There’s an old Cornish litany that runs from girl isn’t ghost isn’t long legged beast is and things that go bump in the night. Good Lord deliver us. And I like to connect it. With another saying. Which I heard once from a professor of mathematics, Professor Davis at Northwestern. When he said, ‘It’s amazing how many things there are that aren’t so.’ I’ve been looking again recently at a book, which is one of the most important contributions to modern philosophy. Wittgenstein’s Tractato Logico Philosophicalus. And despite its complicated sounding title and the intricacies of some of the reasoning in it. It’s basically an extraordinarily simple and extremely cogent piece of reasoning. To think about it that fascinated me so much. And some others is the astonishing similarity of Wittgenstein’s point of view to that of Buddhism in general. And Zen in particular. And this was also noticed by Paul when Paul who’s a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who once wrote an article on the subject. But let me quote a passage from the end of the book.
The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem is not this the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of law. I became clear I could not then say where in the sense consisted. There is indeed the inexpressible this shows itself it is the mystical. The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said. I.E. the propositions of natural science I.E. something that has nothing to do with philosophy. And then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other. He would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy. But it would be the only strictly correct method. My propositions are elucidatory in this way. He who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless when he has climbed out through them on them over them. He must so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up on it. He must cement these propositions then he sees the world rightly. Where off one cannot speak there are one must be silent. I suppose that last sentence is one of the most often quoted passages in the whole literature of modern philosophy rather reminiscent of Lao Tzu, saying Those who speak do not know. Those who know do not speak. But as one looks over certain illustrations and images in the passage the student of oriental philosophy finds them extraordinarily familiar. The idea of throwing away the ladder after you have climbed up on that directed power levels the ancient Buddhist simile of the Buddha’s doctrine being a rock. To cross a river. To cross from the shore of Samsara to the shore of Nirvana from life lived in other words as a vicious circle to the life of liberation. It goes on to say after you’ve crossed the river you don’t pick up the raft and carry it with you you leave it behind.
And so in the same way, Zen teachers have often made the remark. That all the doctrines that the Buddha taught were nothing in a way that obstacles. The doctrine is sometimes likened to giving a child a yellow leaf to stop it crying for go. And so in the same way, Wittgenstein suggests that the whole task of philosophy is really to get rid of itself I mean in rather the same way the task of a doctor is to put himself out of business because he never succeeded because people keep getting sick. But if he was one hundred percent successful he’d lose all his patients because they wouldn’t be illin him all. And so in the same way, a philosopher of this kind is very rarely out of business. Because there are still always people with what we might call intellectual sicknesses bothered by fantastic and nonexistent problems. And so too we can see another parallel, where he says it’s the right method of philosophy would be this: to say nothing except what can be said I.E. the propositions of natural science I.E. something that has nothing to do with philosophy it’s just the same thing when the old master, when asked what was what is the fundamental principle of Buddhism and one of them answered three pounds of flax. What is that got to do with philosophy what is that got to do with things of the spirit but you see what it is it’s a perfectly ordinary everyday remark.
[There was] another was another story rather like this. There was an old master called Gozo. And one of his students came to him one day and said how am I getting on in my study of Zen Oh he said you’re all right but you have a trivial fault but what’s that you work together too much then well said the student if one is studying Zen isn’t it the most natural thing in the world to be talking about it. And the Master replied, But when it’s like an ordinary everyday conversation, it’s somewhat better. Now this may appear at first sight to be a kind of philistinism. If in other words, the most spiritual discourse that one can have is Good-morning how do you do. Nice day, isn’t it? Does that not reduce all the great speculations of the human intellect the great quests of human intelligence to me prosaic everyday matters. Well it depends. You know extrusion was often have a deceptive resemblance between each other. Very often parallels have been drawn between the wisest of men and idiots. Or between great sages and children. Or between saints and drunkards. For in rather the same way, the highest in the lowest notes of the musical scale are alike inaudible. And yet extremely different so in a somewhat similar way the person who’s been through the whole thing the whole quest of wisdom the whole study of philosopher. Ends up deceptively like a stupid man who never heard a philosophy in his life you know the Zen saying: When I knew nothing of Buddhism, mountains were mountains and waters where waters. The when I had started it a great deal mountains were no longer mountains waters were no longer waters but when I had fairly understood the whole thing and arrived at the abode of peace mountains where once again mountains and waters once again waters. Something rather similar happens here because you see what Wittgenstein is really saying, Is that there is no problem of life. In the sense in which we ordinarily use that phrase. And that seems an almost a stunning affront to our confidence life not after problem we see it is nothing but problems we regard ourselves in a morning noon and night struggle to solve the great problem of existence and for some people this problem is. Why does the universe exist? Rather people the problem is how my going to get enough to eat. And therefore, when you take it at one extreme or the other why does the universe exist or harm I going to get enough to eat who can say that life is not a problem and yet here is this audacious suggestion, that what we are bothering about is a ghost. It’s something that isn’t really there.
