So then, it has been said that our modern systems of communication are an extension into the external world of man’s nervous system. Telephones, telegraph, radio, television: all this network of electronic devices is extending our nervous system in the same way as a wheel extends our feet. But consider the problems that are arising out of this. The extension of the nervous system, electronically, means the end of privacy. As if all your interior thoughts were to become instantly public and available to everyone. Or, conversely, as if your so-called private self were to become a shared self. Let’s think of it, first of all, in the worst way we can think of it: the inconvenience of everybody being able to barge in on us by telephone. Double that inconvenience, triple it with the inconveniences you can imagine for a future technology where you not only have the sound of the person’s voice on the telephone, but also their visual image. It can be so worked out, technically, that everybody can be equipped with a little gadget about the size of a pocket watch. On one side there is a dialing system and on the other side there is a little TV screen. And everybody in the world who possesses one of these things has a number. And if you ring it and the number doesn’t answer, your friend’s dead. Imagine. Because you can’t not answer. That would be unethical, that would be inhuman, that would be to advertise yourself as dead. You must answer.
Or else a busy signal. Have you ever thought about busy signals as a method of self-defense? Because we do it all the time when we, say, somebody asks you to do something you don’t really want to do, you excuse yourself on the grounds of saying, “Well, but that day I happen to be busy. I have work to do.” Even if you thoroughly enjoy your work—like for me: all my work is play. But I can say to people, “I have to work, I’m sorry.” And I feel slightly dishonest and I don’t know what to do about it.
So then, imagine, then, this situation where we have the huge electronic intercommunication so that everybody is in touch with everybody else in such a way that it reveals their inmost thoughts, and there is no longer any individuality. No privacy. Everything you are, everything you think is revealed to everyone.
Well, now. Let’s go into the history of this: this idea of privacy. It’s been—for a very many, many centuries—a belief of Western civilization that there is God, who knows everything that you are. The mass in the episcopal church begins with a prayer: “Oh almighty God, unto whom are all hearts are opened. All desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.” That we have lived centuries now before we—now, in this modern age, who don’t perhaps believe anymore in this monarch God—but before us (our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers and so on) all believed that there was a reference point called God to whom every single secret thought that you had was an open book and was watching it all the time. Because, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, God the Father creates the universe by knowing it. In other words, you see a flag flapping out there, which you would say is an insignificant little rag on a pole. But, according to St. Thomas, that rag flaps there only because God, with his entire infinite energy, is concentrating on every single molecule of its being. And by virtue of that concentration, it exists.
So God is an every which-way intellect that penetrates everything, that concentrates on everything, and only because of that does the thing exist. So when your thoughts move in your brain, they do so only because the Lord God Almighty is supporting them. When you say, in the Creed, “Pistevo is ena Theon, Pat panto panta pantokratora.” Pistevo: I believe in one God. Panto panta pantokratora: the ruler of all things. The pantocrat, not the aristocrat. The all-ruler, who therefore is in charge of everything that happens. Every happening is an expression of the divine power. But you, as an individual, are privileged with freedom to use the divine power any way you want. You can do evil with it or you can do good with it. This is the Christian doctrine. So that when you do an evil thing—when you slit a baby from end to end and eat it—you are doing so with the power of God. But you have gone against the spirit of that power, even though it supports you in doing it. Now, that’s the idea.
So what I’m—I’m just bringing up this point to show that the West has had for centuries the idea that there is no real privacy, because God knows everything that you do. And we’ve accepted that. And what we don’t want to accept is the idea that our neighbors know what we do. But let’s suppose we have a situation in which we know all our friends are listening, and all our non-friends, and there is absolutely no way of concealing our inmost thoughts from general inspection. What does that do to you? What does it do to you? Can you control the way you think and feel inwardly? What would happen, in fact, if everything were exposed? One thing would be very obvious: eventually, after attempting to control your thoughts and stop certain thoughts from happening, you would say, “To hell with it! I’ll think just the way I feel like thinking and be damned. The public be damned.” That’s what you’d do. Everybody would have to do that. They’d have to do it in mutual self-defense. Do you see how this would release everybody? If we all could interpenetrate each other and know each other through and through, we would forgive each other all our sins. So don’t be frightened of the notion that there may come a day when everybody is mutually bugged with microphones and everything so that there aren’t any secrets.
Why have secrets? Why have secrets at all? But the moment you overcame the notion, you see, that you have to be defending yourself—when you’ve overcome that, there’ll no longer be any need to defend yourself. Now, what we’re afraid of, you see, is that some power will control all of us by this method. But that power, whoever is the controlling agency, must (in the kind of Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwellian horror) be the one individual whose thoughts are not public. If the super-controller has his thoughts public, then he can’t be in that position.
