I got a call for some Alan Watts in our Buddhism discussion, so here's one of many clips of his from youtube that touches on a theme discussed on the episode (i.e. nothingness and the interdependence of opposite, plus a quick statement without much explanation of Big Self) and which has some good background music that makes the whole thing fairly mesmerizing.
I'm going to withhold judgment at this point, as there's not a lot of meat to this clip. I suspect that this kind of philosophy seems cooler the less you analyze it; that's at least my vague memory from reading The Bookback in maybe 1991. However, I welcome readers here to chime in with any positive things they have to say about him, and if there's enough popular demand, I can look further into him and/or potentially try to get him covered in an eventual podcast episode.
Daniel Horne says
That was fun. Apparently Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame are also big fans of Watts. They have been putting out SouthPark-ian animations of his lectures:
As you say, not a lot of meat, but diverting.
He only disagrees with the statement that “something cannot come from nothing” because he treats ‘nothing’ as if it was a thing. Of course that’s not what is meant by saying of nothing, nothing comes. This is just a conceptual confusion caused by conflating nothingness with mere empty space…
Watts was basically how I lost my philosophical virginity with my father thrusting it upon me when I was but 13 or so. At the time it was like a lot of books for me (A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, anything written by Erich Fromm), that is, the feeling of deep contemplation and having the wool pulled from one’s eyes for someone to young to have gone through much intellectual growth. But like the general consensus here seems to be, well, it just doesn’t have lasting power. Like a song that’s got a nice beat, but not enough complexity to keep you coming back and listening to it again.
Though it now feels shallow, the experience of reading his work is often still enjoyable. And as a writer who is concerned more with action and what people/things actually do than a theory of “is”, his writing is performative in a way that jives with more of a meditative “how to” philosophy.
That being said, I still think a podcast devoted not just to him, but “pop” philosophers in general would be interesting. Watts is still valuable in his ability to bring philosophical constructs to more people by watering them down (and even to children/young adults for whom the first hand stuff will be to dense/abstract). Or maybe he isn’t, but I think it’d be interesting to discuss.
Absolutely, one can do without the dated new age trappings… white guys in kimonos… ugh
The clip is too brief and does rely too much on assertion, however, Watts does identify the key obstacles to our understanding of “nothing”in the West as a concept– our fixation on substance and dismissal of nothing–and the limitations it places on our thought lacking a functional idea of “nothing.”
It is analogous too trying to do advanced math with Roman numerals without a zero.
Watts was just one of the first in the West to realize how useful non-math versions of nothing can be for thought and have been for others.
Recently many books have been written on the history of zero in math and nothing or the vacuum in Physics which show its significance.
I prefer the gawky Watts in the suit in the 50s earnestly using his Western philosophy training to make significant achievements in Eastern philosophy accessible…
I have been studying Eastern philosophy for a few years now. I love the way Watts puts forth the “eastern way of thinking”. I have listened and read most of his works, they do get repetitive, however with that said it did take me about a year and a half before I actually got the point and experienced such altered states of consciousness, (without LSD or other hallucinogenics). I feel that most people don’t look into such fundamental questions Watts digs into. It seems most people that at least I discuss philosophy with have a very basic Western view on the “self”. I love how you guys explore this question in many lights, I believe you could make a great show on Watts. Or tie it into another Eastern philosophy show.
Josh Bentley says
I would love to hear about Alan Watts from the PEL. I think in the end the consensus would be similar to yours – it may not hold up well to scrutiny and analysis – but I think his subject matter is supremely interesting and it would be of supreme interest to me to hear the group dissect it.