“I always loved the passage where the Buddha is giving instruction on the art of meditation and he is describing a number of things on which one could concentrate. A commentator is making little notes on this and has made his list of things on which you could concentrate, like a square drawn on the ground or the tip of your nose or a leaf or a stone, and then it says, ‘or on anything.’ The commentators adds the footnote ‘but not any wicked thing.’ That’s professional clergy for you, the world over.” – Alan Watts, Buddhism the Religion of No-Religion
Posts Tagged ‘Alan Watts’
I am angry today. I tried to watch Michael Specter’s “The Danger of Science Denial” at TED.com. This post comes in two sections. I wrote the first section after I cooled down enough to analyse the video in its entirety and reflects what I consider to be several reasonable issues with Specter’s presentation. The second I spent most of the day writing as I watched the video. I do not think it reflects a reasonable analysis of his presentation in that it is more of an ideological tirade against a way of looking at the world that I find pernicious and annoying.
The central problem is he pulls the switcheroo several times. He leads in with a supposed case of people doing something relatively harmless that he alleges goes against scientific evidence, then relates that relatively harmless behavior to an horrific extreme example that no compassionate human being could condone. If you have a problem with GMOs you are directly responsibly for denying African villagers a cassava plant that has vitamins and proteins that would stop them from going blind. This seems like a fake chain of causation considering that most of the anger over GMOs is targeted against one or two kind of evil companies (Monsanto and Novartis), and that neither of those companies is likely to be involved in such a project, but that doesn’t stop him from drawing that conclusion. It’s a somewhat confusing talk because he seems to recognize and acknowledge the flaws in his own arguments, then repeatedly tramples over them to make his point anyway. He recognizes some of the valid reasons why a person should distrust authority based on recent experiences, but in saying that public concerns are law and policy issues relating to corporations and governments and not science, he is ignoring the symbiotic and often consciously complicit relationship between scientific institutions, corporations and governments. The capper is his inflammatory language. He invokes shame and value judgments in a way that makes argument with his more dubious points seem morally wrong, not on their own merits, but by the associations he draws.
Ironically Favorite Line: “You don’t get to have your own facts.”
All I can hear when I listen is the mythology of progress, a creation myth of our society with science and industry as its culture heroes, a myth that is ignorant of the real forces which have shaped our societies and dismisses the rampant destruction of our life support systems on planet Earth. There is no recognition that this myth of progress is a large component of what has pushed us to our present extremity and that when our environmental factors of favorable climate and cheap, abundant energy come to and end so will our progress (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/02/becoming-third-world-country.html). Likewise, a passing nod is made to the damage caused by our society’s sociopathic use of scientific knowledge and power, but there is seemingly no awareness that further developments of this power will be misused by the same forces that caused us to misuse it in the first place.
He aims to lampoon the fear of vaccines, GMO bans and herbal medicines as distortions and denials of science, while he lampoons his own absurdity. What are these petty trifles at the feat of our strange gods of war, industry, famine and disease, Haliburton, Exxon Mobile, Monsanto, Glaxosmithkline. Have we not reason to be afraid of vaccines when it seems the World Health Organization is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies (http://www.wodarg.de/english/2948146.html). Have we not reason to be afraid when we have no ability to control genetic contamination of crops (http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/4411.htm) and when agribusinesses can lie and distort the truth about their crops with impunity, to devastating affect (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ffv0cUpUF4 , http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BtCottonKillsSoilandFarmers.php). Have we not reason to be afraid when pharmaceutical companies can pick and choose what studies they release about their products and maintain unwholesome relationships with the doctors who prescribe their drugs(http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/).
This is not so much a plea of innocence for his targets as an indictment of his myopia.
In the face of these affronts how is paranoia an irrational response.
I love this picture. To me it represents the promise of science, to understand the universe from the smallest to the largest and back to the smallest, to see its beauty and complexity while saying something profound and powerful in the face of it all. Science, or more accurately, the institution that we have constructed around that word, the universities, the foundations, the labs, the R&D departments, the very system of acknowledgement and recognition upon which they stand, does not fulfill this promise today, not in more than the smallest measure. This is because (forgive me, please forgive me) our institution of science is prostituted to the least among us, those who have given their lives in the pursuit of power and wealth. The CEO, the general, the career political appointee and those who have found power through religious institutions or special interest groups.
