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§ 1 Introduction................................................................... 2
Impulse & Idea
§ 2 First Steps................................................................... 23
Imagination & Reality
§ 3 Lofting........................................................................ 44
Theory & Reality
§ 4 Frame & Backbone......................................................... 66
Structure & Freedom
§ Planking...................................................................... !2
Rationality & "reati#ity
§ 6 Fitting Out .................................................................. 1$1
%art & &hole
§ ' Emergence .................................................................. 12$
Form & %attern
§ ! Launcing..................................................................... 14
()straction & *+perience
§ , First !orning................................................................. 16!
Separation & Relationship
§ 1$ Out to Sea-------------------1,!
Relationship & Intuition
" #
Te Impulse and te Idea
I remem)er .hen I .as /uite a small child ga0ing up at the s1y at night and
.ondering -
I had to .al1 up to the end o2 the road3 .here the .aste ground )egan3 to see the
night s1y clearly. 4earer to home the orange glo. o2 the sodium street lamps .as
enough to a)sor) and o#er.helm the 2ee)le light 2rom the stars. 5o.e#er many
millions o2 light years it may ha#e tra#elled on its 6ourney the last 2e. yards .ere too
much 2or it. That orange glo. also turned the colour2ul and 2amiliar su)ur)an .orld
into a mysterious place o2 monochrome shapes that seemed to turn in on themsel#es3 no
longer .illingly o22ered to my )oyhood curiosity. In the daylight the .orld .as mine3
)ut it night it .as occupied .ith other things and no longer .elcomed me.
(t the top o2 the cul de sac .here .e li#ed the street lamps came to an a)rupt
end3 and only a rough stone trac1 lead on )et.een scru))y ha.thorn )ushes and an
o#ergro.n 2ield. It .as the scene o2 many games and ad#entures3 a place .here small
)oys and their imaginations .ere 2ree to play7 )ut at night3 in dar1ness and silence )oth
I and my imagination .ere gripped )y a .ary timidity that I 2elt else.
I2 I 2elt )ra#e enough I might .al1 on 2urther3 under the #iaduct that carried the
)y8pass and up the hill to the .oods .here ne. mysteries )egan. 5ere the dar1ness .as
close and immediate3 and 2ull o2 small sounds and acti#ity. I 2elt a 2ear .hich I
gradually learnt to o#ercome3 or perhaps 6ust to hold at a little distance 2rom mysel2. In
the .oods I 2elt rather large3 conspicuous3 not sure o2 .hat un.elcome attention I might
9ut out in the open3 )eyond the orange glo.3 it .as the s1y that I .as more
a.are o2 than anything else: )lac1 s1y3 deep emptiness o2 space .ithout su)stance3 and
stars. The stars ha#e al.ays )een a source o2 endless .onder3 .hich I 2elt as a child in
an intensely personal .ay ; their #ariety and their constancy3 their 2amiliarity and
their inaccessi)ility. (ll theories a)out them are so )i0arre and e+tra#agant3 so la#ish
.ith num)ers3 .ith distance and .ith time7 )ut it is the space )et.een the stars .here
.onder turns to a.e3 .here theory and 1no.ledge 2alter3 .here no num)ers3 no
thought3 can reach.
I remem)er the 2eeling: something li1e #ertigo3 li1e loss o2 my grip on the
2amiliar3 or rather loss o2 the 2amiliar itsel2 ; e#erything I 1ne. had e#aporated and
there .as nothing to hold7 li1e suddenly )ecoming a.are that a .ell 1no.n path that I
s1ipped happily along each day .as actually on the edge o2 a cli223 or .orse3 .as
actually made only o2 the spun 2ilaments o2 my imagination3 so that i2 I ceased to hold
the image it .ould #anish. ( di00y mi+ture o2 panic and paralysis gripped my legs3 my
stomach and my head simultaneously.
I don<t remem)er 2inding .ords to put to this 2eeling: the inade/uacy3 the
impossi)ility o2 .ords3 .ere part o2 the 2eeling. (s I gre. older the .ords came more
easily3 i2 no more ade/uately. They emerged slo.ly3 )egan to e+press /uestions that 2or
elusi#e moments almost seemed to catch the sense o2 .onder. 9ut in the 2ace o2 the
night s1y .onder slips at the speed o2 light out o2 the grasp o2 /uestions. The .ords
that remain )ehind3 li1e 6etsam )o))ing in the .a1e o2 a .ind8dri#en ship3 might )e
something li1e this: =&here is the edge3 the limit o2 all this> &here is the )oundary that
could contain it all and gi#e hope that it might in the end )e managea)le3 1no.a)le3
comprehensi)le> (nd .hat i2 there is no )oundary3 no end3 so that the 2all 2rom the
1no.n .ill ne#er stop> (nd another thought: .hat i2 all this didn’t e+ist ; i2 there
.ere nothing> &hy should there )e anything3 anything at all> (nd .hy li1e this ->?
(nd later3 more simply3 .ith an adult sense o2 economy3 the /uestion )ecame more
2leeting: an occasional helpless gesture ; =&hat is it all a)out>?
It )ecame a sort o2 game3 that I .ould sometimes play in )ed at night .aiting
2or sleep3 a 1ind o2 metaphysical #ersion o2 @chic1en<3 li1e seeing ho. near the edge o2
a cli22 you dare go3 to e+perience the heady terror o2 #ertigo )ut still manage to pull
)ac1 and sa#our )eing ali#e. The game )egan .ith ta1ing something #ery simple3 li1e
the .ardro)e in the corner o2 my )edroom3 and imagining it didn<t e+ist. That .as easy3
and got easier .ith practice7 it all got easier .ith practice ; that3 li1e many games3 .as
the point o2 the game. Then I .ould ta1e something more di22icult3 li1e my entire
)edroom. AI3 as player .as allo.ed to continue to e+istB7 then the house3 then the to.n3
the entire island o2 9ritain3 and so on. (t each stage I simply per2ormed the action o2
imagination @5o. .ould things )e i2 that didn<t e+ist>< The steps are easy ; in a .ay
they<re all easy3 e+cept the last one7 li1e getting nearer to the edge o2 the cli22. The last
one is apparently e+actly the same as all the others ; 6ust another step7 e+cept that it<s
impossi)le. The last one is to imagine the .hole uni#erse3 everything that e+ists3
a)solutely e#erything3 including me: o2 all things it<s the easiest to descri)e .ith
certainty3 may)e the only thing that can )e descri)ed unam)iguously: e#erything. Then
you simply ha#e to imagine that it doesn<t e+ist. Try it: )ut don<t cheat3 you ha#e to go
through the stages7 and go )ac1 to the )eginning i2 you lose the intensity o2 it. It<s
impossi)le: )ut at its )est there is that moment o2 #ertigo3 o2 a)solute terror3 the
sensation o2 2alling .ithout /uite 2alling. (nd then the return: the 2resh and #i#id
redisco#ery that all this does e+ist. (ll the more magical )ecause 2or a moment you
1no. that it doesn<t have to e+ist. That<s .hat ma1es it so .onder2ul.
I don<t imagine I .as the only child to 2eel the edge o2 such .ordless3 a.2ul3
.onder. It seems to me no. more li1ely that I .ould ha#e )een an unusual child i2 such
moments had not come to me3 that it is natural3 a part o2 childhood3 )e2ore our minds
)ecome cluttered and distracted3 )e2ore .e ha#e learnt to recognise and stand .ell )ac1
2rom the edge3 to )e #ulnera)le to such moments o2 cosmic #ertigo. I<m not certain3 I
could )e .rong a)out that. "hildren no. do not share these things .ith me3 any more
than I did .ith the gro.n8ups o2 my .orld. (nd it also seems to me that it could )e
harder 2or them to reach the .aste ground )eyond the di22used )lan1et o2 orange street
lamps than it .as 2or me then.
Since that time I ha#e surely gro.n up a little3 put a.ay some o2 my childish
con2usion3 and come to understand something o2 the .ays o2 the .orld. 9ut I ha#e an
uneasy 2eeling that I ha#e lost something3 that along .ith the con2usion and uncertainty
o2 childhood I ha#e also gro.n out o2 the sense o2 .onder and magic that I then 2elt. I
can<t help .ondering no. .hether this loss is ine#ita)le3 a necessary price I must pay
2or .hat I ha#e gained3 or is there something to )e reclaimed3 another .ay o2
up that .ould )e richer in .onder. &as the magic an illusion or some glimpse o2 a
reality 2rom .hich I ha#e since a#erted my adult eyes>
In that child<s sense o2 .onder3 in his impossi)le reach to.ards comprehension3
I .ould see no. one aspect o2 an a)solutely 2undamental human impulse. I see in him a
dri#e3 a need3 that I recognise as .o#en through the .hole 2a)ric o2 his li2e. To try and
la)el this impulse is to reach 2or metaphors and images Aas seems to )e true .hene#er
.e tal1 o2 )ig things3 the most important things3 mysterious thingsB: he needs3 .e might
say3 to get a grip3 to get a handle on things7 to sort things out3 to ma1e some order7 to
2ind a point o2 #ie.3 a perspecti#e3 some secure mental ground to stand on7 he needs to
ma1e sense o2 things.
The .orld .e 2ind oursel#es in is one o2 limitless #ariety: in e#ery moment
there is a richness o2 e+perience that shi2ts and changes3 ne#er remaining constant3
ne#er repeating. This is so3 as 2ar as I can either recollect or speculate3 2rom the #ery
)eginning o2 li2e3 and is no less so no.. (s I gro. older the #ariety seems to )ecome
e#en richer3 2or I continually add a 2und o2 memory and a re2inement o2
discrimination3 o2 2eeling and o2 thought that accompanies and colours each moment o2
e+perience. (nd all these thing interact3 creating ne. shades o2 #ariation3 ne. 2ields
and le#els o2 e+perience. AI also am a.are3 to my horror3 that as I get older I am also
seem more capa)le o2 2eeling bored C that I allo. my .orld to )ecome less rich. Day)e
I ha#e o#erdone it a )it: sense once too .ell made can )ecome #ery monotonous and
li2elessE B
The #ariety and mo#ement o2 things is .onder2ul: )ut it is also someho.
unmanagea)le3 o#er.helming. I2 I let my attention .ander at random .ith the range
and 2lo. o2 e+perience3 in the hope perhaps o2 e+hausting its potential no#elty3 I .ould3
I imagine3 .ander 2or e#er and reach no end3 no conclusion at .hich to rest and ta1e
stoc1. Doreo#er3 as I ha#e come to learn3 I .ould pro)a)ly star#e3 or dro.n3 or )e hit
)y a )us in the meantime. To the practical realist in me it is clear that to sur#i#e I had3
2rom #ery early on3 to do something other than surrender to the endless 1aleidoscope o2
e+perience ; I had to simpli2y things3 to sort out .hat .as o2 particular and immediate
rele#ance to me personally3 to 2ind a .ay o2 seeing that made it rele#ant to me3 to ma1e
some sense o2 it all 2or mysel2.
That short 6ourney to the end o2 the 2amiliar su)ur)an road that I
remem)er so #i#idly .as 2or me a search: I .as on a /uest3 another little step in the
process o2 .hat it might )e anthropologically correct to descri)e as initiation. I 2eel
no. ; the romantic in me 2eels ; that i2 I had li#ed a little more e+otic
then the /uest might ha#e )een more generally ac1no.ledged Aand there .ould ha#e
)een no need to go so 2arB. I2 my roots .ere planted 2irmly in the red soil o2 (2rica3 in
the dry Fut)ac13 the .ind8s.ept Steppes3 the thyme8scented roc1s o2 "rete3 the
&estern Isles ; any.here3 almost3 )ut in the her)aceous )orders o2 su)ur)an Surrey
; then I could ha#e 2ound .hat I sought )y letting my roots gro. longer and deeper3
stronger in their hold and nourishment 2rom mysterious depths. The culture
around me .ould ha#e o22ered me ans.ers3 and pride in those ans.ers3 rather than
incomprehension and a dull sense o2 a too8easy insulation 2rom and energy and
truth. Fh the terri)le lure o2 the e+otic3 .hich .ould so easily )righten the dull
mundanity o2 )eing me3 hereE So ine#ita)ly the continuation o2 the search meant
mo#ement3 loo1ing else3 a pulling up o2 my roots. They didn<t at the time
seem to re/uire much tugging7 may)e that<s one o2 the lessons o2 su)ur)an li2e ; ho.
to 1eep one<s roots shallo.. I ha#e )een trailing them along )ehind me since then3 )ut I
don<t thin1 they<#e really .ithered much: they ta1e easily enough in ne. soil3 .ithout
e#er going #ery deep.
I<m sad that I didn<t 2eel proud o2 my culture3 o2 the place .here I .as )orn. I
.ould not li1e the people .ho surrounded me then ; my o.n parent .ho chose to li#e
there3 the policeman ne+t door3 the school8teacher opposite3 the shop81eepers across the
road3 and .hoe#er li#es in that a#enue no. ; to ta1e it personally. To try to li#e sa2ely
and honestly3 to 2ind pleasure and 6oy in li2e3 doesn<t seem to me to )e .rong - (nd
there seems to )e a natural turn o2 the tide in .hich the attraction o2 the e+otic e))s to
)ecome a nostalgic longing 2or return to the 2amiliar3 .ith o2 course the poetic
possi)ility o2 seeing it 2or the 2irst time.
I suppose I ha#e accepted that lac1 o2 pride as a natural part o2 me e#er since3
.ithout /uestioning that it came 2rom an aspiration 2or something o2 greater depth and
passion. I .onder no. .hether it isn<t the shame itsel2 that constrains rather than
li)erates me ; a perpetuation o2 the adolescent reluctance I used to 2eel to )e seen .ith
my parents3 and that compelled me .al1 at least ten yards )ehind them in the street. It<s
no longer that I don<t .ant to )e seen or associated .ith any o2 them: i2 my parents
could )e here no. I .ould .al1 .ith them .ith )oth 6oy and pride7 )ut in a more su)tle
.ay I may still )e diso.ning the small accidents o2 place and time that 2ormed me.
Dy 2ather .hen he .as a )oy used to .ander alone o#er the 4orthum)rian
moors. 5e disco#ered there a lo#e o2 .ild plants that stayed .ith him all his li2e and
)ecame a deep 1no.ledge. For him the sea .as something that 2ormed a )order and a
limitation to the terrain he lo#ed. I don<t see him then as #ery di22erent to the )oy I .as
later to )e.
&hen he .as married he needed a place to settle3 to .or13 to )ring up children.
The &orld .as at .ar3 and drama and death and heroism and incomprehensi)le
su22ering .ere none o2 them as e+otic and romantic as they may sometimes seem to me.
I2 I ma1e a complaint o2 my security3 and )ecome cynical a)out )eds and red
dou)le8dec1er )uses there is certainly no )lame to )e apportioned )ut to
There .ere shel#es o2 )oo1s ; and no dou)t dreams ; in his study3 as there
are in mine. &e used to go on holiday e#ery year3 .ith three children and .ithout the
car that I ta1e 2or granted I need no.3 and .e 2ound mountains and 2orests3 and )eaches
and islands that .ere as romantic and e+otic as any dreaming )oy could ha#e desired.
5e clim)ed .ith me to 143$$$ 2eet3 .earing our shorts and )ro.n .al1ing shoes. &e
2ound places .ithout paths3 and roc1s and ice3 and ice8cold streams3 and in2inite
distances3 and a gentian o2 a )lueness such as I ha#e ne#er seen since.
Go I really )elie#e that there is such a thing as a su)ur)an soul3 and 2ear that I
might ha#e inherited or ac/uired one mysel2> 5as Hod created a 2e. small corners o2
the Ini#erse .here danger and meaning and passion are e+cluded> I2 I had to lea#e
home to search3 I don<t thin1 it .as truly 2or these things. I2 the lea#ing and the search
.ere important it .as 2or some other reason. Day)e I ha#e gro.n more conscious o#er
the years a)out .hat I .as searching 2or3 )ut I thin1 I actually 1ne. .ell enough then. I
needed to mo#e out )eyond the 2amiliar3 outside the impact and the demand3 the
comple+ity and #i#idness o2 detail in the immediate3 in order to con2ront a .ider
perspecti#e on things3 not )ecause such a perspecti#e .as not e/ually #isi)le 2rom
there3 )ut )ecause it is my 2amiliarity .ith my .orld3 .here#er that may )e3 that )reeds
Dy urge3 my need3 .as to see more clearly3 to see not 6ust o2 the details )ut the
whole thing and ho. it all 2itted together. I .anted to 2ind a )it o2 ground that .as 2ar
enough a.ay to loo1 )ac1 2rom and see .hat I 1ne. in a .ider conte+t. I .anted the
reassurance o2 conte+t3 o2 meaning3 to 1no. .here things .ere coming 2rom and
mo#ing to.ards. I .anted to ma1e sense o2 things. To li#e .ithout a .ide enough
understanding made me uneasy. 5o. could I act3 do anything3 .ithout 2irst
understanding3 ma1ing sense o2 the .orld around me>
9ecause the 2act is I ha#e to act3 e#ery moment o2 e#ery day3 I can<t a#oid doing
something3 ma1ing some 1ind o2 choice3 e#en i2 it<s the nearest I can get to doing
nothing. That simple /uestion3 @.hat shall I do no.><3 has al.ays seemed to me to )e
o2 a)solute and immediate urgency3 a)solutely una#oida)le3 and o2 potentially
impossi)le di22iculty. Ip to a point3 or course3 it doesn<t e#en emerge as a /uestion7
there are all the pressures o2 .hat I e+perience as necessities. AI can<t help 2eeling a )it
.ary a)out my necessities ; .hen I let mysel2 2eel the enormity o2 con2ronting real
2reedom o2 choice then I 2eel a #ery solid suspicion that to )elie#e in a 2e. necessities
is /uite a relie2.B
The pro)lem o2 2reedom is inclined to catch up .ith me3 on any day that I gi#e
it a chance3 at a point that arri#es rather a)ruptly 6ust a2ter )rea12ast. I ha#e ne#er3 I am
glad to say3 )een so depressed that getting out o2 )ed in the morning seemed either
pointless or impossi)le: I ha#e al.ays had a healthy enough appetite to 2eel sure that
procuring )rea12ast .as a pressing concern3 and one that has ne#er posed serious moral
or e+istential /uestions ; )ut then: .hat3 .hat should I do ne+t> I ha#e 2re/uently3
e#en in#aria)ly3 )een a.are o2 #arious3 and sometimes #ery po.er2ul3 e+ternal
pressures to do one thing3 or internal pulls to do another ; their #ery #ariety and
strength has )een a ma6or part o2 the di22iculty7 the pro)lem has not )een one o2
possi)ility3 )ut o2 choice. For as soon as my sur#i#al needs ha#e )een attended to ;
and I ha#e little pro)lem gi#ing them priority ; once my instincti#e needs 2or rest and
sustenance ha#e )een satis2ied3 then an entirely di22erent 1ind o2 choice opens out.
%erhaps i2 I .ere a more e#ol#ed )eing I .ould gi#e less predominant attention to my
com2ort and sur#i#al3 and perhaps also I .ould see my other choices in a clearer light3
)ut 2or me I e+perience an a)rupt split )et.een the t.o. That I should )e ali#e and .ell
is a clear priority A2or meB3 )ut .hat then>
4ot so long ago3 and 2or many people still3 the issue o2 sur#i#al lasts long a2ter
)rea12ast3 remains in 2act3 ne#er to )e entirely surmounted: it is continuous3 pressing
and relentless. I personally 2eel almost appalled )y my good 2ortune in not )eing
compelled to encounter the sur#i#al pro)lem in a serious .ay. It is a gi2t o2 my culture3
the same one that created the her)aceous )orders in Surrey3 to 2ree me 2rom li2e and
death necessity3 and gi#e me 2reedom a2ter )rea12ast7 and out o2 that gi2t I ha#e made a
pro)lem ; a deep3 personal3 2undamental3 metaphysical pro)lem.
I .ould speculate that the pro)lem is a #irtually uni#ersal one among 2ello.
mem)ers o2 my culture3 so that I 2ind it /uite e+traordinary to see it so little recognised
)y them in that simple 2orm. I am led to speculate 2urther: that in some .ay the
pro)lem is so di22icult3 or distur)ing3 or e#en terri2ying3 that there has )een a 1ind o2
cultural conspiracy3 or pro)a)ly more o2 a cultural consensus3 a sort o2 tacit agreement3
to conceal it. Dy suspicions a)out mysel2 )egin to e+tend3 the .ay suspicions are
inclined to3 to e#eryone around me. The people around me ha#e3 2or the most part3
al.ays seemed reasona)ly certain that they did not ha#e a lot o2 choice3 that there .ere
things they had to do3 e#ery day3 including .ee18ends ; and e#en on holiday. They
ha#e complained a)out it3 2re/uently3 and ta1en deep pleasure in the 2e. days o2 the
year .hen they .ere a.are3 a2ter )rea12ast3 o2 a complete a)sence o2 pressure.
Dy suspicion is that the .onder2ul e+perience o2 2reedom is generally only
managea)le 2or those 2e. days in the year7 any more and it .ould turn into a pro)lem
; and the immediate3 pro)a)ly unconscious3 response to the pro)lem is the
pre#entati#e approach: to deny it. It is one o2 those actions that has to )e done
unconsciously i2 it is to )e done at all3 )ecause the pro)lem is simply the state o2
consciousness: consciousness o2 2reedom. The unconscious in this sense is a .onder2ul
human achie#ement: to let something get near enough to a.areness to realise that it is
dangerous3 or at least uncom2orta)le3 and then to push it )ac1 do.n 6ust out o2 sight3
and do .hat e#er is necessary to 1eep it out o2 sight ; li1e )eing )usy .ith something
else .hene#er it is li1ely to emerge. It<s an art3 a social s1ill that re/uires co8operation3
)ecause .e all ha#e to )e e/ually )usy loo1ing the other .ay at em)arrassing moments.
Such social consensus3 dri#en )y some uni#ersal and unconscious 2ear3 is #ery
po.er2ul. It .ould sound a little li1e a parody to say that .e plant her)aceous )orders
so that .e must .eed them at .ee18ends3 or ac/uire a shiny car so that it .ill demand
to )e cleaned3 )ut it is near enough to
some truth ma1e me uncom2orta)le.
Dy o.n #ersions are more comple+
and digni2ied than 2lo.er8)eds and
cars ; )ut not much. (nd I daren<t
e#en )egin to loo1 at .hat I and my
neigh)ours ma1e out o2 the
possi)ilities o2 entertainment3
amusement and distraction .hen .e ha#e 2inished doing all that .e consider needs to
)e done: most o2 our distractions seem to )e so appalling that .e need some po.er2ul
and immediate 2urther distraction to a#oid the ris1 o2 thin1ing critically a)out them at
The unease3 the 2ear3 2elt in the 2ace o2 2reedom is contagious. I 2eel it in the
2orm o2 social and con#entional pressures3 to con2orm3 to )e li1e the others: it 2eeds on
my need 2or security3 my need to )elong ; 2or there is certainly a considera)le sa2ety
‘Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies
all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to
think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin
with ourselves, and with our author and our end.
Now what does the world think about? Never about
that, but about dancing, laying the lute, singing,
writing verse, tilting at the ring etc. !’
)eing o22ered i2 I am prepared to 2it in. I suppose the deal is not an unreasona)le one:
con2orm3 I hear the #oice o2 my culture3 accept the con#entions3 and you .ill )e sa2e3
e#en 2rom disease Aa)out .hich .e understand 2ar more than you need to .orry
yoursel2 a)outB and death A.hich .e postpone as long as possi)le3 and are discreet
a)out .hen it does o)trudeB. I2 the o22er .ere out in the open it .ould certainly )e
.orth considering: that it is possi)le at all3 a2ter millennia o2 human struggle3 is
something I could ta1e a share o2 pleasure and pride in: .hat is distur)ing is the
language o2 morality that has gro.n up around the .hole thing. The pressure to
con2orm seems to carry an implicit message not so much a)out my o.n sa2ety )ut
)ecause it is right3 proper3 decent and responsi)le to do so. Fnce the deal is made3 once
the .hole social set8up gains some sta)ility3 then that sta)ility is increased i2 .e all
1eep a 2riendly )ut sharp eye on our neigh)our<s unconscious: i2 it gets on the loose it
could )e in2ectious and threaten the .hole thing7 so I suppose it is natural that .e ma1e
a 1ind o2 #alue out o2 2itting in3 and see di22erence as dangerous.
Such3 I suppose3 is the nature o2 the unconscious: i2 it .ere a matter o2 a straight
deal to )e considered3 then I .ould )e entitled3 e#en e+pected3 to loo1 more closely3 to
consider alternati#es3 to )argain a little. I2 it is the loo1ing itsel2 that is threatening3 then
rather higher and more opa/ue .alls must )e erected: moral ta)oos. (nd the
repercussions o2 scaling these .alls3 i2 only 2or a loo1 o#er the top3 must either )e
unthin1a)ly enormous3 li1e3 say3 eternal damnation and torture3 or almost more
e22ecti#ely3 something #ague and unmentiona)le3 so that my imagination o2 the terri)le
can )e released to .or1 on it.
These #ague and unmentiona)le 2ears are perhaps the most po.er2ul o2 all. I
ha#e a memory o#er .hich e#en no. I must struggle to gain any o)6ecti#ity and
2reedom 2rom em)arrassment. I .as aged a)out nine3 I .ould guess3 sitting in 2ront o2
the 2ire in my py6amas listening to my 2ather reading a story ; in itsel2 a memory that
e#o1es the epitome o2 security .ith 6ust the right measure o2 magical imagination to
ma1e it almost per2ect. I .as3 .ithout thought3 idly playing .ith my youth2ul penis3
pro)a)ly in much the same .ay as I might ha#e played .ith my py6ama cord Athough
perhaps3 o2 course3 2or deeper unconscious reasonsB. I caught my mother<s eye. &ith a
su)tle gesture o2 hand and head3 in a hushed )ut portentous .hisper3 she murmured
=Gon<t do that -?. &ith natural and )enign maternal s1ill she managed to con#ey a
clear sense that .hat I .as doing .as &rong7 and not only that3 )ut also that it .ould
clearly )e e/ually &rong3 and o)scurely dangerous3 to as1 .hy it might )e .rong. It
.as e22ecti#e3 2or I guess )y similar means3 and in many su)tle .ays that I scarcely
noticed3 certain prohi)itions .ere mar1ed out3 and surrounded3 as it .ere3 .ith
emotional electric 2ences3 connected to the charged )atteries o2 my o.n shame. There
are things I cannot approach3 mostly to do .ith se+3 anger3 #iolence and 2reedom3
.ithout a 1ind o2 .arning shoc1 2rom my unconscious that is certainly uncom2orta)le
enough to )e #ery discouraging.
It is clear no. that the threat o2 parental disappro#al .as3 at that time3 a serious
one. For a small child sur#i#al depends on acceptance and )elonging in a community
that is )igger and .iser than he is. To )e cast out could indeed mean the end o2 the
.orld. I can suppose3 there2ore3 that I ha#e a )uilt8in mechanism to respect the 2orce o2
moral authority un/uestioningly. The trou)le is that as I gro. older I carry it .ith me
; and the scale and magnitude o2 the threat gro. .ith me: I still 2eel3 as
un/uestioningly as I did then3 that there are rules that must not )e )ro1en3 and that the
conse/uences .ould )e momentous and in#isi)le3 .hich is a di22icult com)ination to
con2ront or deal .ith.
I didn<t understand then the real nature either o2 my 2reedom3 or the constraints
that .ere put on it3 or the nature o2 the ris1s in )rea1ing through those constraints7 and I
still don<t really understand. I didn<t realise then #ery clearly that I didn<t understand3
)ut I 2elt it strongly enough to .al1 up the road3 our o.n su)ur)an cul de sac3 to the
.aste ground at the end3 there to ga0e up at the stars and .onder .hat it .as all a)out3
and to .restle .ith such temptations and sins as came my .ay.
The impulse to stand )ac1 and loo13 and the con2usion and uncertainty3 ha#e
remained3 though )oth no. ta1e slightly di22erent 2orms. I am more a.are than I .as
then o2 the .orld around me3 and o2 some o2 the )eauti2ul and terri)le things that it
contains. Dost o2 the terri)le things seem come 2rom the su22ering that human )eings
in2lict on other human )eings: I had #ery little idea o2 that $ years ago3 and still today
most o2 my a.areness is #ery indirect3 episodic and impersonal. It all )rings the
pro)lems o2 action and 2reedom more #i#idly ali#e3 and induces in me more than e#er a
sense o2 hopeless inade/uacy and po.erlessness. I 2eel pain and guilt and shame more
acutely than e#er )e2ore3 )ut I<m less and less sure o2 .hich .ay to turn to ease them. I
mo#e in the dar13 .ith the con#entional paths less clearly mar1ed than they .ere )y the
orange sodium street lights o2 my youth.
I ha#e a 2eeling that I need to .al1 again3 to search in the dar1 2or the
greater dar1ness .here the stars )ecome #isi)le3 .here I might 2ind something as great
and as distant as the stars )y .hich to set and steer a course .ith 2irmer and deeper
con2idence than I 2eel in the more 2amiliar and immediate things that I currently allo.
to determine the passing o2 my days.
Tolstoy3 I ha#e heard3 uttered on his death8)ed these 2inal .ords3 or something
li1e them: =I still do not understand .hat I am supposed to do-? I understand the
2eeling. I can .ell imagine3 on my death8)ed )eing in much the same state o2 complete
mysti2ication a)out li2e. 9ut I .ould li1e to 2eel .hen the time comes that I had done at
least a little o2 .hat I could to 2ind out. To )e a)le to say =at least I tried? seems to
e+onerate /uite ama0ingly the )urden o2 guilt. It has the ring o2 a rather pathetic human
cry3 )ut to )e una)le to utter it .ould )e 2ar more pain2ul. AI ha#e a terri)le 2eeling that
my compulsion to try3 the 2eeling that I ought to do something a)out it3 rather than
nothing3 rather than 6ust ignoring the pro)lem and en6oying the moment3 is itsel2 part o2
the legacy o2 my culture3 part o2 its o)scure and de#ious pressure3 applied )y its
representati#es in my personal li2e3 and that there2ore I should not )e ta1en in ; )ut
ho. can I )e sure .ithout trying to 2ind out> (m I a #ictim o2 my ac/uired .hite
%rotestant .or1 ethic3 or an heroic sym)ol o2 the human spiritual /uest> The dilemma
itsel2 only sharpens the goad.B
Tolstoy tried3 most impressi#ely3 .ithout apparently achie#ing the insight he
.anted ; at least this side o2 his death. I carry images o2 many others .ho ha#e tried
in their o.n .ay to 2ind a point o2 #ie. 2rom .hich they could ma1e sense o2 the
.orld. Gescartes shut himsel2 in his sto#e8heated room in Hermany .ith
the determination to dou)t e#erything and see .hether he could sal#age any certainty
2rom this ruthless metaphysical act o2 destruction. &ittgenstein 2ound a hut )y a 26ord in
4or.ay7 4iet0sche spent months in a small pension in Sils Daria3 and too1 long .al1s
on the mountains3 63$$$ 2eet a)o#e the .orld and man1ind. Jung )uilt his three8to.ered
house )y the la1e. Ril1e )orro.ed a small Schloss in S.it0erland ; Du0ot3 near
Sierre. I .ent there to loo1 2or it once3 on a personal pilgrimage: .hen I thought I had
2ound it3 I as1ed an old man .ho .as am)ling up the road i2 this .ere the house .here
Ril1e had li#ed. =Fui3 monsieur? he replied3 in a crac1ed #oice =mais il est mort3 il y a
/uarante ans -? Too late3 again.
(nd there is Hautama 9uddha3 sitting under his 9odhi tree3 determined not to
rise until he had achie#ed enlightenment7 he seems to )e in a di22erent class ; the
small class o2 those .ho returned .ith some claim to ha#e succeeded. The trou)le is
that they )ecome .hat .e call mystics3 .hich means3 I suppose3 that .e don<t really
understand .hat they are saying3 ho.e#er much elusi#e truth .e may sense in it. They
all tend to agree that there is no .ay in ordinary language or ordinary human
communication to tell the rest o2 us .hat they ha#e disco#ered. Some o2 them try3 and
.e 6ust don<t seem to really get it3 ho.e#er impressed .e may 2eel3 and ho.e#er much
.e may ma1e heroes and sa#iours o2 them. Dost o2 them do o22er some ad#ice on ho.
to actually reach the state o2 )eing that they ha#e disco#ered3 )ut it does tend to )e
e+traordinarily di22icult and demanding. 9ut it has al.ays pro2oundly impressed me
.hat a remar1a)le degree o2 agreement e+ists )et.een them3 so may)e that<s the .ay
.e<ll all ha#e to go once .e<#e 2inished thrashing around loo1ing 2or easier
The rest o2 them3 the rather more human thin1ers and poets3 Socrates among the
oli#e gro#es3 Thoreau at &alden3 Kant3 %ascal - e#en %irsig on his motor )i1e ; all
o2 them .ere3 in my imagination at least3 see1ing a place and a time to .onder3 to ta1e
stoc13 to loo1 2or a )it o2 secure high ground 2rom .here the nature o2 the .hole might
)e )etter glimpsed3 and a little certainty and clarity3 a hint o2 the path to )e ta1en3 might
)e 2ound. Dost o2 them3 the ones I 1no. a)out3 emerged .ith something to sho. 2or it3
something at least close to )eing understanda)le3 though none )ut the mystics ma1e )ig
claims to ultimate solutions. I 2eel an enormous 1inship .ith them all3 a deep gratitude
2or .hat they managed to e+press and o22er to me. For the more truly mystical I 2eel
more than that: a 1ind o2 respect that can approach re#erence3 or e#en lo#e3 )ut stops3
perhaps un2ortunately3 short o2 2aith.
Something else I remem)er: one e#ening late3 long a2ter dar1 and the s.itching
on o2 the orange lights3 I .ent o#er the road to the ro. o2 shops opposite our house3 and
.ith due care to chec1 that no8one could )e .atching me3 I put t.o shillings in the
cigarette machine outside .hat I had until then thought o2 as the s.eet shop3 and got a
pac1et o2 ten 2ilter tips ; 9achelor<s3 might they ha#e )een called> ; and a three8
penny )it 2or change. I had ta1en another step into the strange .orld o2 adulthood and
sin. There .ere others to come3 )ut #ery 2e. that I noticed as so signi2icant at the time.
I too1 them up to the end o2 the road and smo1ed one. 9ut out )eyond the lights3
.here I could )e certain no8one sa. me3 I 2elt strangely e+posed. The nature o2 my act
seemed more #isi)le rather than less7 my inner .rongness could not )e hidden in the
place .here my grip on the .orld .as so uncertain.
I .al1ed nearly as 2ar as the .oods that time3 under the tunnel o2 the #iaduct3
.ith the occasional car passing o#er my head3 and stood 2or a long time loo1ing at the
stars and 2eeling )ad. Day)e the di00iness had something to do .ith the to)acco
smo1e3 )ut I do not thin1 I had ris1ed inhaling3 and I am /uite certain that it .as the
con2rontation )et.een my )eha#iour and the in2inite that .as distur)ing me. I stood
.ith my smallness and my sin in 2ront o2 the Ini#erse3 to )e 6udged )y .hate#er
remained .hen all that .as 1no.n and contingent had 2aded a.ay. I 2elt ashamed3 and I
thin1 a )it 2oolish.
&hat I actually did .as to thro. the pac1et .ith the remaining nine 9achelors
a.ay into the dar1ness3 .orrying 2or a moment that I .as sinning again )y adding to
the litter3 )ut 2eeling sure that this sym)olic sacri2ice .as re/uired o2 me. I decided then
to thro. the three8penny )it a2ter it3 too: at moments li1e this it<s no good trying to hold
anything )ac1 and hoping that it .on<t )e noticed.
I promised the Ini#erse that I .ouldn<t do it again. I ne#er did3 not 2rom a
cigarette machine. I tried roll8ups 2or a .hile later3 )ut I stopped C I can<t e#en
remem)er clearly .hy3 so it .as o)#iously ne#er one o2 my ma6or temptation to sin. I
thin1 the #oice o2 my conscience .asn<t /uite so o)#ious to me )y then3 )ut I<m sure
that it .as .or1ing in much the same .ay ; 6ust a little more su)tle.
Those memories3 then3 o2 ga0ing at the night s1y as a child ; and the
e+perience sometimes o2 ga0ing at the night s1y as an adult ; are moments that
in#ol#e a sense o2 limitation and lac13 o2 need to ma1e sense3 o2 need 2or a .ider #ie..
(nd they in#ol#e3 too3 the human pro)lem o2 action3 o2 .hat to do3 .hich .ay to mo#e3
.hich choice to ma1e3 and hence the /uestions o2 #alue3 o2 right and .rong3 o2 the
morality o2 my actions3 )e it smo1ing a pac1et o2 cigarettes or something o2 greater
It can happen in such moments3 .hen the need is deeply 2elt3 .hen my
limitations and ignorance seem particularly pain2ul3 that my sense o2 scale seems to
shi2t. The detail o2 the moment3 the sense o2 purpose that has carried me through this
day and may)e many days )e2ore3 suddenly seems #ery small in the 2ace o2 light years
o2 distance and )illions o2 years o2 time. I2 I stand )e2ore the uni#erse as a .hole3 then
.hat o2 my meaning and purpose> I shi2t le#els3 one up at least 2rom .hate#er has
)ecome my ha)it3 and the result is a /uestion3 an enormous un.orda)le /uestion3 .hat
2eels li1e the )iggest possi)le /uestion o2 all. That shi2t in perspecti#e seems
enormously important ; an intimation o2 some deeper change ; and it seems a matter
o2 urgency to try and hold the shi2t 2or a .hile. 5a#ing stepped 2or a moment )ac1 2rom
the 2amiliar le#el o2 detail to sei0e the opportunity3 to see ho. things loo1 2rom there3
.hat sense o2 purpose can I hold3 ho. can I ma1e sense o2 things as a .hole3 sub
secie aeternitatis as Spino0a .ould ha#e it3 gaining3 perhaps3 another degree o2
solemnity 2rom the Latin.
The urgency tends to gi#e me at least a little clarity o2 #ision. I 1no. .ell at
such moments that it is the comple+ity o2 my li2e3 the endless distractions o2 the small
scale3 that ha#e )een 1eeping my nose too close to the picture to see more than a 2e.
details ; and ho. then can I 1no. .here I am going3 ho. can I ha#e any sense o2
.hat is worth doing> &hat is the 2orce o2 my #alues3 my sense o2 right and .rong3 o2
morality3 o2 )eauty -> Is there a Truth that could guide me3 gi#e me meaning3 that I
miss through my entanglement in the minuscule> The urge continues to gro. in me3 I
2eel the o2 its approach: to step )ac1 and ta1e stoc13 to sort things out a )it3 to
start a2resh and ha#e a ne. loo1 at the .orld. In the past these strange longings ha#e
tended to #isit me in the silence and pri#acy o2 the night3 and )y the time I3 and the sun3
are up again the morning the urge tends to ha#e 2aded: the pressing pro)lems
o2 the moment that seem clearer in the daylight ta1e o#er again. 9ut age seems to
temper that e22ect3 and increasingly the need to sort things out )egins to sur#i#e the
glare o2 daylight3 e#en i2 dimmed a little.
I can reminisce3 I can dream3 I can )e almost lyrically poetic a)out all this7 )ut
.hat i2 I .ere to try3 try someho. to actually do it - it<s a di22erent thought 2rom the
memories and the romantic 2antasies3 and o2 course a rather more serious one: 6ust
suppose I actually too1 all this seriously instead o2 6ust .a22ling a)out it> Then... then I
.ould3 o2 course3 need to )e practical and realistic as opposed to 6ust nostalgic a)out
lost innocence and .onder. I .ould need to care2ully consider .ays and means3 to )e as
a.are as I possi)ly can )e o2 the )est .ay to set a)out it. Surely my accumulated
e+perience o2 li2e3 my adult rationality and maturity3 .ill ha#e gi#en me at least some
idea ho. to turn this 2antasy into a reality> I ha#e a 2e. clues: the times .hen I ha#e
approached at least the /uestion more tangi)ly than at others. (nd it seems reasona)le
to guess that the .ay to.ards ans.ers must )e )y .ay o2 a more intense a.areness o2
the /uestions. AThat could )e .rong3 too: they could )e the .rong /uestions - I2
comple+ity and distraction3 the occupation o2 my mind .ith small scale purposes3 are
.hat o)scure the )ig picture3 then .hat I need is - to simpli2y3 to a#oid mani2old
distractions3 to hold my attention on the .ider perspecti#es> That )egins to sound a )it
li1e the old 2amiliar stu22 a)out meditation A.hich is so 8 .ell 8 boringEB.
I ha#e tried it3 del#ed into the mysteries o2 meditation a little3 and it did seem to
)e a step in the right direction. 9ut it<s so hard7 I come right up against my need 2or
no#elty and stimulation 8 .hich3 o2 course3 is e+actly .hat I 1no. gets in the .ay. I
once did a 1$ day meditation retreat in 4e. Mealand. Ten days o2 silence3 no tal1ing3 no
eye contact3 12 hours meditation e#ery day. A(nd good 2ood - .as that right>B The
.hole e+perience terri2ied me3 totally7 I ha#e trou)le sitting really still A.ithout a )oo1B
2or ten minutes 8 so 12 hours-> It .as a.2ul. The )ell ringing at 4 a.m.3 li1e a
monastery3 and straight into the 2irst hour<s sitting. Dy mind .or1ing 2uriously to
occupy me. Gaydreaming - memories3 2antasies3 speculation a)out the t.o prettiest
girls3 and the pain in my legs and )ac1-
It .ent on li1e that 2or ten days7 and I e+perienced no great spiritual )rea18
through. 9ut .hat did happen .as that it all slowed down... The same need 2or
distraction3 the same daydreams3 .ent on ; )ut all .inding do.n gradually3 getting and - It didn<t actually stop3 any o2 it3 )ut this do.n seemed a
genuine disco#ery in itsel2. A(nd it .as #ery strange a2ter.ards to meet people that I
had constructed entire 2antasies a)out: none o2 the 2antasies .as accurateB. 9ut
someho. the do.n created a ne. sense o2 space3 a )it o2 inner room to
)reathe. I 2elt more ali#e3 e#erything seemed )righter3 2resher3 more deeply connected. I
2elt more open to the un1no.n and une+pected3 ready to .elcome .hate#er came my
.ay. Dy intuition .or1ed in a di22erent .ay3 and I trusted it 8 and things .or1ed out. I
had a thirty mile .al1 home3 and I remem)er ta1ing pleasure in e#ery step. I didn<t
.orry in the least a)out .hat to do .hen it got dar1. &hat actually happened .as that
as dar1ness 2ell I passed a house3 miles 2rom any.here3 that seemed to 2it .hat I had
heard a)out the house o2 someone I had met )e2ore. I 1noc1ed on the door3 )ut no8one
.as there. It 2elt right3 so I simply ate a little 2ood and .ent to sleep on the so2a3 li1e
Holdiloc1s. The )ears did return3 a)out 3 o<cloc1 in the morning. (nd it .as the man I
had met3 and he .as /uite un2a0ed3 and .e spent a good day )e2ore I .al1ed on. &hat
i2 I .ere to 1eep up the mediation 2or 1$ more days3 .ee1s3 months3 years -> 5o. 2ar
might I then come to li#ing e#ery step I too13 to trusting the Ini#erse>
I also seem to ha#e got a little nearer to it at sea: the 2e. memora)le times .hen
I ha#e made modest #oyages in small )oats. Simplicity7 a clear contrast )et.een the
immediate detail and demands o2 the )oat3 and the elemental and cosmic perspecti#e o2
sea and s1y3 .ind and rain3 sun3 moon and stars3 the steady rhythms3 the natural pace3
the dependence on the elements - and nothing else in )et.een. The #oyage out
to.ards the hori0on in#ol#es3 )oth sym)olically and in reality3 so much that is
un1no.n7 it tries my physical po.ers o2 endurance and tolerance7 it remo#es so much
o2 the comple+ity o2 ordinary li2e and replaces it .ith simple necessities and /uestions
; li1e am I><- and direct pro)lems o2 action3 li1e @.hich .ay should I go to
a#oid disaster and get .here I .ant to )e>< and @ho. do I sur#i#e this another day3 hour
or minute>< I remem)er a 1ind o2 inner cleansing3 a sense o2 2acing the grand
"hen you set out for #thika
ask that the way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
$ave #thika always in your mind.
%our arival there is what you are destined for.
&ut don’t in the least hurry the 'ourney.
&etter it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not e(ecting #thika to give you wealth.
#thika gave you the 'ourney.
"ithout her you would not have set out.
)he hasn’t anything else to give you.
*nd if you find her oor, #thika hasn’t deceived you.
)o wise have you become, of such e(erience,
that already you have understood what these #thikas mean.
perspecti#e that I no. only glimpse rarely3 .ith no distraction in )et.een3 and 2eeling
2illed )y it.
Is that nostalgia3 or might there )e some reality in it> (m I too old and un2it to
cope .ith the discom2ort and 2ear that I also remem)er> Is that a 2orm o2 escapism3 a
running a.ay 2rom reality 8 and its responsi)ilities 8 or is all this the distraction3 is my
2amiliar li2e really the running a.ay3 and that /uest 2or simplicity and #ision a deep
2orm o2 responsi)ility> I hear the many #oices o2 my super8ego3 a couple o2 internalised
parents3 a .hole internalised culture 8 and some #ery personal internalised 2ears 8 all
6oining in an internal chorus o2 protest. &here#er I go that lot is lia)le to come .ith me
8 )ut might they )e gradually induced to .ind do.n a )it3 to shout a little less loudly>
&hat i2 I .ere to underta1e a #oyage3 a small one3 sub secie aeternitatis3 in /uest o2 a
)it o2 )asic understanding o2 things3 in an attempt to ma1e sense at least enough to start
on the rest o2 my li2e .ith more con2idence3 so that my dying .ords can )e a little less
sad than Tolstoy<s>
(s I thin1 a)out it3 a longing3 a cra#ing e#en3 .hich has )een lur1ing around
some hidden inner corner /uite suddenly and 2inally leaps out into the open 8 I 2eel the
shoc1 o2 recognition3 and I am hit )y the distur)ing urgency o2 its o#er me. Dy
mind )ecomes hyperacti#e3 and also sei0es on detail: I start to design the )oat3 dra.ings
on scraps o2 paper3 ta1e do.n rather dusty re2erence )oo1s on )oat8)uilding 2rom my
shel#es. 9ut the real point3 the real need and moti#e )ehind this3 I must not 2orget3 is to
2ind a .ay to the end o2 the cul+de+sac I inha)it no. 8 to reach a )it o2 .aste ground )ig
enough 2or the night s1y to )e #isi)le3 and to allo. some re8a.a1ening o2 my capacity
2or .onder and dou)t. I2 it<s not too late7 i2 the capacity has not 2aded .ith my youth3
along .ith my eyesight3 and the suppleness o2 my )ac13 and my a)ility to get through a
.hole day .ithout an a2ternoon sleep> &ith all that going on3 can I still hope to loo1 up
and /uestion the Ini#erse>
Dy image3 the idea o2 my ne. /uest3 is something li1e this: I .ill put out to sea3
.ith my 2e. simple possessions3 enough to ha#e a reasona)le chance o2 sur#i#ing 2or a
.hile3 and .ill sail to some empty place in the middle o2 the sea3 2ar 2rom any land3
spaced e/ually )et.een the continents o2 the .orld3 and there I .ill stop. I .on<t do
anything else3 6ust stop. (nd there I .ill .ait until 8 .hat> *nlightenment3 li1e Hautama
9uddha under a 9hodi tree3 resol#ing not to get up until he understood e#erything>
&ell3 yes7 a )it li1e that. Just to stay there3 as near to the middle o2 as I can
get3 and 6ust do nothing. 9o) a)out in my )oat. (l.ays )e2ore at sea3 e#en .hen
actually )ecalmed3 there has )een a constant o#erriding sense o2 )eing on the .ay to
some.here3 o2 any slight )ree0e gi#ing a little mo#ement )eing real progress3 o2
dri2ting )ac1 )eing a real set8)ac1. So this .ould )e /uite di22erent: a)andoning all
illusion o2 purpose and surrendering completely to 6ust )eing there. Intil3 ho.e#er long
it too13 I disco#ered some reason to mo#e7 until out o2 the inacti#ity3 the state o2 6ust
)eing3 a sense o2 real direction emerged. For i2 I can<t 2ind a sense o2 purpose in such a
state o2 total remo#al 2rom distraction3 then no other sense o2 purpose is really to )e
trusted. It all seems a )it 2anci2ul and e+tra#agant 8 not to mention dangerous3
pretentious3 2oolish- and I<m not sure ho. to pro#ision the )oat 2or such a tas1. So
may)e I don<t ha#e to )e /uite so e+treme: may)e a #ery small simple )oat .ould do3
may)e a little .ay out o2 sight o2 land 2or a 2e. nights .ould ha#e the same e22ect. I am
inclined to 6ump to e+tremes 8 .hich is one .ay o2 not actually doing anything at all3
)ecause I can<t in 2act cope .ith the e+tremes. So this time3 I urge mysel23 .ith a great
air o2 maturity and .isdom 8 )e realistic3 modest3 and ta1e a step at a time. 9ut 2or all
that I am gripped )y a #ery )oyish energy and e+citement. (nd I li1e it: I 2eel young
enough to actually )egin.
&hen I loo1 )ac1 at the )oy .ho too1 those nocturnal .al1s up the /uiet
su)ur)an a#enue3 past the sa2ely 2amiliar houses3 each .ith its small garden and
)eds3 each .ith its 2ence3 or hedge3 or lo. )ric1 .all3 may)e its red8tiled ga)les and
diamond8latticed .indo.s3 its dra.n curtains and introspecti#e li2e3 I understand him
.ell enough. I loo1 2rom a pri#ileged position3 )eing uni/uely lin1ed to him 8 and the
inarticulate impulse that carried his steps to the end o2 the a#enue and out to.ards the
dar1ness does not seem to me to )e either strange or comple+3 or immature and
misguided. Indeed3 .hat is da.ning on me no. is that the e+tent to .hich I may ha#e
outgro.n that unde#eloped 2orce in him has )een a loss rather than a maturing.
