The Western model of the universe is political, and engineering or architectural. And therefore as one understands the operations of a machine by analysis of its parts, by separating them into their original bits, we have “bitted” the cosmos, and see everything going on in terms of bits, bits of information. And I have found that this is an extremely fruitful enabling us to control what is happening. After all, the whole of Western technology is the result of “bitting.” And so we “thing” the world, that is to say that in order to measure a curve you have to reduce it to point instance, and apply the calculus, so in exactly the same way, in order to discuss or talk about the universe you have to reduce it to things. But each thing, or “think,” is, as it work, one grasp of that spotlight, going (yeh-yeh-yeh) like this, you see. So, we reduce the infinite wiggliness of the world to grasps, or bits, we are getting back to biting, you see, the idea of teeth, to grasp of thoughts. So we thereby describe the world in terms of things, just as that fisherman could describe his view by the number of net-hole over through which the view was showing.
But the problem that arises is this: first of all, very obviously, everybody knows , I hardly need to mention it, go to the science of medicine. You’ve got a specialist who really understands the function of the gallbladder and has studied gallbladders ad infinitum, and he really thinks he knows all about it. But whenever he looks at a human being he sees them in terms of gallbladder. So, if he operates on the gallbladder, he may do so very knowledgeably about that particular area of your organism but he does not foresee the unpredictable effects of this operation in other connected areas, because the human being’s gallbladder is not a “thing” in the same way as a spark plug in a car can be extracted and a new one replaced. Because the system isn’t the same. There is a fundamental difference between a mechanism and an organism, which can be described operationally. A mechanism is assembled; you add this bit to that bit, to that bit, to that bit. But an organism grows, that is to say, when you watch in a microscope a solution in which crystals are forming, you do not see this thing of little bits coming, coming, coming and drawing each other, and finally making up a shape. You see a solution where, it is more like watching a photographic plate developing. Suddenly the whole area which you are watching seems to organize itself, to develop, to make sense, moving from the relatively simple and gooey to the relatively structured and prickly. But not by addition.
So then, if we are trying to control and understand the world through conscious attention which is a scanning system, which takes in everything bit, bit, bit, bit, bit, what we are going to run into is, if that’s the only method we rely on, everything is going to appear increasingly to complicated to manage. So that you get for example, let us take the problem of the electronics industry. The catalogs of products that are being produced over the world by the electronic industry. Who has read all the catalogs? How do you know whether something you are working on is patented or not? Who else has taken out a patent? Has anybody had time to read all the catalogs? Well nobody has, they are just voluminous, and it is exactly the same in almost any other field. There is an information explosion like the population explosion, how on earth are you going to scan all that information? Yes, of course, you can get computers to help you in this direction but by Parkinson’s Law the sooner you become more efficient in doing this, the more the thing is going to develop, so that you will have to have more efficient computers still to assimilate all the information. You may get ahead, but only for a short time.
So you see there’s this problem of the sort of competition of consciousness, of it’s—how fast can you go doo-te-doo doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo and keep track of it, you see? You say, ‘I’ve got a good memory, I can keep track of that.’ And you say to you, ‘I’ll bet you you can’t, I’ll go more complicated than you.’ Musicians do this, drummers you know? And they get things going, and they start—so long as they can count, and lots of musicians do count, it’s crazy, but they do—and they count count count and they out-complicate each other to the point where, you can’t retain it any longer in memory. So you say, ‘OK, if I can’t retain it we’ve got this gadget here that can, and we’ve got these um marvelous mechanical memories and they’ll retain it. They’ll go much more fancy, they’ll go de doo-te-doo at a colossal speed zwwiiip like that, you see? But it’s the same old problem. Because you’ll get something that can outdo that.
So we end up asking that, yes. But supposing if there were some other way of understanding things. Let us go back from the spotlight to the floodlight, to the extraordinary capacity of the human nervous system to comprehend situations instantaneously without analysis, that is to say without verbal or numerical symbolism of the situation in order to understand it. I hope you understand what I mean. We – we do do that. We have this curious ability of pattern recognition, which the mechanical systems have only in a very primitive way. Xerox have put out a machine which recognizes figures written in almost anyone’s handwriting provided their handwriting is a fairly grade-school and normal. But a computer has a terrible time trying to recognize the letter “A” when it is printed in say, san serif, gothic, longhand, or whatever kind of “A” you may write. The human recognizes instantly this pattern but the computer is at a disadvantage here. It seems to lack a kind of capacity I would call “field organization” because it is all punctive, it’s digital, dut dut dut dut, like a newspaper photograph which, when you look at it under a microscope, is all dots. So the problem is this: in developing technology, are we leaving out of consideration our strongest suit, which is the brain itself. See, we are in a situation where the brain is still not really worked out by even the most competent neurologists. It puzzles them, they cannot give a model of the brain in numerical or verbal language. Now, you are that, you see? You are this thing, you yourself are these things which you yourself cannot figure out. In the same way that I cannot touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger, I can’t bite my own teeth. But I who is attempting to touch the tip of this finger with this finger am by the sheer complexity of my structure far more evolved than any system which I can imagine. This is, in a way, slightly akin to the “girdle theorem”, that you cannot have a system of logic, which defines its own axioms. The axioms of any given system must always be defined in terms of a higher system. So you are the most complex thing that has yet been encountered in the cosmos, and you can’t figure you out.
