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Who Wants To Be A Philosopher?

--by Alan Watts (Oct 01, 2007)

Audio Reading by Liz Helgesen

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Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself. Other creatures may love and laugh, talk and think, but is seems to be that the special peculiarity of human beings is that they reflect; they think about thinking and know that they know. This, like other feedback systems, may lead to vicious circles and confusions if improperly managed, but self-awareness makes human experience resonant. It imparts that simultaneous “echo” to all that we think and feel as the box of the violin reverberates with the sound of the strings. It gives depth and volume to what would otherwise be shallow and flat.

Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one’s own person. Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know. For the human organism is, apparently, the most complex of all organisms, and while one has the advantage of knowing one’s own organism so intimately from the inside – there is also the disadvantage of being so close to it that one can never quite get at it. Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. This is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious.

The people who we are tempted to call clods and boors are just those who seem to find nothing fascinating in being human; their humanity is incomplete, for it has never astonished them. There is also something incomplete about those who find nothing fascinating in being. You may say that this is a philosopher’s professional prejudice – that people are defective who lack a sense of the metaphysical. But anyone who thinks at all must be a philosopher – a good one or a bad one – because it is impossible to think without premises, without basic (and in this sense, metaphysical) assumptions about what is sensible, what is the good life, what is beauty, and what is pleasure. To hold such assumptions, consciously or unconsciously, is to philosophize.

--Alan Watts, from "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing who You Are"


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On Oct 2, 2007 Fedor wrote:
I love Alan Watts and feel sorry for myself for not being able to come on this Wednesday meditation, and miss exchange of reflections on the passage.

Alan Watts called himself a “spiritual entertainer” and by virtue of this role uses ‘tricks’ in order not to ‘scare’ people away from real deep issues by using trivial statements.

In this excerpt I think such statement is “anyone who thinks at all must be a philosopher”. It sounds as invitation to think without being concerned with rules and definitions.
It is like inviting for dance someone, who ‘cannot’ dance, by saying- “Common, if you can move you can dance”. You hope to put him/her at ease by implying that there are really no rules in dancing (or thinking). And only rules that seem to exist are rules laid by people who are ‘afraid’ to think (or dance) genuinely, but comfort themselves by introducing control and judgment.

Pointers to important issues that Watts put in this writing I reckon are:
--human beings reflect; they think about thinking and know that they know.
-- self-awareness makes human experience resonant
-- nothing interests people more than people,
-- nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself.
-- the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious.

And here is my reflection on the subject I deem Watts pointed to:
Imagine a mirror that thinks that it owns the image of object it reflects; if you succeed in picturing that, you’ll get a glimpse of origin of “I” that appears out of false separation of object from its reflection. This is similar to “human think about thinking” when one assigns “I” to that what thinks about thinking. It doesn’t stop here- multiple reflections are possible as a way of creating of multiple “I”. That could create a “resonant” causing complete ‘blindness’ to reality, since multiple “I” think they are the reality.
Nothing interests these multiple “I” more than their own reflections they call reality.
They couldn’t even ‘think’ of anything else to exist.
At risk of overuse the mirror allegory I introduce a metaphor of consciousness as light, which actually makes the reflections possible in the picture above. If the object decides to leave the room with mirrors, and turns the light off, the ‘crazy’ mirrors go unconscious, and… at this moment became what they really are - pieces of glass. The multiple “I” disappear or return (if it’s more comforting) to the object. The object became what it really is without reflections- nothing we can talk about –absolute nothingness :)