The following text consists of excerpts from Alan Watts' book, Psychotherapy
East and West, selected by Heron
** means that part of a paragraph is missing. Editorial comments have been added and appear within brackets.
1. Psychotherapy and Liberation
If we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism and Taoism, Vedanta and Yoga, we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the West. We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy. This may seem surprising, for we [many] think of the latter as a form of science, somewhat practical and materialistic in attitude, and the former as extremely esoteric religions concerned with areas of the spirit almost entirely out of this world. This is because the combination of our unfamiliarity with Eastern cultures and their sophistication gives them an aura of mystery into which we project fantasies of our own making. Yet the basic aim of these ways of life is something of quite astonishing simplicity, beside which all the complications of reincarnation and psychic powers, of superhuman mahatmas, and of schools of occult technology, are a smoke screen in which the credulous inquirer can lose himself indefinitely.**
The main resemblance between the Eastern way of life and Western psychotherapy is in the concern of both with bringing about changes of consciousness, changes in our ways of feeling our own existence and our relation to human society and the natural world. The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people. But it is increasingly apparent to psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease. A complex of societies of vast material wealth bent on mutual destruction is anything but a condition of social health.
Nevertheless, the parallel between psychotherapy and, as I have called them, the Eastern "ways of liberation" is not exact, and one of the most important differences is suggested by the prefix psycho-. Historically, Western psychology has directed itself to the study of the psyche or mind as a clinical entity, whereas Eastern cultures have not categorized mind and matter, soul and body, in the same way as the Western. But Western psychology has to some extent so outgrown its historical origins as to become dissatisfied with the very term "psychological" as describing a major field of human behavior. It is not that is has become possible, as Freud himself once hoped, to reduce psychology to neurology and mind to body. It is not that for the entity "mind" we can substitute the entity "nervous system". It is rather that psychology cannot stand aloof from the whole revolution in scientific description which has been going on in this twentieth century, a revolution in which conceptions of entities and "stuffs", whether mental or material, have become obsolete. Whether it is describing chemical changes or biological forms, nuclear structure or human behavior, the language of modern science is simply concerned with changing patterns of relationship.
Perhaps this revolution has affected physics and biology far more deeply than psychology and as yet the theoretical ideas of psychoanalysis remain untouched. The common speech of even educated society has been so littleaffected that it is still hard to convey in some nonmathematical language what has happened. It seems an affront to common sense that we can describe the world as patterns of relationship without needing to ask what "stuff" these patterns are "made of". For when the scientist investigates matter or stuff, he describes what he finds in terms of structured pattern. When one comes to think of it, what other terms could he use? The sensation of stuff arises only when we are confronted with patterns so confused or so closely knit that we cannot make them out. To the naked eye a distant galaxy looks like a solid star and a piece of steel like a continuous and impenetrable mass of matter. But when we change the level of magnification, the galaxy assumes the clear structure of a spiral nebula and the piece of steel turns out to be a system of electrical impulses whirling in relatively vast spaces. The idea of stuff expresses no more than the experience of coming to a limit at which our sense or our instruments are not fine enough to make out the pattern.
Something of the same kind happens when the scientist investigates any unit of patterns so distinct to the naked eye that it has been considered a separate entity. He finds that the more carefully he observes and describes it, the more he is also describing the environment in which it moves and other patterns to which it seems inseparably related. As Teilhard de Chardin has so well expressed it, the isolation of individual atomic patterns "is merely an intellectual dodge".
Considered in its physical, concrete reality, the stuff [sic] of the universe cannot divide itself but, as a kind of gigantic "atom", it forms in its totality** the only real indivisible** The farther and more deeply we penetrate into matter, by means of increasingly powerful methods, the more we are confounded by the interdependence of its parts** It is impossible to cut into the network, to isolate a portion without it becoming frayed and unraveled at all its edges.
In place of the inarticulate cohesion of mere stuff we find the articulate cohesion of inseparably interconnected patterns.
The effect of this upon the study of human behavior is that it becomes impossible to separate psychological patterns from patterns that are sociological, biological, or ecological. Departments of knowledge based upon what now appear to be crude and primitive divisions of nature begin to coalesce into such awkwardly named hybrids as neuropsychaitry, sociobiology, biophysics, and geopolitics. At a certain depth of specialization the divisions of scientific knowledge begin to run together because they are far enough advanced to see that the world itself runs together, however clear-cut its parts may have seemed to be. Hence the ever-increasing discussion of the need for a "unified science" and for a descriptive language common to all departments of science. Hence, too, the growing importance of the very science of description, of communication, of the patterns of signs and signals which represents and elucidates the pattern of the world.
**This does not mean the he (the psychotherapist) has to engage in political revolution; it means that he has to help the individual in liberating himself from various forms of social conditioning-hatred being a form of bondage to its object. But from this point of view the troubles and symptoms from which the patient seeks relief, and the unconscious factors behind them, cease to be merely psychological. They lie in the whole pattern of his relationships with other people and, more particularly, in the social institutions by which these relationships are governed: the rules of communication employed by the culture or group. These include the conventions of language and law, of ethics and aesthetics, of status, role, and identity, and of cosmology, philosophy, and religion. For this whole social complex is what provides the individual's conception of himself, his state of consciousness, his very feeling of existence. What is more, it provides the human organism's idea of its individuality, which can take a number of quite different forms.