5e li#ed3 as I still li#e3 in a .orld that is to an enormous e+tent 2ormed3
constrained3 regulated and illuminated )y the arte2acts o2 the human hand: its tarmac
and concrete3 its )ric1s and tiles3 lattice .indo.s and chain 2ences3 its 2luorescent )ul)s
and sodium street lamps. Dost o2 .hat .e3 )oth he and I3 see3 touch3 .al1 upon and
listen to is arti2icial. %rogress has de#eloped and enlarged this process3 and ne#er
re#ersed it.
I see 2ields and hedges out o2 my .indo.s no.3 and less o2 the o)#iously
synthetic3 )ut they ha#e )een ordered and straightened3 ploughed and rolled and seeded
and cut o#er almost e#ery #isi)le inch. It .ould )e churlish and .rong to deny its
)eauty3 .hich I see and lo#e e#ery day: I 1no.3 I hope3 ho. pri#ileged I am. 9ut still
The e+ception3 the reminder o2 the di22erence3 2or me is the ri#er3 .hich3 though
.ell used 2or many centuries3 is not mar1ed )y that use. Its 2luidity is not so easily
)lemished or moulded. A%erhaps it is as .ell that its real degree o2 untainted and
pristine cleanliness3 or other.ise3 is not so #isi)le.B . It )reathes3 in and out .ith long
suspirations3 li1e a lung /uietly in 2resh air 2rom outside and
)eyond. Dy lin1 .ith the in2inite -
To 2ind an e+panse3 or e#en 6ust an edge3 o2 .ilderness3 a place at least
relati#ely untrodden3 seems to )e a deep human longing. There is no dou)t a natural
urge to e+plore 8 )ut then also to 1no.3 to humanise3 to tame3 to contain the un1no.n7
and it is sad that the millions o2 years o#er .hich this instinct has meant only a
reasona)ly )alanced and harmonious relationship Adynamic3 to )e sure3 as all nature is
dynamicB .ith the .ild ha#e so a)ruptly3 o)#iously and po.er2ully )een trans2ormed
into a saga o2 destruction.
&e )ring destruction and death .ith our 2ootsteps3 .hich seem to ha#e )ecome
so much more )lind and hea#y7 and the loss is to oursel#es as .ell as to that .hich .e
damage. For .hat .e destroy is that o2 .hich .e are a part3 and its li2e and #igour and
#ariety are .hat nourishes the li2e in us3 too.
(ll this3 I am #ery happy to say3 is )ecoming increasingly 2amiliar3 and
increasingly 2elt as a serious loss rather than 6ust a sentimental one7 )ut I also 2eel that
something similar is true3 though less o)#iously3 at another le#el: the mental3 the
sym)olic Aand the spiritual3 e#en ; though .hene#er I 2ind mysel2 using that .ord I
ha#e a pri#ate 2ear that I ha#e no idea .hat it meansB. Fur #ery understanding3 the
entire .ay in .hich .e see the .orld has )ecome e/ually constrained3 synthetic and
safe. The natural instinct .e ha#e al.ays had 2or our o.n com2ort and security3 to hold
)ac1 and placate the 2orces that ha#e threatened us3 has )ecome so enormously
po.er2ul that it is possi)le to )ury our heads in the illusion o2 mastery. That .hich
immediately surrounds us seems to ha#e )een rendered po.erless and sterile A.e ha#e
come to e#en value sterility as an ideal 2ar )eyond any real #alue it might ha#e-B3 .e
ha#e de#italised the dangers3 rendered anaemic and )arren that .hich threatens our
com2ort. &hat price such a triumph> 5o. long until .e echo the .ord o2 %yrrhus3
some se#enteen centuries ago ; @(nother such #ictory and .e are lost<>
I remem)er the day o2 the 2irst moon landing: it .as certainly dramatic and
perhaps in some .ays inspiring 2or those o2 us )ac1 here and loo1ing up. 9ut I also
remem)er a strong 2eeling o2 sadness and loss. There .ere no. human 2ootsteps 8 and
may)e discarded human 6un1 8 up there on the moon. Fne o2 the great sym)ols o2
mystery .as no longer )eyond our reach. The stars remained7 )ut someho. it 2elt to me
as i2 the last direction in .hich I had )een a)le to li2t my eyes and see the truly
untouched had )een ta1en 2rom me.
These human 2ootsteps3 the human shaping o2 the .orld3 go .ith an attitude o2
the human mind. &e touch3 .e manipulate3 .e control 8 there2ore .e 1no. and .e
understand. The deduction is 2allacious3 the conclusion illusory. 9ut the more regulated
and arti2icial the .orld in .hich .e li#e3 the more3 I thin13 .e ac/uire the ha)it o2
)elie2 in our understanding3 the 2ading o2 our sense o2 .onder3 the loss o2 the capacity
to hold our 1no.ledge lightly3 to know that it is 2ragile3 that .e must li#e ,uestions i2
.e are to li#e .ith integrity3 i2 .e are to 2ind any real #alue in the little truth that .e do
It .as 2or all this that he .al1ed )eyond the last street lamp3 2or this re2reshment
o2 uncertainty3 this re#elation o2 the enigmatic. Fnly this e+perience3 ho.e#er .e may
2ind it3 can stir the roots o2 our imagination and /uic1en the #igour that is properly ours.
&e ha#e )ecome dangerously sur2eited .ith 2amiliarity3 6aded )y an e+cess o2
understanding3 dulled )y the li2eless sur2aces )eneath .hich .e ha#e )uried so much o2
our .orld.
For me the sea is not 2amiliar3 it is strange and po.er2ul and )eauti2ul. "asting
o22 2rom the solidity o2 a /uayside and
#enturing out e#en a 2e. yards to.ards
open .ater is to change one<s physical
and mental en#ironment .ith an
e+traordinary immediacy and thoroughness. (lmost e#ery 2amiliar aspect o2 our li2e3 o2
-ne does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the land for a very long time.
routine3 o2 ha)itual mo#ement and response ; the paths and roads and door.ays3 the
cloc1s and regularities and sta)ilities and po.ers o2 the ordered .orld .e mo#e in
seem to 2all a.ay and diminish into an entirely ne. perspecti#e. &e step outside the
2amiliar7 and .hat .e actually meet there is not some elusi#e mystery3 )ut the impact o2
simple and elemental 2orces: .ater and .ind3 light and dar1ness3 mo#ement and energy.
I2 there is a pro)lem here it is not so much to disco#er ne. and un1no.n po.ers )ut to
resist )eing o#er.helmed )y them. To hold 2ast to such a simple purpose as to mo#e in
a chosen direction3 to go .here .e .ant to go3 can )ecome genuinely di22icult. The
.hole en#ironment )ecomes 2luid3 and the means )y .hich .e .ould determine and
2i+ our place in it )ecomes a)solutely a)stract and remote. Something li1e that could )e
true al.ays o2 our place in the uni#erse3 )ut i2 so .e too easily 2orget it.

&hen the .ind )lo.s the .ater mo#es3 and e#erything .e .ould hold on to
mo#es .ith it. There can )e no illusion o2 detachment 2rom that3 no imaginary
separation o2 su)6ect 2rom o)6ect. It is then natural and proper to 2eel 2ear .hen .e
em)ar1 upon the oceans7 )ut it is my hope3 and my 2antasy3 that in all that uncertainty
and elemental 2luidity I may also 2ind 8 .hat> Some ne. #ision3 may)e3 though this
sounds almost un)eara)le pretentious7 some )roader sense o2 2orm3 perhaps3 that can
emerge .hen the hori0on is more distant and there is less distraction 2rom the solid and
1no.n nearer to hand. (t sea the )oat is the only 2i+ity3 and its smallness and 2ragility3
its a)solute necessity as a means o2 sur#i#al is so o)#ious that there is no possi)ility o2
interpreting that sur#i#al as a 2orm control and su)6ection o2 the .orld.
(ll this is 2anci2ul3 I 1no.. To en6oy a holiday3 a )it o2 healthy e+ercise3 a
limited dose o2 danger3 is re2reshing enough3 and stands in no need o2 ela)orate
6usti2ication 8 though may )ecome lia)le to suspicion o2 more sel2 indulgent moti#es i2
e+tended )eyond a 2e. .ee1s a year. To see1 a reminder o2 my human limitations and
#ulnera)ility may seem lauda)le: )ut I am saying something else3 too7 something that
in#ol#es a di22erent 1ind o2 temerity and o2 .hich I am 2ar less certain3 and .hich
seems less tri#ial. I am suggesting a degree and e+tent to .hich my #ision and
understanding3 my )asic cogniti#e processes3 ha#e )ecome not only limited 8 2or that is
clear enough 8 )ut also stagnated and de#italised.
I23 indeed3 my .hole .ay o2 seeing has )ecome ossi2ied and restricted3 then it is
di22icult to 1no.7 I ta1e my .ay o2
seeing 2or granted precisely )ecause it is
my .ay o2 seeing and e+periencing.
5o. 2ar is it possi)le to mo#e a.ay
2rom something that is so ine#ita)ly
deep8rooted and intrinsically impossi)le
to hold up 2or inspection> That is a
/uestion I ha#e no .ay o2 ans.ering: I
ha#e no idea .hether this conscious articulation o2 intent ma1es it any more or less
li1ely to happen. I am a)solutely certain that I .ouldn<t try to do it in this particular
.ay unless I 2elt e+tremely hope2ul that I .ould actually en6oy it. So the .hole thing is
entirely e+plica)le as another 2orm o2 the great pursuit o2 pleasure 8 and I 1no. .ell
enough that the @spiritual path<3 to .hich I .ould #enture to claim at least some
analogy3 seems to generally in#ol#e more sel28discipline and less immediate attraction.
In spite o2 all these reser#ations and dou)ts and sel28suspicions the idea has
ta1en hold o2 me7 I 2eel increasingly gripped )y it- a couple o2 slightly clichNed
e+pressions3 )ut as close as I can get to a literal description o2 the 2eeling. (ll my
actions3 my energy3 seem to mo#e around the ne. idea3 as i2 it .ere a 1ind o2 in#isi)le
centre o2 gra#ity that e+erts its 2orce e#en though intangi)le itsel2. The colour and
meaning and purpose o2 e#erything I do ta1es its tone 2rom the idea.
&hen I consider this un2amiliar state o2 mind and 2eeling I am struc1 )y an
immediate contradiction: to )e held3 gripped3 )y something is undou)tedly to lose
2reedom3 to )e constrained. 9ut in the grip o2 this 2i+ation I 2eel more 2ree then I ha#e
2or years. There is some core parado+ in the e+perience o2 2reedom that I do not
understand. The more 2ully I sei0e my 2reedom and ma1e a choice3 the more clearly and
gladly my energy seems3 e#en 2or a moment3 to align and 2lo. in a single direction7 and
the more clearly ; and gladly ; I surrender my 2reedom and the need 2or choice. To
)e 2ree is to )e con2ronted )y the possi)ility o2 choice3 appallingly di22icult as that can
)e. To actually make a choice3 to act out o2 2reedom3 is to a)andon all the alternati#es3
to lea#e )ehind the e+perience o2 standing in 2ront o2 the possi)ility o2 choice3 to lose
the actual e+perience o2 2reedom.
The more po.er2ully committed the choice3 the more deeply is it a real act o2
choice3 the more it comes to )e e+perienced as a necessity3 as the only possi)le .ay I
)ometimes a man gets u during suer
and walks outside, and kees on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the east.
*nd his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
*nd another man, who stays in his own house
dies there, among the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
towards that same church, which he forgot.
can go. Fn the other hand3 the more I cling to the e+perience o2 2reedom3 the possi)ility
o2 choice3 o2 turning this .ay or that3 the more that 2reedom itsel2 can )ecome a )urden3
and the more I may 2eel mysel2 as helplessly immo)ilised )e2ore the #ery 2act o2
possi)ility itsel2.
"urious: I .as taught that parado+ .as a sure sign o2 2alsity3 o2 hopeless
.rongness. 9ut this parado+ seems to hold a real truth3 a 1ind o2 personal3 human truth.
" $
First Steps
Imagination and %ealit&
Today the idea ta1es its 2irst steps into reality.
It )egan in my imagination3 in#isi)le to e#erything e+cept my inner eye3 ha#ing
no e22ect or impact on the .orld e+cept as it in#isi)ly a22ected me3 and no. it )egins its
2irst tentati#e mo#ement into the .orld through the mediation o2 my actions. I see
images o2 the )oat3 the #oyage3 the /uest ; e#en o2 its 2inal 2ul2ilment. They are #ague
and elusi#e in detail3 )ut 2ull o2 a li2e and energy3 a numinous /uality that is
deeply alluring.
Tentati#ely3 I )egin to loo1 at the possi)ility o2 this image ta1ing a real 2orm3 o2
gi#ing it some real e+pression. (s I imagine this process Astill only imagine3 mindB I see
the .ay it .ould )egin to ta1e on its o.n li2e ; cease to )e pri#ate3 mine alone3 and
)ecome part o2 the .orld )eyond me ; a22ecting other things and people in .ays that
are outside me3 outside my control and mediation. (nd then in turn3 those outer e22ects
.ill 2ind .ays to re2lect )ac1 to me: I .ill )e a22ected )y the conse/uences o2 my
actions3 )y the .ay people and things respond and react3 to .hat I ha#e initiated. The
.orld3 2rom today3 )ecomes a di22erent place )ecause o2 a choice3 an action that I ha#e
made3 that .as )orn in my imagination and no. )egins to emerge.
Dy imagination3 o2 course3 runs on ahead3 2lies 2reely o#er space and time.
(lready I see3 .ith my inner eye3 the )oat3 my )oat - I sense something o2 her si0e
and proportions3 the 2eel and loo1 o2 her7 I see her3 2eel her at sea3 approaching
un1no.n islands3 creeping along une+plored coasts3 into deserted and calm )ays. I 2eel
sun and .arm )lue .ater. I ha#e intimations o2 the disco#eries I .ill ma1e3 the insights
and #isions that .ill come to me3 that I .ill 2ind 2orm and e+pression 2or7 the #oyage
to.ards 2ul2ilment and enlightenment. 5o. easy and natural to imagine3 .hat a
pleasure3 an e+hilarating 6oy3 it is to 2eel ho. it all might )e -
So .hy act> &hy lea#e this secure and com2orta)le room 2or .ho 1no.s .hat
discom2orts and 2rustrations and dangers> I can imagine it all3 ta1e the pleasures
.ithout the ris1 and discom2ort ; and I can imagine those too3 2or good measure3 in
the interests o2 )alance. Truth to tell3 I am not a)solutely certain .hy I should do it. I
thin1 it may )e one o2 the most important /uestions I am setting out to ans.er3 2or there
is only one .ay to 2ind out: to try it and see. It<s not enough to imagine an to
that one.
I ha#e a photo on my .all that I can
see i2 I glance up 2rom .riting. It is in
enlargement3 )ut )eauti2ully clear in detail.
It is ta1en3 I imagine3 2rom a )oat in a gale
; and simply sho.s the sea torn )y the
.ind3 .hipped into .a#es and 2oam. It
)oth thrills and terri2ies me: it seems to em)ody someho. all the terror that I 2eel o#er
this pro6ect 8 going to sea3 see1ing greater3 deeper understanding. There are 2orces and
po.ers that could so easily o#er.helm me. (nd still that<s not reality.
The 2irst step 2rom imagination to reality: I ta1e a piece o2 paper and a pencil3 and
I dra. the )oat3 as I see her in my mind<s eye.
It doesn<t come out right at all: none o2 the )eauty and elegance o2 the image
seems to )e there in the It 2eels li1e the 2irst test. Go I3 at this point3 retreat 8
go )ac1 to the assured pleasures o2 pure imagination>
I ta1e time .ith that possi)ility3 gi#e it serious consideration. (nd one o2 the
things I disco#er is that part o2 the /uality o2 imagination3 at its )est3 is a 1ind o2
hunger3 a longing3 an energy: the #ery 6oy itsel2 contains a /uality o2 mo#ement and
action. I want to do something. I .ant to )reathe more deeply3 to mo#e3 to .al13 to use
my hands. So on I go.
I ha#e set up a )oard3 laid out a 2e. tools: sharpened pencils3 a ru))er3
rulers3 s/uares3 di#iders. A(nd all that too1 time: I had to plan things3 choose things3
)uy things3 2ind )oo1s that .ould tell me ho. to design a )oat3 loo1 at )oats3 at
pictures3 dra.ings - .hat a saga o2 2rustration and progress3 o2 indecision and action.
(lready a detailed account .ould ha#e 2illed a su)stantial Oolume 1- B
The detail is endless 8 and all the time it is something in my imagination that
holds it all together3 gi#es some sense o2 direction and purpose3 that dra.s me )ac1
.hen I am distracted and .ander o22 course3 or 1eeps me mo#ing .hen I )ecome too
"hat 'oy it is, when out at sea the storm+
winds are lashing the waters, to ga0e from the
shore at the stress some other man is enduring1 Not
that anyone’s afflictions are in themselves a source
of delight; but to realise from what trouble you
yourself are free is 'oy indeed.’
entangled in some immediate di22iculty. There is another parado+ here3 something else
that I sense may )ecome a theme o2 this #oyage: 2or the more clearly I am in touch .ith
my purpose3 in my psyche3 the more e22ecti#ely I am a)le to concentrate3 to
2ocus on detail and 2orget e#erything else. (nd the more I concentrate on detail the
more e22ecti#ely I mo#e another step in my chosen direction. These t.o opposites3
o#erall direction and 2ine detail3 that seem to )e in con2lict someho. seem each a)le to
encourage and gi#e li2e to the other. &hat a strange mystery ; the )alance )et.een
%art and &hole3 the Getailed and the Heneral3 the Real and the Imagined. I am so used
to opposites as a source o2 con2lict and pain: they damage each other3 cancel each other
out3 destroy each other3 to no purpose. Such con2lict o2 opposites must )e a#oided at all
cost. (nd yet3 .hen I e+perience such a dangerous clash o2 opposites it<s almost as i2 a
ne. 1ind o2 energy emerges3 as i2 the t.o opposites can someho. 2eed and nourish
each other3 allo. li2e and mo#ement.
The .or1 itsel2 ma1es progress. To design a )oat is to .or1 through an enormous
amount o2 detail. (gain the principle o2 the %art and the &hole. There are so many
decisions to )e made 8 a)out si0e and shape3 construction3 materials3 rig3 sails3 )allast3
engine3 1eel 2orm3 )uoyancy3 accommodation - each o2 these details must ser#e the
o#erall purpose as e22ecti#ely as possi)le3 and also they must all 2it together. *ach detail
a22ects almost e#ery other C they continually inter8relate. To ma1e a decision a)out any
one o2 them is to ha#e an e22ect on all the others. To change any one is to cause ripples
o2 necessary change to 2lo. through the .hole thing. It all has to 2it into the si0e and
shape3 o)#iously7 )ut it all has to )e made o2 some material3 and )e .ell 2i+ed together
to .ithstand the real stresses o2 .ind and .ater C at their .ildest. It .ill add up to a
certain .eight3 and .ill )e re/uired to 2loat at the right le#el3 to ha#e a shape that .ill
mo#e easily through the .ater3 to )oth steer .ell and in a )alanced .ay3 and also hold a
steady course3 to )e sta)le and not heel too much3 to 2loat e#en i2 s.amped3 to right
hersel2 again i2 accidentally rolled o#er in a hea#y sea. She needs to )e a place .here I
can li#e3 .ith all my needs and #ery human #ulnera)ilities3 in a modicum o2 com2ort.
She needs to )e a)le to mo#e3 pre2era)ly )y the o2 the .ind3 )ecause I don<t
really trust any other3 in the direction that I choose3 .ith reasona)le speed and
e22iciency3 e#en under di22icult conditions.
(ll o2 these things are important7 and many o2 them con2lict. It seems to in#ol#e
compromise3 and more compromise. (nd I ha#e to )e a)le to do the .or1 in reality3 and
not plan the impossi)le7 and I ha#e to )e a)le to a22ord .hat I decide to do. *nd Athis
one seems almost the most importantB she has to emerge 2rom all this compromise as a
thing o2 )eauty and harmony C something in .hich I can 2eel 6oy and pride3 )e2ore )oth
my o.n and others critical 6udgement.
5o. is all this to )e possi)le> I certainly couldn<t do it all 2rom scratch. It .ould
ta1e me thousands o2 years o2 trial and error. It has3 in 2act3 ta1en people thousands o2
years to learn ho. to )uild the )est )oats that e+ist no. - and I can ta1e ad#antage o2
all the trial and error )y others7 .onder2ul3 .hat a pri#ilege. The e+traordinary process
o2 human culture o22ers me this: that I can loo1 and learn 2rom others3 o#er millennia o2
accumulated human struggle.
For my )oat I study much .or1 o2 other designers and )uilders. I loo1 and
measure and calculate. I learn theories3 a)out .eight and .ater and air3 a)out )alance
and 2lo.3 a)out pressure and resistance7 or at least3 I get some #ague idea a)out these
things. (nd all the time there is some inner 6udge that says things li1e =I don<t li1e
that!? or =isn<t that )eauti2ul ..?. Dy aesthetic sense. I don<t 1no. .here it comes
2rom3 or .hat it ser#es apart 2rom my o.n pleasure C )ut I do notice that some o2 the
most success2ul )oats are3 to me3 #ery )eauti2ul3 and some o2 the ugly ones do not seem
to ha#e .or1ed #ery .ell. Day)e my sense o2 )eauty does ha#e something to do .ith
2unction7 )ut it must surely )e com)ined .ith a large measure o2 e+perience.
I ha#e sailed in a 2e. )oats o2 di22erent types and si0es3 and loo1ed at many .ith
interest. I ha#e )uilt a)out three or 2our small ones in the past3 and learned something o2
ho. they actually )eha#ed on the .ater in #aried .eathers. I ha#e some strong opinions
and pre2erences and pre6udices C and they ha#e all gro.n and changed in some .ays3
on .arm )ree0y days on )lue .ater3 and cold3 .ild terri2ying nights3 2eeling and
hearing and seeing the .ay )oats mo#e and loo1. There<s something a)out the .ay
imagination and reality3 the inner and the outer3 seem to interact and 2orm each other.
I2 .e design something that is made up o2 straight lines and right angles C li1e a
simple house3 say3 or a piece o2 2urniture C then it is relati#ely easy to plan and calculate
e+actly ho. it .ill )e and ho. it .ill all 2it together. Than1s to *uclid3 and others3 .e
ha#e theories a)out these things that .e can use. Its gets a )it more di22icult in three
dimensions rather than t.o3 and i2 .e include other angles than 6ust right angles3 and
circles as .ell as straight lines7 )ut .e still ha#e ade/uate theories a#aila)le. Dore
comple+ cur#es are managea)le3 pro#ided they are mathematically descri)a)le. &e can
2it things together3 calculate .hat our realised dream .ill .eigh3 .hether it .ill stand
up or 2all o#er3 may)e .hether it .ill )rea1 or hold together under some 2airly )asic
situations. (ll that has )een the result o2 some pretty ama0ing .or1 )y some #ery
cle#er people o#er many thousands o2 years.
&hen it comes to su)tle shapes li1e the cur#ed 2orm o2 a )oat<s hull3 and trying to
predict .hat .ill happen to it in a Force , .ind and a contrary tide3 then the theories
)egin to run out: such theories are not part o2 the collecti#e culture yet. There are some
guesses and appro+imations3 some rules o2 thum)3 and there are some shre.d people
.ho can say @that loo1s a)out right C )ut may)e could do .ith sha#ing a shade o22 the
turn o2 the )ilge there C and she<ll not carry that much can#as in a )lo. -?
Theories o2 geometry C and structure and stress3 and gra#ity3 and hydrostatics3 and
hydrodynamics C are all a)stractions. They are a)out patterns3 ideas3 ideals: lines so
straight and circles so per2ect that no real thing could li#e up to them7 they are 2ull o2
assumptions3 o2 @in principle -<3 @all other things )eing e/ual -<3 @ignoring the
negligi)le e22ect o2 -<. They ha#e gro.n 2rom some 2ertile mi+ture o2 imagination and
e+perience7 they ha#e ta1en shape in a 2e. minds3 and )een con2irmed3 or dumped3 or
re2ined according to much care2ul .or1 .ith many hands and eyes. 5o.e#er good3
ho.e#er de#eloped and per2ected they may )e3 they are o2 no use until another mind3
another pair o2 hands and eyes3 understands something in them and ta1es that
understanding into the .orld and ma1es 6udgements a)out real things3 real )its o2 .ood
or metal or .ater. The most sophisticated )it o2 /uantum physics3 in )oth its and
its application3 depends on people loo1ing at metres3 recognising num)ers3 deciding
.hat to allo. 2or3 .hat to ignore. Theories can guide the hand and eye in e+traordinary
.ays7 and theories depend on hands and eyes Aand hand and eye depend to an ama0ing
degree on the particular instruments and tools that a culture pro#ides3 and then ta1es 2or
. Minds seem to ta1e a #ital mediatory role in )oth directions o2 this
To plan the cur#ed shape o2 a )oat<s hull re/uires a 2e. time8honoured methods7
ma1ing a model o2 the hull is pro)a)ly one o2 the oldest o2 these design techni/ues. It is
@4ec manus3 nisi intellectus3 si)i permissus3 multam #alent7 instrumentis et
au+ili)us res per2icitur.< Francis 9acon. I need my Gad: I used to phone him up to
as1 him to translate Latin .ords and /uotes 2or me ... This one means something
li1e: @4either hand nor mind alone are .orth a lot: it<s the instruments and tools
that per2ect them.< AIn 9runer @(ctual Dinds3 %ossi)le &orlds< p'2B
smaller and cheaper3 simpler and /uic1er to ma1e than the real thing C and once made it
can )e loo1ed at 2rom all angles3 .e can run our hands o#er it and 2eel the cur#es and
the une#ennesses. &e can sha#e a little o223 )uild up a little here and there3 and loo1 and
2eel again. 4ot until it 2eels right do .e need to )egin the 2ull si0e la)our. The o2
the imagination is much e+tended in this .ay.
It is related o2 4i1ola Tesla3 the Pugosla#ian physicist and engineer .ho did
much to de#elop the dynamo3 among other things3 that he could #isualise a machine so
precisely that he could gi#e speci2ications 2or the parts to )e made to an accuracy o2 a
2e. thousandths o2 an inch3 .ithout the need 2or the la)orious process o2 and
measurement. *#en more ama0ingly3 he could apparently set such a machine running in
his mind and lea#e it there 2or a 2e. hours or days or .ee1s C and then e+amine it and
see ho. it had .orn3 .hether some parts needed strengthening or .hate#er. I need
more help 2rom )its o2 paper and rulers and mathematics7 )ut 2or all the limited
o2 my imagination I am pro)a)ly too inclined to ta1e it 2or granted.
To dra. a three dimensional cur#ed shape on a 2lat )it o2 paper needs a particular
and ela)orate process. It can )e done more /uic1ly on a computer3 )ut that .ould )e to
miss much o2 the pleasure and in#ol#ement ; and may)e3 o2 course3 some o2 the
mista1es3 too. I hang on to the )elie23 not yet 2alsi2ied3 that the human hand and eye are
capa)le o2 percei#ing and creating o)6ects o2 proportion and )alance3 o2 )eauty and
2unction3 that are missing i2 .e depend on a digital and programmed system.
Imagine the hull3 its shape per2ectly 2ormed in some homogeneous material3 li1e
clay. Imagine then ta1ing a clean straight slice .ith a long sharp 1ni2e through it at any
point. The result .ould )e to e+pose a 2lat 2ace .hose edge .ould )e a smooth cur#e. I2
.e laid that 2ace on a piece o2 paper .e could dra. round it: .e .ould ha#e a cur#e on
the paper that .ould represent a section o2 the hull. Stic1 the t.o parts together again3
and that cur#e .ould appear as a 2ine line running round the )oat.
&hat .e do to design a hull is to imagine our )oat sliced up li1e that at e#en
inter#als: chop3 chop3 chop3 perhaps 1$ times #ertically across the )oat3 li1e slicing an
onion7 then stic1 it together again and ta1e a ro. o2 slices #ertically end to end7 then
another set o2 slices hori0ontally. *ach slice de2ines a cur#e3 and all these cuts can )e
dra.n on our plan as seen 2rom di22erent angles C some loo1ing li1e a grid o2 straight
lines3 and some li1e a set o2 smooth cur#es3 depending .hich angle .e are loo1ing
2rom. There are t.o tric1s: one is to use long springy )attens3 )ent into cur#es and held
there )y .eights .hile .e dra. care2ully along them C that .ay the cur#es are smooth3
and it is relati#ely easy to 2eel and see any une#enness. The other tric1 is harder to
e+plain: .here#er all these cuts cross o#er each other a 2i+ed point is determined:
.hiche#er angle .e are loo1ing 2rom3 that point has to )e in the same place. The more
cuts .e ta1e3 the more points .e de2ine3 the more accurately .e locate them3 the more
sure .e are that the shape o2 our )oat has )een captured on paper C )ut .e ha#e to 1eep
chec1ing that these points do come out in the same place .hich e#er angle .e are
loo1ing 2rom: i2 not3 .e<#e made a mista1e and there is an inconsistency .hich cannot
.or1 in the real hull. Sometimes @inconsistent< really does mean @impossi)le< .hate#er
my re2lections on the #alue o2 parado+.
There are lots o2 @rules o2 thum)<3 theories and principles that ha#e )een
suggested a)out the 1ind o2 shape that .ill .or1 .ell 2or a )oat o2 a particular 1ind. So
.hat .e do is dra. out a 2e. outline cur#es 2rom one point o2 #ie. C 2rom a)o#e3 or
2rom the side3 or end on C lo#ely smooth cur#es that loo1 a )it li1e some )oat .e
admire and 1no. to ha#e .or1ed .ell. Then .e dra. a di22erent #ie.3 and on it mar1
the 2i+ed points that our 2irst 2e. cur#es ha#e de2ined C and see i2 .e can3 .ith our
)attens and .eights3 dra. a nice smooth cur#e that 6oins them all up. Isually3
especially 2or an amateur li1e me3 it doesn<t .or1: the cur#e is a.1.ard and lumpy3
some points 6ust ha#e to )e le2t out. So )ac1 to the 2irst #ie.: ru) out the places .here
the points didn<t 2it .ell3 and dra. in a ne. smooth cur#e through the ne. points. That3
o2 course3 means shi2ting a 2e. points that seemed all right )e2ore C so )ac1 to #ie.
num)er t.o3 and see ho. good the cur#es are no.. Then3 .hen it seems I<#e got a
reasona)le 2it and some nice loo1ing lines3 on to the third #ie. Atop3 side3 or endB C and
it<s all o#er the place7 so )ac1 to the )eginning 2or a 2e. ad6ustments. (nd so on3 round
and round )et.een the three #ie.s. (nd then .e can ta1e a 2e. diagonal cuts3 and see
i2 the cur#es they produce loo1 smooth3 or they ha#e )umps in them. (t any stage .hen
it all seem to )e 2inally good enough there is a terri)le moment o2 choice: shall I try
another loo13 a 2urther chec1 2rom another point o2 #ie.> The ris1 is #ery real3
positi#ely tangi)le: i2 the chec1 is good then I can en6oy a .onder2ul e+perience o2
con2irmation7 i2 it<s not C then the long process )egins again. The optimist in me3 .ho3
in the .ay o2 optimists3 is inclined to that happy mi+ture o2 hope and 2aith and la0iness3
is e#er ready to )elie#e that this must )e good enough7 the pessimist in me is sourly
assuring me that I .ill pay 2or it later. I can only hope that they .ill arri#e at some
mutually satis2actory compromise some day soon.
I<m on my third #ersion no.. I ha#e my ne. )oard set up in the spare
)edroom. From the .indo. I can see a 2e. sycamore trees not 2ar a.ay3 )ut they are
)are no.3 in the middle o2 .inter3 and I can see also the 2ield )eyond3 .ith a 2e. rather
desultory sheep in it at the moment. The sun sets outside that .indo.3 and shines right
into my eyes as I .or1 2or a )rie2 time 6ust )e2ore it sets. Today I realise is actually the
shortest day o2 the year3 the moment o2 Pang .ithin Pin3 .hen the seed o2 ne.
and return a.a1ens.
There is also a s1ylight7 i2 I stand up and loo1 out I can see do.n to the ri#er. It<s
a tidal ri#er3 a salt .ater estuary. The .ater e))s and 2lo.3 )rimming o#er onto the
grass o2 my garden or gently a.ay to lea#e e+panses o2 glistening mud. It
seems to )reathe in and out3 a thread 2rom the great ocean3 a sort o2 al#eolar duct 2rom
the distant lung o2 the sea. I lo#e to 2eel that thread stretching to.ards me through the
domesticated 2ields and .oods that surround me here. In my eyes at the moment the
ri#er seems to )e .aiting 2or my dream: it is the high.ay on .hich I shall set out3 enter
the )loodstream o2 the .orld - i2 I get that 2ar.
Three times I ha#e )egun .ith a )eauti2ul clean piece o2 paper on my
)oard3 and dra.n out on it the grid o2 lines that represent the #arious cuts. I do it
cleanly and precisely3 in 2ine )lac1 in1 lines. I create my mechanical grid o2 straight
lines and right angles3 my 2ormal net3 in .hich to catch the )eauti2ul and elusi#e shape
o2 my per2ect )oat. (ll I get is )its3 li1e )ro1en shards o2 a statue3 2rom .hich I hope to
)e a)le to construct the imagined 2orm. It continually slips through3 the )its don<t 2it3
and I ru) out and alter and reshape my lines until the paper is a mess and a tangle. 9ut
each time I ha#e something: a set o2 num)ers3 measurements3 that are a little closer than
last time ; so I reach 2or a ne. sheet o2 paper3 dra. out another grid3 and )egin again
.ith my measurements to try and get a little closer to the ideal.
I 2eel li1e one o2 %lato<s ca#e8d.ellers: images o2 )eauty mo#e on the )ac1 .all
o2 my ca#e3 shado.s o2 a reality that I cannot see outside. I try to catch them3 to dra.
round their outlines3 )ecause only in this .ay can I 1eep something o2 .hat I sa.3 and
may)e tell others o2 my #isions. They mo#e too 2ast 2or me3 )ut each time they return I
see places .here my crude lines on the ca#e .all don<t /uite 2it3 and I ru) out that little
)it3 and try again. I can only .or1 on my ca#e dra.ings a little )it at a time7 )ut
)ecause I can dra.3 )ecause the lines I scratch stay3 e#en .hen the shado. image has
gone3 I can .or1 up to.ards something that does3 .ith much patient la)our3 catch
something o2 the /uality o2 .hat I see. That3 I suppose3 is .hat human culture and
communication and art and our .ays o2 recording and imitating ha#e gi#en us.
The 9oat itsel23 as an a)stract %latonic 2orm3 e+isting only in my imagination3 or
in some realm .here Ideas can e+ist3 is a single per2ectly 2ormed .hole C it is my
Reality3 to.ards .hich I stri#e. (ll I ha#e is points o2 #ie.3 su)6ecti#e angles 2rom
.hich I loo17 I can<t see as a .hole3 o)6ecti#ely. Dy partial su)6ecti#e #ie.s are #ery
limited and imper2ect: e#en .hen they look good3 as i2 they must )e right3 they may
em)ody 2aults .hich only sho. .hen seen 2rom a di22erent angle. The one that I
ha#e to help me to.ards realising the actual 2orm itsel23 the o)6ecti#e @truth< a)out it3 is
that I am 2ree to take different oints of view. *ach time I ta1e a di22erent #ie. I ha#e a
ne. chance to spot discrepancies3 and a ne. chance to create a )etter appro+imation to
the @truth<. It<s a #ery 2rustrating and sometimes pain2ul process. I 2eel tempted o2ten to
stic1 .ith the one #ie. I ha#e .or1ed on3 and .hich loo1s so good: .hat a shame to
ha#e to try another angle and )e 2orced to chec1 it all out C all I do is disco#er errors
and ha#e to attac1 my )eauti2ul dra.ings .ith a ru))er and spoil it all. 5o. much
easier not to )other3 and stic1 .ith the untarnished per2ection o2 my limited #ie.3 my
partial truth.
(ll this is so rich in metaphor and allegory that it<s hard to resist getting /uite
carried a.ay )y it. In 6ust such a .ay do .e try and construct a managea)le grid )y
.hich to measure the .orld3 a net in .hich to catch its elusi#e shi2ts and in2inite detail.
"onstrained )y our dimensional limitations .e cannot see it3 or hold it3 as a .hole3
cannot catch its richness and #ariety: all .e can do is ta1e a point o2 #ie.3 )uild a
la)orious grid that touches the reality at a 2e. points o2 intersection. (nd the only .ay
to chec13 to test our truth3 is to try another point o2 #ie.3 an entirely di22erent
perspecti#e3 at right angles i2 possi)le3 as di22erent as it is possi)le to get. "omparing
these t.o .e can compare the 2e. points o2 intersection3 see i2 they tally: i2 not our
#ie.s are inconsistent3 cannot )oth )e right3 and .e need to ma1e a 2e. ad6ustments3
apply the ru))er and try again. The trou)le is it<s terri)ly hard to attac1 our )eauti2ul
image .ith a ru))er: it turns it into such a mess3 and it too1 so much time and la)our -
so much easier not to shi2t perspecti#e3 to hang onto our per2ect3 tidy image and insist
that it is the truth.
I2 .e do that .e are going to run into some terri)le pro)lems .ith reality3 .hich
is 6ust not going to 2it. &e<re going to ha#e to learn either not to notice the )umps and
distortions3 or to insist that that<s 6ust the .ay it .as supposed to )e.
&hich3 I suppose3 is 6ust an e+ample o2 6ust the 1ind o2 thing I do .hen I play on
the 2loor .ith my metaphors and don<t .ant to go outside: dare I put my philosophy 1it
a.ay and 2ind out .hat it might mean to )e a gro.n8up>
&ith my )oat I 1no. I<m not going to )e a)le to 2ool mysel2. I2 I stic1 .ith a 2e.
per2ect cur#es and don<t chec1 them out3 then .hen I come to )uild the )oat itsel23 then
sure as hell it<s going to come out lumpy and gappy or .on<t all 2it together at all. For a
)oat3 .hen I<m going to ris1 my li2e .ith her at sea C not to mention my pride among
2ello. )oatmen C it<s got to )e .orth a proper 6o)3 e#en i2 it means up all my
o.n errors.
I 1eep the plans out on the )oard3 .here I can loo1 at them .hen I pass.
Last night3 late a2ter a day .or1ing on them .ith my nose do.n to the paper3 and
2eeling I<d got them pretty much right and ready to go3 I .ent into my .or1room 2or a
last 2ond loo1. Suddenly I sa. a glaring 2ault: the lines in the sectional #ie.3 as they
approached the stern .ere too close together 2or a stretch3 and then opened out a )it C
that can<t )e right3 the spacing should surely change e#enly as the lines go a2t. (nd that
)ottom .aterline C ho. come it<s such a slac1 cur#e3 .hen most )oats I admire ha#e
/uite a tight turn in them 6ust there> Giscouragement7 does that mean going right )ac1
to the )eginning again> (nd this is still only the plans I<m .or1ing on7 ha#en<t got near any )its o2 .ood yet. Day)e I<ll do something else 2or a couple o2 days.
Read another )oo1 a)out )oat design7 or )uy some plans 2rom someone .ho 1no.s
.hat he<s doing7 or )uy a ready )uilt )oat. Fr go )ac1 to dreaming: may)e I<ll 6ust
imagine the .hole thing and .rite a )oo1 a)out that: no8one .ill 1no. the di22erence.
!this delusion 3if it is a delusion4, that twin currents
of blood, .reek from my mother and *rab from my
father !5arth and 6ire !, run in my veins, has been
ositive and fruitful giving me strength, 'oy and
wealth. My struggle to make a synthesis of these two
antagonistic imulses has lent urose and unity to
my life.
I read something else: I need a )rea1 2rom )oats3 and ha#e )een in#ol#ed in my
inagination 2or a .hile in someone else<s story and search. Ka0ant0a1is3 the "retan3
.ho )egan his 6ourney in a place that 2or me could seem more li1e a destination C a
sun8drenched island3 set in a .ine8dar1 sea C sees the thread that gi#es his li2e
coherence3 that holds it together3 in the 2orm o2 a con2lict that he 2eels deeply in
himsel23 ta1ing many 2orms3 )ut arising again and again3 and seemingly .ithout
resolution )ut creating rich and po.er2ul springs o2 energy in him. It is the con2lict
)et.een his 2ather and his mother C their di22erent .ays o2 )eing3 the di22erent cultural
and elemental 2orces they seem to em)ody3 (ra) and Hree13 *arth and Fire. 5is o.n
tas1 in li2e3 perhaps the only .ay he could hope to 2eel peace and 2ul2ilment in himsel23
is through the reconciliation o2 these t.o C and more than reconciliation3 a synthesis. To
disco#er in himsel2 the .ay )y .hich these t.o 2orces .hich he had .itnessed in
opposition3 .hich he had 1no.n in his o.n )eing as capa)le o2 tearing him apart3 each
seeming to demand the denial o2 the other C to 2ind a .ay in .hich these t.o could
come together in a 1ind o2 inner 2ertilisation to create a ne. .ay o2 )eing that could
li#e )eyond either o2 them as they must )e .hile apart.
There is a pro2ound sym)olic appeal in this idea3 .hich seems to represent a
mani2estation o2 the o2 *ros to concei#e and release li2e and #igour into the
.orld. Re)irth in the transcendent synthesis o2 opposites: is not this the essence o2 li2e3
o2 the mystery o2 )eing human>
9ut .hat i2 I carry this inspiring idea a )it nearer to my o.n li2e> .hat elemental
2orces did my parents em)ody> The transposition o2 this imagery and sym)olism 2rom
"rete to su)ur)an Surrey3 2rom the e+otic to the 2amiliar3 is not to )e accomplished
.ithout a momentary shoc1 C and3 i2 I do )egin to thin1 o2 my parents together3 the 2irst
image that comes to my mind is /uite .ithout the romance and the "retan could
2ind in his story -
I see them seated either side o2 the 2ireplace: each in their o.n chair3 each
surrounded )y the 2e. things that had personal #alue and meaning 2or them. I do not
recall that either o2 them had many possessions3 or pri#ate territory o2 their o.n else in the house3 .hich seems strange3 .hen I compare it to my o.n home
no.. Day)e it<s my child<s eye #ie.3 )ut the rooms o2 that house3 the 2urniture and
o)6ects in them3 .hich I suppose made up almost my entire .orld 2or se#eral years3
didn<t seem to )elong to anyone or to carry any deep personal stamp: it .as simply the
.orld. The rooms .ere 2unctional: there .as a 1itchen3 .ith a red /uarry8tiled 2loor3 a
small coal sto#e3 a huge dou)le 9el2ast sin13 a gas coo1er3 a green Formica8topped
ta)le3 and an enormous cream8painted dresser .ith a 2lap that could )e pulled do.n to
pro#ide a .hite enamelled sur2ace e+pressly 2or ma1ing )read 2rom the 2lour in the
green metal tin. There .as a dining room C that .as3 I thin13 called the nursery 2or a
.hile3 .hen there .as green lino on the 2loor3 crac1ed and pitted )y the chair legs3
.hich could mar1 out roads and seas and )attle2ields3 and .hen there .ere three cots
)rought do.n 2rom upstairs and .herein three children .ent through the trials o2
measles. 9ut later it .as the dining room3 .ith a )ig round ta)le .ith inlaid patterns o2
2lo.ers on its #eneered sur2ace3 .here stamp collections could )e laid out3 or model
)oats could )e care2ully assem)led and launched onto the seas o2 2antasy3 all
this must ha#e )egun B C or draughts pieces could )e 2lic1ed across in an ela)orate
game o2 eliminati#e com)at )et.een the 2orces o2 .hite and )lac1 that .e de#ised7 or it
could trans2ormed )y a .hite damas1 ta)le8cloth into scenes o2 emotion8charged
"hristmas dinner3 or the strangely inhi)ited adult ritual o2 entertaining e+otic guests.
There .as a sitting room3 .here on occasions that .ere undou)tedly special3 )ut
.ere initiated only )y some esoteric parental insight into the correct order o2 things3 the
2ire .ould )e lit3 and a mysterious magic .ould illumine the 2e. short hours to )ed8
time. There .as a )ay .indo. .ith a pair o2 hea#y green curtains that pulled across it:
)ehind this curtain .as a small )ut un)ounded space .herein dramas3 tragedies and
comedies o2 li2e could )e acted out3 transcending e#en the limitation o2 the green lino3
.ith the help o2 the dressing8up )o+3 and on occasions .ith a script .ritten and typed
out )y my 2ather. I .onder .here these pages are no.: I .ould lo#e to read them again.
Those .ords I had to learn )y heart must )e )uried in an old )o+ in some
attic3 as they are in my psyche.
There .as a .ooden .ind8up gramophone in there too3 though only rarely
)rought out. I don<t 1no. .here it .as the rest o2 the time. There .ere three records:
5enry 5all<s @Teddy 9ear<s %icnic< ; @I2 you go do.n to the .oods today -< C and on
the other side @5ush3 hush3 hush3 here comes the 9ogey Dan -<7 one gro.n8up record3
a choir singing @(ll on an (pril<s *#ening< ; and one other3 )ut I don<t remem)er .hat
it .as.
It seems to me e+traordinary ho. much comes )ac1 as I )egin to .ander around
that house in my mind no.. I 2eel I could e+plore e#ery corner o2 it again3 on my hands
and 1nees cra.ling C and then again standing a 2e. 2eet 2urther 2rom the 2loor C and
2ind endlessly proli2erating memories in e#ery pattern on the carpet3 under e#ery piece
o2 2urniture among the dust and lost mar)les3 and )ehind e#ery door. The 2eel o2 each
door handle3 the sound o2 each door opening and closing3 and the smell o2 each room
These .ide spaces )ecame smaller and in time. I .ent out into the
garden one day3 dri#en )y a deep urge to e+plore3 and carrying some s.eets and a )ottle
o2 .ater3 dri#en )y a deep urge 2or e+ploration and a deep incoherent longing to 2ind an
un1no.n corner o2 the garden .here I had not )een )e2ore3 and .here I could
encounter something ne. and un1no.n. I searched systematically along the hedge C
the pri#et and cypress along the side o2 the a#enue3 the ha.thorn and elder along )y the
main road3 and the .ooden 2ence and the apple and lilac trees )et.een us and the
neigh)ours. (cross that 2ence 4ina had sho.n me a )ag o2 yello. sher)et lemons that
she had3 a .hole )ag3 and I 1ne. that part o2 up .ould )e the almost
unimagina)le 2reedom to possess such 2or)idden things.
I /uartered the grounds: the 2lo.er8)eds and the #egeta)le patch3 the sand8pit3 the
cherry tree. The space )ehind the )icycle shed aroused my e+citement and hopes 2or a
.hile3 )ecause it .as narro. and di22icult3 and I had not managed to get into it )e2ore.
(part 2rom that I 2ound nothing that .as not already entirely 2amiliar3 and had to admit
that I has 1no.n all along it .asn<t possi)le. It .as not so much the 2ailure itsel2 that
saddened me so much as the recognition o2 this sterile pessimism in mysel2.
Dy 2ather had a study3 lined .ith )oo1s on one .all and under the .indo.3 and a
mahogany des1 .ith a 2aded )lac1 leather top3 almost .orn though in places3 that had
)elonged to his 2ather and .hich I ha#e no.. AI ha#e 6ust noticed3 .ith a shoc13 that it is
this des1 I am sitting at no.: 2or all the distances and lost spaces )et.een no. and then
there is a continuity - I ha#e e#en 2ound3 loo1ing through the dra.ers3 a 1ey .ith a
la)el3 .hich says in )lac1 in1 @Key o2 J.5 DcKean<s .riting ta)le< C I<m not sure a)out
the initials. So I .as .rong: it .as my mother<s 2ather it had )elonged to.B There .ere
piles o2 )o+es3 too C and things li1e the ping8pong ta)le that .ere only occasionally
)rought out. Day)e the gramophone .as there3 too. It didn<t 2eel in the least li1e his
territory C 6ust a store room. I don<t thin1 he used it 2or anything else.
From the landing it .as possi)le to set up a ladder to reach a trap8door up to the
attic. Fnly a 2e. )o+es and chests o2 things o2 great age3 that .ere un/uestiona)ly
)eyond any possi)le current use3 .ere 1ept up there. &e .ere almost ne#er allo.ed up
into the attic3 )ecause there .as such a danger o2 stepping )et.een the )eams and
plunging )ac1 into the 2amiliar .ith pro)a)ly 2atal conse/uences. 9ut I did once 2ind a
place .here it .as possi)le to cra.l )et.een t.o ra2ters3 pushing aside the )lac1
roo2ing 2elt and the co).e)s3 and enter a small space a)o#e a ga)le that 2ormed a secret
room .here .ithout any dou)t no8one had e#er )een )e2ore. I esta)lished a den there3
.ith a couple o2 )o+es and a small num)er o2 #ery secret possessions C )ut I only
managed to get there a 2e. times3 2or it .as almost inaccessi)le to me. I ha#e no dou)t
that my den3 and those 2e. important things3 are still there3 and .ill pro)a)ly ne#er )e
Dy parents )edroom .as certainly theirs and not 2amily terrain: .e didn<t play in
there3 e+cept as an occasional resource 2or hide8and8see1 C not )ecause it .as ta)oo3
)ut )ecause it .asn<t interesting. It seemed remote3 almost musty3 and neither ali#e nor
mysterious. The only gestures )eyond the essentials o2 sleeping and storing clothes
.ere a 2e. 2rames photos on the .all3 2ading into a dar1 sepia. I only #aguely
.ondered .ho they might )e: my grandparents3 I thin13 )ut they seemed too 2ar
remo#ed in time to e#en .onder a)out.
