The Book (Alan Watts)
A book that, eh, challenges some core beliefs we are taught. For instance, it takes a look at the concept that people are distinct from the world around them. Over all, I found this book enjoyable but I don’t think it had the intended effect on me. The author’s writing is not one of deductive persuasion but a certain appeal to intuition. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, but I do think it contributed to me feeling not-super-affected. Despite this, there were some ideas presented in the book that have stuck with me:
When there seem to be two forces oscillating in tension against each other, such as good+bad and light+dark, it can seem like “no progress is being made”, because we’re just going back in forth. But in fact progress is being made; it’s just in a direction orthogonal to the oscillating movement. It is via this never-ending tension that progress occurs. For example, it is exactly via the competition between two professional athletes that the sport as a whole progresses. If one focuses on the repetition of the two athletes replacing each other in first place, it appears that they are expending energy into a stalemate, wasting their own time. But take a step back and notice that through this battle they have innovated new techniques and progressed the sport.
The idea that nothing can really faithfully be viewed as outside the context in which it lies This reminds me a lot of the law of leaky abstractions We construct the idea of a “house” and consider it distinct from the surrounding environment... until roots from a nearby tree start to grow into the pipes, and particles from the paint start to kill the grass. To be fair, I think one can create contexless abstraction; define a ‘thing’ to be the collection of ways the thing can appear in context, ie (thing,context)(\text{thing}, \text{context}) pairs. But I think the point—consider the context—is still good.
I have sometimes thought that all philosophical disputes could be reduced to an argument between the partisans of “prickles” and the partisans of “goo." The prickly people are tough-minded, rigorous, and precise, and like to stress differences and divisions between things. [...] The gooey people are tender-minded romanticists who love wide generalizations and grand syntheses. They stress the underlying unitites, and are inclined to pantheism and mysticism. [...] Prickly philosophers consider the gooey ones rather disgusting—undisciplined, vague dreamers who slide over hard facts like an intellectual slime which threatens to engulf the whole universe in an “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum” [...]. But gooey philosophers think of their prickly colleagues as animated skeletons that rattle and click without any flesh or vital juices, as dry and dessicated mechanisms bereft of all finer feelings. Either party would be hopelessly lost without the other, because there would be nothing to argue about [...]
Speaking very broadly, I find myself somewhat torn between these two groups
Modified quote:
We demand that you say thank you because you want to, and not because we say you ought to
That is, you must say thank you! But, also, you musn’t do so because we told you to; you must do so because you want to. How hypoctricial! This is essentially why I have such issue with politness. Inauthentic forced authenticity. He similarly touches on forced education and forced meditation.
The observation that we are always tought that happiness is just around the corner. Finish primary education—college is the real kicker. Oh, finish your degree, and you’ll start really living. Now you have a job! Gotta climb the coorporate ladder; then you’ll really have found success. ... He phrases it better than I do. (p80, "... you have been hypnotized or conditioned by an educational ...")

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