Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Wisdom of Insecurity

A friend loaned me this little book, and in it I came across a very nice exposition which I'd like to share.
... in practice we are all bewitched by words. As a consequence, we are dismayed and dumbfounded when they do not fit. The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security. On the other hand, the more we are forced to admit that we actually live in the real world, the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything.
But there can be no sanity unless the difference between these two worlds is recognized. The scope and purposes of science are woefully misunderstood when the universe which it describes is confused with the universe in which man lives. Science is talking about a symbol of the real universe, and this symbol has much the same use as money. It is a convenient timesaver for making practical arrangements. But when money and wealth, reality and science are confused, the symbol becomes a burden.
Similarly, the universe described in formal, dogmatic religion is nothing more than a symbol of the real world, being likewise constructed out of verbal and convenient distinctions. To separate "this person" from the rest of the universe is to make a conventional separation. To want "this person" to be eternal is to want the words to be the reality, and to insist that a convention endure for ever and ever. We hunger for the perpetuity of something which never existed. Science has "destroyed" the religious symbol of the world because, when symbols are confused with reality, different ways of symbolizing reality will seem contradictory.


  1. Great stuff. I have become a pretty big Alan Watts fan. I can get you some mp3's of one of my favorite lectures of his if you are interested (he is great to listen to). It critiques the two dominant myths of the Western world - the ceramic model (religious) and the full-automatic model (scientific/mechanistic). He seeks an alternative to these two prevailing myths ("Myth" meaning a framework of words and mental images like what he is describing in your quote).

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Steven, that sounds great! I'd be intrigued to listen to the lecture.

  3. I find it grating when writers use "We" to describe their own POV as Watts has here, as if the rest of us are simply a nodding chorus.

  4. It's a common trait of philosopher types, I suppose!


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