Dy 2ather insisted that there should )e no heating in their room3 and that the
.indo. should )e open at night. There .as a thermometer )ehind one o2 the .indo.
curtains: round and )lac13 .ith a glass 2ace and a single needle3 li1e a one8handed
cloc1. I remem)er loo1ing at it .hen I .ent in one 2rosty morning: it sho.ed 14Q F3
that<s 1!Q o2 2rost. I .onder i2 my mother e#er complained3 )ecause I<m sure she didn<t
li1e it.
They each had a )ed8side ta)le .ith perhaps one or t.o things there: a cloc13 a
glass o2 .ater7 sometimes3 and rather shoc1ingly3 a set o2 teeth7 a pair o2 glasses. &hen
my mother died3 in this room3 .hile I sat on the )ed )eside her3 and my 2ather .andered
in some )e.ilderment around the house3 I remem)er loo1ing at these glasses3 and .hat
)rought the death home to me .as o)ser#ing suddenly and entirely clearly that there
.as no8one to .hom they )elonged any more. I had the same sensation loo1ing at her
)ody: there .as simply no8one to .hom it )elonged any more. 9oth )ody and glasses
had lost all particular use or signi2icance.
The greatest moments o2 .armth and lo#e in this room 2or me .ere on Sunday
mornings .hen .e children .ould get into )ed .ith them C an e#ent 1no.n as the
Gread2ul 9ed2ul C and he .ould read us a story: a chapter 2rom the current )oo13
)ecause there .as al.ays a )oo1. That memory .arms me no.. &hen he had 2inished3
and .e .ere sure he could not )e persuaded to read one more page3 .e .ould )egin to
tic1le him. &e ne#er tic1led my mother C that .as ta)oo3 or may)e 6ust unre.arding3 a
sort o2 impossi)le anomaly. She .ould get up C to ma1e space 2or us3 I thought3 )ut
may)e 6ust 2or her o.n sa1e C and he .ould say3 in a tone 2ull o2 dire threat and
promise: @don<t 2orget the stic1le8)ac1: tic1le him3 he<ll tic1le )ac1 -< and a 2e.
minutes o2 s/uirming agony3 ecstasy and chaos .ould 2ollo..
I had thought3 until this memory o2 Sunday morning came )ac13 that there .as
little trace o2 either agony3 ecstasy or chaos to )e 2ound in my early li2e. I am grate2ul
that it .as there.
&hat pri#acy3 .hat pri#ate terrain3 they 2ound .as each in their o.n chair3 either
side o2 the 2ireplace3 my 2ather to the right3 my mother to the le2t. I can only guess that
it .as all the pri#acy they needed3 )ut i2 so it .as )ecause it .as so e22ecti#ely
esta)lished in these chairs. Fn my 2ather<s side C he had a deep armchair in .hich he
could retreat almost to the point o2 complete concealment3 an occupied in#isi)ility C
.ere )oo1s. 4ot many )oo1s C he must ha#e )een )etter at putting them a.ay then I
am C )ut enough to 2orm at least a sym)olic castellation on the ramparts o2 the chair
arms. There .as a nest o2 three small .ooden ta)les )eside him that .ould hold more.
There .as a radio on a shel2 on the other side o2 him3 .hich .as used at regular3 and
regulated3 times: 2or the ne.s each e#ening3 and 2or occasional 2amily treats3 li1e
@Donday 4ight at 5ome<3 or @Ta1e it From 5ere<. I can still con6ure up the tones o2
I#or "utler3 or Ron and *th no.. There .as no music. 4ot e#en @(ll on an (pril<s
*#ening< .hich seemed lin1ed to some lost and une+plained pri#ate nostalgia o2 my
5is great .or13 the tas1 that re/uired all his attention and energy and .hich
6usti2ied and sancti2ied his de2ended castle3 .as a strangely hallo.ed acti#ity called The
Gictionary. 5e .as3 I later disco#ered .or1ing on the compilation o2 a Dedie#al Latin
Gictionary. It in#ol#ed gathering .ords3 e#ery .ord e#er used in the Scholastic .orld
o2 the Diddle (ges3 .here Latin .as the only language suited to such seriousness. 5e
had3 I thin13 a team o2 readers3 sometimes re2erred to )ut ne#er seen in person3 2or they
.ere out on their #ital3 and may)e dangerous3 mission o2 search across time C 2or
.ords. *ach o2 the most o)scure and secret places .here .ords could lie )uried and
concealed .as e+plored )y these dedicated and unsung agents3 and their treasures o2
occurrence and conte+t .ere recorded in )lac1 in1y s/uiggles on small .hite slips o2
paper. These Slips .ere stored in )o+es3 in the study on the shel#es under the .indo.3
and pro)a)ly more o2 them in an appropriate #ault some.here3 .hence they .ere
)rought out and put on the shel2 )eside the radio3 or on the arm o2 the chair. Dy 2ather
.ould ta1e out these Slips3 ga0e at them3 scri))le a little 2rom time to time3 and
rearrange them in the )o+es.
&hen I 2irst )ecame a.are o2 the signi2icance o2 all this I .as truly and deeply
appalled. That a li2e3 the li2e o2 my o.n 2ather3 should )e dedicated thus to .hat seemed
to )e the most e+treme minutiae that I could imagine o2 the most distant and irrele#ant
cre#ices o2 times long past3 that I could not caricature or e+aggerate )eyond .hat he
achie#ed in reality3 caused a chill o2 horror and 2ear in me. I2 such erudition3 i2 a man
.ho could clim) mountains 2ar a)o#e the sno. line3 and in2alli)ly )eat me at chess3
could 2ind enough meaning in this la)our to 6usti2y his li2e - and he didn<t e#en 2inish
it. 5e had3 reached3 I )elie#e3 around L or D .hen he passed the torch on to
someone else -
Fnly #ery ha#e I come to accept3 e#en to admire3 .hat he did. That a)ility
to ac1no.ledge the limitations o2 )eing one human )eing3 and then to commit all his
resources to one tiny corner o2 the edi2ice o2 1no.ledge3 and to )uild it .ell C it may )e
more than I .ill e#er accomplish3 and I may mysel2 come too late to realise the real
dignity o2 such la)our3 set against the 2olly o2 dreams that .ould aspire to the heights
and remain only dreams.
I .onder i2 in some .ay he .as 2ul2illing some synthesis o2 the t.o elemental
stream that 2lo.ed in his o.n #eins. I could )e7 though i2 so it .ould )e )uried and
inaccessi)le to me. The great F*G3 .hich gi#es me such pleasure no.3 .as in his #eins
too: .e 1ne. it as Hreat Incle James3 and I carry .ith pride3 the name o2 Durray.
These things did not at the time seem in any .ay incomprehensi)le C or rather
they didn<t seem to demand comprehension. 5e .ent out e#ery morning at a /uarter to
eight to catch a train3 and at ten to se#en in the e#ening there .ould )e the sound o2 his
1ey in the 2ront door3 and the routine o2 the e#ening .ould )e initiated. &hat happened
)et.een these times3 though un1no.n3 also did not need to )e understood3 .as not
mysterious in the .ay that the )ac1 o2 the )icycle shed3 or the recesses o2 the attic3 .ere
Dy mother<s side o2 the 2ireplace .as simpler: her chair .as more upright3 the
arms .ere t.o open cur#es o2 .ood that concealed nothing. She had no need o2
out.ard signs o2 retreat3 2or her inner concealment .as e#en more e22ecti#e than his.
She had a small round .ooden ta)le3 a ta)le3 )et.een her chair and the .all3 so
that it .as inaccessi)le to anyone else. Inside its li2ting top .ere 1ept #arious
uninteresting maternal necessities3 to do .ith soc1s and )uttons. There .ere a 2e. more
things on the ta)le: I see no. only her 1nitting3 this .ee1<s letter 2rom her mother and
her .riting pad and this .ee1<s hal282inished reply C and a 9i)le. It might )e a prayer
)oo13 )ut it is )lac13 and it is a pri#ate channel to Hod. She3 too3 has her pri#ate lin1s
.ith the .orld outside this time and place3 her o.n sources o2 .isdom C 2or she has
communication .ith her mother3 and .ith Hod3 and these t.o seem stand at the
gate.ay o2 all that is precious and pri#ate to her and in#isi)le to me.
These t.o .orlds3 on either side o2 the 2ire3 each )elong to their o.n dimension
o2 transcendence and distance and mystery. 9ut they do not intersect7 there is no )ridge
across the gap )et.een them e+cept the most mundane and least transcendent. I thin1
my mother )oth consulted and reported on domestic issues across the gap3 and my
2ather responded .ith sounds and gestures o2 the utmost co8operation C he .ould agree
.ith .hate#er in2ormation or re/uest he recei#ed3 2or my mother .ould only o22er .hat
had already passed her 6udgement o2 .hat .as right. I2 he 1ne. on his side .hat .as
True3 then she 2or her part certainly 1ne. .hat .as Right.
I thin1 they must ha#e had some /uite e+traordinary and tacit agreement )et.een
them that amounted to per2ect mutual support and protection. It .as )ased on a di#ision
o2 the .orld into mutually e+clusi#e realms o2 acti#ity3 responsi)ility and interest that
accomplished e#erything important .ithout con2lict. 5e used to say that their marriage
.as )ased on the harmonious principle o2 the Resisti)le Force encountering the
Do#ea)le F)6ect3 and I can see the percepti#eness o2 this insight. (nd in
the distance I hear the o2 all the .ild )easts that had to )e 1ept )eyond the pri#et
hedge to achie#e it.
Is this then the con2lict that I em)ody3 that it is my tas1 and challenge to
synthesise in my li2e> I .ant to laugh at the idea7 and I .ant to .eep C and to
@Pes3 it could )e so -<
There are elemental 2orces here: they may not emerge clearly 2rom the images
that e22er#esce 2rom my memory3 )ut I can see them. Fn his side there is Thought3 the
Dind3 the Intellect. Fn hers3 Spirit3 Hod3 and the (ncestors. I 1no. that I must resol#e
these t.o. I 2eel them )oth in my #eins3 too close to me to )e clearly seen3 )ut I 1no.
them. %erhaps it is not so much the con2lict )et.een then C 2or although I thin1 there is
con2lict not 2ar )elo. the sur2ace o2 the story I am telling3 it is not a #iolent one C )ut
rather the distance )et.een them that needs to )e resol#ed. (nd to struggle .ith
distance can )e harder and more lonely than to struggle .ith con2lict. They seem each
one3 Dind and Spirit3 to )e o2 enormous po.er3 and each one to 2ace in such opposite
directions3 to reach out into such incommensura)le dimension3 that the tas1 seems
o#er.helming. I do not 1no. .here to )egin.
I 1no. that they need each other3 these t.o3 and 1no. that there is a 1ind o2 death
and morti2ication 2or each .ithout the other. They 1ne. that3 too3 )ut .ere silent3 e#en
.ith each other. It needs to )e spo1en3 to )e li#ed. (nd I 1no.3 too3 that 2or that li#ing
and spea1ing the only .ay is out )eyond the hedge C e#en )eyond the street lamps and
)eyond the dar1ness at the end o2 the a#enue to .here the 2orests )egin C .here there is
so much that .e .ere 1ept sa2e 2rom inside. I ha#e heard the strange and distur)ing
cries that come 2rom some o2 the inha)itants o2 those 2orests3 and I perhaps 1no. some
o2 their names: Fear3 %assion3 Space3 Gou)t3 Solitude3 Geath3 Dystery - &hat I do not
1no. is .here they are to )e 2ound3 and ho. near or 2ar a.ay they might )e.
These t.o .ords3 Dind and Spirit3 leapt so easily to.ards me .hen I needed
them to descri)e the essential /ualities that my t.o parents represent 2or me7 these
.ords seem instantly right C )ut i2 I loo1 more closely at them3 I am much less sure I
1no. .hat they mean.
Dind: I thin1 I understand C it means the .hole range o2 my intellectual3 rational3
cogniti#e 2aculties3 the su)6ecti#e e+perience o2 thin1ing a)out something3
distinguished 2rom my 2eelings or my .ill. A(s in any attempt at de2inition there are
plenty o2 opportunities 2or circularity i2 .e 1eep as1ing /uestions: .hat do all these
.ords mean> C )ut I 2eel I 1no. .ell enough 2or no..B
(nd Spirit: that<s much more di22icult. It<s also a 2amiliar .ord3 )ut any attempt
to catch its meaning and it seems to #anish completely into /uestions Athis time not 6ust
/uestions a)out .ords3 )ut real /uestions a)out the nature o2 the .orldB.
(ccording to Hreat Incle James Ahe is one o2 the things that I must lea#e )ehind
on the #oyage3 and I shall miss him.B there are some 24 distinct ma6or senses o2 the
.ord @spirit<. It is originally strongly lin1ed to the Latin siritus, and the Hree1
neuma, re2erring to the )reath3 )reathing the air etc. The important meanings in my
conte+t here are to do .ith:
@The #ital principle in li#ing things3 the aspect o2 a )eing that is distinct
2rom the purely material or corporeal3 the Soul3 .hich )eing distinct 2rom the
physical may )e )elie#ed to sur#i#e the death o2 the )ody<
This de2inition suggests a conte+t3 a )asic .ay o2 thin1ing3 .hich gi#es all
metaphysical and moral /uestions their meaning. There is thus an immediate lin1
)et.een the spiritual and all religious A@etymology dou)t2ul<B )elie2s and concepts o2
higher meanings or po.ers that e+ist and e+ert their e22ect )eyond the limitations o2 our
mortal li2e.
I suppose that .ill ha#e to do 2or no.7 )ut .hat emerges most strongly 2or me3
poring o#er the compact edition o2 the F*G .ith my magni2ying glass3 is that .hat .e
are a)o#e all trying to tal1 a)out here is precisely the issue o2 .hat .e don’t 1no. C )ut
ne#ertheless 2eel to )e the most important. The deepest 2ears .e encounter at the edge
o2 .hat .e 1no. seem to )e to do .ith death3 .ith the possi)ility o2 meaninglessness3
.ith our ultimate isolation3 and perhaps .ith dou)ts a)out the #alue o2 anything3
including oursel#es C all things that3 ho.e#er .e may feel a)out them3 someho. de2y
our ordinary .ays o2 I2 the .ords @spirit< and @spiritual< ha#e any real
signi2icance 2or me it is )ecause they are a)out ho. .e relate to the 2act o2 not knowing
a)out some o2 the things that .e 2eel most deeply a)out.
R Dy star8ga0ing a22ected me so deeply )ecause it .as at those moments3 in the
2ace o2 the in2inite reaches o2 space and time3 that I 2elt most acutely my o.n
diminuti#e )re#ity. Kno.ledge3 that I ha#e ac/uired .ith great interest and gratitude
2rom others3 ho.e#er much it e+pands my sense o2 .hat is out there C only emphasises
my total uncertainty a)out so much7 and in particular a)out my o.n place in it all.
(s a #ery young and ine+perienced schoolmaster3 )arely into my t.enties3 I .as
as1ed to gi#e a sermon at one o2 the Sunday ser#ices in the school chapel. AI .as later
)arred 2rom doing the e#ening prayers .hen it .as disco#ered that I .as reading
e+tracts 2rom 4iet0sche and Gostoe#s1y and the li1e3 rather than 2rom more orthodo+
religious sources3 )ut my sermon came )e2ore that disco#ery.B Dy theme3 as 2ar as I can
recall it no.3 .as that although e#ery other aspect o2 education seemed to )e a)out
1no.ledge3 the classes that .ere called Religious Kno.ledge .ere really a 1ind o2
contradiction in terms: that religion is a)o#e all a)out ho. .e deal .ith .hat .e don<t
AI pro)a)ly still ha#e the notes 2rom that sermon in one o2 my o.n dusty )o+es in
the attic. I ha#e a tendency to hoard notes 2or the same reason that I hoard )its o2 .ood:
they might come in use2ul one day. The only )it I recall clearly .as /uoting 2rom
Sha.<s @(ndrocles and the Lion<: I said something a)out the lions )eing thro.n to the
"hristians3 .hich caused much amusement. I reco#ered 2rom that )y correcting mysel23
and adding that I .asn<t sure .hich .ould )e .orse. ( clear case o2 heresy. The point
o2 /uoting the play .as a line o2 dialogue in .hich someone as1s the hero3 a)out to )e
thro.n to the lions3 .hat is it that he<s prepared to gi#e his li2e 2or> 5e replies =I2 I
1ne. that it .ould not )e .orth dying 2or.?B
Day)e this attitude is un2air to those .ho do ha#e 1no.ledge o2 Hod and the
Spirit and the Soul ; )ut .hate#er that 1no.ledge may )e it isn<t communica)le in the
same sense as the rest o2 a school sylla)us3 and the /uestions that are raised here are so
enormously important and po.er2ul and rele#ant that those o2 us .ithout 1no.ledge
are still compelled to con2ront them and to li#e someho. .ith our uncertainty. Thus
@the spiritual< means this 2or me: it is e#erything to do .ith .hat lies )eyond the
1no.n3 or .hat could )e 1no.n )y honest consultation .ith rather con#entional
e#eryday sources3 and the more re2ined practical endea#ours o2 science. I 1no. I am
e+cluding 6ust those sources that are ready to gi#e me the certainties I lac1 C the
teachings o2 religions C )ut they seem to as1 o2 me one o2 t.o things: either to ha#e
2aith .here I cannot ha#e 1no.ledge3 or to 2ollo. some disciplined path .hich .ill
e#entually change my e+perience itsel2 C and hence my 1no.ledge.
I must ac1no.ledge here that I am actually open to )oth o2 those C pro#ided that
it doesn<t mean surrendering my intellectual integrity. (nd I must also add that 2or me
my #oyage does ha#e something in common .ith the @spiritual path< in that it is an
attempt in the direction o2 simplicity3 the elemental3 the attempt to diminish distraction
and a#oidance3 to open more directly to immediate and inner e+perience3 to reduce
comple+ity o2 input.
I am not particularly sceptical3 and certainly not cynical3 a)out the nature and o2 @religious< and @spiritual< e+perience. There are moments in my o.n li2e that I
.ould not hesitate to la)el in this .ay3 and they .ere enormously memora)le and
crucial 2or me C almost li1e the pearls among all the e#ents that I string together to
ma1e my li2e. Day)e .hat is important a)out them is 6ust that they are part o2 my
e+perience3 and it is that that ma1es them important. (ll my e+perience is potentially
)oth po.er2ul and important3 A.hat else do I ha#e>B3 and .hether it gets la)elled as
religious or not is less to the point.
The #aluation o2 my intellectual integrity3 my to dou)t3 to )e critical3 to as1
/uestions3 to thin1 a)out things3 to )e sceptical Aand not cynicalB3 is 6ust .hat I #alue
2rom my 2ather<s side C I do not .ant to surrender that3 e#en i2 I am le2t ultimately .ith
@I do not 1no. -<
There is 2ar more in li2e than can )e directed or resol#ed )y 1no.ledge. @Spirit<
has to do .ith the rest3 .ith .hat lies )eyond C and .hich a)solutely cannot
)e a#oided )y any degree o2 empiricism or scepticism Aor cynicismB. I2 I can con2ront
that @I do not 1no.< .ith dignity3 as opposed to denying or a#oiding it3 that seems to me
to )e a real spiritual3 moral3 aesthetic3 human achie#ement. Is there is a 1ind o2
1no.ledge in that3 o2 )elie2> 2aith> @Doral stature< is perhaps more accurate. That
dignity is necessary to li)erate such other /ualities as compassion - morality o2 any
1ind C .ithout it I .ould )e ruled )y my o.n 2ear and its conse/uences in )lindness or
di#ersion3 and all my #aried de2ences against 2ear.
&hen I thin1 o2 my mother as representing Spirit I am not sure I e+actly mean
any o2 this o2 her. I see her as ha#ing 2ound her o.n certainty3 and o2 sometimes
spea1ing .ith the ac/uired authority o2 that certainty: the little )lac1 )oo13 )e it 9i)le
or prayer8)oo13 and the letter 2rom her mother3 the .isdom o2 the ancestors3 seemed to
)e her sources3 and neither o2 them are really .hat I .ant to .illingly open to. 9ut
then: I am no dou)t 2ar more in2luenced )y @the ancestors<3 )y my o.n cultural roots3
than I can e#er )e a.are o23 and it is to those roots that I o.e the li2e o2 my )ody. (nd
the li2e o2 my mind3 too: 2or all my po.ers o2 thought3 )oth critical and creati#e3
emerge 2rom the inheritance o2 my culture and the traditions and language that it has
gi#en me. (nd 2or .hat I 1no. o2 the spiritual teachings o2 the .orld I .ould discard
the .hole o2 our scienti2ic 1no.ledge Athat<s an e+tra#agant statement that I hope .ill
ne#er )e put to the testEB.
So: i2 I thin1 I understand .hat @Dind< means3 it is )ecause it is a)out the .hole
process o2 understanding itsel2. (nd i2 I do not understand .hat @Spirit< means3 it is
)ecause it is essentially a)out e#erything that lies )eyond understanding. (nd i2 )oth
seem o2 #ital importance to me it is )ecause )oth o2 them impinge pro2oundly on our
li#es C )ut in di22erent .ays3 so that it is a distinction that .e must learn to recognise3
and one that .e are in great and 2re/uent danger o2 con2using.
I2 I am to recognise and accept the currents o2 )lood in my #eins<:
Dind 2rom my 2ather and Spirit 2rom my mother3 and i2 it is possi)le that @my struggle
to ma1e a synthesis o2 these t.o antagonistic impulses< is to @lend purpose and unity to
my li2e<3 then it is in something li1e these terms that the idea is something I could )oth
understand and accept.
" '
Teor& & %ealit&
Dy purpose3 my /uest3 is to.ards #ision and understanding. I .ant to see more
clearly3 and I .ant to understand .hat I see in a ne. .ay7 in a )etter .ay - I<m not
/uite sure .hat I mean )y that3 )ut I<m hoping I<ll recognise it .hen I 2ind it. I thin1 I
1no. .hat it<s li1e to see more clearly3 to understand more deeply: I hope that
1no.ledge3 that e+perience .ill guide me on the .ay. 9ut I )egin to .onder no. .hat
it really means: to see3 to e+perience3 and to understand.
Dy )oat is there on the )oard3 as accurate as I ha#e the s1ill and patience
to ma1e her at this stage. The ne+t stage is to @lo2t< her. That means to dra. the lines out
again3 in e+actly the same .ay3 )ut this time 2ull si0e. AIt used to )e done on the 2loor o2
the lo2t .here there .as a )ig enough e+panse o2 le#el 2loor.B The same grid o2 straight
lines needs to )e laid out3 and the same cur#es dra.n in3 using long )attens and hea#y
.eights3 or may)e nails in the 2loor. Dy one8 eighth scale dra.ings .ill gi#e me my
initial measurements: then the same la)orious cross8chec1s )et.een di22erent #ie.s
.ill ha#e to )e carried out. (ll this is in the interests o2 accuracy: on the )oard
there may )e impercepti)le errors .hich .ill )ecome #ery percepti)le in the )oat
hersel2. The eye and hand are incredi)ly sensiti#e to the 2air run o2 a cur#e C and may)e
the .ind and .ater .ill )e too. I .ant her to loo1 right and sail right.
Instead o2 leaning o#er a )oard in a .arm room3 I no. must mo#e out to
a cold and draughty .or1shop and there cra.l a)out on my 1nees. I ha#e laid three
large sheets o2 ply.ood out on the 2loor3 6oined them together so they .ill not mo#e3
and painted them .hite so that my pencil lines .ill sho. up clearly. It loo1s #ery li1e
my )oard on the ta)le in the house7 )ut I ha#e shrun1 to one eighth o2 the si0e3
and must .al1 or cra.l a.1.ardly around it instead o2 leaning o#er it in my pre#ious
detached and superior .ay.
&hen .e use our imagination3 one o2 the things that .e seem to )e a)le to do or
believe that .e can do C is to detach oursel#es to the position o2 a pure o)ser#er3 .ith
no immediate contact or in#ol#ement. 9ut to imagine that .e are detached3 to pretend
that .e are detached3 is not the same thing as actually )eing detached: may)e its 6ust a
.ay o2 ignoring the .ays in .hich .e really are in#ol#ed3 and in .hich out
in#ol#ement in2luences .hat .e are doing.
I2 so3 then .e may3 in our pretence3 miss many aspects o2 reality that slip a.ay
and #anish3 or hang a)out and e+ert their su)tle and unnoticed in2luence. They )ecome
sort o2 @unconscious assumptions<3 .hich3 6ust )ecause they are unnoticed3 can )e
strangely distorted and unrealistic C and can seem positi#ely male#olent .hen their
e22ects are noticed.
Go.n on the lo2ting 2loor my 1nees ru) out lines I ha#e already dra.n3 my 2eet
lea#e their dirty prints. I am part o2 .hat I percei#e and create3 and I alter it simply )y
#irtue o2 my presence.
Fn my )oard3 la)ouring o#er lines and cur#es3 I had many 2ine images o2
my )oat C at sea cresting the .a#es3 riding the li2t and drop o2 a sea3 )attling
against the o2 contrary .ind and sea3 at anchor in peace2ul )ays. (nd I .as there
.ith her3 hunched or heroic at the tiller3 mo#ing a)out the dec13 )as1ing in the sun or
hanging on against tearing .ind and )rea1ing .a#e3 or going a)out the simple actions
o2 domestic li#ing in her small )ut com2orta)le ca)in. In all these 2antasies I .or1ed
.ith shape and 2orm3 )ut .as rather 2luid .ith si0e and scale. I could ma1e mysel2 and
the )oat as large or as small as )est 2itted the image.
(t one stage o2 the design I actually made a small model o2 a human 2igure C
mysel2 dra.n and cut out to scale3 .ith pi#ots at all my 6oints3 so that I could see ho. I
.ould actually 2it in di22erent situations and acti#ities around the )oat. The result rather
shoc1ed me: this diminished 2igure suddenly loo1ed rather large in the diminished )oat.
5e su22ered some rather pain2ul and cramped struggles in mo#ing around7 he )anged
his head and 1nees and el)o.s rather 2re/uently3 and had some terri)le ro.s .ith
another rather more shado.y 2igure .ho tried to share the space .ith him 2or a .hile.
(nd e#en the imaginary sea that he con2ronted )egan to loo1 #ery large and po.er2ul
and intimidating. ( sense o2 proportion can )e pain2ully so)ering.
Fut on the lo2ting 2loor I mo#e around the ne. )oard3 much li1e my cut8
out 2igure3 though my 6oints seem to )end and 2le+ .ith considera)ly less ease than his.
%roportions are restored3 aching 1nees are no longer o2 the imagination7 I ha#e e#en
strained my )ac1 2rom .or1ing in such an a.1.ard position on the 2loor and )een
compelled to a)andon the .hole pro6ect until I can mo#e and )end again 2reely. I 2eel a
little shoc1ed and so)ered )y this set8)ac1: my imagination mo#es so 2reely C )ut at my
#ery 2irst steps into reality my )ody protests and is e#en entirely una)le to cope. I2 I
can<t carry this phase through .ithout mishap3 i2 I 2all at the 2irst 2ence and must
stagger a.ay li1e a rather 2ee)le old man3 )ent o#er and supporting himsel2 .ith a
stic1 - .hat chance the rest o2 my grand and heroic 2antasies>
The )oat remains an a)straction3 though I approach another step. The sea itsel2 is
still 2ar a.ay3 .ith all its /ualities still 2ree to e)) and 2lo.3 to glint and shimmer in the
sunlight o2 my imagination. The pain2ul and di22icult aspects o2 the reality lur1 as mere
shado.s on the edge o2 my images7 the pain o2 my )ac1 and the di22iculty o2 e#en
sitting up in my )ed are appallingly immediate and present. Dy spirit3 I ha#e to admit
it3 2alters: my 2lesh is not only .ea1 )ut #ery prone to pain and discom2ort.
5a#ing con2essed to this 2ailure I realise ho. em)arrassed I am )y it: I almost
a#oided any mention o2 it3 let it slip )y as irrele#ant3 not important enough to include.
The 2act is that I am 2lat on my )ac1 almost una)le to mo#e. It is3 I<m sure3 going to )e
no more than a )rie2 interlude that I shall soon 2orget7 hardly .orth a mention in this
account o2 an altogether more serious #oyage. 9ut it lea#es me .ith t.o rather nagging
thoughts: one3 that it .ould )e 2ar 2rom tri#ial i2 this .ere to happen at sea C no
stepping o22 the road and ta1ing a 2e. days out then. (nd second3 that central to all this
is my 2earless commitment to truth C and loo1 ho. neatly and easily I can decide .hat
is to count as rele#ant3 ho. I can censor and select3 .hat an acti#e part I ta1e in
2orming and presenting my truth3 not only to others )ut to mysel23 too.
I resol#e3 there2ore3 to )e honest3 not to lea#e out the )its that upset or em)arrass
me. (nd it<s a relie2: I can almost 2eel mysel2 )lush3 the release o2 energy that comes
.ith admitting I 2eel a 2ool C )ut then I can also I 2eel my heroism returning3 my )ac1
straightening a little3 i2 only metaphorically. To admit to )eing a 2ool )rings its o.n
2orm o2 dignity7 to admit to )eing 2rightened )rings the possi)ility o2 courage. A*nd all
this has a terri)le ring o2 pompous and hollo. sophistry -B
&ut ! i2 I start )eing so honest that I omit and censor nothing3 then I .ill end up
going into so much detail that I<ll ha#e no time le2t to actually do anything C the
possi)le detail is literally endless C and3 moreo#er3 the .hole thing .ill )e unuttera)ly
)oring )oth 2or me and anyone .ith the rashness to start listening to me. I have to
discriminate3 and once I start discriminating ho. can I )e certain I .on<t
AunconsciouslyB )e cutting out some o2 the important )its Asince the important )its are
/uite li1ely to )e uncom2orta)le3 and o)#ious material 2or unconscious repressionB>
It<s almost un)eara)le the .ay my mind .ea#es such endless .e)s o2 .hat seem
li1e delicate threads3 )ut .hich ha#e a stic1y .ay o2 accumulating into a totally
paralysing tangle. &hat a relie2 it .ould )e to )e out there in the .or1shop3 .or1ing on
hands and 1nees .ith rulers and pencils and )its o2 .ood. The purely physical seems on
the one hand to )ring some pain2ul limitations3 )ut on the other its o)stinate solidity can
)e re2reshingly C .ell3 real. Day)e e#en a )ac1ache has some plus side C i2 I .ere only
imaginati#e enough to see it. AIn %lato<s academy the standard su)6ects o2 study .ere
mathematics3 logic and athletics7 he recognised the need 2or the physical to )alance the
rational3 the importance o2 the )ody as .ell as the mind.B
So here I am3 con2ined to )ed and
threatened )y pain i2 I mo#e. Fut o2 the .indo.
I can see the ri#er. It<s a grey3 .et3 .indy3
.intry day7 the patch o2 .ater that I can see
)et.een the trees is .hipped into a dri#ing
succession o2 .hite8capped .a#es. The tide is
high at the moment: it must ha#e 6ust turned
and )e e))ing against the .ind3 2or the .a#es ha#e )ecome noticea)ly more aggressi#e
in the last hour. I ha#e my s1etches and plans )eside me3 and #arious )oo1s on sailing
)oat rigs3 )ecause I ha#en<t made up my mind yet on ho. to rig her C and I need to
decide soon3 )ecause it .ill a22ect things li1e the position o2 the mast3 .here to put
)ul1heads to )est ta1e the stresses3 .here to rein2orce to attach rigging3 and so on. 9ut I
can<t summon the enthusiasm to get really in#ol#ed in it.
The /uestion that 1eeps 2loating up to the sur2ace .hen I let my mind .ander is a
rather simple and o)#ious one3 )ut one that I ha#en<t considered #ery consciously: why
am I doing this> Loo1ing )ac1 I can see .hat happened: the idea 6ust came to me3 and
in the moment that it appeared it felt right3 I 2elt an instant o2 recognition3 a surge o2
energy in the pit o2 my stomach. There .as no /uestion o2 .eighing up
pros and cons3 o2 loo1ing at detail in order to reach a decision. The decision .as a sort
o2 inner @yes3 o2 course<3 preceding any act o2 conscious thought. It hardly seems to )e
8uriosity is only vanity. "e
usually only want to know something so
that we can talk about it; in other
words, we would never travel by sea if
it meant never talking about it, and for
the sheer leasure of seeing things we
could never hoe to describe to others.
right to call it an act o2 choice C I .asn<t a.are o2 choosing anything. In retrospect I
can trace )ac1 the circumstances in .hich it happened: I .as 2eeling a need 2or
understanding and a nostalgic longing 2or the childish sense or a.e and .onder that
seem to open me to a deep le#el o2 e+periencing uncertainty and /uestioning AI hope
some o2 the .aning 2reshness o2 all this stu22 .ill not desert me entirelyB. I ha#e no
dou)t that real and deeply 2elt understanding can only come .hen I open to real and
deeply 2elt /uestioning7 and I ha#en<t 2elt these )ig /uestions deeply 2or a long time.
That deep 2eeling o2 .ondering is something /uite di22erent 2rom the 1ind o2 #ague
sense o2 lost8ness and con2usion that seems so common to me these days3 and it<s
something .hich hasn<t happened to me 2or a long time. (nd i2 it is that deep le#el o2
2eeling that I see13 then I can recognise the points and threads o2 e#ents in my past that
ma1e the )oat and the #oyage seem a)solutely appropriate 2or me.
(ll that seemed to )e .or1ing a.ay inside me in some in#isi)le .ay3 and in some
moment .hen I actually let mysel2 2eel the longing3 the emptiness3 perhaps3 and the
uncertainty3 the admission that the .ay I .as going might not )e the only .ay3 the right
.ay C then the decision emerged 2ully 2ormed 2rom the depths .here it had )een It seems a .onder2ully li)erating .ay o2 ma1ing decisions: I .onder i2 I ha#e
really learned something a)out ho. to do it>
So my @why?’ seems to )e some alchemic mi+ture o2 discom2ort3 need3 longing3
lac13 and desire C gi#en su)stance )y my memories and e+perience in the past3 2ormed
)y my imagination 2or the 2uture3 my mental stretch to.ards .hat might )e C and
2uelled )y my capacity 2or pleasure and 6oy3 2or the energy o2 li2e to 2lo.
through me3 in such simple 2orms as en6oying handling tools and pieces o2 .ood3 o2
)eing in a )oat at sea3 and o2 letting my creati#e imagination 2ly. (ll these things
happen3 I can only say3 o2 their o.n accord: I don<t seem to control them7 I can<t ta1e
either much credit or much )lame3 e+cept in some .ay o2 )eing open to them and
responding .hen they happen3 or closed to them and letting them remain in#isi)le. AIn
that case3 .hat happens C .hat do these mysterious 2orces do i2 they are denied and
1ept unconscious> &hat is this mysterious act o2 consciousness3 o2 openness3 that may
)e one o2 the 2e. things I can ha#e some choice in>B
It is this alchemy3 hidden or re#ealed )y some /uality o2 2ear or openness in me3
that 2orges a decision3 a choice3 a sense o2 purpose - It is an outline3 no more3 a sense
o2 direction .ithout detail3 a glimpse o2 some distant place that I .ish to tra#el to.ards.
Fnce accepted3 such a sense o2 purpose trans2orms my li2e. In itsel2 it contains no
detail3 )ut e#ery detail is coloured )y it. 5a#ing glimpsed the promised land3 the ha0y
mountain pea13 the rumour o2 a distant island3 then I can and must )egin to loo1 at
detail7 2or there is no other .ay o2 getting there.
F2 really getting there7 2or I can hold the image3 the purpose as a dream3 and
a)solutely a#oid attending to the details o2 getting there. That seems to )e rather a
crucial issue 2or me3 lying on my )ac1 in pain 2rom an e+cessi#e dose o2 reality. I am an
accomplished dreamer3 and I li1e my dreams: they can )e )eauti2ul3 interesting3
stimulating C and also sa2e and pain82ree. Reality can )e hard3 uncom2orta)le3 slo.3
in2le+i)le3 o)durate and pain2ul: I<m not entirely sure .hy I should not stic1 to my
Reality3 the detailed process o2 actually setting out3 means lo.ering my ga0e 2rom
the hori0on and concentrating on the )it o2 ground in 2ront o2 me. I ha#e to plan my
ne+t step: go round this roc13 a#oid that )it o2 so2t ground3 2ind a 2irm place to put my
2oot. (nd then again 2or another step3 and another3 the detail al.ays changing3 each
moment a decision 2aced3 a choice made3 and then le2t )ehind as I meet more detail3
another step 2or.ard. The strange thing is that each ste must have some relation to the
over+all urose, otherwise it loses all meaning. *#en i2 I am not loo1ing at the distant
pea13 its e+istence3 my acceptance o2 it as my destination3 is there guiding the choice o2
e#ery step. 9ut3 on the other hand3 i2 I loo1 only at the pea1 I .ill pro)a)ly trip o#er3 or
There<s a mutual relation here3 a 1ind o2 interdependence3 )et.een the 2inal
purpose and the steps on the .ay3 that .or1s )oth .ays: .ithout the process o2 the
6ourney3 ta1en step )y hard step3 the pea1 remains a dream3 a .isp o2 the imagination7
.ithout the recognition o2 the pea13 the 6ourney )ecomes a series o2 random steps3
.ithout meaning. #n every moment both are resent, reality and dream, detail and
distant urose, the material and the imaginary, the hysical and the mental ! only
when they are both resent in this way can there be the magical event of life+with+
Something else important happens in practice: these t.o e+tremes3 o2 ultimate
purpose and immediate reality are )ridged and connected )y many intermediate le#els.
I do not simply direct my steps to.ards the distant pea1: i2 I did I might get into some
di22icult or impossi)le or a)surd situations C li1e trying to ta1e a straight line through a
2orest3 or across a la1e3 )oth o2 .hich can )e much more e22ecti#ely negotiated i2 I
recognise them 2or .hat they are in their o.n right. &hat I must do is to )rea1 the
6ourney do.n into stages: I need to cross this #alley3 to go through a 2orest3 o#er a ri#er3
up a cli223 and so on. I plan the o#er8all structure3 then the stages3 then a strategy 2or
each stage C and every art, every level of this hierarchy, is a balance, a synthesis, of
two things9 of the urose to which it contributes and the detail of which it is made :
the whole and the art3 and at every level it has its own uni,ue nature and roerties.
Fnly .hen I understand this .ill I )e a)le to proceed e22ecti#ely on my 6ourney. I may
choose a more di22icult .ay do.n a hillside )ecause it )rings me to an easier place to
cross a ri#er7 ta1e a .andering path through a 2orest )ecause it is easier than trying to
2orce a direct route. 9ut no choice can )e made3 no step ta1en .ithout )eing a.are
someho. o2 )oth the distant and the immediate3 the purpose and the detail.
There is another strand to this interplay: not only is each step in2luenced )y my
sense o2 purpose3 )ut my sense o2 purpose emerges at least partly out my e+perience.
*ach part o2 the 6ourney not only )rings me closer to my destination3 )ut the 6ourney is
also a continuous process o2 learning7 2or most o2 us a sense o2 purpose is not gi#en to
us clearly 2ormed 2rom early in our li#es. (t )est it is something .e glimpse 2aintly3 a
shado.y hint through the mist: .e may a#oid loo1ing3 or .e may stri#e to discern its
2orm C )ut it is 2rom e+perience that .e learn to guess its real nature and ho. )est to
lay out our route to.ards it.
#t is our destination that gives meaning to the travelling, and it is the e(erience
of travelling that hels us learn the true nature and whereabouts of our destination.
(nother /uestion: i2 it is my purpose that guides the direction o2 my steps3 ho. in
detail do I assess the /uality3 the appropriateness3 the rightness o2 each step> 9ecause it
is a /uestion o2 detail3 then the may in#ol#e much #ariety C )ut it might )e
interesting to loo1 at this stage o2 my 6ourney7 and it might help me to 2eel I am doing
something use2ul .hile I lie here 2eeling helpless7 and it might not )e untypical o2 other
stages and other 6ourneys.
I am designing a )oat: the possi)ilities are enormous. I ha#e some e+perience to
dra. on: I ha#e )uilt three small )oats3 smaller this one3 and sailed /uite a 2e. others. I
ha#e loo1ed at )oats3 read a)out )oats3 tal1ed to people a)out their )oats. (ll that gi#es
me some ideas3 some #ague 2orms that ta1e shape in my imagination.
Something else I ha#e a#aila)le is a )ody o2 esta)lished tradition3 the
accumulated learning o2 uncounta)le others .ho ha#e designed and )uilt )oats. Duch
tradition is /uite speci2ic and rather dogmatic. The right shape 2or a stern3 the proper
cur#e o2 a sheer3 the cro.n o2 a dec13 the proportions o2 length to )eam3 o2 2ree)oard
and dra2t3 the method o2 2astening plan1s to ri)s3 o2 1nees and partners3 o2 2uttoc1s and
2loors3 and so on and on. To gather e+perience into a 2orm in .hich it can )e passed on
there must )e a 2e. steps ta1en a.ay 2rom detail and to.ards some degree o2
generalisation. It<s not enough to say to your apprentice @that )it there needs to )e this
thic1 -<7 .hat happens is that some general concept3 and .ith it a name3 emerges3
pro)a)ly in a 2airly natural .ay. @That )it there< )ecomes @that )ent )it< to @that 1nee8
shaped )it<3 to @that 1nee<3 and a ne. technical term is )orn. The seat across the )oat3
running< the )oat3 )ecome a<. The 1nee that 2its on the is a 1nee< - and so on. Then little )its o2 ac/uired e+perience )ecome easily passed
on: @there should )e a 1nee at each end o2 a< and so on. A( 1nee3 incidentally3 is a
piece that )ridges across a corner .here#er t.o pieces o2 .ood meet and 6oin: it
strengthens .hat .ould other.ise )e a .ea1 point.
The rules and principles hardly need articulating3 o2 course: a )oat doesn<t loo1
right .ithout a 1nee at each end o2 a (ll this can de#elop .ithout any need to
understand .hy there should )e 1nees: may)e someone le2t the 1nees out once3 and the
)oat 2le+ed too much and the plan1s split. 5is neigh)ours noticed3 heads .ere sha1en7
and he put 1nees in the ne+t one.
The e+act shape o2 the 1nees has to )e right3 too3 or the )oat .ill loo1 all .rong: a
straight 1nee instead o2 a cur#ed one loo1s terri)le. It could )e a simple triangle3 )ut
o2ten has a rather elegantly cur#ed shape that /uite possi)ly is optimal 2or its 2unction C
a computer model could chec1 this C )ut in 2act it e#ol#ed .ithout any ela)orate theory
o2 stresses3 and no. 6ust loo1s right.
There is enough in all these accumulated traditions to ena)le anyone to )uild a
sound )oat3 and many ha#e )een )uilt .ith no other guide. That .ay is sa2e: )ut .hat
o2 this is o2 #alue and .hat is 6ust ha)it3 .ithout reason )ehind it> To 2ind reasons 2or
all these traditional .ays o2 doing things3 or to 6usti2y ne. departures3 needs another
step C to.ards some theory a)out )oats.
( theory .ill e(lain things3 .ith re2erence to some .ider ideas C )ut to do that it
has to in#ent or create some a)stract concepts and entities3 some technical terms3 li1e
@1nees<3 to create a shorthand and a .ay o2 generalising that .ill apply to more than
one )oat. Some o2 these concepts .ill )e #ery a)stract3 as they .ill apply to some #ery
)road conte+ts li1e the )eha#iour o2 .ater or the stresses in )eams.
Theories seem to do more than 6ust generalise C they actually in#ent .hat seem to
)e entirely ne. o)6ects. &hen .e generalise a)out all those little cur#ed )its that
strengthen corners3 and call them @1nees<3 .e ha#e coined a ne. .ord3 a ne. concept C
)ut there is no possi)le dou)t 1nees actually do e+ist. &e can )e more or less clear
a)out .hat is to count as a 1nee C you and I may disagree at times a)out .hether it<s
right to call this particular thing a 1nee3 )ut .e<ll pro)a)ly )oth realise that .e are
arguing a)out .ords3 not a)out things. 9ut a theory comes up .ith such things as
@centre o2 gra#ity<3 @centre o2 lateral resistance<3 @metacentre<3 @righting moment<7 these
all sound li1e things3 )ut they can<t actually )e seen or touched. 9ut they can certainly
)e tal1ed a)out3 and tal1ed a)out in .ays that are e+tremely use2ul. The centre o2
gra#ity3 2or e+ample3 needs to )e 1ept 2airly lo. do.n: i2 it gets too high C )y ha#ing
hea#y structures too high up in the )oat C then the )oat )ecomes unsta)le. 9uild a large
hea#y ca)in on top o2 a small )oat and it .ill pro)a)ly capsi0e.
&hat seems to happen here is that .e in#ent an a)stract concept3 an imaginary
point3 .hich )ecomes #ery use2ul and is easily and naturally thought o2 as really
e+isting. &hich it does3 in a sense - *#en something as simple as the length o2 my
)oat is an a)stract concept rather than a @thing<. It<s a sort o2 shorthand 2or a real
physical procedure: i2 I hold some standard measure against the )oat in a certain .ay3
and note the mar1 or num)er .hich corresponds to the other end ... and so on. ( #ery
use2ul procedure .hen I need to decide .hether I<#e got room in the .or1shop 2or it3 or
to )uy some .ood to ma1e the dec1. (nd it<s much easier to tal1 a)out the @length< than
to descri)e the procedure e#ery time. Similarly 2or the .eight3 .hich I shall need to
measure3 or estimate one day C .hen I<m trying to thin1 o2 a .ay o2 getting it out o2 the
&e do something similar in all sorts o2 conte+ts: the */uator is an imaginary line
- my )an1 )alance is an imaginary num)er - 4one o2 this is particularly di22icult or
con2using .hen its to do .ith measurement and mathematics or .ith scienti2ic theories.
A&hich doesn<t stop philosophers ma1ing it )oth e+tremely di22icult and con2using.
&hat i2 they<re right>B 9ut it sets me .ondering a)out much more ordinary and
personal things. 5o. o2ten do .e @in#ent< some most con#enient concept3 a sort o2
shorthand 2or a #ery real e+perience3 and then consider it as something real3 and treat it
in all sort o2 inappropriate .ays. A&ould I e#er )e persuaded that it might )e .orth
dying 2or my country<s 2lag C and .hat it represents>B
&e C in the collecti#e sense o2 the human race3 to .hich I am most o2 the time
proud to )elong C ha#e some .onder2ully de#eloped and sophisticated a)stract systems
that .e ha#e created. The greatest o2 these is mathematics. I personally 2eel that it<s one
o2 the most incredi)ly )eauti2ul3 e+citing and mysterious o2 all human creations3 may)e
the most e+traordinary o2 all3 certainly in the same league as music. A( mathematician3
o2 course3 may need con#incing that music is in the same league as mathematics.B
Day)e .e didn<t in#ent it: its impossi)le not to get the 2eeling that .e are e+ploring
something that simply cannot claim responsi)ility 2or.
&e3 the same collecti#e .e3 started .ith something really simple3 counting in
some 2orm pro)a)ly: a 2e. neat and simple patterns to remind oursel#es3 or tell each
other how many o2 something there .ere3 and .e had no idea .hat .e<d started. That
simple pattern o2 num)ers turns out to )e un)elie#a)le su)tle and comple+. 4um)ers
start to relate and connect3 and that one simple pattern seems to someho. generate3 or
already include3 a may)e in2inite range o2 2urther patterns that are there to )e
disco#ered. (nd )e2ore you 1no. .here you are3 gi#e or ta1e a 2e. thousand years and
a )it o2 playing around and some care2ul thought3 and you ha#e the .hole o2 modern
mathematics. The le#el o2 creati#ity re/uired to re#eal all this pattern has to )e among
our greatest achie#ements. It<s a pity it<s not as accessi)le as music7 .e miss a lot.
(ll 1inds o2 things ha#e )een played around .ith3 and 2ound to ha#e patterns in7
thus modern science. %atterns seem to )e )et.een the real and the
imaginary. They are really there3 )ut you can see them or miss them3 use them or ignore
them. (nd i2 you .ant to use them you ha#e to in#ent all 1inds o2 shorthand C a)stract
e+pression li1e @prime num)er< or @electron< or @*Smc
< C to record and communicate
.hat you ha#e 2ound. Hi#ing a pattern a name3 so that it )ecomes a single entity .ith
characteristics and properties o2 its o.n turns out to )e a .onder2ully 2ertile and
po.er2ul method. Something li1e that is essential to the .hole nature o2 thought.
9y this method it is possi)le to construct .hole systems o2 a)stract patterns3 and
patterns o2 patterns7 patterns in the mind3 patterns on paper3 patterns in )its o2 .ire
cunningly assem)led. I2 you<re really good at doing it3 them some o2 these patterns
actually resem)le3 or 2it3 or mirror patterns 2ound in other places Ali1e la)oratories or
particle accelerators3 .hich ha#e largely3 and un2ortunately3 ta1en o#er 2rom 1itchen
ta)les and garden sheds as places to 2ind interesting patternsB and e#en3 .ith a )it o2
imagination and e+tra#agant guess.or13 may)e in the Ini#erse.
Some rather hair8splitting critics may later argue a)out .hether you ha#e really
disco#ered anything at all C .hether num)ers and electrons actually e+ist7 )ut that
could )e an unnecessary con2usion. Something #ery ama0ing has )een going on3 and it
seems on reality at least as much as on the imagination3 and so is not to )e lightly
So that<s a )rie2 history o2 science3 some.hat condensed and lea#ing out a lot o2
the detail3 )ut that<s the rough outline. I2 .e .ant to descri)e anything .e ha#e to lea#e
out some o2 the detail or .e<d ne#er manage to do it at all.
I ha#e 6ust loo1ed up 2rom my scrap o2 paper and my sic18)ed3 and glanced out o2
the .indo.: there is a grey o#ercast s1y and I can see across a 2e. 2ields )y the ri#er.
