At the end of the question period yesterday, I said we had come to something which I would have to take up today. And this arose because we were discussing the problem of prediction, which is of course related to the problem of control. I had made a passing reference in yesterday’s seminar to the fact that the knowledge of time, the knowledge of the future, what Korzybski calls man’s time binding ability, is an advantage for which we pay a very serious price. To know the future in a conscious way gives you obviously a survival advantage but at the same time, it gives you a survival disadvantage, so that what you gain on the roundabout you lose on the swings. You gain the ability to plan your future. Say, to invest, to take out insurance, to do all those things that are called provident. But the price you pay for it is anxiety. And you pay this price because you know that you don’t know enough. That you know as it were enough about the future to try to be profitable, but you don’t know enough about the future to be sure that your providence was correctly done. Therefore you worry. Therefore you are concerned with what will happen tomorrow, and it’s so extraordinary that that passage in the US and Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, don’t make any anxiety about the morrow, what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink. And I’m amazed about that because every minister I have ever heard discussed this passage says it can’t be put into practice. See the church simply never did teach that that’s they they the most a verse of passage in the Gospels which is swept under the carpet see. In a way of course, Jesus told all sorts of stories in order to make people think. This one this this image of the flowers of the field, and the birds that don’t make any plans. And he did another one for example, the story of the Pharisee in the publican. [It’s] very interesting, because its effect extremely funny. He says here is the Pharisee, who goes up to the front row of the church and stands up and sort of memorializes God on what a good guy he’s been, that he has fulfilled all the duties and so on then there’s the public a new creeps into the back and beats himself on the breast and says only God be merciful to me a sinner see? Now having told that story the situation is completely reversed, because then all the prigs creep into the back of the church and beat themselves on the breast and say got develops a hold of me as the nurse and son of the now we would have to tell the tale exactly the other way around, and say now the honest guy is the one who simply walks straight to the front and addresses God man to man.
But you see, what people don’t realize in what I would call good movement ship the art of teaching is that the teacher tells tales not for their immediate obvious meaning but for their later effects. What is the result of having told this story? In this story is completely deflated. Fake humility. Where you try to be humble. It’s a koan. So in the same way, the bit with the passage on be not anxious for the morrow. Really asks you, ‘Why can’t you put this into practice?’ Here is a precept who contracts, nobody. They say oh it is possible we cannot give up making plans we cannot give up prediction. Of course we predict in a way in a sort of unconscious fashion. The simplest act involves a kind of prediction. So, in this case, we are simultaneously aware of things which if you do regard the present as a hairline, would be called Past and Future at once. But if you are not hung up on the idea that the present is this headline thing which is purely abstract, then you have no problem in accepting the idea that we are simultaneously aware of past events and future events. Because they’re all, just like you’re watching from a traveling vehicle, and you can see where you’re going to be and you can see where you have been from where you are now.
So in that sense then, we have a knowledge of the future, [say] when I move to pick up my glasses. but that is a different kind of knowledge from when I speculate in an abstract way as to what I ought to do a month from now or might might happen a month from now you see. So then, the question then becomes…we predict those far futures which are not within our present vision. By calculation. It may be astronomical, navigational calculation, or as it was, in old times astrological. People thought they had inner astrology, the means to foresee the future and know what to do. And then the question arises, well, what are the…Supposing there is a fine science of prediction, whether it be scientifically respectable like navigation or meteorology which isn’t too hard. Or whether it be something like astrology are these really profitable sciences. Now I pointed out the problem is A, that when you know the future, you pay for it with anxiety. You know, I am going to die. A creature that doesn’t make predictions like a