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The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Book Summary – Alan Watts

What you will learn from reading ‘The Book’ Evolved:

– The importance of comparisons and how nothing can be defined without it being related to its environment.

– The significance of an all encompassing view to life rather than a separated attitude.

– How to break away from your ego and not let it take control of your life.

The Book – Book Summary:

Honestly I found this a very hard book to summarise. A lot of Alan Watts’ wisdom is intwined in philosophical and sometimes inconceivable examples. This however does not mean that there isn’t anything to take away from it, in the contrary.  

Alan Watts describes a new way to look at the world. Instead of picturing ourselves as a single entity separate from everything else, he reveals the hidden truth, that we are all interconnected and at one with one another. 

The trouble with today’s societal views is that anything that sounds remotely ‘spiritual’ and doesn’t have any scientific backing is seen as rubbish, however, we need to remember that philosophy comes before science. When everyone believed the world was flat, there were the few that philosophised that the world could be round, and therefore came the science to back it up. 
I believe it to be highly important to take on this notion of everything being interconnected, especially with today’s climate. In a world where a tree is seen as a product, where our land is seen as money and where people are so inclined to compete with one another that they will sacrifice their own wellbeing, we miss the real point to living. We have been born with filters over our eyes that constrict us to seeing the world in a linear way. Luckily Alan Watts provides the material for us to wake up and start living life in the way it should be lived in.


One – Inside Information

Taboos are associations to people, places or things that are prohibited by societal customs.

If this is the case, because society is constantly changing then so are taboos.

Once taboo becomes normal it revels another taboo inside it. The deeper you look the more taboos you find. Like an onion.

When we put rules down in society we are essentially saying there is a right and a wrong. Depending on how wrong something is established whether it is a taboo or not. This means that we are constantly creating taboos by creating rules.

“We do not ‘come into’ this world, we ‘come out’ of it.”

When we come to the realisation that we came out of the universe, then we are made aware of the fact that the world beyond our skin is actually an extension of our own bodies. We aren’t just some separate entity wondering a rock in hope for some sense of life.

Our attitude to conquer nature is essentially an attitude to conquer ourselves, for if we destroy nature we destroy ourselves.

Faith should not be bound to religion as religion acts as a static rule. Static rules don’t have a place in our world as everything is constantly changing. Faith should be an act of trust in the unknown.

When societies create rules they’re normally rooted in separateness. The rules create a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong,’ the right relating to ego and the wrong relating to self-expression. “The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”

The idea of showing off goes against societal norms. People don’t want people showing off as it makes them feel weak, but people confuse the notion of showing off with embracing yourself and your relationship with the world. If someone is confident in themselves it normally means they stand out and are therefore different which goes against the grain. People can see this as showing off and therefore see it as a taboo.


Two – The Game of Black and White

Anything by itself can not be described. Only by comparison can something have value. There is no such thing as up without down, there is no such thing as black without white, there is no such thing as motion without stillness.

For something to have value, it needs to either be compared to its environment.

“The very things that we believe to exist are always on/offs. Ons alone and offs alone do not exist. “

“Space is the relationship between bodies, and without it, there can be neither energy nor motion.”

Change is an illusion. We look at change from a standpoint that it is static and there is potential to change in the future, but we have been changing in the past and will continue to change in the future. A chain of eternal change.

The only constant to change is that it never ends.

We tend to label things and when we do so we attribute an essence of static to them. E.g. white and black, we label them, which then makes them opposites, instead, we should see them as one, they are part of the same spectrum. They both need each other, they’re symbiotic.


Three – How to be a Genuine Fake

Religion used to help people feel more connected to nature and the universe. The concept of god always watching meant people were more aware of how they interacted with the world. Unfortunately, that essence of awareness has gone and people are more detached than ever.

“Today, scientists are more and more aware that what things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If then, the definition of a thing or event must include a definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings. “

Faith—in life, in other people, and in oneself—is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous, in its own way and in its own time.

You can’t force spontaneity, as soon as you do it isn’t spontaneous anymore. The same goes with forcing someone to be genuine, it is a contradiction in itself.

“Nothing fails like success—because the self-imposed task of our society and all its members is a contradiction: to force things to happen which are acceptable only when they happen without force.”

We need our enemies to define who we are. We must learn to include ourselves in the round of cooperations and conflicts, of symbiosis and preying, which constitutes the balance of nature, for a permanently victorious species destroys, not only itself but all other life in its environment.

“In his exaggerated valuation of separate identity, the personal ego is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting, and then getting more and more anxious about the coming crash! To manifest individuality, every branch must have a sensitive connection with the tree.”


Four – The World is Your Body

What we consider as the whole of something is actually a part of the background. The outline of something is the in-line to something bigger.

To describe somethings behaviour you need to describe it in relation to its surroundings behaviour. Nothing stands alone.

The more specificity we use to describe somethings behaviour, the more of its surroundings we have to take into consideration.

The more you zoom in the more corresponding details you encompass. Zooming in and out is eternal.

Our language is designed to attribute movement to verbs and staticity to nouns, this gives us the illusion that the world works in this way when in reality language doesn’t govern the laws of the universe. Everything is relative to each other and so are its motions.

To ‘understand’ something we put parts together, but once they are together they are in relation to its environment and so we realise it is not the whole. The whole is the sum of the parts and the sum of the environment, for we cannot describe something without its environment.


Five – So What?

“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”

“The more we try to behave without greed or fear, the more we realise that we are doing this for greedy or fearful reasons.”

The identity of a group is defined by other groups that hold opposite values. Therefore they rely on them in order to have an identity.

“All winners need losers; all saints need sinners; all sages need fools—that is, so long as the major kick in life is to “amount to something” or to “be someone” as a particular and separate godlet.”

Nothing unites a community more than a common enemy, however that enemy also becomes the essential support of social unity.

“If the Devil did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. “

With the acceptance of the ‘other’, we are able to approach things without hesitancy as we know that we are not separate, we are at one with everything we approach.

“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being. “


Six – IT

“What guarantee is there that the five senses, taken together, do cover the whole of possible experience? They cover simply our actual experience, our human knowledge of facts or events. There are gaps between the fingers; there are gaps between the senses. In these gaps is the darkness which hides the connection between things…. This darkness is the source of our vague fears and anxieties, but also the home of the gods. They alone see the connections, the total relevance of everything that happens; that which now comes to us in bits and pieces, the “accidents” which exist only in our heads, in our limited perceptions. “

Energy has to be described as something that is not non-energy. With that logic, energy doesn’t exist without non-energy. The descriptions we give things allow us to navigate the world, but they aren’t descriptions on the metaphysical level, they are on the surface level. Nothing is anything without its opposite.

Without my comparison/ relationship with someone else, I wouldn’t know where I stand on an issue. It’s like people have different views and when you come into contact with them you mould around them and thus find your position. Your position only exists in relation to

Visually think of it as one of those toys where there are thousands of pins that you can put your hand through to make an outline. It’s like this but constantly changing when you come into the vicinity of someone else.

Because nothing stands alone it means that it is hard to define something without losing details. Our language is constructed in a way that attributes labels to things, and thus in the process detaches them from the context they’re connected to, giving the illusion that it is separate when in reality it is not. 

“When you are dead, you will be as you were before you were conceived. So—there has been a flash, a flash of consciousness or a flash of galaxies.”