Something .onder2ul caught my attention: I 2eel pri#ileged to ha#e seen it3 though I
suppose it .as /uite ordinary. There .as a 2loc1 o2 )irds3 2lying in a tight )unch
together. I thin1 they must ha#e )een oyster8catchers: they simply loo1ed )lac1 against
the lighter grey o2 the s1y. Then suddenly they .heeled and turned3 in .hat loo1ed li1e
a single mo#ement7 and as they turned they re#ealed their undersides3 .hich .ere
.hite3 a luminous .hite3 against .hat .as no. the dar1er grey o2 the s1y. They did this
repeatedly3 .hirling and turning .ith a .onder2ul co8ordinated mo#ement3 each time
seemed li1e the gesture3 a grace2ul ara)es/ue3 o2 some single organism. &ith each turn
the colour o2 the 2loc1 changed3 2rom )lac1 to .hite and )ac1 again3 the colour change
rippling across the 2loc1 in a .a#e3 li1e the colour in piece o2 sil1 )eing .a#ed in the
.ind. (nd this .a#e3 this gesture3 seemed as i2 it e+pressed something: either
something as simple as a spontaneous pleasure in li2e and in 2light3 or something else
)eyond my limited comprehension.
I 2eel touched )y something more ali#e than the a)stractions that had )een
occupying me7 that is something that I .ant to )e part o23 to 2eel more 2ully. *nd I can
2eel this too: a)stract thought3 1no.ledge and understanding3 do not need to )e cut o22
2rom that 1ind o2 li2e. It need not )e dry and li2eless: .e lea#e out too much .hen .e
try and understand3 and then 2eel that the process o2 understanding desiccates and
destroys. It can7 it o2ten does3 )ut it doesn<t ha#e to )e li1e that. That<s part o2 .hat I
hope to 2ind3 or at least to approach a little more closely. I .ould li1e to understand ho.
it is that a 2loc1 o2 )irds can mo#e in that .ay3 can ac/uire .hat seems li1e a single
identity7 )ut more than that I .ould li1e to understand also .hat it is that they are
e(ressing3 and to glimpse the accidental )eauty that can )e o22ered3 2leeting and
It .ould )e possi)le3 I imagine C may)e it has )een tried C to de#ise an a)stract
system that .ould 2it .ith the mo#ement o2 those )irds. It .ould )e /uite an
achie#ement. It might in#ol#e 2or e+ample3 2inding a mathematical e+pression 2or the
.ay the mo#ement o2 one leader )ird could )e o)ser#ed and copied )y all the rest7
perhaps .e .ould 2ind that such a process .ould result in mo#ement #ery similar to the
one I .as .atching. Day)e pi+el )irds on a computer screen could )e made to mo#e in
the same .ay. &e might 2eel .e had descri)ed3 e+plained and understood something C
)ut .hat3 e+actly>
Such an a)stract system can )e seen as a description o2 reality3 though it tends to
)e #ery selecti#e a)out .hat it pic1s out3 ha#ing a #ery strong pre2erence 2or the )its
that are measura)le3 li1e the mo#ements o2 the )irds3 .hich lea#es out an a.2ul lot. It<s
a )it li1e a .or1ing model C something that loo1s li1e a chun1 o2 the .orld C a 2loc1 o2
)irds C in some respects3 and i2 you use your imagination3 and 1no. ho. to interpret
images on a screen3 or may)e e/uations on a piece o2 paper3 .hich is more di22icult.
AThe @model< is o2 a)solutely no use you 1no. ho. to interpret itB.
()stract systems li1e this C they are also called scienti2ic models3 or computer
models C can )e incredi)ly use2ul. They can )e used to descri)e3 and then3 i2 they are
good3 to predict3 the )eha#iour o2 all 1inds o2 things in the .orld. *22ecti#e prediction
allo.s us to in#ent things that can )e used in purpose2ul .ays. Things li1e potatoes
peelers3 and computers3 and nuclear .eapons3 and sailing )oats.
Dodels li1e this tend to get out o2 date3 either )ecause someone thin1s o2
something else to measure3 or in#ents a more accurate .ay o2 measuring3 and gets a )it
more 2inic1y and ingenious a)out loo1ing at small details. Some models can )e patched
up and ad6usted to 1eep .or1ing .ell enough3 though they can )egin to loo1 a )it 5eath
Ro)inson and not #ery pleasing to loo1 at or use7 or occasionally a 4e.ton or an
*instein comes up .ith a )rand ne. model3 )ased on some entirely ne. principle. I2
the ne. one .or1s )etter3 2its reality more closely3 then the old one may )e discarded3
or put on a shel2 in a museum as a curiosity o2 historical interest. They may also
continue to gi#e per2ectly good ser#ice 2or those .ho don<t actually need3 or can<t
understand or a22ord3 the ne. one. Li1e my old calculator3 .hich is still 2ine 2or doing
my accounts3 since I don<t3 so 2ar3 need to handle such large and comple+ transactions
as my )an13 .ho ha#e a more ad#anced computer system.
Is the ne. model a true description o2 the uni#erse> I2 .e<re clear that it is a
model3 then it seems misleading to call it a @description< at all3 and easy to accept that
.hile it<s the )est .e<#e got at the moment C in a #ery particular and limited sense C .e
may )e 2airly sure that it3 too3 .ill crea1 and groan and loo1 terri)ly dated one day3 and
2ind its o.n place on the museum shel2.
There is a most serious /uestion that 1eeps nagging at me3 li1e my )ac1 .hen I
try and mo#e3 as my mind .anders around all these thoughts: since science is so clearly
a serious attempt to understand the .orld3 and more than that is the com)ined and
accumulated e22ort o2 some o2 the )est minds o2 the last 2e. millennia3 supported )y a
num)erless army o2 s1illed and conscientious la)ourers and e+pert assistants3 ho.
come I<m planning to tac1 a 2e. )its o2 .ood together and 2loat out to sea to try and
2ind the truth a)out things> There<s an e+cellent li)rary up the road3 and e#en the
Internet3 i2 I .ere to upgrade my calculator C there<s nothing secret a)out most o2
science C so .hat on earth do I thin1 I<m doing>
It<s true that the stage science has reached does not ma1e it #ery easily accessi)le.
It is no.3 un2ortunately3 though not surprisingly3 2ar more than a li2etime<s .or1 to learn
a)out the .hole accumulated e22ort. 9ut the models are there on pu)lic display3 playing
.ith the 1no)s and )uttons is encouraged3 so I could get to 1no. them a )it )etter3 e#en
I ha#en<t a hope o2 2inding out ho. they actually .or13 or ho. they .ere arri#ed at and
chec1ed out. A4ot so long ago they .ere simple enough 2or anyone to understand and
tin1er .ith C li1e my old Dorris Dinor #an used to )e3 )ut that day has passed and an
amateur mechanic can 2eel #ery helpless and 2rustrated.B
It<s a serious /uestion7 and I thin1 it actually compromises my #oyage unless I
can 2ind a satis2actory enough 2or mysel2.
I ha#e3 o#er the years3 tried playing .ith some o2 the models: I sometimes regret
not ha#ing ta1en the .hole thing more seriously. Fne possi)ility is that I am o22 on my
/uest )ecause serious science is too di22icult3 so that the 1ind o2 super2icial playing I<m
capa)le o2 doesn<t gi#e that .onder2ul satis2action o2 understanding something -
.hich .ould mean I<m a )it li1e a petulant child .hose )een o22ered a ne. computer
)ut can<t ma1e it .or13 so announces that it<s no good.
It<s a 2rustrating state o2 a22airs C I .ant to understand this comple+ and con2using
.orld3 )ut the )est understanding a#aila)le is so comple+ and con2using I can<t
understand it either. It stri1es me as possi)le3 and e#en entirely to )e e+pected3 that any
.ay o2 understanding the .orld3 o2 success2ully modelling it3 is )ound to )e pretty
much as comple+ as the .orld itsel2. The only per2ect model o2 the uni#erse .ould )e
as )ig and comple+ as the uni#erse itsel2 C .ould be the uni#erse itsel2. ( poc1et si0e
model is )ound to )e so limited as to gi#e no 2eeling o2 real understanding at all.
In that case the .hole search is parado+ical and impossi)le. -r3 I could say3 it<s
actually really simple and o)#ious: I<#e got a per2ect model o2 e#erything right here C
I<m in it: the &orldE It<s /uite )ig C o2 courseE C )ut I<#e got time to go and ha#e a loo1
at some o2 it. 5o. e+citingE
In 2airness to science I should appreciate .hat it actually does do3 the thing that
ma1es it so magical. To go )ac1 to the 2loc1 o2 )irds: it could )e that a single e/uation
might su22ice to descri)e .hat is going on in all 2loc1s o2 )irds3 not to mention 2ish3 or
angry mo)s3 and .ho 1no.s .hat else. This is its real po.er3 and .hat seems to re#eal
a 1ind o2 unity at the core o2 so much #ariety. It can )e more o2 a theoretical than
it sounds at 2irst: o2ten .hat seems to )e predicta)le and calcula)le @in principle< turns
out to )e /uite impossi)le in practice. Theoreticians occasionally seem to act as i2 they
ha#e 2inally sol#ed a pro)lem .hen they come up .ith a model that ma1es something
@predicta)le in principle< C and then dismiss .ith a rather airy .a#e o2 the hand the less
interesting acti#ity o2 predicting in ractice. 9ut may)e it<s a )it more important than
that: already in 1!!, %oincarN sho.ed AtheoreticallyB that e#en the pro)lem o2 ho.
three )odies interact according to 4e.tonian mechanics .as not accurately sol#a)le
mathematically. So .hat seemed li1e a total solution in principle )ro1e do.n entirely in
the 2ace e#en o2 .hat seemed li1e a relati#ely simple practical pro)lem. Dore recently
it has )een noticed that e#en a simple system li1e a coupled pendulum can demonstrate
chaotic and random )eha#iour. *ssentially the pro)lem is .hat is called Tsensiti#ity to
initial conditionsT. *#en a simple mechanical system can )e completely )eyond our
grasp in ractice, e#en though .e ha#e all the e/uations sitting there in 2ront o2 us.
To carry the .hole thing to an e+treme3 )ut a #ery re#ealing one3 it can )e sho.n
that to 2ully predict the mo#ement o2 a single particle3 .e need to 1no. the state o2
e#erything in the entire uni#erse. &hich suggest again my thought that the only
ade/uate model o2 the uni#erse is the .hole uni#erse. &e ha#en<t got reality lic1ed yet7
a)out .hich I personally 2eel #ery pleased: i2 it really comes to some 1ind o2 I shall cheer 2or reality. 9ut .e needn<t gi#e up7 e#en as .e retire de2eated
2rom this round3 the .orld seems to lure us )ac1 .ith a ne. enticement: 6ust .hen our
attempts to 2ind order seem to ha#e ended in an insolu)le chaos3 a glimpse o2 a ne.
possi)ility is dangled )e2ore us. There seems to )e a .ay in .hich order can emerge
2rom chaos in surprising .ays7 not necessarily predicta)le in the old .ay3 )ut real order
ne#ertheless. So .e go )ac1 into the 2ray clutching our ne. little 2ragments o2 "haos
Theory. It almost 2eels as i2 .e<re )eing teased3 )ut not allo.ed to stop playing.
There are other reasons .hy science can 2eel #ery unsatis2actory as a 2orm o2
understanding: one is that it lea#es so much out.
I mentioned )e2ore that it tends to stic1 to things that are measura)le3 )ecause
that<s .here it can really get its teeth in .ith a )it o2 mathematics. (nd although science
can )e a #ery imaginati#e and ingenious a)out 2inding .ays o2 ma1ing something
measura)le3 there still seems to )e an a.2ul lot o2 my actual e+perience .hich is not o2
that 1ind at all3 and could ne#er )e. Doreo#er3 it is 6ust the )its that can<t )e measured
that matter most to me.
For e+ample3 it glosses o#er the uni,ueness o2 things. *#en a theory .hich .as
pretty good at e+plaining people in general .ould ne#er )e a)le to allo. 2or the 2act
that e#ery)ody is different. It is 6ust this 2act a)out people3 something that I recognise
and respond to immediately3 that ma1es people so interesting and important to me.
*#erything that I e+perience3 and e#ery moment o2 my e+perience3 has this /uality o2
uni/ueness3 o2 a)solute particularity3 o2 )eing ali#e and immediate3 o2 containing so
much detail that it .ould ta1e an in2inite amount o2 time to 2ully descri)e e#en one
glance out o2 the .indo.. I don<t e+perience generalities3 they are a)stractions that I
can imagine and use3 )ut most o2 my e+perience is le2t a)solutely untouched )y them.
&hat I actually e+perience C and en6oy C is not li1e that.
(gain: science stic1s to .hat .e thin1 o2 as the e+ternal and o)6ecti#e .orld. It<s
the only .ay to get a consensus science that .e can .or1 on and use together: and it is3
per2orce3 an enormously co8operati#e 6oint e22ort. 9ut that lea#es a great deal o2 .hat
happens to me out o2 it: my internal3 su)6ecti#e .orld: the .orld o2 my 2eelings and
thoughts3 the /ualities o2 my perceptions3 all my e(eriences, as opposed to the outer
.orld that they may )e e+periences of. Su)6ecti#e or not C and the di22erence is )y no
means as immediately o)#ious as .e might imagine C it is a)solutely no less real to me
than the o)6ecti#e3 and o2ten AreallyB much more real. Indeed3 .hat .e call the o)6ecti#e
seems a )it more li1e an a)straction than an immediate reality. *#en the parts o2 the
.orld that are closest to me C my o.n )ody3 2or e+ample3 is o2ten completely
unrecognisa)le 2rom its description in an anatomy )oo13 )ut is e+perienced )y me in a
#ery #i#id .ay.
(nd again: .hate#er /uestions science may succeed in ans.ering3 there remain a
2e. mysteries )e2ore .hich it pro2esses itsel2 helpless: they are out o2 its domain. (nd
some o2 these /uestions 2eel e+tremely real to me3 and some o2 pressing urgency. &hat
set me o22 on this .hole #oyage .as the recollection o2 ho. po.er2ully I felt some o2
the )ig metaphysical /uestions as a child. &hy is there anything at all> Is there a Hod
out there> Fr anything that .ould gi#e meaning or purpose to all this3 )y .hich I could
perhaps also steer my o.n uncertain course> &hat is time> Is there any continuation 2or
me )eyond the ine#ita)le death .hich is 2eeling signi2icantly closer today>
I ha#e no good reason to suppose that I .ill 2are any )etter than science at 2inding
solutions to these things3 )ut that doesn<t mean it<s not .orth trying. (nd )ecause o2
their #ery enormity and e+treme importance they are .orth as1ing and de#oting
attention and e22ort to. *#en i2 they are actually impossi)le. The method I propose to
pursue is actually in itsel2 /uite scienti2ic: in the 2irst place go to e+perience. F)ser#e
the .orld as sensiti#ely and care2ully as you can. %lay .ith it3 e+periment. Try to
disco#er and )ring to consciousness all your assumptions and ha)its o2 thought and
perception3 so that you may )e a)le to challenge them and may)e 2ind original .ays o2
seeing and thin1ing. (nd simpli2y: e+clude someho. all e+traneous in2luence and
distraction7 try to isolate one simple aspect o2 the .orld that you may )e a)le to o)ser#e
its .or1ings more clearly.
(ll that sound scienti2ic ad#ice I intend to 2ollo. as conscientiously as I can. To
)e at sea is to reduce li#ing and the en#ironment to the most elemental simplicity that I
ha#e e#er 1no.n mysel23 and can ha#e the e22ect o2 cleansing the doors o2 perception
and the process o2 re2lection to a .onder2ul degree. (nd i2 it is partly my o.n inner
.orld and e+perience that I .ant to get to 1no. )etter3 then I am isolating it 2rom all
other in2luence and distraction as .ell as I 1no. ho.. I2 some o2 the /uestions I am
ta1ing .ith me ha#e a rather mystical ring3 then it is interesting to notice that it is one
o2 the uni#ersal recommendation o2 those .ho o22er spiritual teaching that .e should
do something similar: remo#e yoursel2 as 2ar as possi)le 2rom out.ard distraction7
simpli2y in e+treme )oth your acti#ity and your thoughts7 see1 to /uieten your mind
and still your inner .orld o2 2eeling3 not as some 1ind o2 anaesthetic3 )ut to increase
your a.areness and sensiti#ity3 so that truth may )ecome more apparent to you.
It stri1es me that my )ig pro)lems are all either #ery )road3 as1ing a)out not less
that e#erything in one /uestioning gesture3 or else #ery immediate and personal: .hat
a)out my meaning and purpose3 and my death. It is true: and science gi#es up at 6ust
these le#els in )oth directions: it can con2ront neither the most general nor the most
personal3 and I .ould li1e to do )oth. I do not 1no. .hether understanding is possi)le3
.ill e#er )e so3 and this is part o2 the pro)lem: I am compelled to 2ace li2e3 to li#e and
to ma1e choices3 .ith the tiny 2ragments o2 understanding that I do ha#e. That is not a
choice7 so ho.e#er di22icult or unreasona)le that may seem it is .orth all the attention
and re2lection I can gi#e it.
I ha#e ram)led o22 at great length a)out the /uest 2or human 1no.ledge and the
.ay it has )een pursued )e2ore in the 2orm o2 science. It seems a suita)le occupation
2or my state o2 physical helplessness3 and i2 anything has rein2orced my determination.
I ha#en<t e#en )egun to thin1 a)out the other great .ay o2 see1ing to understand C art.
Day)e i2 I<m 2orced to stay here I .ill get round to that too. 9ut I .ould really rather
get )ac1 into the .or1shop: at least there I can 2eel I am getting some.here3 that I ha#e
something to sho. 2or it at the end o2 a day<s .or1.
For my immediate purposes3 since I am postponing a complete understanding o2
the .orld 2or some time later in the #oyage3 I can ma1e use o2 some o2 this3 o2 the
grand la)our o2 science3 that other people ha#e con#eniently done and made a#aila)le
to me: theories a)out structures and materials3 as applied in particular to the cra2t o2
)oat8)uilding. That at least is some use2ul stu22. I can use them3 along .ith a more
con2used mi+ture o2 tradition A@it<s al.ays )een done li1e that<B3 physical constraints
A@damn )it o2 .ood 6ust .on<t )end round so tight<B3 instinct A@that 2eels a )it thin7 I<ll
)ee2 it up a )it<B3 and aesthetics A@that loo1s pretty3 the proportions are 6ust right<B and
creati#ity A@i2 I ma1e it that shape3 then I rec1on it should .or1 much )etter<B.
The idea that there as a purpose to all this acti#ity3 )eyond my immediate
pleasure3 is 6ust another a)straction7 and the ultimate goal3 the 2inal Truth to .hich I
aspire3 is one o2 the )iggest a)stractions o2 all. So it may )e unreal C that<s argua)le: )ut
it could )e a #ery use2ul a)straction3 ne#ertheless.
I ha#e no.3 a2ter se#eral days immo)ile on my )ac13 )egun to ma1e a 2e.
uncertain and pain2ul steps. I 2eel old3 decrepit3 po.erless - listening to the .ind
outside3 something o2 the #iolence3 the un2orgi#ing 2orce o2 the elements o2 air
and .ater3 I 1no. that 6ust no. I am inade/uate3 totally3 ludicrously3 pain2ully
inade/uate to con2ront them.
(nd it )egins to occur to me: perhaps I am not capa)le o2 carrying through the
plan I ha#e set mysel23 .hich so attracts me7 and perhaps I ne#er .ill )e capa)le.
%erhaps I am too old3 too .ea13 my )ac1 simply too .orn and in2le+i)le to deal .ith
the physical rigours o2 )uilding a )oat and ma1ing a #oyage.
I am shoc1ed at the thought7 )ut not as completely stunned )y it as I might )e. It
creeps into my a.areness3 I can 2eel it silently di22using into my muscles and
)lood and )ones3 .ithout pain3 .ithout #iolence3 li1e a )enign anaesthetic3
accompanied i2 anything )y an almost intangi)le relie2 that I need no longer ma1e an
e22ort3 need no longer su22er 2rom the conse/uences o2 desire and challenge and pride
and my o.n impetuous actions. old must )e li1e this.
I am also3 some.here3 appalled. This is a 1ind o2 meeting .ith death in a ne.
.ay. I ha#e3 suppose3 )een close to death o2ten enough. &e all ha#e3 in our o.n homes3
on our 2amiliar roads3 in e#ery corner o2 our ci#ilisation. 9ut this is di22erent. Geath
appears not in the shoc1 o2 an accidental close encounter3 not personally directed at me3
and #anishing again .hen the moment is passed. I see him no. in the distance3 looming
still 2aintly on the hori0on3 )ut approaching3 heading /uite speci2ically to.ards me3
.ith an entirely ne. personal and deli)erate ine#ita)ility. I do not thin1 he .ill
disappear this time7 i2 I care to loo1 any time to.ards the hori0on he .ill al.ays )e
there3 and al.ays a little closer.
I am dramatising3 I am mor)id and depressed7 )ut the 2acts are dramatic3 the
#ision is real3 .hate#er di22erent sense o2 proportion or )lindness I may achie#e
Should I really 2ace gi#ing up> 4ot go through .ith this> That still seems
unthin1a)le7 )ut the anaesthetic may continue its su)tle spread. Day)e - may)e I
could continue the #oyage in my imagination! I could still .rite the account3 still
perhaps 2ind some o2 the #ision and perspecti#e and understanding that I see1 - only
the detail3 the 2rame.or13 the physical 2acts .ould )e di22erent.
Li1e Gonald "ro.hurst3 .ho set out on to sail alone around the .orld3 in the 2irst
single8handed non8stop race. Some .ay out he had di22iculties3 partly due to lac1 o2
preparation3 partly ill8luc13 and partly )ecause )eing at sea is al.ays lia)le to )e
di22icult3 to pose challenges. The pro)lems .ith the )oat .ere genuine3 and to drop out
o2 the race an entirely reasona)le response. 5e didn<t do that: perhaps as a
temporisation at 2irst he )egan to 1eep a log o2 the #oyage as if he .ere continuing the
race3 .hile in 2act he .as still )o))ing a)out in the (tlantic. Someho. the dou)le
#oyage3 the real and the imaginary3 de#eloped in parallel3 the appropriate logs )eing
.ritten 2or each3 the appropriate calculations made.
&e don<t 1no. 2or sure .hat happened3 though my o.n imagination can go .ith
him. (t one le#el he seemed to lose the )alance o2 his mind7 at another le#el he )egan
to ha#e metaphysical insights o2 the 1ind that are not easily communicated3 and hence
not easily 6udged )y others. (t any rate he reached a stage .here he must ha#e )een
increasingly a.are that his return to *ngland3 as success2ul competitor3 and e#en
.inner o2 the race3 .ould )ring the di#ergence o2 his t.o #oyages into a)solute
collision. *ither this prospect3 or the transcendent nature o2 his #isions3 seems to ha#e
led him to a choice to lea#e this li2e )e2ore that con2rontation )et.een 2antasy and
reality could occur. 5e pro)a)ly stepped o2 the )oat one day3 lea#ing his .riting3 his
)oat C his .i2e3 2amily and this li2e C )ehind.
I could do something similar3 i2 a little less e+treme: ma1e a #oyage o2 the
imagination. Such #isions and insights as I ha#e C .ould they )e any less real 2or that>
Should anyone e#er read .hate#er account I might lea#e )ehind me they could
speculate3 )ut .ould not 1no. 2or sure3 .ould not )e a)le 2rom a distance3 to
disentangle the 2antasy and the reality. From no. on C and I address you as reader3 not 2or mysel2 .hether you really e+ist3 or .hether I only imagine you C you
cannot )e sure .hat o2 this is a true account and .hat is played out only in my mind.
9ut since3 i2 it e+ists at all 2or you3 it can
e+ist only in your imagination - .here does
the important di22erence really lie>
&ut thought is one thing, the deed is another, and
the image of the deed still another9 the wheel of
causality does not roll between them.
" (
Frame and Backbone
Structure & Freedom
Today .as di22erent3 a turning point7 though li1e many great moments3 long
anticipated and carrying a great )urden o2 sym)olic meaning3 it actually seemed #ery
ordinary .hen it happened. Dy 2eelings3 my e+perience3 ne#er seem /uite a)le to rise
to the e+pectations I ha#e o2 them7 they remain rooted and plodding3 lin1ed 2or e#er
.ith the immediate sensations o2 each moment. Fortunately my imagination has the
necessary gi2t o2 2light that can ta1e it a.ay in search o2 some constructed 2uture
.here deeper meaning might li#e.
I .al1ed out to the .or1shop today3 s.ept clean the 2loor in the clear space .here
I ha#e )een lo2ting ; the space .here the )oat is to ta1e shape. Dy .or1shop is a
rather ramshac1le )uilding3 su22ering here and there 2rom lea1s3 almost
2rom draughts3 and in a couple o2 corners 2rom su)sidence crac1s. 9ut it is 2amiliar3
2urnished .ith a couple o2 )enches3 .ith some old .ardro)es that I ha#e put shel#es
into3 .ith rac1s o2 tools put up in moments o2 impulse to.ards organisation3 and used
2or their proper purpose .hen the chaos accumulates to a degree e#en I 2ind di22icult.
For I su22er 2rom a 2ailing that I ha#e so 2ar )een una)le to o#ercome: .hen I am
concentrating on some creati#e and a)sor)ing tas1 I tend to ignore the attendant
disorder in the en#ironment3 e#en though some tidiness and organisation .ould in 2act
ma1e the .or1 2ar easier. Day)e this time .ill )e di22erent.
In a central position is one item o2 .hich I am proud: a small .ood8)urning
sto#e3 riddled .ith holes and 2alling apart .ith rust3 .ith a )it o2 rusty drainpipe 2or a
chimney. I2 I pac1 it .ith )its o2 o228cut .ood and light it3 smo1e pours out o2 all the
holes 2or a .hile3 )ut it .arms up and dra.s )etter3 and )egins to gi#e o22 a most
.onder2ully com2orting heat. (t this time o2 year I need it3 as it<s cold enough out here
2or tools to )e genuinely unpleasant to handle. I ha#e 2ound an old 1ettle to sit on top o2
the sto#e3 and an old armchair that I can sit on mysel2. It contri)utes enormously to my
2eeling o2 anticipation3 that this is a place I can come3 not 6ust to do the odd little 6o)
no. and again3 )ut 2or some serious purpose. &here there is a sto#e3 .ith 1ettle and an
armchair3 there .ill )e 2ar more o2 mysel2 in#ol#ed and committed than .ould )e the
case in a more casual .or1shop.
There are .indo.s here3 too. T.o o2 them loo1 out to.ards the ri#er3 though I
can only see glimpses o2 it3 depending 2or their e+tent on the season and the density o2
the lea#es on the trees. In the .inter I can see more o2 the ri#er3 and in the summer less:
this is as it should )e3 2or in the .inter I am certainly in need o2 more encouragement3
o2 a clearer reminder o2 my purpose. ( 2e. years ago I planted se#eral clim)ing plants
against the .alls o2 the .or1shop3 clematis3 honeysuc1le and Russian #ine3 .ith the
o)6ect o2 disguising its rather unprepossessing appearance. This they do /uite
e22ecti#ely at times3 though they ha#e the less 2oreseen e22ect o2 rather o)scuring the
.indo.s ; o2 disguising the .orld3 so to spea13 depending on one<s point o2 #ie..
This is something I could remedy .ith no great di22iculty i2 I too1 a little time and
trou)le and some secateurs or shears. Remo#ing the disguises .e ha#e gi#en the .orld
2rom our inner eyes is not so easy. The Russian #ine also has a ha)it o2 2inding its .ay
in through #ery small gaps )et.een .all and roo23 and then thri#ing on the en#ironment
it 2inds in here3 no dou)t )ene2iting 2rom my sto#e no less than I do. This ha)it3 though
initially rather endearing it sometimes carries much too 2ar.
The magical moment arri#es: a2ter all these months o2 thin1ing and planning and
dra.ing3 I am ready no. to pic1 up the 2irst piece o2 .ood that .ill actually )e part o2
the )oat hersel2. I measure and mar13 and reach 2or my sa. and sharpened plane.
The 2irst grains o2 sa.dust3 the 2irst 2e. sha#ings 2all to the 2loor.
I<#e )een accumulating .ood 2or a long time ; o#er years3 some o2 it7 some
)eauti2ul .ood that<s al.ays )een too good to use. I ha#e some pitch pine that I )ought
may)e 1$ or 1 years ago. 5uge )aul1s o2 it that ha#e )een the roo2 tim)ers o2 a
rail.ay shed 2or the past hundred years. I had it sa.n into thic1 plan1s7 it<s hea#y3
grained in shades o2 yello. and orange and red7 it e+udes resin still3 and a thic1
resinous smell that e+cites me7 its sa.dust is stic1y. There<s some cedar 2rom a tree
2rom a local par1 that .as cut three years ago. It is light3 a )it )rittle3 .ith a reputation
2or lasting .ell in .ater ; and an e+otic Dediterranean aroma. I<m not sure o2 it3 )ut I
.ill use it .ith care .here strength is not so important. I ha#e some oa1 and ash3 .oods
I 1no. )etter and can trust. They .ere trees that )le. do.n in a .inter gale ten years
ago3 and I plan1ed and stored them. This store has lea1ed a.ay .indo. 2rames3
1itchen units3 )its and pieces7 )ut the )est o2 it is still here .aiting 2or The 9oat. It<s not
easy no. to pic1 it out and ta1e a sa. to it. I 2eel a )it .ic1ed.
R First to )e constructed is the )ac1)one o2 the )oat7 .hich is pretty much .hat it
sounds li1e: the strong central line 2rom .hich e#erything else .ill gro.. First the long
cur#ing line o2 the 1eelson3 running 2ore and a2t do.n the middle. It .ill )e
strengthened and added to later on3 )oth inside and out3 )ut this is the )eginning. (t one
end the stem3 the rising cur#e o2 the )o.3 the line o2 pride and courage that .ill )e 2irst
to meet .hate#er 2ate )rings our .ay. (t the other end the transom3 the stern that must
present a pretty and assured cur#e to .hoe#er may )e .atching as .e set our out.ard
course. (ll these cur#es must )e right3 each e+press some aspect o2 the .hole3 and all
)elonging together in some natural coherence. ( )oat that loo1s right is a 6oy3 and one
that 2ails3 that is too pretentious 8 or too modest 8 .hose parts do not )elong together3
.hich reaches 2or some e+cess in 2orm or 2unction3 can )e a horror.
I remem)er a picture I sa. in some maga0ine3 perhaps thirty years ago. Just the
stern o2 a small )oat3 2loating on the )lue3 rippling .ater o2 some e+otic har)our. &hite
plan1ing and a grained3 #arnished transom3 re2lected in )ro1en 0ig80ags in the .ater. (
)oat that had tra#elled much and aged .ell. She )elonged to some .riter .ho li#ed
a)oard3 and had only to surrender himsel2 to .hat must ha#e )een close to di#ine
inspiration. That image produced a po.er2ul surge o2 longing and en#y in my gut that
may ha#e e#aporated a little into something more airy )ut has ne#er entirely le2t me. I
do not 1no. .hat to ma1e o2 the )arely conscious in2luence that such moments ha#e
had in my li2e. There ha#e )een countless others7 they sur2ace rarely3 )ut radiate some
strange in2luence 2rom their hidden places in my psyche.
(t a)out the same age I must ha#e lea2ed through other maga0ines in search o2
di22erent thrills and 2antasies7 .omen<s )odies .ere less commonly e+posed in those
days3 less )latantly and cynically used to arouse and to sell7 )ut used all the same3 and I
.as no more immune than I imagine most adolescent )oys to )e3 then and no.. &hat I
loo1ed 2or .as not easily de2ina)le3 though easily recognised: .hate#er the deeply
ata#istic source o2 my response3 the inner to the in.ardly heard call and
promise3 illusory and e+ploited though it may ha#e )een3 I 1ne. .hen it .as touched3
and I longed to 2ollo.. I don<t recall any o2 them no.3 and am reluctant to e#en as1
mysel2 in my most pri#ate o2 thoughts ho. much the 2antasies they inspired may ha#e
in2luenced my li2e3 may ha#e )een another in#isi)le 2orce in the choice o2 roads that
ha#e )rought me here.
This sensiti#ity to cur#e and 2orm: the .ay the line o2 the 1eel rises and turns to
the stem3 a cur#e that tightens a little as it li2ts and then opens and 2rees e#er so slightly
)e2ore it ends so as to hint at its o.n continuation up.ard. The transom that 6ust
touches the .ater in a delicate point3 and then spreads and rises either side li1e a pair o2
.ings )e2ore turning to 6ust a suggestion o2 in.ard lean ; tum)lehome3 as it<s
correctly called. It<s a secure3 containing cur#e3 .ith a slight air o2 2lirtation3 seduction
e#en: the )ac1.ard glance that departs and promises at the same time as she leans to
the .ind and li2ts to a .a#e.
In some inner space o2 my imagination I run my eye and hand o#er these cur#es
until the sensation is 6ust right7 not .here it comes 2rom3 )ut it .hen
it comes. Pes3 I .onder3 too3 .hether my choice o2 )i1inied pin8up3 the precisely
encouraging line o2 thigh and )uttoc1 as she turns a.ay7 yes3 and the pro#ocati#e
)ac1.ard loo1 o#er one raised shoulder that )oth promises and a)andons ; .hether
the 2inely discriminating sense that 6udges these lines is not lin1ed. There is
nothing I can do: i2 it is so3 then so )e it. Let the one not de#alue the other7 and I .ould
not )e .ithout either. 5ere in my .or1shop I am at least 2ree to shape the line as I
please7 a o2 choice that I .ould not dare or .ish to claim
I2 it is true that I ha#e .o#en 2antasies around such images3 i2 such )arely
conscious dreams are part o2 .hat has )rought me here today3 straining o#er my )ench3
.ith aching arms and shoulders3 to plane to the shape o2 my dream a piece o2 .ood that
sho.s only a natural and o)stinate resistance ; then I do not 1no. i2 I am the chosen
and honoured recipient o2 higher inspiration or the #ictim o2 empty 2oolishness. For the
moment I neither remem)er nor understand .hat o#er the years has )rought me here3
nor .hat hopes 6usti2y the pain in my arms and ache in my )ac1. Fantasy seems to
)elong more to my distant youth than my present middle age. I2 it is 2antasy that is
dri#ing me3 and .hich may carry me3 .ith these emerging shapes o2 .ood into some
un1no.n 2uture3 then I admit to a nagging 2ear that .hen I )egin to encounter reality3 as
I am today3 then all the energy and 2orce that the 2antasy contained may desert me
entirely and lea#e me to 2ace the conse/uences #ery much alone3 a)andoned )y my o.n
sense o2 purpose and le2t .ith some real and se#ere limitations.
The )oat is )uilt upside8do.n: I must retreat a little 2rom the encounter .ith
reality3 put the )ac1)one pieces to one side3 .hile I construct a 2rame on the 2loor ; a
pro#isional a22air that must ne#ertheless )e accurate and e+actly le#el. Fn this 2rame I
set up a ro. o2 si+ or se#en moulds or patterns3 cut to the e+act shape o2 the cross
section o2 the hull3 and standing in a ro. li1e dominoes threatening to 1noc1 each other
o#er. These together 2orm a 1ind o2 s1eleton o2 the in#erted hull. Three o2 these moulds
.ill 2orm )ul1heads that remain part o2 the structure o2 the )oat3 and must )e properly
made. For the rest it doesn<t matter .hat they are made o2 ; any old )its o2 .ood3 so
long as they are strong enough and are propped and supported in place. The only
re/uirement is that they should )e e+actly the right shape and in e+actly the right place:
it is 2or 6ust that3 and nothing else3 that I ha#e la)oured so long and so care2ully so 2ar.
This ro. o2 moulds supports the )ac1)one3 .hich can then ta1e its position arching
through the air in some yogic posture3 and round it the plan1s o2 the )oat can )e )ent. I2
I ha#e done my .or1 .ell they .ill )end smoothly and e#enly3 in cur#es .ith
neither )umps nor 2lat spots. (ll the moulds can )e remo#ed later3 .hen the )oat is
secure enough in its o.n sense o2 identity to separate 2rom its 2rame.or1 and )e turned
This is in a sense the 2inal gesture o2 all the a)straction o2 planning: these moulds
o22er their calculated shapes3 the imagined intersection o2 their t.o dimensions .ith the
un1no.n reality o2 the three dimensional 2orm I hope to create. They only seem to
ma1e a suggestion: they cannot )e enough to 2ully determine the end result. There is a
mould e#ery t.o 2eet: )et.een there is space ; space .here nothing is 2i+ed3 nothing
holds the hull to the planned shape. 4o a)straction can )e enough to 2i+ reality. I could
ha#e moulds e#ery 2oot3 e#ery si+ inches ; and still there .ould )e space )et.een3
2ree space3 room 2or the unpredicta)le. In 2act3 o2 course3 I rely on some o)ligingly
consistent property o2 reality: plan1s .ill ta1e a natural cur#e3 the easiest line o2
e/uili)rium o2 tension as they are 2orced into a cur#e around these 2e. moulds. I trust
to some principle in the )eha#iour o2 .ood not to )eha#e oddly in the spaces I must
allo. it. Reality hangs together in the simplest possi)le .ay3 not the most unli1ely and
I am tal1ing in metaphors again: )ut this is di22erent. here is my
central metaphor3 the one I .ill not resist3 the one that I must trust to carry me through
this #enture3 .hate#er others may come and go. Someho. this )uilding o2 the )oat and
.hate#er #oyage she may ta1e me on has )ecome lin1ed to my other inner /uest3 and I
.ill let these t.o carry me as they .ill. I ha#e to put my trust in something3 or I shall
gro. old and 2ade in the com2ort o2 my armchair and the easy #oyage through other
people<s .ords.
So I ta1e the o22ered truth o2 this s1eletal 2rame: .hat I can hold in my limited
a)stractions3 the intersection o2 a multi8dimensional and unpredicta)le .orld .ith the
se#ere limitations o2 my mind3 .ill ne#er )e more than a 2e. suggestions3 a 2e. 2lat
shapes that touch some higher truth only here and there at their edges3 that gi#e some
2eel o2 the /uality and 2orm o2 this truth )ut lea#e .ide spaces )et.een .here it cannot
)e held3 and may .ander 2ree in some unimagined and perhaps un2oreseea)le .ay. I
can only trust in some principle o2 reality3 that it .ill )eha#e in a moderately consistent
.ay3 that it .ill con2orm to some principle o2 ma+imum simplicity3 o2 e/uili)rium o2
tension3 and not act too erratically in the spaces I must gi#e it. 9ut I do not entirely
)elie#e in that principle ; and I<m not entirely sure that I really want to )elie#e in it. I
ha#e al.ays )een inclined to put a 2e. hopes and dreams in those spaces )et.een3 and
I thin1 I may al.ays .ant that they can 1eep some 2reedom.
The days are passing. *ach morning I come out to the .or1shop3 the only pause
2or thought a)out .hat to do a2ter )rea12ast )eing a )rie2 re#ie. o2 the practicalities o2
the rest o2 my li2e3 and a )rie2 consultation .ith my conscience on the /uestion o2 .hat
else I ought to )e attending to Aand oh .hat parallel .orlds can seem to ma1e this
claimB ; and then )ac1 to the )oat.
Fnce the sto#e is lit3 and I<#e spent the re/uisite 2e. minutes in the armchair progress so 2ar3 I<m o2ten ready to get straight to .or1. It is continually
e+traordinary to me the e+tent to .hich I ha#e already done the ne+t stage o2 the .or1
in my mind. In some sense the )oat does e+ist in my head3 the part already completed
)eing clear3 the rest only a little more shado.y ; and I can go through the mental
motions o2 2itting the ne+t piece3 o2 chec1ing that I<m not o)structing some 2uture
mo#e3 that I .ould not )e )etter tac1ling something else 2irst3 trying to 2oresee .hat
2uture decisions .ill depend on my choices no.3 .hether there is some elegant and
economical .ay in .hich one part can ser#e t.o or more 2unctions.
I<m not al.ays con2ident: e#en though I go o#er and o#er 2uture stages I<m sure I
miss things3 ma1e decision I .ill regret. It<s all too easy to ma1e some assumption in
my mind that )ecomes 2i+ed through ha)it rather than accuracy3 and .ho 1no.s .hat is
then determined )y this error. &hat I am certainly a.are o2 is that i2 I miss out on this
almost su)conscious pre8)uilding o2 the ne+t stage then I 2eel almost incapa)le o2
proceeding the ne+t day. I am sometimes distracted3 other things are not in2re/uently
more pressing 2or attention ; and .hen they are I need 2ar longer the ne+t morning
)e2ore starting .or1 to go through the same mental process o2 imaginary construction.
*+perience could count 2or so much here. I<#e no need 2or e+cessi#e modesty
a)out .hat I )ring to this tas13 )ut it is a #ery long .ay 2rom pro2essional con2idence. It
is much the most am)itious practical pro6ect I<#e tac1led ; )ut I ha#e some 1no.ledge
and some s1ill in my hands. I 1no. /uite a lot a)out rele#ant things3 in a rather
scattered and disorganised .ay. ()out )oats3 a)out design3 and )uilding and traditions
; a)out tools and materials and methods. (nd I 1no. my hands can .or1 .ith tools.
4ot unerringly3 not .ithout much thought and concentration3 )ut .ell enough3 gi#en a
readiness to )e satis2ied .ith less than per2ection ; and to thro. things a.ay and try
again 2rom time to time. (nd I ha#e a 1ind o2 )asic practical learning that this tas1 is
possi)le3 e#en i2 at times it seems hopelessly huge compared to the scale o2 my moment
to moment acti#ity.
I ha#e no need .hate#er to @re8in#ent the )oat<: I am prepared to use all the
traditional 1no.ledge and e+perience I can get into my head and hands ; and though I
.ould li1e to 2eel I could put my o.n personal stamp on )oth the .hole conception and
the detail3 that<s not a satis2action o2 pride I .ould ris1 much 2or. 9y contrast3 to the
other tas1 ; the philosophical one ; I 2eel I )ring much less3 and I<m much more
ready to )e sceptical a)out .isdom and tradition. I may )e un.illing to ris1 )uilding an
original )oat ; )ut .ill readily set a)out constructing a ne. understanding o2 the
.orld -
I ha#e a deeply alluring image o2 mysel2 AI thin1 I might )e )lushing here3 though
I also pre2er my mirrors to )e imaginaryB3 standing )e2ore the .orld na1ed and innocent
o2 all 1no.ledge3 all distortion and pre6udice o2 past e+perience. &ith the pure .aters
o2 dou)t I .ill shall puri2y mysel2 o2 all 2i+ed ideas3 .ash clean the lens o2 my inner
eye3 and open mysel2 to an entirely ne. and 2resh #ision o2 The Truth.
5o. .onder2ul it sounds3 the romantic return to innocence. 9ut I actually thin1 AI
thin1 I thin13 I )elie#e I thin13 I thin1 I )elie#e3 my pre6udice is -B that it<s not as
simple as that.
%art o2 the attraction o2 this image is that in ma1ing a.ay .ith e#erything e+cept
purity and innocence I also manage to get rid o2 things li1e di22iculty3 and .or13 and
discipline and struggle and sel28criticism and responsi)ility ; .hich is neat7 and
suspicious Amy 2orm o2 the .or18ethic )eing .hat it isB.
Innocence and purity are3 presuma)ly3 part o2 .hat a )a)y )egins li2e .ith Aapart
2rom its collecti#e and genetic )urdens: so .oe2ully di22icult 2or the dou)ting mind to
ma1e e+plicitB. (nd ho.e#er appealing it may )e to see in2inite .isdom in the eyes o2 a
ne.8)orn child3 they all actually seem to go through similar pro)lems3 and in similar
.ays3 o2 grappling .ith the )asics rather than .ith the 1ind o2 thing I<m a2ter: clarity3
insight and .isdom .
I )egan this 6ourney .ith memories o2 my o.n childhood. &hat I .ant to re8
a.a1en is the intensity o2 a.e and .onder3 the sensation o2 )eing )oth called and
touched )y something a)solutely ne. and a)solutely )eyond mysel23 that I seem to
recall. 9ut I don<t .ant to go )ac1 in any other sense. I can<t go )ac1. I must loo1 2rom3
continue the 6ourney 2rom3 the place .here I am no.. I .ant more 1no.ledge3 s1ill and
e+perience3 not less. Sel28critical3 yes7 to do it )etter3 yes ; )ut not sel28destructi#e.
4ot to con2use .hat I hope might )e the simplicity o2 seeing something o2 truth .ith
the simplicity o2 seeing almost nothing.
I do en#y the innocence o2 the child that has not yet ta1en any .rong turnings on
the path to understanding; )ut I do not thin1 the child in setting out has the 2aculties
re/uired to distinguish the right turnings 2rom the .rong ones. Fnly e+perience gi#es
that3 including the e+perience o2 error. &hate#er I ha#e no. is my #ersion o2 that
e+perience. It .ill ne#er )e enough3 )ut it<s all I ha#e3 and I can only hope to use it as
)est I can as I continue to .ander and e+plore3 rather than try and thro. it a.ay and
start again.
So3 yes3 I<m loaded .ith .hat might )e called pre6udice ; )ut I can<t dump it3
)ecause it includes my only means o2 telling .hat is pre6udice and .hat might )e 2or
real. (nd I .ant something 2or real: I .ant truth ; and I don<t .ant to let mysel2 )e
2o))ed o22 .ith anything less than the truth.
I suppose it<s .hat Gescartes tried: alone in his sto#e8heated room he resol#ed =to
rid mysel2 o2 all the opinions I had hitherto accepted on 2aith3 in order to replace them
.ith )etter ones or to restore them to their 2ormer place3 once I had )rought them to the
le#el o2 my reason?. 5e laid out his principle A2our o2 themB ; 2irstly3 and mainly to
=accept as true nothing that I did not 1no. to )e e#idently so - that .hich sho.ed
itsel2 so clearly and distinctly to my mind that I should ne#er ha#e occasion to dou)t
Is that not .hat I<m doing ; in a rather di22erent setting3 though .ith my o.n
#ersion o2 the sto#e ; that I .ill soon ha#e to lea#e )ehind> To me he simply
succeeded in up his most deep8rooted pre6udices3 the near8unconscious ones3
the ones he 2elt una)le to dou)t3 pro)a)ly )ecause he .as una)le to see them. I can<t
see .hy I should do any )etter: )ut may)e the point is 6ust to get do.n to the deep8
rooted stu22. &e can .orry a)out .hat to do .ith it .hen it<s a )it more clearly
Sometimes in moments o2 se#ere dou)t and con2usion I practice the superstitious
Aor e#asi#e3 or la0yB ha)it o2 pic1ing up a )oo1 and opening it at random. I2 there<s
anyone trying to get a message through to me it gi#es them as good a chance as any
Aalong .ith dreams3 automatic .riting3 and other di22iculty8 a#oiding strategies -B.
I 6ust tried: Sogyal Rimpoche tells me A@Hlimpse a2ter Hlimpse< Darch thB:
@(nyone loo1ing honestly at li2e .ill see that .e li#e in a constant state o2
suspense and am)iguity. Fur minds are perpetually shi2ting in and out o2
con2usion and clarity. I2 .e could )e con2used all the time3 that .ould at least
ma1e 2or some 1ind o2 clarity. &hat is really )a22ling a)out li2e is that sometimes3
despite all our con2usion3 .e can also )e really .iseE
This constant uncertainty may ma1e e#erything seem )lea1 and almost
hopeless7 )ut i2 you loo1 more deeply at it3 you .ill see that its #ery nature
creates @gaps<3 spaces in .hich pro2ound chances and opportunities 2or
trans2ormation are continually 2lo.ering ; i23 that is3 they can )e seen and
I<ll go 2or that7 I thin1 it might e#en )e .orth the time and e22ort o2 car#ing it into
a )ul1head )y the na#igation ta)le. 9e deeply optimistic a)o#e all a)out my o.n
con2usion. &hat clarity.
Something o2 .hich I 2eel 2airly sure: I ha#e constructed 3 in some mental sense3
since the days o2 my innocence3 a 1ind o2 2rame.or1 o2 concepts )y .hich to ma1e
sense o2 the .orld.
I am 2orced into metaphor here ; )ut I can almost see3 or 2eel3 this s1eletal
structure inside my o.n mental space. (nd .hate#er this seeing3 this 2eeling3 is it helps
me3 at least to get a handle on this .hole slippery pro)lem ; so e#en i2 it<s someho.
@.rong<3 I )oth need it3 )ecause I<m .ithout it3 and can use it3 )ecause it
allo.s me to go on and try more /uestions Ali1e: .here did this 2rame come 2rom3 .hat
is it li1e3 .hat is lin1ed to .hat3 .here might it )e 2le+i)le - etc.B.
Fne o2 my early disco#eries in a school classroom .as the pleasure that I 2ound
in geometry. &hen the class .as presented .ith some pro)lem that .ould ha#e )een
2amiliar to *uclid3 some tangle o2 triangles and circles3 and .e .ere as1ed to state or
pro#e some possi)le relation )et.een its angles or lengths3 I 2ound that my hand almost
in#aria)ly .ent up )e2ore anyone else had done anything )ut loo1 )a22led. I 2ound I
could see3 or 2eel3 patterns and relationships in these geometric shapes. I 2elt cle#er and
proud3 certainly3 )ut more than that I 2elt the pleasure o2 it ; rather li1e plunging into
.ater 2or the 2irst time and 2inding that it .as .arm and that I could s.imE The same
almost tangi)le sensation continued into more a)stract areas o2 pure maths3 li1e set
theory and mathematical logic3 .hich remained at least partially a pleasure3 though one
that comes much more rarely no..
I can only say that the idea o2 @conceptual 2rames< is rather li1e this3 and 2or those
.ho 2ind them )a22ling3 I<m not sure .hat to say e+cept @Loo1-E<. The #ery idea o2 a
conceptual 2rame is also an e+ample itsel2 o2 6ust such a piece o2 2rame.or1 - I get a
compelling sense o2 )eing una)le to thin1 at all .ithout such mental aids.
