Compare a physical globe and a political globe. The physical globe is a pretty thing with all kinds of green and brown and wiggly patterns on it. The political globe on the other hand has still got the wiggly outlines of the land, but they are all crossed over with colored patches many of which have completely straight edges. A lot of the boundary between the United States and Canada, once you get west of the Great Lakes is simply a straight line. What has that got to do with anything? With any difference between Canadians on one side of the line or Americans on the other side of the line or what have you. It’s absolutely a violation of the surface of the territory. And look at the fair city of San Francisco. It’s a lovely place but they planted on the hills of San Francisco a city pattern that was appropriate for the plains of Kansas. A gridiron. And so you get streets that go straight up and that are extremely dangerous where they should have followed the contours of the hills.
Now however I think we should begin by talking a little bit about when we use the word physical reality, as distinct from abstraction, what are we talking about? Because you see there’s going to be a fight about this philosophically. If I say that the final reality that we’re living in is the physical world, a lot of people will say that I’m a materialist, that I’m unspiritual and that I think too much of an identification of the man with the body. You, any book that you open on yoga or Hindu philosophy will have in it a declaration that you start a meditation practice by saying to yourself I am not the body. I am not my feelings, I am not my thoughts, I am the witness who watches all this and is not really any of it. And so if I were to say then that the physical world is the basic reality, I would seem to be contradicting what is said in these Hindu texts. But it all depends on what you mean by the physical world, what is it?
First of all on this be pointed out that the idea of the material world is itself philosophical. We confuse physical events, the whole class and category of physical events with matter. But matter you see is an idea it’s a concept it’s the concept of stuff how something solid and permanent that you can catch hold of. Now you just can’t catch hold of the physical world. The physical world is the most evasive, elusive process that there is. It will not be pinned down and therefore it fulfills all the requirements of the spirit. So what I’m saying then is that the way the non abstract world which Korzybzski called unspeakable which was really rather a good word. Is the spiritual world. And the spiritual world isn’t something gaseous. Abstract. Form-less, in that sense of shape. It’s formless in another sense the formless world is a wiggly. See it’s where when we say something is shapeless like a cloud. What shape as this cloud you say well it’s so they get shapeless. That’s the real formless world.
The formal world is the one that human beings try to construct all the time. See wherever human beings have been around to see rectangles and straight lines. As we’re always trying to straighten things out. And so that’s the very mark of our presence. I don’t know why we do it it’s always been a puzzle to me why architects are always using rectangles. But the thing is that with that they make us feel very uncomfortable if they don’t. I have an architect friend who built somebody a house like a snail shell. And it was a it’s spiraled in and in and in and the John was right at the center. But everybody rebels against this house, they just feel very uncomfortable and that no these are the furniture doesn’t fit. Because all furniture is made to fit in a rectilinear scene.
And so we’re always putting things in boxes, see all thoughts all words are labels on boxes therefore we feel we’ve got to get everything boxed. And so we put ourselves in boxes everything is put in boxes. But actually everything else in nature doesn’t go that way, as for example the snail doesn’t put itself in a box. The crab doesn’t put itself in the box. It has these fascinating goddess objects. What is for example more beautiful than a Conch shell? Or a lovely scallop shell? These are gorgeous things. We could make the most delicious shells out of concrete or plastics. They could be very beautiful. And we could distribute ourselves over the landscape like shellfish along the seashore. But instead we have to live in boxes. There’s nothing you can’t fight it, it’s the system. So you know, then you have to you begin to build your furniture and chairs, everything, accordingly to those shapes because they’re easy to store away in a place that is a box in the first place.
But you see then that is this rectilinear world. This is unspiritual. This is the world of what we all call the artificial as distinct from the natural. And when we live in a world like that, we begin to have ourselves bamboozled by it. You think, you begin to think that reality is this sort of straightened out situation that we all have to limit. And you don’t remember that reality is precisely the wiggly world, you see. We don’t realise that we are all wiggly. The problem is that we wiggle in rather the same way, we have head, two arms, two legs, etc. But notice how we do all sorts of things to ourselves to sort of evade our willingness. The way we dress, especially men. But this world, this physical world, is wiggly. And this is the most important thing to realize about it as I’ve sometimes said. We’re living in the middle of a Rorschach inkblot. And there really is no way that the physical world is.
In other words, the nature of truth, I said in the beginning somebody had said that thoughts were made to conceal truth this is this is a fact because there is no such thing as the truth that can be stated. In other words, ask the question, “What is the true position of the stars in the Big Dipper?” Well it depends where you’re looking at them from. And there is no absolute position, so in the same way accountants are good accountant will tell you that any balance sheet is simply a matter of opinion. So there’s no such thing as the true state of affairs of a business. But we’re all hooked on the idea that there is you see, an external objective world which is a certain way. And that there it really is that way history, for example, is a matter of opinion. History is an art, not a science. It’s something constructed, which is accepted as a more or less satisfactory explanation of events which in as a matter of fact don’t have an explanation at all most of what happens in history is completely irrational. But people always have to feel that there they’ve got to find a meaning. For example, you get sick, and you lived a very good life and you’ve been helpful to other people and done all sorts of nice things and you get cancer. And you say to the, to the clergyman, “Why did this have to happen to me?” And you’re looking for an explanation and there isn’t one. It just happened that way. But people feel if they can’t find an explanation they feel very very insecure why? Because they haven’t been able to straighten things out. The world is not that way. So the truth, in other words what is going on, is of course a lot of wiggles. But the way it is, is always in relation to the way you are. In other words, however hard I hit a skinless drum, it will make no noise. Because noise is a relationship between a fist and a skin. So in exactly the same way light is a relationship between electrical energy and eyeballs. It is you in other words who evoke the world. And you evoke the world in accordance with what kind of a you you are. What kind of an organism you are. One organism evokes one world another organism evokes another world and so everything air to reality is it is a kind of relationship. So once one gets rid of the idea of the truth as some way the world is in a fixed sense, say “It is that way.”