The development of the corporation, its structure and function, has been far more the creative force behind the evolving form of our society than science ever has. Science has merely been the tool, wielded by masters unconcerned by the scope and wonder of the cosmos, but by the mastery and control of that which they could own and profit from. This is what determines the course of scientific endeavor, not high minded ideals, but where funding is allocated. If the scientists should arrive at the “wrong” answer then the funding will move else where.
The institution of science, despite all that it could be, all that it might be, is today a weapon of control and oppression, used by those with power against those without. No different than any church that twists its teachings, the internal meanings of its sacred words, for the sake of power and political expediency. What of the power that science has give you, your car, your laptop, camera phone and the internet in all its glory? what of them? They are toys compared to the powers we have invested into a handful of human beings around the world. We have gone from free bacteria, inefficiently processing anaerobic nutrients to eukaryotic cells in the organism, furiously processing from the oxygenated blood stream of the world fossil-fuel-subsidized transport system and communicating over its fiber optic neurons. We have power within the system, but there is a master of whom we are only dimly aware. A master who moves the whole.
The very system of monetization that these corporations have engendered in their role as centralized banks necessitates the form and course of our society, its endless exponential growth and transformation of the natural world into products and services (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFb26u9g8).
None of what I have written denies the power of the scientific method If you seek to understand or control the physical world, but science is not free.
“Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold.” – Peter Watts
Watt’s quote exemplifies an ideal that even under the most adverse conditions the scientific method will, through its hard attrition of peer review and defense of academic territory, somehow manage to edge toward the truth. I think in someways he is right, but he also left academia in part because his work was being distorted, both by those who funded it and by the activist NGOs that misrepresented it to the public. For the record, I doubt he would agree with the point I am trying to make, or enjoy that I am making it.
Newton was one of the first great scientists, he was also one of the last great mystics. He wanted to know God through understanding the calculus. There is a false division between those who think that everything in the universe may be understood and controlled and those who think that the universe is inherently beyond our understanding and control. As William S. Burroughs said “the road to the Western Lands is the most dangerous in the world” and the Western Lands are not a pleasant afterlife, they are a metaphor for achieving awareness of the ultimate immortality of the spirit/consciousness, beyond form, and are thus completely indivisible from an ultimate perception and understanding of reality as it is. They are part of the one and the same that is beyond the power of my words to express or to reach. There is a point on the road beyond which neither your analysis of reality nor your fundamental beliefs will carry you. This is the unknown, the mystery. Eventually our fear and self entrapment will dissolve in the winds of time, but how and when is up to us. Will you fall into it or will you fly.
Forgive me for this act of polemics that I have committed. This attempt to colonize the minds of others. I am, to paraphrase what Alan Watts once said, like a bird whose nature it is to sing. This is the song that comes out.
This is the first real Alan Watts video I ever listened to and my personal favorite. It is also the antidote to the video in the previous post.
Props where props are due. Many of the Alan Watts videos that I link to and that are on youtube are created and uploaded by a fellow usernamed redliterocket4 and 0ThouArtThat0. He has an extensive library of uploaded and favorited videos, most of great quality. I suggest you visit his pages there:
Silly and simplistic, but yes.
Nothing is more full than one is lead to think. Nothing is merely the potential of everything.
Edit: A friend has pointed out that some people might not find this video silly or simplistic. I actually love this video, as I love almost everything I post or link to here. It’s silly because Alan has a wonderful sense of humor and simplistic because he’s taking great honking ideas like government, death, nothingness, fear, control and so on and using them to make a short, clear presentation when in immediate experience these things are messy, complicated and as Alan himself would have put it “wiggly.”
“We operate at many levels. A lot of those levels would be very, very inconvenienced by the experience of our ultimate identity.
Some people go looking for that experience, even put themselves through terrible trials to because they think that’s what they need to reach it, or be worthy…..
Most of them, even though they can consciously decide to put themselves through horrible things, haven’t done the work on those other levels of themselves that would let them simply be able to accept who they really are.” – Me in conversation with a friend
I’ve struggled with my soul. “Why won’t you help me! Why aren’t you here with me!” The recurring lesson that I have been dragged through again and again is that the conscious mind is a skin, a film, a surface, and that its decision to make the journey to its ultimate identity is merely a very small step. The real test is how deep into your real damage the conscious mind is willing to dive, to heal, to release. It’s very easy to learn some meditation techniques, some perennial philosophy, and to practice some compassion in your life. It’s very hard to learn those things then choose to dive back into the cesspool of what you actually feel and think, underneath all the nice things you’ve learned, outside the tiny spotlight of the conscious mind. returning to the metaphor of the crystal as the self, when you clear the darkness that is outside what you take to be your everyday self, you will have cleared that crystal which is your true self and you will see your soul.