So the horror-idea is: if everybody is circuited so that his private thoughts are public knowledge to all his friends and relations, and to the controller, but the controller’s thoughts are not public knowledge, then you have a system which is a real dangerous kind of dictatorship. But if there are no private for anybody at all and we’re all hooked in on the system—all plugged in—then everybody will look at each other and say, “Oh, haha, come off it!” And we’ll all be free to be our inmost selves because you will recognize that everybody else is as much a rascal as you are. And we’ll forgive each other because we’ll understand that that is simply human nature.
This is so often the case. Somebody goes to a psychotherapist because they have some kind of sex problem that is absolutely weird—or at least they think it is. You know, they want to chew the tip of a woman’s high heel, and this, only, will give them an erection. So they go to the psychiatrist and say, “I have this very strange problem.” And he says, “My dear fellow, do you realize I have forty patients with the same problem you have?” Which is a great relief, you see? He’s found out that he shares this. So this same sharing of our minds—which might come about through super-electronics—would (provided there is no one who is able to opt out of the system and say “You don’t get my thoughts on it!”). So this is a parallel of what we’re doing already: that every individual has his secret, has his privacy and, to a very large extent, identifies himself as an active individual by virtue of having that privacy. And at the same time, what he mostly has in privacy are things about which he feels guilty. They’re his sins.
Sin and privacy are really the same thing. Because when you go to the confessional in the Catholic church and whisper your sins to the priest, you’re in a box—a private place—and the priest has a rule that he will never, never, even under the threat of torture, reveal anything anybody has confessed to him. It’s called the seal of the confession. So, in this way, we feel that our individuality depends on our privacy. And privacy and sin are really the same.
Now, everybody who is at all sensitive likes to be alone. You like to be able to go out on a sailing boat all by yourself and float in the middle of the water, or climb up the mountain, or go into the air, or just retire into your own place and relax in loneliness. But I want to make the point that loneliness—in that sense—and privacy are quite different things. The privacy of having a secret in you that should not be revealed, that’s just a silly joke. In other words, we all know perfectly well that Jesus Christ had to go and excrete, although no mention is made of it in the Gospels. There are a certain kind of people who, just because that wasn’t mentioned, drag it out and will draw cartoons of Jesus sitting on the toilet. Like Paul Krassner in The Realist: he loves to bring out this side of life, you see, where idols are debunked by being shown up as, after all, human.
But that kind of humor, that sort of sick humor, can only exist in a community where, indeed, there is a peculiar self-defensive privacy, and where we base our individual existence upon secrets. And this is why, of course, clothes—as I mentioned earlier today—are of such immense importance to us as the masks that distinguish us. In a nudist camp everybody is kind of depressingly equal. And you have what you have. If you’re young and lucky and strong, you look beautiful. But if you’re old and saggy and not much, you look like a kind of a wet potato. So, in order to show that you are more mind than body, that you have something in you that isn’t just this flesh, you express yourself in clothes. Great, great, great, wonderful. But everybody with X-ray eyes knows just exactly what you are underneath all that.
Now let’s take the X-ray deeper and read your thoughts. What kind of a going-on are you? And at first you say, “Oh God, listen to those person’s thoughts. How boring. Why couldn’t they be more interesting than that?” Because, you must admit, that the ordinary train of your thoughts is pretty dull. I often think what God must feel like when he has to inspect the ordinary train of thoughts of all these millions and millions of people. And they can’t do that thinking without his being completely aware of it. And just think what he has to undergo! Ugh! But when you look deeper, underneath the conscious thoughts, and you see the fantastic convolutions of the organism which is responsible for this thinking, the marvelous structure of the nervous system and the brain: that becomes really interesting.
And yet, you see, here most of us are. We’re all, from the point of view of our organic structure, we’re miracles. We’re absolutely… we’re more beautiful than any kind of gem. Any work of art ever conceived. And yet we preoccupy ourselves, use this instrument—it’s like using a Stradivarius to play Chopsticks or something like that, you know? [Whistles] You know? Use a Stradivarius to play that. And that’s what most of us do with our organisms. And we think that’s terribly important; so much so that we keep it a dark secret from everybody else.
But now, the moment (you see) we’re all public to each other and there are no secrets, and I—supposing I’m the talker in this group and therefore in a certain kind of privileged position; supposing it wasn’t so—supposing that I wasn’t in a unique position and that we all—everybody, equally—shared each other’s full conscious knowledge. What would we do? We would have to come off it, wouldn’t we? We’d have to agree with each other. We’d have to say, “Well, hello everyone! You’re me.”
