Alan Watts (1915-1973) referred to himself as a “philosophical entertainer” and was “best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience,” according to Wikipedia.
I listened to hours and hours of his Out of Your Mind audio collection while driving from Florida to North Carolina to Indiana – highly recommended!* I consider the experience to be something of a philosophical vaccine, helping increase your resistance to infectious epistemological memes and other memetic hazards.
If you’ve never heard of Alan Watts before, I’d suggest that you start with this short remixed video by Melodysheep (skip it if you’re not a fan of autotune):
This transcript of his lecture on “The Nature of Consciousness” gives an excellent overview of some of his main philosophical ideas. Brief excerpts from this and other essays have also been turned into a series of short animated videos.
Want to hear more? Deoxy.org has an excellent collection of Alan Watts’ work: video, audio, transcripts, essays, and links to more resources.
But we know very well that this natural universe is neither prickles nor goo exclusively: it’s gooey prickles and prickly goo [and] we’re always playing with the two.”
[I]n my philosophy there is no difference between the physical and the spiritual. These are absolutely out-of-date categories. It’s all process; it isn’t ‘stuff’ on the one hand and ‘form’ on the other. It’s just pattern—life is pattern. It is a dance of energy. And so I will never invoke spooky knowledge.
That is, that I’ve had a private revelation or that I have sensory vibrations going on a plane
which you don’t have. Everything is standing right out in the open, it’s just a question of how you look at it. […]
And when you find that out, you laugh yourself silly. That’s the great discovery.
Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.
It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see?
[…] If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time.
Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being.
And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. […] You are still the process.
You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.
Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
When I can no more identify myself with that little man inside, there is nothing left to identify with—except everything! There is no longer the slightest contradiction between feeling like a leaf on a stream and throwing one’s whole energy into responsible action, for the push is the pull.
And thus in using intelligence to change what has hitherto been the course of nature, one has the realization that this is a new bend in the course and that the whole flood of the stream is behind it.
*The lectures, I mean—not the drive. Probably best to avoid driving to Indiana if you can help it, although there are some really cool fossils around Lake Monroe.