I wonder what you mean, when you use the word ‘I?’ I’ve been very interested in this problem for a long long time, and I’ve come to the conclusion, that what most civilized people mean by that word, is a hallucination. That is to say, a false sense of personal identity, that is at complete variance with the facts of nature. And as a result of having a false sense of identity we act in a way that is inappropriate to our natural environment. And when that inappropriate way of action is magnified by a very powerful technology, we swiftly begin to see the results of a profound discord between man and nature. As is well known we are now in the process of destroying our environment, as a result, of an attempt to conquer it and master it. And we have not realized, therefore, that our environment is not something other than ourselves. In assuming that it is we have made a great mistake. And are now paying the price for it.
But most people would agree with the lines of the poet who said “I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made,” because we have the strong sensation that our own being inside our skin is extremely different from the world outside our skin. That while there may be intelligence inside human skins. And while there may be values and loving feelings. Outside the skin is a world of mechanical process which does not give a damn about any individual, and which is basically unintelligent. Being gyrations of blind force, and so far as the merely biological world is concerned gyrations of libido, which is Freud’s word for blind lust. It should be obvious, that the human being goes with the rest of the universe. Even though we say in popular speech “I came into this world.”
Now it is not true that you came into this world. You came out of it. In the same way as a flower comes out of a plant or fruit comes out of a tree. And as an apple tree apples. The solar system in which we live and therefore the galaxy in which we live and therefore the system of galaxies in which we live. That system peoples. And therefore people are an expression of its energy and of its nature. If people are intelligent. And I suppose we have to grant that. If. Then the energy which people express must also be intelligent because one does not gather. Figs from thistles and grapes from thorns. But it does not occur you see to the ordinary civilized person to regard himself or herself. As an expression of the whole universe. It should be obvious that we cannot exist except in an environment of Earth, Air, Water, and solar temperature. That all these things go with us. And are as important to us albeit outside our skins as our internal or organs heart stomach brain and so forth.
Now if then we cannot describe the behavior of organisms without at the same time describing the behavior of their environments we should realize that we have a new entity of description. Not the individual organism alone but what would now be called a field of behavior which we must call rather clumsily the organism environment. You go with your environment in the same way as your head goes with the rest of your body. You do not find in nature faces arriving in the world sui generous. They go with a body that also bodies do not arrive in a world. Which would be for example a plain ball of scrubbed rock floating without an atmosphere far away from a star. That will not grow bodies there is no soil for bodies. There is no complexity of environment which is body producing.
So bodies go with a very complicated natural environment and if the head goes with the body and the body goes with the environment the body is as much an integral part of the environment as the head is part of the body. It is deceptive of course because the human being is not rooted to the ground like a tree. A human being moves about and therefore can shift from one environment to another but the shifts are superficial the basic environment of the planet remains a constant and if the human being leaves the planet he has to take with him and a canned version of the planetary environment. Now we are not really aware of this upon taking thought and due consideration it does occur to us, yes indeed, we do need that environment but in the ordinary way we don’t feel it. That is to say we don’t have a vivid sensation of belonging to our environment in the same way that we have a vivid sensation of being an ego inside a bag of skin located mostly in the skull about halfway between the ears and a little way behind the eyes. And it issues in these disastrous results of the ego which according to one thousand century commonsense feels that it is a fluke in nature. And that if it does not fight nature it will not be able to maintain its status as intelligent fluke.
So the geneticists are now saying and many others are now saying that man must take the course of his evolution into his own hands. He can no longer trust the wiggly random and unintelligible processes of nature to develop him any further but he must interfere with his own intelligence. And through genetic alterations breed the kind of people who will be viable for human society and that sort of thing. Now this I submit is a ghastly era. Because human intelligence has a very serious limitation. That limitation is. That it is a scanning system, of conscious attention, which is linear. That is to say, it examines the world, in lines. Rather as you would pass the beam of a flashlight across a room or a spotlight. That’s why our education takes so long. It takes so long because we have to scan miles of lines of print. And we regard that you see as basic information.