There is some e#idence in psychology 2or the limitations to thought that the
a)sence o2 language imposes. Fli#er Sachs3 2or e+ample3 spea1s o2 an 11 year old dea2
)oy3 Joseph3 .ho had )een depri#ed o2 the opportunity to learn sign language3 and had
)een diagnosed as retarded3 and
e#en autistic3 )ecause o2 the .ay
this lac1 o2 language limited his
po.ers o2 thought. In this sense3
then3 it seems that language is part
o2 .hat 2acilitates3 or perhaps e#en
comprises3 our conceptual 2rames3
and .ithout them .e 2unction in a
#ery limited .ay.
;oseh saw, distinguished, categorised, used; he
had no roblems with ercetual categorisation or
generalisation, but he could not, it seemed, go
much beyond this, hold abstract ideas in mind,
reflect, lay, lan. $e seemed comletely literal
< unable to 'uggle images or hyotheses or
ossibilities, unable to enter an imaginative or
figurative realm. *nd yet, one still felt, he was of
normal intelligence, desite these manifest
limitations of intellectual functioning. #t was not
that he lacked a mind, but that he was not using his
mind fully.
-liver )achs
I2 it is true that I ha#e such things3 that I ha#e )uilt an in#isi)le )ut essential
mental structure3 then se#eral things must )e true o2 it: it is huge3 it is comle(3
pro)a)ly incoherent and inconsistent7 it is e+tremely3 and essentially3 ad hoc in its
structure3 pro)a)ly #ery sha1y and tentati#e in some parts ; and #ery deep8rooted3
2i+ed and immo#a)le in others. A&hat a lot I 1no. a)out this hypothetical entityEB
I imagine I .ould go mad .ithout it. I imagine I depend on it enormously 2or my
sense o2 security in li2e3 and .ere I to e#er 2eel it seriously sha1ing I .ould 2eel #ery
threatened and .ould most determinedly and instincti#ely resist any change. I
remem)er someone telling me o2 her shoc13 her dou)ting o2 her o.n senses and sanity3
.hen she heard a #oice coming 2rom inside the cup)oard in the corner o2 her 1itchen ;
and o2 her relie2 .hen her hus)and heard it too3 and they disco#ered that it .as a
plum)er .or1ing ne+t door .ho had inad#ertently made a hole in the di#iding .all. I
can almost 2eel the .ay in .hich such an e+perience .ould sha1e my 2rame7 and .hat
i2 such a moment .ere 2ollo.ed3 not )y an easy resolution3 )ut )y another disorienting
e+perience ; and then another ; and imagine3 too3 that the senseless e+perience .ere
not 6ust tri#ial e#ents3 )ut .ere 2illed .ith personal danger and threat - it is the stu22 o2
horror 2ilms A.hich I do not li1e3 partly 2or this reasonB3 or on a lighter le#el o2 a
"hesterton no#el A.hich I doB.
I ha#e little trou)le in 2eeling the 2ragility o2 my o.n 2rame3 or sensing the
pro+imity o2 its collapse into terror and insanity. 5o. 2ortunate3 .hat a tri)ute to my
ingenuity3 andUor to the .onder2ul consistency o2 reality3 that I am so sane and
unthreatened. So success2ul are .e at 2rame8)uilding that it seems e+tremely reasona)le
to lea#e it as intact as possi)le3 and e#en to honour it .ith the title o2 Truth3 .ith some
allo.ance 2or a little relati#ity in detail 2or other people ; the more so 2or those .ith a
deeply di22erent cultural )ac1ground3 o2 course -
I suppose it is a)o#e all .hat .e are pri#ileged to 1no. o2 history3 particularly
the history o2 ideas and o2 science3 and cultural anthropology that emphasises the 2act
that conceptual 2rames are not a)solute. It seems only natural that people li#ing in less
enlightened times and places should ha#e some #ery di22erent ideas a)out things: they
didn<t 1no. any )etter. Dy o.n 2rame3 i2 )etter in some sense3 has3 o2 course3 no
possi)le claim to )e a)solute ; and the important issue 2or me )ecomes the /uestion o2
.hat it .ould mean 2or me to @1no. )etter<.
I shall hold3 2or the moment3 to this concept o2 an ac/uired conceptual 2rame
; )ecause it seems to )e a good and use2ul one. Fnce made e+plicit it is more open to
/uestion than )e2ore7 the .ay it 2orms and a22ects other ideas .ill )e more #isi)le and
perhaps less in2le+i)le. It is open to ad6udication in a ne. .ay. There is3 2or e+ample3 a
.hole range o2 e#idence in psychological research 2or the .ay not only our thought )ut
e#en our perceptions are in2luenced )y our e+pectations .hich 2its .ell .ith the idea o2
an inner 2rame o2 concepts.
I am a.are o2 the 2irst touch o2 a 2rustration that I thin1 may stay .ith me right
through this process. ( relati#ely simple idea3 li1e this one o2 conceptual 2rames3 seems
to me to call 2or more detailed in#estigation. It could )e interesting to loo1 more
closely3 to 2ollo. its implications3 to 2ind e+amples o2 such conceptual structures3 to
consider ho. they originate3 to 2ind e+amples o2 ho. shi2ts and read6ustments occur3 o2
.hat happens .hen e+perience seriously declines to 2it and no ad6ustment can )e 2ound
; and so on and on. 9ut i2 I do this ; and it could )e an enormously and 2ascinating
tas1 ; then I .ill achie#e a)solutely nothing else. (nd my pro2essed aim is to stand
)ac1 as 2ar as it is mentally possi)le to do so3 to stri#e 2or the .idest possi)le
perspecti#e o2 .hich I am capa)le. I seem compelled to ma1e some 1ind o2 choice
)et.een these alternati#es: I can 2ollo. 2ineness o2 detail3 or )readth o2 perspecti#e.
9ut not )oth.
It is not a tri#ial dilemma ; it is a deeply serious and 2undamental one3 2or it
seems to ma1e any sense o2 completeness a)solutely impossi)le. &hat possi)ility is
there o2 perspecti#e i2 I am casual and super2icial a)out detail> Go I not ris1 )eing
2undamentally mista1en a)out the real nature o2 that a)out .hich I am reaching 2or
)road perspecti#e ; so that any 2eeling o2 perspecti#e .ill )e an illusion )uilt upon an
(nd .hat does it mean to study detail .ithout any .ider perspecti#e )y .hich to
guide my ) into .hat is potentially in2initely comple+> There is a truly
impossi)le dilemma here that I see no solution to3 e+cept to murmur something rather
gli) a)out )alance - Something o2 this tension )et.een the di22erent scales on .hich I
need to 2unction and )e a.are .as emerging earlier .hen I .as thin1ing a)out the
nature o2 a 6ourney3 .here there is an essential interplay )et.een the high le#el o2 2inal
purpose and destination3 and the immediate and more detailed le#el o2 the ground in
2ront o2 my 2eet. &hat .as clear there .as the .ay in .hich these di22erent le#els
re/uire each other in order to ha#e meaning and #alidity. Some 1ind o2 )alance3 o2 mi+3
seems 2rom this not only to )e desira)le )ut is actually una#oida)le.
Fur human attempts to understand things3 as 2ar as I a)le to o)ser#e them 2rom
my place on the sidelines3 ha#e )een #ery serious and genuine3 and occupied enormous
amounts o2 our energy and attention7 it as an acti#ity that seems )oth e+tremely
interesting and important to us collecti#ely3 ho.e#er .e may each 2eel a)out it
personally. The result o2 all this e22ort can seem enormously impressi#e ; )ut they can
also seem rather depressingly inade/uate and pathetic3 according to ones perspecti#e o2
the moment. There are so many things that matter to us3 and that .e seem not to
understand in the least. 9ut let us not )e discouraged Apersonally or collecti#elyB3 2or
.e could ta1e this #ery a.areness o2 our limitations in an optimistic light: the
recognition o2 the di22erence )et.een .hat one does and doesn<t understand is in itsel2
one o2 the great achie#ements o2 understanding. Kno.ledge is an early and dangerous
stage o2 de#elopment .hen it doesn<t include the statement @)ut )eyond this
I don<t 1no.<.
For entirely natural and human reasons our collecti#e attempts to understand ha#e
)ranched into di22erent areas o2 specialisation3 each .ith it o.n characteristic style3
methods and 2ruits. (s each part gro.s it tends to )ranch and su)di#ide repeatedly. It is
perhaps a conse/uence o2 the limitations o2 the scope o2 any one indi#idual to see3
1no. and comprehend ; to )e interested and to care3 too ; that 1no.ledge should
thus )ranch and specialise. 9ut it is perhaps also an organic property o2 all 2orms o2 that emerges in this structure3 and in this sense is not a limitation )ut a strength.
I2 there is in the o2 understanding and 1no.ledge a necessary and
continual tendency to di22erentiate and )ranch3 something that seems true o2 all 1inds o2
e#olutionary de#elopment3 then there is something else also that is a particular
characteristic o2 understanding: it is o2 the #ery essence o2 this process to see1 not only
to gro. in its scope and the di22erentiation o2 its parts3 )ut also to see1 continually to
reach out and grasp its o.n .holeness. To .ant to understand means to .ant to 1no.3
deeply and intimately3 each o2 the tiniest details o2 all things .e are a)le to discriminate
; and at the same time to .ant to )e a.are o2 the .hole thing3 on the largest scale o2
.hich .e are capa)le. The .ill to consciousness reaches in )oth these opposing
directions: neither, as 2ar as .e can 1no.3 has any limit. The 2urther .e reach in either
direction3 the more3 /uite literally3 is o22ered to our see1ing minds. The 2ineness o2
detail only proli2erates3 and the scale and comple+ity o2 the .hole only gro.s. (t the
same time .e need to .or1 not 6ust at these t.o 2rontiers3 )ut also at the nature
e#erything in )et.een. &e .ant to see and 1no. the nature o2 the smallest parts and o2
the greatest .hole ; and also, in .hate#er .ay possi)le and at e#ery le#el3 the
relation between these two. There is a continual connection3 structure3 tension and
interaction )et.een parts and .holes3 the smaller and the greater3 at e#ery le#el o2
magnitude and scale. These connection3 too3 are #alid ; e#en #ital ; o)6ects 2or
consciousness and understanding. Such connections may )e harder to see3 they are
another le#el o2 a)straction3 and need an act o2 mental @stepping )ac1< to )ring them
into #ie.3 to make them into o)6ects o2 consciousness.
A&e see an o)6ect3 (3 and on loo1ing closely .e see that it is made up o2 a lot o2
little 9<s: a 2ascinating disco#ery3 and 2inding out a)out 9<s )ecomes an e+citing ne.
in#estigation. (t some point3 though3 someone .ill as1 =5o. come all these 9<s add up
to an (>? It can )e a #ery di22icult /uestion3 and not the same one as =&hat is an (
li1e>? or =&hat is a 9 li1e>?. It<s a di22erent perspecti#e3 2ocusing on neither ( nor 93
)ut on the relations )et.een them. Thin1ing a)out this le#el may )ring out something
ne.3 call it "3 2or the connecting patterns. The nature o2 " .ill raise ne. /uestions.B
Such @stepping )ac1<3 shi2ting le#els o2 perspecti#e3 o2 a)straction3 is a)solutely
of the nature of consciousness, .hat consciousness is or does. It is )oth its limitation ;
)ecause it endlessly generates ne. /uestions ; and it
The .hole process o2 conscious understanding raises one particular /uestion3
generates one 2orm o2 distinction or di#ide3 that runs al.ays and ine#ita)ly through it.
It is the /uestion o2 consciousness itsel2. &e .ant to understand7 .e ma1e progress7 )ut
... man’s tremendous urge for a feeling of total
rightness about himself and his world. This sums u
what man is trying to do and why conscience is his
fate. Man is the only organism fated to u00le out
what it actually means to feel ‘right’.
&ut it is imossible for man to feel right in a
straightforward way9 he is caught by a fundamental
arado( < two motives or urges that seem to be art
of creature consciousness and that oint in two
oosite directions.
-n the one hand the creature is imelled by a
owerful desire to identify with the cosmic rocess, to
merge himself with the rest of nature. -n the other
hand he wants to be uni,ue, to stand out as
something different and aart.
5rnest &ecker
.ait ; .hat is the nature o2 understanding itsel2> &e )ecome increasingly conscious3
)ut .hat is consciousness itsel2> 5o. much o2 our understanding is a conse/uence o2
the nature o2 the process o2 understanding3 and ho. much is really a)out the nature o2
what .e are trying to understand>
&e .ant to understand the .orld3 and .e stand 2or a moment as spectators in
order to do so. 9ut .e are not spectators3 .e are participants: .e oursel#es3 our
attempts to see3 and our means o2 seeing3 are part o2 the .orld .e are loo1ing at. This
inescapa)le 2act a)out the process o2 consciousness creates )oth a split3 a duality3 that
seems un)ridgea)le3 )ecause any )ridge must )elong to one side or the other ; and at
the same time creates a tangle that can seem hopeless. 4o .onder parado+ seems
I am 2ascinated )y the attempt to understand ; )oth as spectator o2 other peoples
e22orts3 and as a human participant: I .ant to understand my .orld3 too. I ha#e .atched
some o2 the )ranching into areas o2 specialisation ; the scienti2ic .ith its su)di#isions3
the practical3 the philosophical3 the artistic3 the human3 personal and introspecti#e3 the
social and the spiritual. I ha#e 2elt curious a)out all o2 them3 and3 in necessarily limited
.ays3 )een in#ol#ed in all o2 them ; .ithout ma1ing an e+clusi#e commitment to any
one. That3 certainly3 is a limitation ; )ut3 consciousness )eing .hat it is3 creates ne.
possi)ilities o2 its o.n.
I remem)er #ery early on con2ronting the charge that a @6ac1 o2 all trades< .ould
al.ays 2all short o2 the mastery o2 a specialist: my instincti#e response .as that I .ould
li1e to secialise in )eing a 6ac1 o2 all trades3 and see1 to master that. Impossi)le3 o2
course3 )ut it<s all impossi)le: 6ust potentially .orth something3 and some 2un. I thin1 I
ha#e 2ollo.ed this early calling Ain an appropriately erratic and unsystematic .ayEB3 and
retained a 2ascination 2or the relation )et.een things. I 2ind it 2rustrating ho. little goes
on in the gaps )et.een all those human specialisations. 5o. 2e. scientists seem to feel
the intensity and 2undamental rele#ance or ordinary human reality Aun2air3 o2 course:
)ut ho. little it seems to re2lect in their .or1B7 ho. 2e. philosophers seem to .or1 at
scienti2ic research3 or get their hands dirty and cut their 2ingers on chisels Ae/ually
un2air: .ith the same pro#isoB7 and similarly3 mutatis mutandis, 2or artists3 psychiatrists3
cra2tsmen3 2armers ; and so on. Ina#oida)le: and < .e could do more to try
consciously to connect.
To )e entirely personal 2or a moment: I ha#e gi#en some real attention and
in#ol#ement3 and sometimes e#en earned an income3 in /uite a .ide #ariety o2
acti#ities. I ha#e )een Ain some senseB and electronics engineer3 a mathematician3 a
philosopher3 a teacher3 a sculptor3 a 2armer3 an acupuncturist3 a )oat8)uilder and a
psychotherapist. I accept e#ery charge o2 )eing a shallo.3 erratic and uncommitted
dilettante ; e+cept that all those things connect, and in a #ital .ay that can mutually
contri)ute. AI ha#e great trou)le3 2or e+ample3 2eeling real con2idence in a teacher or a
therapist .ho had ne#er done anything else at allB. It<s not 2ear o2 depth or commitment
Areally it isn<t -B that has led me along this meandering path ; it<s )een curiosity3 and
a real caring interest in the connections3 the relations that are part o2 the .hole3 and the
2rustration at ho. .ide the gaps )et.een these things can )ecome3 and the danger that
soon no8one .ill )e a)le to see across3 let alone step across3 some o2 them.
I 1no. that .hat I .ant to do may )e impossi)le3 )ut I don<t .ant to stop trying3
or to no longer en6oy trying. Fortunately there is no8one )e2ore .hom I am called upon
to 6usti2y and de2end either my e22orts or my pleasure. I can 2reely declare its #alue
.ithout needing to su)stantiate the claim: there is #alue is at least in the e22ort and the
pleasure 2or me3 .hate#er the results or conse/uences. Fne o2 the things 2or .hich I
like humanity is their capacity to put completely irrational degree o2 energy and
enthusiasm into things are completely inde2ensi)le rationally3 a)surd3 and o2 no
predicta)le #alue .hate#er. There is an inherent dignity in that dedicated commitment
to the pointless3 or e#en the ridiculous3 that I hope .e .ill ne#er gro. out o2.
5ere in the .or1shop .ith the 2irst still rather shado.y outline o2 a )oat I 2eel the
2irst touch o2 a 2rustration that I thin1 may stay .ith me right through this process. The
shape o2 the )oat is emerging ; and I need to stand )ac1 and loo13 to hal2 close my
eyes3 to mo#e to di22erent angles and see i2 the lines run right3 i2 the proportions are
)alanced. 9ut there isn<t room to stand )ac1. I clim) onto )enches and stac1s o2 .ood
in e#ery corner3 I crouch3 I lie do.n ; )ut short o2 demolishing the .alls I cannot get
2ar enough )ac1 2or the perspecti#e I need. 4ot until the day I drag her out through the
door .ill I really get enough distance to see her as a .hole. Intil then I must ma1e do
.ith partial #ie.s and try to stretch some intuiti#e 2aculty to sense ho. they go
%ationalit& & Creati*it&
The s1eleton stands there3 an assem)ly o2 parts .ith no o)#ious coherence or
identity. It is upside do.n3 and e#en a 2inished )oat .hen it<s the .rong .ay up is
something /uite di22erent 2rom a )oat the right .ay up. It loses all its li2e and character7
all the cur#es that e+press its almost magical capacity to 2loat3 to mo#e3 to transcend the
static and .eighty nature o2 its components3 almost seem to e+press the opposite. (t
)est an upside do.n )oat seems to )e dormant and .ithdra.n3 its li#ing nature as
in#isi)le as a hi)ernating tortoise7 an upside do.n )oat a2loat in the sea de2initely loo1s
dead3 .ith something o2 the same distur)ing /uality as a 2loating corpse.
&hat an e+tra#agance o2 romantic sentimentalityE Such sel2 indulgence should
perhaps )e 1ept a little more pri#ate: li1e the tortoise I should learn the tact2ul art o2
%lan1ing 2eels in some sense li1e the essence o2 )oat8)uilding3 the process that
a)o#e all 2orms the real identity3 the )eing o2 the )oat. 9e2ore plan1ing there is a 2rame3
a s1eleton ; much o2 it only temporary. (2ter plan1ing there is a )oat7 a )are3 na1ed
)oat3 .aiting to )e 2illed3 co#ered3 2urnished3 trimmed and rigged ; )ut undou)tedly a
)oat. In terms o2 time and la)our a plan1ed )oat is not yet one third complete3 )ut it has
passed the crucial threshold )et.een not )eing and )eing.
9e2ore the physical act o2 ma1ing and 2itting a plan1 comes the all8important
process o2 lining o22 ; o2 deciding the .idth and taper3 the run3 o2 each plan1. It is
crucial not 6ust structurally3 )ut aesthetically7 and .ho 1no.s .hat mysterious lin1
there may )e )et.een these t.o. It could )e that our sense o2 )eauty is not only a
matter o2 su)6ecti#e pleasure )ut also an instinct 2or @rightness<3 2or the .ay things 2it
and 2unction together. Something li1e this is more e#ident in a )oat than in most other
things: there is an immediate plausi)ility in saying that a )eauti2ul )oat .ill sail .ell3
and a )oat that 2unctions .ell .ill )e )eauti2ul ; )ut isn<t it also little simplistic> &hat
a)out the eye o2 the )eholder> Isn<t it more accurate to ac1no.ledge that it is to the
e(erienced eye that )eauty and 2unction .ill most closely meet>
Fne o2 the most important lines on a )oat is .hat is called the sheer line: it is this
line that I am a)out to 2i+ on my )oat. Imagine loo1ing at a )oat 2rom one side: there is
a line .here the sides o2 the hull meet the dec1. It is una#oida)ly an e+tremely o)#ious
and #isi)le line3 and the e+act cur#e that it 2ollo.s .ill ha#e a strong e22ect on the 2inal
appearance o2 the )oat. (lmost uni#ersally in traditional )oats in many parts o2 the
.orld this line tends to rise at each end3 usually3 in *urope at least3 )eing higher at the
)o. than at the stern3 and )eing at its lo.est in )et.een. Fne could argue
2or a 2unctional 6usti2ication o2 this shape: the )oat meets .a#es most 2re/uently )o.
2irst3 occasionally stern 2irst. *#en i2 .a#es arri#e )roadside on the )oat has more li2t
and )uoyancy here3 )eing at its .idest3 so .ill ha#e more tendency to rise rather than
)e s.amped. There may )e other reasons: 2or e+ample3 on a 2ishing )oat it may )e
important 2or the cre. to )e closer to the .ater at .hate#er point they handle their nets7
here may )e a need 2or a 2ore8castle and a2ter8castle 2rom .hich to attac1 and de2end in
com)at7 there may )e pressures 2rom the re/uirements 2or accommodation3 2or a high
poop dec1 2rom .hich the captain can see .hat<s going on. (ll 1inds o2 2unctions may
in2luence the 2orm3 and then come to )e seen as )eauti2ul i2 they succeed.
In my little )oat3 ho.e#er3 none o2 these applies #ery strongly3 and there is no
2unctional reason .hy the line should not )e straight3 or rise to.ards the middle and
drop at )oth ends ; reverse sheer ; or e#en )e a sort o2 compound cur#e .hich 2alls
and rises and 2alls again ; a owder+horn sheer. I happen to ha#e some #ery strong
opinions a)out my sheer line: I li1e it to 2ollo. a grace2ul cur#e rising to.ards each
end and )eing at it lo.est a)out t.o thirds o2 the .ay a2t3 and higher at the )o. than
the stern. The 2unctional argument is i2 anything rather in 2a#our o2 the dec1 )eing
higher in the middle3 2or the ma+imum space inside3 so my pre2erence is
rather e+posed as an aesthetic pre6udice. 9ut I shall stic1 to it3 e#en ma1e sacri2ices 2or
it. I2 2orced to rationalise I shall say that such a line seems to e(ress something
important a)out the nature3 the essence o2 a )oat. The rising cur#e that3 although it stops
at each end3 someho. seems to carry the suggestion o2 an aspiration to rise: e+trapolate
the line3 imagine its continuation into space and it .ould rise 2or e#er ; .hereas a
re#erse sheer .ould3 i2 continued3 drop into the .ater at each end3 li1e a 2loating corpse
- and a compound sheer simply can<t ma1e up its mind .hat to do. "ur#es are li1e
gestures3 2ull o2 mo#ement and intent. 5o. .ould .e mo#e our hands and arms i2 .e
.anted to suggest 2loating3 rising )ra#ely to the .a#es3 sailing sa2ely across the 2ace o2
the sea>
Sometimes our aesthetics seems as physical as that: a sort o2 inner choreography3
an imagined gesture o2 our hands3 our arms3 our .hole )ody3 that e+presses .hat .e
2eel more #i#idly than any .ords. %erhaps that #ery physicality em)odies some
elemental truths ; 2or .e are elemental3 .e are creatures o2 .ater and air and )one and
muscle3 .e are an interaction o2 the solid and the 2luid3 o2 gra#ity and pressure and
motion and energy. %erhaps .hen I 2eel that a )oat should )e li1e this ! .a#ing my
hands3 a pencil across the page3
)ending a )atten across my 2rame3 then I am
e+pressing a truth a)out .ater and .ood that
may )e inaccessi)le to hydrodynamic theory.
It seems to me that .hen .e try to thin1 rationally a)out the .orld .e are
compelled to stand )ac1 and loo1 at it3 to act as i2 .e are separate3 and are in danger o2
2orgetting that .e are part o2 the .orld3 that there may )e a truth in connection3 in the
reality o2 participation that precedes consciousness3 and that is lost in conscious
detachment. This is3 I must admit3 only a @may)e<3 a dangerous @may)e< at that3 a
counter to the modern tendency to surrender to the dominance o2 the rational. There
seems to an ine#ita)le arrogance to rationality: .hen 1no.ledge encounters its o.n
limits3 .hen 2aced .ith the 2act3 or e#en the possi)ility3 o2 @I don<t 1no.<3 then it sees
only an empty space. ( space to )e challenged and e+plored and perhaps con/uered3
)ut it is also a space through .hich .e may )e a)le to mo#e3 a space .here .e .ere at
home long )e2ore our rationality 2i+ed its la)els and erected its signposts.
I can accept3 I thin13 that .ithin its o.n )oundaries the rational is to )e .elcomed
and respected3 and allo.ed to supersede any purely intuiti#e and unconscious
6udgement. To )e sure3 its )oundaries may not )e clear3 and some in2ormed instinct may
)e re/uired .hen near the edge3 in guessing .hen .e ha#e gone to 2ar to rely on it. (nd
there is also a .ay in .hich rational or scienti2ic understanding has a 1ind o2 t.o8
dimensional /uality: it can lay out on a page3 so to spea13 the most e+traordinarily
…reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and
so make it finite. The result is mental
exhaustion...The poet only asks to get his
head into the heavens. It is the logician
who seeks to get the heavens into his head.
And it is his head that splits...
...The madman is not the man who has lost
his reason. The madman is the man who
has lost everything except his reason.
comple+ and accurate analysis and prediction o2 some particular situation ; a human
mind can do something that the rational system cannot: it can sometimes ta1e a creati#e
leap right out o2 the page and into a third dimension3 a lateral rather than a linear step.
@I2 .e loo1 at it this .ay -< &hether a systematised understanding3 a theory3 applies or
not remains a human decision. 9eyond its edges3 or in that third dimension3 then
creati#e insight3 originality3 intuition3 are all .e ha#e to 2ind our .ay.
It seem to me there is something here I .ould li1e to learn to trust3 al)eit .ith
great discrimination3 )oth in the )uilding o2 my )oat and in my search 2or truth. I may
come to understand not )ecause I can e+plain and pro#e some rational theory3 )ut
)ecause I am part o2 .hat I see1 to 1no..
There another principle3 an aesthetic and a rationally )ased principle3 that I am
happy to ac1no.ledge: I li1e simplicity3 I pre2er to minimise the e+traneous3 the
ela)orate3 the super2luous ; and there is great opportunity 2or all these things in a )oat3
.hich can )e dri#en )y either an e+cessi#e pride3 .hich leads to pretentious
@2lashiness<3 I must call it3 or )y e+cessi#e timidity that .ould ma1e e#erything dou)ly
or triply secure and only succeeds in multiplying possi)le 2ailures. I ha#e seen pictures
o2 Sha1er 2urniture ; I .onder .hat a Sha1er )oat .ould loo1 li1e> 4ot that I .on<t
accept a little restrained ornamentation3 a choice or colour or decorati#e re2inement3 so
long as it is in good taste.
In the end .ho am I to 6udge these things3 and ho. #eiled and incomprehensi)le
are the .ays in .hich I am led to choose> 5ere3 in )uilding a )oat3 .e ha#e the
ultimate 6udge3 more ruthless than any art or literary critic3 .aiting to deli#er a #erdict
against .hich there .ill )e no argument or appeal: the sea. I do not 1no. .hat 2inal
6udge o2 my philosophical 2um)lings I may encounter: sometimes I 2ear that such a
6udge may also )e a)solute and harsh7 sometimes I 2ear3 may)e e#en more3 that the only
6udge I encounter .ill )e silence.
I am3 then3 lining out the plan1ing 2or my )oat3 deciding and mar1ing .here the
edges o2 each plan1 should )e. She is to )e clin1er plan1ed3 meaning that each plan1
.ill o#erlap the one )elo.3 as opposed to lying edge to edge3 so that the edge o2 each
plan1 .ill stand out and )e clearly #isi)le3 creating a set o2 lines that can 2lo.
harmoniously 2rom )o. to stern3 suggesting lightness and mo#ement and grace3 or )e
a.1.ard and mis8proportioned3 irre#oca)ly ruining the 2inal appearance o2 the )oat.
Li1e )uilding the %arthenon3 .hile the la.s o2 structure must )e o)eyed3 there are
su)tle .ays in .hich the simple and calcula)le regularities must sometimes )e slightly
distorted in order that the eye may )e perhaps a little decei#ed into seeing a satis2ying
)alance and regularity.
%lan1s must )e .ider in the middle and taper to.ards each end3 )y #irtue o2 the
shape o2 the )oat ; the )oat is much .ider in the middle3 so the plan1s must .rap
around a greater distance ; )ut the precise .ay in .hich they do this is in2initely
#aria)le. It is something )eyond reasona)le po.ers o2 arithmetic and geometry ; only
the eyes can )e trusted here. Long thin )attens are pinned along the moulds3
representing the edges o2 the plan1s ; and I loo1. From e#ery possi)le angle3 and 2rom
.hate#er possi)le distance I can achie#e. I loo1 at these )attens3 and I ad6ust them
again and again. I try to stand on my head3 2or the )oat must loo1 right the right .ay
up7 I clim) o#er piles o2 .ood into e#ery corner o2 the .or1shop and loo17 I loo1
though the .indo.s 2rom outside7 I consider 1noc1ing e+tra holes in the .all so that I
can loo1 2rom 2urther a.ay. I come out in the morning to ta1e it )y surprise: not that it
.ill ha#e changes3 put perhaps I .ill see .ith a more immediate innocence )e2ore my
ha)itual 2aculties are properly a.a1e.
The eye is e+traordinarily sensiti#e to the e#enness o2 a cur#e3 to the slightest
)ump or 2latness3 to the smooth continuity o2 the .ay a cur#e can gradually ease o22 or
)ecome sharper. These are e+tremely di22icult properties to de2ine mathematically ;
)ut loo13 and you .ill see. For a .hile the .eight o2 the decision lies hea#ily upon me
)ut may)e not as hea#ily as it should. (2ter much minor ad6ustment ; and one ma6or
one .hen I decide to increase the num)er o2 the plan1s to one more than I had
originally thought3 and all the )attens ha#e to come o22 and the .hole process )egin
again ; I suddenly 2eel @that .ill do<: I am impatient no. to get on3 and o22 come the
)attens lea#ing only a 2e. pencil mar1s on the moulds3 among many that are smudged
and erased3 to represent the #anished lines. They are the 2ruit o2 much la)our3 though
they seem almost nothing in themsel#es. Their #alue is not in .hat they are in
themsel#es3 )ut in the in2ormation they hold3 in their relationship to each other and to
the )oat as a .hole. That ma1es them #itally signi2icant and essential to the ne+t stage.
The plan1ing itsel2 can )e a long and repetiti#e 6o). Fnce em)ar1ed on it I can
2orget a)out the )oat as a .hole and concentrate on the immediate piece o2 .ood in my
hand. The ma1ing and 2itting o2 each plan1 is repeated again and again3 .ith no
#ariation in the routine ; )ut at no point can any .ea1ness or inaccuracy )e tolerated.
&hereas in lining o22 it .as the )alance o2 the .hole that mattered3 no. it is the /uality
o2 each part. I2 this .ere an instruction manual3 then there .ould )e many pages o2
description at this point3 .ith diagrams or photos to ma1e clear each step. There is
much physical .or13 handling long pieces o2 .ood3 sa.ing3 shaping and planing3
@o22ering them up< and then ta1ing them do.n to ad6ust3 cra.ling under and o#er the
)oat ; and I am tired and a )it dispirited at the end o2 each day. &ith my nose so close
to the .or1 there is little sense o2 progress3 and the )oat seems huge. *ach morning I
light the sto#e3 )ut I ma1e 2ar less use o2 the armchair then I do .hen there are
decisions to )e made. Fitting plan1s in#ol#ed care2ul o2 a routine rather than
ma1ing di22icult choices.
Fne morning I come out3 ready to start .or1 on another plan1 ; there are still
three to go on each side ; and as I open the door I recei#e a completely une+pected
surprise: there is a boat standing there in my 2amiliar .or1shopE Dy surprise may
sound 2oolish3 )ut the moment .as a #ery real one3 and did ta1e me genuinely )y
surprise. (ll my .or1 has )een .ith separate pieces o2 .ood: I .as shaping them3
attaching them together. I 1no. each one intimately3 and 1no. each 6oint intimately:
some o2 them I am pleased .ith3 they 2it .ell and truly3 and I 2eel a glo. o2 satis2action
.hen I loo1 at them. Fthers I am not /uite so pleased .ith: there are tiny errors o2 2it3
that I am sure no8one else .ill e#er notice. I ha#e actually remade some3 discarded a
piece and started again ; a di22icult decision3 )ut usually a relie2 to ta1e. Some I 6udge
to )e good enough3 )ut it is sometimes an uneasy satis2action. (ll this time the )oat as a
.hole has remained an a)straction3 e+isting only in my imagination. (nd then this
morning it .as there: this o)6ect3 though .ith three plan1s a side still to )e 2itted3 is no
longer an assem)ly o2 parts aspiring to.ards the ideal o2 a )oat3 )ut a )oat .ith a 2e.
plan1s missing.
I am greatly encouraged and energised )y this transition3 )ut also 2ascinated )y it.
It .as neither conscious nor 2oreseen3 )ut it .as real. It @clic1ed<3 li1e one o2 these
optical pu00les that 2or a long time loo1 li1e a random array o2 )lac1 shapes on a .hite
paper3 and then suddenly emerge as a 2ace or a dog - Fnce seen there is no .ay )ac17
.hate#er the e#ent in my )rain that sees and responds to the .hole instead o2 simply
the parts3 I can<t undo it. The .hole is there3 and it is to that that I shall relate 2rom no.
&hat goes on inside my head so o2ten sounds so li1e a dialogue ; or more o2ten
an argument ; that I shall try recording it in that 2orm: discussing something .ith
someone else can )e a #ery healthy .ay o2 thrashing it out3 e#en .hen the other party
turns out )e o)#iously an o)stinate idiot. &hen he<s in#isi)le3 too3 it may )e e#en more
I<m not sure .ho the other protagonist is3 )ut I .ill try and gi#e him a #oice. 5e<s
trying to say something no..
". Acritic>3 child>3 creati#e muse> - B &hate#er you say3 ho.e#er much you act
as i2 you are ignorant and limited and modest3 you are continually ma1ing s.eeping
statements a)out #ery )road and general things3 as i2 to say @this is the .ay thing are
-< I2 your humility is anything )ut 2a1e3 then .here do these o)6ecti#e and superior
statement come 2rom>
S. &hat a searching /uestionE Pet they are no more than opinions3 personal
opinions3 and I don<t .ant them to mas/uerade as anything else. They may seem to
ma1e some claim to )e 2acts3 to )e o)6ecti#e truths ; )ut to me they seem much
smaller and less pretentious than that.
". ( modest disclaimer3 and to tell the truth one that is hardly necessary ; no8
one is really #ery li1ely to see you as )eing o2 anything more than normal human scale.
9ut i2 you ha#e e#en such modest opinions3 such tentati#e suggestions3 don<t you
.onder .here they come 2rom> They are surely not random ; in some .ay you are
certainly implying that these are at least reasona)le opinions3 that your speculations
might e#en )e good and #alua)le in some .ay ; e#en3 dare .e suggest it3 signi2icant
insights - 5o. do you 6udge> &hat<s the di22erence )et.een a good speculation and a
2oolish one3 .hat ma1es it plausi)le or e#en simply interesting> I2 you could
that you might e#en )e a)le to impro#e the /uality o2 your opinions.
S. I .ish I 1ne. the di22erence more clearly3 as you say it might )e use2ul ; a
pro2ound insight in itsel23 indeed.
&hat I certainly recognise is that I .ould o2ten lo#e to )e a)le to as1 that
/uestion o2 other people. 5o. o2ten do authors o2 )oo1s ma1e statement o2 the most
s.eeping magnitude3 generally .ith a sort o2 casual authority: =This is the .ay it is -
people3 thought3 the .orld3 Hod e#en -? or: =this is the .ay it should )e: .e should do
this or that -? There is a in the .ritten .ord that carries a certain .eight3 )ut I
incline to a rather sceptical attitude. Dy scepticism is itsel2 a 2orm o2 arrogance ;
though one .hich I .ill readily 6usti2y to mysel2. &hat I am doing as I read3 as I listen3
is in some .ay to re2er the ideas to my o.n inner 6udge ; and .ait 2or some response.
I2 an inner response comes 2rom this hidden court ; a place o2 6udgement that .e are
in/uiring into e#en no. ; it may )e #ery cautious or non8committal3 or it may )e most
emphatic3 2or or against.
&e are so 2amiliar .ith this process: 2orming an opinion3 ma1ing a 6udgement. In
our democratic culture .e all grant a natural right to others to ha#e their o.n opinion.
Dore3 .e e#en e(ect it o2 them. I e+pect it o2 mysel2 ; to ha#e an opinion. (nd i2 in
some circumstance I am 2ound .anting3 I .ill set a)out 2inding one o2 my o.n. I .ill
2re/uently ma1e do .ith something second8hand3 sometimes assessing the authority
)ehind an opinion more than the opinion itsel2 ; surely an eminently reasona)le thing
to do ; )ut I do share the general pre2erence 2or ha#ing an opinion that is all my o.n3
original and uni/ue. Should I )e luc1y enough to 2ind one3 I am generous .ith it3 and
only too happy to o22er it around 2or .ider use.
9ut ho. do I 2ind them3 and ho. once 2ound are they to )e assayed> ; 2or I .ant
them to )e o2 a /uality that .ill endure and not crum)le and 2all apart .hen put to some
So I imagine that I am 2aced .ith a /uestion o2 the 2orm: =&hat do you thin1
a)out such and such ->? &hat happens3 .hat can I do3 ho. can I disco#er .hat I
thin1> I ha#e an e+ample right here3 2or I am .ondering .hat I thin1 a)out the process
o2 2orming an opinion itsel2. Day)e that<s too con2using and sel28re2erential to )e
illuminating. I need some simpler e+ample.
Facing up to /uestions is really .hat this .hole #enture is a)out: at my most
melodramatic I see mysel2 standing in 2ront o2 the uni#erse and as1ing: @So> &hat<s it
all a)out then>< ( )ig /uestion3 i2 )it #ague C )ut .hy )e satis2ied .ith anything less>
(t least3 I 2eel3 let my /uestions )e the )iggest I can hold: the ans.ers .e 2ind may then
)e as )ig as I can hope 2or. Fn the .ay to these )ig ones3 .hich still seem e+tremely
remote3 all sorts o2 much smaller and more managea)le /uestions seem to occur to me.
These are surely the one I hope to ma1e some progress .ith3 or the .hole /uest is
I2 ha#e set mysel2 up .ith t.o le#el on .hich to 2ollo. my /uest ; and I still
2eel #ery pleased .ith mysel2 2or this ruse: there is the practical le#el o2 the )oat and
the pro6ected #oyage3 and the more a)stract or internal3 )ut certainly less #isi)le3 le#el
o2 the philosophical
6ourney. &hat I am hoping ; this is the essence o2 my cunning ;
is that these t.o le#el .ill inter.ea#e in 2ruit2ul and un2oreseen .ays. Inderstanding
o2ten re/uires e+amples and uses metaphors: I ha#e them ready to hand. ()stract
speculation o2ten thri#es on the impetus o2 a )it o2 solid encounter .ith reality. AThe
Hree1s 1ne. that3 though it seems to ha#e )een strangely 2orgotten )y many
philosophers since. The Hree1 educational ideal .as /uite speci2ically a )alance
)et.een the arts3 under the heading o2 @music<3 and o2 gymnastics. I hope to pursue and
en6oy )oth3 though I hope to 1eep the gymnastics .ithin #ery modest )ounds.B (nd I
ha#e my encounters .ith the real and solid rather una#oida)ly a#aila)le.
Let me e+ploit my assets3 and )egin .ith the most material le#el. (gain and again
I ha#e con2ronted /uestions a)out the )oat3 pro)lems o2 design3 and no. o2 practice.
5o. do I set a)out sol#ing them3 arri#ing at an @opinion<>
*+ample: I ha#e accepted the need 2or an engine on my )oat. I don<t li1e them3
)ut I am cautious and sensi)le3 and so on ; and dou)t2ul o2 the ade/uacy o2 my s1ill or
patience to 2unction entirely .ithout one. I thought3 and I loo1ed around. This )it is not
I notice that the words ‘philosophy’ and ‘philosophical’ seem to be cropping up with
increasing frequency and with the implication that they apply to what I am doing:
they are such heavy, over-weight weight words — but I can’t find any others. I wish
there were a word for the human activity of ‘simply wondering about things’, a word
suggesting lively curiosity, play, a pleasure in things, an unpretentious acceptance of
limitations, combined with an irrational tendency never to accept any limitation at all
… If only coining words were easier, but it’s actually a very difficult thing to do,
requiring some cooperation.
di22icult: it<s a small )oat and an out)oard motor .ill )e plenty po.er2ul enough3 and
it<s detacha)le3 it doesn<t intrude too deeply into the nature o2 the )oat3 so I can still 2eel
she is really a sailing )oat. 4o. .here and ho. do I 2it it> 5anging o2 the stern is the
simplest ; )ut it<s #ery unsightly3 )ad 2or the engine to )e permanently e+posed3 its
#ulnera)le to damage and to .eather3 and sheets and lines are al.ays inclined to tangle
around such an in#iting o)6ect at the .orst possi)le moments. So .hat else> It can go
inside some 1ind o2 .ell ; a compartment o2 the )oat that is sealed o22 2rom the rest o2
the )oat3 )ut has a hole at the )ottom. The out)oard can )e set do.n through this hole
and operates 2ine3 and the .ater stays /uite securely in the .ell ; it<s not the ris1 that a
hole in the )ottom o2 the )oat may sound. 9ut: the propeller in the .ater3 and the 2act o2
the hole3 create a terri)le drag that .ill slo. do.n the )oat .hen sailing3 reduce her
sailing per2ormance in a .ay I 2ind intolera)le. The motor could )e raised .hen not in
use ; )ut then .ould )e in the .ay again. Fut)oard motors are made to pi#ot 2or.ard
and up out o2 the .ater ; )ut then the space to )e made a#aila)le 2or it .ould )e
out o2 all proportion.
So I ha#e a pro)lem. &hat do I do> I do the same 1ind o2 thing I<d do .ith a
6igsa. pu00le: I mo#e the )its around ; in my imagination ; and try and 2ind a .ay
that they .ill 2it together. &hene#er there is anything li1e a possi)le 2it I can chec1 it
out against the list o2 dra.)ac1s I already ha#e3 and then try a rather less clear scan
around 2or things that might )e dra.)ac1s in the ne. situation. Sometimes a ne.
possi)ility suddenly presents itsel2: I could 2or e+ample3 remo#e the motor and sto. it
a.ay in a loc1er .hen not in use ; I then e+plore this possi)ility3 considering places
.here it might 2it in a loc1er and )e out o2 the .ay. Se#eral possi)ilities suggest
themsel#es. (d#antages and dra.)ac1s> &ell3 it<s #ery nice ha#ing it sto.ed out o2 the
.ay ; and then I could ha#e a hatch that closes the hole in the .ell3
reducing the tur)ulence 2rom that. 9ut: it<s going to )e a struggle to remo#e and sto. it
e#ery time3 and to replace it in position .hen I need it. (nd .hat i2 I need it in an
emergency> It<s going to really do my )ac1 in mo#ing it - and so on. (#enues can )e
e+plored until they turn into dead ends. The creati#e )it is the search 2or entirely ne.
possi)ilities: the e+amining pros and cons is more routine.
In 2act a solution did occur to me: a sort o2 ne. com)ination. I2 the out)oard .ere
clamped to the side o2 the .ell instead o2 the 2ront Asome motors .ill turn through ,$Q
li1e thatB3 then .hen it s.ings up out o2 the .ater it .ill side.ays. So i2 it .ere
on some sort o2 hinged slide then it could li2t and pi#ot and drop )ac1 do.n to sto.
across the )oat. This .ould )e much easier than remo#ing it ; I can de#ise some sort
o2 li2ting gear ; it<s out o2 the .ay and easily a#aila)le3 and I can ha#e the hatch to
close o22 the .ell3 and the .hole o2 the a2ter loc1er I no. re/uire can )e a 1ind o2 @dirty
loc1er<3 isolated 2rom the rest o2 the )oat and 1ept 2or dirty3 oily things. There are
details to .or1 out ; the geometry some care2ul designing3 I need to 2ind a suita)le
motor3 and so on ; )ut almost the moment it occurs to me I 1no. it<ll .or13 I can see
that it<s a solution.
%ro)lems li1e this ha#e occurred again and again in the process o2 designing the
)oat. *ach proposed solution .as lia)le to ha#e repercussions on all sorts o2 other
aspects o2 the )oat3 so these too .ould ha#e to )e allo.ed to )ecome 2le+i)le 2or a
.hile. Sometimes I 6ust couldn<t hold it in my head3 or e#en on paper3 and the .hole
imagined structure .ould 6ust collapse. Sometimes I 2elt con2ident enough to lea#e
.or1ing out the details until the )oat is there in 2ront o2 me. Sometimes I .as genuinely
perple+ed3 or seriously .orried that I<d missed something and some detail o2 the design
.as inconsistent or 2la.ed. The reality .ill tell. The philosophical enterprise ne#er
really comes up against the crunch o2 reality .ith /uite the 2inality o2 )oat8)uilding.
(ll this seems 2amiliar enough: I may )e thin1ing a)out the process o2 creati#e
originality3 )ut I am not )eing #ery creati#e or original. 9ut can I use all this to see
.hat happens .hen I<m 2aced .ith a more a)stract pro)lem> &hat seems to happen3
.hen 2or e+ample I am 2aced .ith a /uestion li1e that3 is that I start to wonder3 to stand
in 2ront o2 the /uestion3 to 2eel it as a /uestion. 9ut .hat on earth am I doing .hen I
ans.er3 .hen I ha#e an opinion>
I ha#e gro.n accustomed to .ondering3 to dou)ting3 e#en tried to ma1e a ha)it o2
it. To con2ront a situation and ask3 o2ten /uite a #ague and unde2ined /uestion3 may)e
)est .orded as something li1e: =&hat<s going on here> &hat<s this all a)out>? To )e
a.are o2 ho. uncertain I am3 o2 ho. shallo. my 2amiliar understanding is3 o2 ho.
much I ta1e 2or granted3 o2 ho. much I see things in a certain way. (nd then: .hat
side8.ays step might )e possi)le3 is there another .ay o2 seeing this3 is there a step @out
o2 the page<. Is it more than a metaphor to suggest that I can do something #ery li1e the
.ay I approach the pro)lem o2 the out)oard motor> That my .ondering and
speculation3 e#en a)out highly a)stract matters3 is #ery li1e mo#ing things around in
my mind3 trying ne. com)inations o2 things ne+t to each other3 until the moment .hen
I e+perience a similarly instantaneous recognition ; @Pes3 that sounds right -<.
%erhaps it is 2oolish to try and generalise a)out such a )road /uestion ; )ut
nonetheless Ain my opinionB there are a 2e. general and simple things to )e said: the
simplest one is that something seems to me to )e right )ecause it fits.
It 2its> Fnly the most direct o2 empirical statements actually 2it the immediate
.orld o2 e+perience: @it<s raining<3 @the phone is ringing<3 @my tooth aches<. It )arely
seems metaphorical at all to say that such statements can 2it reality7 only some rather
o#er8sophisticated philosophy could challenge the meaning o2 @true< or @2alse< in simple
cases li1e these. &hen I tal1 a)out )oat8)uilding I am e/ually simple and
uncontro#ersial in this sense ; )ut claims o2 philosophical insight and truth are not
li1e this at all. So .hat o2 more a)stract opinions and speculations> They 2eel right i2
they 2it my .ay o2 seeing the .orld3 my sense8ma1ing system -
For I ha#e such a system7 it<s .hat I<#e )een calling my conceptual 2rame. It<s not
.ell8de2ined or neatly structured3 2irmly 2ounded and consistent ; )ut rather patchy3
unconscious3 inconsistent3 shi2ting3 2le+i)le and e#ol#ing ; perhaps e#en disconnected3
incoherent3 illogical3 capricious and amorphous. AI2 that sounds li1e a section 2rom a
thesaurus it<s )ecause it #irtually is.B
Dy conceptual 2rame has #ery de2initely de#eloped ad hoc < on the hoo2. It has
)een moulded and modi2ied3 1noc1ed a)out and patched up3 impro#ised and
e+temporised. *#ery part o2 it is a 1ind o2 sum total o2 all my rele#ant e+perience3 and
pro)a)ly a lot o2 irrele#ant e+perience3 too. It seems to )e something so 2undamentally
necessary3 its 2oundations laid so early and reno#ation and impro#ement carried out so
continually e#er since3 that I ta1e it 2or granted3 )oth in mysel2 and in others.
Something o2 its 1ind is o2 the essence in e#ery 2ield o2 human thought.
Sometimes3 in mathematics a)o#e all3 and in science to a #arying degree3 there is a
clear and de2inite structure .ith much conscious a.areness o2 6ust ho. it is assem)led
; )ut e#en here the image o2 a sort o2 dull and rigid completeness o2 structure .ould
)e /uite .rong. &e may appear to 2i+ and determine a structure in the most clear and
consistent .ay3 )ut there remains Aperhaps must al.ays remainB endless scope 2or
speculation3 2or roaming o#er the as yet un1no.n aspects o2 the structure3 searching out
patterns3 apparent 2acts that may )e true. Vuite apart 2rom these speculations a)out the
system itsel2 there are a .hole lot more3 e#en more di22icult in a di22erent .ay3 i2 .e
see1 to aly the system3 to decide not 6ust .hat goes in inside it )ut ho. 2ar in .hat
.ay might it actually 2it .ith some )it o2 reality. Such a process can re/uire enormous
degrees o2 s1ill3 intuition and inspiration7 it is a creati#e acti#ity as mysterious as any
art 2orm ; perhaps more so3 )ecause the constraints are so much tighter.
5ere3 in a relati#ely recognised and 2ormalised system it is much clearer .hat it
means to speculate3 2or a speculation to )e good3 to 2it ; and e#en )e pro#ed to 2it.
