It’s curious how, past the middle of the 20th century, there’s a very strong evidence of a revival in Western philosophy of what used to be called idealism—not in the moral sense, but in the metaphysical sense. That is to say, of the feeling that the external world is in some way a creation of the mind. Only, we come to this point of view with very different assumptions than were held by people like Hegel or Berkeley or Radley (the great idealists of the European metaphysical tradition), and probably rather more akin to similar trends in Buddhist philosophy emerging from India about 400 A.D. The difference of approach, the difference of the way in which today this thing arises and the way in which it arose in the thought of a man like Bishop Berkeley is that the new idealism has a kind of curiously physical basis.


When one would argue everything you know is in your mind, and the distance, the feeling of externality between you and other objects and people is also the content of consciousness, and therefore it’s all your consciousness—this, of course, created all sorts of weird feelings. Are things there when I’m not witnessing them, or is there anybody else there, or are you all my personal dream? And one has only to imagine a conference of such people of solipsists—those who believe that they alone exist—arguing as to which one of them is really there to make the whole idea rather laughable.


And furthermore, there seems to be no clarity in such philosophical thinking as to what the term “mind” or “consciousness” meant. It had long associations with the miasmic and the gaseous by way of images. Mind and soul and spirit were always vague and formless. And matter, by contrast, was very rugged; craggly. And how these two ever influenced each other, nobody ever could decide. Because all properly behaved ghosts walk straight through brick walls without disturbing either the bricks or the ghost. And so how can a mind incarnate in a material body move that body in any way? This was always a puzzle.


So people began to think that the differentiation between mind and matter was of no use. Because actually, what happens in making such a differentiation is that you impoverish both sides of it. When you try to think of matter as mindless, or mind as immaterial, you get a kind of a mess on both sides. It’s the same way when you get a mystic who is not a bit of a sensualist, and a sensualist who has no whit of a mystic. Such a sensualist is boring. Such a mystic is a fanatic; too spiritual. It’s the same when we divide the medical profession from the priesthood: both are losers. Not just because they lose their so-called opposite half, but the problem is, when you separate a doctor from a priest, you do more than create a specialization out of what was originally one field; to create two specializations. Because a priest-physician is more than a priest plus a physician. By having, as it were, the binocular vision from medicine and from religion, he just doesn’t see two added areas. He sees the area in three dimensions as a result of this combination.


Well, in a similar way, when we have the concepts of mind and matter working separately, both are impoverished. Mind becomes a vague kind of gas; psychic gas. And matter becomes mere stuff. But, you see, what has enabled us to make a transition is, first of all—above all, I would say—two sciences: biology and neurology. Because through biology (and to some extent physics), the method of physics has shown us, that the idea that man can be an objective observer of an external world that is not himself, so that, as it were, he can stand back from it and look at it and say what is out there—we see that this cannot be done. We can approximately do it. But we cannot really and fully do it for two reasons.


One—the most important reason—is that the biologist will show us very clearly there is no way of definitively separating a human organism from its external environment. The two are a single field of behavior. And then, furthermore, to observe something—either simply by looking at it, or more so by making experiments, by doing science on it—you alter what you’re looking at. You cannot carry out an observation without in some way interfering with what you observe. It is this that we try when we’re watching, say, the habits of birds: to be sure that the birds don’t notice us that we’re watching. To watch something, it must not know you are looking. And, of course, what you ultimately want to do is to be able to watch yourself without knowing that you’re looking. Then you can really catch yourself not on your best behavior and see yourself as you really are. But this can never be done. And likewise, the physicist cannot simultaneously establish the position and the velocity of very minute particles or wavicles. And this is in part because the experiment of observing nuclear behavior alters and affects what you’re looking at. This is one side of it: the inseparability of man and his world, which deflates the myth of the object of observer standing aside and observing a world that is merely mechanical, a thing that operates like a machine out there.


The second is from the science of neurology, where we understand so clearly now that the kind of world we see is relative to the structure of the sense organ. That, in other words, what used to be called the qualities of the external world—its qualities of weight, or color, texture, and so on—are possessed by it only in relation to a perceiving organism. The very structure of our optical system confers light and color upon outside energy. And in this sense, then—especially if you want to read a very easily digestible account of this thing, you get the book by J. Z. Young called Doubt and Certainty in Science.


