ve got a system. I’ve got a real school here. A thing that’s very important. And you should come and study with that.”—it may not be mine, but it may be some big sage or pundit that I know—“and you should come around and study that.” And I’ve thought about this for a long time because I’ve heard every kind of opinion of all the sorts of things that I should do in order to get myself into shape. And I realized that, if I followed this advice, I would spend my entire day doing exercises in preparation for life. I don’t know when I’d ever get around to that. You know? I would have my half an hour’s yoga practice, one hour of zazen, so much physical exercises, and so much memory practice, so much special diet preparation to be sure that I got proper food. And if I think this all through I think oh my god! It wasn’t worth it! Then, another school of thought will say, “No! That’s the thing: you’re getting confused. Just do one thing!” See? But then I say, “Now, how am I going to choose which one I’m going to do?” “Well,” he says, “Obviously, this one’s the best.” And then, before you know where you are you’re sewed up by some religious fanatic.


Now, please, I don’t want to do this to you. Please don’t think that I have any such recipe, that I’m going to give you anything to do for five minutes every morning. I just am not. I want to—my whole notion would be to set you a all free so that you’d only have to attend one seminar and never have to come back. That’s the idea—really! Because I know that, so far as my own livelihood is concerned, that there are always more people. And if I don’t collect a following and just send them all away, there are plenty more people to fill the vacuum!


But this is the important thing. This is the whole idea that we’re going to work on of a net: that you are like a dew drop on a multi-dimensional spider’s web early in the morning. And if you look at that thing carefully you will see that, in every dewdrop, there are reflections of all the other dew drops. So the way that dew drop looks goeswith the way all the other ones look. See? A particular glimmer in it and so on. Its peculiar position—and everybody has to have a peculiar position in the cosmos—so, you see, the reflections in every one of them are different according to the position they’re in and the other dew drops that they reflect at such and such angles. But nevertheless, the whole network—all the dew drops—depend on each individual dew drop. And each individual dew drop mutually depends on all the others. And that’s the sort of a scheme we’re living in. And it a little bit affronts our logic at first, because we say, “I can understand that I depend on this universe because, after all, I need sunlight and air and water and the help of a society and that kind of thing. I needed a father and mother. But looking at it from the other point of view, I find it very difficult see how the whole thing depends on me!”


That’s because we’ve been brought up with a put-down theory of the individual. You know, children should be seen and not heard. You are the servant and subject of God, and don’t you ask impertinent questions! Or, another way of putting us down is to say, “Well you’re just a piece of a fluke in a mindless mechanism.” See? We always managed not to find out that the relationship of the network is mutual: it runs both ways. That it depends on you just as much as you depend on it. Because, you see, it’s you with your ingenious brain that, for example, turns vibrations of air into sound. You turn whatever the sun is doing into light. You turn whatever the air is doing into a sky called “blue.” There is only blue for a brain, just like if you hit a drum and it’s got no skin it won’t make any noise. So it’s the tight skin that evokes the noise out of a moving fist. No skin, no noise. So you as the reflector—like the dew drop reflects—you as the so-called reflector of all that goes on, by the constitution of what kind of a reflector you are, you evoke what we call sun, moon, and stars, nebulae, vast spaces—it’s only vast in relation to you. They’re not really vast. Only if you compare them with yourself they’re vast. They could be considered very tiny. Or, equally, the space between two sides of a hair could be considered vast if you want to think about it that way. I mean, if you really want to go into a hair, there is an awful lot between one diameter of a hair, you know? And if you think about it a long time, you’ll think it’s what we call a vast subject. The study of hair. Like microscopy. It is a vast subject. Depends on on the attitude, you see?


But the basic principle—the thing I really want to try and get across—is this idea of goingwith. The universe around you is your outside just as much as the organs inside your skin are your inside. You gowith it in the same way that the stalk goeswith the root or with the flower, and as front goeswith back, as north pole of magnet goeswith south pole. This principle of relationship governs everything. I wouldn’t say “governs.” I’m only using these wretched terms that we have to use out of our language. It underlies everything. And it’s important to realize. And let me repeat this: that the great universe does not control the small individual any more than the small individual actually controls the great universe. This is not a question of controlling. It is a question of more like dancing; of what happens rather than what makes it happen. Things aren’t made to happen. Only if you insist that a certain event is quite separate, then you can think of it being made to happen by the events that came before it. But if you realize they’re all parts of one event (or different aspects, different phases, of one event), then you see it happening and you don’t see anything making it happen. Forcing—that whole idea of things being made to happen, in other words, goes back to the idea of a universe that is based on a monarchical image where the boss says, “Damn it! You do that.” And the thing can’t help it, and so it’s made to happen.


But, say, in Chinese Taoist philosophy the universe is just not seen in that way. It’s not seen as—anything is not made to happen. It is what does happen. But it’s all interrelated. And therefore there is a pattern to it, there is an order to it: the order of the net.

So let’s have an intermission, and then we can have discussion.

Seminar 2

Collective Intelligence


I was talking in last night’s session about the nature of networks. And you remember that I explained the two different conceptions of causal relations between things and events. And I may as well write these down, unless you’ve forgotten them. There’s the caternary and the reticulate. In this kind, things and events are explained as being links in a causal chain, and so every particular happening that is identified as a thing or an event—which is, however, quite an arbitrary kind of selection—is explained by its past: by the chain of events which lead to it in a causal sequence. On the other hand, the thinking of the reticulate relationship, a thing is explained not simply by its relationship to past events, but by its context—that is to say, its relationship to present and future events as well as past. So that every event becomes something in a network.


Now, you will very well understand that when you see the knots in a network—or or better, the squares of the net—they’re all held together by each other. Imagine the kind of network where, instead of there being… well, something like knitting: in knitting, the stitches are all held together by each other, and something breaks at one point the thing starts raveling. So the reticulate view, the net view of the universe, is one in which the Buddhists say everything mutually interpenetrates everything else. So, as I was trying to make the central point—the point of implication, the point of relativity—that things go together like two sticks standing on the ground in this way, see? They give each other mutual support. Or like the three rings in the Ballantine Beer trademark, or the Christian symbol of the Holy Trinity. Those rings interlock. But take one of them away and the interlocking is broken down for all of them.


So, in this same way, the individual—although seeming to be something that rattles around in the universe, although a given planet or a given star seems to be something that is moving on its own—the motion, the behavior of stars is a situation that arises only because of the mutual interdependence of all stars. Because, to take a very simple illustration: if there is only one star in the whole universe, no motion can be ascribed to it. It can’t even be said to be still. Nobody knows what it’s doing because there’s nothing for it to relate to. But take two stars, and they can get nearer to each other or further away from each other. But no one knows which is moving. Get three stars and then you have, say, two close together and one of them seems to go away. Now, who is moving away from whom? Are the two stars saying, “Hey, we don’t like you. We’re gonna get out of your way,” or are they saying to the other star, “Why don’t you like us? Why do you keep going away?” Well, who’s right?


Well, you can say on the principle of democracy that the majority must be right. But then they say, “Well, let’s have an umpire.” And we have a fourth star who can stand above us, you see? Two stars can only move in a straight line with respect to each other. Three stars can move in a plane with respect to each other. But a fourth star can establish a third dimension where I can look down on you and take an objective standpoint. But then the argument is: which one of them is the fourth? But that’s the basic principle on which the whole universe is constructed. It’s a relativity system in which motion depends on comparison with something relatively still. And there can’t be any motion at all unless there is that comparison.


So, because of this relationship, every individual is so related to everything else that’s going on that you imply it. In other words, anybody who was a great scientist from some other world altogether—who studied a human body carefully and figured out the conditions under which such a thing would exist—he would come to the conclusion that that human body was something from a universe just such as we have. He would find that your structure and your behavior implied this whole thing, just as, with a laser beam system, you can photograph a small fragment of any photographic negative, and from that tiny fragment you can reconstruct the whole picture from which it was taken. Because the crystalline tensions in that fragment imply the whole context of crystalline tensions that belong to that particular negative.


So, in exactly the same way, you as an individual imply this world, and this world mutually implies you. And you are a natural formation moving in and with this universe—not determined by it, because this is not a system of determinism—but you are moving with it in just the same harmonious way that you notice the waves moving, and the trees growing, and the clouds moving. And as you don’t accuse the clouds of making aesthetic mistakes, so, really, is a certain light in which you can see human beings—both good and bad—as perfect forms of nature. You may have fashionable discriminations about who is beautiful and who is ugly, you may have metaphysical discriminations about who is sick and who is healthy, you may have moral discriminations about who is good and who is evil. Now, these are all points of view; relative points of view. They’re all legitimate because they are parts of the functioning of the whole. The fact that you take those points of view—that, too, is part of nature.


But a skillful person lives on two levels at once. You live, basically, on the level where you know there are no mistakes. There can’t be. Everything moves in accordance with what the Chinese call the Tao: “the way of nature.” And if you have that basic feeling, you will always be sane. But you are able to comprehend within that feeling a more restricted point of view whereby things are good and bad. Just as in the confines of this room and this area, it’s perfectly clear that there’s a difference between the up-direction and the down-direction. But we know that this area is situated in interstellar space. And there, there is no up and no down.


Now, the second situation doesn’t contradict the first. But if you have only the discriminatory point of view—if you take your fundamental stand as a being on the difference between good and evil—in the Christian hang-up you have then to say that there is eternal heaven and eternal hell. That the distinction between good and evil is radical. And if you do that you begin to suffer from a disease called chronic guilt, which is one of the most destructive emotions that anybody can have. You feel an outcast from the universe, at odds with reality itself, at odds with God. And that sends people quite mad. And it’s responsible for a good deal of the craziness of Western civilization. It’s making too much of a good thing out of the distinction between good and evil. It is an important distinction, but it’s not fundamentally important. And you have to learn to admit different degrees of importance. You can’t just say that, because a certain distinction isn’t absolute, that it’s not important. After all, your own physical formation is not absolute, but it’s important.


So the situation of man in this network is (to repeat the proposition), on the one hand, that he, as a psychophysical organism, is something that the whole cosmos is doing. That was as much of truth, I think, as there is in modern astrology, which I regard as a pseudoscience. But it is based on a very fundamental principle. When you draw a map of a person’s soul, you draw a small picture of the universe—a very crude picture—and that is the design of that person’s individuality. The truth is, therefore, that your soul is something which contains your body. Your body does not have the soul inside it like a spook. And the whole cosmos is your soul. So the cosmos is doing you at the point you call here and now. Reciprocally, you are doing it! And the one depends upon the other.


