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To understand this wonderful but difficult book it is useful to make the artificial distinction between the external and the internal. This is, of course, exactly the distinction which Alan Watts wants us to transcend.
But Mr. Watts is playing the verbal game in a Western language, and his reader can be excused for following along with conventional dichotomous models.
External and internal. Behavior and consciousness. Changing the external world has been the genius and the obsession of our civilization. In the last two centuries the Western monotheistic cultures have faced outward and moved objects about with astonishing efficiency.
In more recent years, however, our culture has become aware of a disturbing imbalance. We have become aware of the undiscovered universe within, of the uncharted regions of consciousness. This dialectic trend is not new. The cycle has occurred in the lives of many cultures and individuals. Eventually, the logical conceptual mind turns on itself, recognizes the foolish inadequacy of the flimsy systems it imposes on the world, suspends its own rigid control, and overthrows the domination of cognitive experience.
The politics of the nervous system involves the mind against the brain, the tyrannical verbal brain disassociating itself from the organism and world of which it is a part, censoring, alerting, evaluating. The freedom to expand one's consciousness beyond artifactual cultural knowledge. We are dealing here with an issue that is not new, an issue that has been considered for centuries by mystics, by philosophers of the religious experience, by those rare and truly great scientists who have been able to move in and then out beyond the limits of the science game.
It was seen and described clearly by the great American psychologist William James We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation.
No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,-for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness.
Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.
Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge toward a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. But what are the stimuli necessary and sufficient to overthrow the domination of the conceptual and to open up the "potential forms of consciousness"? There are many. Indian philosophers have described hundreds of methods. So have the Japanese Buddhists. The monastics of our Western religions provide more examples.
Mexican healers and religious leaders from South and North American Indian groups have for centuries utilized sacred plants to trigger off the expansion of consciousness. Recently our Western science has provided, in the form of chemicals, the most direct techniques for opening new realms of awareness.
William James used nitrous oxide and ether to "stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. What are these substances? Medicines or drugs or sacramental foods? It is easier to say what they are not. They are not narcotics, nor intoxicants, nor energizers, nor anaesthetics, nor tranquilizers.
They are, rather, biochemical keys which unlock experiences shatteringly new to most Westerners. For the last two years, staff members of the Center for Research in Personality at Harvard University have engaged in systematic experiments with these substances. Our first inquiry into the biochemical expansion of consciousness has been a study of the reactions of Americans in a supportive, comfortable naturalistic setting.
We have had the opportunity of participating in over one thousand individual administrations. From our observations, from interviews and reports, from analysis of questionnaire data, and from pre-and postexperimental differences in personality test results, certain conclusions have emerged. There is no dispute on this score. There is no "drug reaction" but always setting-plus-drug. Those of us on this research project spend a good share of our working hours listening to people talk about the effect and use of consciousness-altering drugs.
Potentialities of the cortex, not of the drug. The drug is just an instrument. To understand our findings we have finally been forced back on a language and point of view quite alien to us who are trained in the traditions of mechanistic objective psychology.
We have had to return again and again to the nondualistic conceptions of Eastern philosophy, a theory of mind made more explicit and familiar in our Western world by Bergson, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts. In the first part of this book Mr. The leap across entangling thickets of the verbal, to identify with the totality of the experienced, is a phenomenon reported over and over by these persons.
Alan Watts spells out in eloquent detail his drug-induced visionary moments. But how well he can do it! Alan Watts is one of the great reporters of our times. He has an intuitive sensitivity for news, for the crucial issues and events of the century.
And he has along with this the verbal equipment of a poetic philosopher to teach and inform. Here he has given us perhaps the best statement on the subject of space-age mysticism, more daring than the two classic works of Aldous Huxley because Watts follows Mr. Huxley's lead and pushes beyond. The recognition of the love aspects of the mystical experience and the implications for new forms of social communication are especially important.
You are holding in your hand a great human document. But unless you are one of the few Westerners who have accidentally or through chemical good fortune experienced a mystical minute of expanded awareness, you will probably not understand what the author is saying.
Too bad, but still not a cause for surprise. The history of ideas reminds us that new concepts and new visions have always been non-understood. We cannot understand that for which we have no words. But Alan Watts is playing the book game, the word game, and the reader is his contracted partner.
But listen. Be prepared. There are scores of great lines in this book. Dozens of great ideas. Too many. Too compressed. They glide by too quickly. Watch for them.
If you catch even n few of these ideas, you will find yourself asking the questions which we ask ourselves as we look over our research data: Where do we go from here? What is the application of these new wonder medicines? Can they do more than provide memorable moments and memorable books?
The answer will come from two directions. We must provide more and more people with these experiences and have them tell us, as Alan Watts does here, what they experienced.
There will hardly be a lack of volunteers for this ecstatic voyage. Ninety-one percent of our subjects are eager to repeat and to share the experience with their family and friends. We must also encourage systematic objective research by scientists who have taken the drug themselves and have come to know the difference between inner and outer, between consciousness and behavior.
There are many who believe that we stand at an important turning point in man's power to control and expand his awareness. Our research provides tentative grounds for such optimism.
The Joyous Cosmology is solid testimony for the same happy expectations. Timothy Leary, Ph. Richard Alpert, Ph. Harvard University, January, In The Doors of Perception Aldous Huxley has given us a superbly written account of the effects of mescaline upon a highly sensitive person.
It was a record of his first experience of this remarkable transformation of consciousness, and by now, through subsequent experiments, he knows that it can lead to far deeper insights than his book described. While I cannot hope to surpass Aldous Huxley as a master of English prose, I feel that the time is ripe for an account of some of the deeper, or higher, levels of insight that can be reached through these consciousness-changing "drugs" when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding.
I should perhaps add that, for me, philosophical reflection is barren when divorced from poetic imagination, for we proceed to understanding of the world upon two legs, not one. It is now a commonplace that there is a serious lack of communication between scientists and laymen on the theoretical level, for the layman does not understand the mathematical language in which the scientist thinks. For example, the concept of curved space cannot be represented in any image that is intelligible to the senses.
But I am still more concerned with the gap between theoretical description and direct experience among scientists themselves. Western science is now delineating a new concept of man, not as a solitary ego within a wall of flesh, but as an organism which is what it is by virtue of its inseparability from the rest of the world. But with the rarest exceptions even scientists do not feel themselves to exist in this way.
They, and almost all of us, retain a sense of personality which is independent, isolated, insular, and estranged from the cosmos that surrounds it.
Somehow this gap must be closed, and among the varied means whereby the closure may be initiated or achieved are medicines which science itself has discovered, and which may prove to be the sacraments of its religion. For a long time we have been accustomed to the compartmentalization of religion and science as if they were two quite different and basically unrelated ways of seeing the world.
I do not believe that this state of doublethink can last. It must eventually be replaced by a view of the world which is neither religious nor scientific but simply our view of the world.
The Joyous Cosmology : Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
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The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
“The Joyous Cosmology” by Alan W. Watts