Power of Space (Part 1)


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00:00

I suppose you may think it rather nervy of me to devote this whole seminar to talking about nothing. But it’s about space. And in most people’s minds space is just nothing unless it’s filled with air. But once you get outside the air, space may be in some way crossed by floating bodies, by various kinds of electrical vibrations—light waves, cosmic rays, et cetera. But since the Michelson-Morley experiment, which seemed to prove conclusively that there wasn’t any such thing as ether (some kind of attenuated fluid through which light was propagated), space just isn’t there. It’s the way we have, in other words, of talking about distances between bodies. In other words, when we say the distance between them increased, as if the distance were a substantive that does something—like: the man walked, the distance increased. But I suppose what we’re actually saying is that the two bodies we’re talking about increased the distance between themselves. They did it. But then you suddenly find that you’ve got distance as an object. They increased the distance—the distance now being the object of the verb, whereas before it was the subject.

01:45

And so, at once one begins to see there’s something fishy about space. And, after all, it is the background against which we see everything. And even a blind person has a sense of space in that which does not obstruct motion. And yet, the funny thing about space is that, in a way, it doesn’t end where a solid begins. You can shift a solid around in space without apparently altering it in any way. And, after all, there is space between the two sides, shall we say—or ends—of the solid. We can think of that in terms of space and measure it in terms of space. But it is against space that we experience everything that we experience. And, by the way, also we experience everything not only in the dimension of space, but also in the dimension of time. Now, the fascination about space and time is that, while they are basic to all possible experiences that we have, you just can’t put your finger on them. Space seems to be completely immaterial. And when St. Augustine was asked, “What is time?” he said, “I know what it is, but when you ask me I don’t.”

03:38

So these two basic dimensions of our physical world are uncommonly elusive. We could perhaps say that they are pure abstractions. There is no such thing as space and there is no such thing as time. They are merely our way of measuring and thinking about the behavior of the physical universe as a pattern; a system of energy patterns. And if you measure the movement of these patterns, the line along which you measure motion is called the timeline. If you measure their positions, the line along which you measure their positions you would call the spaceline. And these two lines would be as abstract as the equator in relation to longitude zero. These things don’t exist on the physical face of the world, they are imaginary lines and are only to be found on maps.

04:58

Could you also say that the same thing was true of time and space? We think, for example, that there are three coordinates of space and one of time. The three coordinates of space being length, breadth, and depth. And through that runs one of time. But, come to think of it, it’s rather artificial. It is making us think of space as having a sort of grain to it, as if it were a crystalline substance. And however transparent the crystal, it does have a grain. And space has the grain of up, across, and through. Those are the three ways in which we think of space. And we can’t think of any more—not with our senses.

05:58

We can mathematically conceive spaces with infinitely many dimensions. That is to say, you can write it down as if it were so. But you can’t conceive it in your imagination. You can draw—it’s great fun to draw—a four-dimensional cube having four spatial dimensions; it’s called a tesseract. And “tesseract” is a good word to apply to a person who is ultimately square. A four-dimensional square! But the tesseract, you see—the minute you draw it, that obviously you can’t have more than the three right angular dimensions of space, or the coordinates, in any kind of solid figure that you know. And so you can think about it in terms of mathematics, but you can’t conceive more than these three coordinates sensuously. And so it’s basic common sense to us that space has this structure. But of course the question is: is this a structure of space, or is it a structure of the human nervous system, the human brain, and human thought, which is projected onto the external world as a tool for measuring it? This is one way of approaching the problem.

07:56

But there’s another way altogether, which is to consider space as anything but nothing. If space is basic to all that we experience—as time is—you might say, then, that space is as near as we can imagine to being the ground of the world, or what some people have called God. The texts of the Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists are full of ways in which the symbol of space is used to mean the ultimate reality. Space is used in basic Indian philosophy. In Vedanta it is called ākāśa. And ākāśa is, for them, the fundamental element. There are five elements: earth, water, air, and fire—and ākāśa. And so space contains all the other elements. In Buddhist philosophy, where the ultimate reality is called śūnyatā: the void. The Chinese will translate the Sanskrit śūnyatā with their character that means “sky” or “space.” And the Taoists would say—quoting Lao Tzu—the usefulness of the window is not so much in the frame as in the empty space through which something can be seen. The usefulness of a vase is is not so much in the sides made of clay as in the hollow inside into which something can be put.