cat or a dog, when seeing another dead cat, will not necessarily infer that’s going to happen to me. Because you see a true animal, a truly functioning entity, is not self conscious in that way. For example, you all know that only other people have heads. You don’t. Only, how do you become concerned with your head. Why, because you have been made conscious of your face. You looked in mirrors you have been talked about is the only part of our body that we leave permanently unclothed, except the hand even when we put gloves on you know their hands are covered but we always keep the face make it. And you learn that you’re there in terms of having a mask see you can touch it. Put a good face on it, lose face, save face, all these things indicates the importance of the face the seat of one’s identity whereas inside beyond the face where are you. See if you were living naturally. You would be as unselfconscious as your head is. You know, even than the brain is and is not sensitive to probes and…
So, you would live in terms of all this is going on is you. But you’ve been talked into the idea you have been smashed back into your head see, by social indoctrination, and your face has been made to stand for you. The real you, behind the face, is everything that you see, and hear, touch and sense. So, the headless man. To have no head, to go out of your head, to lose your mind you see is in a way always characteristic of the wise man. Because he’s come back to his original emptiness. Which is behind the face. See, when you turn to see your head, you can’t and what is behind the eye, you can’t, it’s not dark. It’s not light you just can’t apprehended in any way at all. And that’s what it’s all about. But so then, when you start calculating, and you resort to a prediction, you are now trying to get hold of all of us. But many people have an instinctive feeling say when confronted with a great astrologer who could tell them all the future I don’t want to hear it. I’d rather not. And this is in a way a wise, if uninformed reaction. For the simple reason…well, let’s put the other point of view for a moment another point of view would be a realistic person saying the trouble with you is you don’t want to know your future because you’re afraid of life. If you were know your future, you could take practical steps to adapt things to it. If you knew you were going to die next Tuesday, you would immediately put your house in order and make less trouble for your friends and relations. Face it. Yeah, that sounds all right to begin with. It’s like all technology is initially a success. But the real problem kindly comes to is this: When the outcome of a game is known, the game is cancelled. Because the whole point of playing the game is that we don’t know the outcome. Because, the known future is already past. And the higher the degree of certainty of knowledge as to the future, to that extent, it has happened. You’ve had it. And that we don’t want to put the future in that situation, not really. Because the how you see if you think of the cosmos as basically a game of hide and seek. Where the lord God is creating the universe, by forgetting that he is God and imagining that he is you. Then this is the fundamental way of getting rid of the eternal boredom of knowing all about it. And of there being no surprises. The whole, the whole vitality of being alive is that it is always surprising. To be enlightened is to be surprised at everything. That it is a wonder that it is everything is a miracle, that it is highly improbable and really shouldn’t have happened at all but there it is, you see. If there isn’t that sense there is no vitality in anything. But again of course we have the problem that I discussed yesterday in another form the problem of order and randomness and the drawing the line you see. Where to draw the line between order and randomness so in the same way where to draw the line between the known and the unknown how much to predict, how much to say well, I’d rather leave tomorrow to tomorrow, sufficient unto the day is the trouble.
So, you see again it is all a question of where to draw the line, of how much to control and realize that when you go beyond a certain degree of control when you go beyond a certain what I will call natural prevision, such as I described by the analogy of looking out of the window frame. When you go beyond a certain degree of natural prevision, you would encounter a law of diminishing returns that the more you succeed, the more you fail. And then if you get into this sort of, I describe it yesterday from the academic point of view. When scholarship, acquires an exactness, and a highly detailed degree of information that constitutes an information bomb, and nobody can keep track of it and the whole thing becomes a bore, who wants to keep track of it any longer? Who gives a damn? You know, about those final details of Shakespeare’s use of the conjunction.
