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Ego

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"Hang on to your ego. Hang on, but I know that you're gonna lose the fight."

Ego

The following quote opens the classic psychedelic book, The Joyous Cosmology. This book is thought to have had an influence on Brian Wilson and SMiLE. The book attempts, as best it can, to communicate the psychedelic experience through the written word.

"The Joyous Cosmology is a brilliant arrangement of words describing experiences for which our language has no vocabulary. To understand this wonderful but difficult book it is useful to make the artificial distinction between the external and the internal. This is, of course, exactly the distinction which Alan Watts wants us to transcend. But Mr. Watts is playing the verbal game in a Western language, and his reader can be excused for following along with conventional dichotomous models."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.ix.)

What Leary and Alpert are essentially talking about is often referred to as "ego." The "distinction" that Alan Watts wants us to transcend is "ego"; the ego that feels separate from the body that supports it and separate from the universe that surrounds it. Often, "ego" will be expressed by pairs of opposites. "I" and "not-I," "self" and "not-self," are a few of the ways of essentially referring to "ego" without reference to the illusion itself. There are other ways that ego is referred to in this early psychedelic book usually by reference to aspects that lie on either side of the ego (internal/external, mind/body, controller/controlled, knower/known, self/other).

[Ego is referenced in other pages of this website as well. Jim McGuinn of the Byrds talks about "arbitrary barriers" on this page, the Buddha dismissed the illusion of ego by breaking it down into the four elements here, it's claimed that koans break down the ego here, and the same way of thinking that gives us ego may also produce the opposites as discussed here.]

Alan Watts explains how the ego arises.

"The dualism of mind and body arose, perhaps, as a clumsy way of describing the power of an intelligent organism to control itself. It seemed reasonable to think of the part controlled as one thing and the part controlling as another. In this way the conscious will was opposed to the involuntary appetites and reason to instinct. In due course we learned to center our identity, our selfhood, in the controlling part--the mind--and increasingly to disown as a mere vehicle the part controlled. It thus escaped our attention that the organism as a whole, largely unconscious, was using consciousness and reason to inform and control itself. We thought of our conscious intelligence as descending from a higher realm to take possession of a physical vehicle. We therefore failed to see it as an operation of the same formative process as the structure of nerves, muscles, veins, and bones--a structure so subtly ordered (that is, intelligent) that conscious thought is as yet far from being able to describe it."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pgs.4-5.)

"This radical separation of the part controlling from the part controlled changed man from a self-controlling to a self-frustrating organism, to the embodied conflict and self-contradiction that he has been throughout his known history. Once the split occurred conscious intelligence began to serve its own ends instead of those of the organism that produced it. More exactly, it became the intention of the conscious intelligence to work for its own, dissociated, purposes."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.5.)

"...the illusion is as real as the hallucinations of hypnosis, and the organism of man is indeed frustrating itself by patterns of behavior which move in the most complex vicious circles. The culmination is a culture which ever more serves the ends of mechanical order as distinct from those of organic enjoyment, and which is bent on self-destruction against the instinct of every one of its members."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.5.)

The ego is seen as quite a troublemaker, but the book maintains there is a way out of this problem.

"Western science is now delineating a new concept of man, not as a solitary ego within a wall of flesh, but as an organism which is what it is by virtue of its inseparability from the rest of the world. But with the rarest exceptions even scientists do not feel themselves to exist in this way. They, and, almost all of us, retain a sense of personality which is independent, isolated, insular, and estranged from the cosmos that surrounds it. Somehow this gap must be closed, and among the varied means whereby the closure may be initiated or achieved are medicines which science itself has discovered, and which may prove to be the sacraments of its religion."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pgs.xvii-xviii.)

"My own main interest in the study of comparative mysticism has been to cut through these tangles and to identify the essential psychological processes underlying those alterations of perception which enable us to see ourselves and the world in their basic unity. I have perhaps had some small measure of success in trying, Western fashion, to make this type of experience more accessible. I am therefore at once gratified and embarrassed by a development in Western science which could possibly put this unitive vision of the world, by almost shockingly easy means, within the reach of many who have thus far sought it in vain by traditional methods."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pgs.11-12.)

Watts is speaking about LSD.

"In the type of experience I am describing, it seems that the superconscious method of thinking becomes conscious. We see the world as the whole body sees it, and for this reason there is the greatest difficulty in attempting to translate this mode of vision into a form of language that is based on contrast and classification."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.50.)