10:00

And, of course, that is a startling metaphor for a Westerner, because we think the other way around, you see. As I started out to say, we really think commonsensically that space is nothing at all. And we are much more sympathetic to the idea that it’s pure abstraction than to the Oriental idea that space has some kind of basic reality. It bothers us, too, when astronomers talk about curved space. How can nothing be curved? Or properties of space. Or expanding space. How can it do that? And then, when architects begin to talk about the functions of spaces, the commonsensical Westerner thinks: “Why don’t they talk about the functions of walls?” Of course, the walls enclose spaces, but the spaces of themselves have no function. And they’re bothered about this. Painters, also, are very aware of space because—especially if you paint in oils—you have to paint your background. And therefore, in filling it in, you begin to realize that it has its own shape. It is the obverse of the foreground. And when you play with photographic negatives or anything that switches foreground to background, foreground to background, you begin to become aware of spaces as having a shape. The interval between all sorts of objects becomes new something significant, even though it’s constantly flowing and changing—as indeed are the objects within the space. So it is a bit of a shock to our common sense (which in most cases has not caught up with 20th century physics or astronomy) to hear space considered as something effective, as something definitely there, so that you could say it has properties.

12:32

Take another case of space which is rather startling. There are different kinds of space. Space is, basically—isn’t it?—an interval. There is an interval between each one of us sitting here. If we didn’t have that, we would suffocate being packed together like sardines. We need space in order to function of the human being. We need a kind of area in which to gesture and move and walk about and breathe and express ourselves.

13:12

Now, you can have intervals not only in space, but in time. Pauses are intervals. You can also have intervals in sound: the intervals between tones or notes. And the interesting thing about the intervals between tones is that they are that upon which the hearing of melody depends. To hear melody is to hear intervals. Now, if you will simply visualize melody in terms of something graphic—supposing you represent a simple, say, introduction of a fugue or whatever, you know—you can see that in terms of the dancing line, or a series of points at different levels representing, like musical notation, the high ones and the low ones. And you will recognize a pattern. But you see at once that the pattern depends on the way the critical dots in it are spaced. And it doesn’t matter much whether the space is a big space or whether it’s a little one, because it will always be relative to the size of the dots. You can magnify it or minify it, but you will see it is the way they are spaced that makes the difference. And here, once again, we are using “spaced” as a transitive verb now.

15:05

We’ve talked about spaces or distances increasing, or people increasing a distance. And now we can talk about space as a verb: to space, to be spaced. And so, once again, the language is either playing tricks on us or else expressing a profound intuition. Language does both, and you have to watch out for which it is. Of course it may be both. That is a possibility. But here, at once, you see—especially in that illustration of music—of it being necessary to hear intervals in order to hear melody. You see that the way things are spaced is really another way of talking about the way things are related. So you begin to realize that space is relationship.

16:23

Go further now. There is another idea about space which is connected with all the Oriental uses of space. It is quite fundamental to Indian and a great deal of Chinese thinking that space equals consciousness. In other words, what actually we are experiencing as the all-inclusive space in which things happen is your mind. And your mind, of course, is not something inside your head—that is a great mistake to make. Your head is something in your mind. We can define a person’s mind in many ways. But beginning with something rather simple, mind is occupied with thinking. Most people think in words. And you didn’t get words out of your head. You got them from the community in which you live and were brought up. So when you think in a language which your community gave you, you are not really thinking your own thoughts. It is very difficult indeed to have private thoughts. Because when the very materials with which you think are public property, it shows what a vast influence the public has on you in the deepest recesses of your mind. It’s therefore very difficult, also, to think freely—independently—because we are pushed around with the symbolic systems of words or of numbers in which we think.

18:33

But since the functioning of the mind in the process of thinking depends upon an outside community, you begin to see that your mind is a network. A network of relationships. You think only in the context of an environment of people and of natural processes. So that you could say that your mind is, at the very least, a most complex network of present and past relationships stretching out to the very limits of the universe. And this, as I’ve often said, explains such truth as there may be in astrology. That, when you want to draw a map of a person’s soul, you draw a map of the universe as it was when he was born. We say that is your chart. That expresses you in a special way. Now, the astrologer’s maps are very crude. They’re based on a rather primitive view of the universe. But the truth of it is there, you see. That, who you really are—your soul, your mind—is the total universe as focused upon you.

20:20

And this connects with what in Mahayana Buddhism is called the doctrine of mutual interpenetration: namely, that every thing-event in the world; anything—in other words, supposing the whole world is a moving pattern, and then you want to identify the wiggles in the pattern. It’s very difficult to determine how much of a wiggle makes one wiggle. But by a sort of calculus in which we chew the thing up we say all this wiggly world consists of so many wiggles, and each individual wiggle is a thing-event. What is called in Japanese ji means a thing-event. And so the doctrine of mutual interpenetration is that every thing-event in the universe implies all the others. It goes with it. Doesn’t matter how long it lasts or how short it lasts. The fact that it is, or the fact that it was, implies the existence of everything else.

