Out Of Your Mind - A Philosophy Of The Origins Of The Universe

By:  john-russell  •  last year  •  22 comments

Out Of Your Mind - A Philosophy Of The Origins Of The Universe

I'm going to post some passages, here and in the comment section,  from a series of lectures given by the new age philosopher Alan Watts in the 60's and 70's, which were then accumulated into a book "Out Of Your Mind" by his son Mark Watts. I have been listening to it as an audiobook and find it endlessly interesting. 

The ceramic model of the universe originates from the book of Genesis, from which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all derive their basic picture of the world. And the image of the world that comes from the book of Genesis is that the world is an artifact made by the Creator—just as a potter forms pots out of clay, or a carpenter fashions tables and chairs from wood. Don’t forget that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the son of a carpenter. So, in this way, the image of God we have is one of a potter, carpenter, technician, or architect who creates the universe in accordance with his plan.

Essential to this first model of the universe is the notion that the world consists of stuff—primordial matter or substance. And just as the potter takes clay and imposes his will upon it, so does the Creator craft the universe out of this fundamental stuff. He takes it and makes it into whatever he wants. And so in the book of Genesis, the Lord God makes Adam out of dust—he fashions a clay figurine, breathes into it, and it becomes alive. The clay becomes informed. See, by itself, the clay is formless and comes with no intelligence, so it requires an external intelligence—an external energy—to bring it to life and put some sense in it.

This is how we’ve inherited the concept of ourselves as artifacts, as things that were made. In our culture, children ask their parents, “How was I made?” or “Who made me?” But these aren’t questions asked by Chinese or Indian (specifically, Hindu) children. Now, a Chinese child might ask her mother, “How did I grow?” But growing and making are entirely different procedures. You see, when you make something, you put it together—you arrange its parts, you work from the outside to the in. Again, that’s how a potter works on clay, or a sculptor works on stone. However, when you watch something grow, it happens in the opposite direction—that is, from the inside to the out. Growth means that something expands, burgeons, blossoms, and happens all over itself at once. The original, simple form of a living cell in the womb will progressively complicate itself.

That’s what the growing process looks like, as opposed to the making process. Note that in this model, there’s a fundamental difference between the maker and the made thing, between the Creator and his creature.

Where did this idea originate? Basically, the ceramic model of the universe came out of cultures with monarchical forms of government. And so, for them, the maker of the universe was also conceived as the king of the universe—“King of kings, Lord of lords, only Ruler of princes . . .”—I’m quoting from the Book of Common Prayer here. People who orient themselves to the universe in this way relate to basic reality as a subject relates to a king, and so they’re on very humble terms with whatever it is that runs the whole show. I find it odd that here in the United States, citizens of a democracy still hold to such a monarchical theory of the universe.

So the idea that we must kneel, bow, and prostrate before the Lord of the universe out of humility and respect is a holdover from ancient Near Eastern cultures. But why? Basically, no one is more frightened than a tyrant. That’s why he sits with his back to the wall while you must approach him from below with your face to the ground. See, you can’t use your weapons that way. When you approach the ruler, you don’t stand up and face him, because you might attack him. And very well you might, because he rules your life, and the man who rules your life is the biggest crook in the bunch. In other words, the ruler is the one who’s allowed to commit crimes against you; criminals are just people we lock up in jail.

© 2017 Alan Watts.

Preface © 2017 Mark Watts.


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1  author  JohnRussell    last year

The premise that runs through most of Alan Watts thinking is that we, human beings, are the big bang . 

I'm not sure how he accounts for the original creation, I suspect he doesnt have an answer for that, but he does reject the patriarchal model of God. 

I like explanations for our existence that do not rely purely on science, we can framework cosmology in more human centered ways in my opinion. 

1.1  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1    last year

Why not rely purely on science? Science is the best and most reliable means to objectively understand existence as it pertains to the universe. Anything else is essentially a thought experiment at best.

1.1.1  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1    last year

Science can only explain the material world and existence encompasses more than the material. 

1.1.2  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.1    last year

Existence is made up of the natural world. There is no evidence of anything else, including the supernatural.

1.1.3  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.2    last year

Thoughts may be describable as a chemical reaction, but they are not experienced as a chemical reaction. 

To try and reduce everything to "science" is just silly imo.  Why would you even want to do that? 

1.1.5  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.3    last year
Thoughts may be describable as a chemical reaction, but they are not experienced as a chemical reaction. 

Not sure what that means.    Could you give me an example of experiencing a thought?

1.1.6  author  JohnRussell  replied to  TᵢG @1.1.5    last year

I'll think about it. 

1.1.7  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.3    last year

Thought is just a function of the brain. It's essentially just electrochemical interactions between neurons. How one "experiences" something is also a function of the brain (also neuronal communication), regardless of how it's perceived. 

And I don't find anything silly about using science. I'm explaining it using science. Why is that silly? Science is the best means of explaining things.

1.1.8  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.7    last year

Tell your wife daughter or mother that you love them because of a chemical interaction in your head. 

1.1.9  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.8    last year

The inhumanity of physics does not mean it is not true.   There is no evidence that love is anything other than an emergent property of the physical brain.   It might be something else, but so far there is no supporting evidence for an extra-brain hypothesis.