Dost speculation is no more than a shado. and an echo o2 such .ell8de2ined clarity3
)ut the same /ualities are discerni)le ; though stopping short o2 a)solute and
indisputa)le proo2. A*#en in mathematics it is possi)le to ha#e a @proo2< that can allo.
much uncertainty a)out .hat it means3 .hat e+actly has )een pro#ed. =ide HWdel3 o2
&e might say that 2ormal systems pro#ide a help2ul metaphor 2or the much more
in2ormal conceptual 2rames o2 our e#ery8day thin1ing ; )ut it seems to me to )e more
than 6ust a metaphor. It is actually much closer to )eing the same process: it is the same
@sensation< that I get .hen I sense something to )e true in3 say *uclidean geometry to
ta1e an e+treme Aat least in the 2irst moment o2 seeing something3 and prior to any
rigorous in#estigationB3 and .hen I ha#e a moment o2 insight into some .ider truth
a)out my e+perience o2 the .orld. I can feel the 2orce o2 the e22ect o2 natural selection
in e#olution3 though pro#ing that it occurs is not a simple or uncontro#ersial matter3
though data can )e collected .hich ma1es it #ery plausi)le. I can feel the e+istence o2
conceptual 2rames3 e#en though there is no ac1no.ledged system .ithin .hich I can
)egin to pro#e they e+ist3 I can accumulate and e+amine e+perience .ith .hich the
.hole idea seems to 2it.
The modern &estern sense o2 reality3 in all its e+plicit and implicit comple+ity3 is
a conceptual 2rame. This is o)#iously an a)straction 2rom an a)straction - and may)e
more. &e are all di22erent in the 2rames .e hold3 and .hat determines them 2or each o2
us is our personal li2e e+perience. 9ut ne#ertheless ; i2 .e .ere a)le to loo1 at a 2e.
million &estern conceptual 2rames3 neatly laid out side )y side3 .e .ould )e pro)a)ly
notice that they had a 2e. )asic characteristics3 themes3 in common. AIt<s interesting
that this completely ridiculous idea actually seems to mean something3 and e#en ha#e
some truth in it. It<s a tri)ute to .ay .e a)stract an image3 a 2orm3 a shape3 out o2 the
.orld o2 our e+perience3 and then /uite happily treat .hat .e ha#e a)stracted as a real
part o2 the .orld. The .hole idea o2 @conceptual 2rames< is 6ust such an a)straction. I
don<t thin1 .e<re .rong to do that 1ind o2 thing3 and .e<re certainly #ery good at it.
Day)e .e could )e 6ust a little more a.are that .e<re doing it sometimes. B
This modern &estern .orld8#ie. is lia)le to seem ; to us &esterners ; either
so intuiti#ely o)#ious3 or so @real<3 that .e cannot concei#e o2 ho. else things might )e
Aho.e#er sophisticated our sense o2 cultural anthropology might )eB. It is )ased on an
emphasis on the rational3 conceptual and communica)le: .e are an in2ormation culture.
The rest ; the personal3 the emotional3 the artistic ; .e tend to see as a matter o2
distraction3 amusement3 play3 rather than serious 1no.ledge and understanding.
9ecause o2 that all these things can )e treated as a 2orm o2 indulgence3 lu+uries that
o)struct the serious )usiness o2 real li2e.
I am inclined to descri)e the &estern .orld #ie. as @science )ased<3 .hich I
suppose is correct inso2ar as it is science that has pro#ided 2ar the most acti#e3
po.er2ul3 and generally in2luential means and method o2 understanding the .orld o#er
the last three o2 2our centuries. *#en those .ith no direct e+perience o2 the practice or
results o2 science ha#e )een ine#ita)ly a22ected3 )y all the usual channels o2 cultural
di22usion. I suppose it<s not surprising that there should )e /uite a time8lag in this
process: popular understanding has pro)a)ly caught up pretty .ell .ith 4e.ton ;
certainly .ith Gescartes ; and to )e a.are o2 *instein at least to point o2 the idea that
@e#erything<s relati#e<3 .hate#er that may mean3 and that nuclear )om)s and energy are
possi)le. From /uantum theory .e<#e got the idea that someho. things are a )it 2u00y
and uncertain3 though can )e rescued )y statistics. 4o. there is some ne. and trendy
idea a)out chaos and unpredicta)ility. (ny real understanding o2 the .ay these
theoretical de#elopments might reasona)ly in2luence our immediate .ay o2 loo1ing at
the 2amiliar .orld is lagging a long .ay )ehind.
I<m not sure i2 that<s a serious loss3 a missed opportunity3 something that .e .ill
ha#e to gradually try to a)sor). (ll I ha#e to set against that is the 2eeling that my
primary e+perience3 the most direct e+perience o2 the .orld o2 .hich I am capa)le3 is a
source o2 understanding that doesn<t need to )e mediated )y any intellectual theory3 and
is e#en at ris1 o2 )eing distorted i2 theory is allo.ed to get too close to it. The 1ey
/uestion3 then3 is .hether I am a)le to loo1 at the .orld e+cept .ith the help o2 a
2rame.or1 o2 more or less theoretical ideas. I2 so3 then the more conscious o2 this
2rame.or1 I can )e the )etter3 and the more important it is to .onder .hether )y ta1ing
thought I can in any .ay impro#e on it.
Hi#en those reser#ations and hopes3 I thin1 that i2 .e .ere to ma1e the mental
attempt to step )ac1 and try to see the 2amiliar @.orld #ie.< o2 our culture in a slightly
.ider perspecti#e3 it .ould pro)a)ly loo1 something li1e this:
There is an e+ternal physical reality .hich 2ollo.s its o.n regular la.s3 the La.s
o2 4ature3 .hose intricate su)tleties .e can3 .ith care3 )egin to descri)e and ma1e
e+plicit3 and to .hich .e can e#en increasingly accurately appro+imate. &e oursel#es
e+ist as separate )eings3 comprising centres o2 consciousness3 e+perience and .ill3 and
)eing someho. mysteriously attached to physical )odies. Fur )odies themsel#es are
su)6ect to physical la.s3 and through them .e are capa)le o2 perception and response
to physical reality3 o2 thin1ing and imagining3 o2 2eeling and assessing3 o2 choosing3
.illing and acting3 all .ithin partly understood limitations. Things change3 choices are
limited3 time is irre#ersi)le3 death is ine#ita)le. Fur material and technological a)ility
to e+ploit the possi)ilities o2 the La.s o2 4ature are so great that .e e+ert much energy
in e+tending3 e#en proli2erating3 and satis2ying material desires and 2antasies.
This 2amiliar and natural point o2 #ie.3 .ith its emphasis on the e+ternal
o)6ecti#e .orld3 has #ery little to say a)out our o.n e+istence3 our inner .orld o2
personal 1no.ledge and its possi)le conte+ts and meaning. (s a conse/uence there are
certain /uestions o2 some rele#ance to us on .hich our accepted canon o2 truths is
remar1a)le silent. &hat happens to us .hen .e die> &hat3 i2 anything3 are .e
connected .ith> &hat3 i2 anything3 gi#es conte+t or meaning to anything3 us in
particular> Goes it matter3 2inally3 .hat .e do3 should .e do one thing rather than
another> These are @inner< /uestions3 that are a)out our personal e+istence and
situation3 @o)6ecti#ely< perhaps o2 no great importance ; and su)6ecti#ely crucial. It is
the intensity o2 such /uestion as these that is the o2ten in#isi)le dri#ing 2orce )ehind my
&e cannot s.itch cultures. &e cannot easily change our unconscious reality. 9ut
.e can push against its edges3 try to understand .here .e 2i+ reality that could )e more
to do .ith interpretation ; .here .e percei#e something as immuta)le that could
perhaps )e di22erent i2 only .e challenged our .ay o2 seeing. Such is the .ay o2
creati#e thought7 and although our /uestions may not trans2orm our reality instantly3
though it may ta1e months or years to shi2t our unconscious )oundaries3 .e need not let
that deter us 2rom setting out. The ad#enture o2 ideas is3 essentially and )y de2inition3 a
#enture into the un1no.n. To re/uire certainty o2 outcome is to a#oid a)solutely all
2orms o2 e+ploration3 disco#ery or change.
"hange can )e appallingly di22icult and slo.. For e+ample3 .hile .e<re on the
grand historical scale o2 considering .hole cultures: 2or a long period during the
de#elopment o2 ci#ilisation3 indeed until relati#ely recently3 the e+istence o2 comple+
social organisations such as cities3 and the e+istence o2 a pri#ileged class depended on a
system o2 sla#ery. %ro)a)ly the 2irst serious critical loo1 at the system .as ta1en )y
%lato some t.o thousand years ago. Fpposition 2rom philosophers3 moral and political3
and 2rom the church gathered momentum until the 2inal a)olition o2 sla#ery in
the &est in the nineteenth century. %art o2 .hat maintained the system .as3 no dou)t3
that the social status /uo .ould ha#e collapsed .ithout it3 )ut another 2orce .as the
)elie2 that the people used as sla#es .ere in 2act in2erior and that their position .as thus
natural 2or them and in no .ay morally to )e /uestioned. This 6udgement o2 in2eriority
.as seen as the perception o2 a /uality residing in the @things themsel#es<3 the people in
/uestion3 rather than )eing a matter o2 opinion or 2antasy. That perception or
assumption has changed: the )elie2 in the e/uality o2 all people has )ecome a )asic
tenet o2 ci#ilised thought. &hat .as at one time a perception o2 the true nature o2 things
has come to )e seen as an error or pre6udice.
"hanges in personal attitudes or pre6udices in oursel#es can seem to proceed at
a)out the same speed3 so that they .ould ta1e a 2e. centuries to really get sorted out.
Fr sometimes they 6ust seem to shi2t in an almost impercepti)le moment. 9ut in us3 o2ten )uried under all the 2ears and an+ieties and inertia that resist
change3 there is something that see1s and #alues truth3 and is capa)le o2 recognising it
.hen it is glimpsed.

(ll this I .ill need to e+amine more care2ully3 )ring it under the spotlight o2
attenti#e speculation ; )ecause i2 I .ant to ma1e sense o2 the .orld3 it seems to ma1e
sense to try and ma1e sense o2 the sense8ma1ing process itsel2.
In the midst o2 all this thinking I ha#e 6ust ta1en a )rea1 ; )ecause I need to
clear my head and stop struggling to hold all these idea together and trying to ma1e
them 2it together and add up to something. They 1eep collapsing li1e a card house into
nothing )ut a 2e. 2lat )its o2 card)oard that don<t e#en start to get out o22 the t.o
dimensional sur2ace. I had sometimes ha#e similar pro)lems .ith the image o2 the )oat3
)ut at least there I ha#e some idea o2 .hat I am .or1ing to.ards3 and )it )y )it it
ac/uires a 2irm 2oothold on reality that gi#es the imagination something to stand on.
It<s a really )eauti2ul day C outside my head and the .or1shop:
)et.een late .inter and early spring3 .ith a 2e. traces o2 2rost still in the grass3 )ut
.ith a #ery clear light and I can 2eel the 2irst real .armth o2 the sun on my s1in. The
tide is coming in across the mud and the .ater as it rises is gathering something o2 the
)lue o2 s1y. There are shelduc1 on the ri#er /uac1ing )usily3 and curle.s calling .ith a
piercing imperiousness that .as missing in their .ist2ul .inter cries: today they are
ma1ing clear statements a)out .hat must )e done now. The )irds in the tree and
hedgero.s also ha#e a ne. spring clarity and practicality in their song. The da22odils
are early this year3 e#en ahead o2 the sno.drops in some places3 .hich are also pushing
their .ay through the layers o2 last year<s lea#es and )ram)les. There is a small stream
that 2lo.s through the .illo. s.amp in .hich the yello.8 2lag shoots are appearing.
There is a particular ash tree in a corner o2 a 2ield that must ha#e )een laid 2or a
hedge in its sapling days3 2or no. it cur#es to ma1e a com2orta)le seat on .hich I can
recline .ith my )ac1 2itting to the trun1 and a )ranch in 6ust the right place 2or my 2eet.
It is at the edge o2 a )an1 that drops to the ri#er on one side: 6ust lumpy clumps o2
saltings and smooth shining mud at the moment3 )ut a high spring tide )rings the .ater
right up to the )an1. There<s a 2ul2illed per2ection to this scene .hen the tide is at it
highest3 )ut it is only a )rie2 moment .hen the ri#er hold its )reath )e2ore e+haling
again. I get an odd sense o2 sadness in the )re#ity o2 that moment3 as i2 the enormous
energy that carries the .ater to this height is .or1ing to.ards this per2ection3 )ut then
cannot hold it and must let go e#en in the moment o2 achie#ement. (ll the rhythms o2
nature3 o2 the seasons3 o2 li2e3 perhaps e#en o2 the cosmos seem to share in the same
ine#ita)ility .ith .hich the ending and death are already acti#e .ithin all )eginnings
and )irths.
This tree has )ecome #ery 2amiliar to me: the .ay it 2its my )ody3 though it
)egins to impose the 2irst tact2ul hint o2 discom2ort 6ust )elo. the small o2 my )ac1 i2 I
stay too long. I can .atch the changing
light and li2e o2 the ri#er on one side
and the 2ield sloping up to a small oa1
.ood on the other. The more 2amiliar
it )ecomes the more I am also a.are o2
the endless di22erence 2rom day to day3
and e#en moment to moment. I 1no.
2or certain that I 2all 2ar short o2 the capacity to truly 1no. this one tree this one place
; let alone anything more than this.
These are thing that I lo#e3 that gi#e me enormous 6oy. Just sitting in this tree3 or
.al1ing through the 2ields and .oods3 loo1ing at the )an1 under the .illo.s .here the
*h, who then can we make use of?
Not *ngels9 not men,
and even the noticing beasts are aware
that we are not entirely at home
in this interreted world. >erhas there remains
some tree on a sloe, that we can see
again each day !!.
2irst sno.drops usually come into 2lo.er3 the )an1 under the huge oa1 tree )y an inlet
o2 the ri#er .here the )adgers ha#e made a ne. entrance to their set3 and .here .e can
sometimes sit /uietly in a small dinghy and .atch them as they emerge in the t.ilight
to )egin another night o2 acti#ity3 and it seems as i2 they do not see us )ecause .e in
our )oat are so separate 2rom their .orld.
&here in all this thin1ing and /uestioning is there room 2or such simple and
immediate pleasure in li2e> &hat happen .hen I am so lost in thought that I 2orget the
6oy o2 )eing>
Sometimes sitting on the cur#ed ash tree I 2eel so 2ull .ith simple pleasure that I
could almost o#er2lo. and lose my separate )eing. 9ut these 2ull tides o2 2eeling cannot
)e held at their high points o2 completion any more than the ri#er can3 and I must
e+hale again. 9ut in the moment there is no desire le2t3 no need to understand; simply3
perhaps an inde2ina)le longing 2or t.o impossi)le things: to touch and 2eel each detail
more intimately in its reality3 and to grasp the ultimate .holeness o2 e#erything. The
near and the 2ar3 the smallest and the greatest: )oth elude me3 in2initely and a)solutely.
They pull me in opposite directions3 and )oth stay al.ays out o2 my reach. (nd e#en i2
I could approach closer to either: the tiny 2ragments o2 such a)solutes as I am a)le to
catch 2or a moment carry such a /uality o2 o#er.helming intensity that I thin1 that i2 I
.ere to 2eel much more then I might cease to e+ist as mysel2. Such3 perhaps3 is the
nature o2 death7 perhaps that limitation3 this small particularity3 the impossi)ility o2
more3 is the essential condition o2 my )eing3 o2 my consciousness.
(nd i2 e#en the reality o2 this 2inite moment is )eyond my grasp7 i2 it shi2ts and
changes in all its 2ineness o2 uni/ue detail e#en in e#ery moment that I .atch and listen3
then can I hold onto any o2 it 2or my memory3 or con#ey anything o2 it to you> I say
@ri#er3 trees3 curle.3 sno.drops3 sunlight< and there is an e+traordinary and magical
richness in each .ord3 )ut there is 2ar3 2ar more that they cannot hold3 and must )e lost
to them.
(ll this is so ; immediate3 so particular3 so uni/ue ; it is - In the .ord3 tree3
ho.e#er magical its to mean and e#o1e3 there is nothing o2 the uni/ueness o2
this tree. *#en in the phrase @the uni/ueness o2 this tree< there is nothing o2 the
uni/ueness o2 this tree. F2 course .e do not ha#e .ords3 concepts 2or e+actly that
.hich .ords and concepts must necessarily lea#e out. &ords and concepts are
a)stractions3 e#en at the simplest and most direct le#el3 and a)stractions must lea#e out
uni/ueness. ()straction is our .ay o2 not )eing caught 2ore#er in the in2inite ma0e o2
uni/ueness7 it is .hat allo.s us to ma1e sense and mo#e on.
"an .ords not point to.ards that .hich they cannot hold> That seem to )e
something that .e try endlessly to do: it is .hat I am doing here. (nd i2 it is true that
.e must 2ail3 and that there
can )e pain and longing in
the 2ailure3 there is still
something in the gesture3 the
pointing that reaches out )ut
cannot touch3 that .ould at
least struggle to e+press the
/uality o2 its necessary 2ailure3 that is also human3 and also a part o2 the essence o2 my
consciousness. &e do not need to cease trying.
*#en no. I as1 /uestions3 and return to .andering the meandering paths o2 the
mind. It is some 1ind o2 .illing choice3 I suppose7 )ut I don<t .ant to lose this sense o2
the and 2reshness o2 immediate3 ra. e+perience. I don<t .ant to e#er get so lost
in the ma0e3 so )ound in its co).e)s3 that I 2orget a)out3 or dou)t the reality o23 this
#ery real .orld. That3 ho.e#er3 is not li1ely to happen at sea: i2 I get lost there it .ill )e
in some #ery immediate 2reshness. "o).e)s and dry a)stractions are something I .ill
not 2ind there.
!%et the wanderer too doesn?t bring from mountain to valley
a handful of earth; of for all untellable earth, but only
a word he has won, ure, the yellow and blue
gentian. *re we, erhas, here 'ust for saying9 $ouse,
&ridge, 6ountain, .ate, ;ug, 6ruit tree, "indow, +
ossibly9 >illar, Tower?... but for saying, remember,
oh, for such saying as never the things themselves
could hoe so intensely to be.
" +
Fitting Out
Part & ,ole
(mong the many small e#ents on .hich I must 2ocus so care2ully 8 the shaping
and 2itting o2 the ne+t piece 8 there happens occasionally one that is larger and more
dramatic3 and thus una#oida)ly it )ecomes one o2 the milestones on the .ay.
Fne o2 these milestones is the turning o2 the )oat the right .ay up. I ha#e 2inished
all I can do .hile it is upside8do.n3 including painting the )ottom3 .hich is much
easier to do no. than it .ould )e later on3 though it is hard to delay 2or the se#eral
necessary days .hile successi#e coats dry.
I ha#e tried to plan the turning o#er3 to 2oresee all the potential di22iculties3 )ut it
is di22icult )ecause I can<t really en#isage .hat .ill )e in#ol#ed. I ha#e remo#ed all the
temporary 2rames3 and although three permanent )ul1heads remain the )oat doesn<t
seem #ery rigid yet3 and 2eels #ery inclined to 2le+. I ha#e mustered a 2e. e+tra pairs o2
hands 2or the e#ent3 and arranged a /uantity o2 so2t padding at strategic points C a
couple o2 old mattresses3 and the li1e3 and #arious lengths o2 .ood to act as props as .e
should re/uire them.
In 2act3 .hen it comes to the )ig e#ent3 it<s almost a )it o2 an anti8clima+ ; it
goes o#er so easily. I got impatient .aiting 2or help3 so .e made a tentati#e start .ith
6ust t.o o2 us3 and o#er she .ent. So no. there she sits3 loo1ing /uite de2initely li1e a
)oat. Dy 2irst reaction is a slight sense o2 shoc13 almost o2 disappointment. It<s not easy
to e+plain .hat I 2eel3 )ut it<s something to do .ith the disparity )et.een anticipation
and reality. That seems a /uite normal to any long a.aited e#ent3 )ut there seems to )e
something more speci2ic here. I catch it more clearly .hen I come out again the ne+t
morning: the image o2 the )oat I ha#e )een carrying has )een so #i#id and e#ocati#e ;
and this is not /uite the )oat I had in my head- Dy imaginary )oat .as 2iner and more
elegant: this one has more sturdiness )ut less grace. The plan1s are .ider than I had
#isualised them3 .hich I thin1 is part o2 the reason 2or the more solid loo1. I 2eel a little
li1e a )ridegroom .ho has not seen my )ride un#eiled )e2ore3 and I had imagined -
&ell3 I .ill get used to her3 I .ill learn to lo#e her. It<s a conse/uence o2 only ha#ing
seen her upside8do.n3 ma1ing it #ery hard to 6udge her appearance properly. (n
unusual pro)lem 2or a )ridegroom.
( .hole ne. planning phase )egins. I can no. sit in the )oat and mo#e around3
and loo1 at her properly3 so a .hole lot o2 design decisions .hich I had postponed need
)e delayed no longer. There 2ollo.s much routine construction .or1: there are dec1
)eams to )e made up ; they are to )e laminated and glued7 there is much detail o2 the
interior to .or1 on ; there are structural mem)ers to )e 2itted3 li1e 2loors and 1nees3
and e#erything relating to the coc1pit and the accommodation. The .or1 I ha#e done
up to no. .ill largely determine ho. she .ill relate to the .ater: this part is all a)out
ho. her cre. .ill relate to her. There are innumera)le opportunities 2or ingenuity or
error. The practical .or1 in#ol#es selecting3 measuring3 mar1ing3 cutting3 shaping and
2i+ing pieces o2 .ood3 mostly o2 odd and asymmetrical shapes3 .ith cur#es and o)li/ue
angles. It is a)sor)ing3 and either satis2ying or 2rustrating3 depending on ho. .ell it is
*ach morning there is the satis2action o2 disco#ering the ne. stage o2
&hate#er I ha#e done today seem pro#isional and not to )e really part o2 the )oat.
&hate#er I ha#e 2itted yesterday already )elongs as part o2 the .hole. It<s
almost as i2 the separate parts someho. gro. together during the night3 and the ne+t
day are no longer separate. Dost days something3 ho.e#er small3 2inds its place3 and so
each morning there is a ne. entity to relate to. I am conscious no. all the time that I
am .or1ing on something .ith its o.n )eing and its o.n potential. To me there is an
undou)ted /uality o2 li2e in a )oat. It<s a 2eeling I get .ith nothing else that I .or1 on3
)e it items o2 2urniture3 parts o2 a house3 or a #ehicle - so all o2 those I<m inclined to
2ind tedious. It<s a 2act 2or .hich I o.e many an apology3 )ut one in .hich I do not
seem to ha#e any choice. &or1ing on the )oat I 2eel #ery close to the sea3 to mo#ement3
to something elemental and alluring ; and this )oat is my intermediary. Dy li2e may
depend on this piece o2 .ood: I am a.are o2 that .ith each piece that I shape3 and it
adds an atmosphere o2 drama to the other.ise o2ten monotonous la)our.
Dy stoc1 o2 tim)er has reached its limit. I ha#e )een setting aside pieces 2or all
the ma6or components3 and s1imping and sha#ing odds and ends 2or e#erything else. It
is the last o2 my pitch8pine Aho. I regret those 1itchen cup)oards no.EB and I )ecome
ner#ous a)out e#ery cut that I ma1e3 )ecause I ha#e nothing in reser#e. The long
ru))ing stra1es that I ha#e clamped temporarily into position are not really good
enough. They don<t loo1 hea#y enough3 and there are 2aults in them that I .ill ha#e to
try and conceal3 )ut I don<t 2eel good a)out that. Then suddenly I get .ind o2 another
possi)le supply. ( local )uilders< merchants has ac/uired a 2e. tons o2 mi+ed tropical
hard.oods that he doesn<t really .ant3 and is selling it o22 cheap. I go and loo13 and at
2irst sight it<s pretty rough ; )ut a )it o2 scraping .ith my pen81ni2e re#eals some
)eauti2ul clean tim)er underneath the .eathered sur2ace. So I pic1 o#er it3 and load the
roo28rac1 o2 my #an .ell )eyond its limit .ith a 2e. 2$82oot )aul1s and )ring it home.
So the tim)er pro)lem is o#er. I ha#e ne. )lemish82ree lengths clamped on 2or
ru))ing stra1es o2 generous proportions. There is plenty to choose 2rom no. and I can
rela+. I did go through a struggle3 a )rie2 )it o2 to1en sparring any.ay3 .ith my
conscience o#er the )it o2 rain 2orest that I am cutting up. Dy main rationalisation .as
that I didn<t ac/uire it 2rom a commercial source that .ould ta1e it as encouragement to
go o22 and cut some more trees do.n. This .as 6ust using up a surplus ; and moreo#er
using it 2or something lasting and )eauti2ul and ali#e3 not 6ust some 2urniture or .indo.
2rames - Dy conscience is normally #ery amena)le and only rarely gets really
a.1.ard: .e seem to ha#e many interests in common.
There is enough )oat no. to sit inside and lose sight o2 the .or1shop3 so that I
can imagine that out there is some /uiet co#e3 .ith clear .ater and a .hite sandy )each
; or a small 2ishing har)our .ith )rightly coloured )oats .ith lateen yards rising
)ra#ely a)o#e their mastheads3 2ishing nets draped along the har)our .alls3 and small
.hite houses3 and little tavernas glimpsed up narro. streets. There are more pessimistic
days .hen there is a .ild and cold and threatening sea out there3 and I am e+hausted
and 2rightened3 )eing thro.n around in here .ith e#ery .a#e3 and too num)ed to ma1e
any decision3 too tired to reduce sail3 or to try and cla. another 2e. yards o2 the roc1y
shore that lur1s in the )lac1 night no more than a mile or t.o to lee.ard. Then it is
good to clim) out and remem)er .here I am and put the 1ettle onto the sto#e. I do not
1no. ho. I3 or this little )oat3 .ill 2are .hen that is the reality3 as it .ill surely one day
)e7 no clim)ing out to put the 1ettle on then -
This is much the longest phase o2 the )uilding. There are 2e. milestones no.3 and
months pass .ith only slo. and progress3 and occasionally not e#en that 2or
.ee1s on end.
I ta1e some time also to .rite and re2lect3 ne#er entirely 2orgetting the dual nature
o2 this #oyage. I 2ind it hard in practice to 1eep )oth running acti#ely in parallel: .hen
.or1ing on the )oat my mind is occupied .ith some current detail or pro)lem that is
too mundane to e#en deser#e a place in a manual o2 )oat8)uilding practice3 let alone
stand as a metaphor 2or some human or philosophical dilemma. 9ut .hiche#er I am
.or1ing on the other is not 2ar 2rom my a.areness3 though it may )e lying /uietly in
some dormant corner o2 my mind 2or the moment.
The days are .armer no.: there has )een a change .hich has either )een #ery
sudden3 or else so gradual and impercepti)le that it is only suddenly that I ha#e only
noticed it mysel2. There is no longer any need to light the sto#e ; so that the o228cuts
and sa.dust and sha#ings are gathering in heaps on the 2loor and )eginning to ma1e
mo#ing around the .or1shop more di22icult. I don<t 1no. .hy I lea#e it so long )e2ore
I gi#e some attention to cleaning up ; I get a sensation o2 my attention )eing pulled
a.ay 2rom the )oat3 .hich I resist7 )ut in reality it<s #ery ine22icient. I am tripping o#er
)its o2 .ood3 and getting annoyed .ith them3 )ut still not clearing them up.
There are days .hen I can lea#e the )ig dou)le doors .ide open: )y early
a2ternoon the sun comes streaming in through the doors and I regret that I must )e
inside. I noticed this morning as I .al1ed across 2rom the house to the .or1shop that I
ha#e an unconscious ha)it o2 pausing on the .ay to loo1 at the ri#er. &ith the trees no.
in lea2 the gaps .here the .ater is #isi)le are smaller ; )ut it loo1s all the more
mysterious and enticing 2or that. I am hardly a)le to .al1 across .ithout that )rie2
glance ; e#en .hen I am preoccupied .ith the .or1 o2 )uilding I thin1 that glimpse
reminds me o2 the ultimate purpose o2 all this la)our.
&hen the tide is out there is only an e+panse o2 mud to )e seen3 and )ecause it is do.n it is mostly hidden )elo. the line o2 the rushes at the edge o2 the ri#er.
There is a stretch o2 some $ yards or so o2 salt 2lats3 penetrated )y .inding gullies o2
mud3 and co#ered .ith a lo. o2 plants that can tolerate the salt3 rushes and salt8
grass3 small clumps o2 samphire3 and many others that I couldn<t put a name to. There
are numerous small cra)s that come out .hen the tide is in and retreat into holes in the
mud 2or the long hours )et.een. &hen the tide is right in it 2ills the gullies and then
2loods o#er to co#er these salt 2lats. The .ater is then closer and the ri#er is .ide and
2ull o2 mo#ement and light.
It seems per#erse that in to the call o2 the ri#er3 and the spar1le o2 the
sunlight and the distant cry o2 the gulls3 I turn a.ay and come into the shade and apply
mysel2 to .or1 ; )ut that is .hat happens: my .ay o2 getting out there lies in here. It
is one o2 the gi2ts o2 the imagination3 the capacity 2or delayed grati2ication ; and I can
only hope the apparent per#ersity o2 it .ill seem .orth .hile one day.
I ha#e mastered my procrastinating temperament and set a)out clearing up the
.or1shop7 )ut no. I pause to record the conse/uences o2 this #irtue. I needed a .heel8
)arro. to clear all the ru))ish out3 )ut the .heel8)arro. had a 2lat tyre. I managed3
e#entually3 to 2ind the 2oot8pump3 )ut the ru))er tu)e .as perished at one end. 4ot a
pro)lem in itsel2: I could cut a 2e. inches o22 and reconnect it. 9ut 2or that I needed the
right si0e spanner to undo the connecting nut. The spanners3 I thought3 .ere at the )ac1
o2 the garage .here I<d )een 2i+ing something on the car3 )ut there .as some 6un1
pushed in there on top o2 them. So I had to mo#e the car and clear the 6un1 2irst. The
.heel8)arro. .ould ha#e )een use2ul. It .as at this point that it struc1 me that the
delay o2 grati2ication could )e carried too 2ar3 that the meandering di#ersions in
direction that I rationally accept in its name could ensnare me 2or e#er3 could )ecome a
ma0e to .hich I .ould ne#er 2ind the .ay out. I .as tempted to a)andon the .hole
pro6ect and to stroll /uietly do.n to the ri#er3 there to sit and contemplate the mystery
and )eauty o2 nature. Day)e enlightenment might come to me there3 and 2ree me 2rom
the snare o2 this #eil o2 illusion. %erhaps the .heel8)arro. had o22ered me some
possi)ility o2 insight. 9ut then I spotted the spanners3 and set a)out 2i+ing the 2oot8
pump and the .heel8)arro.3 and 2inally clearing the 2loor. It 2eels .onder2ul to mo#e
2reely around the .or1shop .ithout 2alling o#er e#ery step. It is a sensation o2
li)eration that may )e some distant parallel to 2inal enlightenment. I can at least
imagine mo#ing 2reely around the uni#erse .ithout tripping or anything.
I am actually impressed )y my achie#ement so 2ar3 .hen I loo1 at it as a .hole
rather than 6ust at the current pro)lem: I ha#e a )oat3 and she is loo1ing )eauti2ulE &ith
my nose closer to the detail I am .ondering at the moment ho. to ma1e some 1ind o2
channels at the )ac1 o2 the coc1pit seats so that any .ater3 2rom rain or spray3 .ill drain
out o2 the )oat rather than into it3 and it is di22icult3 and not )eauti2ul at all.
Oisitors .ho ha#e called in and not )een discouraged )y the piles o2 sa.dust and
o228cuts are also increasingly impressed3 .hich is encouraging. ( 2re/uent remar1 is
something li1e =5o. do you do it> I .ouldn<t 1no. .here to )egin -? It<s an
interesting comment )ecause the is simple enough. I can point to the stem ;
.hich is .hat I actually made 2irst ; and say =I )egan there -? 9ut that does nothing
to illuminate the mystery3 .hich I thin1 is something more a)out @ho. does such a
coherent .hole actually emerge out o2 so many parts ; ho. can the parts so
completely determine the .hole3 and yet the .hole seem also to determine the parts<.
I ha#e not tried suggesting to anyone that that is .hat they really mean3 )ut to me
that is .hat is rather mysterious and .onder2ul. The pile o2 ru))ish on the 2loor is
actually 2ar more comple+ than the )oat3 )ut no8one says o2 that =5o. did you ma1e
that ; I .ouldn<t 1no. .here to )egin -? It<s the organisation, the 2orm3 the
coherence3 that<s impressi#e ; .here does that come 2rom>
In this case at least I can e+plain: I 1no. ho. the organisation happened3 and I
ha#e e+perienced all the .ay through the process the continual interplay )et.een the
.hole3 as it has e+isted in my imagination3 or on paper3 or increasingly in reality3 and
the parts .hich I ha#e made care2ully one )y one. *ach part has re/uired an a.areness
o2 the nature o2 the .hole ; a 2act that has repeatedly strained my )rain to its limit and
delayed me3 e#en 2or days at a time3 )ecause it can )e so di22icult ; and my sense o2
the .hole has )een constrained )y the possi)ility o2 its )eing made up o2 parts. It<s no
good imagining an impossi)le )oat. The design o2 the )oat has3 o2 course3 itsel2 )een
determined in relation to a larger .hole: the sea and the .ind.
&hile the )oat .as still relati#ely simple that .as all /uite o)#ious and not
mysterious at all: a .hole made o2 #ery 2e. parts is easy to comprehend7 )ut it )ecame
more impressi#ely comple+3 harder to ta1e in at one glance3 and then its .holeness
)ecame more daunting and harder to comprehend.
&hen .e are mysti2ied )y something in the .orld3 .hen .e see1 to understand3 I
thin1 it is usually )ecause .e sense some organisation3 some suggestion o2 2orm and
pattern3 that .e are una)le to ta1e in )ut seems to )e someho. comprehensi)le in
principle. The 2loc1 o2 )irds3 .heeling against the grey s1y3 that I sa. and remem)er so
#i#idly3 .as stri1ing 6ust )ecause o2 its 2orm and coherence. Fre/uently there are 2loc1s
o2 gulls or curle.s )y the ri#er3 .al1ing on the mud or settled on the grass3 and in that
case they are in disorganised groups3 mo#ing a)out seemingly at random ; so that I
tend to see them as indi#iduals and pay no attention to their collecti#e )eha#iour. I2 I
see something that loo1s random3 li1e a pile o2 stones on the )each3 I may .onder ho.
the stones come to )e there3 )ut not ho. they come to )e arranged in that particular
.ay ; it is attern that catches my attention: the ripples in the sand o2 the )each3 2or
e+ample3 do arouse my .onder.
&e ha#e )ecome accustomed3 in our &estern culture3 to see1ing e+planation o2
mystery )y e+amining the nature o2 the parts. &e sometimes descri)e this as a
@mechanistic<3 or @reducti#e<3 approach3 and the .ords seem to carry critical o#ertones3
as i2 .e .ere pointing to a limitation ; implying that 6ust as the machine is li2e8
denying3 soulless and destructi#e so also is our thin1ing .hen .e 2ocus on parts in this
.ay. It<s not hard to 2eel cynical a)out the .ay science .ould understand a )y
tearing o22 its petals ; )ut at the moment I am also a.are o2 .hat a .onder2ully
e22ecti#e process analytic understanding can )e. There is no possi)le .ay in .hich my
)oat could )ecome a reality .ithout such @mechanistic thin1ing<. It has )een my only
possi)le .ay to creating the .hole3 .hich I am 6ust )eginning to percei#e as something
.ith a 1ind o2 claim to a #ery simple 2orm o2 li2e3 o2 soul -
In the history o2 &estern thought these t.o 2aces o2 the mechanistic ha#e
certainly )een #ery closely related ; the o2 such thought to understand and also
to create and manipulate. "on2ronted3 and o2ten a.ed3 )y the 2orms and patterns o2 the
.orld .e ha#e 2ocused on the detail3 on the smaller parts that are more accessi)le to us3
and ha#e perhaps 2elt that .e had disco#ered there the inner mysteries3 the secrets o2
the huge scale o2 organisation o2 the uni#erse. (nd .e ha#e )uilt up 2rom parts3
assem)led creations o2 our o.n hands and minds3 that ha#e released po.ers 2ar )eyond
anything that our hands and minds alone seem a)le to achie#e. Some o2 these things
ha#e gi#en us security and com2ort and pleasure to an e+traordinary degree ; our
houses and medicines3 our )oo1s and our music7 and some ha#e )een .onder2ully
)eauti2ul ; our sailing ships and our cathedrals7 and some ha#e )een o#er.helmingly
terri)le ; our guns and our )om)s. It seems to )e registering .ith us that .hat
.e create3 the po.ers that .e release3 may in reality mani2est and )eha#iour
/uite )eyond anything .e imagined. It<s the old Fran1enstein myth: .e may understand
enough to create something genuinely ne.3 )ut totally 2ail to realise that the character
o2 .hat .e produce3 the .ay it act in the .orld and a22ects the .orld3 may )e
a)solutely )eyond our capacity to imagine3 understand3 predict ; or3 o2 course3 to
&e are )eginning to register: one o2 the astonishing things is 6ust to .hat
incredi)ly degree .e can see and 1no. and recognise the truth and importance o2
something ; )ut not )e a22ected enough in our 2eelings or #alues 2or it to really change
the .ay .e )eha#e. It<s the same e22ect3 I suppose3 as the .ay I know that tidying up the
.or1shop .ould ma1e me 2eel much )etter and .or1 more e22iciently ; )ut I<m still
really reluctant to do it. Dultiply that to the scale on .hich .e are ma1ing a mess o2 the
.orld and need3 2or our o.n sa1es3 to do a )it clearing up a 2ind .ays o2 )eing less
messy3 and it gets really serious. I3 as a typical mem)er o2 the human race3 get caught in
the dilemma )et.een @e#ery little helps< and @another little )it .on<t ma1e any
di22erence. There<s something here a)out the relation )et.een .hole and part again.
%erhaps I am )eing a little carried a.ay )y the e+citement o2 my o.n act o2
creation3 )ut I 2eel someho. already a littler closer to one o2 the mysteries that I set out
to disco#er. "lose3 that is3 not to dispelling it )ut at least to touching it3 to 2eeling more
clearly .here it lies: the relationship o2 .hole to part3 and part to .hole. It .as the
same thing that I .as thin1ing a)out .hen I .as immo)ilised in )ed ; 2rom some
2ailure o2 a part o2 my o.n )ody to contri)ute ade/uately to the .hole. Then I .as
thin1ing a)out the 6ourney ; the .ay in .hich the detail o2 each step must relate to the
o#erall purpose.
I also noticed then ho. this relationship o2 .hole and part could occur at many
le#els3 could )ecome a .hole structure o2 many layers3 a hierarchy o2 .holes and parts.
&hat I am disco#ering in the )uilding o2 the )oat is the .ay that 1ind o2 hierarchy
gi#es me a cumulati#e po.er3 through )oth my mind and my hands3 to reach )eyond
the immediate limitations o2 )oth. &hen I .or1 I must 2ind the appropriate le#el in this
hierarchy ; that is .hat allo.s me to 2unction. I2 I am ma1ing a dec18)eam3 then I
need to consider the )oat as a .hole3 its 2orm and 2unction ; the stresses it might )e
under at sea .hen there is green .ater )rea1ing o#er the dec13 and the space I need
.hen I am huddled )elo.. Fnly in that .ay can I arri#e at some reasona)le decisions
a)out its shape and dimension. Then I need to 6ump do.n a le#el and ta1ing this design
2or a )eam to )e the ne. .hole I can consider ho. to ma1e it out o2 parts. In this case
the parts .ill )e strips o2 .ood that are thin enough to )end through the designed cur#e3
and the glue .hich .ill hold them together.
I could go do.n a le#el again and loo1 at the structure o2 the .ood in terms o2 its
2i)res3 and o2 the glue in terms o2 its molecular structure. Fthers ha#e done that3 and
I<m grate2ul to them and prepared to ta1e .hat they disco#ered on trust 8 and I<m
grate2ul I don<t ha#e to .orry a)out it 2or mysel2. There are many such anonymous
contri)utors to this3 and to most other3 things that I do.
&hen .e use this same hierarchical structure to understand the .orld around us
something #ery similar happens. I ha#e 6ust mentioned ho. .ood can )e understood in
terms o2 its 2i)rous structure3 and those 2i)res can )e understood in terms o2 the cells
that go together to ma1e them3 and those cells in terms o2 their chemical and structural
constituents3 and those again in terms o2 molecular structure3 and then do.n to the
atomic le#el3 to elementary particles3 to electromagnetic and gra#itational 2orces and
/uantum and relati#ity e22ects. (ll o2 .hich too1 a /uite incredi)le amount o2 la)our
and thought3 and adds up to an un)elie#a)ly organised structure. I .ouldn<t 1no.
.here to )egin.
There is something else going on here3 too3 .ithout .hich none o2 this .ould
really .or1. 4ot only do I )rea1 things up into parts in order to understand and .or1
.ith them3 )ut also I either disco#er3 or assume3 that I can generalise a)out these parts.
It .ould appear that pieces o2 .ood are su22iciently similar that I can use my past
e+perience o2 .ood to 1no. .hat I can do .ith this piece and ho. it .ill )eha#e. I
may need to discriminate a )it 2urther3 and distinguish oa1 2rom pine3 and pitch8pine
2rom "olom)ian pine3 and so on ; )ut at some point I stop and ignore the ultimate
uni/ueness o2 this piece. Similarly .ith cells: .e can recognise di22erent types o2 cell3
)ut unless .e assumed that all cells o2 a certain type )eha#ed in a certain .ay .e<d )e
lost. */ually3 .e<d )e lost and helpless ; or could it )e e#en more so> ; unless .e
assumed that all hydrogen atoms3 or all electrons3 .ere essentially the same.
There is an assumption here3 a gross and s.eeping one. It may seem
un/uestiona)ly reasona)le at an atomic le#el3 )ut at a more e#eryday le#el .e can see
that it is a matter o2 choice. In some conte+ts .e can consider people to )e all the same:
the di22erence )et.een you and me may not )e #ery signi2icant in3 2or e+ample3 some
medical conte+t. 9ut on other occasions it is essential to recognise some di22erences ;
in age or gender3 may)e ; and sometimes the a)solute uni/ue di22erence )et.een one
indi#idual and another. 5o. much o2 the deep /uality o2 li2e .e .ould lose i2 .e did
not 1no. that people are uni/uely di22erent. It depends on conte+t3 and it depends on
.hat is appropriate. To understand sometimes means to recognise di22erence3
sometimes it means to ignore it ; that is deeply tied up .ith the /uestion o2 level9 at
.hat le#el am I operating3 am I interested3 am I see1ing to understand3 do I care a)out.
&hat e+actly is the @di22erence that .ill ma1e a di22erence<> It .ill not al.ays )e the
same A@the same di22erence<B7 the important le#el o2 di22erence .ill #ary enormously.
It seems to )e one o2 the great distinguishing 2aculties i2 the human mind3 this
a)ility to generalise3 to ignore the di22erences )et.een things and to pay attention to the
.ay they are similar3 to the conte+t in .hich they can )e treated as the same. It is the
)eginning o2 a)straction3 and one o2 the 2irst steps .e ta1e to a#oid )eing lost in the
con2usion o2 a .orld o2 in2inite #ariety.
There is something else I notice here3 too: I<#e )een tal1ing a)out the nature o2
2orm and organisation in things3 )oth in the .ay .e )uild and thin1 a)out things3 and in
the .ay .e 2ind it in the .orld around us. &hen .e loo1 .e see the most e+traordinary
organisation3 and it is that .hich allo.s us to understand3 and .hich can gi#e us a to regulate and predict things around us 8 to some e+tent. (ll this is 2ull o2
mystery and .onder and re#elation 8 and there are endless /uestions to .hich it gi#es
rise Aat e#ery le#el o2 detail and generalityB. 9ut there are also /uestions a)out the
whole thing3 #ery general /uestions a)out the .hole phenomenon.
Fne o2 them is this: i2 this structure o2 part and .hole3 o2 hierarchies o2 parts and
.holes3 is such a 1ey to )oth understanding and to po.er3 then is it )ecause the world is
made li1e this3 or is it )ecause our minds are made li1e this> I2 .e can indeed )egin to
understand the .orld in this .ay3 is it )ecause .e ha#e disco#ered some pro2ound and
uni#ersal truth a)out the .orld3 or is it )ecause there is something a)out us3 a)out our
minds3 that ma1e this the .ay3 may)e or not the only .ay3 in .hich .e can do
something that .e call understanding> AFr3 o2 course3 it could )e )oth.B
It is an old /uestions3 one that in some 2orm has )een present in all philosophy
since %lato3 and .hich )ecame e+plicit relati#ely recently .ith Kant. It comes out o2
the distinction )et.een the o)6ecti#e and the su)6ecti#e3 the e+ternal and the internal3
physical and mental3 )ody and mind. The history o2 this duality is a long one 8 I<#e 6ust
tripped o#er one o2 its aspects: the pro)lem3 gi#en some 2orm o2 this duality3 o2 .here
.e should locate the reasons 2or the form that things ta1e 8 .hat di22erences are @real<3
and .hat depend on our @.ay o2 seeing<. I ha#e a 2eeling that3 )eing reared in a #ery
&estern culture3 I<m going to 1eep )ar1ing my mental shins on this one.
Is there some alternati#e3 a di22erent sense in .hich .e might understand> I thin1
there is. There seems to me a no less important .ay in .hich I can understand a thing
as a whole. I can know a piece o2 .ood3 or a )oat3 or a person ; I can understand
them3 not in terms o2 any analysis into parts3 and not through any generalisation3 )ut
)ecause I can - .hat shall I say> I can 2eel3 sense3 intuit 8 1no.3 understand 8 ho. they
are3 ho. they .ill )eha#e3 .hat it is @li1e to )e them<. It<s hard to 1no. .hat more to
say a)out this 1ind o2 understanding3 e+cept that it happens3 that I 1no. it happens.
(nd3 I should add3 I can also )e .rong: I may thin1 I understand my .i2e3 and then she
totally surprises and )a22les me. &hich only pro#es that this 1ind o2 understanding is
signi2icant3 rather than #acuous Aand it may3 on re2lection3 pro#e something more
personal3 tooB.
I can3 )y some leap o2 the imagination3 concei#e o2 a god .ho @1ne. and
understood the .orld<3 not in terms o2 its parts3 )ut through 2eeling the uni/ue nature o2
it all3 as a .hole. Day)e such a god .ould also understand the parts3 too. Inli1e the
.ay I may )egin to understand my .i2e .ithout ha#ing the 2aintest clue a)out ho. her
li#er .or1s3 not to mention her mind. From such a perspecti#e o2 the .orld I<m not at
all sure .hat it means to say that the .orld is made o2 separate parts. 9ut trying to see
into the mind o2 such a god is not a #ery practical 2antasy.
(t a simpler le#el3 I recall my only e+perience o2 the drug LSG3 )ac1 in the
e+citement o2 the @6$<s. The memory is still #i#id: it .as a day o2 2eatureless and
lo.ering grey s1ies and steady dri00ling rain. I .ent out )ecause the .orld .as so
)eauti2ul. Finding mysel2 standing in a 2orest o2 young larch trees I stood among them
and )egan to 2eel @.hat it .as li1e< to )e a larch tree. I .as there3 I )elie#e3 2or se#eral
hours7 at least so it seems to me. The .ater .as dripping do.n my nec1 and gradually
#f we were animals, we would love carnal life and
what conforms to its meaning. 6or us this would be
enough of a good, and accordingly we should demand
nothing more, if all was well for us. 2ikewise, if we were
trees, we should not feel or asire to anything by
movement, but yet we should seem to desire that by
which we should be more fertile and bear more
abundant fruits. # we were stones, or floods, or wind, or
flame, or anything of the kind, without any
consciousness and life, we should still not lack, so to
seak, a certain longing for our osition and order.
)t. *ugustine
saturating my clothes3 )ut3 as a tree3 I 2elt only an a)solutely passi#e resignation. There
is nothing a tree can do a)out this 1ind o2 discom2ort3 and there2ore it does not 2eel it as
discom2ort. &hat it can3 and does3 do is to retain a complete openness to the moment3
an acceptance reality as it is3 o2 .hat is around it3 .hat rises through its roots or 2alls
2rom the s1y3 that actually amounts to a 1ind o2 total li)eration. It<s #ery di22icult to
descri)e3 and not something that trees e+press in .ords ; )ut they do e+press it in their
.hole )eing. Pou need only to understand a tree as a tree to 1no. that.
It<s an entirely di22erent matter .ith co.s. Later on I met some co.s3 and came
1no. something a)out their reality. ( co.3 )y nature3 is compelled to )e acti#e3 to
search 2or 2ood. ( co. must 1eep its head to the ground 2or much o2 the time: it 1no.s
a)out need and hunger and danger and ri#alry3 it is not a)le to achie#e /uite the degree
o2 openness that is possi)le 2or a tree- It<s a much harder3 more limited li2e in many
.ays. I .onder i2 .e3 .ith our many and #aried preoccupations3 carry that limitation
e#en 2urther>
I learnt much that day that has stayed .ith me. I am grate2ul to the 2riend .ho
accompanied me the .hole time. I learnt also to lo#e 9ach<s concerto 2or #iolin and
o)oe3 and also to 2ind an e+/uisite 2la#our o2 paradise in peanut )utter. That has 2aded3
)ut I ha#e lost none o2 the rest. I ha#e not tried LSG since3 .hich I cannot entirely
e+plain3 though I thin1 the instinct .as correct. To try and understand my 2ello. human
)eings has )een a longer and more di22icult process3 )ut I thin1 it has to )e so.
Fne pro6ect that made a change in the .or1shop routine .as the casting o2 the
1eel. It is to )e made o2 lead3 a couple o2 sla)s )olted on either side o2 the centre)oard3
and is an important element in the designed sta)ility o2 the )oat. The more .eight there
is lo. do.n the more li1ely she is to stay appro+imately the right .ay up3 or to return i2
e#er the sea should o#er.helm her. She is #ery3 #ery small compared to the .a#es in
the photo on my .all.