But you know, when we look at the history of science. We find to what an extraordinary sense. Science has solved problems by disarming them. I mean such things for example people have spent years and years and years hours and hours of thought trying to invent a mechanical contraption that would be in perpetual motion. Think of the trouble they would save themselves if they realized it can’t be done. Or they’ve tried to find a construction for try setting an angle with a straightedge and compass and it can’t be done and now it’s been proved that it can’t be done and how much trouble would have been saved. Or think again of trying to square the circle. Or, imagine for example, people thinking for centuries that the planets revolved about the earth because they were encased in crystalline spheres. The funny thing is they knew they were encased in crystalline spheres why you could see right through them. And yet that the whole problem of how the spheres were moved out of as a premium of the layout most fear that gave rotation to all the others is simply disappeared the spheres are presumed now not to be there at all and it’s much easier to think of the solar system without the spheres. In the same way, people jolly well knew that the planets revolved about the earth and in circles. Perfect circles and it was a considerable shock when Kepler proved that the orbit of Mars was an ellipse.
So too, we knew we were perfectly sure of essential that light propagated itself through a mysterious continuum called the ether. And to our astonishment we found out that there isn’t any ether. In so many ways, just ordinary physical science is using is an act of understanding the world more clearly by ceasing to ask misleading questions. In exactly the same sort of thing happens to in psychotherapy. One of the characteristics of neurotic behavior. You know is it’s repetitive. The neurotic personality keeps going through unsuccessful life patterns again and again and again and nothing seems to be able to stop it. Now this kind of behavior is exactly what a Buddhist would mean by Samsara. The round of the rat race, of birth and death that is to say of life as we ordinarily live it. Because it is a round, it is a vicious circle. For the reason that we keep trying to solve problems that are not simply overwhelmingly difficult. The problems that are not problems at all. They only look like problems. So when we tackle you see, impossible questions. I mean for a simple example, if you really think it means something to ask why is a mouse when it spins and then try and find out it will never make any sense to the cows come home. In the same way, Buddhist imagery liken this to looking for the horns of a hare. All the child of a barren woman. Or the beard of a unit. And thus, things go round and round and never come out, when, the question being asked is the is an absurd question is a nonsense question. And therefore what brings cure healing say to a neurotic personality is the insight that the problem that he was trying to solve was no real problem at all.
Now, take for example. Some of the many ghosts which haunt our minds. We say for example that we all have an instinct to survive. And a lot of people thus treat the problem of life is how am I to survive? And one might almost be a little cautious about relieving people of this problem lest they should lose the impetus to go on doing their work. But then also, impetus to go on doing your work is another ghost we think we have driven you see we think that what we do has these mysterious things behind it like for example people say. We always choose, make our decisions, on the basis of a pleasure principle. We always choose in accordance with what we prefer. And of course when our choice is limited to alternatives all of which are rather unpleasant, we choose the lesser evil. Now what is actually say we always choose what we prefer is simply another way of saying we always choose what we choose. For there is no way of showing what it is that we prefer except in the fact that we choose it. So it’s very important simply to keep your eye on what is being done and to describe that and if you describe it clearly enough and well enough you will probably find the ghost of instinct disappeared. Thus you see, when we talk about an instinct for survival, what is the saying? What is the evidence for the fact that there is an instinct for survival? There is no evidence except that in fact be. It will survive. Until they don’t. And this is rather odd because what happens to the instinct for survival when people don’t survive well Freud thought he solved this problem by inventing a death wish a death instinct but that too is something as phony as the survival instinct and the whole problem is much more simply described if we get rid of both of these ghosts.