1.1.10  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.8    last year

Yes, it is a chemical reaction in the brain. That particular electrochemical reaction is what people describe as love. The same applies to all emotions. Because of science, we know which areas of the brain are responsible for emotion. That's just simple fact and reality. Wanting to pretend there's something more to it than that doesn't change that fact. I'm not  sure why that would even be an issue.

1.1.11  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.10    last year

Well, good luck with that. 

By your reasoning scientific knowledge itself is only brain chemistry.  I am not disputing that per se, just saying there is another way of looking at it. A very important other way. 

Should we just phase out human beings and have the universe run by machines?

After all, what would be the difference? 

1.1.12  author  JohnRussell  replied to  TᵢG @1.1.9    last year

You guys are a trip. 

1.1.13  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.11    last year

Good luck with what exactly? 

Knowledge is just information that is learned, processed, retained, and utilized. And yes, its all about the brain. There's nothing magical or mystical or whatever about it. You can "look at it" any way you want. But that's just a matter of perception then, which can be subjective and anecdotal. Science is just the best method for obtaining and utilizing facts and knowledge. 

1.1.14  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.12    last year

No need to get personal. We simply stated plain facts. Why does that seem to be a problem? 

1.1.15  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.14    last year

I have no "problem" with anything about this seed. 

1.1.16  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.15    last year

Perhaps not the seed itself. But Your responses to our replies seem to be showing an increasing amount of irritation or snarkiness. 

1.1.17  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.16    last year

If everything boiled down to science then all we would see are writings and talks about science. 

That is clearly not the case. 

Does the chemical reaction cause the thought, or does the thought cause the chemical reaction?

1.1.18  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.17    last year

I didn't say everything boiled down to science. Only that science is the best way of obtaining knowledge and understanding, especially where questions about the universe is concerned.  That is what this discussion was originally about. Thought is a product of higher cognitive neurological function.

1.1.19  author  JohnRussell  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.18    last year



I find a lecture from someone like Watts more interesting that a lecture from an astrophysicist.  So I guess we are just different. 

1.1.20  Gordy327  replied to  JohnRussell @1.1.19    last year

I find Stephen Hawking to be quite interesting.  I'm currently reading his last book, "Brief Answers to the Big Questions." A good and easy read. Watts seems to take a more philosophical approach. But that's makes it more for a thought experiment than actual concrete facts and information. 

2  author  JohnRussell    last year
...that brings us to our second operating image of the world—the fully automatic model. As Western thought evolved, the ceramic model ran into trouble. For the longest time, Western science was influenced by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to assume that particular laws of nature existed and that these laws were established in the beginning by the Creator, the maker of the universe. So we have tended to think of all natural phenomena as obeying certain laws according to plan, like a well-behaved machine—a timely streetcar, train, or tram. Well, in the eighteenth century, Western intellectuals began to question this idea, specifically whether or not a prime mover—a universal architect—actually exists. They reasoned that there might be universal laws, but that doesn’t necessitate a creator of those laws.

See, the hypothesis of God did little in the way of helping to make predictions, and that’s the business of science: What’s going to happen? By studying 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, it turns out that you don’t need God as a hypothesis, because it makes no difference to anything. So they dropped the God hypothesis and kept the hypothesis of law, because you can make predictions from behavioral regularities in the universe. They got rid of the lawmaker and kept the law.

And this is how we arrived at the current conception of the universe as a machine, as something that functions according to clocklike, mechanical principles. Newton’s image of the world is based on billiards—atoms are like billiard balls that bang each other around at predictable angles. And the behavior of every individual, therefore, is viewed as a complex arrangement of billiard balls being banged around by everything else. This is the fully automatic model of the universe. The notion of reality as blind energy. We see this in the nineteenth-century thought of Ernst Haeckel and T. H. Huxley, who described the world as nothing but unintelligent force, as well as in the philosophy of Freud, who identified our basic psychological energy as libido—blind lust.

So, according to this view, we’re all flukes. Out of the exuberance of blind energy and the result of pure chance, here we are with all our values, languages, cultures, and love. It’s like the idea that one thousand monkeys banging away at one thousand typewriters for millions of years will eventually write the Encyclopedia Britannica and then immediately relapse into typing nonsense. But if we subscribe to this idea and like being alive and human, we end up needing to fight nature at every turn, because nature will turn us back into nonsense the moment we let it. And so we impose our will upon the world as if it were something completely alien to us—something that exists on the outside. That’s why we have a culture based on the idea of war between people and nature.

Additionally, in the United States, we define manliness in terms of aggression. I think it must be because we’re frightened. We put on this show of being tough guys, but it’s completely unnecessary, you know. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on an act, and you certainly don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature?

You are not something separate from nature. You are an aspect or a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, grow out of this physical universe in exactly the same way that an apple grows out of an apple tree. A tree that grows apples is a tree with apples, just as a universe in which human beings appear is a universe of human beings. The existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in, but under the influence of our two great myths—the ceramic and fully automatic models of the universe—we feel that we do not belong in the world. In popular speech, we say, “I came into the world,” but we didn’t—we came out of the world.

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