Alan Watts On The Ultimate Hallucination

I wonder what you mean when you use the word “I.” I’ve come to the conclusion that what most civilized people mean by that word is a hallucination.

That is to say a false sense of personal identity that is at complete variance with the facts of nature. As a result of having a false sense of identity, we act in a way that is inappropriate to our natural environment. And when that inappropriate way of action is magnified by a very powerful technology, we swiftly begin to see the results of a profound discord between man and nature.

As is well known, we are now in the process of destroying our environment as a result of an attempt to conquer it and master it. We have not realized therefore, that our environment is not something other than ourselves. In assuming that it is, we have made a great mistake and are now paying the price for it. But most people would agree with the lines of the poet who said, “I a stranger and afraid in a world I never made,” because we have the strong sensation that our own being inside our skin is extremely different from the world outside our skin.

That while there may be intelligence inside human skins, and while there may be values and loving feelings, outside the skin is a world of mechanical process which does not give a damn about any individual and which is basically unintelligent, being gyrations of blind force. And so far as the merely biological world is concerned gyrations of libido which is Freud’s word for blind lust.

It should be obvious that the human being goes with the rest of the universe. Even though we say in popular speech, “I came into this world.” Now, it is not true that you came into this world. You came out of it in the same way as a flower comes out of a plant, or a fruit comes out of a tree. And as an apple tree apples, the solar system in which we live and therefore the galaxy in which we live, and therefore the system of galaxies in which we live, that system peoples.

And therefore, people are an expression of its energy and of its nature. If people are intelligent, and I suppose we have to grant that if, then the energy which people express must also be intelligent, because one does not gather figs from thistles and grapes from thorns.

But it does not occur, you see, to the ordinary civilized person to regard himself or herself as an expression of the whole universe. It should be obvious that we cannot exist except in an environment of earth, air, water and solar temperature. That all these things go with us and are as important to us, albeit outside our skins, as our internal organs; heart, stomach, brain and so forth.

Now if then we cannot describe the behavior of organisms without at the same time describing the behavior of their environments, we should realize that we have a new entity of description. Not the individual organism alone, but what would now be called a field of behavior, which we must call rather clumsily, the organism environment. You go with your environment in the same way as your head goes with the rest of your body.

You do not find in nature faces arriving in the world sui generis. They go with a body. But also bodies do not arrive in a world which would be for example, a plain ball of scrubbed rock floating without an atmosphere far away from a star. That will not grow bodies. There is no soil for bodies. There is no complexity of environment which is body producing. So bodies go with a very complicated natural environment. And if the head goes with the body and the body goes with the environment, the body is as much an integral part of the environment as the head is part of the body.

It is deceptive, of course, because the human being is not rooted to the ground like a tree. A human being moves about and therefore can shift from one environment to another. But the shifts are superficial. The basic environment of the planet remains a constant. And if the human being leaves the planet, he has to take with him a canned version of the planetary environment.

Now, we are not really aware of this. Upon taking thought and due consideration, it does occur to us yes, indeed, we do need that environment. But in the ordinary way, we don’t feel it. That is to say we don’t have a vivid sensation of belonging to our environment in the same way that we have a vivid sensation of being an ego inside a bag of skin, located mostly in the skull, about halfway between the ears and a little way behind the eyes. And it issues in these disastrous results of the ego. Which according to 19th century common sense, feels that it is a fluke in nature, and that if it does not fight nature, it will not be able to maintain its status as intelligent fluke.

So the geneticists are now saying, and many others are now saying, that man must take the course of his evolution into his own hands. He could no longer trust the wiggly, random, and unintelligible processes of nature to develop him any further. But he must interfere with his own intelligence and through genetic alterations breed the kind of people who will be viable for human society and that sort of thing.

Now this, I submit, is a ghastly error.

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