I find it a little difficult to say what the subject matter of this seminar is going to be, because it’s too fundamental to give it a title. I’m going to talk about what there is. Now, the first thing, though, that we have to do is to get our perspectives with some background about the basic ideas that, as Westerners living today in the United States, influence our everyday common sense, our fundamental notions about what life is about. And there are historical origins for this, which influence us more strongly than most people realize. Ideas of the world which are built into the very nature of the language we use, and of our ideas of logic, and of what makes sense altogether.
And these basic ideas I call myth, not using the word ‘myth’ to mean simply something untrue, but to use the word ‘myth’ in a more powerful sense. A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world. Now, for example, a myth in a way is a metaphor. If you want to explain electricity to someone who doesn’t know anything about electricity, you say, well, you talk about an electric current. Now, the word ‘current’ is borrowed from rivers. It’s borrowed from hydraulics, and so you explain electricity in terms of water. Now, electricity is not water, it behaves actually in a different way, but there are some ways in which the behavior of water is like the behavior of electricity, and so you explain it in terms of water. Or if you’re an astronomer, and you want to explain to people what you mean by an expanding universe and curved space, you say, ‘well, it’s as if you have a black balloon, and there are white dots on the black balloon, and those dots represent galaxies, and as you blow the balloon up, uniformly all of them grow farther and farther apart. But you’re using an analogy–the universe is not actually a black balloon with white dots on it.
So in the same way, we use these sort of images to try and make sense of the world, and we at present are living under the influence of two very powerful images, which are, in the present state of scientific knowledge, inadequate, and one of the major problems today are to find an adequate, satisfying image of the world. Well that’s what I’m going to talk about. And I’m going to go further than that, not only what image of the world to have, but how we can get our sensations and our feelings in accordance with the most sensible image of the world that we can manage to conceive.
All right, now–the two images which we have been working under for 2000 years and maybe more are what I would call two models of the universe, and the first is called the ceramic model, and the second the fully automatic model. The ceramic model of the universe is based on the book of Genesis, from which Judaism, Islam, and Christianity derive their basic picture of the world. And the image of the world in the book of Genesis is that the world is an artifact. It is made, as a potter takes clay and forms pots out of it, or as a carpenter takes wood and makes tables and chairs out of it. Don’t forget Jesus is the son of a carpenter. And also the son of God. So the image of God and of the world is based on the idea of God as a technician, potter, carpenter, architect, who has in mind a plan, and who fashions the universe in accordance with that plan.
So basic to this image of the world is the notion, you see, that the world consists of stuff, basically. Primordial matter, substance, stuff. As parts are made of clay. Now clay by itself has no intelligence. Clay does not of itself become a pot, although a good potter may think otherwise. Because if you were a really good potter, you don’t impose your will on the clay, you ask any given lump of clay what it wants to become, and you help it to do that. And then you become a genius. But the ordinary idea I’m talking about is that simply clay is unintelligent; it’s just stuff, and the potter imposes his will on it, and makes it become whatever he wants.
And so in the book of Genesis, the lord God creates Adam out of the dust of the Earth. In other words, he makes a clay figurine, and then he breathes into it, and it becomes alive. And because the clay become informed. By itself it is formless, it has no intelligence, and therefore it requires an external intelligence and an external energy to bring it to life and to bring some sense to it. And so in this way, we inherit a conception of ourselves as being artifacts, as being made, and it is perfectly natural in our culture for a child to ask its mother ‘How was I made?’ or ‘Who made me?’ And this is a very, very powerful idea, but for example, it is not shared by the Chinese, or by the Hindus. A Chinese child would not ask its mother ‘How was I made?’ A Chinese child might ask its mother ‘How did I grow?’ which is an entirely different procedure form making. You see, when you make something, you put it together, you arrange parts, or you work from the outside in, as a sculpture works on stone, or as a potter works on clay. But when you watch something growing, it works in exactly the opposite direction. It works from the inside to the outside. It expands. It burgeons. It blossoms. And it happens all of itself at once. In other words, the original simple form, say of a living cell in the womb, progressively complicates itself, and that’s the growing process, and it’s quite different from the making process.
