Brain Pickings

Alan Watts on Death, in a Beautiful Animated Short Film

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“Think about that for a while — it’s kind of a weird feeling when you really think about it…”

Philosopher and writer Alan Watts (1915-1973) is best-known for authoring the cult-classic The Way of Zen and popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West alongside John Cage. In this hauntingly beautiful animation based on a Watts lecture, produced by Luke Jurevicius and directed by Ari Gibson and Jason Pamment, Watts considers what death might be, exploring the notion of nonexistence and pitting it as “the necessary consequence of what we call being” — something he examines in greater depth in his indispensable book The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (public library).

UPDATE: A reader points out that the animation comes from a video for “Sometimes the Stars” by Australian band The Audreys from their 2010 debut album of the same title. What you see here is a mashup of the video and an Alan Watts recording.

What’s it gonna be like, dying? To go to sleep and never, never, never wake up.

Well, a lot of things it’s not gonna be like. It’s not going to be like being buried alive. It’s not going to be like being in the darkness forever.

I tell you what — it’s going to be as if you never had existed at all. Not only you, but everything else as well. That just there was never anything, there’s no one to regret it — and there’s no problem.

Well, think about that for a while — it’s kind of a weird feeling when you really think about it, when you really imagine.

Complement with Watts on our illusion of separateness and his poignant probing of what you would do if money were no object.

For a closer look at his philosophy on death, and how “death and life imply each other,” here is some rare footage of Watts speaking in the 1950s:

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Grapefruit: Yoko Ono’s Poems, Drawings, and Instructions for Life

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“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.”

In 1964, more than a decade after the publication of her tender story An Invisible Flower, Yoko Ono collected a selection of her poetic meditations on life in a small but whimsical book published in Tokyo in a limited edition of 500. More than thirty years later, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings by Yoko Ono (public library) — part irreverent activity book for grown-ups, part subversive philosophy for life — was republished, with a new introduction by Ono herself. Here’s just a small taste of this immensely delightful tiny treasure:

A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.

AIR TALK

It’s sad that the air is the only thing we share.
No matter how close we get to each other,
there is always air between us.

It’s also nice that we share the air,
No matter how far apart we are
the air links us.

from Lisson Gallery brochure ’67

MIRROR PIECE

Instead of obtaining a mirror,
obtain a person.
Look into him.
Use different people.
Old, young, fat, small, etc.

1964 spring

MAP PIECE

Draw an imaginary map.
Put a goal mark on the map where you
want to go.
Go walking on an actual street according
to your map.
If there is no street where it should be
according to the map, make one by putting
the obstacles aside.
When you reach the goal, ask the name of
the city and give flowers to the first
person you meet.
The map must be followed exactly, or the
event has to be dropped altogether.

Ask your friends to write maps.
Give your friends maps.

1962 summer

CITY PIECE

Step in all the puddles in the city.

1963 autumn

COLOR PIECE

Visual world not exactly shaped —
Sense of smell, anticipation, senses that
are not exactly shaped —
Dark shadows casted —
Rat colors with faint hairly smells and pale
dark spots like those on a transparent sheet
of celluloid —
Rose color with a glitter and softness that
is cool and motional —
The kind of color that does not exist by
itself but only when it is casted between
two moving objects —
The color like a remaining stain of illusion
on a moving object —
The color that only happens when movements
cut the air in a certain way and go immediately.
Use such color to tint your absent thoughts.
Have absent thoughts for a long time.

1964 summer

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Illusionist Derren Brown on the Psychology of Gullibility

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Why trust is the antidote to cynicism and how our false mental patterns serve us.

Carl Sagan once made an eloquent case for balancing skepticism and openness as to avoid gullibility — but what, exactly, makes one gullible? In this short video from Open University — who gave us those wonderful 60-second animations of famous thought experiments and religious theoriesNigel Warburton of Philosophy Bites fame talks to English illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown about the psychology of gullibility.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s the more trusting people that actually emerge as less gullible. They obviously get fooled, as we all do… but they tend to be very good at learning from those experiences where they have been duped, they tend not to generalize it over everybody and then to start being cynical about everything, which then makes them more effective socially.

For more on the art and science of beguiling, see On Deception, the fantastic anthology of Harry Houdini’s writings, recently republished with a foreword by Brown himself.

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