You have difficulty in conceiving this as a Westerner because we have all been brainwashed by several centuries of put-down theories of man. That you were, A, the wretched little subject, and a disobedient one at that, of an eternal king, and B, that you were just the fortuitous congress of atoms in a mindless mechanism of incredible vastness. Having entertained those two theories of man and of existence for so many centuries, we are very much brainwashed into being unable to see that we and the universe are mutually causative—or, to use the Chinese expression, mutually arising.


Now then, a second difficulty arises in this which requires that I bring in some ideas, first of all, from Buckminster Fuller. The principal notion of Buckminster Fuller’s thought—and if you don’t know this name, Buckminster Fuller is what I would call a philosophical engineer: a man who is one of the most creative minds in the modern world. He invented the geodesic dome, which is his main claim to economic fame. But beyond that, he’s done a great deal of extremely fascinating thinking about the future of technology and the situation of man in the universe. And he has devised this important term, synergy, coming from the Greek συν, “with;” εργός, “work.” But what he means by synergy is this: that every complex organism, as a whole, has an intelligence greater than any one of its parts.


And this, again, is a difficult idea to swallow, because he applies it to technology in this way: he is saying that the industrial-natural complex in which we live is something that is going in a certain direction on its own, whether you like it or not, and that it is able to organize your behavior in a more intelligent way than you can organize it. And he believes, therefore, that the increasing complexity of the industrial complex will of itself, say, outlaw such lunacy as war. It will make it impossible. And that we shall find ourselves increasingly organized by an intelligent system that is not under our conscious direction, but will make us feel, I suppose, rather as our individual cells feel inside our bodies. He gives an illustration. The transportation-communications network: aircraft, radio, television, telephone—these, taken together, are constituting a global net, which might be said to be something like Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the noösphere.


I hope you all read Teilhard de Chardin, the famous Jesuit theologian. The best of his books is The Phenomenon of Man. The Earth—which is the geosphere, from the Greek γη, the Earth. Then the Earth, as the geosphere, is covered with a biosphere—that is the sphere of living organisms. The biosphere, in turn, generates the noösphere, which is the communication network that we call the mind. Through literature, through speech, through radio and television communication, the noösphere is slowly realized. So, Buckminster Fuller is really talking about the same thing. The noösphere is the network of communication set up by technology.


And so, for example, let’s just take air transportation: as a result of jet planes, all centers that are in communication with each other by jet aircraft are becoming increasingly the same place. When you wake up in Tokyo, having come from Los Angeles or San Francisco, you are slightly in doubt as to where you are. Because Tokyo is an immense muddle. It’s a mixture of Paris with Los Angeles, of San Francisco with Shanghai, of London vaguely thrown in, and sort of a touch of Japan. It’s a phenomenal place. But if you live in San Francisco, you realize it’s becoming more like Tokyo. Because we have a tremendous inrush of Japanese culture. We have superb Japanese restaurants, you can go to sushi bars—that is to say, bars for rice balls and raw fish which are beautifully served just like in a bar in Tokyo—and increasingly we have supermarkets which sell Oriental, African, and Japanese goods. I call them supermarkets for the unusual. And more and more people are laying down tatami mats, and cooking over hibachis, and using chopsticks, and every kind of thing like that. So the point is that, how near a place is to you is simply a factor of transportation. There are places in the United States—I was just in one in a far out Indian area of South Dakota. It takes longer to reach than to get to Tokyo. So it’s further away. That’s all there is to it for all practical purposes.


So Fuller’s idea is that, by the year 1968—so soon!—we have a one-town world. And it’s coming fast. And human beings have some problem adapting to this. Because, as you know, when you travel by jet, just as when you’re in an elevator that drops too fast—you feel it left your stomach on the 14th floor and has taken the rest of you down to the first—so the jet aircraft leaves your psyche in London and brings your body to San Francisco. And it takes some time to catch up. All your time rhythms are thrown off. But we’ll get used to it. And eventually, therefore—we must add to this: planes are very expensive. All governments have immense investments in aircraft. And to work they must be kept flying, otherwise they they get out of order. So they must be kept moving. That means there’s also a huge tourist business constantly interested in shuffling people all around the Earth. And as a result of that, it’s going to be increasingly a vested interest, and politicians will find it harder and harder to stop it in the interest of having a war.


So what we are in effect reduced to at the moment—so far as wars are concerned—are experimental wars. Wars in small areas against people who allegedly don’t matter very much in order to test out our military materials and techniques. Because nobody can afford to keep a large standing army in which there are no veterans. So they must have practice. And so practice wars are carefully arranged. But increasingly, you see, they find that these practice wars arouse passions and disturb everybody in all directions because there is no such thing as an unimportant people. And so they become increasingly difficult to carry on. So Fuller is extraordinarily hopeful about the future of mankind, because he feels that the synergy—the quality of intelligence in the total system—will overcome the folly of individuals, or of parts who are unable to act with full understanding of what’s going on.


And, you see, this is a serious problem so far as the individual is concerned. Because today, not only is there a population bomb, there’s also an information bomb. The proliferation of information about everything is so great that no individual can possibly grasp it. Not only has he difficulty in grasping it, but there is difficulty even for big committees to organize this information; to integrate it in such a way that, if I need to know a certain thing, I can very swiftly find it out. For an individual untrained in physics it’s very difficult to find out quickly about physics, because physics is expressed in a mathematical language which he probably has never learned to read.


So the time lag in scanning—you see, all consciousness is a matter of scanning. And it takes in the totality of events in the world by a sweeping motion, like the glance of our eyes around a room. Well, it takes time to glance your eyes around the room and register what’s there—if you want to remember it consciously. So what we are saying is that the intelligence of the system—the synergy—is more intelligent than any individual consciousness can be. But, of course, as a living organism, you are much more than consciousness—in this scanning sense. Because you certainly don’t arrange the complexities of your own brain by conscious decision. That’s something that you grow. Or we could put it this way: that the intelligence of the universe grows as it grows you.


But here, again, is another hurdle for the average Westerner whose common sense is derived from the philosophy of science current in the nineteenth century of thinking that the organization of the universe is intelligent. That seems, to us, to echo of theism, of God-ideas where God is based on an anthropomorphic or man-like image: the old gentleman with whiskers in the sky. And, of course, that God is dead beyond recall. But that’s not the only kind of God. To think of the universe itself—its vast and complex organization—as being intelligent… what on Earth does that mean? What do you mean by the word “intelligent?”


Well, when you come to think of it, it’s a most difficult word to define. Everybody knows what it is, but very few can say. It’s like you know what love is, but just try and define it. You know what time is, but try and define that. Space: everybody knows what space is, but it’s the most difficult thing to pin down. And that’s equally true of intelligence. We can see certain elements in intelligence. We can see complexity as an element of it. We can see complexity as what we call an orderly arrangement of different clusters of complexity. But again, we’re using words—all of which are imprecise. What do you mean, “orderly?” That’s practice to say “it’s all in order”—it was almost like saying it’s intelligently arranged. We recognize these things, but we are not quite sure what we mean by them. But we recognize them at once.


And, for example, if we begin with the pure hypothesis that we, ourselves, are intelligent, and let it go at that—if we are not, then nothing is—but let’s, for the sake of argument, say that we human beings are intelligent. Now, if that is so, then the environment in which we live must also be intelligent, because we are symptoms of that environment. And I don’t for the life of me see how you can have intelligent symptoms of an unintelligent organization. We belong in this world. We didn’t arrive here from somewhere else; we’re not tourists in the universe. We’re expressions of it like branches express the tree, or fruit express the tree. And so you will not find an intelligent organism living in an unintelligent environment. That is to say, the environment in which you live will be a system of mutual cooperation between a vast complexity of different kinds of organisms. And the total balance of that makes your life possible.


In other words, human life goeswith (as front goeswith back) an extremely complex bacteriological world—which sometimes diseases us but most of the time assists us by its colonies, its societies, its methods of reproduction—all these complex interrelations are the which without which not the sine qua non of there being blood and veins and bones and intestines and all that kind of thing. That’s only the bacteriological world. In addition to that, there’s a world of insects which is tremendously important to us. But the insects are extremely clever. And if you talk to a good entomologist he will scare the wits out of you, because he will show you the most conclusive reasons why insects should ultimately take the whole planet over. Fortunately, we are not absolutely abominated by flies, because we have lots of spiders. And we have birds. And so birds and insects are mutually necessary to each other, and especially flowers and insects have an arrangement with each other whereby one could say of flowers and bees that—although they look very different—they are one and the same organism. Flowers perfume and color, bees buzz and fly around. But you can’t have the flowers without the bees and you can’t have the bees without the flowers. And so you can think through relationships between every conceivable kind of organism into which you must add things like atmosphere qualities, gas content of atmosphere… on and on and on. Until you suddenly realize that what you call your mind and intelligence, and your very brain and body, is utterly involved with this network of other kinds of organisms existing at a special temperature in certain gases which could only be found in certain kinds of solar systems.


Now then, seeing that should give every technologist pause. Because you can’t go running into that situation with penicillin and DDT unless unless you know very well when to stop. Unless you can be very discriminating just what surplus of insects you want to get rid of without killing the other ones that are important. How to give penicillin without destroying all the stomach flora and having to build them up again with acidophilus and stuff.


So this is why, in the Taoist Chinese view of nature and the relation of nature to human politics, they set as fundamental the principle called wú wéi, which means “non-interference.” Not quite what we mean by laissez-faire, but rather close to it. That is to say, when you act upon nature—and you must; you can’t help but interfere. There’s no way of isolating yourself from the world. Every time you breathe you interfere with something, see? But the art of wú wéi is that, when you interfere, endeavor to do so by going with the grain of things. In other words, if you want a split wood, split it with the grain. Don’t try to split it across the grain. And likewise, when you want to pick a fight, don’t use violence but use the other person’s violence to bring about his downfall. That’s judo. And that judo is applied wú wéi. Sailing is wú wéi—as distinct from rowing, which isn’t.


So then, the Taoists, you see, recognized that there is this universal organism, and they thought of the cosmos as a great organism without a boss. There is no one in Chinese philosophy making the world happening, or ordering it. There is no, as it were, central principle in the middle which sends out commands to all the subordinate parts, but rather, that the thing organizes itself—their word for nature being zìrán, meaning “what is so of itself.” So they saw the whole cosmos as a self-regulating organism. And they further saw that the individual is not merely a part of that organism, he is an expression of the whole thing, and the whole depends upon this expression just as much as the expression depends upon it. And that was the principle of mutual interpenetration which is called in… well, it’s more familiarly known by its Japanese name jiji muge: the principle of the network. Between thing-event and thing-event there is no obstruction.