But, you see, here from a new basis altogether we have a new answer to the old riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest when nobody is listening, does it make a noise?” The answer in terms of modern science is perfectly clear: that the falling tree creates vibrations in the air, and these become noise if and only if they relate to an eardrum and to an auditory nervous system. Just as an ordinary drum, however hard you hit, the drum will make no sound if it has no skin. Because sound is not something that exists in the external world. Sound is a relationship between vibrating air and certain kinds of biological organisms. And therefore, it is these organisms which confer what we call sound upon a vibration, which in an earless world would make no noise.


Now, you see, that is perfectly clear and straightforward. But now, dare we take certain steps from that? Could we say, for example, that before any organisms existed, there was no world? And what we’re talking about when we talk about a world prior to the existence of organisms is what is called an extrapolation. Let me explain extrapolation for a moment. Supposing you have a map of Kansas and you want, from the evidence contained in the map, to guess at what kind of territory lies beyond its edges. Well, naturally, you will extend those straight line roads off and off and off. That’s the only basis you’ve got to go on. Nothing in the map of Kansas would warn you that, a little way west, you will encounter the Rocky Mountains and the roads will have to wiggle. And still less will warn you that you’re going to encounter the Pacific Ocean way out beyond, where you can’t build any roads.


So naturally, you see, we extrapolate from what we know to the unknown. And so one might say then, is the existence of a universe before there were any living organism an extrapolation? All we are saying is this is how things would have been if we had been around. But we weren’t, so it wasn’t. That is a possible argument, although in the climate of opinion today it is one that is not fashionable.


You must watch out above all for fashion in philosophy, fashion in science. There are completely irrational functions that govern what is or what is not a respectable scientific opinion. And although there is very careful work done, very valuable and thoughtful experimentation—always in the background of this work there are these irrational fashions of what is believable and what is not. Many things that we accept today were completely unbelievable. We are always coming across this. Authoritative pronouncements that no one will ever reach the moon because of incontrovertible evidence about this, that, and the other. But nowadays we have swung over perhaps to be a little bit too uncritical. And as Norbert Wiener warned in his book The Human Use of Human Beings, we must not take science as a sort of fairy godmother and say, well, we have all these problems of overpopulation and lack of water and so on, but science will solve it, don’t worry. See, that’s the other extreme. But there are these fashions.


And so the idea that the world is in some way, you see? Therefore, the one moment you let this little idealism thing in under the door—and I remind you, I’m using idealism not in a moral sense but in a metaphysical sense, as opposed to some sort of materialism. Now, the moment you let that in under the door, if I can possibly realize that the way the world is is evoked by the structure of my organism—it is that way. All mountains and suns and moons and stars are the inhabitants of a strictly human world. Perhaps insects with their different sense organs have a very different universe, and that is an insect universe. This is again, it seems, to be a recrudescence of what used to be called the prophetic fallacy, which was the attribution of human qualities and emotions to natural phenomena. The wind sighs in the trees. My heart is sad. And somebody comes along and says, “It isn’t the wind that sighing, it’s you.” True or not true? Because you wouldn’t be able to sigh if there were no wind. And you sighing and wind blowing gowith each other.


I’ve invented this new word, gowith, or goeswith. It is to replace the idea of causality. Certain things gowith each other. And sighing wind goeswith a sane world in which there are human hearts and human emotions. And if there were not a world with human hearts and emotions, there would be no wind. And if there were no wind, air, there would be no human hearts and emotions. It’s a transaction, it’s reciprocity.


So, in the same way, every event in the external world is dependent on the observer for its happening as, for example, is a rainbow. You can say the sun is shining, and there’s moisture in the atmosphere. And the sun being at the right angle to the moisture makes a rainbow. And if somebody is there, they see the rainbow. That is a mythology; a way of putting things that is acceptable to us in the current climate of philosophical and scientific fashion.


But I want to put it in another way. The sun is shining and there is a person standing. If there were moisture in the atmosphere, there would be a rainbow. But there isn’t, so there is no rainbow. If you want to be fair, there is no rainbow if nobody is watching it, you see? Because you must have one of the three components—sun, moisture, observer—to have the thing called rainbow. And what applies to the tenuous, filmy, luminescent rainbow applies equally well to the hardest rocks, the solidest mountains, and the hottest fires. Because all existence is a relationship. It’s like the skin of the drum. If it’s not there, no amount of hitting a nonexistent skin will produce any noise.


