Are we separate?

I recently stopped reading Alan Watts’ book, “The Book”, after he asserted that man is “incapable of pleasure and contentment” while experiencing the world as a collection of separate people and objects. I find this assertion absurd. But the larger thrust of the book, that we aren’t separate objects and people, is actually starting to seem logical, even appealing. More below the fold.

(I have four books on my desk, three of which I’ve read, one of which I’m actively reading. How did this happen? How did I become a bookworm?)

I define reality as that which continues to exist in the absence of language. I chose this definition because it represents all other definitions fully. It’s comprehensive, brief, and elegant. It’s beautiful. I also believe that this definition of reality is the most effective definition to use if we’re going to build a world that works for everyone. There are other valid and logical definitions, but I choose to use this one, because it’s the most useful for my goals.

The laws of physics are, under this definition, real. They went a very long time without being discussed, and after the last conversation happens, they’ll keep on going until they stop–but their ceasing will have nothing to do with the fact that no one is talking about them.

We perceive ourselves as separate beings, and objects as separate from each other. But as far as physics is concerned, there’s no separation: the separation is only in language. All physics sees is interactions between particles and energy. Physics doesn’t care if it’s a gas, liquid, or solid: it just does what it does, completely consistently.

Alan Watts points out that a person can’t be analyzed or understood except in the context of their society–the people with whom they interact–and that therefore we should not regard ourselves as separate entities. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but he’s definitely made an important observation. You cannot understand me, nor I you, without understanding our interactions and relationships with others. While I don’t remember reading that in Games People Play, it seems to be the context around transactional analysis: understanding people means understanding their interactions.

So here’s the question: how useful is it, in a conversation about the nature of reality, to include clarification that objects and people aren’t as separate as we naturally perceive them to be?

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