So in the same way in practical politics, we have reached a state today, where law is out of hand. Because it is too meticulous. There is too much paper, there are too many whereases, if ands or butses, subclauses and so on and nobody could keep track of it the whole thing is in a state of total confusion and this confusion exists in the name of sanity in the name of trying to set things in order because everybody shouts when somebody does something wrong or ought to be a law against it. And soon there is indeed a law against it, there’s a law against everything we are all at this moment doing something illegal I don’t know what it is but it’s always there and somebody can find it out and invoke it if they wish to make trouble for us. I’m quite sure that my entire situation is illegal. And so for everybody. And this is the result you see of wanting to pin everything down. In ancient China, could the Confucians have a thing they call the rectification of names. And they were, the Confucians are curious people because while they have some marvelous ID. Years there’s a certain lacking in humor. And they’re rather ponderous and puritanical and stuffy. The Taoists, on the other hand have humor and are always making fun of the Confucians. Now, the rectification of names was that Confucius said we must be sure when we use words that their meaning is established. So this means the dictionary. And so they were they were the first real serious thinkers about dictionaries about definitions about laying down what the words mean, but the Taoists pointed out by saying if you are going to rectify the words, what are you going to rectify them with? Well, they said, with words well then they said what are you going to how are you going to rectify the words you used to rectify the words. Well they thought about that, and then they said well, their words are self-rectifying that is to say, you rectify words with words and the words you use to rectify the words are rectified with the other words. It’s a closed circle. So you can play a game called Vish, in which you supply the players each with a copy of the same dictionary. And then you have a lots of words written on the slips of paper and a hat and somebody pulls a word out of a hat and everybody looks it up in the dictionary. Then they take the definition and they look up a key word in the definition. And look that up and so on until they get back to the word they started with. The first person to get back to the word that everybody started with calls out Vish, short for a vicious circle. And then there is an umpire present to rule on whether they cheated, in other words whether they looked up, when they saw our knowledge to, to records on looked up the word to instead of the record or observe or whatever. So the dictionary only gets out of a vicious circle when there is a picture beside the word. Then it escapes. But otherwise all. Attempts to pin down words are simply going in a vicious circle.
So, one uses words effectively. By not trying to pin them down too hard. But we are always saying, ‘Put it in writing!’ If we’re really serious about an agreement between two people, put it in writing. Because I can trust the document but I’m not sure if I can trust you. Do you exist prove it have your birth certificate a passport a card of identity. If you can produce this wretched piece of paper you’re there, if you can’t, you’re not. Well obviously, it was a good idea to record certain things so we could be sure that people wouldn’t be dishonest. But all this started from people being dishonest. And it if we are going to stop people from being dishonest. There’s only one way to do it. And that’s for people not to be dishonest. No other way that has ever been invented will prevent it. And if you think you can go on living by preventing people from being dishonest with you by rules and regulations and laws and policeman and all this kind of thing, you eventually, you succeed in the short run. But once again, in the long run you run into a total tangle. United States of America is the country in the world with most laws. And yet our police are completely mistrusted by every sane person. They’re crooks and scoundrels, and the violent fascists a kind of people. With exceptions you know, everything has exceptions. A sort of nice cop on the corner. But by and large through all. The state in which say people say oh well the law will take care of it. The law won’t take care [of it]. You have to take care. And you can only be a law abiding citizen by trusting your fellow man. And if you don’t do that, no one will trust you. And therefore a system of mutual mistrust will exist, which of its very nature must fall apart and it cannot operate. So once again, you see, this is a quote problem of the confusion between physical reality and symbolic reality. The law says this, therefore it must happen. And if it doesn’t happen somebody is there with a club to see that it does. Maybe, unless you wangle out of it conceal it, find a loophole in the literature. Get a good lawyer, that means a man who can say that the law didn’t say what it was intended to say. So that then of course, everybody is accountable and that means keeps accounts. And I am increasingly fine that it’s difficult to operate. Because of all the records that have to be kept one spends more time recording than one does doing. So, this is to say that that be the symbolic method prediction, recording, all prediction is based on recording and on like you take that a graph of the movement of air of a stock or of anything anything you want to graph and then you establish a trend to see where it’s going. So, recording is the basis of prediction, but if you go into this beyond a certain point. The process cancels itself out because it’s no longer worth doing. So, the wonderful Jewish idea of the Year of Jubilee. You know, when all debts accounts are cancelled and pff… begin again. That’s what we need now we need a new chemical or you know like people talk about putting nerve gases in the air which will immediately paralyze the enemy. What we need is a gas that will destroy all paper whatsoever. I wonder what would happen. I’ve often thought about it, even though I depend for my living to some extent on paper, writing books. I think on the whole the benefit to humanity from the complete disappearance of paper at this point. Wouldn’t have been true or perhaps at some other time. But now I think that much would be said for it and it would have to include plastics celluloid film and all its other things well. [audience question] Yes, all recording to disappear. In other words the book of the recording angel is to be eaten up by God.