Under the influence of LSD Watts sees the ego for what it's worth.

"There isn't any substantial ego at all. The ego is a kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It's a curlicue, an extra jazz to experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation, a dithering of consciousness which is the same as anxiety."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.72.)

"Of course, to say that life is just a gesture, an action without agent, recipient, or purpose, sounds much more empty and futile than joyous. But to me it seems that an ego, a substantial entity to which experience happens, is more of a minus than a plus. It is an estrangement from experience, a lack of participation. And in this moment I feel absolutely with the world, free of that chronic resistance to experience which blocks the free flowing of life and makes us move like muscle-bound dancers. But I don't have to overcome resistance. I see that resistance, ego, is just an extra vortex in the stream--part of it--and that in fact there is no actual resistance at all. There is no point from which to confront life, or stand against it."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pgs.72-73.)

"Every effort to change what is being felt or seen presupposes and confirms the illusion of the independent knower or ego, and to try to get rid of what isn't there is only to prolong confusion. On the whole, it is better to try to be aware of one's ego than to get rid of it. We can then discover that the "knower" is no different from the sensation of the "known," whether the known be "external" objects or "internal" thoughts and memories."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.85.)

"Our language almost compels us to express this point in the wrong way—as if the "we" that must be sensitive to the organism and respond to it were something apart. Unfortunately our forms of speech follow the design of the social fiction which separates the conscious will from the rest of the organism, making it the independent agent which causes and regulates our actions. It is thus that we fail to recognize what the ego, the agent, or the conscious will is. We do not see that it is a social convention, like the intervals of clock time, as distinct from a biological or even psychological entity. For the conscious will, working against the grain of instinct, is the interiorization, the inner echo, of social demands upon the individual coupled with the picture of his role or identity which he acquires from parents, teachers, and early associates. It is an imaginary, socially fabricated self working against the organism, the self that is biologically grown. By means of this fiction the child is taught to control himself and conform himself to the requirements of social life."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.89.)

"The mystical experience, whether induced by chemicals or other means, enables the individual to be so particularly open and sensitive to organic reality that the ego begins to be seen for the transparent abstraction that it is."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.90.)

It is interesting to note that there are "other means" to access the mystical experience. What are these other means?

"But what are the stimuli necessary and sufficient to overthrow the domination of the conceptual and to open up the "potential forms of consciousness"? There are many. Indian philosophers have described hundreds of methods. So have the Japanese Buddhists. The monastics of our Western religions provide more examples. Mexican healers and religious leaders from South and North American Indian groups have for centuries utilized sacred plants to trigger off the expansion of consciousness. Recently our Western science has provided, in the form of chemicals, the most direct techniques for opening new realms of awareness."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.xi.)

"Eventually, the logical conceptual mind turns on itself, recognizes the foolish inadequacy of the flimsy systems it imposes on the world, suspends its own rigid control, and overthrows the domination of cognitive experience."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.x.)

"Thus appears the fifth freedom--freedom from the learned, cultural mind. The freedom to expand one's consciousness beyond artificial cultural knowledge. The freedom to move from constant preoccupation with the verbal games--the social games, the game of self--to the joyous unity of what exists beyond."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.x.)

'"Clearly, nothing can be done by the mind, by the conscious will, so long as this is felt to be something apart from the total organism. But if it were felt otherwise, nothing would need to be done! A very small number of Eastern gurus, or masters of wisdom, and Western psychotherapists have found--rather laborious--ways of tricking or coaxing the organism into integrating itself--mostly by a kind of judo, or "gentle way," which overthrows the process of self-frustration by carrying it to logical and absurd extremes. This is pre-eminently the way of Zen, and occasionally that of psychoanalysis. When these ways work it is quite obvious that something more has happened to the student or patient than a change in his way of thinking; he is also emotionally and physically different; his whole being is operating in a new way."'-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pgs.7-8.)

"The practice of Taoism or Zen in the Far East is therefore an undertaking in which the Westerner will find himself confronted with many barriers erected quite deliberately to discourage idle curiosity or to nullify wrong views by inciting the student to proceed systematically and consistently upon false assumptions to the reductio ad absurdum."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.11.)

Watts definitely seems to be referring to something along the lines of Zen's koan, Zen's riddle. Watts goes on to directly relate this reductio ad absurdum to the effects of mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin.



