The Noösphere: A Cosmic Network

Alan takes us from the very small to the very large, explaining the interrelatedness of all things in the universe. Then he takes the argument a step further to examine the implications for humanity: how is networking technology reshaping human consciousness?


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 “atom.”


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 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 20th 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. 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 has, as a whole, 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 selves 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 the 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 19th 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 it. 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? Near 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.

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