Then you get to another idea of the truth altogether. The idea of the truth that cannot be stated the truth that cannot be pinned down. I might say that I’m interested in Japanese material, because contrary to popular belief, Americans are not material. We are not people who love material. But our culture is by and large devoted to the transformation of material into junk as rapidly as possible. God’s junkyard.
In science, we really work in two different ends of the spectrum of reality. We can deal with problems in which there are very few variables. Or we can deal with problems in which there are almost infinitely many variables. But in between we’re pretty helpless. In other words, the average person cannot think through a problem involving more than three variables without a pencil in his hand. That’s why, for example, it’s difficult to learn complex music. Think of an organist, who has two keyboards or three keyboards, for work with his hands and each hand is doing a different rhythm. And then his feet on the pedals, he could be doing a different rhythm with each foot. Now that’s a different difficult thing for people to learn to do, just like to rub your stomach and circle and pat your head at the same time takes a little skill.
Now, most problems with which we deal with everyday life involve far more than three variables. And we are really incapable of thinking about them. Actually, the way we think about most of our problems is simply going through the motions of thinking. We don’t really think about it we do most of our decision making by hunch. You can collect data about a decision that you have to make. But the data that you collect has the same sort of relation to the actual processes involved in this decision as a skeleton to a living body. It’s just the bones. And there are all sorts of entirely unpredictable possibilities involved in every decision and you don’t really think about it at all. The truth of the matter is that we are as successful as we are which is surprising. The degree to which we are successful in conducting our everyday practical lives, because our brains do the thinking for us in an entirely unconscious way. The brain is far more complex than any computer. The brain is in fact the most complex known object in the universe because our neurologists don’t understand it they have a very primitive conception of the brain and admit it. And therefore if we do not understand our own brains that simply shows that our brains are a great deal more intelligent than we are. Meaning, by we the thing that we have identified ourselves with. Instead of being sensible and identifying ourselves with our brains. We identify ourselves with a very small operation of the brain which is the faculty of conscious attention which is a sort of radar that we have that scans the environment for unusual features. And we think we are that and we are nothing of the kind that’s just a little, little trick we do. So actually, our brain is analyzing all sensory input all the time. Analyzing all the things you don’t notice don’t think about don’t have even names for. And so it is this marvelous complex goings on which is responsible for our being able to adapt ourselves intelligently to the rest of the physical world. The brain is furthermore an operation of the physical world.
But now you see though we get back to this question, physical world. This is a concept. This is simply an idea. And if you want to ask me to differentiate between the physical and the spiritual. I will not put the spiritual in the same class as the abstract but most people do. They think that one plus two equals three is a proposition of a more spiritual nature than say for example a tomato. But I think it tomato is a lot more spiritual and one plus two equals three. This is where we really get to the point that’s why in Zen Buddhism when people are asked What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism you could very well answer it tomato? Because look how, when you examine the material world, how diaphanous it is. It really isn’t very solid. Tomato doesn’t last very long. Nor for that matter, do the things that we consider most exemplary of physical realities such as mountains. The poet says, the hills are shadows and they flow from form to form and nothing stands.
Because the physical world is diaphanous. It’s like music when you play music it simply disappears there’s nothing left and that for that very reason it is one of the highest and most spiritual of the arts, because it is the most transient, and so in a way you might say that transiency is a mark of spirituality. A lot of people think the opposite, that the spiritual things are the everlasting things but you see them all a thing tends to be permanent the more it tends to be lifeless.
So then, the physical world, we can’t even find any stuff out of which it’s made. We can only recognise each other, and I say well I realise that I met you before and that I see you again. But the thing that I recognise is not anything really except a consistent pattern. Let’s suppose I have a rope. And this rope begins by being Manila rope, then it goes on by being cotton rope, then it goes on with being nylon then it goes on with the silk. So I tie not in the rope. And I move the knot down along the rope. Now is it as it moves along the same now or different. We would say it was the same because you recognize the pattern of the knot but at one point it’s Manila at another point it’s cotton to another point it’s nylon another it’s silk, and that’s just like us. We are recognised by the fact that one day you face the same way as you did the day before and people recognize your facing. So they say that’s John Doe or Mary Smith. But actually the contents of your face. Whatever they may be, the water the carbons, the chemicals are changing all the time you are like a whirlpool in a stream the stream is doing this consistent well pulling and we always recognize like at the Niagara, that the whirlpool as one of the sites about the water is always moving on. And this is why it’s so spiritual. To be non-spiritual is not to see that. In other words, it is to impose upon the physical world the idea of things of substantiality that is to be involved in matter. To identify with the body. To believe in other words that the body is something constant, something tangible. So therefore, if you cling to the body you will be frustrated. So the whole point is that the material world, the world of nature, is marvelous so long as you don’t try to lean on it.