Seeing this, the psychotherapist must realize that his science, or art, is misnamed, for he is dealing with something far more extensive than a psyche and its private troubles. This is just what so many psychotherapists are recognizing and what, at the same time, makes the Eastern ways of liberation so pertinent to their work. For they are dealing with people whose distress arises from what may be termed maya, to use the Hindu-Buddhist word whose exact meaning is not merely "illusion" but the entire world-conception of a culture, considered as illusion in the strict etymological sense of a play (Latin, ludere). The aim of a way of liberation is not the destruction of maya but seeing it for what it is, or seeing through it. Play is not to be taken seriously, or, in other words, ideas of the world and of oneself which are social conventions, and institutions are not to be confused with reality. The rules of communication are not necessarily the rules of the universe, and man is not the role or identity which society thrusts upon him. For when a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique. He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication.
There are many reasons why distress comes from confusing this social maya with reality. There is direct conflict between what the individual organism is and what others say it is and expect it to be. The rules of social communication often contain contradictions which lead to impossible dilemmas in thought, feeling, and action. Or it may be that confusion of oneself with a limiting and impoverished view of one's role or identity creates feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation. The multitudinous differences between individuals and their social contexts lead to as many ways of seeking relief from these conflicts. Some seeks it in the psychoses and neuroses which lead to psychiatric treatment, but for the most part release is sought in the socially permissible orgies of mass entertainment (sports), religious fanaticism, chronic sexual titillation, alcoholism, war-the whole sad list of tedious and barbarous escapes.
**Most religious groups oppose some social institutions quite vigorously, but at the same time they inculcate others without understanding their conventional nature. For those which they inculcate of the will of God or the laws of nature, thus making it extremely difficult for their members to see that social institutions are simply rules of communication which have no more universal validity than, say, the rules of a particular grammar. **
Ideally and theoretically the church as the Body of Christ is the entire universe, and because in Christ "there is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free", membership in Christ could mean liberation from maya and its categories. It could mean that one's conventional definition and classification is not one's real self, that "I live, yet no longer I; but Christ lives in me". But in practice it means nothing of the kind, and for that matter, one hears little even of the theory. In practice it means accepting the religion or bondage of the Christian subgroup, taking its particular system of conventions and definitions to be the most serious realities. Now one of the most important Christian conventions is the view of man as what I have called the "skin-encapsulated ego", the separate soul and its fleshy vehicle together constituting a personality which is unique and ultimately valuable in the sight of God. This view is undoubtedly the historical basis of the Western style of individuality, giving us the sensation of ourselves as isolated islands of consciousness confronted with objective experiences which are quite "other". We have developed this sensation to a particularly acute degree. But the system of conventions which inculcates this sensation also requires this definitively isolated ego to act as a member of a body and to submit without reserve to the social pattern of the church. The tension so generated, however interesting at times, is in the long run as unworkable as any other flat self-contradiction. It is a perfectly ideal context for breeding psychosis. Yet, as we shall see, it would also be an ideal context for therapy if **
Thus far, then, we have seen that psychotherapy and the ways of liberation have two interests in common: first, the transformation of consciousness, of the inner feeling of one's own existence; and second, the release of the individual from forms of conditioning imposed upon him by social institutions.** It helps us to distinguish between social fictions, on the one hand, and natural patterns and relationships, on the other.
**Unconscious metaphysics tends to be bad metaphysics** But the unconscious factors bearing upon psychotherapy go far beyond the traumas of infancy and the repressions of anger and sexuality. **"Our psychology," Jung writes, "is a science of mere phenomena without any metaphysical implications." It "treats all metaphysical claims and assertions as mental phenomena, and regards them as statements about the mind and its structure that derive ultimately from certain unconscious dispositions." But this is a whopping metaphysical assumption in itself. The difficulty is that man can hardly think or act at all without some kind of metaphysical premise, some basic axiom which he can neither verify nor fully define. Such axioms are like the rules of games: some give ground for interesting and fruitful plays and some do not, but it is always important to understand as clearly as possible what the rules are. Thus the rules of tic-tac-toe are not so fruitful as those of chess, and what if the axioms of psychoanalysis resemble the former instead of the latter? Would this not put the science back to the level of mathematics when geometry was only Euclidean.
Now cultural patterns come to light and hidden metaphysical assumptions become clear only to the degree that we can step outside the cultural or metaphysical systems in which we are involved by comparing them with others. There are those who argue that this is simply impossible, that our impressions of other cultures are always hopelessly distorted by our own conditioning. But this is almost a cultural solipsism, and is equivalent to saying that we can never really be in communication with another person. If this be true, all study of foreign languages and institutions, and even all discourse with other individuals, is nothing but extending the pattern of one's own ignorance. As a metaphysical assumption there is no way of disproving it, but it offers nothing in the way of fruitful development.
**Alternatively, the "psychotic break" may also be an illegitimate burst into free play out of shear desperation, not realizing that the problem in impossible not because of overwhelming difficulty, but because it is meaningless.
If, then, there is to be fruitful development in the science of psychotherapy, as well as in the lives of those whom it intends to help, it must be released from the unconscious blocks, unexamined assumptions, and unrealized nonsense problems which lie in its social context. **
It cannot be stressed too strongly that liberation does not involve the loss or destruction of such conventional concepts as the ego; it means seeing through them-in the same way we can use the idea of the equator without confusing it with a physical mark upon the surface of Earth. Instead of falling below the ego, liberation surpasses it. Writing without apparent knowledge of Buddhism or Vedanta, A. F. Bentley put it thus:
Let no quibble of skepticism be raised over this questioning of the existence of the individual. Should he find reason for holding that he does not exist in the sense indicated, there will in that fact be no derogation from the reality of what does exist. On the contrary, there will be increased recognition of reality. For the individual can be banished only by showing a plus of existence, not by alleging a minus. If the individual falls it will be because the real life of men, when it iswide ly enough investigated, proves too rich for him, not because it proves too poverty-stricken.
