Society and Sanity by Alan Watts – Excerpt from Psychotherapy East & West

Though it cannot as yet be shown that a society is a body of people in the same way that a man is a body of cells, it is clear that any social group is something more than the sum of its members. People do not live in mere juxtaposition. To sum is to collect things together in a one-to-one correspondence with a series of numbers, and the relationship between 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 is so simple that it does not begin to resemble the relationship of people living together. A society is people living together in a certain pattern of behavior — a pattern which makes such physical traces as roads and the structure of towns, codes of law and language, tools and artifacts, all of which lay down “channels” determining the future behavior of the group. Moreover, a society is not “made up” of people in the same way that a house is composed of bricks, or even in the same way that an army is gathered together by recruitment. Strictly speaking, society is not so much a thing as a process of action which is really indistinguishable from human beings and animals, and from life itself. That no human organism exists without male and female parents is already society.

As a pattern of behavior, society is above all a system of people in communication maintained by consistent action. To keep the system going, what is done has to be consistent with what has been done. The pattern is recognizable as a pattern because it goes ahead with reference to its own past; it is just this that establishes what we call order and identity, a situation in which trees do not suddenly turn into rabbits and in which one man does not suddenly behave like another so that we do not know who he is. “Who” is consistent behavior. System, pattern, coherence, order, agreement, identity, and consistency are all in a way synonymous. But in a pattern so mobile and volatile as human society, maintaining consistency of action and communication is not easy. It requires the most elaborate agreements as to what the pattern is, or, to put it in another way, as to what are the rules, the consistencies, of the system. Without agreement as to the rules of playing together there is no game. Without agreement as to the use of words, signs, and gestures there is no communication.

The maintenance of society would be simple enough if human beings were content just to survive. In this case they would be simply animals, and it would be enough to eat, sleep, and reproduce. But if these are their basic needs, human beings go about getting them in the most complicated way imaginable. If what must be done to survive is work, it would seem that the main concern of human beings is to play, yet at the same time pretending that most of such play is work. When one comes to think of it, the boundary between work and play is vague and changeable. Both are work in the sense that they expend energy; but if work is what must be done to survive, may we not ask, “But is it really necessary to survive? Is not survival, the continuation of the consistent pattern of the organism, a form of play?” We must be careful of the anthropomorphism which asserts that animals hunt and eat in order to survive, or that a sunflower turns in order to keep its face to the sun. There is no scientific reason to suppose that there are such things as instincts for survival or for pleasure. When we say that an organism likes to go on living, or that it goes on living because it likes it, what evidence is there for this “like” except that it does in fact go on living — until it doesn’t? Similarly, to say that we always choose what we prefer says no more than that we always choose what we choose. If there is a basic urge to live, there must also, as Freud thought, be a basic urge to die. But language and thought are cleaner without these ghostly instincts, urges, and necessities. As Wittgenstein says, “A necessity for one thing to happen because another has happened does not exist. There is only logical necessity.”

An enduring organism is simply one that is consistent with its environment. Its climate and its food agree with it; its pattern assimilates them, eliminating what does not agree, and this consistent motion, this transformation of food and air into the pattern of the organism, is what we call its existence. There is no mysterious necessity for this to continue or discontinue. To say that the organism needs food is only to say that it is food. To say that it eats because it is hungry is only to say that it eats when it is ready to eat. To say that it dies because it cannot find food is only another way of saying that its death is the same thing as its ceasing to be consistent with the environment. The so-called causal explanation of an event is only the description of the same event in other words. To quote Wittgenstein again, “At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.”

More complex organisms, such as human beings, are more complex consistencies, more complex transformations of the environment. Not only are they patterns of transforming food, but their agreement or consistency with the environment changes nuclear vibrations into sound and light, weight and color, taste and smell, temperature and texture, until finally they generate elaborate patterns of signs and symbols of great interior consistency. When these mesh with the environment it becomes possible to describe the world in terms of sign patterns. The world is thus transformed into thought in the same way that food was transformed into body. The agreement or consistency of body pattern or thought pattern with the pattern of the world goes on as long as it goes on. To say why it starts or stops is only to describe particular consistencies or inconsistencies.

To say that there is no necessity for things to happen as they do is perhaps another way of saying that the world is play. But this idea is an affront to common sense because the basic rule of human societies is that one must be consistent. If you want to belong to our society, you must play our game — or, simply, if we are going to be consistent, we must be consistent. The conclusion is substituted for the premise. But this is understandable because, as we have seen, human society is so complex and volatile that consistency is difficult to maintain. Children keep slipping out of the patterns of behavior that we try to impose upon them, and for this and similar reasons our social conventions have to be maintained by force. The first rule of the game, put in another way, is that the game must continue, that the survival of the society is necessary. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the consistencies or regularities of nature are patterns that do occur, not patterns that must occur. Natural events do not obey commandments in the same way that human beings obey the law.

Or put in still other words, the first rule of the game is that this game is serious, i.e., is not a game. This might be called the primordial “repression.” By this I do not mean that it is an event at the temporal beginnings of human life, but rather that it may be our most deeply ingrained social attitude. But just as soon as we feel that certain things, such as survival, are serious necessities, life becomes problematic in a very special sense quite different from, say, the problems of chess or of science. Life and problem become the same; the human situation becomes a predicament for which there is no solution. Man then behaves as a self-frustrating organism, and this behavior can be seen in many different ways. For example, one of our greatest assets for survival is our sense of time, our marvelously sensitive memory, which enables us to predict the future from the pattern of the past. Yet awareness of time ceases to be an asset when concern for the future makes it almost impossible to live fully in the present, or when increasing knowledge of the future makes it increasingly certain that beyond a brief span we have no future. If, too, man’s growing sensitivity requires that he become more and more aware of himself as an individual, if social institutions are designed more and more to foster the unique person, not only are we in great danger of overpopulating but also we are betting and concentrating upon man in his most vulnerable and impermanent form.


