the real net

March 30, 2010

The human behavior that we call perception, thought, speech, and action is a consistency of organism and environment of the same kind as eating. What happens when we touch and feel a rock? Speaking very crudely, the rock comes in touch with a multitude of nerve ends in our fingers, and any nerve in the whole pattern of ends which touches the rock “lights up”. Imagine an enormous grid of electric light bulbs connected with a tightly packed grid of push buttons. If I open my hand and with its whole surface push down a group of buttons, the bulbs will light up in a pattern approximately resembling my hand. The shape of the hand is “translated” into the pattern of buttons and bulbs. Similarly, the feeling of the rock is what happens in the “grid” of the nervous system when it translates a contact with the rock. But we have at our disposals “grids” far more complex than this – not only optical and auditory, but also linguistic and mathematical. These, too, are patterns into whose terms the world is translated in the same way the rock is into nerve patterns. Such a grid, for example, is the system of co-ordinates, three of space and one of time, in which we feel that the world is happening even though there are no actual lines of height, width, and depth falling all space, and though Earth does not go tick-tock when it revolves. Such a grid is also the whole system of classes, or verbal pigeonholes, into which we sort the world [our experience] as things or events, still or moving; light or dark; animal, vegetable, or mineral; bird, beast, or flower; past present or future.

– Alan Watts, from “Psychotherapy East and West”

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