So, you see, energy is—we can see this—energy is relationship. We can see the falling fist on the skin of the drum. Boing! Like that. And if there isn’t both the falling fist and the skin—no noise, no existence. But existence is not only the impact of rocks upon each other. Existence requires always, as its third—you can get the rocks knocking, the sun and the moisture, the tree crashing to the ground, the sun pouring out electrical energy—but none of these things constitute existence until related with the neurological complex.


But then you have to look backwards, and say at the same time the neurological complex belongs to the same world as the sun. It’s a physical pattern; physical behavior, physical energy. But it takes this complexity of pattern to evoke the world. You see, this idea is unfamiliar. And that’s the difficulty of understanding it, that’s all. It’s a very simple idea, but it’s an unfamiliar one, and it’s an unfashionable one. Although, as I say, this sort of thinking is coming back to us at this time very largely as a result of people’s experiments with psychedelics, where one gets the perfectly uncanny feeling of the world and one’s self as simply two phases of a single process.


Well, as the rainbow metaphor illustrated, we arbitrarily favor an explanation of the triangle. The impact of energies in the external world, and an observer of this impact—which, as it were, energizes or realizes them; makes them real. The difficulty that we have in our prejudice, that it’s the two forces out there that are real and the observer is irrelevant to the reality of the situation—it’s what we’re really saying—goes back to the whole notion that man himself is irrelevant. Man is conceived as something, therefore, that is irrelevant in various ways. He could be said to be irrelevant because he is a spiritual visitor from another world altogether. He could be said to be irrelevant because he’s unimportant. He makes very little difference to the total universe. He’s very small.


But when you get this kind of thinking, you want to go back and ask, “Why do people want to believe that man is irrelevant?” In all theory of this kind, look for some sort of… ask the question, “What do these people want to achieve by their theory? By holding this stance?” And it was fashionable in the 19th century to look upon man as irrelevant for some very sound political reasons. I may sound a little bit like a Marxist in saying this, but it’s when you’re on the rampage, you have to believe either that you’re the representative of God Almighty and doing everything at his bidding, or that what you’re doing isn’t really very important. Either position will give you an alibi for behaving like a barbarian.


So the great put-down on man that our little affairs are of no concern to God—thank heaven he’s not watching any more! Then we can get away with murder, which is what we wanted to do in the colonization doings, especially of the 19th century, and the outrages of the two world wars. There is no God watching anymore. You know, the teacher has gone out, boys! Let’s raise hell. That was a way of getting rid of teacher. You know? God is dead, let’s have a drink.


And as a result of this, you see, it became so fashionable to think of man as merely unimportant—little victim of the cosmic trap—that, for a while, Western man lost his sense of the dependence of the—well, what the Hebrews used to call—he lost his sense of man’s position as the head of nature. And when you hear, today, people’s comments on that old myth of man as the head of nature, they come back in a very funny way. They say, “Oh, that’s the most conceited point of view! Man is part of nature.” Yes, but why is it that the naturalists—who think that man is part of nature—are always fighting nature? Because they don’t understand what it means to be the head of nature.


Every creature is the head of nature—in its turn. And we all take turns, because it’s taking turns that makes the world go ’round. Every creature in its turn is the head of nature, because each creature creates the world in its own image. And so, each creature, as a creator of the world, is man. “Man” simply means the middle position. This is the whole idea of man: the middle way; the mean. And so, wherever is the central point, that is the point called man. Just as you are the center of your universe. And as the astrologers explained, that when you wanted to draw the map of the soul, you took the centerpoint occupied by the individual organism. In other words, a date and a time, and that gave you a latitude and longitude. And so, in relation to that date and time—how was the universe arranged?—shows the map of the individual soul. Because the individual is the whole universe considered from this point of view, or focused at this point of view.


So, in like way, the cosmic situation of a bee or a mouse puts that mouse in the position of man when the mouse is considered the center of the universe. Now, every point in a curved space-time continuum is the center of the universe. You can see it—although this is only a metaphor and is not quite the right mathematical and physical description. But when you consider the surface of a ball, of a sphere, any point on that surface can be the center. Just rotate it to what appears to be the front as you look at it, and it’s the center of the surface of the sphere. Any point. So if our space is curved like the surface of the sphere, then any point on it may legitimately be considered the center. And so, considered as the center, that is the point called “man.” Although, as I say, it may be mouse, it may be ant, it maybe insect—anything.