Now let us suppose that we are going to try to do that and become, as it were, completely transparent to ourselves so that we could entirely understand the organization or the mechanics of our own brains. What happens when we do that? Well, you are back in the situation of God, and when you are God what are you going to do? When you’re God, what you’re going to do: you are going to say to yourself, “Man, get lost.” Because what you want is a surprise, and when you have figured everything out there will be no more surprises, you will be completely bored. But on the other hand, a person, I would say, who is really functioning completely is basically a person who trusts his own brains and permits his brain to operate at a more optimal level. In other words, he knows how to think things out but he makes his best discoveries without thinking. In other words, you all know very well the processes of creative invention, you’ve got a problem you think it over but you can’t find any answer to it because the digital system of thinking is too simple, too clumsy to deal with it. It’s more complex, there’re more variables than can be kept in mind at one time, so you say, “I will sleep on it.” Or you go to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, or of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where they paying to goof off, which is an excellent idea. And you moon around and you’ve got a blackboard and you look out and pick your nose and so on, and your brain eventually hands you the solution to the problem. And you immediately, because you have the technical knowledge, you recognize that’s a solution. Then naturally you go back and check it and you work it out in the bit-by-bit form of thinking on it and see if does it come out in those terms. And if it does, everybody will agree with you, “Yes, that is the answer.” But if it doesn’t come out in those terms they will not agree with you because you have not subjected it to the socially acceptable traditional form of analyzing knowledge.
But here is the problem. It takes an awfully long time to check these things out, it takes an awfully long time to arrive at the solution which you’ve got, like that, by a purely calculated process. Most of the situations in life are such that they do not wait for us to make up our minds. So an enormous amount of carefully worked-out scientific knowledge is trivial. It is all very well, very finely worked out, but much too late because life presents you, life comes at you from all sides, all over everywhere at once. And the only thing you’ve got to deal with that is the thing inside here, in the skull.
Now, I am not saying this, to put down all this marvelous work of calculation, brought to immense sophistication electronically and so on. No at all, because actually, you people are the first people to understand the limitations of their own kind of knowledge, and you are going to have to tell the politicians about this, they don’t understand. They think that this kind of knowledge is the answer to everything and I think most of us know it is not. Which is not something, I repeat, against technology. I’m only saying, when you walk you put your right foot forward, and that is fine, but then you must put your left foot forward. So that’s say, the great technological enterprise has been putting the right foot forward but you must bring up the left foot, that is to say, bring up revaluation, a new respect for the organic type of organization which is incomprehensible to technological thinking but which always underlies it. That by itself doesn’t work because after you bring the left foot up you have again got to bring up the right foot, the analytic, after goo comes prickles, and after prickles comes goo. We have to keep these things up.
I think our danger at the present time is that we are so heady, so delighted with the results of prickles, that we have to allow a little bit of goo back into the system. Well now, what we have to try and do is, I think, to work out a way of making the brain itself more efficient, and this is the thing that civilized education has neglected. Lynn White, I have to quote him again, used to say that, the academic world today only values three kinds of intelligence: verbal intelligence, mnemonic intelligence, in other words remembering, and computational intelligence. He said it entirely neglects kinesthetic intelligence, social intelligence, and at least seven other kinds of intelligence. But it is the extraordinary capacity of the neural organization say, to engage in pattern recognition and in solving instantly certain complex problems without knowing how it does it. The trouble is, when you do something you do not know how to do, you’ve got a non-repeatable experiment, in a certain sense. In other words, you cannot explain to someone else how to put it together, but you can do it like you can open and close your hand without any knowledge of physiology. You do it every time. Oops, I don’t know how you do it, I just do it, you see? So we have an enormous potential of intelligence, of knowing how to do all sorts of things, which to the extent that we are academically minded people, we will not allow ourselves to do because we cannot explain it. For example, there is a way of cooling a blazing furnace, very simple, but engineers say it is theoretically impossible, it cannot happen, it’s like bees that cannot fly by the laws of aerodynamics but they do. So, the rather practical issue I come to is this: that technology, if it relies exclusively on linear thinking, is going to destroy the environment. It is going to become too complicated to handle, man is going to be like the dinosaur which had to have a brain in its head and a brain in its rump because it was so big. You know, the caveman kept a dinosaur, and when he went to bed at night he’d clump it on the tail with a club, and it would scream at eight o’clock in the morning, wake him up. It seems to me we are getting into that kind of saurian situation with our technology, which it is going to lead us to extinction.
So the question is: are we going to foul things up by insisting on using linear input, information and controlling it, as the dominant tool of controlling the world? Or can we master all that as we have done and still use the linear input and analysis but with a fundamental trust in our power to assimilate multiple inputs, although we really do not know how we do it? My point is that you cannot find an absolute which you can pin down, you see, so there always remains in any human operation the basic central thing which you cannot pin down because it is you, just as teeth cannot bite themselves. Now, the assumption of Judeo-Christian culture is that man in his nature is sinful, and therefore cannot be trusted. The assumption of at least ancient Chinese culture is that man in his essential nature is good, and therefore has to be trusted. Because they say to us, “If you cannot trust your own basic nature you cannot really rely on the idea that you are untrustworthy, therefore you are hopelessly fouled up.” So this has an amazing political and other consequences, this different assumption. If we say, “No, we human beings are fallible, and basically selfish, and really, really fundamentally evil, therefore we need law and order and a control system to put us in order.” We thereby project these control systems onto the church or the police, or onto somebody who is really ourselves disguised. They are like daylight saving time. Everybody could simply get up an hour earlier, but instead of doing that we alter the clock because a clock is a kind of authority, and we say “Well, the clock says it is time for you to get up.” The Indians, the Amer Indians laugh at the “palefaces” because they say, “The paleface, he doesn’t know when he is hungry until he looks at his watch.” So in this way we become clock-dominated, and the abstract system takes over from the physical, organic situation. And this is my big pitch, if I’m gonna make a big pitch, is that we run into a cultural situation where we have confused the symbol with the physical reality, the money with the wealth, and the menu with the dinner, and we are starving on eating menus.