I ha#e collected scraps o2 lead 2or some time no. ; mostly o228cuts 2rom a
help2ul roo2ing contractor ; and these are to )e melted do.n and poured into a mould.
The mould is made o2 .ood3 lined .ith plaster3 and )uried in the ground to support it
and pre#ent it distorting .hen 2ull. To melt the lead I ha#e a huge cast iron pot ; 2rom
a scrap heap3 .hat a .onder2ul 2ind ; and ha#e made the most 5eath Ro)inson
arrangement imagina)le: I ha#e dug a trench in the ground and )ridged it .ith piece o2
old corrugated iron3 .ith a hole cut out to 2it the iron pot .hich rests on )ric1s in the
trench. ( 2ire is to )e made under the pot3 and another piece o2 corrugated iron3 rolled
up into a tu)e3 2orms a chimney.
( trial run gets a hot 2ire roaring a.ay in the trench. Lead scraps piled into the pot
)egin to melt3 and 2oul and dirty li/uid )egins to 2orm in the )ottom. 9ut scrape a.ay
the dirt 2rom the sur2ace o2 this li/uid - and there is a pool o2 the most magically
sil#er su)stance. I 2eel li1e an alchemist3 .or1ing among the smo1e and heat and piles
o2 earth and rusty metal3 trans2orming the )asest o2 metals into the most mysterious o2
su)stances. The pot 2ills .ith molten lead3 and it is unli1e any li/uid I ha#e encountered
)e2ore. I2 I drop a stone into it3 the stone 2loats3 )arely touching the sur2ace. I2 I dip a
metal rod into it3 to stir it3 I can 2eel the rod attempt to 2loat3 as i2 the li/uid is acti#ely
re6ecting it. It is /uic18sil#er3 that 2lo.s and runs strangely7 it undou)tedly has magical
po.ers3 and I am #ery tempted to dip my hands into it to play3 lured )y its mystery -
&hen it has all melted I pour it into my mould3 and it settles and 2orms an o+ide
2ilm on the sur2ace again .hich conceals its mysteries. The process must )e repeated3
2or I need t.o such sla)s. I hope they .ill ha#e the magical that I re/uire o2
them3 .hich is to help my )oat ride the .a#es and remain the right .ay up. That .ill )e
/uite .onder2ul enough 2or me.
The 1eel sla)s3 once cool3 can )e cleaned up and restored to their proper grey3
leaden character. They are .onder2ully hea#y to mo#e around3 )ut so2t enough to plane
and drill. They can then3 .ith a )it o2 s.eating and hea#ing and le#ering and 6ac1ing3
)e )olted into the place that has )een .aiting 2or them3 and the lines o2 the underside
are 2inally smooth and complete.
(t this stage the list o2 small 6o)s still to )e done seems endless. *#en .hen I
endea#our to .rite an organised list .hich .ill tame and contain the con2usion .hich is
/uite impossi)le to hold in my mind all at once3 the process o2 proli2erating sel28
propagation continues. *ach time I tac1le one 6o) it )rea1s do.n into se#eral others3
and either generates or reminds me o2 at least one other to add to the list.
There is the internal accommodation to 2inish: )erths3 loc1ers3 .ith their co#ers or
doors3 t.o small sur2aces Athe ad6ecti#e is super2luous: e#erything is smallB3 one 2or a
t.o8)urner sto#e3 the other .ith a cut8out hole 2or a sin13 .hich can )e co#ered o#er
.hen not in use and allo. a 2olded chart to )e spread out and pondered or .orried o#er.
There are shel#es3 #arious3 each one .ith a remo#a)le )ar across the 2ront to restrain
the contents in a sea.ay. There are neat little spaces to 2it ) and plates3 and since I
can<t decide .hat si0e to ma1e them I spend almost t.o days turning a set o2 2our
) and plates 2rom a )eauti2ul sla) o2 elm that my late 2ather8in8la. had cut and
stored 2or a 2e. years. I .ould li1e to thin1 that he .ould ha#e )een pleased .ith the
end product o2 his 2orethought.
I try to imagine the )oat pitching and rolling and to 2ind .ays o2 pre#enting chaos
inside. I e#en try to imagine her rolling completely o#er3 )ut that is too much to ta1e
into account here. I ha#e tried to ensure she .ill sur#i#e in that e#entuality ; and
hence gi#ing me a chance to sur#i#e .ith her ; )ut not .ithout chaos3 and pro)a)ly
terror3 )elo..
&hile I am .or1ing this morning I hear Schu)ert<s "8ma6or /uintet on the radio.
&hen the adagio 2loats so elegantly and )ra#ely across the rolling seas o2 my
imagination3 I thin1: @i2 this )oat .ere a .ay o2 e+pressing something that’s .hat it
.ould )e. @%er2ect music 2or one<s death8)ed< I thin1 Thomas Dann suggested. I am not
discouraged: it is )ecause it em)odies so .ell the )ra#e sadness and 6oy o2 a li2e li#ed
2ully in the 2ace o2 ine#ita)le uncertainty3 .hich is something .orth e+pressing .hen
re2lecting on li2e during either its ending or its epiphanies.
There is the coc1pit to 2it out: seats o2 reasona)le proportions and com2ort3
2ormed )y the lids o2 se#eral loc1ers3 all designed to drain a.ay any .ater into the
out)oard .ell at the stern .here .ater .ill )e accepta)le7 hatch co#ers 2or this .ell7 a
main hatch and )oards to close o22 the companion.ay )ut allo. #entilation .hen
closed7 systems 2or loc1ing all hatches7 strong enough 2i+ing points3 cleats and a
sampson post3 2or mooring lines and anchor7 a system 2or the anchor on the
2oredec13 and 2or the hea#y chain as lo. do.n as possi)le7 a sealing ring 2or
the mast .here it passes through the dec17 2oot and hand8rails to 2acilitate mo#ing
sa2ely around the dec17 glass in the portholes AI manage to )rea1 three )e2ore I 2igure
out ho. to get them to sit .ithout any )ending pressure in the cur#ing sides: a )ad day3
thatB7 hard.ood trim to co#er e+posed end8grain3 and to loo1 2inished Aand
to hide any poor 6ointsB7 a method o2 raising and lo.ering the hea#y centre8)oard ; I
ha#e 2ound a lo#ely old )ron0e .inch in a )oat86um)le7 rudder 2ittings7 tiller ; the part
o2 the )oat through .hich I .ill most directly communicate .ith her3 to sense .hat she
is 2eeling and tell her .hat I .ould li1e her to do AI try to car#e the end into the shape
o2 a hand3 though concerned that this might )e an e+cessi#ely anthropomorphic 2orm o2
contact: perhaps 2ortunately I .hittle a.ay too much3 and am le2t .ith a simpler )ut
uninteresting shape. I should ha#e tried a dolphin to match the 2inger8holes I ha#e
artistically cut out on some o2 the loc1er co#ersB7 there are systems 2or pumping .ater
out o2 the )oat3 2or pumping 2resh .ater into the sin13 2or getting 2uel to the engine3 and
.iring 2or electricity 2rom the engine to the )attery and then to a 2e. simple lights3
including one at the top o2 the mast7 there are 2itting to carry and secure #arious lines o2
rigging 2rom the mast )ac1 to the coc1pit7 and so on and on. (nd all this to )e
2unctional3 strong3 harmonious )oth in itsel2 and in relation to all other parts o2 the )oat
as a .hole.
I .or1 through the list3 and a lot more )esides3 .ith all the thought and attention
it re/uires. Sometimes I 2eel li1e a .or1er )ee attending to a /ueen .ho sits there
massi#ely immo)ile and indi22erent3 demanding all my attention and energy3 )ut gi#ing
nothing )ac1 to me personally3 )eing too in#ol#ed in her o.n greater concerns 2or the
2uture. I )u00 around her3 and cra.l o#er her ; 2ussing and 2eeding3 and duti2ully
remo#ing her endless .aste8products: dust and sha#ings3 o228cuts o2 .ood3 scraps o2
metal and plastic and unidenti2ia)le )its and pieces.
There is a scienti2ic description3 the Second La. o2 Thermodynamics3
o2 a li#ing thing3 or other organised system3 as @e+porting entropy< to its en#ironment. It
means that anything disordered or chaotic or irrele#ant is gradually eliminated 2rom
inside the system and e+creted to the outside. Inside the system e#erything thus
)ecomes increasingly ordered and comple+3 .hile outside )ecomes more chaotic and
disordered. That<s e+actly .hat<s happening in my .or1shop. The )oat sits there3 in her
regal )ul13 occupying most o2 the space on the 2loor3 )ecoming e#ery day a little more
comple+ and 2unctional and harmonious and )eauti2ul ; .hile around her the mess
accumulates. The 2loor and the )enches are co#ered .ith e#ery imagina)le )y8product
and tool o2 her construction3 all in completely random disorder. I am the assiduous
instrument and intermediary o2 this process Aso it must )e my responsi)ility to tidy up. I
could e+port the gathering entropy 2urther into the en#ironment ; )y ma1ing a )on2ire
o2 the all the o228cuts and sha#ings3 2or e+ample3 or e+pending energy )y putting all the
tools a.ay.B
The .hole process is #ery e+citing and magical3 e#en i2 I am a sla#e to it rather
than a master.
The degree o2 parallel3 o2 metaphoric richness3 .hich I am 2inding at e#ery stage
o2 this pro6ect is )eginning to distur) me.
I em)ar1ed on it in one o2 those moments o2 instantaneous and highly personal
realisation. I .as 2eeling torn3 pulled into con2lict3 )et.een t.o 2amiliar and apparently
opposing aspects o2 my psyche: on the one hand .as my passion 2or philosophy3 my
6oy at e+ploring some o2 its )y8.ays and my o.n need 2or comprehension A)y no
means al.ays seriously connectedB3 and on the other an increasing hunger3 desperation
e#en3 2or the 1ind o2 space3 silence and solitude that might allo. inner re2lection to
actually ad#ance and .here I might hope to gain a )it o2 solid ground instead o2 only
occasional disconnected 2ragments. I .anted in some .ays to )e a mon13 a hermit3 a
philosopher Athough in some personally idiosyncratic and com2orta)le .ayB ... .hile
2eeling #ery a2raid o2 some o2 the conse/uences o2 such a commitment to the 6ourney
into the inner .orld.
Fn the other hand3 and .ith similar 2orce3 I .anted to use my hands3 to ma1e
things o2 )eauty and 2unction ; to 2eel and 1no. the outer .orld ; to e+plore3 to 2eel
the elemental po.ers o2 .ind and .ater and sun and space. I might add that I am no
less scared3 actually rather more so3 o2 some o2 the potential side8e22ects o2 this 1ind o2
6ourney3 too.
The t.o seemed opposed3 the choice seemed impossi)le3 and I .as at times
thro.n into a 1ind o2 oscillation )et.een them that satis2ied neither. To mo#e too 2ar
to.ards one resulted in some comple+ mi+ture o2 2eelings depri#ation and guilt through
loss o2 the other that I .ould turn and retreat 2rom that goal )e2ore ma1ing any great
progress or commitment to.ards it. It<s a touchingly human3 and rather too 2amiliar3
2orm o2 passi#e ine22ecti#ity.
Intil that moment o2 )right illumination .hen the o)#ious occurred3 the synthesis
o2 the antitheses3 the realisation that they could )e aspects o2 the same thing3 I could
actually do )oth at the same time in such a .ay that they .ould nourish and promote
instead o2 con2lict .ith and decimate each other.
The metaphor .as already o)#ious3 to the point o2 triteness: the inner 6ourney and
the outer3 the li#ing synthesis o2 opposites. F)#iously it .as possi)le ; and it .as
e+citing. The sense o2 relie2 and release .ere immediate and po.er2ul. I started the lines and .riting the introduction on the same day. The resolution .as a
.onder2ul li)erator o2 energy3 though I disco#ered the .ays in .hich action can induce
a di22erent 1ind o2 guilt 2rom inaction3 and all 1inds o2 sensations o2 responsi)ility that
inaction had sa#ed me 2rom.
I ha#e ad#anced a little along the .ay no. ; more o)#iously in the outer than
the inner3 )ut I thin1 the outer .ill al.ays )e more o)#ious and more #isi)le than the
inner. I do not yet 1no. i2 it .ill )e more real and more lasting. (nd as I ad#ance I
encounter again and again some ne. 2acet o2 the same metaphor.
I )uild my )oat to carry me out to.ards ne. hori0ons ; and I prepare my 2ragile
psyche to e+plore un1no.ns that I ha#e only glimpsed 2rom the edge. That )road image
is so clear7 )ut repeatedly I 2ind little details either o2 ideas that are hard to e+press until
I suddenly 2ind some une+pected parallel in the process o2 )uilding the )oat7 or some
aspect o2 the )oat that a)sor)s me suggests some ne. and pleasing a)stract idea.
I thought at the )eginning that I had most cle#erly resol#ed a personal con2lict3
2ound a .onder2ul e+cuse 2or a dou)le sel28indulgence3 and created a con#enient 2rame
to hold my tendency to scattered thought and .riting together.
4o.3 each time my metaphor
yields another little insight I almost recoil: it goes
too 2ar3 too easily ; .hen does it )ecome merely 2acile3 or ha#e I passed that point
already> Should I point out yet another parallel ; or assume it<s so o)#ious the reader
.ill spot it straight a.ay. Fr should I e#en suppress and conceal it3 )ecause it<s 6ust too
neat to )e healthy. &ould it e#en increase your interest i2 you .ere le2t to unearth it 2or
yoursel2 2rom care2ully scattered clues3 li1e some philosophical @.hodunit @; a
I thin1 I ha#e to say3 to mysel23 that it doesn<t matter7 6ust accept it as it comes. It
.ould )e de#ious and contri#ed to do anything else3 e#en i2 it .ere aimed speci2ically
at appearing not to )e contri#ed. The oint o2 the 6ourney3 its possi)le #alue3 is /uite
)eyond such minor literary /uestions as the nature and depth o2 one metaphor and its
use. (nd the ris1s3 the dangers3 the dou)le 2ear that stri1es me only the more po.er2ully
as I progress are also much deeper3 much more real3 than any concern o#er literary
success or 2ailure.
The metaphor seems to 2unction .ith great asymmetry in one direction only Aa
2act .hich )egins to seem irresisti)le and necessary ; and #ery interesting and
re#ealingB: the )oat pro#ides a metaphor 2or the inner and philosophical 6ourney 3 and
not the other .ay round. Dust that )e so>
Could metaphor-fatigue be as fatally weakening to the structure of this endeavour
as metal-fatigue can be for an aeroplane. Do you remember the Brabazon?
I )uild the )oat to encounter the sea and the .ind. It is the materials to hand3 and
the conditions it must meet that determine my e#ery mo#e. I am guided )y tradition and
theory ; and my o.n straining imagination ; )ut I can only do .hat a piece o2 .ood
or metal .ill allo. me to do3 and it is useless unless it 2ul2ils its 2unction. It .ill )e
tested3 e#ery 6oint and line and 2orm and part o2 her3 implaca)ly and a)solutely3 in .ays
that in the end ha#e nothing to do .ith my imagination. I can imagine: the sea .ill act3
#isi)ly3 2inally3 .ordlessly and undenia)ly.
Dy struggle to understand the .orld and my li2e3 my place in the .orld3 proceeds
in#isi)ly3 and I cannot imagine it .ill e#er )e other.ise. The e+tremes o2 enlightenment
or insanity .hich seem to stand at opposite possi)le poles o2 the 6ourney may not e#en
)e distinguisha)le to anyone else ; or e#en to mysel2. AI do not actually imagine that I
.ill come any nearer to either o2 these poles than I .ill to either o2 the ice caps in my
little )oat. This is to )e something o2 .arm8.ater #oyage7 )ut I nurse the hope that the
other )it3 the philosophical3 .ill not )e /uite as limited as that. (m I only playing ;
playing sa2e ; at )oth>B In the 2ar more intangi)le .orld o2 thought I grasp at anything
e#en slightly more solid to gi#e ideas a graspa)le shape and structure. Detaphor can do
this3 at least a little. The material and #isi)le can o22er 2orms that allo. me to 2eel
something can )e distinguished and recognised and named in the dar1ness.
&hat is interesting and important is perhaps 6ust this sense o2 recognition:
.hate#er metaphor may )e it is not ar)itrary. &hen it stri1es me it is certainly not 6ust a
contri#ed in#ention Aas some metaphors can )eB ; there is a clear sense o2 response
@yes3 it<s 6ust li1e that< ; I see something3 a /uality3 a shape3 a characteristic that is
there < #isi)ly in the )oat and in#isi)le )ut felt in my inner .orld.
I do not 1no. .hat this 2eeling3 this recognition3 this capacity to percei#e and
distinguish structure in the inner .orld is ; yes3 I do 1no. .hat it is3 o2 course: it<s
this e+perience that I ha#e. I 2eel it )ecause it happens to me: then I need a language o2
the outer and #isi)le .orld to con#ey anything o2 it to you3 )ecause that is .here
language is 2orged )et.een us. 9ut then you can perhaps say @yes3 I see that3 too<3 or
e#en @no3 its not li1e that3 it<s more li1e this ; and a ne. understanding and #ision3 and
ne. language comes to )e shared. AI 2oresee a ne. philosophy in .hich all the
technical terms and 6argon re/uire a nautical dictionary to interpret.B
(nd perhaps I am .rong a)out the one8.ay metaphor. Dy )oat is ta1ing on all
1inds o2 li#ing /ualities that seem to come 2rom other than 6ust the pieces o2
metal and .ood. %erhaps they come 2rom my inner .orld and attach themsel#es to my
)oat3 gi#ing her something she .ould not other.ise ha#e had.
&hen she seems to me to )e restless or )eauti2ul or )ra#e or timid ; all o2 .hich
she at times already is3 e#en here in the .or1shop and only partly 2ormed ; then surely
I can say the inner has illuminated3 helped 2orm and animate the outer.
" -
Form & Pattern
Then one day another e+traordinary and une+pected e#ent occurs: I return to
la)our 2or my /ueen )ee3 )end my )ac1 and my attention once more to her endless
demands ; and can 2ind nothing else to do. A(part 2rom: painting3 a 2e. 2ittings to )uy3
a 2e. 6o)s that must )e postponed until these things are )ought3 and the mast and the
rig -B 9ut right no. I actually can<t 2ind anything that needs doing.

This might )e considered a moment 2or cele)ration7 )ut in 2act I 2eel a )it
disconcerted3 and 2uss and 2iddle a)out 2or /uite a long time )e2ore I e#en )egin to
accept it. I ha#e long recognised3 though ne#er really understood3 a trait in mysel2 that
ma1es me e+tremely )ad at 2inishing things. Such an o)ser#ation is dou)tless .orthy o2
a hollo. laugh7 not least3 I imagine3 2rom any .oman .ho has e#er depended 2or
anything on any man )orn o2 .oman. 9ut3 in my plainti#e de2ence3 I am not one to
lea#e things hal2 done: my 2ather used to say I .as a ,$X8er. 5e had3 he said3 1no.n
many 1$X8ers3 or e#en $X8ers3 )ut ,$X8ers are rare.
I actually can recognise /uite a 2e. 1$X 2inished pro6ects 8 or e#en 1X to 2X 8
that I ha#e initiated and a)andoned to my chaotic en#ironment3 )ut I 1no. .hat he
meant. There is a point almost at the end o2 a tas1 .hen I /uite suddenly lose my dri#e
and energy3 e#en my interest3 in e+tremes. I can see t.o possi)le e+planations: one is
that the main interest and a)sorption .as in the challenge3 and as soon as the end is in
sight3 .hen I enter the home straight3 I 1no. the challenge is o#er 8 I<#e e22ecti#ely
.on3 sol#ed it3 pro#ed it3 .hate#er it .as 8 and the actual ending is o2 no great interest.
So I stop. (long the .ay3 all the details and parts o2 the process I ha#e )een almost
2anatical a)out: I made .ooden ) and plates 2or the )oat .hen I really only needed
to decide ho. )ig the storage shel#es should )e7 I spent days replacing the top o2 the
stem )ecause it .asn<t /uite the traditional shape7 I laid tea1 plan1ing .ith mahogany
edging 2or the main hatch ; a complete indulgence7 none o2 this .as necessary3 )ut
each made the )oat a little )etter in my eyes. AI nearly re8plan1ed her completely
)ecause I 2elt 8 and still 2eel 8 I<d got the plan1 .idths .rong. It too1 days to persuade
mysel2 I .as cra0y to e#en thin1 o2 it3 and I<m still not sure.B 9ut no.3 almost right at
the end3 it ta1es a lot o2 sel28discipline to attend to the 2inishing touches3 and not to )e
careless and shoddy a)out them.
The second possi)le e+planation is this Aand isn<t it strange that I should ha#e so
much uncertainty in the attempt to understand mysel2> 5o. do I hope to understand the
.orld>B: .hile in#ol#ed in a demanding pro6ect I am occupied and acti#e3 my li2e has
clear meaning and purpose7 there is no e+istential encounter .ith meaninglessness and
2reedom a2ter )rea12ast7 dou)t and angst recede into the )ac1ground. &hen the pro6ect
is 2inished I e+perience a sudden real loss: my security #anishes3 dou)t returns7 2reedom
as a pro)lem3 the edge o2 the #oid reappears. I ha#e already e+pressed my
em)arrassment that I should ha#e the lu+ury o2 such degenerate pro)lems3 )ut it can )e
genuinely uncom2orta)le .hen it happens.
I may )e dramatising a )it: )ut this is one o2 the pro)lems I ha#e set out to
con2ront3 so I must not e#ade it e#en .hen it appears in only a moderate 2orm. The #oid
at the edge o2 our 2ragile human sense o2 meaning can )e genuinely 2rightening7 I tend
to shy a.ay3 to cast a)out 2or something else to occupy and distract my attention )e2ore
I ha#e to 2ace losing the distraction I ha#e.
T.o possi)le reasons: may)e it<s )oth3 operating together 8 .hy not>
@%sychologically o#er8determined< Freud might ha#e said. (re not t.o reasons )etter
than one3 especially i2 .e are see1ing to 6usti2y our o.n shortcomings>
I<#e )een thin1ing more a)out the .hole /uestion o2 arts and wholes and the
relation )et.een them7 it<s something that seems to 1eep coming up in di22erent
conte+ts. It<s )een /uite a re#elation to me to )ecome a.are o2 6ust ho. po.er2ul this
.ay o2 loo1ing at things3 and thin1ing a)out them3 has )een 2or me. It has )een the one
principle that perhaps a)o#e all has allo.ed me to get this 2ar .ith such a comple+
pro6ect. There is no .ay I could ha#e @got my head round< it all unless I had approached
it )it )y )it.
In some .ays it<s )een a )it o2 a dou)le act: thin1ing in terms o2 parts is not
enough )y itsel2. &hile I thin1 a)out a particular component 8 a dec1 )eam3 2or
e+ample 8 I can treat the rest o2 the )oat as a .hole and completely ignore the .ay it<s
made up o2 parts. Indeed3 I have to treat it as a .hole in order to get the dec1 )eam
right. I .ant it<s shape to )e harmonious3 it<s strength and .eight to )e ade/uate and in
the right proportions to the rest 8 and ideas li1e harmony and proportion only ha#e
meaning in relation to the )oat as a .hole. 4o. that I<m )eginning to thin1 a)out the
mast I can treat the rest o2 the )oat as a .hole3 including the dec1 )eams. This principle
o2 mo#ing )ac1 and 2orth at .ill )et.een thin1ing a)out the parts and the .hole is a
.onder2ully #ersatile techni/ue. It seems to )e a purely mental de#ice: the )oat doesn<t
change3 it remains a .hole A.hich is made up o2 partsB7 it<s 6ust a /uestion o2 the most
use2ul .ay o2 thin1ing a)out it.
(nyone loo1ing at the )oat no. doesn<t need to see the parts in the .ay that I
actually thought o2 them and made them. Dany o2 the parts are no. in#isi)le any.ay3
or their @separateness< is o)scured. The dec1 )eams .ere laminated out o2 se#en thin
layers glued together ; it .as the only .ay o2 getting to 2ollo. the right cur#e ; )ut
that detail o2 construction is hardly #isi)le no.3 and .ill hardly matter e+cept to
someone technically interested. Seeing the )oat as a .hole is getting easier3 and 2or
most people is entirely appropriate.
Fccasionally a #isitor .ill as13 2or e+ample<s the coo1er>?Aa /uestion
.hich I can ans.erB3 or<s the and the toilet? A.hich I can<tB7 )ut noticing
the parts no. de2initely follows noticing the .hole. 4o8one has yet said =I see you ha#e
a coo1er here3 and some )eds3 and seats3 and some .alls and a roo2 ; and3 oh yes3 a
)oatE? (midst the chaos o2 the .or1shop this .holeness3 the )oat as a single thing3 is
actually impossi)le not to see.
There is actually a story told a)out "aptain "oo1 and his arri#al in 9otany 9ay
Athe same story is sometimes told a)out .ith the 9eagle in Tierra del Fuego3
and a)out "olum)us arri#ing in the 4e. &orld3 .hich rather reduces its credi)ility
than adds to it3 and I<#e not 2ound serious con2irmation o2 any o2 them7 )ut it<s a good
story3 and has )ecome a )it o2 a cultural mythB. &hen the *ndea#our3 under 2ull sail3
arri#ed in 9otany )9ay there .ere local nati#es out 2ishing in their dug8out canoes
; )ut they simply paid no attention to this remar1a)le ne. sight. Later3 ho.e#er3 .hen
the cre. launched the ship<s )oats to ro. ashore3 the locals responded .ith much
appropriate acti#ity. The point )eing that they didn<t @see< the )ig ship3 it )eing too 2ar
)eyond their e+perience o2 the possi)le to register. AImpro)a)le> It<s certainly hard to
)elie#e3 )ut is 6ust possi)le 8 and e+otic 8 enough to catch the attention. It raises
.onder2ul /uestions a)out .hat .e might not )e @seeing<. Such as alien spaceships
.hich don’t loo1 at all li1e 5olly.ood special e22ects.B &hat it<s meant to illustrate3 o2
course3 is ho. what .e see can )e in2luenced )y the way .e see3 .hich depends3 at
least in part3 on our past e+perience3 our )elie2s and e+pectations3 on ho. .e actually
2unction3 in a #ery practical sense3 in the .orld3 and on .hat is rele#ant to us.
%erhaps I ha#e no need to go as 2ar as 9otany 9ay3 or to e#o1e an unsu)stantiated
anecdote: .hen .e ro. /uietly up the near)y inlet 2rom our o.n ri#er in the t.ilight3
and i2 .e are patient and /uiet and luc1y enough to see the )adgers come out3 to play
and to prepare 2or a serious night<s .or13 .e ha#e a #ery similar story. The )adgers do
not seem to see us3 e#en though .e are #ery e+posed and #isi)le. They .ill hear any
sound3 o2 course3 )ut e#en some /uiet mo#ement seems unnoticed )y them. I pre2er the
e+perience to the anecdote3 though I li1e )oth.
I<#e not yet had any one actually not see the )oat3 perhaps )ecause seeing things
tends to )e a generally use2ul ha)it. (ctually3 there .as someone .ho came in and
seemed not to notice it. I suppose .hat you notice depends on .hat you are loo1ing 2or3
.hat you are interested in 8 .hat is significant 2or you.
I can 6ust a)out imagine the scene: someone comes into the .or1shop
and remar1s3 .ith a gasp o2 admiration: =&o.E 8 isn<t that )eauti2ulE ? and I reply3
smir1ing .ith pleasure: =&ell3 yes3 I<m glad you li1e it 8 I designed it mysel23 actually7
I<#e )een .or1ing on it 2or months-?. =I<m not surprised?3 this .elcome #isitor
replies3 =it<s so comple+3 and incredi)ly 2ascinating-? Then it turns out he is actually
tal1ing a)out the pile o2 ru))ish3 and had hardly noticed the )oat at all. So artistic and
aesthetic is his #ision o2 the .orld ALSG might ha#e contri)utedB that he actually sees
the sha#ings3 their shapes and shado.s3 as 2ascinatingly )eauti2ul3 2ull o2 comple+ and
mysterious 2orm and colour and meaning.
To ta1e this scene to an e#en more impro)a)le e+treme: .hat i2 this eccentric and
artistic indi#idual had )een .atching me at .or1> "ould he3 concei#a)ly3 ha#e thought
that I might )e .or1ing on creating the deeply e+pressi#e pile o2 sha#ings and o228cuts
; and they .ere the point o2 all that planing and> That the )oat3 or .hate#er it
is3 )eing hardly .orthy o2 a name3 is 6ust a )y8product3 a .ay o2 stac1ing all the )its I
didn<t .ant3 to )e ta1en out and )urnt .hen I get round to tidying up and am ready to
ta1e my creation to an art gallery>
I can hardly deny a)solutely the possi)ility o2 such a #isitor3 Aperhaps 6ust o22 the
alien spaceship I didn<t noticeB3 .ho might see my .or1 this .ay3 )ut I should pro)a)ly
see him as an alien3 or as insane3 or at least as un)eara)ly a22ected. It seems to me that3
2or anyone .ho ma1es sense o2 the .orld in anything li1e the same .ay as I do3 such a
.ay o2 seeing is impossi)le. 9ut why? &hat is the real and essential di22erence )et.een
the )oat and the pile o2 sha#ings that ma1es the )oat more signi2icant3 e#en 2or
someone .ho has ne#er seen a )oat )e2ore>
Day)e that seems a rather per#erse /uestion3 )ut it seems potentially important to
me Aperhaps per#erselyB 2or t.o di22erent reasons: the 2irst is that .hate#er it is that
ma1es the )oat di22erent 2rom a heap o2 sha#ings also allo.s it to do things .hich the
sha#ings can<t. The )oat .ill AI hopeB )eha#e in an entirely di22erent .ay in the .orld:
it .ill @hang together< o#er time3 2loat3 sail3 loo1 a2ter me3 etc. etc. So there<s something
#ery )asic here a)out the nature o2 the .orld3 o2 causality3 o2 ho. things interact
together3 some property o2 things that ma1es an enormous di22erence in the .orld.
The second point is that .e see the )oat in a particular .ay3 as a single o)6ect7 .e
understand it3 ma1e sense o2 it7 it @hangs together< in our perception as .ell as in the
.orld. *nd Aand this is .hy it seems important to meB it is 6ust this @hanging together<
o2 things3 the .ay .e pic1 single o)6ect out 2rom the comple+ity o2 .hat .e percei#e3
that is one o2 the most essential aspects o2 perception and understanding. It<s one o2 our
primary acts in the process o2 ma1ing sense. &e di#ide the .orld up into @things<3 and
unless .e 2ound some .ay o2 doing that .e<d )e lost.
So .hat is the di22erence )et.een a )oat and a heap o2 sha#ings> A(s the old
epistemological crac1er 6o1e goes -B It<s o)#ious3 o2 course7 )ut ho. to put it into
.ords> Let<s try a 2e. possi)le ans.ers: the )oat has a coherent shae or form3 it is
organised3 there is a simple attern3 a structure to it3 the parts ha#e a #ery particular
relationshi to each other and to the .hole7 the .hole things .as consciously3 and .ith
deliberate intent3 planned and created. (nd the heap3 )y contrast3 is random3 chaotic;
ho.e#er comple+ it is also essentially disordered; no thought .ent into its creation at
all3 other than getting it out o2 the )oat. I2 I .ere to rearrange the heap3 .ith a sho#el
perhaps3 2e. people .ould notice the di22erence3 or 2eel that the di22erence mattered
Ae+cept my per#erse imaginary artist3 .ho might )e either de#astated or delighted .ith
my ne. creation. These artistic types -B I23 ho.e#er3 I .ere to rearrange the )oat3 .ith
a chain8sa. and a sledge8hammer3 Aor3 .ith a more alarming realism3 perhaps a 2e.
sharp roc1s on a lee shore in a gale -B3 it .ould lose almost e#erything that ma1es it a
)oat 8 it3 too3 .ould )ecome a random scatter o2 )its7 and it would matter.
I2 .e loo1ed #ery closely at the )oat .e could3 I suppose3 see those )its: they
happen to )e all stuc1 together )ut .e might3 at a stretch3 )e a)le to ignore this
@togetherness<7 )ut it .ould )e e+tremely di22icult. ( piece o2 .ood could )e @seen as< a
/uantity o2 sa.8dust and sha#ings that 6ust happen to )e arranged in a particular )ut
irrele#ant .ay. 9ut 6ust try it: then sa. and plane it into dust and sha#ings and try not to
notice the di22erence. 9ut .ith a random heap it<s easy to turn it o#er .ith a sho#el3
shred the sha#ings3 and it<s still the @same< heap ; the changes in the sho#elled heap
make no difference to anything much.
F)#iously: so .hy should it matter> I<#e already had occasion to notice that the
.ay .e
understand things is o2ten )y mentally )rea1ing them do.n into their parts7
and the secret o2 designing and constructing something comple+ is to do it a )it at a
time3 to 2ocus on the parts. This )rea1ing do.n3 the process o2 analysis, is an essential
and .onder2ul techni/ue 2or understanding Ain the mindB and creating Ain the .orldB7
it<s a .ay o2 simlifying that allo.s )oth these processes3 .hich might .ell )e
impossi)le other.ise. 9ut .e mustn<t 2orget the e/ually essential process o2 )uilding
up3 o2 synthesis. 9oth in reality and in thought .e put together parts to ma1e .holes3
and then see them3 and thin1 a)out them3 and treat them3 as single entities ; .ith some
truly .onder2ul and ama0ing results.
These t.o complementary processes3 analysis and synthesis3 are the t.o 2aces o2
one o2 the central aspects o2 )oth the physical .orld and our perception o2 it7 and )oth
o2 these3 the .ay I @di#ide the .orld up< into separate o)6ects3 and the .ay I @put
together< #aried and separate things to ma1e a single o)6ect3 are done unconsciously3
automatically and .ithout any apparent choice. Something .e can do deli)erately and
consciously is to develo these t.o processes3 analysis and synthesis3 and 2ind more
ingenious and imaginati#e .ays o2 doing )oth. The practice o2 science has carried
I have a problem: because this is in many ways such a personal story I am
continually using the pronoun ‘I’. This is obviously appropriate when talking
about the boat; but when I get more abstract and general than that I find I tend
naturally to use the plural form ‘we’. I talk about, for example, the way we
perceive, understand, think etc. I make an assumption that we English speakers,
Westerners, human beings … are very similar in some of these basic ways. It’s a
common assumption, often essential and unavoidable. It could be wrong - though
in extreme it’s unfalsifiable.
I could stick to ‘I’ - but I get overcome by a typically English (Western,
human…?) reticence about pushing myself forward, being too self-involved, and
will frequently lapse into ‘we’, because it feels more polite. I am making
assumptions about you. Forgive me my inconsistencies, as I forgive those who
are inconsistent with me.
Perhaps from similar modesty it has become almost universal in English
now to say ‘you’ when you mean ‘I’. Listen to people being interviewed on the
radio, for example: unless you want to avoid acquiring an irritating new habit.
(What is it that makes us notice things?)
analysis to an e+treme3 and erhas is )eginning to .or1 .ith synthesis7 though I<m
not sure .e realise yet .hat it could really mean.
The sheer /uantity and #ariety o2 .hat .e e+perience could )e completely
unmanagea)le o#er.helming3 )ut 2or these t.o things that .e do so )rilliantly: analysis
and synthesis. &e simpli2y .hat impinges so pro2usely and insistently on us3 2irstly3 )y
limiting out attention and dealing .ith
only a small part o2 it at a time 8 and ignoring
the rest7 and secondly3 )y attending not to the 2iner detail o2 it all3 )ut to something .e
percei#e as form and structure3 or attern .ithin the #ariety3 and .hich lin1 separate
things together in to single .hole. I am a)le not only to simpli2y things )y restricting
my attention to the )oat and ignore e#erything else in the .or1shop
3 )ut I can also
simpli2y )y seeing it as a boat, and ignoring all the detail o2 .hich it is made up.
9oth o2 these de#ices are super)ly e22ecti#e7 and )oth are purely mental
processes. They are something .e do .ith our minds in response to .hat .e are
presented .ith 2rom the .orld outside and )eyond our minds.
I ha#e raised the /uestion o2 .hat ma1es the )oat and the sha#ing di22erent3 and
ha#e )egun to it in terms o2 rather a)stract ideas li1e form, attern,
organisation, order, randomness, chaos and intention. I noticed t.o .ays this /uestion
might )e important: that there is something a)out the )oat that ma1es it )eha#e
di22erently in the .orld3 and something that ma1es us see it di22erently. Goes my
tentati#e ser#e as a response to )oth aspects o2 this /uestion>
Dore e+plicitly: is it the 2ormUpatternUstructure o2 the )oat that causes it to )eha#e
in the .ays I hope it .ill> (nd is it these same /ualities that help me see it and ma1e
sense o2 it>
Fn the .ay things act in the .orld: the form o2 the )oat is clearly enormously
important here ; it is literally )ecause o2 its shape that it .ill )eha#e the .ay it .ill.
%artly: it also depends on substance, the material it is made o2
. I2 the same shape .ere
someho. 2ormed out o2 lead3 or tissue paper3 or a hologram3 then it .ould )eha#e
That ‘dealing with’ is one of the most mysterious part of all this, but I’ll have to
go into that later. The point is that I can only deal with one thing at a time.
Which I do sometimes find rather overwhelming: that’s why I don’t tidy up much.
Ignoring can be a very powerful method of coping with the excessive.
The qualities of a material substance may, according to a particular scientific way of
looking at things, actually be another consequence, at a subatomic level, of form.
totally di22erently. So 2orm and su)stance a22ect 2unction3 actual )eha#iour in the .orld:
2or some o2 the )oat<s 2unctions this is 2airly o)#ious and simple to understand 8 to see
that it .ill 2loat3 1eep the .ater out3 mo#e through the .ater3 get pushed )y the .ind3
and so on3 ta1es some, though minimal3 e+perience o2 the .orld plus some imagination.
To see that it .ill do these things well, that it .ill not roll o#er as soon as it meets .ind
and .a#es3 needs more e+perience3 and imagination Aand 2aithEB. That the out)oard
motor .ill do .hat I hope it .ill do3 .hen supplied .ith petrol3 lo.ered into the .ater
and the starter cord pulled3 needs 2ar more e+perience3 o2 an e+tremely specialised
nature Athough less 2aith3 such is my trust in e+pertsB.
So an understanding o2 2orm is e+tremely important in terms o2 ho. .e get things
to do .hat .e .ant ; and it rests on the 2act a)out the .orld that form matters. ( 2e.
)its o2 .ood and metal that .ill 2loat around doing nothing3 or sin13 .hen thro.n into
the .ater3 .ill3 .hen put together into a particular 2orm3 do something a)solutely
di22erent. That seems to me something so .onder2ul and mysterious that I can only
mar#el at it. "ould this 2act a)out the .orld )e di22erent> %erhaps it is one o2 those
things a)out the .orld that are so a)solutely 2undamental that they cannot )e thought
a)out or /uestioned3 and must remain mysterious3 and not allo.ed to distur) our sleep.
9ut it is certainly something more than 6ust a mental 2act: that my )oat .ill 2loat is
more than 6ust a .ay o2 seeing.
F2 course3 .e might say3 .e structure our mental .orld in the same .ay as the
actual structure o2 the e+ternal .orld ; )ecause .e are part o2 the real .orld3 and it
.as in the real .orld that .e learnt to do it.
That seems reasona)le: )ut ha#e .e 2inished yet> Is it a completea)le process>
Dight .e still learn to do it )etter> AGo I not do it )etter3 in my )ig ship3 than an
()origine in his canoe .ho doesn<t e#en see me> Fr at least )etter than an
(ustralopithecine might ha#e> Fr a 1angaroo3 or a 6elly82ish3 or a )acterium> I2 any o2
these is true3 then progress is at least possi)le3 and I needn<t gi#e up trying.B
So I return to the other strand o2 the thread: the .ay 2orm does contri)ute to our
seeing and sense8ma1ing3 to .hat goes on in our minds. Is there any .ay o2
understanding that more clearly> It is .orth noting that there are t.o .ays .e could go
.ith this3 t.o .ays o2 thin1ing a)out it: either .e could go 2or an ob'ective Ascienti2icB
understanding o2 the )rain Aassuming some radical lin1 )et.een )rain and mindB3 or .e
could e+amine our o.n sub'ective e+perience. These are #ery di22erent things to do: any
o)6ecti#e study and theory a)out ho. and .hy the mindU)rain .or1s is entirely
di22erent 2rom the actual e+perience o2 doing it3 o2 ha#ing3 or being3 a mindU)rain. 4o
amount o2 introspection .ill come up .ith an e+planation o2 ho. my )rain<s neural
system .or1s3 and no amount o2 theory .ill gi#e the least hint o2 .hat it<s actually li1e
to percei#e and thin1.
9ut ho.e#er di#ergent these t.o may seem3 in the end .e may hope that they
.ill run parallel and 2airly close together3 heading o22 in roughly the same direction3
and perhaps e#en contri)uting something to each other. It .ould seem to )e part o2 the
point o2 science 8 or is it possi)le that our e(erience A@.ay o2 e+periencing<B might
shi2t and e#ol#e to 2ollo. e#en the strangest #isions o2 science> Dy e+perience is so
real, so un+shifting at some le#el. AIn practice these t.o3 the o)6ecti#e and the
su)6ecti#e3 are lia)le to )ecome hopelessly entangled: .e could see that as either
reprehensi)le inconsistency or as mutual support and synthesis.B (ll theory3 )oth in
content and in the actual process o2 2orming and testing a theory3 must )e )ased on
su)6ecti#e e+perience in all 1inds o2 .ays 8 and .hat .e thin13 )elie#e3 the .ay .e see
and understand the .orld around us must ha#e an e22ect on .hat .e e+perience.
I2 2orced to choose )et.een these t.o paths in any .ay3 I tend at the moment to
2a#our Asu)6ecti#ely spea1ingB the su)6ecti#e ; )ecause that<s the essence o2 this
.hole endea#our o2 mine. I am 2inding my o.n .ay o2 simpli2ication3 o2 returning to
direct e+perience in the hope o2 2inding some clarity. I am )ound 2or the .ide spaces o2
the open sea3 rather than 2or a la)oratory or a li)rary3 though I .ill not 2orget that )oth
e+ist3 and may )e a)le to assist me i2 I am lost. AIt is impossi)le to na#igate )y the stars3
to 2ind one<s .ay at sea3 .ithout carrying on )oard and consulting nautical ta)les3
predictions o2 the 2uture mo#ements o2 sun3 mood and stars7 and these ta)le are the
result o2 some enormous la)ours o2 o)ser#ation3 theory and calculation. I also need a
se+tant3 .hich is a precision8engineered measuring instrument.B
I ha#e o)ser#ed that .e 2ind 2orm and structure in e+perience. Fr should .e say
.e create 2orm and structure .ithin our e+perience> It certainly seems at least partly an
acti#e process Athat has )een .idely con2irmed )ac1 at the la)oratoryB and one 2or
.hich .e ha#e some 1ind o2 predisposition. &hen I loo1 at the )oat I 1no. ho. it .as
put together3 .hat the component parts really are3 so it<s not surprising that I see them
- )ut .hen I loo1 at the natural .orld this is not the case at all.
(ny structure I see
there has to )e #ery visible, or tangi)le3 to direct e+perience 8 li1e the di22erence
)et.een the lea#es and )ranches o2 a tree 8 or come out o2 some #ery care2ul
e+amination and o)ser#ation and theory. This seems to )e an important di22erence. AThe
e+perienceUtheory3 su)6ecti#eU o)6ecti#e one again. Same di22erence.B
It seems to )e true that .e ha#e a lot o2 ground.or1 in place in our )rains that
gi#es us the capacity to 2ind structure and 2orm in e+perience 8 ground.or1 that .e
may )e a)le to neither understand or a#oid using3 )ecause it is not part o2 our conscious
2unctioning. Theory may e+plain this ground.or1 in term o2 )rain structure and
8 su)6ecti#ely .e can only try and feel it3 )e .atch2ul3 challenging3
e+perimental .ith oursel#es3 and so on. A5o. do .e e+amine or challenge e+perience>
Is that necessarily a mental AtheoreticalB process> Fr can .e learn to e(erience more
deely? I don<t 2eel that it is to scientist that .e should go .ith that /uestion.
&hen I loo1 at
the )oat 8 or at something simpler3 li1e a red triangle3 or a )lac1
line A)oth o2 .hich I<m sure I<#e got lying a)out here some.here3 i2 only I could
remem)er .here I put themB ; then I can<t a#oid seeing a )oat3 or a triangle or a line.
It<s a .onder2ully e22icient thing to )e a)le to do3 and in that one act I ha#e ta1en an
enormous leap a.ay 2rom the ris1 o2 )eing o#er.helmed or con2used )y e+cess data.
9ut .hat e+actly is going on>
To start .ith the simplest e+ample3 the )lac1 line:
So I notice another difference, this time between the man-made and the natural,
which I feel I have to consider. It seems to happen all the time: I struggle to make
sense of something - and I start by making distinctions. So here I am again, in some
sense breaking up into parts, analyzing, in the attempt to understand. Will I ever do
the opposite - do I know how to synthesize?
A bit of trouble there, sorting these two out.
I notice that I’m inclined to use seeing, rather than any other sensory mode, as the
principle example of perception. It seems to be primary in some way - but I’m sure
it’s no less important to consider (‘look at’) all our other way of experiencing and
‘see’ if some similar conclusions apply. There is some reason to believe that our
brain evolved principally in response to our need to use vision more effectively, so it
is not surprising that the sense of sight is often used as the archetype, the metaphor,
for the processes of thought and understanding. I often wonder what it must be like to
be congenitally blind and hear sight talked about in this way.
I see this line7 I pic1 it out 2rom the paper as a separate entity in itsel27 I certainly
don<t see it as made up o2 parts Aas a string o2 points3 2or e+ample: that .ould )e /uite a
sophisticated a)stractionB7 I see its @straightness<3 its shape.
It<s /uite di22erent 2rom:

.hich has @cur#iness<. I know things
a)out each line3 I can feel things a)out them: .hat it might )e li1e to touch them3 to
handle them7 ho. they .ould loo1 upside8do.n3 or in contact .ith each other in
di22erent .ays7 ho. they .ould )eha#e in relation to .ater3 2or e+ample3 or mar)les7
the @tension< or @slac1ness< that they em)ody i2 they .ere pieces o2 string3 or o2 spring
steel Adi22erent3 opposite e#en3 in each caseB. I can use my imagination on them 8 I ha#e
them @in my mind< in some .ay.
The red triangle:
Ayou<ll ha#e to imagine the redness7 the
edges are edges, not linesB.
The triangle leaps out at me3 so to spea1: it presents itsel2 as a triangle3 not as a
set o2 )its3 corners and lines3 .hich I assem)le. It<s the other .ay round: I .ill ha#e to
)rea1 do.n the triangle into its parts 8 i2 things li1e angles and lines should happen to
interest me. The shae is something I e+perience as a shape. The colour similarly: it
may )e a slightly une#en red3 and in some sense I see each part o2 the triangle as red3
)ut its redness is a single e+perience3 not a compound one assem)led out o2 parts. The
shape and colour are not separate either: it is 2irst and 2oremost a red triangle3 .hate#er
I may do .ith it later.
*ach o2 these shapes I 2eel I someho. grasp as a concept: I ta1e it into my mind
as a @mental o)6ect< that I can think about, )ut that mental o)6ect3 the concept3 is not
separate 2rom the perception3 the e+perience o2 seeing.
I23 2or e+ample3 the line .ere a )it longer3 the triangle a slightly di22erent shape3 the
perception .ould )e di22erent3 )ut I .ould pro)a)ly not notice the di22erence3 or could
easily ignore it ; the essential3 conceptual nature o2 each .ould )e unchanged. I see
each as a straight or cur#ed line3 or a red triangle3 in the #ery act o2 percei#ing3 and not
to )e separated 2rom it as something di22erent.
This )asic conceptual act o2 percei#ing a triangle already contains .ithin in it
something o2 the essential nature o2 triangularity. I may study triangles3 )uild theories3
go to school and study *uclid 8 or e#en be a *uclid 8 and that may e+pand my
1no.ledge o2 triangles3 )ut it<s the concet as # contain and e(erience it, not the
theory3 that creates my 2irst and )asic 1no.ledge and understanding o2 the triangle.
*#en *uclid could get .ithout that.
That3 2or e+ample3 it has three corners3
and that it encloses or ta1es up space3 is not something I need to measure or pro#e ; I
1no. it already.
(nother s.eeping statement3 at least to consider: .ithin this 2act a)out my mind3
my redisosition 2or concept and 2orm3 lies the essence o2 meaning. The meaning o2
the triangle3 its essential nature as a triangle3 is in my concet, is grasped in the act o2
percei#ing. Deaning is not something I search 2or and add on later. I can de#elop this
2aculty3 or there can )e times .hen it seems to atrophy in me3 )ut it is a 2undamental
part o2 .hat I am3 not something I later learn to do.
There are se#eral .ords here that so 2ar I<m using rather loosely and
interchangea)ly: @2orm<3 @structure<3 @pattern<3 @order<3 @organisation<7 and some o2 their
apparent opposite: @chaotic<3 @random<3 @disorder<. 9ecause I thin1 that these particular
ideas are going to )e #ery important in .hat I<m doing 8 trying to understand .hat it
means to ma1e sense o2 the .orld 8 I<m going to ta1e a )it o2 trou)le to try and )e
clearer a)out .hat they mean3 and ho. I<m going to use them. AThe e/ui#alent o2
tidying up and putting the tools a.ay 8 and sharpening them 2irst3 perhaps.B I2 .e .ere
a2ter a rigorous de2inition o2 all these .ords .e .ould3 no dou)t3 )e sooner or later
caught in the .hirlpool o2 circularity3 o2 de2ining .ords in terms o2 each other. 9ut the
process o2 de2inition3 also3 can )e ta1en too 2ar. I don<t e#en .ant to consider chasing
the impossi)le mirage o2 a)solute logical per2ection and completeness7 I .ant to try and
understand something3 .ithout .andering too 2ar a.ay 2rom my o.n e+perience.