Our mistake has been to suppose that the individual is honored and his uniqueness enhanced by emphasizing his separation from the surrounding world, or his eternal difference in essence from his Creator. As well honor the hand by lopping it from the arm! But when Spinoza said that "the more we know of particular things, the more we know of God", he was anticipating our discovery that the richer and more articulate our picture of man and the world becomes, the more we are aware of its relativity and the interconnection of all its patterns in an undivided whole. The psychotherapist is perfectly in accord with the ways of liberation in describing the goal of therapy as individuation (Jung), self-actualization (Maslow), functional autonomy (Allport), or creative selfhood (Adler), but every plant that is to come to its full fruition must be embedded in the soil, so that as its stem ascends the whole Earth reaches up to the sun.
2. Society and Sanity
As a pattern of behavior, society is above all a system of people in communication maintained by consistent action. To keep the system going, what is done has to be consistent with what has been done. The pattern is recognizable as a pattern because it goes ahead with reference to its own past; it id just this that establishes what we call order and identity, a situation in which trees do not suddenly turn into rabbits and in which one man does not suddenly behave like another so that we do not know who he is. "Who" is consistent behavior. System, pattern, coherence, order, agreement, identity, consistency are all in a way synonymous. But in a pattern so mobile and volatile as human society, maintaining consistency of action and communication is not easy. It requires the most elaborate agreements as to what the pattern is, or, to put it another way, as to what are the rules, the consistencies, of the system. Without agreement as to the rules of playing together there is no game. Without agreement as to the use of words, signs, and gestures there is no communication.
The maintenance of society would be simple enough if human beings were content just to survive. In this case they would be simply animals, and it would be enough to eat, sleep, and reproduce. But if these are their basic needs, human beings go about getting them in a most complicated way imaginable. If what must be done to survive is work, it would seem that the main concern of human beings is to play, yet at the same time pretending that most of such play is work. When one comes to think of it, the boundary between work and play is vague and changeable. Both are work in the sense that they expend energy; but if work is what must be done to survive, may we not ask, "but is it really necessary that we survive? IS not survival, the continuation of the consistent pattern of the organism, a form of play?" We must be careful of the anthropomorphism which asserts that animals hunt and eat in order to survive, or that a sunflower turns in order to keep its face to the sun. There is no scientific reason to suppose that there are such things as instincts for survival or for pleasure. When we say that an organism likes to go on living, or that it goes on living because it likes it, what evidence is there for this "like" except that it does in fact go on living-until it doesn't? Similarly, to say that we always choose what we prefer says no more than that we always choose what we choose. If there is a basic urge to live, there must also, as Freud thought, be a basic urge to die. But language and thought are cleaner without these ghostly instincts, urges, and necessities. As Wittgenstein says, "A necessity for one thing to happen because another has happened does not exist. There is only logical necessity".
An enduring organism is simply one that is consistent with its environment. It climate and its food agree with it; its pattern assimilates them, eliminating what does not agree, and this consistent motion, this transformation of food and air into the pattern of the organism, is what we call its existence. There is no mysterious necessity for this to continue or discontinue. To say that the organism needs food is only to say that it is food. To say that it eats because it is hungry is only to say that it eats when it is ready to eat. To say that it dies because it cannot find food is only another of saying that its death is the same thing as its ceasing to be consistent with the environment. The so-called causal explanation of an event is only the [a] description of the same event in other words. To quote Wittgenstein again, "At the base of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusions that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena."
More complex organisms, such as human beings, are more complex consistencies, more complex transformations of the environment. Not only are they patterns of transforming food, but their agreement or consistency with the environment changes nuclear vibrations into sound and light, weight and color, taste and smell, temperature and texture, until finally they generate elaborate signs and symbols of great interior consistency. When these mesh with the environment it becomes possible to describe the world [our experience] in terms of sign patterns. The world [our experience] is thus transformed into thought in the same way food is transformed into body. The agreement or consistency of body pattern or thought pattern with the pattern of the world [our experience] goes as long as it goes on. To say why it starts or stops is only to describe particular consistencies or inconsistencies.
To say that there is no necessity for things to happen as they do is perhaps another way of saying that the world is play. But this idea is an affront to common sense because the basic rule of human societies is that one must be consistent. If you want to belong to our society, you must play our game-or, simply, if we are going to be consistent, we must be consistent. The conclusion is substituted for the premise. But this is understandable because, as we have seen, human society is so complex and volatile that consistency is difficult to maintain. Children keep slipping out of the patterns of behavior we try to impose upon them, and for this and similar reasons our social conventions have to be maintained by force. The first rule of the game, put in another way, is that the game must continue, that the survival of society is necessary. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the consistencies or regularities of nature are patterns that do occur, not patterns that must occur. Natural events do not obey commandments in the same way that human beings obey the law.
(NOTE: In his superb essay on "Human Law and the Laws of Nature" Joseph Needham has shown that, largely because of Taoist influence, Chinese thought has never confused the order of nature with the order of law. As a way of liberation Taoism of course brings to light the manner in which men project their social institutions upon the structure of the universe.)
Or put in still other words, the first rule of the game is that the game is serious, i.e., is not a game. This is called the primordial "repression". By this I do not mean that it is an event at the temporal beginning of human life, but rather that it may be our most deeply ingrained social attitude. But just as soon as we feel that certain things, such as survival, are serious necessities, life becomes problematic in a very special sense quite different from, say, the problems of chess or of science. Life and problem become the same; the human situation becomes a predicament for which there is no solution**
This self-frustrating activity is [called] samsara, the vicious circle from which the ways of liberation propose release. Release depends upon becoming aware of that primordial repression which is responsible for the feeling that life is a problem, that it is serious, that it must go on. It has to be seen that the problem we are trying to solve is absurd. But this means far more than mere resignation to fate, far more than the stoic despair of recognizing that human life is a losing battle with the chaos of nature. That would amount only to seeing that the problem has no solution. We should then simply withdraw from it and sit aloof in a kind of collective psychosis. The point is not that the problem has no solution, but that it is so meaningless that it need not be felt as a problem. To quote Wittgenstein again:
For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered. **for doubt can only exist where there is a question; a question only where there is an answer, and this only where something can be said. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer. The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.