21:37

To put it in another way, the fact that there is a moth flying around me—it’s very small and it will soon run into a candle and extinguish itself. That little incident would not be possible at all except in the context of all these galaxies. Because their existence goeswith the possibility of there being such a minute little life flattering around. What is not so easy to see is the picture in the opposite direction: that, in the same measure, all these galaxies depend upon and gowith this little moth.

22:33

As the poet Henry Suso once said—no, it wasn’t Suso. Someone like him; lived about the same time. I’ll think of it a minute. Anyway, he said, “I know that, without me, God could not live for one moment.” And this is the other aspect of it. And this is the difficult one to understand. And we shall be able to approach this in the course of this seminar. In fact, if you realize that, then you’ve really got it. You’ve got the point of your own existence. But to get the reverse picture you have first of all to get, clearly, its opposite one: namely, that the existence of any one minute little thing is intimately related to everything. And then what happens—when you clearly understand that and you’ve really got that—your mind does a flip. Bwllpp, like that. You know, it’s like when you squeeze the air in a sausage balloon, and you get all the air squeezed up (you think) into one end of the balloon, and suddenly it goes bwwlllpp, and it comes out the other end, you see? Well, it’s sort of like that. And you have to be very careful at that point not to go crazy. Because, you see, when you find out that all this universe depends on you—some people get frightened, others get cocky, and from both things disasters can follow. You have to discover that and then be natural. Act as if nothing happened.

24:38

So then, this Mahayana Buddhist idea of mutual interpenetration is expressed by the great simile of the net of jewels in which you have a multidimensional spider’s web in the morning dew, and on inspecting one dewdrop you see the reflections of all the others. And in each reflection, in turn, reflections of all the others. And again, and again, and again. And so, of course, one discovers this to be no mere philosophical fancy, no mere metaphor. When you start working with laser beams, and finding out that you can reconstruct a whole photograph from a tiny snippet out of the negative. Because the crystalline structure of the whole photographic field—the chemicals spread over the acetate, or whatever—when it’s exposed to light, all those crystals change in harmony with each other. See, supposing we all touch each other, and then somebody says, “Boo!” We’ll all jump a little bit together. And if you examine any one jump carefully enough, any one individual jumping, you will see (if you can find out enough about it) that the way he did it was in response to the ones next to him, and they did it in response the ones next to them, and they jump so far because they couldn’t push any further, and some were a little bit pulled in that jump, and so on. And by seeing exactly what one of them did you could reconstruct what all of them were doing. Only usually, we don’t bother to think about things like that because it takes too long.

26:45

And this is one of our great difficulties as human beings: that the mode of thinking upon which we largely rely for our practical calculations is unbelievably clumsy because it can only deal with one thing at a time. And that doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s, in a way, why a great deal of scientific work is apt to be trivial. They are all very well if I had all that time to think it out. But I don’t. I have to make practical decisions in a hurry. And… no time. But, on the other hand, here is nature, here is your body. Not merely your body by itself, as something bounded by the skin, but your body in relationship to a whole community of people and animals and bugs and vegetables, functioning in this astonishing way, doing myriads of things altogether everywhere at once, and not thinking about it at all and.

28:04

It is astonishing, you know, how we overlook that. Because, of course, this is the faculty which everybody possesses, and therefore we say, “Well, that sort of cleverness is a dime a dozen.” What we like to distinguish is special cleverness: people who can do strange tricks—like great feats of thinking, and talking, and intellectual and cerebral performance. But we mustn’t forget that there are also people who do absolutely astonishing things without thinking at all. There are jugglers, there are very beautiful people—that’s pretty astonishing when you pick out someone and say, “Gee, isn’t she gorgeous!” And that’s done without thinking, and it embarrasses many women to be told that they’re beautiful because they want to be admired for their intellectual achievements rather than for the bodies which their parents provided for them.

29:16

And so we are a little bit on the defensive about the things that we achieve without our egos being in charge. But we do the most beautiful things that we do, really, by that means. Because all that thought and intellectuality can do is: it can embellish your natural talents. A lot of people who are incredibly good at thinking never do anything creative because they have no talent available. They may have it, but they don’t trust it, they don’t know how to make use of it, and therefore their intellect works to little purpose. Because the function of the intellect is to be the servant of the organic intelligence. You see? Only, what we’re doing is we’re trying to make the intellect the master.