But, you see, it remains to us a bit of a puzzle to say that all this is an intelligence, because we can think of all kinds of objections to it. We could think if, by some conscious science, we were able to construct the universe, we would do it a little differently. We would have improvements to suggest upon mosquitoes. We would—perhaps a great surgeon might suggest that the human body be organized a little differently. We can think of dozens of things. But you find the curious thing is this: when you try to think out carefully how to improve the world, and then you realize what the consequences of your suggestion would be you wouldn’t like all of the consequences. Hence, the saying: be careful of what you desire—you may get it!


And then one invites the individual—and this is one of the great, great things to do—to suggest another kind of universe. What kind of universe would you design if you were God? And I recommend—I’m not going to go into this because it’s a long story—but I thoroughly recommend it as an exercise in thought: model your own universe and see what comes out of it. Because I can only tell you that you will eventually discover that you will model this one. And you’ll find out, you see, that it’s based on certain absolutely fundamental principles which, of course, includes the game of hide-and-seek (now you see it, now you don’t), which is vibration, which is the same thing as energy. You’ve got to begin with that. Once you start with that, it implies the rest. Because all that we see around us is just a fantastic combination of black and white elements; of what the Chinese call the yin and yang: the negative and positive forces. And it all leads to this, but in an incredible dance.


So then, you have difficulty, though, of course, in seeing the world as an organism because, when you look out at the stars, you are in roughly the same situation or relationship to what you are seeing as when a physicist studies the constitution of the atom. He will make a map of the behavior of the nucleus in which there will be various rotating particles—or waveicles. And you will see something which looks like a mathematical design and doesn’t look like an organism. Because we expect an organism to be a kind of gooey thing with blood and flesh and wriggles and so on. So if you looked only through the microscope, you wouldn’t see the organism. Well, when we look out at the rest of the universe, we are, as it were, sitting down on one of those electrons, looking through a microscope at the rest of it. And therefore, we don’t see the, sort of, total design it makes up. That’s much too far away from our conscious inspection. And this is one of the reasons, then, why it’s difficult for us to formulate the idea that there is an intelligence operating here. Because all we see is a firework display. This tremendous display of radioactive mud and gas. And one would say, “Well, it’s just a kind of a contraption that happened to arrive there, and… pffff… that’s all there is to it.”


But the funny thing about man is that he can put himself down and say that he is an accident; a kind of colloidal chemical accident that occurred on this very unimportant rock rotating around a lesser star on the fringe of one of the minor galaxies, and that this is where we are, and that the universe does not give a damn about us. Yet, the odd thing is that this wretched little chemical thing can reflect an image of the whole cosmos—in its vastness—inside his head, and can know he’s there. And that means, though, that this thing—however small in dimensions—is vast in comprehension. And what scale are you going to attach the word “importance” to? Mere size? Or degree of comprehension? By degree of comprehension, man is huge. By that scale.


So then, the principle is simply that if we can see from a perfectly physical point of view—what we would call a strictly scientific point of view—that the individual organism goeswith its environment in just the same way as bees go with flowers, and flowers in their turn go with grubs, and grubs in their turn go with birds, and so on all the way through, then, when you want to define yourself, you cannot say that I am just what is inside this skin. Because what is inside this skin goeswith everything outside it and constitutes a single complex field of diversified behaviors, diversified processes.


You look at that, then, from a strictly physical point of view. And there it is: this network. But then the trouble comes up is: you say—when you’ve studied that, and you read all the books on ecology, and botany, and zoology, astronomy, and so on—you say, “Yes, I see that. That’s quite true, theoretically. But I would like to be able to feel that this is so as mystics report that they have felt it.” To have that kind of experience in which the network is absolutely clear. Because, you see, if we don’t take it that far, if we know about it theoretically only, the theoretical knowledge is not going to have much effect on what we do. But knowledge of a more emotionally compelling nature will indeed affect the way we act with respect to our environment. And may, in fact, prevent us from destroying our environment as we are now very busily doing.


It’s interesting that the Congress of the United States recently passed an act making it a very serious offense to burn the American flag. And they passed this act with many patriotic speeches and rhetoric and much reciting of poems. This is the most fantastic example of American confusion between symbol and reality, between menu and meal. Because this same Congress is directly or indirectly responsible for burning up what the flag stands for—namely, the geographical United States and its people. By not really doing much about the devastation of our forests, the pollution of our water and atmosphere, the reckless waste of our natural resources, and resorting to a form of economy which under any sane circumstances would be termed sheer lunacy. You see, they cannot distinguish between the symbol and the reality because we are all hypnotized with words and symbols. And so when the flag is more precious than the country we are insane. When you say, “I love my country,” what you mean by that is you feel certain emotions when you salute a flag. You don’t love your country at all! Because to love the country means to participate in its life in a loving way, in a considerate way. And our animals are, in a certain sense, members of the United States—birds, bears, all these lovely creatures. And what we are doing is: we are getting rid of birds at a fast rate. We’ve reduced certain populations of birds by as much as 75% in the last few years. Because they eat our poisonous insecticides and so on, and eventually they get into us. That’s love of country.


So as a result of this confusion, you see, and failure to see that the outside world is not a kind of chunk of mineral resources and cows to be exploited and to be just eaten up—if we do that, we turn ourselves into a swarm of locusts on the planet. The price for eating beef is that you must farm beef. You must conduct husbandry. You must help cattle to multiply and you must care for them properly. The same with fishing. We have not husbanded whales, and therefore they’re on their way to extinction. This is the price. You’ve got to cherish the animals that you live off. And then, furthermore, after that—to put in my particular prejudice—you’ve got to cook them properly. You don’t just chew it up because it’s supposed to give you energy and be good for you. That’s an irreverent use of dead animals and dead plants. They give their lives for you, and the proper response to that is: take it with reverence. And that means: cook it well. So that your act of cooking is like the rituals of a priest at an altar. It is the sacrificial altar; the chopping board and the range which we use. Kitchens are not to be looked on as a sort of lavatory where you throw things together to put in at the upper end.


So that this can only come about, you see, in a situation where human beings are vividly aware of the external world as as much themselves as their own bodies. And you must allow yourself, therefore, to feel that what you see is not merely something out there. It’s in your head. And your head’s in it. And these things mutually interpenetrate each other, like this. Now it’s in your head. Now your head’s in it. Now it’s in your head. Now your head’s in it. Like this, you see? And this rhythm sets up what we call vision. So, if you see that the external world is as much you as anything inside your skin or anything inside your head, then you have a certain respect for it and no longer consider matter—for example, take a piece of wood: a piece of wood not just a chunk of stuff. But people think about wood that way. You can’t be a good carpenter if that’s the way you think about wood. We think we’re dealing, you see, with these inert, unfeeling blocks of stuff. Rocks have no feelings, of course! And bang it around. Mountains have no feelings—blow them up with dynamite. But they do have feelings.


And if you hurt them—this is the Indian saying. I’ve just been with a whole bunch of Indians. They say the continent of the United States is getting ready to shake us off as a dog would shake off fleas. They say the storms are going to get worse, the earthquakes worse, the floods worse, and the insect pests will multiply in all sorts of strange ways and finally get rid of us and leave the land to the Indians who originally owned it.

Let’s have a brief intermission.

Seminar 3

Future of Privacy and Human Organization


The question arose this morning about the problem of whether the extension of the network, especially by electronics, might not abolish individual privacy. And I said I was planning to devote this afternoon’s session to that problem and some of its ramifications. This, of course, is the area of the problem with which Marshall McLuhan is very largely concerned, for he has pointed out that just as the wheel is an extension of the feet—and as, beyond the wheel, naturally, comes the horse and carriage, the automobile, and the airplane—all these technological creations are extensions of the human organism. And finally, the electronic network—of telephone, telegraph, radio, and television—is an extension of the nervous system. And into that we must throw, as an additional extension of the nervous system, the computer. The computer, into which data can be fed from the files of the insurance companies, the Internal Revenue Service, the police, the credit agencies—everything. So that in a matter of seconds, when an individual is identified, an enormous amount of information about him can be instantly known.


In a rather similar way, the time is not too far ahead when you will be able to have a box, about so big, on your desk which has a little screen on it, and a dial. And after dialing a key code you will dial the catalog number of any book in the Library of Congress that you want to read. And at any rate that you wish, the spread pages of that book will appear on your television screen. And you can get it right like that.


When we get to television worked with the agency of laser beams you will, of course, be able to see solid three-dimensional images in color projected in a certain area, and you can walk around it. I haven’t discovered yet whether you can kiss it. But when you get a phenomenon like that it begins raising the question of where somebody actually is. When the reproduction becomes technically perfect, you see, you won’t know the difference between the reproduction and the original. That’s going to be a new kind of confusion.


And we will perhaps even be able to think about the word “reproduction” in a new sense. We say, now—one of the meanings we give to the word “reproduction” is sexual reproduction of the species; the biological method. Then we have reproduction through photocopy and all that kind of thing. Let’s suppose, too, that we begin increasingly to be able to manufacture the parts of the human body in very perfect kinds of plastic, so that when your heart goes wrong or your kidneys go wrong the surgeon will simply replace them with a plastic reproduction, which will work equally well. And perhaps they’ll never be able to reproduce—in plastic—the brain, but they can at least put in there a radio device which will connect with a computer system of some kind which will do the same job. So that then, after the years go by and your parts have been replaced, the serious question arises as to are you the same individual? And we would say, “Well, no. You’ve been entirely replaced.”



But that happens normally.



Of course it does. You’re being replaced all the time, though by a different method. And just as, say, an institution like the University of California—which is a very rapidly changing university—for some mysterious reason it remains the University of California, recognizable as such, even though the students, the faculty, the office and administrative staffs, and the very buildings themselves are in a state of flux so that they hardly remain a constant for five years in succession. What, then, is the university? The university is a pattern of behavior, and the organisms involved in that pattern keep changing, but the pattern retains an identifiable continuity. So does your body. So does the whirlpool in the stream. So do the hot springs down below: although the water is running through them all the time and is never the same.


So you can envisage the reproduction of the human being in this electronic way. And at first you say, “Oh, horrors! Are we going to be converted into nothing but plastic replicas of ourselves? Will we be there in any sense anymore? Will the soul survive it?” But you see, in the case of the University of California, it is what we call the University of California that is the soul. And its bodily expression keeps changing.


So when we find out that we are electronic echoes of ourselves being perpetuated through the ages, we shall come to the astonishing conclusion that that’s what we already are. Only, we have to do it again ourselves in order to realize it. We are already the most remarkable electronic patterns from the standpoint of physics.