When a psychiatrist asked a Zen master how he dealt with neurotic people he replied, "I trap them!" "And just how do you trap them?" "I get them where they can't ask any more questions".
But the idea that human life need not be felt as a problem is so unfamiliar and seemingly implausible that we must go more deeply into the social origins of the problematic feeling. In the first place, the opposition of human order to natural chaos is false. To say that there is no natural necessity is not to say that there is no natural order, no pattern or consistency in the physical world. After all, man himself is part of the physical world, and so is his logic. But it should not be hard to see that the kind of order we call logical or causal necessity is a subtype of order, a kind of order which appears in the world but is not characteristic of it as a whole. Similarly, the order of the rational integers 1, 2, 3, etc., is in the world, but mathematics would be a poor tool for describing the world if it were confined to simple arithmetic. We could say that the order of probability describes the world better than the order of causality. This is the same sort of truth as that a man with a saw can cut wood better than a man with a stone ax. The world is to us as we have means of assimilating it: patterns of thought-language in whose terms we can describe it. Yet these patterns are physical events, just as much as those which they describe. The point is surely that the world has no fixed order. We could almost say that the world is ordering itself ever more subtly both by means of and as the behaviors of living organisms.
To define operationally is to say what happens, to describe behavior, and as soon as we do this we find that we are talking about transactions. We cannot describe movements without describing the area or space in which they occur; we would not know that a given star or galaxy was moving except by comparing its position with others around it. Likewise, when we describe the world as completely as we can, we find that we are describing the form of man, for the scientific description of the world is actually a description of experiments, of what men [people] do when they investigate the world. Conversely, when we describe the form of man as completely as we can-his physical structure, as well as his behavior in speech and action-we find that we are describing the world. There is no way of separating them except by not looking too carefully, that is, by ignorance.
The human behavior that we call perception, thought, speech, and action is a consistency of organism and environment of the same kind as eating. What happens when we touch and feel a rock? Speaking very crudely, the rock comes in touch with a multitude of nerve ends in our fingers, and any nerve in the whole pattern of ends which touches the rock "lights up". Imagine and enormous grid of electric light bulbs connected with a tightly packed grid of push buttons. If I open my hand and with its whole surface push down a group of buttons, the bulbs will light up in a pattern approximately resembling my hand. The shape of the hand is "translated" into the pattern of buttons and bulbs. Similarly, the feeling of the rock is what happens in the "grid" of the nervous system when it translates a contact with the rock. But we have at our disposals "grids" far more complex than this-not only optical and auditory, but also linguistic and mathematical. These, too, are patterns into whose terms the world is translated in the same way the rock is into nerve patterns. Such a grid, for example, is the system of co-ordinates, three of space and one of time, in which we feel that the world is happening even though there are no actual lines of height, width, and depth filling all space, and though Earth does not go tick-tock when it revolves. Such a grid is also the whole system of classes, or verbal pigeonholes, into which we sort the world [our experience] as things or events, still or moving; light or dark; animal, vegetable, or mineral; bird, beast, or flower; past present or future.
It is obvious, then, that when we are talking about the order and structure of the world, we are talking about the order of our grids. "Laws, like the law of causation, etc., treat of the network and not of what the network describes" (Wittgenstein). In other words, what we call the regularities of nature are the regularities of our grids [our descriptions]. For regularity cannot be noticed except by comparing one process with another-e.g., the rotation of Earth about the sun with the strictly measured rotation of the clock. (The clock, with its evenly spaced seconds and minutes, is here the grid.) In the same way, what appears to be necessities of nature as a whole may be no more than necessities of grammar or mathematics. When anyone says that an unsupported body which is heavier than air necessarily fall to the ground, the necessity is not in nature, but in the rules of definition. If it did not fall to the ground, it would not fit what we mean by "heavier than air"**
**Or it may be that the organism, considered as a field in itself, is in self-contradiction: the weight of the nose horn is too much for the muscles. Turning to the human species, we may wonder whether such a split is taking place in the development of the over-isolated consciousness of the individual.
If this be so, we must be careful of a false step in reasoning. We must not say to the individual, "Watch out! If you want to survive, you must do something about it!" Any action along these lines will simply make things worse; it will simply confirm the individual in his feeling of separation. It will become, like the nose horn of Triceratops, a survival mechanism frustrating survival. But if it is not up to the individual to do something, what is there to be said or done, and to whom and by whom?
Is it entirely unreasonable to suppose that the situation may correct itself, that the "field pattern" man/universe may be intelligent enough to do so? If this happens, or is happening, it will at first appear that individuals are initiating the changes on their own. But as the required change takes place, the individuals involved will simultaneously undergo a change of consciousness revealing the illusion of their isolation. May not something of the same kind be happening when a research worker, thinking that he has made an independent discovery, learns to his astonishment that several other people hit upon it at about the same time? As scientists sometimes say, the field of research had developed to the point where this particular discovery might naturally break out at several places.
(NOTE: I, for example, as an "independent philosopher" could not possibly be saying what I am if I were really independent. "My" ideas are inseparable from what Northrop-Frye calls "the order of words", i.e., the total pattern of literature and discourse now being unfolded throughout the world.)