But this becomes inconceivable and unimaginable to individuals who have no experience of themselves as center. And people who insist on the idea of being an objective observer—of standing outside and watching the world as a kind of television screen or movie screen upon which there is a distant panorama of passing events—that person, by adopting that position, has excluded himself from the feeling of centrality. In fact, he rather looks down on the feeling of centrality. He says, “That is the egotistic situation. You are the center of everything.” But, you know, you may call it all sorts of bad names, you may call it the egocentric predicament, but that’s the way it is. And it’s much less egocentric to accept it than to say, “Well, I’ll go off and play my own eccentric game”—as an objective observer, who is a sort of controller outside the world in that qualitative sense in which the monotheistic God is said to be outside the world: the boss.


So then, if you take this to a very far extent—see how far we can go with it—is it, then, that in the measure that you are the behavior of the universe, is the universe the behavior of you? I was talking in the beginning, you see, about the ease of understanding one way of looking at this and the difficulty of understanding the other, even though one implies the other. When we see that the degree to which individual behavior is a factor of the whole environmental scene, we tend to try and understand that in terms of determinism: that the individual organism is helplessly pushed around by and responding to environmental forces. But, on the other hand, if the relationship between the organism and its environment is transactional, it won’t be that one-sided. If the relationship is transactional it will be true, simultaneously, that the individual organism behaves in accordance with the environment, and the environment behaves in accordance with the individual organism.


So if we put that in startling practical terms: if you got into a mess, that was what you wanted. Well, you say, “I didn’t know I wanted it. I certainly didn’t think I wanted it.” No. Because that will be true. You didn’t want it—so long as you refer to yourself only in terms of the conscious spotlight which scans experience bit by bit, and which thinks about it. To the degree you identify your own functioning with that alone, then you will say of what happens to you, “Well, I didn’t ask for this. It has nothing to do with me. I wasn’t responsible.” But as soon as you extend your way of looking at things, and are not that myopic about it, you’ll begin to see what is, I think, clumsily foreshadowed by Freud and Jung—especially Freud in his idea of self-punitiveness, death-wishes, and all these things, where he is trying to say of the functioning of the unconscious that, when you get into a catastrophe, you are accident-prone because you want to punish yourself.


Now, actually, Groddeck is much better at this than Freud. Very few people know Groddeck. Groddeck really was behind a lot of Freud’s ideas, and he wrote a thing called The Book of the It; Das Buch vom Es. And in this he explains the most extraordinary theory of the unconscious, which he doesn’t—like Freud; Freud basically didn’t trust the unconscious. That’s why he felt that the reality principle was in irreconcilable conflict with the pleasure principle, and that this conflict would destroy human civilization. Groddeck—who looked like a goblin with enormous ears; he was a little man. Really looked like a goblin. And he ran a sanitarium at Baden-Baden where people who came for massage got psychoanalysis, and people who came for psychoanalysis got massage. Well, he wrote this book in the form of letters from a goblin to a young girl. And it’s much more sexy than Freud. But through the whole thing he has this complete faith in the unconscious and its wisdom. And a friend to whom I once lent this book years ago said, “After reading that, I will never be afraid of getting sick again.” Because he pointed out, about all sickness, that sickness is really not a disease, but a symptom of the the It, the unconscious, trying to cure you. And therefore, just as one does not simply knock down a fever with quinine, because that would stop the work of the fever, so perhaps one should not knock down all sorts of diseases because, for purposes which we do not as yet understand, the unconscious is using them for a constructive purpose.