30:25

The intellect is a wonderful servant just so long as it knows its place. But once it becomes saying to nature, “Look, you submit. I know how you ought to be run. Now I’m going to take charge.” That is the moment of hubris where Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge—that is to say, of technical knowledge—and tries to be God to the world. And God says, “Okay, baby, you try!” Then, you see, you’ve got to work. That’s why the curse of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was work. Everything became work. Cats, dogs, and birds—they don’t do any work. They, true, they scurry around getting food, but that’s what there is to do. That’s fun, that’s life, that’s living. It’s not work. Besides, you don’t have to think about it. Your brain tells you where to look for it. Your nose tells you where to find it. You do what comes naturally. And there it is. And if God so clothed the grass of the field which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more would he clothe you, faithless ones? But I never met a minister—never!—who would not comment upon that, that that is a very impractical passage which we can’t live up to.

32:26

But to get back to space. All I was showing in this sort of digression was that our mind, our self, is not inside our heads, but extends. And so, you see, you have—as the great vehicle of this extension of the universe—you have space. And you see immediately that you cannot pin space down. You cannot really conceive space at all. Look at the wonder a child has when it asks questions and begins. What’s up there? What’s beyond? What’s after that? What’s after that? The child is absolutely fascinated by thinking about that. Do you know all children are fascinated with infinity? Don’t you remember seeing, say, a child’s book, and on the cover of this book is a little girl sitting, reading the same book with the same little girl on the cover. And so, naturally, there is another little girl on the cover of the book she’s looking at in the picture. And so the child begins to wonder how small can it get, how far can it go? Or they get in opposing mirrors and look. Gee, that’s wonderful, why can’t you line them up so that it doesn’t just disappear around the corner, always? Couldn’t you get in straight on this? Seems so difficult. Mummy, what did God do before he started the world? You think back. What would it be like to be in heaven and live forever and ever and ever and ever?

34:21

And immediately this somehow stretches the skull. And children love doing this because children are always trying out experiments on themselves. You know, they prod themselves, pull themselves, they love to spin in circles and make themselves feel dizzy. Because that’s a great thing, you know, that feeling; wwghlllea, going like this, you see? They’re always fascinated with the limits of experience. So what’s out beyond that? Because now, when a sophisticated astronomer tries to tell you that space is finite, we resent this and say, “Alright, space is finite. But what’s outside it?” “Well,” the astronomer says, “you see, you can only talk about an outside inside space. Outside space, there is no outside.” You see, the mind won’t take it! The sense, you see, of infinity.

35:34

So this space fascinates us. Going on forever; expanding. It seems to be actually going on forever, you see? If the universe is a huge explosion. But you can see—can’t you, I think—this: space, although you cannot pin it down, and it has the quality of infinity, there’s no way of talking about space because it has no color, it has no weight, you can’t cut it, you can’t possibly chop it into pieces. And yet, at the same time, you cannot differentiate it from solids. We come to another important point here, you see? That solid and space are in a secret conspiracy with each other. Actually, there’s very little solid in the world. Most of what appears to be solid appears so by virtue of the speed at which it’s jiggling. It’s like an electric fan, which, when put in rotation, the blades appear to form a solid disk. And this chair is solid for rather the same reasons. You can’t put your finger through it; it’s moving too fast. But actually, whatever it is that’s dancing in space is increasingly difficult to define. The more you think about energy, you see—and you can make a calculus of energy like you make a calculus of wiggles in the world, and you can say there are various waves, or wavicles, or particles of energy, which we give all sorts of different names to—but the more we pursue it, the more it all seems to disappear. Like space. The more you try to think what it is, the more difficult it is. So, in the same way, the more you try to say, “Now, come on! Let’s sit down. What is this, here?” It’s alright if you stop at a certain point. Then you say, “Well, now we know. That’s practical. Let’s not ask any more questions.” [???] “Shut up!” See? But if you keep on asking questions, everything falls apart.

38:40

You notice this in the scholarly world. Scholars spend far more time debunking than they do creating. Because everything that has ever happened has been debunked, practically. You can show that there is no evidence that Julius Caesar existed—not really. Certainly, there is no evidence that Jesus existed, that Socrates existed. There was a great deal of doubt about Plato. Probably the emperor Shōkō was a myth, and so on. You know, you can go on in that indefinitely, finding out that there really is no evidence. I don’t know—probably the same sort of thing is happening with the Warren Commission. I don’t know. Although it’s something, that it didn’t happen anyway.