If we turn now to the social institution of language, or the "grid of words", we can easily see the ways in which it may be splitting organism from environment, and aspects of the environment from one another. Language with such parts of speech as nouns and verbs obviously translate what is going on in the world into particular things (nouns) and events (verbs), and these in turn "have" properties (adjectives and adverbs) more or less separable from them. All such languages represent the world as if it were an assemblage of distinct bits and particles. The defect of such grids is that they screen out or ignore (or repress) interrelations. That is why it is so difficult to find words to describe such fields as the organism/environment. Thus when the human body is analyzed and its organs are attached to nouns, we are at once in danger of the mechanical, overspecialized type of medicine and surgery which interferes at one point heedless of a disturbance of balance which may have unforeseen "effects" throughout the system. What else must the surgeon do if he has to remove a cancerous thyroid. Similar dangers arise in almost every sphere of human activity.
All classification seems to require a division of the world. As soon as there is a class, there is what is inside it and what is outside it. In and out, yes and no, are explicitly exclusive of one another** The separation between them seems to be as clear-cut as that between a solid and a space, a figure and its background. The separation, the difference, is therefore what we notice; it fits the notation of language, and because it is noted and explicit it is conscious and unrepressed. But there is also something unnoticed and ignored, which does not fit the notation of language, and which because it is unnoticed and implicit is unconscious and repressed. This is that the inside and the outside of the class go together and cannot do without each other. "To be and not to be arise mutually". Beneath the contest lies friendship; beneath the serious lies the playful; beneath the separation of the individual and the world lies the field pattern. In this pattern every push from within is at the same time a pull from without, every explosion an implosion, every outline an inline, arising mutually and simultaneously so that it is always impossible to say from which side of the boundary any movement begins. The individual no more acts upon the world than the world upon the individual. The cause and effect turn out to be integral parts of the same event.
Wrestling as we are with languages whose forms resist and screen out insights of this kind, it is understandable that at present this view is only hypothetical in the behavioral sciences however well verified it may be in the physical. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that it is much easier to describe pure process and pattern in mathematics than in words, with their subjects, verbs, and predicates, their agents and acts. But we have not yet gone very far in the mathematical description of living behavior. Yet it is not so hard to imagine a language which might describe all that man "is" and does as doing. After all, we can speak of a group of homes as housing without feeling impelled to ask, "What is it that is housing?". I do not think that such a language would be impoverished, any more than the sciences are impoverished through having given up such mysterious entities as the ether, the humors, phlogiston, or the planetary spheres. On the contrary, a language would be greatly enriched by making it easier for us to understand relationships which our present languages conceal. Described simply as pattern in motion, the mystery of what acts and what is acted upon, of how the cause issues in the effect, would be as easy as seeing the relationship between the concave and convex sides of a curve. Which side comes first?
The difficulty, however, is not so much in finding the language as in overcoming social resistance. Would it really do to find out that our game is not serious, that enemies are friends, and that the good thrives on the evil? Society as we know it seems to be a tacit conspiracy to keep this hushed up for fear that the contest will otherwise cease. If these opposites are not kept fiercely separate and antagonistic, what motivation will there be for the creative struggle between them? If man does not feel himself at war with nature, will there be any further impetus to technological progress? Imagine how the Christian conscience would react to the idea that, behind the scenes, God and the Devil were the closest friends but had taken opposite sides in order to stage a great cosmic game**
The problem is, of course, that if men are patterns of action and not agents, and if the individual and the world act with each other, mutually, so that action does not originate in either, who is to be blamed when things go wrong? Cab the police then come around asking, "Who started this?" The convention of the individual as the responsible, independent agent is basic to almost all our social and legal structures. Acceptance of this role or identity is the chief criterion of sanity, and we feel that if anyone is reducible to actions or behaviors with nobody doing them, he must be no more than a soulless mechanism. Indeed, there is at first glimpse an element of terror in this universe of pure activity; there seems to be no point from which to make a decision, to begin anything. It is not at all unlikely that some kind of slip into this way of feeling things may sometimes touch off a psychotic break, for the individual might well feel that he had lost control of everything and could no longer trust himself or others to behave consistently. But supposing one understood in the first place that this is the way things are anyhow, the experience itself would be far less unnerving. In practice it happens that just as soon as one gets used to this feeling and is not afraid of it, it is possible to go on behaving as rationally as ever-but with a remarkable sense of lightness.
Setting aside, for the time being, the moral and ethical implications of this view of man, it seems to have the same sort of advantage over the ordinary view that the Copernican solar system has over the Ptolemaic. It is so much simpler, even though it means giving up the central position of Earth. This is, moreover, the kind of simplicity which is fruitful rather than diminishing; it leads to further possibilities of play, greater richness of articulation. On the other hand, the ordinary conventional view seems increasingly to fail in what it purports to achieve.
**the mind or psychological structure of the individual cannot be identified with some entity inside his skin.
If the mind is socially constituted, then the field or locus of any individual mind must extend as far as the social activity or apparatus of social relations which constitutes it extends; and hence that field cannot be bounded by the skin of the individual organism to which it belongs. (George Herbert Mead)
And that is just the paradox of the situation: society gives us the idea that the mind or ego is inside the skin and that it acts on its own apart from society.
(NOTE: Mead himself does not use the term "ego" in quite this sense, for he associates it with the "I" rather than the "me". But since he is also associating the "I" with the organism, this seems quite inconsistent, for the ego is almost invariably considered as something in the organism like the chauffeur in a car, or a little man inside the head who thinks thoughts and sees sights. It is just this ego feeling that is the social construct.)
Here, then, is a major contradiction in the rules of the social game. The members of the game are to play as if they were independent agents, but they are not to know that they are just playing as if! It is explicit in the rules that the individual is self-determining, but implicit that he is so only by virtue of the rules. Furthermore, while he is defined as an independent agent, he must not be so independent as not to submit to the rul es which define him. Thus he is defined as an agent in order to be held responsible to the group for "his" actions. The rules of the game confer independence and take it away at the same time, without revealing the contradiction.