Alright, now: we see our technology moving in this direction, inevitably. But insofar as it is doing this—insofar, in other words, as electronics is making everybody available to everybody else—what we’re doing is that we are discovering, through technology, a state of affairs which in fact has existed all the time. Look at it this way: the first thing that human beings created on this planet to communicate with distant points were roads. Trails where people walked. With the coming of horses and the mastery of horses the roads became, as it were, more clearly stamped because of the hard hoof of the horse. But in the 19th century we began to go beyond roads because we discovered rails. Then wires. And the world became a network. The economic world became a network of roads, rails, and wires. But now the fascinating thing is: we are beginning to witness a disappearance of all those three methods of communication. The railways and the roads have gone to the airplane, and the wires have gone to radio and television, which require no wires to connect. And you will see that, as human beings become more technically efficient, that the scars of technology will disappear from the face of the earth. The moment that everybody has his personal hoppy-copter there will be no further need of the freeway, and the freeway will break up and grass and moss will grow over it because nobody’s traveling it, and it’ll disappear back into the landscape. Hooray. What an awful thing it is. You know, the concrete octopus. And these ridiculous automobiles in which we each travel around and make a nuisance of ourselves. But they will vanish because they simply are not technologically efficient.
Now you say, “Well, the helicopter will take its place.” Alright. Is that really necessary? Because, as a matter of fact, if we couple the science of television with the science of laser beams we can get a three-dimensional image of anybody we’d like to see right here in this room. In other words, you can contact your friends in New York and you can assemble them all together in laser beam images by, as it were, dialing each one and say, “Can you come on? Can you come on? Can you come on?” Then we can have a laser beam create a three-dimensional images of anybody you want to talk to, sitting right in this room. Now, there ma be some limitations to what you can do with a laser beam image of somebody else, but to all intents and purposes, there they are, sitting together. And you understand each one of them—in their own room in New York or Boston or whatever—they have an equivalent laser beam image of you and all the others who are involved in this conference. So you’re looking at a certain area in a room where there are three-dimensional images of a group of your friends. And these three-dimensional images exist in the separate apartments of every single one of those people involved in the conference. So that the same conference is happening in five different places. Let’s say that there are five people involved: in each one of them there’s one of them there who thinks he’s authentic. See? And he has these five laser-beam images—four—talking to him. And so it is in every other situation. You begin to ask then, “where are you?” And, furthermore, by means of further electronic technology, every one of these five people are not only visible to each other on the screen, in the cubic screen of the laser beam television, but also their inmost thoughts are clear to each other. There is no concealment. Imagine that.
So this kind of mutual knowledge of each other, which we could have by some sort of technology, would be wonderful. Really. If we would accept it. We would go on from this that, just as the roads have disappeared—or will disappear—and the wires disappear, eventually, the electronic gadgetry will disappear. And the electronic network that communicates from person to person will eventually become ESP, or psionic. We will get it from each other without any need for an electrical gadget. By telepathy. Because, you see, what all technology is doing: it’s not creating a new situation, it is discovering what has always existed. When we started to use conscious attention as our main faculty of understanding the world and communicating with each other, we became ignorant of all the other methods of communication that exist. Because we specialized on one. And in order to function in this world we had to make this one method of experiencing things find out all the channels of communication that exist. And explain them, and talk about them, and measure them, so that we know they’re really there. But as it goes on, you see—this conscious attention creating technological devices for communication—all it is actually doing, it is discovering the routes of communication that have always been there.
Now I want to take this a step further. Do you understand this now? Let’s suppose we eventually discover that we don’t need radio and that we don’t need television because we have ESP, and that we come through our technology to make ESP respectable, so that we can admit to ourselves that there really is that thing going on (because we couldn’t admit it before because it was not scientifically acceptable that there could be anything like that) the first step is we make an electronic model of ESP. And it works, obviously, because it’s electronic. But then we discover that we don’t need the model. We can do it anyhow. Just like homing pigeons have radar built into them and white-throat birds can navigate by the stars. How much more value are you than many sparrows? You know, you have it. So we discover that.
Well, when we have finally no need to travel, to telephone, to communicate by any technical method whatsoever—because we all instantly read each other’s thoughts and have all information whatsoever available to us—is that the point? Is that the great desideratum? Is that what we want? The thing we were trying to get? You find there’s still something beyond that. Because when you can read everybody else’s thoughts, what information will you get from doing that? You will find that reading somebody else is just like reading you! Knowing somebody else’s mind is pretty much like reading your own mind. Yeah, there are some little variations that are of interest but, basically, to know you thoroughly would be like knowing me thoroughly.
So not only have the roads vanished, the rails vanished, the wires vanished, the radio has vanished, the television has vanished, but, finally, the ESP vanishes as a line of communication. Because we’ve at last discovered that we are all one. And so, in a way, there is no further need to communicate because we are in total communion.