39:32

Because that is the work of the analytical intellect, you see. When you finally try to be God—that’s to say: define it exactly. Now just where is it? And let’s get perfectly clear so that snap, it’s fixed, see? It all becomes slippery. Because in order to handle the world, you have to touch it rather gently. You mustn’t try to pin things down. As they say in Zen: you do not try to drive a nail into the sky. Because that’s the beauty of space, you see? There’s nothing in it to hang on. It hasn’t a hook to put your hat on, you know, somewhere in space. And yet, it hasn’t got a floor to fall onto. See, if space had a concrete floor on the bottom, it’d be pretty dangerous stuff. But it doesn’t. There’s nowhere in space to collide with space. You can run into somebody or something else, yes. But not with space.

40:53

Figure, then, on this. Work on this hypothesis—you see, it’s only a hypothesis at the moment; nothing more—that space is you. Because you are equally inaccessible to inspection. When you look to find out who you are, somebody like a Zen master will interrupt you and say, “Excuse me, but who is it that wants to know? And who is it that’s looking?” Find out that. So, you know, you’re soon chasing your own tail like a little dog. And you never catch up with it. All this, you see. So space is like you. Only, we turned in the ordinary way to think of ourselves, we make the gesture like this, see? I’m here. We go this way. I can feel this. I’m inside it. That’s me. See? But alway, when you get a certain feeling about things, examine the opposite possibility. That you are this. Now we’re going to look in due course at the neurology of this.

42:13

But you do see that what you see outside you and feel outside you is the way you feel inside your skin. Since all the optical images, shapes, and colors, and everything, are neurological states in the brain. So what appears to you as outside is the most intimate feeling you have of the inside of your head. Because, you know, it’s difficult to feel inside of your head unless you have a headache or a tumor or something. But in the ordinary way, the inside of your head is unconscious. And a surgeon can open up your skull and put instruments in the brain, and you won’t feel them at all. The brain is very anesthetized. So, in order to feel the brain, you have to look out there. See? And that’s how it feels in the brain.

43:09

So I’m just trying to give an indication of how to get the feeling of reciprocity. Of you, on the one hand—it’s easy to see, as I said—you depend on the whole show. Now I want you to see the opposite and equal truth that the whole show depends on you, so that you don’t anymore put yourself down as this wretched little bacterium, living on this obscure planet that evolves around a minor star on the outer fringes of one of the lesser galaxies. This is the great 19th century put-down of man. How nice to be all unimportant. Watch out for this! Watch out for the political consequences of “everybody is equally inferior.”

44:05

The political consequences emerging, in becoming clear as day goes by—barbarism is the answer to that. Untrammeled violence, police states, and shocking disregard for human existence. Because they’re only wretched little bacteria. See? Pssht! Let’s get rid of a whole lot of them. Zzzip. Burn them up. And this is not unrelated, you see, to this feeling of the individual as someone who doesn’t matter at all, which can be the reaction against the philosophy of life in which an individual matter too much in the wrong way.

45:08

In the Christian tradition we have made the individual matter too much in the wrong way. That is to say, you as an ego are infinitely precious. God has made each one of you separately. And each one of you (as a separate ego) will last forever. And therefore you are all important in the eyes of God. But you better know your place, baby, because you’re subjects of the king! On the other hand, the other way of looking at the individual as an incarnation of the divine, as God him- or herself, coming on at God everywhere. Did you realize how fascinating that is? That, if you were God, wouldn’t it be fascinating to see myriads? To know yourself in terms of myriads of reproductions of yourself, all different? And really different! Like other peoples need to be different from you. And they’ve got a secret in them; you don’t know what they’re going to do next. See? So they are alive.

46:36

If I push you and you just go Bleeah, I say, “It’s only plastic.” If you jump a little, I say, “Ah! That’s someone else! I don’t know what she’s going to do next!” See, that’s what I’m looking for. That’s what we’re all looking for in personal relationships. And that’s—you see, you can imagine, if you simplified, here is a kind of ball of light which is the divine being. But it’s fascinating, you see? It’s fascinated with itself. And so, in order to find out its own possibilities, you see—bllwwp—it puts another one out there. And they bounce together. And fllwpp, there comes another, you see? They go all over the place. And so you get this idea of ever so many echoes of one sound, and they’re all chattering back. But they’re not just plain uniform, you see? Soon you introduce into this the element of differentiation, so that each one looks as different as possible from the other. But it’s all one. Because there can’t be the sense of “I am,” “I,” without the sense of “there is someone else.” Something else. There is other. “I” and “other” imply each other as much as solid implies space.

Well, we’ll have an intermission.



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