So let’s, a bit, lay that bugbear to rest—although I must say there is something about plastic in its present stage of evolution that is somewhat repulsive. There is a state of consciousness which those who are psychedelically hip—or hep—call the “plastic doll,” in which everything looks as if it’s made of plastic, as if of patent leather or enameled tin. That it only reflects light and has no light inside it. There is another side to the vision whereby everything becomes living jewelry with light inside, a kind of beatific vision as distinct from a diabolic vision. And at the present stage of its development plastic always suggests the diabolic vision. But it is through the diabolic vision that you gather the deepest insights. It’s really profounder than the beatific vision in a certain way. Because if you can go down into any experience—I hope you understand the meaning of this phrase “go down into,” it’s very important—it means exploring a certain sensation or a certain feeling, to find out all its implications, to find out what it is at root that you like about it or dislike about it. And you will find, if you explore the plastic doll vision sufficiently carefully, that it will bring about, in the end, a far greater depth of bliss and realization than merely exploring the things that are lovely at first sight, obviously so.


So one should think about this funny thing of technology considered as artificiality in the light of the realization that there really is nothing artificial. You might say the distinction of the artificial from the natural is a very artificial distinction; that the constructs of human beings are really no more unnatural than bees’ nests, and birds’ nests, and constructs of animal and insect beings. They’re extensions of ourselves.


So then, what about the situation, when it arises, that we are all computerized? That no one is hidden. I want you to notice something already about the Bell Telephone Company: they have a regulation whereby you cannot switch your telephone off. You may have an extension in the house and you may switch that off, but you may not switch off your main phone. And if you leave it off the hook it starts screaming after a while. They project that, not many years hence, the ordinary telephone will disappear and every individual will carry around with him a thing about the size of the old pocket watches. One side of it will be a TV screen and a speaker, the other side of it will be a set of buttons over which you just place your finger to activate them. You’ll be able to dial world information, who will give you the number or any given individual. If he doesn’t answer, he’s dead. So under such circumstances, absolutely no one can get lost.


And then, you see, as this moves on—let me develop some of its further possibilities. People like Toynbee and McLuhan have noted that as technology progresses there enters into it a quality of what they call ‘etherealization.’ And this is connected with Teilhard de Chardin’s doctrine of peduncles. Peduncles aren’t exactly relatives. And we have to understand first the doctrine of peduncles.


Now, here it is: here is a globule. It might be an amoeba or it might be oil in water, suspended. And this globule is going to separate. First it does this, then it does this, then it does this, and then it does this, see? Now, these things here are peduncles, from the Latin root pest, pedis, meaning “foot.” Some sort of protrusion out of a globular body. So notice, then, that the production of a peduncle—here in the form of a connecting neck, and here in the form of little tails when the neck is broken—that in the course of development, when we reach this stage, the peduncles have disappeared. According to de Chardin, this is why we do not find missing links around in the evolutionary process: they vanished in accordance with the law of peduncles.


Now, in exactly the same way, the human technology sets up certain kinds of peduncles. A road, for example—or a railroad—is a peduncle because with the development of automotive traffic, truck traffic, the railroads become increasingly obsolete, and there are rusty old tracks lying all over the country that are not used anymore. And then, with the development of aircraft, the road tends to become obsolete. With the development of radio the wire, as a connection, as a peduncle, becomes obsolete. So that more and more the connecting links that we saw in a visible way disappear with the development of more expert types of communication.


We can easily take this a step further when we develop a form of electronic communication such that you don’t even need to take a plane. You want to see—supposing I want to see my father in England: we both have these laser-beam TV jobs and zzzwwht, like that, I can recreate in front of him myself and my exact environment, everything around, just as if he was sitting in the room. And I can do that with his set on the other end. So that eventually we don’t need to take the plane. You can conceive—as some science fiction writers have; what seems to us a rather appalling situation—where you never, never need to leave the place where you’re sitting. All food supplies and everything are automatically delivered. You just dial what you want and some kind of mechanical process transmits it to you.


Then they go further than that. They don’t—they really abolish food altogether because they’ve got it down to some special essences which you take. Then they go beyond that and you give yourself a certain kind of electronic stimulation, and it does all for you that food could ever do. And then you think: oh dear, what’s the next step beyond that?



Technical sex.



Of course! The next step beyond that is, of course—there’s one thing yet, one peduncle we yet have to get rid of, and that is the black box; the electronic gadget. Because by the time we have become as etherealized as that, we move into telepathy and psychic communication. And as soon as you make that step, of course, it would seem that all privacy whatsoever has gone. Because what you are, inside, is an open book to everybody else. Your thoughts are easily read, and therefore you may say at first, “Eugh!” That is the conversion of humanity into an anthill of the worst type. And this is, in a way, naturally, what all properly educated Americans—and I will add properly educated Britishes, and some other peoples—dread.


It is said the Englishman’s home is his castle. And everybody needs a castle, a place where you can get away from it all and just be yourself. But even then, when you’re away from it all and you’re just being in yourself, you’ve unfortunately got a lot of thoughts inside your head that aren’t yours. Because you think in the English language, and that was given to you by other people and contains their prejudices; that you can’t avoid them in thinking. Japanese people will say that when they think in Japanese they can have certain feelings that are characteristically Japanese, but when they start thinking in English they can’t have those feelings. And so you are very, very much, really, in the sphere of public influence when you start to think.


And if you listen carefully to your thoughts—insofar as they are uttered in words, and they very often are—try and discover the tone of voice in which certain of your thoughts are being said, and you will listen and hear your mother, or you will hear an aunt, or you will hear a school teacher, or will hear certain friends expressing their opinions and telling you who you are and how you ought to behave. And you think those are your thoughts and they’re nothing of the kind. An inner pandemonium under the dome of the skull is going on all the time. Myriads of voices, myriads of influences from outside working upon you even when you are physically quite alone.


So—wait ’till the question period, please—this means that you’re not nearly as much of a private individual as you think. You are also, of course, exercising these influences upon other people. You’re telling them who they are, what you think about them, what you think of their behavior. And even if they don’t believe you they nevertheless pay very serious attention to it. They can’t help it. You can take the experiment, for example, that B. F. Skinner used to try, which is very terrifying. He would send two members of the class, selected arbitrarily, outside of the room. Then he would arrange two chairs, chair A and chair B. He would say to the class, “Now look: when these people come back we’re going to engage them in a conversation. Whatever A says, agree with him. Whatever B says, disagree with him.” So they come back into the room and they take their seats, and a conversation begins. Now B may be a very strong-headed, articulate person, and A really rather feeble. But what happens is this: that by group agreement with anything A says, he is encouraged, he is built up, he becomes more articulate, he finds himself… sprouting. But B, by being disagreed with on every point, begins to get baffled, and confused, and feel very uncomfortable indeed. Unless he is onto the game and he challenges the whole group: “I see now what you’re playing. You have made up your minds to disagree with everything I say. Therefore, of course, you don’t count. I shall pay no attention to you.”


So in this way, you see, we’re already colossally influenced by each other. And this is why I think that Harry Stack Sullivan’s basic ideas about psychopathology are in some respects more profound than Freud’s. Freud is always looking into the individual history, into the physiology, into the depth psychology of the individual in an interior sort of way. But Sullivan was always looking to the individual as the expression of a social network. And the same in the psychology of George Herbert Mead, where he called the conceptions that we have of ourselves the “interiorized other.” In other words, the sum-total of all the things that people have told us we are. Because you do not know yourself as a self except in a society. Just as you do not exist biologically without a father and a mother, you do not carry on an existence without a society, and the reactions of other people to you provide you with the mirror in which you attain a realization of yourself. You know who you are in terms of your relationships with others.


So then, now, when we contemplate this disappearance of privacy and a completely integrated human society, we can look at this from two different points of view: pro and con. Let us first look at the pro point of view. How great to have nothing to hide? How great to give up all worries about ownership? Because you could say, if somebody says they would like something you have, and you say, “Please. Have it.” Because you know very well you can go to someone else and say, “Could I have that?” and they’ll give it to you. And so, all the way around, there is no propriety. In the sense, not of prudish propriety, but propriety in the sense of possession. Also, of course, in the sense of prudish propriety. Nobody has any dirty little secrets, because if I have any dirty secrets I know very well that you have, too, and so let’s drop the whole pretense and let go. So in this sense, there might be a very, very close fellowship between all people in which there are no barriers, no defenses, and we all cooperate together beautifully and love each other.


Now let’s look at the con point of view. The con point of view would say, “Yes, but surely the more we communicate with each other in that way and have no property, and there are no boundaries, and there are no fences or defenses, then, just in the same way that jet aircraft makes all cities the same city, so this would make all people the same individual.” Would that be what the Hindus mean by saying “you are all one, you are all the godhead in disguise?” Would it mean that?


Now, part of our difficulty in approaching this is that we begin from the standpoint of a certain conception of the individual person. And this is, of course, the Christian ego—which is the soul as a center of action, and something alive with consciousness and intelligence—that lies hidden in the bag of skin. As, for example, King John says in Shakespeare’s play to Hubert:

Within this wall of flesh

There is a soul counts thee her creditor

And with advantage means to pay thy love.

See the image? “Within this wall of flesh, there is a soul.” Within the castle, there is the king. And every man’s home is his castle.


And so those of us who are brought up in that way to feel, A) that we are basically the soul in the body, and B) that every soul that exists is of infinite value in the eyes of God. We, therefore, have instituted since the Industrial Revolution a tremendous technological campaign to preserve the individual. We have all kinds of social services, hospitals, ambulances, medicine, welfare agencies—every kind of thing with the one aim of preserving life, getting you to live longer, and giving what is called full opportunity for the development of your personality. To the myriads of Asia, this is almost unbelievable. And then, of course, we are teaching the peoples of Asia medicine, and sanitation, industrialization, so that every single coolie child can be regarded not as so much waste human material—which, because it’s sick, has to be thrown away—but as some individual to be loved and cherished and properly treated. And because individuality, the human—the particular, each particular human organism is infinitely precious. That is the moving ideal of the sort of people who first created the great hospitals, who abolished slavery, who abolished the death penalty for trivial offenses, who made that great humanitarian movement of the 19th century associated with such people as Wesley, and Charles Dickens, and William Wilberforce, and so on, to rescue the precious individual from the ravages of impersonal disease or impersonal political exploitation.