This is exactly the predicament which Gregory Bateson calls the "double-bind", where the individual is called upon to take two mutually exclusive courses of action and at the same time prevented from being able to comment on the paradox.
You are damned if you do and damned if you don't, and you mustn't realize it. Bateson has suggested that the individual who finds himself in a family situation which imposes the double-bind upon him in an acute form is liable to schizophrenia. Fir if he cannot comment on the contradiction, what can he do but withdraw from the field? Yet society does not allow withdrawal; the individual must play the game. As Thoreau said, wherever you may seek solitude men will ferret you out "and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows". Thus in order to withdraw the individual must imply that he is not withdrawing, that his withdrawal is happening, and that he cannot help himself. In other words, he must "lose his mind" and become insane.
(NOTE: While he has assembled a good deal of evidence in support of this suggestion, he does not claim to have proved it. Other research is suggesting that schizophrenia may be explained chemically as a toxic condition, but the two points of view do not necessarily exclude each other. The stress induced by the double-bind situation could have something to do with generating the toxin.)
But in liberation this comes to pass not through an unconscious compulsion but through insight, through understanding and breaking the double-bind which society imposes. One does not then get into the position of not being able to play the game; one can play it all the better for seeing that it is a game.
The schizophrenic withdrawal affects a minority, and occurs in circumstances where the double-bind imposed by society in general is compounded by special types of double-bind peculiar to a special family situation. The rest of us are in differing degrees of neurosis, tolerable to the extent to which we can forget the contradiction thrust upon us, to which we can "forget ourselves" by absorption in hobbies, mystery novels, social service, television, business, and warfare. Thus it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are accepting a definition of sanity which is insane, and that as a result our common human problems are so persistently insoluble that they add up to the perennial and universal "predicament of man", which is attributed to nature, to the Devil, or to God himself.
If what has been said up to this point is intelligible, it is only partly so; otherwise the reader would have been liberated forthwith! As I have suggested, there are unavoidable verbal difficulties even in describing the paradox we are in, let alone in describing the actual field pattern in which human life takes place. The trouble is that we are describing the difficulty with the very language structure that gets us into it. It has to say, "We are describing", and, "Gets us into it", confirming at every step the reality of the agent-entity presumed to stand behind the activity, or to be enduring it when it is understood to be coming from some other source. Common sense balks at the notion of action without agent just as it balks at the idea of pattern without substance, whether material or mental. But 1 + 2 = 3 and x - y = z are intelligible statements of relation without our having to ask what any of the symbols stand for, whether things or events, solids or spaces.
Thus the whole difficulty of both psychotherapy and liberation is that the problems which they address lie in the social institutions in whose terms we think and act [ i.e., the domain of language/magic]. No co-operation can be expected from an individual ego which is itself the social institution at the root of the trouble. But these institutions are observab le; we do not have to ask, "By whom?" They are observable here, for as William James pointed out, "The word 'I'** is primarily a noun of position like 'this' and 'here'". If they are observable they are subject to comment, and it is the ability to comment upon it that breaks the double-bind. On the one hand, social institutions like the grid of language create, or better, translate the world in their terms, so that the world-life itself- appears to be self-contradictory if the terms are self-contradictory. On the other hand, social institutions do not create the world ex nihilo. They are in and of the pattern of nature which they in turn represent or misrepresent.
The pattern of nature can only be stated in terms of a language; bit it can be shown in terms of say, sense perceptions. For a society whose number system is only "1, 2, 3, many", it cannot be a fact that we have ten fingers, and yet all the fingers are visible. People who know, for whom it is a fact, that they are egos or that the sun goes around Earth can be shown that their facts are wrong [well, not actually wrong**] by being persuaded to act consistently upon them. If you know that Earth is flat, sail consistently in one direction until you fall off the edge. Similarly, if you know that you are an independent agent, do something quite independently, be deliberately spontaneous, and show me this agent.
That there is a pattern of nature can is shown; what it is can be stated, and we can never be certain that what we have stated is finally correct [the very idea of "correct" is irrelevant] because there is nothing about which we can act consistently forever. But when we are employing institutions in whose terms we cannot act consistently, we may be sure either that they are self-contradictory or that they do not fit the pattern of nature. Self-contradictions which are not observed and patterns of nature which the language screens out are, in psychological terms, unconscious and repressed. Social institutions are then in conflict with the actual pattern of man-in-the-world, and this comes out as distress in the individual organism, which cannot be inconsistent with itself or with nature without ceasing to exist.
But what our social institutions repress is not just the sexual love, the mutuality, of man and woman, but also the still deeper love of organism and environment, of Yes and No, and of all those so-called opposites represented by the Taoist symbol of the yin-yang, the black and white fishes in eternal intercourse. It is hardly stretching a metaphor to use the word "love" for intimate relationships beyond those between human organisms. In those states of consciousness called "mystical" we have, I believe, a sudden slip into an inverse or obverse of the view of the world given in our divisive language forms. Where this slip is not, as in schizophrenia, a tortured withdrawal from conflict, the change of consciousness again and again brings the [an] overwhelming impression that the world is a system of love. Everything fits into place in an indescribable harmony -indescribable because paradoxical in the terms which our language provides.
Now our language forms, our grids of thought, are by no means whollywrong. The differences and divisions in the world which they note are surely there to be seen. There are indeed some mere ghosts of language, but in the main the categories of language seem to be valid and indeed essential to any description of the world whatsoever-as far as they go. But a given language cannot properly express what is implicit in it-the unity of differences, the logical inseparability of light and darkness, Yes and No. The question is whether these logical implications correspond to physical relations. The whole trend of modern science seems to be establishing the fact that, for the most part, they do. Things must be seen together with the form of the space between them. As Ernst Cassirer said as long ago as 1923:
The new physical view proceeds neither from the assumption of a "space in itself", nor of "matter" nor of "force in itself"-it no longer recognizes space, force, and matter as physical objects separated from each other, but** only the unity of certain functional relations, which are differently designated according to the system of reference in which we express them.