Alan Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy, including Psychotherapy East & West.

Excerpted from the book Psychotherapy East & West. Copyright ©1989 by Anne Watts and Joan Watts. Printed with permission from New World Library —

Life’s Symbols Around Us by Tim Walter

This is not an image you might expect from a life coach. Folks like me are usually found promoting up beat high vibration images of wonder and joy. But to me this old window is symbolic of potential and another stage in life’s journey. I see it as relating to how much more I can change the way I view the world around me, see it with new eyes as it were. A new attitude, new opportunities to help more people find different ways of finding the joy in their own lives…

Read More.

An Interview With Spiritual Leader, Swami Vishwananda

| by Jyotirananda, Questions asked by Thea Ivie

Swami Vishwananda is a spiritual teacher. He was born on June 13th 1978 into a Hindu-family on the island of Mauritius. From earliest childhood his sole interest was in spirituality and religious practices. He would visit Christian Churches, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques because he felt drawn to the presence of the Divine and Sacred. At an early age he realized his true Self and the reason for his incarnation. Since then, many people came to him to seek his advice on spiritual and everyday matters.

Read More.

Dr. Steven Hodes Offers Metaphysical Prescriptions for Better Health:A Traditional Doc Becomes the Meta-Physician on Call

| by Laurie Sue Brockway

“Dr. Steve” is a traditionally trained physician with a metaphysical point of view. His approach to well-being encompasses both the scientific and spiritual causes for pain, illness, and disease. He helps us bridge the gap between traditional medicine and holistic healing and shines a light on ways non-medical issues — such as stress and emotional blockages — contribute to illness. Although he has a great regard and love for traditional medicine, he believes strongly in the connection between body, mind, and spirit… In his new book, Meta-Physician on Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine for Mind, Body, and Spirit (Praeger Publishers, November 2007),he explores the connection between spirituality and medicine and offers many ways metaphysics can help facilitate healing.

Read More.

Q&A with Carole Hart On Her Documentary, “For The Next 7 Generations”

| by Carole Hart

In Pre-Colonial days the native tribes of the Iroquois confederation lived all around Northeastern United States. The constitution of the United States was based on many of the premises stated in the Iroquois constitution. But they left out the great law of the Iroquois confederacy, which states that “ In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next 7 generations.” We are feeling the effects of that omission very strongly today.

Read More.

Physician to Meta-Physician:How A Skeptical Doctor Transformed Into A Soulful Healer, Interview with Steven E. Hodes, MD

| by L.S. Fuhrman

An emerging leader in the field of mind-body-spirit medicine and healing, Dr. Steven E. Hodes’ articles have been published in dozens of healing-oriented magazines. This fall, he begins his fourth year of teaching at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey. He is author of Meta-Physician on Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine for Mind, Body and Spirit, by Praeger Publishers.

Read More.

Ask Elizabeth: Real Answers to Everything You Secretly Wanted to Ask About Love, Friends, Your Body… and Life in General by Elizabeth Berkley

“Much like a private diary, the book will be a personal resource that girls can turn to when they seek answers to teen life’s toughest questions. The content contains real and practical advice, anecdotes and wisdom in answer to the most asked questions from girls who participate in Elizabeth’s workshops such as: what do you do when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see? or How do you get over a broken heart? Elizabeth, along with a panel of experts, and teen girls themselves advise readers in matters of body image, personal relationships, dating, and much more.”

Read More.

Merlian News Interviews Professor Hans Holzer, Ph.D., Author & Parapsychologist

| by Merlian News

Merlian News interviews author and parapsychologist Hans Holzer, as he describes his personal and professional experiences in the field. Dr. Holzer is the author of numerous best-selling books on psychic topics. He has taught parapsychology at the New York Institute of Technology for eight years. ” My dear friend Hans Holzer died on Sunday April 26th, 2009, peacefully at home in Manhattan. We were good friends for nearly thirty five years. I cherish the last visits we had together and will miss his physical presence in my life enormously but know he is with me in spirit.” Merryn Jose

Read More.
Filed Under:

Interview on Therapy and Spiritual Goals with Richard Harvey

| by Richard Harvey

Richard Harvey answers questions about personal problems, therapy and spiritual goals. “Teaching spiritual wisdom and practices is simply referring you to your inner understanding, which is innate in you as a human being. I distinguish between the act of teaching and assuming the role of teacher, because everyone should be their own teacher.”

Read More.

Interview with Kevin D. Randle, Author of Crash: When UFO’s Fall From The Sky

| by Kevin D. Randle

The best documented crash is the Shag Harbour crash in 1967. Don Ledger and Chris Styles have found many documents created by the Canadian government about the events. That doesn’t mean what fell was extraterrestrial, only that there is a pile of documentation. The Las Vegas crash has quite file from Project Blue Book. There are two dozen witness statements, including those of a general and an Air Force pilot who said he saw the thing below his aircraft. So, documentation is not a problem. It’s proving that the events were extraterrestrial in origin. That is where we stumble.”

Read More.
Filed Under: