Suppose the world is a sandbox, or a playground, after all, and suppose.....you cannot die. There is no way, no matter what kind of effort you put into it, that you can die or even regress in your understanding of life.
These are two lightweight little assumptions that we can try on for size. If they don't fit right now feel free to lay them aside. But to find out if they do fit, sooner or later we do have to try them on.
Suppose this show really is being run by an intelligence, an intelligent intelligence, not an unintelligent or cruel sideshow puppeteer. Something that knew what it was doing. Wouldn't the keys to the kingdom be given to those that could be trusted to use them intelligently? And wouldn't those who could not now be trusted be brought to a point, through their experiences in the sandbox and on the playground, to where they could be trusted? With nobody left out? Nobody.
Suppose that the way the world appears to human life is there to keep us occupied while we find out what is really going on. There are millions and millions of ways of finding this out--as many ways as there are people. There is also the easy way and the hard way, depending on the nature of the tenacity of one to have it his own way. Suppose that to discover that there is just one way is to discover, really, that there is just one thing going on that is infinitely better than anything dreamable up by any human being.
Those stars up there are just visual aids. That is just the physical universe.
Suppose that the price of admission is the willingness to lay aside all the views that the world is a hole and concentrate one's attention on morality. And be willing to entertain an open mind to the notion that something very different is going on from what we have all been taught all our lives. Something very, very good.
Everything we see and know conspires against this view. Precisely so. Until every belief in the contrary is destroyed by the flames of hell. Or what seems like hell at the time.
Sartre says that hell is other people. So it seems. What perfect material to fashion a ladder to the stars. That belief in particular must be thoroughly destroyed, before what that little pronoun "I" refers to can be clearly seen.
The journey to the stars is entirely inward. You must conquer every inclination to hate, destroy, injure, or use.
The love that is there must be allowed to pour forth.
The price of admission is enormous you say. Ah, but the prize...
Suppose that what we call the physical universe is really a metaphor. Suppose that, at its best, it really can only hint at the reality that is right at hand, which we shall all see, each of us in his own good time. Suppose that the journey to the stars, which we shall surely accomplish, is itself only a metaphor, and that they hang in our sky as visual aids, twinkling with the guarantee of the reward for the battle well fought.
Suppose, suppose, suppose.....Bull Shit. What we need to see is proof. I am from Missouri: show me, as one of my logic professors in graduate school used to say.
I went to graduate school in St. Louis, where the Philosophy of Science Journal was edited. Those fellows weren't kidding around. One had to hide with embarrassment if he believed in anything so empirically unprovable as a mind. I mean the logical positivists and behaviorists held the power in that department. And if you meekly held the ontological positions I ran my life by you very quickly proved yourself to be an angel by walking on air all the time.
The way I communicated what I had to say with the philosophers of science and logicians was in poker. Poker we all knew, and understood, and respected.
We all would bring a fifth, or thereabouts, to somebody's house once or twice a month, me and the positivists, except for a rabbi who taught Kant, Averroes, and Jewish studies, and he couldn't play poker worth a damn. As my father used to say around the house I grew up in, this was showdown; because I certainly couldn't do logic, and they knew it. Well, you prove yourself in different ways in this life.
The more we drank the more we made the game more interesting. A special favorite was seven card highball/lowball stud, where the guy with the highest hand and the guy with the lowest hand would split the pot. To this I introduced the concept of "tiddling." I don't know where the idea came from, but it seemed a good idea for people to get an extra card for a buck or two, to sort of round out their hand, so I began to ask people, when it was my deal, if they wanted to tiddle, i.e., did they want another card. It would cost them one dollar for an extra card face up, two for a card face down. It made a world of difference to our game.
Then we got into double tiddling, where you double the cost of the second card, and so it went up geometrically....
I think this had a certain intrigue for guys who were studying what was wrong with set theory in mathematics.
It had an intrigue for me because I was winning left and right, largely due to the fact that I was drinking rotgut scotch and soda, and was so loose I was able to stay on the bucking horse our game had become with the screwed up odds.
There was a great equalizer in those games, when I would lean over in the heat of the drama, of an almost-full-house plus sixty-four-lowball hand and ask my chairman of the logic exam on my qualifying exams for my Ph.D. whether he wanted to tiddle.
I remember locking horns with our top gun in logic, a fellow named Joe Ullian. Ullian was a guy who was an ace in the front lines of computer logic; he was always being asked by corporations to help them design the language for their computers. I can remember when he gave a colloquium on the topic, "Automata Less Bright than Turing Machines," I think. I was very impressed with how very much I didn't know at the time. Ullian had a fondness for calling me Peter Rabbit, because I liked to hunt rabbits in the Missouri countryside. I had a fondness for telling Ullian that logicians assumed everything they proved, under my breath.
Ullian had gotten himself into a position of having to go all the way in a game that I had called "indefinite tiddles." You could tiddle indefinitely, but at each extra card the cost went up geometrically. Ullian was gambling that the card he needed was still in the deck; he was also an expert bridge player and counted cards.
The stars were with me that night because the last card was the one he wanted, and he probably would have paid me if he had lost.
What we are talking about here is nothing less than the fourth dimension. By this I do not mean something metaphorical. I mean that my efforts in this class are one and all, directly or indirectly, aimed at getting you to see and begin to understand just what the fourth dimension is.
If this sounds a little spacey for you that's because it is. Fear not. My wife calls me her little space cadet, and she still loves me.
The reason that yells and screams from the third dimension to the fourth dimension are troublesome is because the relationship between the third and fourth dimensions has to be understood in order for claims made in the fourth to make sense to understanding in the third. In other words it is sometimes hard to prove things that are true in terms of fourth-dimensional understanding to thought that is limited to a third-dimensional view of the world. Imagine trying to explain three-dimensional matters to thought that is hypnotically locked into the belief that things are two-dimensional. Space? Time? Three-dimensional objects? Bullshit. I'm from Missouri; show me that there is something more than a flat surface.
We are talking about the dimension of Spirit, which is the fourth dimension after all.
Immediately I want to assure you that I am fully aware of the history of this overworked and abused concept. The history of thought concerning matters of the spirit has left us a Pandora's Box the size of the Titanic in terms of a legacy of superstition, spiritualism, witchcraft, astrology, and most recently, parapsychological phenomena. None of these is what I am talking about. Each of these areas hints at some interesting flashes of what is going on; none of them comes anywhere near to seeing the enormity of the reality that is controlling the events in the sandbox.
The apostle John saw it clearly when he said that God is Love. He was ready to see it. John wrote the book of Revelation. There is some scholarly dispute about that, but, nevertheless, he is the one who wrote it. What I propose to lead you to in this class is nothing short of an understanding of what that entertaining little book is about.
Revelation Revelation was written in code during the time of the Roman persecution of the early Christians, so that the Romans wouldn't know what he was talking about. The coded references are to the Old Testament, literature that the people of that day were intimately familiar with. So the people he wrote the book of Revelation for could easily understand the meaning of his coded symbols, whereas the Romans could not. The book of Revelation makes absolutely no sense, it is utterly incoherent, unless you understand the meaning of this code. Today, it is finally understood, or re-understood.
Revelation is a description of the changes in consciousness that occur, or are likely to occur, when the shift in our thinking between the third and fourth dimensions happens. It is the essence of what happens to thought when it is "reborn," as Jesus put it.
It should be clearly understood that what happens in this process is in no way an accepting of the man Jesus into one's life. Rather, it is what happens when one recognizes the spiritual reality that Jesus Christ, the man, was talking about and leading us toward. This spiritual reality is at hand, and it has laws, which any human being can comprehend, and which will put one directly in harmony with it.
Not until one has achieved that harmony can he fully understand it.
Miracles, or what the Greek word calls "marvels," are nothing more or less than the demonstration or proof of this reality to thought that is in the third dimension by thought that is in the fourth dimension.
"Proof" means a very different sort of thing, therefore, when one enters these reaches of spiritual space. To scream and yell for evidence in third-dimensional, or what we call today scientific terms, is just like asking God to come down and piss in our back yard. There is a way of approaching the man upstairs, but he insists that we be polite; he doesn't want to encourage us to be rude. That seems, prima facie, a pretty reasonable spiritual law. Especially if the kind of laws we are talking about are certain, precise, and demonstrable. They have to be the kind of things that are learnable, like mathematical laws, which means they don't change on you and make exceptions for, say, impulsiveness or anger.
On the other hand, proof is a very reasonable request by earnest seekers of truth. When one's thought has been well enough prepared by one's little experiences in the sandbox, and one earnestly yearns to enter real life and leave the playground, this is identical with what it means to be an earnest seeker of truth. How many of your toys in the sandbox are you willing to part with in return for it? When you are genuinely tired of being confined to the sandbox you will be prepared to leave it. You will know it. When you are ready to leave those toys you will be able to walk away from them and never look back. All you need is the assurance that there is something to walk toward, a real world out there that is beyond the playground; you need to see something, anything, that will cause you to see that the playground isn't it. That assurance, or proof, will come, exactly when you are ready for it, exactly when you are ready to be free. This is an element of what perfection means in descriptions of heaven: the timing will be perfect, and not something you would want to interrupt with your own ideas. This, too, is a reason why music is the word that most often describes heaven: the timing and the events of your life unfold in incredibly perfect sequence.
For me it was like the way that I was brought to Frazer. I know I have described Frazer Montana in a perfectly horrible way. But you must understand: Frazer is not the town; it is the country around the town. This is the Missouri Breaks country. For my tastes it is the most indescribably beautiful country I have ever laid eyes on. The Indians don't care about the town because they don't live in the town. They live in the wind, in the Big Sky, in the endless sagebrush. A car body in the yard is no more than a freckle on a beautiful face.
This is the land of my dreams, and I must remind you that it found me; I didn't find it. There is no way in the world I could have found this place. A telephone called me and asked if my wife wanted to teach in the wilds of Montana while I did my book. I knew that that was the call, and without ever checking it out we had loaded up a U-Haul truck and glided out here, to the house that was waiting here for us.
This is the part of the Missouri River that they write about in books like The Big Sky. The river is awesomely beautiful. It is lined with cottonwoods that rustle in the wind, but otherwise it is quiet and alone. It is so big that the Canadian geese that are on the other side don't get up when you walk along the bank.
My wife and I have never been happier; we live together in our little house that is thoroughly protected from the winter. It's mid-October now, and the storms that will come whistling down off that Canadian prairie will be with us soon. I love a good storm. There is nothing better than having a good place to hide when a storm comes.
Accepting the thought that the playground is not all there is, if one is truly longing to see what is real, is identical to accepting the proposition that evil is not real.
This is a very hard thing for most of us to accept, because the appearances so flatly contradict the claim. Those appearances are what are evil; and they exist in human thought only. The belief that evil exists is identical in truth value to the claim that the earth is flat. The belief in evil, in all forms in which it can present itself to human consciousness, is what the New Testament refers to as the devil. Not evil itself; the appearance or belief in evil. That is what is evil. That is what the devil is composed of. And the belief has one power in human life only--to destroy itself, until there is not the slightest trace of evidence of its remaining whatsoever. Then and only then is one's thought prepared to comprehend the reality that is right at hand.
To those of you who are prepared to entertain and eventually accept this proposition, your reward will be the ability to destroy the appearance of evil, in whatever form it takes. To those of you who find this proposition unacceptable, outrageous, or immoral, I am entirely in sympathy with your point of view. But, to you I would pose this question. Suppose there is a one-thousand-to-one possibility that what I am saying is true: that as a result of your willingness to put aside your own beliefs and earnestly pursue the possibility that evil may be a false apparition, you would be given the power to correct misfortune, heal sickness and injury, and bring happiness to countless people around you. Suppose, in other words, that in return for your humility you would be given the power to destroy the appearance that is so much misery and distress in human life. I ask you: how much do you love? Do you love your own opinions more than the possibility that this might be true? Do you love your own way of looking at the world more than your friend who is sick or injured? These are hard questions that require going into one's own closet to ponder. I will not belabor them, except to say that you are beginning to get a picture of how the ideal, or the ethical, can become the real, very dramatically and very quickly.
Well then, those of you who are still in the class, now you know what rapids are like. You may find that the waters on this trip are more like the river in The African Queen, but remember that the whole struggle is internal to your own thought, and the bad parts will seem like so many moments of a bad dream which really made the trip far more interesting.
Remember, too, that the guy talking to you about this river has been up and down it a hundred times. He knows good beaches to pull the raft out and take it easy. He knows how to pack food, plastic jars for your cigarettes if you smoke, and how to keep the beer or pop cold. His sole interest is that you have a good trip and get there safely.
I have always tried to follow Socrates' example in teaching. Socrates called himself a midwife. He aided in the delivery of his students' ideas. They gave birth to them; he merely aided in the delivery. The remarks I make to you in this class are merely the occasion for the birth of your own ideas. Let me try to show you what I mean.
When your concern really is for the responsibility you have been given it can lead to trouble. Trouble for me came in the teaching of writing at my college.
I believe that people already know how to think and write.....if you let them. Just like a mother instinctively knows best how to give birth to her baby, if you let her, i.e., if you remove the atmosphere of fear. Similarly, a good psychiatrist intuitively knows how to heal by simply presenting an atmosphere that is free from the condition of fear.
My opinion is not shared by the academic world generally, and I have found it good form to keep it to myself, on pain of offending a "teacher of writing." I was raised in the world of academic writing--both of my parents were involved in it, one as a college professor and the other as a professional writer for magazines. I grew up in the company of people like Leslie Fiedler, Walter van Tilberg Clark, and Dorothy Johnson.
I still think Socrates had the right idea: I have seen it proven all too often. A kid comes into my office to talk about his paper, i.e, to try and find a way of escaping the fear of committing himself publicly on paper. The last thing you do is flog the kid with a bunch of rules and goals. Rules, goals, and assignments are supports like crutches until he emerges fully confident of his own ability to find the images that best convey his thought. He knows how to do this better than anybody else. So as much as possible you stay away from it and let him develop it....without fear of prosecution.
The trust that is built up is very much like that found in good psychotherapy, in which the therapist provides an environment where, perhaps for the first time, the patient has an opportunity to expose his tender little sprouts--so he can see what they are made of and whether he wants to keep them. You provide exactly the opposite environment from a combat zone in the office or the classroom, therefore, and the respect for each person's right to his own feelings is sacrosanct. Any child knows the simple truth that you can elicit what a person genuinely feels only if he genuinely trusts you. To elicit that trust you convey how much you are willing to put on the line for him. Then you have a relationship that is worth keeping, and, in writing, you have a situation where you can get something done.
For me, this meant sustaining a continuous state of implicitly affirming untruth to be exactly what it is...untruth. This can get one in a great deal of trouble if he isn't sneaky enough. How do you tell students that a teacher's writing comments on academic papers in college is an act of total egotism? The student has certainly read enough good writing to recognize effective communication. He is already far too painfully sensitive to his own felt limitations. You don't aggravate with branding irons...you let... You let him find his own first image, or sentence, or paragraph that means something to him. He will follow the star that comes with the recognition that he can express himself after all. Let him...follow his star exactly as far as he needs to or wants to; he is far more intimately acquainted with what he has to say than the midwife who is helping him.
How do you explain to an administration or a faculty that a computer exists to serve man, not vice versa? In my college one always received in his mail a computerized sheet that informed the instructor of how many A's, B's, etc. he gave in comparison to all his colleagues, taken as a group. I would find myself at the end of a semester fighting the impulse to grade a borderline case down from an 'A' to a 'B', or from a 'B' to a 'C', because my grading was going to look inflated. It was a real day of freedom for me when that consideration no longer entered my mind.
Late papers in my circumstance were a necessity. Because of the nature of our subject matter in philosophy, a student would fight it, put it off, and confess in the end that he hadn't the courage to do it. It was crucial that I be able to be flexible on deadlines for pedagogical reasons: this was an prime area of testing for trust.
Again, the hard place behind that rock was the computer, which featured a disposition to be fairly categorical in such matters. In teaching you always find yourself in these predicaments: do you care more about me or the system; do you care more about your job or the appearance of doing your job; do you love security, or do you love the truth? The cry, "I'm from Missouri; show me!" is never heard more loudly than here. This is what moral proof consists of.
I, of course, tried to weasel. I accepted grateful late papers in droves. Late papers were normal papers in my classes. I can remember one year where I received one paper on the due date in a class where there were a hundred and twenty in both sections.
Word of that sort of thing gets around.
Our first semester ended at Christmastime, and I would be getting papers in the mail through Christmas Eve and even, a couple of times, on New Year's Day. Well, grades had been due long before this. And I had already turned in my grades for all my classes. I had made agreements with some of the students, who were to turn in their papers past the deadline for all the grades to be in, just what the quality of their papers was going to be.
And they didn't let me down.
Except for one guy my last year there. He owed me papers from three different courses he was taking from me that last semester, but was killed in a car wreck just after the semester ended. I didn't ask the school to change his grades.