Then, when a kind of American capitalist liberalism achieved, to some extent, this sort of ideal, we look, then, at political forms which are socialistic or communistic and are leery of them because they seem to go back on all that. So, of course, did national socialism in Germany. Because the position there is not the individual who is the supremely important being, but it is the community—the state—which is supremely important. The individual realizes himself as the servant of the state. But our theory, in the liberal capitalism of the United States, is that the state is the servant of the individual; that we employ policemen, and soldiers, and sanitary inspectors, and department of commerce officials, all to serve us. And we call them public servants. And when a policeman gets uppish he has to be reminded that we pay his salary and that his job is to serve us and not to be a kind of admirable cretin sort-of butler who takes the upper hand.


But of course, the very idea of a servant still has in it—doesn’t it?—something aristocratic. And as we all know, in this country it is increasingly difficult to get services of any kind. More and more it is felt beneath the individual’s dignity to be, say, a waiter, a barber. After all, they give you a certain kind of service. Certainly, it’s beneath anyone’s dignity to shine shoes, because that’s the feet and that’s very low down; that’s like kissing people’s feet. To give massage, to do all these things for other people that are rather material skills—increasingly, you have to get them in another way: either by a do-it-yourself system or by some sort of machinery. And so, in the same way, people who used to give service want to translate themselves professionally. People who were formerly called undertakers now call themselves morticians. Janitors call themselves maintenance services. I suppose barbers will soon call themselves tonsorial experts. All sorts of things like that are happening right now in order to give the sense of equality all ’round. And so the guy who gives you gas at the garage will notice your first name on your credit card and will address you by it. I get very irritated to be called Al; I just don’t respond to that form of address at all. But I suppose that’s my British snobbishness.


But here it is, you know: everybody slaps everybody’s back. I was very puzzled by this when I first came to live in California because here the use of first names and this kind of familiarity is extraordinarily common. And when I found myself on first-name terms with a man who was, in a certain sense, my boss—who was the president of the University of the Pacific—I felt distinctly uncomfortable. And the reason I felt uncomfortable was that I felt the whole thing was insincere, that there was not the kind of relationship between us which would normally be represented by being on first-name terms. But there was (what was much worse) a sort of effort to prove that there really ought to be that kind of relationship when neither side had any intention of forming it. And that’s very baffling if you come from outside and you don’t know, I suppose, what all good born-and-bred Californians know: what are the cues, the subliminal cues, which distinguish one form of first-name address from another. Of course, what eventually happens is that people have two first names: the published one and the nickname, known only to an intimate circle; used only by an intimate circle.


But you see, what we see in this, then, is the creeping socialism, the creeping abolition of what is precious and what is private and what is property, and feel that as that disappears and as all fences disappear, the collection of human beings will simply dissolve into an amorphous mass. And indeed, there is a danger of that. We have seen people disappear into amorphous masses. We have seen Hitler’s legions. We have seen the things that Chinese can do with the military tactic called the human sea, when swarms and swarms of troops, all identically uniformed, are absolutely thrown at the enemy in wave after wave after wave. But let us not forget that the generals of the western powers did exactly the same thing in the First World War—on both sides they used the tactics of the human sea, in which the lives of individuals meant nothing whatsoever.


Now, there are two different ways of responding to what we will call the invasion of privacy. Very often you will encounter someone who attacks your privacy in a psychological way. It may be a drunk sitting next to you at a bar, or it may be someone who fancies himself as an expert psychological guru. And when you express an opinion or, say—you know, you walk up to such an individual and say, “Good morning. How are you feeling?” He says, “Why do you ask me?” You know? And he immediately—you see—he breaks the social rules whereby you communicate with another person without actually saying anything. Phrases like “How are you?” “Nice day, isn’t it?” are like, on a radio, buzzing to be sure that the other side is in communication. And so you make various noises, testing, is that so-and-so, give a call letter, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and you know you’re in touch. So in the same way, we, in our general daily converse, we feel each other out by saying these little social platitudes, and then we test the person as to whether—by the sound of the voice, by the smell, which we don’t think about but which we absorb unconsciously (unless they smell very strong)—then… complete with bombs! And then we get the feeling, “Do I want to explore this relationship further?” We test. Then those people, you see, who invade your privacy instantly—it’s either the drunk, or the child (who’s quite innocent), or the probing psychologist who is playing his special game (maybe one-upmanship of some kind) and sees how uncomfortable he can make you.


Now, what are the tactics of response to be in these various situations? When you get the probing psychologist you can shrug your shoulders and say, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you manners?” Or you can simply not defend yourself. Some people just don’t need to defend themselves at all. And so that probing them in that way is like tossing a rock into a well, and you wait, and there’s no splash. And that really sets people back. Krishnamurti does that. If you make a comment about somebody in his presence that is in any way adverse or critical, he gives just no response at all so that you suddenly feel—like the Buddha said—you’ve spat at the sky and the spit falls back into your own face.


And I was once present where a certain person of that nature was using, as his ploy, silence. And the silence implied the conversation of everyone else around this table is trivial. You know, it was one of those tangible silences. And suddenly, someone at the table turned to him and said, “You know, I can’t stand people who use silence as a weapon.”



Did he remain silent?



No, a conversation then started. But—and it was a very rather disagreeable conversation, if I may say so.

So there is, you see, always the response to psychological attack—an invasion of privacy—as Allen Ginsberg does it: if anybody presses on him too hard, he’ll strip naked. And if anybody challenges him to fight he says, “Alright. You challenged me, I choose the weapons. Who’s going to undress first?” And he has this kind of marvelous feeling that there really isn’t anything that he’s hiding. I don’t know; there may be, but he certainly doesn’t impress me as anyone who really hides anything.


So that, you see, to enter into a human relationship where there is nothing to hide and you don’t depend on any sort of property-gimmick for your personal worth, that’s a thing we get very easily hooked on. It may be your car, it may be your clothes, it may be your cameras, your style of watches, your fountain pens, your heaven only knows what, your home that you possess—and that is inseparable from your personality, and you can’t be you if you’re stark naked. So the confrontation of people in an atmosphere of physical or spiritual nakedness is one where many individuals seen they have completely lost because they can’t play their accustomed role. Of course, I have a certain advantage, which is that even if I’m stark naked I can still talk. But now, supposing they say, “Now, you shut up!” Don’t defend yourself with language, see? That’s like taking off an extra set of clothes.


But, as I say, there’s a certain kind of individual whom this doesn’t phase at all because he knew from the beginning that he was nothing and nobody. And of course, that’s a very important thing to know because you have nothing to lose. He who sleeps on the floor will not fall out of bed, and he who has nothing to lose has really no fear—either of the loss of his property, his propriety, or his privacy. But there are other people who—in this situation of the loss of privacy—are completely degraded. The way, for example, we systematically deprive privacy from the inmates of prisons and mental hospitals. You go into a mental hospital: all the johns are completely exposed, everything is smooth walls; there are no corners, there are no secrets. Everybody’s sort of herded around, and they all look the same: put in the same uniform, have the same haircut. And also in the army. In, say, the marine boot camps; the same. The first thing is to degrade the individual ritually so that he has no privacy, and to see what happens to him if you do that. Now, you may—the result of this is that you may brainwash him completely and make him nothing more an obedient tool of the system. And in this case you see what you’ve got: you’re back again to monarchical politics.


And so in a system where the design of the politics is that the community of human beings is ruled—whether by an individual monarch or by a totalitarian state makes no difference—but the dynamics of that situation is that this community is not a group, it is a crowd. Now, we therefore have to understand the difference between a group and a crowd because this is the key to the whole thing, and if you understand this you can get ’round the things that seem threatening in a society where there is no privacy.


A crowd is structured in this way: there is a number of identical individuals, suitably brainwashed, and there is a leader—whether this is an individual again, or a bureaucratic entity of some kind. The relationship between them is this:

Crowd/Mass Communication
Figure 1: Crowd/Mass Communication


In other words, the line of communication is from the individual to the leader, and they don’t really—they’re not really in communication with each other at all, except insofar they may communicate with each other, but this controls the nature of their communication. So, in other words, when a politician speaks to an enormous audience, what he sets up is a crowd because the audience are individuals who don’t know each other. They’re just people, they’re just heads—or hands. And so the leader really communicates with them and they can’t answer back unless they do so as a group. “Sieg Heil!” You know? Then they answer back, but all as a collective. Because along the lines of this kind of communication… supposing I talk to a thousand people over the radio, and they all send me back letters—well, I can’t read them, much less answer them! There isn’t time. So this is a strictly one-way communication.


Now then, let’s look—in contrast to that—to the design of a group. We’ll make it a circle again, for convenience. Now, a group has no leader because it is, itself, an organism. And so the lines of communication run, first of all, like this:

Figure 2a


(Well, this isn’t very well drawn because I’ve got an odd number in it, but that’s alright.) But they’re much more complicated than that.

Figure 2b


They’re also this. Now you see what’s going on? Let’s go this one around, who isn’t he talking to yet?

Figure 2c


He isn’t talking to that one. He isn’t talking to this one, he isn’t talking to this one… Do you see how? I’m not going to draw all this; it’d take forever. [Curator’s note: I did 😁]

Decentralized Group Communication
Figure 2d: Decentralized/Group Communication (Organism)


But the thing is that these—this sort of pattern (Figure 2d) is group communication, this sort of pattern (Figure 1) is crowd communication. So an effective group—a true group of human beings—is one in which there are enough people, or not too many people, so that they can all know each other and are in communication with each other. Now then, you say: how do you relate that sort of a cell to the larger human group?

Simple Metagroup Communication
Figure 3a: Simple Metagroup Communication


Why, very simply. Every group appoints one cell to represent it. And that cell goes and joins a group of representative cells, and they have to be of adequate size for them all to be in touch with each other.

Metagroup Communication
Figure 3b: Advanced Metagroup Communication (Metaorganism)


And then, if it’s necessary to go higher than that and include a still greater number—or collectivity—of small cells, [then] the representative group, Representative1, will elect Representative2 to go to a representative group of 2s.

Hypergroup Communication
Figure 4: Hypergroup Communication (Hyperorganism)


And in this method—which is the actual original design of the republic of the United States (which, of course, has been completely overlooked)—you get a hierarchy of cell structures where… because I am in communication with you, here, and I’m fully occupied in this system of communication, the chances are that I don’t know a great deal about what other cell groups are doing, because it’s too complicated for me to scan. But therefore, we will delegate one particular individual and say, “You make a specialty of scanning these other groups around here, so that you have a wider knowledge.” And so it goes, so that you have a hierarchical system of communication—you can call it “government” if you want to, because what we’re simply talking about is an information system. So that, for example, one of these will not ever, individually, elect the President of the United States. But his representative, at a certain level, will. Because his representative at a certain level knows far more about who to select than he does because he’s made it his business to do so. Every individual can’t do that.


And so you will find that this (Figure 1) is the system of direct representation used by all dictators: all dictators vote themselves into office by referendum, they take it to the people and say, “You are the people. You elect me.” Well, that’s the easiest thing in the world: to bamboozle an enormous number of people by mass persuasion to do practically anything you want. But you can’t bamboozle that kind of structure (Figure 4), it’s too strong.


Here, with mass communication (Figure 1), you see everybody getting the same thing. Now, oddly enough, you see, McLuhan—in his thought about the future of communications—says that with the development of the electronic circuits we tend towards tribalism. And this, precisely, is tribalism (Figure 4). This is the monolithic state (Figure 1), this is the tribal community (Figure 4). This is utterly paternalistic (Figure 1). But this is different (Figure 4), this gives everybody a chance to have his say so. And have his say so not only in terms of a yes or no vote, but the thing of the unit, the tribe, is small enough for there to be a discussion.


And that’s why we can’t understand about Indians—Amerindians—why they don’t like the idea of voting. They have a pow-wow. They’re like Quakers: the Quakers don’t vote, they get what they call a “sense of the meeting.” Because they all know each other and they consider putting a thing to a vote as a kind of unreasonable procedure. We should all get together and feel it out, and establish, through discussion, a consensus. So this (Figure 4), as I say, is a very strong human cluster. Very difficult to be pushed around by this (Figure 1).


Now, as we have developed electronic communications thus far, we have things like great national hookups so that everybody in the United States is watching whatever it is that comes over ABC or NBC at the major hours. But that is, I think, a fairly temporary phenomenon with the development of UHF (Ultra High Frequency) television broadcasting, and the more we develop micro-electric machinery the greater the capacity for discrimination on the dial. See, as it is, you get a lot of interference and therefore it cuts out the possibility of an innumerable cluster of stations. But as the technology becomes more perfect, you can receive an enormous number of different stations. And these stations will increasingly have machinery that makes them fairly simple to run. For example, with a video tape machine now made by Ampex costing $6,000 and a Sony television camera costing $250 you could produce a television show with only one technician. The average TV show produced in a studio requires 14 technicians to handle it. So as this happens, you see, it means that there can be an increasing variety of the kind of material that is presented through the electronic channels.


McLuhan adds to this a kind of strange point of view, which is that it really doesn’t matter what kind of material is going over. Because the message is not the content of the television show, but your exposure to and involvement in that kind of a medium. Well, there’s something to this. That when you touch a person, physically—which is a sort of direct communication—you don’t necessarily say anything. It is just the act of touching that may give the message (or the massage) of affection or love. And so people love to wander into the streets and mingle with a crowd of shoppers, especially a colorful crowd going back and forth, and the feeling of all the interesting people around, and everything. They’re not saying anything to each other in words, but this exciting feeling of being involved in this colorful goings-on.


And so, in the same way, when we are plugged in—if not turned on—to a huge in-and-outing of human communication, we feel very like an old Italian peasant lady leaning on the windowsill and gazing at the busy street, watching life flow by. And in a way, you see, there’s something… when you see it in terms of the old Italian mamma watching the world go by, there’s something very fundamentally good about that. Something we associate with colorful villages, exciting streets, and the romance of an archaic peasant-type person.


But you see that that sort of thing of watching an ever-varying panorama of life is not completely excluded by electronic technology. Especially if people—in their net structure—are organized here as true nets (Figure 4). This is not a true net (Figure 1); this is just a trap.

Well, let’s take an intermission.

Seminar 4

Money, Guilt, and the End


One of the most curious things about Westerners is their fear of pleasure and their incapacity for indulging in it as a probable consequence of this fear. I constantly marvel at the fact that the (money-wise) richest nation on Earth takes such dreary pleasures when it could afford much more elaborate ones. And I’ve been trying for a long time to sell the idea of a television show called “Delight from Asia”—as distinct from “The Light from Asia”—which would expose Westerners to some of the great and pleasurable refinements of the various cultures of Asia, and very gently twit the American public for not really knowing how to spend money.


And I suppose the reason is basically that we are rather like the British in this respect, who have the same problems. It is always said that the Frenchman eats with gusto, and the Britisher eats apologetically. And there’s a certain feeling, you see, that you shouldn’t think too much about what you’re eating. French people love to talk about food, and we think that’s slightly vulgar. Eating, after all, is something a little animal, and we don’t want to smack our lips too much. And unlike the Chinese and the Islamic peoples, we don’t look with favor upon burping after meals—which, of course, in the Far East is a sign of appreciation of how good a dinner it was. We eat dutifully. True, we do like our steaks and our eggs and bacon. The only decent meal you can get crossing the country is breakfast. But we eat primarily because eating nutritious; it’s good for you. And therefore, as Henry Miller once wrote in his essay The Staff of Life in the book Remember to Remember:


Throw anything down the hatch and swallow a dozen vitamins. If that doesn’t work, see a surgeon. If that doesn’t work, get a Hollywood funeral. They’re the duckiest, the cutest, the sweetest funerals. Why, you can have your loved one embalmed and propped up, smoking a cigarette and reading something uplifting like the Bhagavad Gita—cigarette guaranteed not to rot away before the lips and the buttocks. Jolly what, oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where thy victory?


And so I suppose there are various complex reasons in this somehow odd reluctance to enjoy life with gusto because God may be watching—or the gods, or the fates, in some way. And there’s a feeling that if you are too boisterous, if you are too thoroughly enjoying yourself, someone is going to say, “I’m going to make you laugh the other side of your face.” Now, we don’t want to get too far out in this. We believe that if we get too involved in pleasure, it will in some way suck us in and beguile us, make us helpless addicts to something or other. And therefore we’re a little standoffish about the whole thing.


This is creating difficulties, because this attitude had some sense to it when it was very difficult to feed and clothe and house the vast majority of human beings; when we lived in what is called an age of scarcity. Because then it was very wicked to waste any food or to waste any good materials, because it deprived people. But today we, in the United States, are living in an economy of waste. I remember when I was first living in this country, my mother came to visit us and was appalled at the fact that my wife poured some milk down the drain. “Couldn’t you use it in some way? Couldn’t you make a custard? Couldn’t you do that?” I said, “No. If we don’t keep buying milk, all the people who produce milk will be out of a job.” And the more milk is thrown away and so on, the economy thrives. It’s like the man who was found in the men’s toilet in a bar, and one of the fellows went in, and he had a jug of beer, and he was just pouring it down the toilet. He said, “What’re you doing?” And the fellow replied, “I’m just tired of being a middleman!”


So the fact of the matter is, you see, that we are moving into a period of man’s economic development wherein through technology it is really genuinely possible to feed and clothe adequately every human being on the planet. All that we have spent, the various sovereign nations of the world, on waging war since 1914—that amount of effort and treasure would’ve supplied everybody on Earth, I think, with a decent independent income. But, you see, politicians and businessmen are not practical. They say they’re hardheaded and realistic, but as a matter of fact they’re very shortsighted and only look for immediate objectives, and therefore they can’t even figure on the cost of doing this as against the cost of doing that.


And one of the reasons that our technology is impeded and prevented from feeding the world properly is the failure of one of our networks—it’s an information network, and it’s called money—about which we have the most unbelievable superstitions and psychological blocks, which have been gone into at some length by Freud, who equates our valuation of money with our attitude to excrement, and a very complicated lot of complexes grow up around that. But money and our psychological attitude to money is a major obstacle to a proper development of technology, enabling it to do what it is supposed to do, that is, to save labor and to produce goods, services, and so on adequately.


So I must introduce this with a story which is entirely legendary—indeed, quite apocryphal. The great banks of the world at one time got absolutely sick of the expense and security measures involved in shipping consignments of gold from one bank to another. And so they decided that all the chief banks of the world would open offices on a certain island in the South Pacific—which was balmy and comfortable—and there they would store all the gold in the world. And they put it in great subterranean vaults reached by deep elevator shafts, and then all they had to do when one bank or one country owed gold to another was to trundle it across the street. And this was very efficient. And it went on beautifully for five or six years.


And then the presidents of the world banks got together and said, “Let’s have a convention out on this island and take our wives and families.” So, about seven years from the date of opening, all those presidents and their wives and families went out to this Pacific island, and they inspected the books. And everything was beautifully in order. Then the children said, “Oh daddy, can’t we see the gold?” They said, “Of course you may see the gold.” And they said to the managers, “Let’s take our children down to the vaults and show them our gold.” And the manager said, “Well, it’s a little bit inconvenient at this time. Perhaps the children would not really be very interested. After all, it’s just only old, plain gold.” And the president said, “Oh no, no, come, now! They’ll be thrilled! Let’s go down and see.” And there was further humming and hawing and delays. And finally it came out that, a few years before, there had been a catastrophic subterranean earthquake and all the vaults had been swallowed up and all the gold had disappeared. But so far as the bookkeeping was concerned, everything was in perfect order.


What this means, then, is that money is nothing but bookkeeping. It is figures. It is a way of measuring what you owe the community and what the community owes you. It is, of course, as you all know, a substitute for barter. If you worked on a farm and the farmer paid you in terms of ears of corn, onions, cabbages, and other vegetables, and yet you wanted a pot and pan of some kind, and you took a few vegetables over to the man who made pots and pans and you swapped. Some people used cowry shells to stand for money so that you wouldn’t have to barter and carry around all these inconvenient loads of goods. And then, of course, gold was used, because gold was rare and because gold was supposed to have a constant value.


You might ponder the question: when a banker buys gold, with what does he pay for it? The answer is a mystery called credit. Credit is bookkeeping. And as the economy of the Western world developed it was found that there was not enough gold around—if it were to remain constant in value—to exchange goods and services. You could, of course, have changed the picture by putting down the price of goods and services to keep pace with the amount of gold in circulation, but nobody will ever put down the price. There’s something in our psychology whereby prices always tend to go up. But at the same time, therefore, because the amount of gold in the world did not provide an adequate channel for the circulation of goods and services, all great industrial nations went heavily into debt. They created a thing called the national debt which, year by year, gets bigger and bigger and bigger to the horror and consternation of old-fashioned Republicans who pay their bills. But the reason for the increase of the national debt is extremely obvious. It is that, with an expanding gross national product, there needs to be more and more money—that is to say, tokens of exchange—in order to circulate the amount of goods produced, which is ever increasing.