Now the universe does not come at us in lines. It comes at us. In a multidimensional continuum in which everything is happening all together everywhere at once. And it comes at us much too quickly, to be translated into lines of print. Or of other information, however fast they may be scanned. And that is our limitation so far as the intellectual life and the scientific life is concerned. The computer will greatly speed up the linear scanning. But it’s still linear scanning. And so long as we are stuck with that form of wisdom we cannot deal with more than a few variables at once. Now what do I mean by that. What is a variable? A variable is any one linear process let’s take music when you play a bar few. And there are four parts to it you have four variables you have four moving lines and you can take care of that with two hands. An organist using two feet can put into more variables and have six going and you may realize if you’ve ever tried to play the organ that it’s quite difficult to make six independent motions go at once. The average person cannot do that without training the average person cannot deal with more than three variables at once without using a pencil. Now when we study physics we are dealing with processes in which there are millions of variables. This however we handle by statistics in the same way as insurance companies use actuarial tables to predict when most people will die. If the average age of death is sixty five however, this prediction does not apply to any given individual. Any given individual will live to plus or minus sixty five years. And the range of difference may be very wide indeed of course. But this is all right the sixty five guesses all right when you’re doing large scale gambling. And that’s the way the physicist works in predicting the behavior of nuclear wavicles. But the practical problems of human life deal with variables in the hundreds of thousands. Here statistical methods are very poor. And thinking it out by linear consideration is impossible. With that equipment then we are proposing to interfere with our genes. And with that equipment also be it said we are trying to solve our political economic and social problems. And naturally everybody has the sense of total frustration. And the individual feels ‘what what on earth can I do? ‘
We do not seem to know a way of calling upon our brains. Because our brains can handle an enormous number of variables that are not accessible to the process of conscious attention your brain is now handling your total nervous system to be more accurate. Your blood chemistry; the secretions from your glans. The behavior of millions of cells. It is doing all that without thinking about it. That is to say, without translating the processes it is handling into consciously reviewed words, symbols or numbers. Now when I use the word thinking I mean precisely that process: translating. What is going on in nature in two words symbols. Or numbers because both words and numbers are kinds of symbols. Symbols bear the same relation to the real world that money bears to wealth. You cannot quench anybody’s thirst with the word water, just as you cannot eat a dollar bill and derive nutrition from it. But using symbols and using conscious intelligence; scanning, has proved very useful to us. It has given us such technology as we have. But at the same time it has proved too much of a good thing. At the same time, we’ve become so fascinated with it that we confuse the world as it is with the world as it is thought about talked about and figured about. That is to say, with the world as it is described.
And the difference between these two is vast. And when we are not aware of ourselves except in a symbolic way. We are not related to ourselves at all we are like people eating menus instead of dinners. And that’s why we all feel psychologically frustrated. So then we get back to the question of, “What do we mean by I? ” Well first of all obviously we mean our symbol of ourselves. Now ourselves in this case is the whole psycho physical organism conscious and unconscious, plus its environment. That’s your real self. Your real self. In other words, is the universe as centered on your organis. That’s you.
Let me just clarify that a little for one reason. What you do is also a doing of your environment. Your behavior is its behavior as much as it’s behavior is your behavior. It’s mutual. We could say it is transactional. You are not a puppet which your environment pushes around. Nor is the environment a puppet which you push around. They go together they act together. In the same way for example if I have a wheel one side of it going down is the same as the other side of it going up. When you handle the steering wheel of a car, are you pulling it or are you pushing it? No, you’re doing both, aren’t you? When you pull it down the side you are pushing it up that side. It’s all one so there’s a push pull between organism and environment. We are only rarely aware of this as when in curious alterations of consciousness which we call mystical experience, cosmic consciousness, an individual gets the feeling that everything that is happening is his own doing. Or the opposite of that feeling that he isn’t doing anything, but that all his doings his decisions and so forth are happenings of nature. You can feel it either way. You can describe it in these two completely opposite ways but you’re talking about the same experience you’re talking about experiencing your own activity and the activity of nature as one single process. And you can describe it as if you were omnipotent like God or as if it were completely deterministic and you hardly existed at all. But remember both points of view are right. And we’ll see where that gets us.