So, in this way, we find that when we try to explain some kind of behavior some kind of activity, by supposing, that there is a motivating force a sort of Incarnate spook behind the whole thing what has really happened is that we haven’t described what’s going on sufficiently clearly. Now this comes out in another way, when we try to describe anything at all, and think that we are describing something that as it were exists all by itself like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, whose face just hung all by itself in mid-air. I mean supposing we have we draw the Cheshire Cat and here he is with his big grin. And we try to describe what goes on here what is this figure. Well, we get at first sidetracked we are fascinated by the figure our attention is riveted on it and we think that that is what we are talking about all by itself just up. That. And we start to talk about it’s outline that it’s black. And that the cat has little we can if on the top of its head that it has whiskers and a big grin and so on and so forth. But I ask you let’s account for the fact that it’s there and it isn’t hanging in the middle of empty space how does it happen that this black outline is there where is it? And then we have to say, well, it is on a piece of paper. And the piece of paper is so Tash to the framework that it stays upright and could be drawn on in the sufficiently firm and furthermore it is of such a texture that the ink doesn’t just roll off when you put it that. And, but you see what’s beginning to happen, is that I’m beginning to describe not simply the figure, but the ground of the figure the environment of the figure. I should also go on to say that the figure got there. Through the application of a brush with ink on it and how did the brush get that well you might say I put it that way. Yes but let’s describe that more carefully. What do you mean, I put it? What does this ‘I’ word refer to? Well I is a human organism. And it does things. With him and Wedeman what is this it does things. Describe that more carefully and what are you going to describe. You’re going to describe the organism and you. With all its complex structures. But as you describe the structures as you describe that organism accurately you are going to describe another action. You would describe the whole thing in terms of process you won’t find as it were some thing doing the process as I’ve often said we are so bugged by the notion of stuff you see stuff acting stuff doing things but all that is you see is that. The world strikes us as being material until we examine it closely. In other words and distant nebula in the heavens looks like a solid star, until you turn a giant telescope on it and you make out the clear pattern of a spiral nebula. Or, to the naked eye, a lump of wood looks like a solid and impenetrable mass of continuous matter. But when you start turning powerful microscopes on it and the instruments of nuclear physics, you begin to find out that this apparently solid lump of wood. Is a worrying mass of electrical charges going on in relatively enormous spaces. In other words, the concept of stuff is a sensation that we get when we haven’t examined things sufficiently closely, or when our instruments are not fine enough to penetrate what we’re observing. When the instruments are fine enough. What we get instead is pattern, and pattern is simply a form of behavior of activity. Consider this in another way. Let’s go back to the Hume. An organism. And asked the question well what about it shape how is it that a human organism is contained all the organs are kept in by the skin. Well we will describe of course the structure of skin and how it is that it holds together but then we’ll soon find out that we’re also talking about the surrounding area which impinges upon the human skin with a pressure of about fifteen pounds per square inch so that if it weren’t that would explode. Now so the question arises you know what is keeping the organism in shape and we find out that it is not only what is going on inside the skin that keeps it in shape but also what’s going on outside the skin. And. When we go on to describe this still mark half we discover. That it isn’t quite correct to say that it is the air that is doing this or that it is the organism that is doing this. We begin to describe instead what Dewey and Bentley, in the very fascinating book Knowing and the Known call a transaction. And that is to say. A by our. Count by unless somebody is also selling. You can’t. Know anything. Unless the something we know. You can’t eat unless there’s something to be eaten. And this fact. You see is constantly overlooked. That any thing in the world whether it’s in animate or animate whatever it may be, is that by virtue of being in a transactional relationship. Not with something else but everything else. In other words, a human being, of course, has ever so many relationships that are very complicated. And because, a person say we call a doctor is not only related to his actual work of doctoring but he may be also a father related to a family he’s a citizen related to a community in other ways and as the doctor and so on and so forth and so we begin to imagine him as it were apart from his relationships as a sort of constant going through all these different relationships and therefore in some way different from them all. But this you see creates a ghost. It creates a being independent of all the different relationships in which he finds himself when as strictly speaking, he is inseparable from those relationships and we can’t eliminate them we can only describe fully as the entire whole complex so that in other words. Every organism could be called the behavior of the field or environment in which it is found. Now this doesn’t mean, on the one hand, that the organism is something pushed around by the environment. And is completely passive and inert and that everything that it does is simply a response to external stimulus.
Because in a way, the organism is part of its environment after all it is an object a process in nature in the cosmos just as much as everything in its environment. There is really no way of separating the two and saying that one acts upon the other that the organism as it were shoves around the environment or that the environment shoves around the organism instead of speaking as it were in this terminology of doers and done to. Our attackers and victims. We simplify things considerably. Just by confining ourselves to a description of what is happening. And as we do this we get a peculiarly clarified picture of the world, without all sorts of ghosts and it is in this way that we also begin to be able to have some preliminary intuition or sensation of the meaning of the fact that life is not a problem. In other words, not a contest between ourselves and our environment. This conception of life turns out to be basically phony.