While we must be careful not to overstress analogies between physics and human behavior, there must certainly be general principles in common between them. Compare what Cassirer said with Gardner Murphy:
I have believed for a long time that human nature is a reciprocity of what is inside the skin and what is outside; that it is definitely not "rolled up inside us" but our way of being one with our fellows and our world. I call this field theory.
The ways of liberation are of course concerned with making this so-called mystical consciousness the normal everyday consciousness. But I am more and more persuaded that what happens in their disciplines, regardless of the language in which it is described, is nothing either supernatural or metaphysical in the usual sense. It has nothing to do with a perception of something else than the physical world. On the contrary, it is the clear perception of this world as a field, a perception which is not just theoretical but which is also felt as clearly as we feel, say, that "I" am a thinker behind and apart from my thoughts, or that the stars are absolutely separate from space and from each other. In this view the differences of the world are not isolated objects encountering one another in conflict, but expressions of polarity. Opposites and differences have something between them, like the two faces of a coin; they do not meet as total strangers. When this relativity of things is seen very strongly, its appropriate affect is love rather than hate or fear.
Surely this is the [a] way of seeing things that is required [useful] for effective psychotherapy. Disturbed individuals are, as it were, points in the social field where contradictions in the field break out. It will not do at all to confirm the contradictions from which they are suffering, for the psychiatrist to be the official representative of a sick system of institutions. The society of men with men and the larger ecological society of men with nature, however explicit a contest, is implicitly a field -an agreement, a relativity, a game. The rules of the game are conventions, which again mean agreements. It is fine for us to agree that we are different from each other, provided we do not ignore the fact that we agreed to differ. We did not differ to agree, to create society be deliberate contract between originally independent parties.
3. The Ways of Liberation
One of the blessings of easy communication between the great cultures of the world is that partisanship in religion and philosophy is ceasing to be intellectually respectable. Pure religions are as rare as pure cultures, and it is mentally crippling to suppose that there must be a number of fixed bodies of doctrine among which one must choose, where choice means accepting the system entirely or not at all. Highly organized religions always try to force such a choice because they need devoted members for their continuance. Those who rove freely through the various traditions, accepting what they can use and rejecting what they cannot, are condemned as undisciplined syncretists. But the use of one's reason is not a lack of discipline, not is there any important religion which is not itself a syncretism, a "growing up together" of ideas and practices of diverse origin.
**Yet if the main function of a way of liberation is to release the individual from his "hypnosis" by certain social institutions, what is needed in California will not be quite the same as what is needed in Bengal, for the institutions differ. Like different diseases, they require different medicines.
It is not within the scope of this book to present a fully documented argument for the idea that liberation is from the maya of social institutions and not of the physical world. Some evidence will be given, but I have not myself arrived at this idea by a rigorous examination of documents. It is simply a hypothesis which, to me, makes far better sense of Buddhism and Vedanta, Yoga and Taoism, than any other interpretation**
If, then, the maya or unreality lies not in the physical world but in the concepts or thought forms by which it is described, it is clear that maya refers to social institutions-to language and logic and their constructs-and to the way [ways] in which they modify our feeling[s] of the world ["of the world" is unnecessary] This becomes even clearer when we look at the relation of the Indian ways of liberation to the social structure and popular cosmology of the ancient Aryan culture. The community is divided into four basic castes-Brahman (priestly), Kshatriya (military), Vaishya (mercantile) and Sudra (laboring)-in terms of which the role and identity of every individual is defined. An individual outside caste has no legal identity, and is thus regarded as a human animal rather than a human person. The four castes are, furthermore, the general classification of roles temporarily assumed by something beyond man and, indeed, beyond all classification. This is the Brahman, or Godhead, which is one and the same as the Atman, the essential Self playing each individual role. In this ancient Indian cosmology the creation of the world is thus a dramatic manifestation. The Godhead is playing at being finite; The One is pretending to be many, but in the process, in assuming each individual role, the One has, so to speak, forgotten Itself and so has become involved in unconsciousness or ignorance (avidya).
So long as this ignorance prevails, the individualized form of the Godhead, the soul or jivatman, is constantly reborn into the world, rising or falling fortune and station according to its deeds and their consequences (karma). There are various levels above and below the human through which the individual soul may pass in the course of its reincarnations-the angelic, the titanic, the animal, the purgatories, and the realm of frustrated ghosts. Until it awakens to fill self-knowledge, the individual soul may undergo reincarnation for amazingly long periods of time, touching the highest possibilities of pleasure and the lowest depths of pain, going round and round upon the wheel of samsara for thousands and millions of years.
If we go back in imagination to an India entirely uninfluenced by Western ideas, and especially those of Western science, it is easy to see that this cosmology would have been something much more than a belief. It would haveseemed to be a matter of fact which everyone knew to be true [much as most current sapes know that time and three-dimensional space are really real]. It was taken for granted, and was also vouched for by the authority of the most learned men of the time, an authority just as impressive then as scientific authority is today. Without the distraction of some persuasive alternative one can know that such a cosmology is true just as one can know that the sun goes around Earth-or just as one can know that the following figure is a bear climbing a tree, without being able to see the bear:
4. Through a Glass Darkly
It is perfectly natural that man himself should be the most unintelligible part of the universe. The way his organism looks from the outside observer, such as a neurosurgeon, is so astonishingly different from the way it feels from the inside. The way is which human behavior is described by the biologist or the sociologist is so unlike what is seen by the ordinary individual that he can hardly recognize himself. But the disparity is no different in principle from the shock of hearing for the first time a recording of one's own voice, and from getting a frank description of one's character from a shrewd observer. These descriptions, like the whole external world itself, seem so foreign, so other. Yet, the time may come when the shock of strangeness turns into the shock of recognition, when looking at the external world as a mirror we may exclaim with amazement, "Why, that's me!".