But we don’t feel that do we, ordinarily? What we feel instead is an identification of ourselves with our idea of ourselves or I would rather say with our image of ourselves? And that’s the person. Or the ego. You play a role, you identify with that role. I play a role, it’s called Alan Watts and I know very well that that’s a big act. I can play some other roles besides Alan Watts, if necessary. But I find this one is better for making a living. But I assure you it’s a mask and I don’t take it seriously. The idea of my being a kind of messiah or guru or savior of the world just breaks me up. Because I know me. You know it’s very difficult to be holy. In the ordinary sense. So I know I’m not that but most of us are taught to think that we are whom we are called. And, when you are a little child and you begin to learn a role and your parents and your peers approve of your be. In that they know who you are. You’re predictable, so you can be controlled. But when you act out of role and you imitate some other child’s behavior everybody points the finger and says you’re not being true to yourself. “Johnny, that’s not you, that’s Peter.” And so you learn to stay Peter. Or to stay Johnny. But of course you’re not either. Because this is just the image of you it’s as much of you as you can get into your conscious attention, which is precious little. Your image of yourself contains no information about how you structure your nervous system. It contains no information about your blood chemistry it contains almost no information about the subtle influences of society upon your behavior. It does not include the basic assumptions of your culture which are all taken for granted and unconscious. And you can’t find them out unless you study other cultures to see how their basic assumptions differ. It includes all kinds of illusions that you’re completely unaware of as for example that time is real.
And that there is such a thing as a past. Which is pure hokum. But there are nevertheless all these things that are unconscious in us and they are not included in our image of ourselves, nor of course included in our image of ourselves is there any information about our inseparable relationships with the whole natural universe. So this is a very impoverished image. When you ask a person “what did you do yesterday? ” They’ll give you a historical account of a certain number of events in which they participated in, the certain number of things which they saw, used or were clubbed by. But realize at once that this history leaves out most of what happened. I in trying to describe what happens to me this evening will never be able to describe because there are so many people here that if I were to talk about everyone whom I’ve seen what they were wearing what color there was what sort of expressions they had on their faces I would have to talk to doomsday. So instead of this rich physical experience, which is very rich indeed I have to attenuate it in memory and description to saying “Oh I met a lot of people in Philadelphia. And they were men and the women a lot of them were young and some of them were old.” You know, it’s an utterly impoverished account of what went on. So therefore in thinking of ourselves in this way what I did yesterday what I did the day before in terms of this stringing mangy account all I have is a caricature of myself. And you know the caricaturist doesn’t draw you all in he just put certain salient features whereby people will recognize you. As sort of a skeleton. So we can see we are as it were conceiving ourselves as a bunch of skeletons and they’ve got no flesh on, just a bunch of bones. And no wonder we all feel inadequate. We’re all looking for something, to the future, to bring us the goodie. We know we ought to have. There’s a golden goodie at the end of the line somewhere there’s a good time coming. Be it ever so way far away that one far off divine event which all creation moves we hope. And therefore we say of something that’s no good it has no future. I would say it has no present. But everybody says it has no future.
Now, here we are, as it were, psychically starved. And always there for looking for looking seeking seeking seeking. And this confused seeking is going on everywhere we don’t know what we want. Nobody knows what they want. We say yes we think we think of what we want in vague terms: pleasure, money, wealth, love. Fulfillment personal development. But we don’t know what we mean by all that. The person really sits down to figure out write out, I say twenty pages, on your idea of heaven. It will be a sorry production. You can see it already in Medieval art whether it’d pictures of heaven and hell. Hell is always much better than Heaven. Although it’s uncomfortable it’s a sadomasochistic orgy. Wowie, you know hell is really a rip roaring, whereas all the saints in heaven are sitting, of the with you know, very very smug and demure like they were in church. And you see also the multitudes of the saved instead of this writhing wormy thing you can see all their heads which the artist is drawn to abbreviate them just the tops of their heads in masses they look like cobblestone street. Flattened out. So what has happened then is this. That I. Is an illusion it’s an image and it is no more ourself than an idol is the god. But we say it can’t be so, because I feel I really exist, it isn’t just an idea in my head, it’s a feeling, I feel me! Well what is it that you feel when you feel I?