Now, I’m not an economist—and I can refer you to the work of those who really are—but any fool can see certain extremely fundamental principles about this whole situation. And I’m speaking of the thought, today, of a man called Robert Theobald who sort of ties in with the general picture of people like McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller in having very far out thoughts and very adventurous thoughts about what we should do about money. But he is in the following of a man like Frederick Soddy, who was a Nobel Prize chemist, who was one of the first people to think really freshly about economics. Or people like Silvio Gesell in Austria and Major Douglas in England. He’s in that following. And the proposition that he puts forward is very simple: that money is a circulation of information and in itself has no value. Gold, of course, has some value—it has some value for industry and some value for dentistry and some value for jewelry. But as a means of exchanging the goods and services of the world it is as primitive as post horses for carrying the mail. We must recognize, then, that money is a pure abstraction.


I was on a television show a little while ago with Ted Sorensen and Raymond Moley, and they were having a long, long discussion which sounded like something that goes on in a smoke-filled back room of party bosses, where they were talking about the prospects for Republican-Democratic parties in 1968. And then they got onto the question of automation, and the problems of unemployment that it was making, and the difficulties of transferring workers from this to that when they were only trained for this. Finally I said, “The trouble with you gentlemen is you still think money is real.” And they looked at me and sort of said, “Hahahaha, someone who doesn’t think money is real! Everybody knows money is money and it’s very important!” But it just isn’t real at all, because it has the same relationship to real wealth—that is to say, to actual goods and services—that words have to meaning; that words have to the physical world. And as words are not the physical world, money is not wealth. It only is an accounting of available energy; economic energy.


Now, what happens, then, when you introduce technology into production? You produce enormous quantities of goods by technological methods, but at the same time you put people out of work. You can say, “Oh, but it always creates more jobs. There will always be more jobs.” Yes, but lots of them will be futile jobs. They will be jobs making every kind of frippery and unnecessary contraption, and one will also at the same time have to beguile the public into feeling that they need and want these completely unnecessary things that aren’t even beautiful. And therefore, an enormous amount of nonsense employment and busywork—bureaucratic and otherwise—has to be created in order to keep people working. Because we believe, as good Protestants, that the devil finds work for idle hands to do. But the basic principle of the whole thing has been completely overlooked: that the purpose of the machine is to make drudgery unnecessary. And if we don’t allow it to achieve its purpose we live in a constant state of self-frustration.


So then, if a given manufacturer automates his plant and dismisses his labor force, and they have to operate on a very much diminished income—say, some sort of dole—the manufacturer suddenly finds that the public does not have the wherewithal to buy his products. And therefore, he has invested in this expensive automative machinery to no purpose. And therefore, obviously, the public has to be provided with the means of purchasing what the machines produce. People say, “That’s not fair! Where’s the money going to come from? Who’s gonna pay for it?” The answer is: the machine. The machine pays for it. Because the machine works for the manufacturer and for the community.


This is not saying, you see—this is not the statist communist idea that you expropriate the manufacturer and say you can’t own and run this factory anymore, it is owned by the government. It is only saying that the government or the people have to be responsible for issuing to themselves sufficient credit to circulate the goods they are producing, and have to balance the measuring standard of money with the gross national product. That means that taxation is obsolete. Completely obsolete. It ought to go the other way. Theobald points out that every individual should be assured of a minimum income. Now, you see, that absolutely horrifies most people. They say, “All these wastrels, these people who are out of a job because they’re really lazy.” See? “Giving them money?” Yeah. Because otherwise the machines can’t work. They come to a blockage.


This was the situation of the Great Depression when, here, we were still—in a material sense—a very rich country, with plenty of fields and farms and mines and factories; everything going. But suddenly—because of a psychological hang-up, because of a mysterious mumbo-jumbo about the economy, about the banking—we were all miserable and poor, starving in the midst of plenty. Just because of a psychological hang-up. And that hang-up is that money is real, and that people ought to suffer in order to get it. But the whole point of the machine is to relieve you of that suffering. It is an ingenuity. You see, we are, psychologically, back in the seventeenth century and technically in the twentieth. And here comes the problem.


So what we have to find out how to do is to change the psychological attitude to money and to wealth, and furthermore to pleasure, and furthermore to the nature of work. And this is a formidable problem. It requires the best brains in public relations, in propaganda, in all that kind of thing; in all the media—television, radio, newspapers, everything—to try to get across a message to the vast general public about what money is. You see, the difficulty is this: when the public suspects that the money that is being issued—the dollar bills being issued by the government—are only paper, and stand only for paper, they start putting up prices. So you get an inflationary situation where the more paper money there is, the higher and higher and higher the prices go. Which is a very stupid psychological maneuver. And people have to be persuaded. The least effective way of persuading people is passing laws, but they have to be persuaded, somehow, not to put up the prices, but to play fair with each other and keep some sort of standard correspondence between how much is produced and how much credit is issued.


So this goes very deep into us. It goes deep, deep, deep into a problem we have about guilt. I wonder often if there’s any relationship between guilt and gold; that the love of money is the root of evil. It’s a very true saying. Because, you see, I was saying yesterday that the difference between having a job and having a vocation is that a job is some unpleasant work you do in order to make money—with the sole purpose of making money. And there are plenty of jobs because there is still a certain amount of dirty work that nobody wants to do and that, therefore, they will pay someone to do it. There is, essentially, less and less of that kind of work because of mechanization. But if you do a job with the sole purpose of making money, you are absurd! Because if money becomes the goal—and it does when you work that way—you begin increasingly to confuse it with happiness or with pleasure. Yes, one can take a whole handful of crisp dollar bills and practically water your mouth over them, but this is this kind of a person who is confused like a Pavlov dog who salivates on the wrong bell!


It goes back, you see, to the ancient guilt that if you don’t work you have no right to eat. That if there are others in the world who don’t have enough to eat you shouldn’t enjoy your dinner, even though you have no possible means of conveying the food to them. And while it is true that we are all one human family and that every individual involves every other individual—while it is true, therefore, we should do something about changing the situation—the one way of not doing anything about a situation is feeling guilty about it. Because when people feel guilty about a situation, most usually—instead of doing something practical to change it—they resort to all sorts of symbolic methods of expiation. They go to confession. They see an analyst. They do all kinds of things which will be ways of actually not doing anything about the problem, but feeling alright about it instead. And guilt invariably produces that sort of reaction. It is a destructive emotion. And instead, we need to have a different attitude to our mistakes and to our misdeeds.


Walt Whitman always admired animals because they do not lie awake at night and weep for their sins. Animals are practical. In the real sense—as are children who haven’t been taught this extraordinary hang-up of guilt. Because if you’ve done something wrong or you have made a mistake and somebody makes you ashamed of it and guilty, you run around licking the sores of your wounded ego. Because you feel your pride has been hurt. The first thing to understand is that it is not a serious failing in a human being to make mistakes. Everybody has to make mistakes. There is no way out of it. You can’t learn anything unless you make mistakes. We find, for example, in Japan: the Japanese have a terrible hang-up about making mistakes. They therefore never have the courage to practice their English properly. They’ve had seven years of English in school—most of it very, very badly taught—and it’s irrelevant English. They learn all about Shakespeare and Dickens and Thackeray and Thomas Hardy and so on, and therefore they can’t carry on in everyday conversation. It’s like the way the English study French—all about pens of gardener’s ants, and things like that. But they are ashamed to try out their English unless drunk. So if you want to get into conversation with the Japanese in English, you have to go to bars. And then the, say, university students and so on there, will loosen up and talk. Because they no longer have the inhibition, the shame, of saying the wrong thing.


So, likewise, I know a very great anthropologist who was taught music—playing the piano in the same way I was. When I was taught music, the schoolmarm who taught me used to put an india-rubber (an eraser it’s called in this country) on the top of each hand, so that I would have my hands in good posture. And every time I’d play a wrong note she’d hit my fingers with a pencil. And this great anthropologist had a similar sort of musical education, and when confronted with the piano in the presence of an absolutely marvelous teacher in San Francisco, she said she was amazed: he was completely incapable of reading notes. He blocked at everything. So, another great teacher of the piano I knew said simply: you must not be afraid of playing wrong notes. Just forget it! Play it wrong! And then, eventually, you go over it again and you’ll eventually get it right. But you must not block! Always keep the same rhythm going, even if you have to slow it down. But keep the proportionate rhythm of one note to another. And if it’s the wrong note, play the wrong note. As long as you play something in the right rhythm.


So, you know, this is a way of taking away people’s blockage, people’s guilt and shame about making mistakes. So you absolutely—freedom means, basically, the freedom to make mistakes. The freedom to be a damn fool. And then not to recriminate with yourself when you do, finally, realize that it was a mistake, but simply don’t do it again! Or at least do it less often! So, you know, this is the puzzle when you go to confession in the Catholic church—which is an enormous method of inculcating a sense of guilt. Very subtle. One says, of course, that Catholics are, on the whole, less guilty than Protestants. They’re more relaxed. And there’s some truth in that, but only some. Protestants, of course, have chronic guilt. And you can work this out by a very simple little formula that, when the Protestants in England abandoned what is called auricular confession to a priest, they inserted in their prayerbook a general confession in which the congregation all made its confession together. Now, what does a Catholic say when he makes his confession? The formula is:


I confess to God Almighty, the Blessed Mary ever-virgin, Blessed John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints that I’ve sinned exceedingly in thought word and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault. Wherefore I beg blessed Mary, et cetera, and you, Father, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

And the priest says:


Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life. By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ committed unto me, I absolve thee from all thy sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Period. Now, instead of that… UGH… what they had to introduce into the Anglican formulary was—instead of this very simple confession of sins and before the whole company of heaven—an absolute grovel wherein they say that they have sinned so horribly and that the remembrance of these sins is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. And all this cringing and crying, breast-beating and wallowing in guilt. And then the priest—instead of saying a simple formula of absolution—quotes all kind of scriptural texts to prove from the Bible that those who do truly and earnestly repent will be forgiven by God. Because they’re very uncertain about it, therefore they have to quote all the authorities. And this absolutely groveling form of confession replaces the old one, because they were a little bit scared about abandoning direct confession of sins to the priest.


But now, going back to the Catholic problem about guilt: you say—when you have confessed, after saying this formula to all the saints—you confess the specific sins you’ve committed. And, you know, “I stole something, committed adultery three times,” and so on, or whatever it was. And then you say, at the end, “For these and all my sins which I cannot now remember. I firmly purpose amendment and humbly ask pardon of God, and of you Father, absolution.”