But we have thought, historically, you see, of the world as something made, and the idea of being–trees, for example– constructions, just as tables and houses are constructions. And so there is for that reason a fundamental difference between the made and the maker. And this image, this ceramic model of the universe, originated in cultures where the form of government was monarchial, and where, therefore, the maker of the universe was conceived also at the same time in the image of the king of the universe. ‘King of kings, lords of lords, the only ruler of princes, who thus from thy throne behold all dwellers upon Earth.’ I’m quoting the Book of Common Prayer. And so, all those people who are oriented to the universe in that way feel related to basic reality as a subject to a king. And so they are on very, very humble terms in relation to whatever it is that works all this thing. I find it odd, in the United States, that people who are citizens of a republic have a monarchial theory of the universe. That you can talk about the president of the United States as LBJ, or Ike, or Harry, but you can’t talk about the lord of the universe in such familiar terms. Because we are carrying over from very ancient near-Eastern cultures, the notion that the lord of the universe must be respected in a certain way. People kneel, people bow, people prostrate themselves, and you know what the reason for that is: that nobody is more frightened of anybody else than a tyrant. He sits with his back to the wall, and his guards on either side of him, and he has you face downwards on the ground because you can’t use weapons that way. When you come into his presence, you don’t stand up and face him, because you might attack, and he has reason to fear that you might because he’s ruling you all. And the man who rules you all is the biggest crook in the bunch. Because he’s the one who succeeded in crime. The other people are pushed aside because they–the criminals, the people we lock up in jail–are simply the people who didn’t make it.
So naturally, the real boss sits with his back to the wall and his henchmen on either side of him. And so when you design a church, what does it look like? Catholic church, with the alter where it used to be–it’s changing now, because the Catholic religion is changing. But the Catholic church has the alter with it’s back to the wall at the east end of the church. And the alter is the throne and the priest is the chief vizier of the court, and he is making abeyance to the throne, but there is the throne of God, the alter. And all the people are facing it, and kneeling down. And a great Catholic cathedral is called a basilica, from the Greek ‘basilikos,’ which means ‘king.’ So a basilica is the house of a king, and the ritual of the church is based on the court rituals of Byzantium.
A Protestant church is a little different. Basically the same. The furniture of a Protestant church is based on a judicial courthouse. The pulpit, the judge in an American court wears a black robe, he wears exactly the same dress as a Protestant minister. And everybody sits in these boxes, there’s a box for the jury, there’s a box for the judge, there’s a box for this, there’s a box for that, and those are the pews in an ordinary colonial- type Protestant church. So both these kinds of churches which have an autocratic view of the nature of the universe decorate themselves, are architecturally constructed in accordance with political images of the universe. One is the king, and the other is the judge. Your honor. There’s sense in this. When in court, you have to refer to the judge as ‘your honor.’ It stops the people engaged in litigation from losing their tempers and getting rude. There’s a certain sense to that.
But when you want to apply that image to the universe itself, to the very nature of life, it has limitations. For one thing, the idea of a difference between matter and spirit. This idea doesn’t work anymore. Long, long ago, physicists stopped asking the question ‘What is matter?’ They began that way. They wanted to know, what is the fundamental substance of the world? And the more they asked that question, the more they realized the couldn’t answer it, because if you’re going to say what matter is, you’ve got to describe it in terms of behavior, that is to say in terms of form, in terms of pattern. You tell what it does, you describe the smallest shapes of it which you can see. Do you see what happens? You look, say, at a piece of stone, and you want to say, ‘Well, what is this piece of stone made of?’ You take your microscope and you look at it, and instead of just this block of stuff, you see ever so many tinier shapes. Little crystals. So you say, ‘Fine, so far so good. Now what are these crystals made of?’ And you take a more powerful instrument, and you find that they’re made of molecules, and then you take a still more powerful instrument to find out what the molecules are made of, and you begin to describe atoms, electrons, protons, mesons, all sorts of sub-nuclear particles. But you never, never arrive at the basic stuff. Because there isn’t any.
What happens is this: ‘Stuff’ is a word for the world as it looks when our eyes are out of focus. Fuzzy. Stuff–the idea of stuff is that it is undifferentiated, like some kind of goo. And when your eyes are not in sharp focus, everything looks fuzzy. When you get your eyes into focus, you see a form, you see a pattern. But when you want to change the level of magnification, and go in closer and closer and closer, you get fuzzy again before you get clear. So everytime you get fuzzy, you go through thinking there’s some kind of stuff there. But when you get clear, you see a shape. So all that we can talk about is patterns. We never, never can talk about the ‘stuff’ of which these patterns are supposed to be made, because you don’t really have to suppose that there is any. It’s enough to talk about the world in terms of patterns. It describes anything that can be described, and you don’t really have to suppose that there is some stuff that constitutes the essence of the pattern in the same way that clay constitutes the essence of pots. And so for this reason, you don’t really have to suppose that the world is some kind of helpless, passive, unintelligent junk which an outside agency has to inform and make into intelligent shapes. So the picture of the world in the most sophisticated physics of today is not formed stuff–potted clay–but pattern. A self-moving, self-designing pattern. A dance. And our common sense as individuals hasn’t yet caught up with this.