But now, so you see, this was something Freud was fumbling after: the notion of an intelligence in us greater than the intelligence of consciousness, and operating in an unconscious way. Note the choice of words. Why didn’t he say super-conscious? Because the climate of opinion at the time in which he was alive wanted to insist that everything below human conscious reason was stupid. That mere matter, blind energy, had displaced God upon the throne of heaven. But it comes back, you see, with Freud, that you cannot eliminate the unconscious as part of your essential operation, yourself. Because you are an inseparable part of the world, you cannot divvy up responsibility and say, “You should praise me for that. I should blame you for that. It’s your fault!”, “No, it wasn’t, it’s your fault!” You know? All this is a perfectly silly argument. And if we think it dignifies human beings and gives them a sense of—and theologians are always talking a lot of nonsense about this kind of thing. They’re saying that the dignity of man depends upon each individual assuming his responsibility. And then, as soon as they start doing this, and then “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” “’Tis, ’tisn’t, ’tis, ’tisn’t.” You know? And arranging who’s to be clobbered, who’s the fall guy, who gets the blame for the situation? It’s usually somebody who just happened to be standing by when it happened.


So if, then, you understand that you are an integral, functioning part of this whole cosmos, what price do you pay for stopping this yak, yak, yak about your fault, my fault, et cetera? The price you pay is: you have to admit your own complicity in the catastrophes that occur to you. You have to see that everything that comes to you is what went out of you. Everything that comes to you is a return to you of what went out of you. You asked for it. But it’s not the conscious you that asked for it—not the you that is just the spotlight consciousness—because that’s unconscious of most of the things that go on in you.


So you get a curious, fascinating picture of how things are operating underneath the surface. This is what’s so valuable about studying some science. Take a very so-called simple science, like elementary botany—or, best of all, a kind of elementary course in ecology: plant, microbe, organism relationships—and what you see is this: you see a developing pattern in which everything that happens gets integrated into the whole thing that’s going on. That, what is from one point of view, say, the disease of a certain plant, is the method of reproduction of some other species. If we get, say, malaria from anopheles mosquitoes, that’s because anopheles mosquitoes have an extraordinary reproduction cycle that involves their being parasitic to us. Now, if you take the anopheles’ point of view, it becomes man. You see? So that, as you study these systems, you see what is going on is: “We need it a little bit this way.” And someone says, “Oh no! That’s going too far!” And then they pull it and it comes back, you see, and now a little bit this way. You get it going over here. And then they say, “Oh no, no! That’s too much! Too much, too much!” They feel a strain or something that said “too much.” So there’s constant adjustment going on.


And if you would examine, for example, the sharp edge of a leaf: you put it down under a huge microscope and there’s a churning, churning, churning, going along. And there are certain little elements, cells, in that leaf, you see, that want to go wheee, way out there. And if they do, you know, the leaf is disintegrating into gas. And wheee! But then some police come along, along that line, and say, “Hey! Get back inside! Keep in, keep in!” The other thing: “No, you’re destroying our liberty! We want to go out.” See? “Go on, get in!” And this whole thing, this clamor, goes along the edge of the leaf, see? But from our point of view it’s a perfectly stable, clean edge. We’re not looking closely enough.


So our turmoils, our problems, our wars, and calamities, and atomic explosions mean: if the planet blows up, that’s going to be like—[???] Morgenroth once showed me a great plant covered in greenfly. They were succulent and fat and having a ball. Came by the next day, the whole thing was gray dust. They’d eaten up the plant and disintegrated. As a fact of nature, around here we say, “Thank heavens for that! Those green flies just ate the weed up. And both of them were pests, anyway.” It works out in the balancing system of nature.


So we are doubtless in the same situation. Only, we have a kind of blinkers on, whereby we only see half the picture. We get the end of it—that it can push us around—but we don’t get the end of it that being pushed around is what we asked for. We evoked it all by the very fact that we’re here. Children don’t think that they are responsible for being born. They blame their parents—not realizing that they can’t really separate themselves from their parents. That, in the measure that, say, for example, I have sexual desires, I can really understand my father’s predicament. And I couldn’t possibly blame him because, actually, I was the evil gleam in his eye when he approached my mother. You know? I asked for it.


Now, you can see in this that your relationship to the world as being responsible for everything that happens to you is not the same as an ordinary boss, who would be a magician and say that all sorts of improbable things should happen. Rather, it is this: if you think of yourself only as the consciousness, then, if you get some ideas from me about being in control of everything that happens to you, you will act stupidly as if you were the boss of the whole thing, like a kind of a lunatic thinking he’s God. But if, on the other hand, you understand that your real self is the wisdom that is expressed in the intelligent form of your organism, then you won’t fall into the error of thinking your relationship to the world of being that as its governor.

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