Now, “I firmly purpose amendment”—that is where the fly in the ointment consists, because the doctrine is that you have made a true confession if, at the same time, you have a sere intention of acting differently in the future. Now, no sensitive Catholic can say that without having grave doubts as to whether actually he isn’t going to do some of these things again. So if you’re a workaday Catholic—like a Mexican peasant or something like that—you know that the confession is just a safety valve. You’re going to go on living just as lackadaisically as ever, but you go to church every so often and you get rid of the guilt and the evil. It’s like going to the bathroom. But when you get thoughtful about these things and you wonder whether you do really mean what you say, whether your motive is pure and your intention is right, you get into a frightful hangup.


So you see how this idea of the… somehow, there is a book kept somewhere: God’s black book in which he writes down every mistake you made. And then, at the day of judgment, there’s going to be in accounting, see? And they’re going to add up on one side and add up your good deeds on the other side, and weigh them instant Michael’s balance. The Archangel Michael carries in one hand a balance, and in the other hand a sword. He’s the old prototype of the figure of justice. And it’s the good deeds against the evil deeds, as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. You see the heart of the deceased weighed against the feather of truth. That’s a little more profound than the good deeds against the bad deeds. You know? Your heart has to be light as a feather. You mustn’t be heavy-hearted!


So then, as a result of this, there arose in the latter part of the Middle Ages an enormously complicated system of celestial bookkeeping. It was argued, you see, that the Saints—and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary—had lived lives of such sinless character. Even though, to be a good saint, you have to say you’re a miserable sinner. I’ve often wondered about that. But, therefore, they have many merits that are surplus merits that they don’t need in order to get into heaven. And therefore, by a very clever dispensation, the surplus merits are put at the disposal of the Holy Father. And they are available in the form of what are called indulgences. And if, therefore, you make certain pilgrimages, or say certain prayers, or make certain contributions above all, you may receive a plenary indulgence—which means you get off the whole of the time due to you in purgatory—or a partial indulgence—which, say, of 300 days, which means 300 days off your period in purgatory, whatever “days” in purgatory may be. And so an enormously complicated banking system was set up whereby people could settle their heavenly accounts by using credit issued by the saints who were, of course, producing surplus goods like machines.


So, now, this is why I made—in the earlier part of this seminar—such a big point about human behavior being able to be seen at its deepest level, at which level, and only at which level, it is completely harmonious with the order of the universe. This is what one is enabled to see by cosmic consciousness; by seeing that the good things and the evil things that human beings do are just like the behavior of other creatures—animals, insects, worms, fish, and flowers—and that the good side has to have the bad side to balance it so that you know that it’s good. In the words of the Taoist sage Zhuang Zhou; “Those who speak of having good government without its opposite, misrule, and those who speak of good behavior without the presence of its opposite, bad behavior, do not understand the great principles of the universe. It is as if they could have the yang without the yin, the positive without the negative. And such people must be either knaves or fools.”


Now, that’s a saying which really sets us back. Because we Westerners are dedicated to the abolition of evil. But the Jews are much more sensible about this than the Christians. Because the Jews don’t think that evil is something extraneous to God. They believe that God created evil—where it is said in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” And they believe that God implanted in the human heart, at the beginning of creation when he very first made Adam, something called the yetzer hara, or the wayward spirit. Because he knew that if that wasn’t there, human life would be insipid and without the least significance. There has to be this element. And so the Jews say, “Yes, God is responsible for evil. But he put it in us so that we could have something to fight against.”


And so, in this way, you can see at one level that the evil side of things is part of the total harmony. It must be there. But that the function of its being there is to give you something to chew on, to work at. You will never get rid of it. But the joy of life is being in the process of getting rid of it. So, in other words, you might say that the function of the devil is to be always losing the battle, but never finally lost. And the function of the good side is to be always winning the battle, but never to be the victor. And by this means the pot is kept boiling, interest is kept up, and everything is kept moving. So that, of course, if we solve certain economic problems, for example, and we have a world where people are not committed to drudgery, we shall discover social evil in some new form.


It’s exactly the same as when you are worried sick about money, and are you going to make the payments on the house, on the car, and all that; the insurance? You think, “If only I could have a lot more money, I’d be so happy.” And then, somehow, you get it. And for a few days you’re ecstatic and walking on air. Then you suddenly realize that you might get sick, or that someone—the government, or burglars, or something—might take your money away from you. And you start worrying about that with just the same intensity as you had formerly worried about not having enough money. So we always find—if you are a worrybird—you will always find something to worry about, no matter what happens in your external circumstances. And so we may be assured that when the human race goes to full economic prosperity and there is nothing further to be worried about in the way of housing and clothing and food, that we shall instead worry quite fervently about something else. Because, you see, we are always really in the same place. This is the basic understanding of relativity.


It always reminds me of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, when asked about his life—he died just a little while ago, and he lived, therefore, across the centuries—he said, “If I had really had my wish as to when I would have liked to live, I would have liked to have been a grown adult in the high Victorian age—with penicillin.” Now, those of us, therefore, who remember from childhood the abominable dentistry of the British are very thankful indeed for American dentistry. I remember, as a boy, dentistry was just torture. And the American dentists have changed all that. I am therefore in a position of relativity to remember this change and still feel its effect, and I’m very grateful for it. But my children—who are accustomed to fine American dentistry from the beginning—are less appreciative of the situation, and therefore have other worries.


So, you see, when I would say one of the great philosophical questions is: are we going to make it? That all beings at every scale whatsoever—from the angels and gods at the very highest development of evolution down to the most obscure little creepy-crawlies—all feel about life the same way: how are we going to make it? An angel’s problem is a very different kind of problem from the problem of a common worm. But as Meister Eckhart said, “If a stone were as aware as an angel, a stone could be as happy as an angel—or perhaps as miserable.” It is said, in the holy texts of Christianity, that there are occasions upon which the angels weep. What sort of thing would make an angel weep, you see? Ugh!


You see, the problem of life—at every level of evolution in the whole thing—it’s always the same. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: the more it changes the more it’s the same thing! Because everybody’s really in the same situation. The great dare: are we going to make it? Because this is the situation of the cosmos. The cosmos—when the Hindus say God is playing hide and seek with himself, and every now and then the Brahman, the supreme Self, deliberately falls into the illusion of māyā and pretends that he’s all of us. Well, that’s God also, saying, “How far out can I get next time around? Dare. Dare. Am I going to make it?” And therefore thinks up some fantastic way of getting lost—we are one of these ways, you see—and creates the horrors and the shudders and most appalling situations, in each one of which he says, “Am I going to make it?”


And the answer is: no, you’re not gonna make it. You’re gonna get away with it for a while. Yup! You’ll get away with it for a while—but in the end, no, you’re not gonna make it. Oh, why not? Well, for obvious reasons. Look at a star. A star is a great burst of fire, see? Well, the question is: how far to go? The fire goes out and out and out and out and out, and then, suddenly, it begins to fade, the energy falls away, and there’s darkness. Unless something is there to reflect the more tenuous form of the fire, which is light that is being thrown out to immense distances. But eventually, light gives up. And that’s why some of the farthest galaxies are beginning to disappear: because it’s too far for the light. It gives up eventually. Because if there isn’t a point, you see, where the light gives up—or the radiance gives up—it fills everything and therefore has no way of realizing itself. Because you can only realize light by the contrast of darkness. And that’s why, then, you—as a ray which shoots out of the Godhead—will say, “Are we going to make it?” In other words, how long a ray are you going to be? You can be a long, long ray or a little short one. And some people think, “Well, if I’m only a short ray it’s not really a great success. I want to be a long ray. I want to live till I’m 90, or maybe 100. Get longer and longer.” Then you must listen to the Zen poem which says,


In the scenery of spring there is nothing superior, nothing inferior.

Flowering branches grow naturally, some short, some long.


And when one of the great Zen masters was asked about the meaning of Buddhism, he said to the inquirer, “Wait till there’s no one around and I’ll tell you.” And when there was no one around he took this inquirer out into the garden and pointed at the bamboos. And the inquirer said, “I don’t understand.” And he said, “What a long bamboo that one is. What a short one that is.” That was all. So, what a long way that one is, what a short one that is. See, if you look at some sort of stellar object, it adds great interest to it if its rays are of unequal length. If they’re all equal it looks sort of flat and mechanical. But by having all sorts of different lengths—as you find them in some of those gorgeous radiolaria creatures that are minute animalcules of the ocean—you see there’s a certain balance of length, there’s a certain average which gives it a globular form, but many different lengths in the stems.


So, you see: are we gonna make it? How far out can you get? This is always the question. But then, you’re not going make it at a certain point. The ray finishes. And we call that death. But you are actually not the ray so much as the source of the ray. That’s where you are, really. And the source doesn’t vanish. You see? The source is there. Always. But is shooting out, shooting out, shooting out, and then vanishes. So, then, if you remember, therefore, that at every stage of the universe—whether you are up there with the gods or whether you are down there with the what we could call human refuse—you are basically in the same situation. Because everybody is basically in the same situation for the reason that everybody is basically the divine being working out the panorama of its life in myriads of different ways.


And these differences of ways require spectra of many kinds. There’s the spectrum of color. There’s the spectrum of tones. But there is also the spectrum of orders of being. So that from the most minute animalcules right up through all kinds of animals—through human beings of every grade to the gods—you have a great spectrum. And just as, at one end of the spectrum, you have purple and at the other you have red—but now, look: what is purple? Purple is blue mixed with red. The spectrum goes right the way ’round. And therefore, if we say that—you can begin any end you want to, but if we say that the purple end are like the deeps of the waters of the very primitive forms of life and the red the most radiant, they are actually (if you see the spectrum as a circle) they join. So that, when you get up, the only place to go is down. Unless, somehow, you can go back into the white light at the center which is neither up nor down, neither good nor bad, just what there is: suchness.


So I think that one of the things that should be drawn is a symbol of a circular spectrum instead of one that’s stretched out on a tape. And that would tell something to people that no amount of words can convey. It would speak to the unconscious in us, to the depths of understanding that are much more subtle than our intellectual thinking. And everybody could see this everywhere. And it would convey the message about ring-around-the-rosie. As is said in the Chinese texts of Zhuang Zhou: what is the center of a circle? The center of a circle—the true center— is any point on the circumference. Because you can start the circle anywhere and finish it anywhere. So there’s a kōan in Zen which says, “Indra built a seamless tower.” You know, when a sleeve has a seam on it—this is a zip where where the cloth begins and have to take it round and sew it. So it has a seam. Now imagine: here’s a tower, but it has no seam. “Indra built the seamless tower. Where did he begin?” So, in nature, then, one has this seamless order where every point on it is central, and therefore feels in the same situation: envying those above and pitying those below. And there is always a below. Maybe the most primitive animalcules imaginable have pity on the angels.

Alan Watts

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