Well now, in the course of time, in the evolution of Western thought. The ceramic image of the world ran into trouble. And changed into what I call the fully automatic image of the world. In other words, Western science was based on the idea that there are laws of nature, and got that idea from Judaism and Christianity and Islam. That in other words, the potter, the maker of the world in the beginning of things laid down the laws, and the law of God, which is also the law of nature, is called the ‘loggos.?,.’ And in Christianity, the loggos is the second person of the trinity, incarnate as Jesus Christ, who thereby is the perfect exemplar of the divine law. So we have tended to think of all natural phenomena as responding to laws, as if, in other words, the laws of the world were like the rails on which a streetcar or a tram or a train runs, and these things exist in a certain way, and all events respond to these laws. You know that limerick,
There was a young man who said ‘Damn, For it certainly seems that I am A creature that moves In determinate grooves. I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.’
So here’s this idea that there’s kind of a plan, and everything responds and obeys that plan. Well, in the 18th century, Western intellectuals began to suspect this idea. And what they suspected was whether there is a lawmaker, whether there is an architect of the universe, and they found out, or they reasoned, that you don’t have to suppose that there is. Why? Because the hypothesis of God does not help us to make any predictions. Nor does it– In other words, let’s put it this way: if the business of science is to make predictions about what’s going to happen, science is essentially prophecy. What’s going to happen? By examining the behavior of the past and describing it carefully, we can make predictions about what’s going to happen in the future. That’s really the whole of science. And to do this, and to make successful predictions, you do not need God as a hypothesis. Because it makes no difference to anything. If you say ‘Everything is controlled by God, everything is governed by God,’ that doesn’t make any difference to your prediction of what’s going to happen. And so what they did was drop that hypothesis. But they kept the hypothesis of law. Because if you can predict, if you can study the past and describe how things have behaved, and you’ve got some regularities in the behavior of the universe, you call that law. Although it may not be law in the ordinary sense of the word, it’s simply regularity.
And so what they did was got rid of the lawmaker and kept the law. And so the conceived the universe in terms of a mechanism. Something, in other words, that is functioning according to regular, clocklike mechanical principles. Newton’s whole image of the world is based on billiards. The atoms are billiard balls, and they bang each other around. And so your behavior, every individual around, is defined as a very, very complex arrangement of billiard balls being banged around by everything else. And so behind the fully automatic model of the universe is the notion that reality itself is, to use the favorite term of 19th century scientists, blind energy. In say the metaphysics of Ernst Hegel, and T.H. Huxley, the world is basically nothing but energy–blind, unintelligent force. And likewise and parallel to this, in the philosophy of Freud, the basic psychological energy is libido, which is blind lust. And it is only a fluke, it is only as a result of pure chances that resulting from the exuberance of this energy there are people. With values, with reason, with languages, with cultures, and with love. Just a fluke. Like, you know, 1000 monkeys typing on 1000 typewriters for a million years will eventually type the Encyclopedia Britannica. And of course the moment they stop typing the Encyclopedia Britannica, they will relapse into nonsense.
And so in order that that shall not happen, for you and I are flukes in this cosmos, and we like our way of life–we like being human–if we want to keep it, say these people, we’ve got to fight nature, because it will turn us back into nonsense the moment we let it. So we’ve got to impose our will upon this world as if we were something completely alien to it. From outside. And so we get a culture based on the idea of the war between man and nature. And we talk about the conquest of space. The conquest of Everest. And the great symbols of our culture are the rocket and the bulldozer. The rocket–you know, compensation for the sexually inadequate male. So we’re going to conquer space. You know we’re in space already, way out. If anybody cared to be sensitive and let outside space come to you, you can, if your eyes are clear enough. Aided by telescopes, aided by radio astronomy, aided by all the kinds of sensitive instruments we can devise. We’re as far out in space as we’re ever going to get. But, y’know, sensitivity isn’t the pitch. Especially in the WASP culture of the United States. We define manliness in terms of aggression, you see, because we’re a little bit frightened as to whether or not we’re really men. And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It’s completely unnecessary. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on that show. And you don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you ARE a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, you grow out of this physical universe in exactly the same way an apple grows off an apple tree.
So let’s say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using ‘apple’ as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in