If anyone noticed, they would probably wonder why I link to No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded), the blog of hard SF writer Peter Watts. I link because he conveyed the infinitessimal nature of the conscious mind more starkly and completely than any other writer I know. Alan Watts is a dentist’s pick, lovingly teasing apart accreted concepts and ideas, freeing new experiences of the self to take shape. Peter Watts is a sledge hammer, the textual equivalent of ketamine. I’m primarily talking about his novel, Blindsight, which he offers for free here: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm
Edit: The title of this post is the sub-title of one of one of Alan Watts’ more famous books.
“Only the most exceptional people become aware of the matrix. Those that learn it exists must posses a rare degree of intuition, sensitivity and a questioning nature. However, very rarely, some gain this wisdoms through wholly different means.” – Narrator, World Record, Animatrix.
Something that I like to emphasize is that in my being I feel that intuition, sensitivity, and a questioning nature should be enough to get a person to the kinds of experiences I’ve had, but I don’t think they are. I think those qualities let me realize that something was very wrong with my world from a young age, but they didn’t get me out. I started to get out when I wouldn’t stop pushing until I was free, both of the limits that have been placed on me and the ones I’ve created for myself. I’m not there yet.
What I’m trying to say with the hackneyed metaphor of the matrix is that I don’t want anyone to think that the nature of existence is obvious. You’re not a dupe or drone if all you see is 3D reality in the Western context when you wake up in the morning. Firstly, It’s just as real as all the other kinds of experience, in an ironic way it’s just more illusory than most in my opinion. Secondly, by the design of the system we live in you’re not supposed to wake up in the middle of the trip. Even most energy workers are here to have an experience of a particular kind of incarnation, not to fully, consciously awaken to their nature. Even fewer are here to actually do something, as opposed to having the experience of doing something. That’s the way this system was designed/grown/happened to work.
All this would be fine except for one thing. To borrow a metaphor from Madeleine L’Engle that would be simplistic if I didn’t think it was so true, this is a shadowed world. We are all co-creators of our world and are thus responsible, but for the last several thousand years negative forces and intelligences have had undo influence in this world. Most commonly they feed on what I call “our lives gone wrong.” It’s actually very hard to capture energy from just death. We are freed in death as we are bound by birth, as both are part of life. We are whole in the process of life, and as the Dao De Jing put it “the tiger’s claw has nothing to grab on to nor the weapons a place to slice,” but when we enter unlife, or wrong life, we are easy prey. There is no morality or immorality to unlife. It is simply the state in which a being’s nature cannot be manifested, or is distorted into a process of disease without the process of healing or evolution to counter it.
Our world is at a crux. All pasts and futures rest on the fulcrum of the eternal now, but in the probability scape of our future the errors bars have gone off the charts and the standard deviation isn’t so standard anymore. At the edge of my vision I see unspeakable wonders and horrors, our world becoming a dream or a nightmare. Near the centre of vision, and far more likely is the mere distinction between futures of sustainable existence or extinction. Your choices now will have consequences that you can’t imagine, and I’m telling you that the playing field isn’t level. There are people and things out there that want you to fuck up, cave in and turn off inside. Don’t. You matter.
Having said all this I’d like to make clear that there is no righteous cause here. Righteousness only helps in that one moment when you need the energy to put yourself on your path and to move aside what limits you. Beyond that it will take you out of your true life as much as anything else will. Don’t cling to it. So will trying to push other people into taking your path. Alan Watts put it much better than I could, so I’ll leave you with some very wise words from his The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
“If, then, I am not saying that you ought to awaken from the ego-illusion and help save the world from disaster, why The Book? Why not sit back and let things take their course? Simply that it is part of “things taking their course” that I write. As a human being it is just my nature to enjoy and share philosophy. I do this in the same way that some birds are eagles and some doves, some flowers lilies and some roses. I realize,too, that the less I preach, the more likely I am to be heard.”