So this is the thing. Now…that’s of course, please understand I’m being somewhat facetious. And this mustn’t be taken quite literally but it is saying that at this point. You look at look at a book a group of tourists. I take people to Japan every so often and the Japanese are absolutely weird about this wherever you go the tourists the Japanese everybody they carry cameras. And they’re the very nice to have a camera and photography is a fine art, yes. But there’s a certain kind of people who never, never look at anything except with a camera. They go around capturing reality in this box. And there was one man who was a magnificent photographer who came along with me, who never did anything but photograph. And he was always late and dawdling behind the other people even though we moved at a very leisurely pace because he was interminable photographing, photographing, photographing capturing the world stock making a still see with this box. A movie is simply another kind of still it’s a more complicated kind. So the clutch box you go around with as a result I find that people do not relate to the environment. The only thing that you should ever carry when you’re scrolling is a is a staff or a cane to help you climb. Your hand should otherwise be completely free of encumbrances. So should your eyes and ears and everything, then it will really happen. But otherwise if you go around with a recording instrument all the time it won’t happen. The only good recording instrument would be one that you were completely unconscious of. That you didn’t have to focus and flip and study, instead of looking directly at things that were going on participating directly with people in social relationships. So in the same way, when you will have a not being just a tour, where you’re seeing wonderful landscapes and works of art and antiquity. Also when people have very good times they have a picnic at the beach and it’s delightful, some says oh someone should have brought a camera. To prove that this really did happen. But what happens instead nowadays when somebody gives it a great party and all sorts of people are invited they are sure that the society reporter comes from the press. And then they can read about it in the paper the next day and look back and say now that really did happen it’s in the papers for the same way a young adolescent who feels that he doesn’t really exist commits a crime in order to get his name in the papers. There he’ll be headlines as a great hero and villain. And he’ll know he’s there he’ll be recognized. It didn’t happen if it wasn’t recognised therefore, as some very bright person pointed out of the while ago, we have many pseudo events events that are created for the sole purpose of their being reported in the press. Like life goes to a party you remember those things. All those parties were organized by stuff of people who came out from Life magazine and said this would make a good party. Let’s set it up this way and they’d get various people to cooperate and it’s all there and they have the party. In the same way, publishers instead of looking around for creative authors think up books then they find a hack to write them. They say this would make a good book. And it’s a pseudo book. And non-book. There’s all kinds of work done like this. Foundations invent projects, pseudo-projects, because instead of you see what happens is that. Instead of going around with a kind of field staff, looking for what artists and scholars and people actually doing that is creative. They stay in their office, and they get masses of applications come in there which are too boring to read. So far they sit around think up what would make a good project to give all this money to and. Then they think up a project then they go around and try and find people to do it and all those people they find are frustrated Ph D.’s from Harvard and elsewhere, who are sort of academically competent, but don’t have very much on the ball. They have to be told something to do investigative it, research. So it’s the same principle, all along, of allowing the recorder, which translates life into a system of symbols to predict the future for us. Then it makes us anxious, you see how the vicious circle operates, and having made us anxious, we turn back to it and say you solve this problem we don’t want to be and we want a full proof system right back to the recorder back to a closer study of the symbols. How can we out-wit the future. The doozie. It’s at and that complete vicious circle the more it succeeds the more it fails, the more you are quite sure where you’re going and of the plane won’t crash under any circumstances. Well, by the time you can travel from here to anywhere in the world in an absolutely assured one crashed plane. There will be no point in taking the journey, because the place you will go to will be the same place and started from at least it will look exactly like it. And furthermore, it will already…that journey, in the completely full-proof plane. Because it is absolutely planned. You will have already taken [it]. That’s why the place you are going to will be identically the place you came from. And so who will then pay for the airlines by travelling on them? Nobody will. There has to be the risk in it, for there to be any point in taking it.
So, this is the most important thing for all technologists to understand. That technology is a process. Like cooking, like polishing, which you must do for a certain time and then stop. Then it’s done, it’s ready. It’s created. But if you keep on keep on keep on keep on you’ll you know supposing I have somebody I love very much and I’d like to stroke her. [It’s] very nice to stroke her, but if I keep on stroking can I rub a skin off. Up to a point it’s fine to see, but beyond that, too much. And so simple I mean I feel like I’m talking in platitudes. But this is a thing that people have said to neglect it when it comes to technology, when it comes to law, when it comes to the whole philosophy of prediction.