Collectively, we are still a long way from this recognition. The world beyond us is an alien and unfathomable unknown, and we look into its glass very darkly indeed, confronting it as though we did not belong.
I, a stranger, and afraid
In a world I never made.
Only slowly does it dawn upon us that there is something fundamentally wrong with this feeling; simple logic, if nothing else, forces us to see that however separated self and other may be there is no self without this other. But standing in the way of this recognition is the fear of finding out that this external world may be only oneself, and that the answer to one's voice is only an endless reverberation of echoes. This is, of course, because our conception of self is confined to a very small and mainly fictitious part of our being, and to discover that the world were a belt of mirrors round that taper's flame would indeed be a horrifying solipsism. Yet if it turns out that self and other are one, it will also turn out that self and surprise are one.
We have been seeing all along that although Western science started out by trying to gain the greatest objectivity, the greatest lack of involvement between the observer and the observed, the more diligently this isolation is pressed, the more impossible it is found to be. From physics to psychology, every department of science is realizing more and more that to explore the world is to participate in it, and that, frustrating as this may first seem to be, it is the most important clue of all to further knowledge. At the same time, it is often pointed out that there is an ever-widening gap of communication between the scientific specialist and the lay public because his language is incomprehensible and his models of the world ever more remote from the images of common sense. Another aspect of this gap is that the world as we are coming to know it theoretically bears little resemblance to the world that we feel: we have sixteenth-century personalities in the world of twentieth-century concepts because social conventions lag far behind the flight of theoretical knowledge.
Is it possible, however, that science will become Western man's way of liberation?**
But the world of knowledge may, like Earth, be round-so that immersion in material particulars may quite unexpectedly lead back to the universal and the transcendent. Blake's idea that "the fool who persists in his folly will become wise" is the same as Spinoza's "the more we know of particular things, the more we know of God". For this, as we have seen, was the essential technique of liberation: to encourage the student to explore his false premises consistently-to the end. Unhappily, most Western devotees of the Eastern ways know little or nothing of what has happened in science during the last fifty years, and think of it still as the reduction of the world to the "objects" of Newtonian mechanics.
If science is actually to become our way of liberation its theoretical view must be translated into feeling, not only for the laymen but for scientists themselves. Shortly after reading one of the most fascinating accounts of this new unitary view of man-in-the-world, The Next Development in Man by the British biophysicist L. L. Whyte, I put this very problem to the author. He replied that it had never occurred to him and,that so far as he was concerned, the feeling should naturally follow from a thorough comprehension of the theory. I was asking, in other words, whether science should not comprise a yoga-a discipline for realizing its view as what psychologists call insight, over and above verbal understanding. There may be some truth in what Whyte said. After all, when it has been pointed out to us that the following two-dimensional figure is a cube, we really feel it to be so.
5. The Counter-Game
The social psychologist is always in danger of being a determinist, seeing individual behavior as subordinate to social behavior, the organism as responding willy-nilly to the conditions of its environment. If we define the organism by a complex boundary-the external skin, the skins of internal organs as well, down to the very surfaces of cells and molecules-its behavior will consist in the movements of this boundary. But the boundary of the organism is also the boundary of its environment, and thus its movements can be ascribed to the environment as well. Systems of description ascribe these movements now to one side and now to the other, and these changes of viewpoint are mutually corrective. Philosophical fashions swing between voluntarism and determinism, idealism and positivism, realism and nominalism, and there is never any clear issue between these alternatives when one regards them as opposed. The point I have been trying to make all along is that we gain better understanding by describing thisboundary and its movements as belonging to both the organism and its environment, and that we do not ascribe the origin of movement to either side. The question as to which side of a curved surface moves first is always unanswerable, unless we restrict our observations to limited areas and ignore some of the factors involved.
We have seen that the social game is based on conventional rules, and that these define the significant areas to be observed and the ways in which the origin of action is to be ascribed to one side of the boundary or another. Thus all social games regard the boundary between organism and environment, the epidermis, as significant, and almost all regard the inside of this boundary as an independent source of action. They tend to ignore the fact that its movements can also be ascribed to the environment, but this "ignore-ance" is one of the rules of the game. But when the philosopher, the psychologist, or the psychiatrist begins to observe human behavior more carefully he starts to question the rules and to notice the discrepancies between social definitions and physical events. To quote Gregory Bateson again:
There seems to be a sort of progress in awareness, through the stages of which every man-and especially every psychiatrist and every patient-must move, some persons progressing further through these stages than others. One starts by blaming the identified patient for his idiosyncrasies and symptoms. Then one discovers that these symptoms are a response to-or an effect of-what others have done; and the blame shifts from the identified patient to the etiological figure. Then, one discovers perhaps that these figures feel a guilt for the pain which they have caused, and one realized that when they claim this guilt they are identifying themselves with God. After all, they did not, in general, know what they were doing, and to claim guilt for their acts would be to claim omniscience. At this point one reaches a more general anger, that what happens to people shouldn't happen to dogs, and that what people do to each other the lower animals could never devise. Beyond this, there is, I think, a stage which I can only dimly envisage, where pessimism and anger are replaced by something else-perhaps humility. And from this stage onward to whatever other stages there may be, there is loneliness.
This is the loneliness of liberation, of no longer finding security by taking sides with the crowd, of no longer believing that the rules of the game are the laws of nature. It is thus that transcending the ego leads to great individuality.
[The rest of Chapter 5 and all of Chapter 6 remain to be exerpted.]