Brian Wilson had an LSD flashback in a bookstore.

"Moving slowly into the aisles, I concentrated on reading the book titles and their authors. In the philosophy section, I paged through books by Satre, Camus, Kant. I tried the religion section and picked up the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the I Ching. I stared at the pages, tried to read, but the letters all vibrated on the pages and I couldn't make sense of anything."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pg.128.)

Brian's inability to "make sense of anything" made things worse.

"Suddenly, the inside of my brain undulated and sent a wave-like shiver through my body. A tremendous rush of anxiety poured through me. Paranoia. An attack of some kind. I freaked out that there was too much knowledge confronting me. I was being overwhelmed by all the information contained in the books on the shelves. There was no way I could ever know everything. I panicked."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pgs.128-129.)

Brian's panic is rooted in his urgent need to "know everything." His conscious intelligence (the knower) cannot know everything; the controller cannot control everything.

"The room began to spin. I was in the center of a giant spinning top. Turning, turning, turning. The moment was completely surreal. Then I saw the books melting down the shelves, dripping like wax down the side of a candle. I extended my arms, wanting to run my hands through the information, wanting to stain my skin with words written by mankind's greatest minds. But all I felt was air. The knowledge was eluding me."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pg.129.)

"As the buzz subsided into a manageable burned-out sensation, I remembered Loren once explaining that hallucinations were comparable to Zen riddles, mysteries full of meaning. What had mine meant? I had driven to the bookstore, looking for what? Inspiration? Instead, I'd seen books melting, unable to grasp the knowledge contained in them. If that was a riddle, I wanted to know the solution."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pg.129.)

The solution to Brian's riddle was found when he dropped acid for a third, and final, time. Brian overcame the problem of ego. He no longer needed to know more information.

"...the transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.11.)

Brian wished to pass this positive experience onto the world.

"...I remembered Loren once explaining that hallucinations were comparable to Zen riddles, mysteries full of meaning."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pg.129.)

SMiLE could be a riddle/hallucination used to awaken listeners to the ego illusion.

"...the (ego) illusion is as real as the hallucinations of hypnosis, and the organism of man is indeed frustrating itself by patterns of behavior which move in the most complex vicious circles."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.5.)

"Eventually, the logical conceptual mind turns on itself, recognizes the foolish inadequacy of the flimsy systems it imposes on the world, suspends its own rigid control, and overthrows the domination of cognitive experience."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.x.)

The solution to Brian's hallucination/riddle was for Brian to realize the limitations of his conscious intelligence and find new paths to understanding.

"...transformation of the self is only through realizing or feeling God."-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.7.)

Through SMiLE Brian would try to communicate his greater understanding.



Home | Introduction | A New Interpretation of SMiLE | Zen and Pet Sounds | The Elements | The Koan
Bio Based SMiLE | The Opposites | Ego | Zen and The Beatles' Revolver | East Or West Indies | Cool Links

The Good Humor SMiLE Site!


"The recognition of the love aspects of the mystical experience and the implications for new forms of social communication are especially important."-Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.xiv.)

"Their idea is to love us into submission....As they see it, our society, while apparently healthy and certainly bountiful, is in a deep crisis of values. They are hoping for a return to the human centered community they feel modern life has moved away from. And they think that they, together with other young people like them, are forming a model upon which that society can be constructed."-David Oppenheim, from Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution


This webpage is dedicated to Bob Hanes
Bill Tobelman
william.tobelman@snet.net

""I recall the words of an ancient Tantric scripture: "As waves come with water and flames with fire, so the universal waves with us."'-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology, (pg.73.)


"Moving slowly into the aisles, I concentrated on reading the book titles and their authors. In the philosophy section, I paged through books by Satre, Camus, Kant. I tried the religion section and picked up the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the I Ching. I stared at the pages, tried to read, but the letters all vibrated on the pages and I couldn't make sense of anything."-Brian Wilson, Wouldn't It Be Nice, (pg.128.)

If Brian were to try to bring this SAME experience to SMiLE listeners then Van Dyke Parks' lyrics would have to express something very literary & classical in feel reminding listeners of titles and authors.

"So when Brian and I started to work, I was was going to pretend like I'd read ee cummings, the great Beat poets, Walt Whitman and we were were going to make this..."-Van Dyke Parks quoted in "SMiLE? Don't Mind If I Do...." MOJO, Mar.2004:48.