The F*G is my recourse:
Fn @2orm< it manages /uite a 2e. columns3 )ut )egins )y saying that the primary
meaning is @shape3 or con2iguration< Athere are t.o possi)le roots: ferire, to stri1e3 or
Sans1rit dharman9 holding3 position3 order.B @Frder<3 @2orm< and @pattern< all crop up in
the de2initions.
So what about things that are seriously difficult or impossible to
imagine, like complex numbers or a fifth dimension? How do I
understand, or know things about these? Analogies? Purely abstract
and formal system manipulation? What does understanding mean in a
case like that?
@Structure< A2rom struere, to )uildB3 and means in this conte+t something that is
)uilt or constructed3 or more .idely @a 2a)ric or 2rame.or1 or parts put together<.
@%attern< Ahas the same root as @patron<B3 and means an original3 an e+emplar3
.hich is to )e copied. The rele#ant sense is 2igurati#e: @an arrangement or order o2
things or acti#ity in a)stract senses7 order or 2orm discerni)le in things3 ideas3 situations
@Frder< Aroot ordinem, ro.3 series3 course3 arrayB3 the most rele#ant sense Aout o2
o#er si+ pagesB )eing @2ormal disposition or array7 regular3 methodical or harmonious
arrangement o2 things contained in any space or area3 or composing any group or )ody.<
@Frganisation< suggests @2ormed into a .hole .ith independent parts so as to 2orm
a systematic .hole<. There are o#ertones o2 a li#ing organism3 or at least something
.hose parts interact and lin1 together to create the 2unction o2 the .hole.
@Random< originally suggest great speed and haste3 a headlong lac1 o2 care and
consideration. It has only recently )ecome lin1ed .ith ideas o2 pro)a)ility and
statistics3 suggesting a lac1 o2 statistical patter or order.
&ords li1e @chaos< and @disorder< rather unsurprisingly are de2ined as negati#es o2
some o2 the a)o#e.
These 2e. de2initions already ha#e plenty o2 incestuous circularity in the
relationships3 )ut I .ill at least try to )e clear a)out ho. I use these .ords: @2orm<
seems to )e the simplest: the triangle and the line ha#e 2orm3 )ut less o)#iously
structure. @Structure< is 2or something .ith some comple+ity that can at least )e
considered as made up o2 parts. Some people use it to re2er to the material su)stance o2
something3 rather than 6ust the 2orm3 so it needs some care 8 )ut I shall 2eel 2ree to use it
to descri)e the total 2orm o2 a comple+ entity. @%attern< is delight2ully general7 as is
@order<3 though it goes a )it 2ar in its sense o2 tidiness3 o2 ran1ing in se/uence.
@Frganisation< seems )est 1ept 2or something .ith some coherent structure3 directed
to.ards or some 2unction o2 the .hole. So: I shall use @2orm< 2or the simplest
cases3 @structure< 2or the more comple+3 @organisation< 2or the more organic3 and
@pattern< as the most general .ord. 4one o2 this rigidly3 o2 course 8 )ut I 2eel I ha#e
esta)lished a )it o2 order here. *asy3 isn<t it>
&hat I recognise and respond to3 .hat I actually e+perience3 is )asic form in .hat
is gi#en7 I percei#e the .ay in .hich structure is )uilt3 so that e#en .here I 1no. that
something is composed o2 parts3 I am a.are instantly3 as part o2 the act o2 a.areness3 o2
the .ay in .hich that parts are arranged or disposed in a structure. (ll o2 this aspect o2
e+perience is the perception o2 attern. The use o2 the .ord pattern co#ers more clearly
the 2act that .hat I pic1 out o2 my e+perience as )eing connected in some .ay does not
need to )e literally a continuous .hole. I may conceptually connect things that I
percei#e as separate: li1e a ro. o2 posts that 2orms a 2ence7 a succession o2 notes3
separated )y silences3 that 2orms a tune. &hat I sense there is a pattern3 a lin1 in
similarity rather than in con6unction. &hat is )et.een the posts3 the )ac1ground o2 trees
or grass3 may)e3 is closer to a post3 )ut is di22erent3 it contrasts3 so that it is not seen as
part o2 the 2ence.

&e are considering a 2act a)out consciousness3 an inherent aspect o2 .hat
happens as an insepara)le part o2 our e+perience. &e concetualise our e+perience: .e
e+tract 2orm and pattern out o2 it7 may)e3 e#en3 .e can<t e+perience e(cet through the
process o2 conceptualising A.hat .ould it mean to try not to conceptualise>B. &e
separate single o)6ects or entities 2rom their )ac1ground or conte+t. These entities may
)e relati#ely simple 2orms3 li1e straight lines or triangles3 or more comple+3 li1e )oats
; in .hich case .hat .e can easily percei#e as parts o2 the )oat are connected .ithin
the single pattern or structure that is the )oat.
There are criteria that .e may disco#er3 or deduce3 2or .hat .e tend most
naturally to pic1 out and connected together in this .ay. These criteria must certainly
include simlicity o2 2orm and structure 8 a relati#ely simple pattern is much more
noticea)le. There is also something .e could call intensity or contrast 8 a loud sound3 a
)right colour3 an a)rupt mo#ement all stand out7 and there is significance 2or the
percei#er7 A.hat I see may )e particularly threatening or interesting 2or meB7 and
une(ectedness. Ine+pectedness as a criterion o2 signi2icance3 in the sense o2
demanding attention3 has )een demonstrated )y e+perimental psychology. &hen there
is mismatch )et.een our e+pectation3 .hat .e ha#e learned to e+pect3 and .hat
actually happens3 then it seems .e go on instant Tmental alertT.
Why is it that I see a row of posts as a single entity, a fence? It would seem above
all because I know how and why it was made, what it was for. Again, there is some
basic difference between man-made and natural objects: I understand the former more
The Captain Cook story suggests the opposite: that something can be so unfamiliar
we block it out completely. There seems to be far less evidence for this effect .
There is another possi)le con2usion that might )e creeping in here: )et.een .hat
is distinguished in perception3 and .hat it is3 once distinguished3 seen as. &hen a shape
appears out o2 the mist3 I see it as something distinct 2rom the mist3 )ut .hether I see it
as a ship or a roc1 may depend on .hat I e+pect to see. Fne o2 the 2amiliar dangers in
na#igation3 and so possi)ly in li2e3 is that i2 I thin1 I 1no. .hat I am seeing3 or .here I
am3 then I .ill interpret clues so as to 2it in
. I e+pect to see a particular headland3 so
.hen I see some land I @recognise< it3 e#en though it may )e slightly di22erent. I see a
)uoy 8 in slightly the .rong place3 )ut assume it must )e my mista1e3 and don<t /uite
trust .hat I sa.. I @dou)t the e#idence o2 my o.n eyes<3 and .hen I loo1 at the chart
and it doesn<t /uite 2it3 I say =oh3 yes 8 it must really ha#e )een li1e that.?
)eeing as
can )e a /uestion o2 interreting a 2orm .hich I ha#e percei#ed per2ectly clearly. That
may )e /uite a di22icult thing to do .here the o)6ect in /uestion is un2amiliar and is a
#ery comple+ or sophisticated entity in some .ay. In that case @seeing as @ may )e a
/uestion o2 ha#ing the appropriate e+perience and 1no.ledge to ma1e the o)6ect
signi2icant and comprehensi)le. It ta1es 1no.ledge to see my centre8)oard li2ting gear
as .hat it is3 )ut it .ould )e #ery odd not to see the .inch and .ire rope i2 you .ere
loo1ing at it. A(ctually3 I e+pect /uite a 2e. people .ill stu) their toes on it and
complain )ecause they didn<t see it .as there. Some things are )eyond understanding.B
Jung uses the term 'apperception' for the process of pattern recognition: the 'process
by which a new content is articulated with similar, already existing contents in such a
way that it becomes understood, apprehended or 'clear'. He uses a different word.
'assimilation'', for the way in which the new experience is distorted to fit the old
existing form. (Psychological Types, pp 412-413.).
One of my most embarrassing navigational errors was committed on the approach
to the Straights of Gibraltar. I really did think I knew where I was, and assumed that
the land I saw was the mountains of Southern Spain - even though it didn’t seem quite
right. Evidence of my error accumulated, but I somehow distorted it to fit what I
believed (‘assimilated’ it, Jung would presumable have said). I’m amazed, in
retrospect, at how obtuse I was. It wasn’t until the second time we tried to talk to a
fisherman to ask where we were (embarrassing enough for any navigator) and didn’t
understand his answer (blaming our poor Spanish) that we noticed the Arabic writing
on his boat. Then it suddenly clicked. I don’t know of any other navigator who has
managed to get the continent wrong. But it meant we went into Tangiers for a while
instead of Gibraltar, and it turned out to be a much more interesting experience than
Gibraltar could ever have been.
Some o2 these criteria 2or .hat I pic1 out3 the ones relating to .hat is
significant 2or me and to .hat I e(ect, are /uite conceptually comple+3 and depend on
past e+perience3 on .hat has )een learned3 on ho. the .orld has )een ordered
pre#iously. This is the most sophisticated le#el o2 percepti#e ordering: the most
primiti#e3 I suppose3 is the 2act that the sense organs can themsel#es )e selecti#e Amust
)e selecti#e3 e#enB. The 2rog<s eye is particularly adapted 2or seeing small 2ast mo#ing
o)6ects3 these )eing particularly interesting 2or a 2rog. 9ut there are other things .hich
.e see that 2or a 2rog .ould not e#en ma1e it as 2ar as the optic ner#e. (nd no dou)t
there is plenty that we don<t percei#e.
The ne+t most )asic and primiti#e le#el is the
.ay .e organise our perception )e2ore any interpretation sets in Athere can )e a gap
here 8 =I .onder .hat that + is>?B. This is the le#el .here I am )eginning to )elie#e that
concets and meanings are una#oida)ly rooted.
&hat .e actually consider to )e significant depends on a num)er o2 things3 and is
at a le#el that .e can hope to change. It can )e )oth instincti#e and learned. &e ha#e
)oth e#ol#ed and )een taught to respond to .hat a22ects our sur#i#al3 )oth potential
threats or )ene2its. It is part o2 our )iological nature and our earliest training to respond
to .hat threatens or might prolong our li#es. &e ha#e po.er2ul instincts and
conditioning 2or all 1inds o2 comple+ )eha#iour3 some o2 .hich goes 2ar )eyond our
personal sur#i#al3 and all o2 it depends on an a)ility to select signi2icant aspects o2
e+perience. In addition to issues o2 sur#i#al3 )iology and conditioning3 there is also a
huge range o2 .hat is signi2icant 2or us personally3 .hat touches our o.n pleasures and
pains3 our o.n memories3 our needs3 our interests. The #ariety is in2inite: the entire
2a)ric o2 our li#es is .o#en 2rom .hat .e ta1e out o2 our e+perience and 2ind
signi2icant 2or oursel#es7 )ut it is not 2i+ed and immuta)le: .e can learn3 de#elop and
deepen our e+perience.

The act o2 perception3 o2 consciousness3 separates out o)6ects3 entities3 2rom their
gi#en conte+t. &e gi#e attention to the o)6ect3 2ocus on it3 and allo. the rest o2 the
perceptual 2ield to @)lur< a little. Fut o2 the .indo. I can see a tree .ith a 2ield )ehind
it. I2 I loo1 at the tree3 the 2ield )ecomes )ac1ground to it3 though I remain a.are o2 it. I
can also loo1 at the 2ield3 and then the tree )ecomes less signi2icant3 though it doesn<t
I think it is reckoned, on the basis of I’m not sure what data, that our senses
respond to some fraction of 1% of the energy that impinges on our bodies. There is
much that happens around us and within us that we do not see, or hear, or feel.
#anish. AI must )e care2ul not to )e too literal here .ith .ords li1e @2ocus< and
@)ac1ground<. The same separation goes on in such #aried .ays3 and in all sensory
modes3 that these can )e no more than appro+imate metaphors.B
This pic1ing out o2 an o)6ect al.ays lea#es something3 its conte+t3 and it cannot
occur .ithout a conte+t. It is a concetual separation3 .hich does not change .hat is
there3 .hat I percei#e. It is only the act o2 consciousness .hich separates them 2rom
their )ac1ground and also )inds them together into a unity. 4either this separation3 nor
this connecting3 may )e part o2 reality in any sense e+cept this conceptual one.
&hen .e see a pattern it is not something .e piece together )it )y )it in a TlinearT
manner. Rather3 .e see it instantly3 it 6umps out at us: .e see the pattern3 the 2orm3
)e2ore .e are a.are o2 the detail. In the moment o2 seeing a circle its circularity is clear
to us suddenly and as a .hole: the details3 the .ay in .hich each one may actually
de#iate 2rom a circle3 ta1e more time to e+amine. &e listen to some un2amiliar music: it
may )e hard to 2ind any graspa)le 2orm in it 8 )ut suddenly there is a tune .e 1no.
.ell3 .e recognise it3 sei0e it3 e#en i2 it<s played on un2amiliar instruments3 or in a
di22erent 1ey. It is the form that .e grasp3 2eel3 recognise. &hen .e recognise a tune .e
1no. .ell3 or a 2amiliar 2ace3 .e do not e+amine the relationships )et.een the parts
one )y one )e2ore .e come to a conclusion7 i2 recognition happens3 then it is a single
In these e+amples3 o2 a tune or a 2ace3 there is some learning in#ol#ed. &e don<t
need to learn to see a 2ace as a 2ace3 )ut to remem)er a particular 2ace may ta1e some
time3 and it depends on some com)ination o2 repetition and attention. &e need some
time and some degree o2 Tpaying attentionT3 and then .e someho. @ma1e it our o.n<3 it
)ecomes part o2 our inner .orld. Fnce .e ha#e learned a ne. 2orm3 .e seem to carry it
as a memory .ithin us3 .aiting 2or some e+perience to 2it it. ASome are )etter than
other at this: they ne#er 2orget a 2ace3 or ne#er 2orget a tune. I sometimes ha#e trou)le
.ith )oth3 )ut compared to many people I ne#er 2orget a )oat.B ( ma6or part o2 our
sense8ma1ing is 6ust this process o2 2inding .ithin our store o2 memory a pattern .hich
)est 2its the relati#e disorder o2 actual e+perience.
I<#e )een tal1ing entirely a)out the e+ternal .orld3 and contrasting that .ith the
inner .orld o2 my perceptions and thoughts3 .here I struggle to ma1e sense o2 .hat<s
out there. (part 2rom any a)struse philosophical pro)lems that this 2amiliar image may
generate there<s still a .hole lot more to my e+perience that I<m lea#ing out. There are
all 1inds o2 things that happen that I call 2eelings and emotions that are neither e+ternal
nor mental. There are all the sensations o2 my )ody that are not o)6ecti#e and e+ternal3
)ut are not 6ust mental e#ents.
&hate#er I may )elie#e a)out the origin and meaning o2 these things they
certainly @come to me<3 in some sense. They are part o2 my .orld and I imagine I ha#e
to learn3 .hen I am young3 to di22erentiate them 2rom other sensations 8 so that these3
too3 are part o2 the material 2rom .hich I try to ma1e sense. Dy mental .orld is also
more #aried than I ha#e yet ac1no.ledged: I can recognise 8 also3 I presume3 a learnt
s1ill 8 the di22erence )et.een memory and imagination and a)stract thought. There is
plenty o2 room 2or con2usion here3 2or getting it .rong. I remem)er .hen my daughter
one morning .as desperately trying to e+plain to me that she thought I .as had )een
)uried in the ground. I imagine she had )een dreaming3 )ut did not 1no. the di22erence
)et.een memory and dream. 5o. sure are any o2 us that .e 1no.>
(ll this is part o2 my e+perience3 some o2 the richest parts o2 it3 and .hate#er the
scienti2ic precedent o2 stic1ing to the o)6ecti#e and consensual3 there<s no reason 2or me
to ignore all o2 this. Simpli2ication )y ignoring has to )e a temporary process3
something that gi#es me the 2reedom to .ander more .idely rather than a .ay o2
restricting my hori0ons. Go any o2 these ideas a)out 2orm and pattern ma1e any sense
in my inner .orld as .ell as the outer>
I am in need o2 some sort o2 summary3 o2 loo1ing at some o2 this con2usion o2
ideas and trying to simpli2y3 to pic1 out some main themes or patterns.
The .orld is o#er.helming in its #ariety and mo#ement. In order to 2unction
.ithin it I ha#e to simpli2y3 to ma1e sense. Fnly then can I hope to respond in some
.ay that might )e appropriate 8 2or my sur#i#al3 2or e+ample 8 rather than random
A@hasty and hapha0ard<B. To )e distracted )y any detail that catch my attention3 to 2ail to
see 2lies3 or 2ruit3 or dinosaurs or spaceships3 might )e 2atal.
There are t.o .ays Ato grossly simpli2yB in .hich I simpli2y e+perience:
1. I ick out part o2 the e+perience 2rom the .hole3 and see that part as a single
o)6ect ha#ing form or attern Aand ignore the rest3 more or less temporarilyB.
2. I )ring together di22erent aspects o2 e+perience and lin1 them into a single 2orm
or pattern3 ignoring the detailed nature o2 the parts.
I do these things mentally3 as part o2 the act o2 perception3 and it creates a
conceptual structure to my e+perience that is unconscious and in2le+i)le at some )asic
le#el3 though can )e conscious and adapta)le at more sophisticated and comple+ le#els.
I2 there is a )oundary )et.een these t.o3 .e cannot hope to easily )e sure .here it is. It
is 2rom all these le#el that I deri#e meaning3 though it is rooted in the unconscious
process o2 conceptualisation.
4ot only do I create the mental and conceptual structures as a necessary .ay o2
relating to the .orld ; )ut they seem to correspond in some .ay to the real nature o2
the .orld. 9ut is this correspondence something that I can assess3 since I ha#e no .ay
o2 stepping out o2 my place as e+periencing spectator 2or a /uic1 loo1 round the )ac1 o2
the scenery3 so to spea1.
There are t.o e+treme positions I could ta1e on this point Aand )oth ha#e )een
1. I can 1no. o2 no .orld apart 2orm e+perience and .hate#er I do mentally to
structure that e+perience3 so it is more reasona)le to dismiss the idea o2 such a .orld
e+isting A.hate#er di22erence that .ould ma1eB.
2. F2 course there<s a .orld 8 I e(erience it 8 and o2 course it .or1s e+actly ho.
I see it. That<s .hy I see it li1e that. AThough may)e I need a little more time to chec1
out a 2e. details )e2ore I 1no. all a)out it.B
%hilosophical e+tremes3 i2 pushed 2ar enough3 ha#e a .ay o2 #anishing so 2ar into
the distance that they no longer ma1e any di22erence to anything closer to home3 and
can actually )ecome indistinguisha)le3 e#en though they set out in opposite directions.
&hat I am hoping is that )y 1eeping closer to my o.n e+perience 8 not e+actly
.ith my 2eet 2irmly on the ground3 )ut at least .ith the healthy reminder that they may
actually get .et3 and need a )it o2 2irm ground occasionally 8 I .ill actually come to
understand this strange relationship )et.een me and the .orld more clearly.
From these re2lections on sense8ma1ing I seem to )e le2t .ith more /uestions
than I )egan. That is the .ay o2 any such open en/uiry3 I suppose 8 and it is possi)le to
ha#e some sense o2 progress Aillusory3 perhapsB pro#ided that the at least some o2 the
2inal /uestions are di22erent 2rom the starting ones. The possi)ility that the insight I
pursue is more li1e a mirage in the desert is an e#er8present 2ear.
I2 I .ere in the desert
and thought I sa. .ater3 .ould I )e the gulli)le optimist .ho started .al1ing3 or the
cle#er pessimist .ho .ouldn<t mo#e )ecause he 1ne. a)out mirages> The spirit o2
2oolish hope is one o2 the more attracti#e .ea1nesses o2 the human race: and
sometimes arri#es some.here3 e#en i2 it is the .rong continent.
I clear up3 .hich again ta1es a lot o2 e22ort and sel28discipline3 and destroying
.ho 1no.s .hat .or1s o2 art ; and again I<m delighted .ith the result3 the
unhindered step I can ta1e on a clear 2loor3 the tools I can 2ind in their right2ul places.
Tidiness and order ha#e a #alue )eyond the e22ort that they re/uire. &hen .ill I e#er
learn> The ans.er3 my 2riend3 .ill come3 I hope3 )e2ore it is 2ound ) in the .ind.
Fur human capacity 2or learning 2rom e+perience is only surpassed )y our ama0ing
aptitude 2or ne#er learning anything.
&ith the .or1shop clear and relati#ely 2ree o2 dust3 once it has all settled3 there is
painting to )e done. *#ery single piece o2 .ood in the )oat must )e co#ered3 .ell and
lastingly co#ered3 .ith paint3 or .ith one o2 the strange chemical concoctions3 products
o2 some sinister nightmares3 )y .hich .e are lia)le these days to )e enticed3 con2used
and pro)a)ly poisoned. Some o2 the more inaccessi)le loc1ers I did earlier )e2ore they
.ere 2ully enclosed and access .as less di22icult3 )ut there is much still to )e done. It
all needs care3 and .hen it comes to adding coat upon coat there is no immediate
#isi)le re.ard. 9ut she<s )eginning to gleam: dar1 green and cream paint3 )eauti2ul
dar1 #arnished .ood3 )ron0e portholes and a 2e. )ron0e 2ittings that I polish a little in
passing3 not in2re/uently.
I sometimes get the impression that philosophers in search of truth can pursue
mirages so relentlessly, and wander round in circles with such rigorous perseverance,
that they actually begin to tread paths in the sand - which they then begin to recognize
and to take as evidence that they or on a track leading to somewhere. It is a curious
phenomenon - but there is elucidation of the mystery in the annals of Pooh Bear.
Pooh went out in the snow, in the company of Piglet, searching for Hefalumps. He
did indeed discover some suspicious footprints, and after following them (round a
copse of trees) he found two, and then four sets of prints, much to his own horror.
Philosophers, likewise, may often find what they seek, and unaware that they are
themselves manufacturing the evidence that they follow, come to believe quite
sincerely in hefalumps. This is the Hefalump Principle in philosophy. Beware of
It<s curious ho. little drama I am ma1ing a)out 2inishing3 considering ho. much
drama I can create out o2 small things. 9ig e#ents are sometimes so sym)olic and
a)stract in their signi2icance that they actually ha#e no great immediate impact. Day)e
it<s also )ecause .hat<s actually happening at the moment is a 1ind o2 tailing o22 into a
num)er o2 loose ends3 .hich ma1es any sense o2 2inishing #ery uncon#incing.
9ut I ha#e reached another milestone along the .ay3 one o2 the )iggest: it is time
2or her come out o2 the .or1shop. There are still a 2e. details needing attention3 )ut
they can )e attended to outside3 2or I need the space inside to )uild the mast and spars.
I muster some la)our 2or this: .e lay rails o2 .ood and on a 2e. pipe rollers she
mo#es 2or.ard and sedately. She clears the top o2 the door.ay )y less than an
inch. I ha#e assured 2re/uent #isitors3 .ho ha#e as1ed3 .ith original .it and perception3
.hether she .ill 2it out o2 the door3 .ith )lithe con2idence7 )ut I .as actually prepared
to remo#e the lintel and a 2e. )loc1s3 and put temporary props in place 2or the roo2. 9ut
she comes through3 )lithely. I am too )usy and ner#ous and protecti#e to .atch her
come out3 or to loo1 at her much .hen she<s there. I 2uss around propping her up ;
and clear up in the strangely empty and echoing .or1shop. The metaphor o2 the
)utter2ly emerging 2rom her chrysalis .as le2t to others to remar17 )ut I 2elt it3 more
than anyone else could ha#e.
(nd in the e#ening3 .hen e#eryone else has gone3 I spend a long time loo1ing3
2rom e#ery possi)le angle and distance3 and sitting in the coc1pit 6ust ga0ing3 not at a
2amiliar corrugated roo2 and co).e)s3 )ut at the clear s1y3 .hich gro.s dar13
and stars hang a)o#e hori0ons that are .aiting 2or me. I ha#e seen that she is good3 and
I am .ell pleased.
The mast is the one )ig and uncertain pro)lem le2t. It is to )e an un8stayed mast3
standing )y its o.n strength and 2le+i)ility3 .ithout the aid o2 rigging 8 a not so #ery
unusual type3 though a )it .orrying 2or a traditionalist. It must )e .ide at dec1 le#el3
and taper do.n to 2oot and up to the truc1 high a)o#e3 .here it .ill )e /uite thin. It
must )e hollo.3 2or .eight up there is to )e a#oided in e#ery possi)le .ay on a small
)oat. It .ill )e constructed rather li1e a long thin )arrel3 2rom eight sta#es3 each one
tapering along its length. *ach sta#e .ill ha#e a @)ird<s8mouth< groo#e3 a hollo. @O<3
cut out o2 one edge3 and the neigh)ouring sta#e .ill 2it one o2 its corners into this
groo#e 2or its .hole length. That3 .ith plenty o2 glue3 .ill ma1e a strong mast. 9ut I<#e
ne#er done it )e2ore7 the )oo1s are cautious 8 @a challenge e#en 2or a pro2essional< one
says. 9ut it<s another challenge3 and I<m a)sor)ed again.
I tra#el hundreds o2 miles in search o2 good tim)er 2or this #ital part 8 and 2ind
some )eauti2ully close8grained and clear "olom)ian pine3 .hich o#erloads my #an
roo23 and o#erhangs alarmingly at )oth ends7 )ut I get it home.
The geometry to determine the proper shape and taper 2or the sta#es to gi#e the
correct mast shape co#ers a 2e. sheets o2 paper. The diameter tapers3 and the .all
thic1ness must reduce3 too3 )eing al.ays close to 2$X o2 the diameter ; so I s1etch
and scri))le and recall *uclid and my maths classes at school3 .ith a little round man
.e called "hic13 2or some reason AI can see it )etter no. than I could thenB. 5e had an
e+traordinary a)ility to dra. per2ect circles on the )oard3 2rom some morphological
sympathy or resonance3 perhaps. &e hear much3 and mourn much3 in these
psychologically a.are times3 a)out the lasting and perhaps irre#ersi)le e22ects o2
childhood traumas and su22ering. I .ould li1e also to cele)rate some o2 the lasting
e22ects o2 childhood pleasure: I en6oy tac1ling a geometrical pro)lem3 and 2eel a glo.
o2 pleasure and pride in an elegant solution7 and then mar#el that the .orld can come so
close to 2itting these a)stract and introspecti#e8seeming ideals.
The eight sta#es are shaped3 a shade short o2 *uclidean per2ection I<m a2raid3 )ut
they .ill do. Hood enough is good enough. Hlue is .onder2ul stu22 Athough so is a gale8
2orce .indB. 4o. I meet the )it I<#e )een .orrying a)out: I cannot )elie#e there is any
.ay o2 )undling all eight sta#es together success2ully and tightly along their 2ull length
.ithout an army o2 helpers3 .hich army I do not ha#e at my command.
9ut I do ha#e a .ild scheme: I recall the stories o2 (ugust Ke1ulN3 .ho dreamed
o2 a sna1e )iting its tail3 and thus arri#ed at a solution3 )e2ore )rea12ast3 o2 the pro)lem
o2 the structure o2 the 9en0ene molecule7 and o2 the man .ho in#ented the
machine 8 5o.e> 5unt> Singer> 8 a )rea1through .hen he dreamed he .as
)eing attac1ed )y a )and o2 sa#ages3 and noticed3 )eing a dedicated in#entor3 that each
spear had a needle8eye8shaped hole near the point 8 and the pro)lem .as sol#ed. 5e
had assumed the normal3 that needles ha#e eyes at the )lunt end: it .as the dream that
suggested the no#el opposite. They had each3 I ha#e no dou)t3 gi#en some thought to
the pro)lem )e2ore the solution .as gi#en7 )ut then the solution arri#ed as a mysterious
I ha#e thought a)out ho. to )undle these eight sta#es together7 I dream 8 or
may)e it<s a hal28dream3 )ut none the .orse 2or that3 and it<s easier to catch 8 o2 a
.indo.8)lind3 the 1ind that is made o2 split )am)oo and rolls up into a neat )undle at
the top o2 the .indo. .hen you pull on a pair o2 strings that pass in loops round the
)lind. It isn<t o)#ious that this .ill .or13 e#en 2or a .indo. )lind 8 it seems to me a )it
o2 a tric1 that shouldn<t .or1 /uite so easily3 and is pro)a)ly part o2 the oriental
mystery .ith per#ades )am)oo7 )ut I #isualise .rapping a 2e. loops o2 string around
sta#es o2 the mast a they lie side )y side and 2lat on the )ench 8 and then ta1ing all the
line up to the roo2 and through pulleys suspended there3 to )e gathered together to a
single line that can )e hauled. There should )e a 2e. round )loc1s3 6ust thinner than the
designed hollo.3 resting on the sta#es at inter#als to pre#ent it collapsing in.ards ;
and then I .ill haul on the line: and they should )eha#e 6ust li1e a .indo. )lind3
rolling up in neat )undle3 and disappearing up into the roo2.
I ha#e to admit that I 1no. in ad#ance that such a simple idealised and 5eath
Ro)inson scheme3 unappro#ed )y *uclid or %ythagoras3 is doomed to almost certain
disaster. 9ut I go through the motions3 spending a morning setting it up: lots o2 string3
hoo1s in the ra2ters3 )loc1s hanging3 string threaded through and gathered together7 a
cleat to )elay the end .hen its alo2t - and I haul. I thin1 there is only one line to )e
e+pected here: @nothing happens<. (nd nothing happens. It is hea#ier than I thought3
and hea#ing is not so easy. Geeper )reaths and a change o2 attitude and psychic 2ocus7
and I haul again more lustily. (nd this time3 up she comes. ( clatter o2 .ooden sta#es
collapsing 2rom their neat array on the )ench ; into a round )undle 6ust li1e a roller
Tread so2tly3 2or I ha#e patented my dreams. I am ama0ed and impressed3 and
ready to sail round the .orld single8handed. &hen it actually comes to it I lac1 the
courage to go through the process 2or real3 .ith glue in all the 6oints Aor to sail round
the .orldB )ecause the image o2 a mishap .ith glue oo0ing and dripping and drying
.hile I try3 and 2ail3 to remain in control o2 the .hole thing sounds li1e a nightmare. So
I go )it )y )it3 applying glue to one or t.o 6oins at a time3 and then repeating the
per2ormance .ith the roller )lind3 .hich ser#es me .ell. *ach time I apply clamps3
lashings3 Spanish .indlasses3 .eights3 anything that mo#es3 to hold it together until the
glue dries. It .or1s pretty .ell3 including a chance to #arnish the inside o2 the hollo.3
to 2ill it .ith scre.ed up 1itchen 2oil 8 .hich I ha#e read 6ust in time ma1es the ultimate
radar re2lector 8 and to lay some .ire 2or masthead lights inside3 and to pray I<#e not
2orgotten anything.
Hlue is so messy3 and .et3 and smells a.2ul3 and drips - it<s hard to .or1 .ith a
material that is so completely unli1e .hat I anticipate the end8product to )e. 9ut some
molecular magic3 pro)a)ly in#ol#ing sna1es )iting each other3 is .or1ed in the dar1
silence o2 the night3 and the ne+t morning there is a mast .ith e#ery appearance o2
strength and endurance ; i2 a )it on the hea#y side. There is much planing and sanding
to )e done3 much hard and care2ul .or13 creating a huge3 long and e+pensi#e pile o2
sha#ings on the 2loor AI o22er it to the Tate3 )ut they decline. So 2ar: my time may
comeB3 much measuring and sanding3 2ussing and 2eeling3 and there it is3 elegant and
smooth and 2inished3 though still supine and dormant3 and ready 2or #arnish and
(nother pleasure: I can carry it )y mysel23 and .ith a )it o2 scram)ling and
dangling o2 ropes and )loc1s I manage to haul it up to its 2ull3 .a1e2ul and digni2ied
#ertical height alongside an aspen tree )eyond the .or1shop. &ith the spars and )attens
made I can also set the sail 2rom the mast3 and play .ith its un2amiliar )eha#iour.
For the ma1ing o2 the sail I ha#e de2erred to pro2essional e+pertise. It is o2 the
2orm o2 a "hinese 6un1 sail3 shaped as .ell as I can de#ise it 2rom second hand
e+perience3 2or this rig is ne. to me. I decided on it .hile my )ac1 .as laying me lo.:
#isions o2 a decrepit and handicapped old man3 2or such I 2elt3 at sea in a small )oat in a
rising .ind. This sail has the uni/ue #irtue that it can )e completely handled 2rom the
coc1pit 8 raised3 lo.ered and ree2ed to any si0e3 in seconds and .ith minimum e22ort
.ithout #enturing on dec1. Still a rare oddity on &estern .aters3 I ha#e decided to ris1
this un1no.n3 among so many other un1no.ns.
It loo1s rather surreal3 and #ery )eauti2ul3 li1e a huge .hite )ird<s .ing3 up in the
tree. (lmost e#ery part o2 the )oat so 2ar has )een 2ormed 2or its relation .ith the
element o2 .ater: 2loating on it3 mo#ing through it3 sur#i#ing its 2ury. 4o.3 .ith mast
and sail3 she reaches up3 .ith an instant trans2ormation o2 grace3 poise and spirit3 into
the ne. and #ery di22erent element o2 air. From her ne. relationship .ith this element
she must ta1e her energy. In the .ater she is passi#e7 in the air she 2inds her #olition
and motion. These are the t.o elements o2 .hich she must see1 to ma1e a synthesis3 the
struggle 2or .hich .ill lend purpose and unity to her li2e. 9ut there is no room 2or pride
here: there is an a)solute need 2or restrained and respect2ul modesty3 2or ta1ing 2rom the
o22ered o2 the .ind3 .ithout greed or arrogance3 only .hat can )e .ell and
sa2ely used and declining e#en an ounce more. 4emesis .ill 2ollo. hu)ris at sea as
surely and 2atally as it did 2or Icarus in the air.
Dore ingenuity3 .ith string and ladders and )its o2 .ood and the mast is in its
proper place in the )oat. I cut t.o long .illo. poles 2rom a s.ampy patch in the corner
o2 a 2ield3 and then lashed the tops together and stood them up3 2eet apart3 straddling the
)oat. It too1 #arious odd lines lashed to trees3 the )ac1 o2 the #an3 and the .or1shop
door to secure it there3 )ut then a )loc1 and tac1le 2rom the top o2 the .illo.s allo.ed
the mast to )e hauled up and lo.ered into position. I 2eel sure .ill )e easier and less
ner#e8rac1ing each time I ha#e to do it. Dost things are. The sail can )e set3 and though
the /uantity o2 string in#ol#ed is alarming3 it loo1s right3 2unctional3 proportioned and
I can see her 2rom the )edroom .indo. in the moonlight3 loo1ing as /uietly
a.a1e and ready as I 2eel 2or .hat is to come.
" .
1bstraction & E2perience
There is an end to the su)ser#ient la)our o2 creation. The )oat is 2inished7
tomorro. she .ill enter her o.n salty element 2or the 2irst time.
I am e+cited enough that sleeping may )e di22icult tonight3 )ut e#en more
than that I am ner#ous. This .ill )e the testing moment o2 the culmination o2
nearly t.o years .or1. I ha#e )een tangled in a .hole net.or1 o2 interdependent
decisions3 all shaped to.ards 2unctions that I could only play out in my
imagination. 4one o2 them has )een chec1ed along the .ay: tomorro. they .ill
all )e tried. (ctually I<m e+aggerating again: I certainly presume the )oat .ill
actually 2loat3 )ut I could really only guess the le#el at .hich she .ould 2loat.
I<#e painted a smart .aterline around .hich loo1s plausi)le3 )ut that .ill )e
tested tomorro.. I hoe she .ill 2loat high and need some e+tra )allast to trim her
to her lines3 )ut in such a small )oat there<s not much room 2or error.
(part 2rom that I<ll )e a)le to try the sail and 2ind out she handles in the
sheltered .ater o2 the ri#er. There<s a /uality o2 ease and )alance that some )oats
ha#e more than others. ( )oat can )eha#e di22erently on di22erent points relati#e
to the .ind3 and can respond a.1.ardly to a gust3 trying to pull round to.ards or
a.ay 2rom the .ind. It ma1es a )oat more erratic and demanding to steer. That3
too3 .ill )e tested. I .ant to spend a night or t.o on )oard3 and 2ind out .hat the
simple domestic processes o2 li#ing are li1e 8 again3 only in sheltered .ater. 9ut
the real test3 the one that ma1es me most ner#ous3 is .hen she encounters a gale
o2 .ind3 and .a#es li1e the photograph on my .all. I .ill do e#erything I can to
a#oid that test3 )ut I 1no. it .ill come one day. So o2 course I am ner#ous3 )ut
6ust a )it more than I need to )e. It<s a sort o2 ritual3 sym)olic ner#ousness.
I am 2acing the trial )y .ater o2 my design and .or1manship7 )ut there has
also )een an enormous shi2t3 out 2rom the security o2 the .or1shop and into a
spacious .orld .ith no )oundaries. Ip until no. my resources3 my o#erall
purpose3 the de2inition o2 success and 2ailure3 the )eginning and end o2 each
pro6ect3 o2 each day<s .or13 ha#e )een more or less clear. I ha#e )een a)le to
.al1 a.ay and close the door on any pro)lems3 and o2ten ha#e7 and le2t it until I
2elt ready to go )ac13 either .ith a solution in my head3 or .ith some 2resh
energy to ta1e )ac1 to the di22iculty.
4one o2 these things .ill )e true o2 the ne+t stage. Fnce a2loat3 and later
heading out to sea3 I .ill ha#e to deal .ith continual uncertainty3 .ith continual
lac1 o2 clarity and de2inition o2 my 2inal purpose7 I shall )e on my o.n .ithout
e+ternal support3 .ithout the possi)ility o2 stepping out 2or a )rea13 .ith only
such resources as I can carry .ith me in this small shell o2 .ood that I ha#e put
together. AShe loo1s smaller already out in the open: she .ill loo1 smaller still at
sea.B I can call it ner#ousness3 )ut I<m actually 2rightened. The challenge I too1
on o2 )uilding the )oat daunted me at times: this scares me.
%lanning helps7 a )it o2 immersion in .orry a)out .hether I ha#e .hat I
need to contend .ith the demands o2 sur#i#al3 o2 com2ort e#en3 o2 na#igation3
sa2ety3 emergency repairs7 2or all these thing a )oat needs to )e a sel28su22icient
microcosm. I can<t )e sure 8 o2 any o2 them. So 2inding some 1ind o2 satis2actory
compromise 1eeps my mind .ell occupied3 and any 2eeling I may ha#e can lag
along )ehind7 e+cept 2or a constantly present )ac1ground tension3 .hich o)trudes
2rom time to time .ithout clearly identi2ying itsel2 8 )ut in good moments passes
as anticipation3 and in )ad ones 2eels #ery li1e terror.
I had a dream a couple o2 nights ago: I .as ready to lea#e3 )ut couldn<t go
)ecause there .as a )o+ that I had gi#en my .i2e containing something #ery
important. I couldn<t remem)er .hat it .as3 )ut I 1ne. I couldn<t lea#e .ithout
it3 and she .ouldn<t gi#e it )ac1. There .ere storm8clouds gathering on the
hori0on3 and I needed to get a.ay )e2ore it .as too late. I .as #ery angry a)out
the )o+. I tried to get it )ac1 .ithout her 1no.ing3 and then .o1e up3 .ith three
simultaneous realisations: that it contained my se+tant7 that I .as 2ree to go as
soon as I had got hold o2 it7 and that I .as a)solutely terri2ied o2 the storm out
there. So I also understood .hy I had gi#en it to her3 and .hy )eing angry 2elt
easier than )eing 2rightened.
For my philosophical #oyage this 2eels li1e an important moment too3
though nothing there is a)out to )e put to the test. %utting out to sea has )een3
right 2rom the start3 the sym)ol 2or con2ronting my mental uncertainties. I ha#e
tried to prepare3 to gather ideas and in2ormation that might gi#e me some sense o2
security3 some )asis to rely on7 )ut nothing seems #ery rele#ant3 nothing /uite
designed 2or this 1ind o2 /uest. %hilosophy3 as arising out o2 @the lo#e o2 .isdom<
should3 I ha#e al.ays .anted to )elie#e3 represent a distillation o2 the long
human e+perience o2 li2e3 and ha#e much o2 #alue to o22er to us .ho are ta1ing
our o.n 2e.3 )rie2 steps on the same road. I ha#e )een disappointed o2ten enough
to )elie#e that I ha#e )een hoping 2or too much7 or hoping3 perhaps3 that it .ould
not as1 as much o2 me as I e+pected o2 it.
Day)e I ha#e )een loo1ing in the .rong place7 in .hich case this #oyage is
my o.n .ay o2 turning to.ards a di22erent direction 8 to the .ilderness3 I
suppose. Fddly enough3 that rather archetypal parallel3 o2 the so6ourn in the
.ilderness3 has not )een conscious until no.. It<s a )it late to 2eel em)arrassed )y
the pretension o2 it3 )ut that<s ho. a do 2eel a )it. Ip until no. it has in my mind
)een more li1e an e+cuse to do something I<#e al.ays .anted to do: any
dramatisation has )een more in ser#ice o2 that .ish than o2 anything much more
serious. I ha#e used the .ords that .ould )e appropriate to a spiritual /uest
.ithout really registering them mysel2. I<#e )een too occupied .ith the
practicalities o2 the 6ourney to actually con2ront its meaning. I .onder i2 my
philosophical speculations so 2ar ha#e re2lected that )ias: the products o2 a
philosophical .or1shop3 .here the .orld outside and its rigours are only
imaginary and theoretical. For )oth the )oat and 2or me3 this imagining can only
)e a 2aint o2 .hat may )e to come
It is easier to )e sel28con2ident and arrogant as a philosopher than as a
sailor. "ompared to people .ho really 1no. the sea I 2eel more than 6ust hum)le3
I also 2eel ignorant3 incompetent3 and inade/uate. &ith philosophy I can more
easily 2eel an irritated impatience: I can do )etter than that mysel23 I .ill
)rus/uely assert - and .ho )ut mysel2 .ill stand as 6udge> Is it possi)le then
that .hat I am setting out to do is something entirely personal and pri#ate3 .ith
no possi)le signi2icance )eyond my o.n 2eelings and attitudes>
I thin1 that is entirely possi)le. Kno.ledge3 science3 scholarship are
di22erent ; and here a collecti#e edi2ice must )e )uilt3 and those .ho .ould
contri)ute must )e content .ith some honest la)our on some small corner3 and
2ind .hat meaning they can in their participation in a great tas1.
9ut philosophy3
.hich seems to ma1e 2ar more s.eeping and uni#ersal gestures should perhaps
)e recognised as the more limited and pri#ate3 ma1ing its gestures in a pri#ate
uni#erse. I2 this is so3 then it is not a loss o2 #alue and importance3 )ut could )e
an entirely healthy de2lation o2 grandiosity.
Dy 2ather .or1ed consciously on the outer edi2ice3 and he reached the letter
L in his magnum ous, a Dedie#al Latin dictionary3 )e2ore he died7 I thin1 he
There is a story about three stonemasons, chipping away, each with their block of
stone. When asked what they are doing, the first replies, rather grumpily : “Shaping
this block of stone, of course.” The second: “Working to support my wife and
children. And the third, who has a different light in his eyes: “I am building a
certainly had some sense o2 the cathedral to .hich he .as contri)uting3 and it is
one .hich I ha#e not yet truly ac1no.ledged 2or mysel2. I ha#en<t e#en started on
Dedie#al Latin3 though I remem)er a 2e. .ords 2rom the lessons o2 Dr
5or.ood 8 .ho 2rightened me enough that I had to )ully one o2 the )righter3 and
smaller3 )oys into letting me copy his home8.or1 almost e#ery time there .e
.ere gi#en any. Dy 2ather re2used to help me7 no3 he didn<t re2use3 he 6ust tried to
get me to thin1 2or mysel2 instead o2 6ust telling me the ans.ers3 .hich certainly
didn<t 2eel help2ul at the time. So I did thin1 2or mysel23 and threatened Lumsden
.ho sat in the 2ront ro.3 and got the 2rom him. 5uman 1no.ledge doesn<t
come easily7 though I no. need a ne. methodology3 it )eing much less clear .ho
might )e e22ecti#ely )ullied.
In the 2ace o2 all those .eighty /uestions it actually 2eels /uite a relie2 to )e
tra#elling light3 thro.n )ac1 on my o.n resources and lea#ing most o2 the
accumulated edi2ice )ehind. I don<t 1no. .hether Latin .ould help3 any.ay3 Aas
(ra)ic .ould ha#e done .hen I mislaid SpainB3 )ut I 2eel a .onder2ul truant
sense o2 not really caring: o2 )eing #ery daring and rather romantic. (nd this
time3 perhaps3 there may )e some truth and #alue in the romantic indulgence. I
tend to )e a )it dismissi#e o2 this aspect o2 my nature3 2eeling the charge o2
irresponsi)ility stri1e deep again 8 but9 philosophy seems to )e an essentially
di22erent acti#ity 2rom the edi2ice8)uilding o2 1no.ledge.
5o.e#er impressi#e the monumental architecture o2 human 1no.ledge
may )e3 there .ill al.ays )e /uestions it cannot For e+ample: ho. am I
as an indi#idual to use it3 to apply it> Dy e+perience and my actions in#ol#e the
immediate3 the indi#idual3 the uni/ue: and 1no.ledge is )uilt o2 generalisations.
Li#ing is a personal pro)lem. Secondly: 1no.ledge is )uilt on assumptions that
can only )e e#aluated 2rom a standpoint outside the structure. Loo1ing 2or ne.
points o2 #ie. is an indi#idual ad#enture. Thirdly: as the edi2ice gro.s ne.
2orms and patterns can emerge .ithin its structure. These3 too3 can only )e seen
)y an indi#idual mind3 using its capacity to stand )ac1 and loo1 and discern
pattern3 to a)stract to a ne. le#el.
In at least these three senses the collecti#e la)ours o2 o)6ecti#ity can ne#er
either relie#e us o2 the demand 2or personal responsi)ility 2or ma1ing choices and
acting 8 or e+clude the possi)ilities 2or creati#e originality that .e each ha#e.
%hilosophy is personal: the necessary 2e. steps .e cannot a#oid ta1ing3 or the
opportunity 2or a greater ad#enture.
So is it all escapism3 2olly and irresponsi)ility 8 or personal integrity3
courage3 creati#ity and responsi)ility> The essential 6oy and e+citement o2
romanticism 2or me comes 2rom the realisation that these t.o opposites may )e
impossi)le to distinguish.
The philosophical e/ui#alent o2 stepping out into the .orld to see1 one<s
2ortune3 .ith nothing more than can )e carried in a red spotted hand1erchie23 is
1no.n as henomenology. Something so simple seems to call 2or an especially
impressi#e name to 6usti2y itsel23 as i2 a2raid that it .ould ne#er get ta1en
seriously other.ise Aa common
philosophical an+iety3 and a common solution to itB. %henomenology can )e
de2ined as: @( detached and presuppositionless description o2 2irst person
e+perience<7 that is3 )eing as o)ser#ant and honest a)out .hat actually happens to
you3 rather than getting too much caught up in interpretations3 in @opinions and
2antasies<3 your o.n or anyone else<s. It is an attempt to return as directly as
possi)le to @the things themsel#es<. &hich3 as a starting point3 sounds an
indisputa)ly good idea ; e+cept that it seems to presuppose that it<s possi)le to
)e detached and presuppositionless.
For me the intention is /uite e+plicitly there: to minimise3 to choose
care2ully3 to lea#e .hate#er can )e le2t3 and to )e conscious. I2 I can<t in some
genuine .ay go )ac1 to my o.n e+perience3 then .here can I go 8 anything else
is second8hand at )est3 and s/uee0ed through the 2ilter o2 language. I2 I<#e got to
use presuppositions then it seems more honest to use my o.n7 at least I thin1 I
ha#e some idea .here they<#e )een3 and may )e a)le to recognise then 2or .hat
they are.
%henomenology 8 )y that e+plicit name 8 is a relati#ely recent in#ention3
)oth as a concept and as an aspiration.
First hand e+perience3 .ould3 I imagine3
ha#e o2ten )een loo1ed on as a pathetically small and limited source o2 .isdom
and truth as compared to authority. It must ha#e seemed pretty o)#ious to most
people that .hen it came to the )igger3 deeper /uestions o2 li2e3 then someone
The term dates back to a German philosopher called Johann Lambert writing in
1764, and can be followed through Hegel, Hamilton, von Hartman to its principal
exponent, Edmund Husserl (1859 - 1938). (Is it experience or a theory that to be a
phenomenologist your name must begin with H ?).
‘! we must return to the things themselves.’
‘#t is not the things themselves that concern,
disturb and alarm man; it is his own
oinions and fantasies about things !’
else .as #ery li1ely to 1no. the ans.ers )etter7 and there .as usually someone
else ready to agree. I don<t 2eel it .as al.ays a /uestion o2 arrogance: it is
certainly possi)le to 2eel the authority o2 Hod3 or e#en o2 the soul or o2 the mind3
and to spea1 2rom that authority .ithout #aunting one<s o.n importance. The
contemporary cult o2 the indi#idual and all the scepticism )ehind it can seem 2ar
more arrogant.
I thin1 that all this indi#idualism3 this emphasis on the #irtue o2
independence and directness3 must )e partly an e22ect o2 the sheer /uantity o2
1no.ledge and in2ormation that .e ha#e to address. 4o. that it<s reached such
impossi)ly #ast proportions3 and in doing so has le2t direct e+perience a long .ay
)ehind3 there seems to )e a thirst3 in .hich I share3 2or the pure3 2resh springs o2
immediate personal reality. I thin1 there is a mistrust3 too. The /uestions
that most urgently a22ect me personally seem to ha#e got completely )uried and
o)scured3 so that @.e<re loo1ing into it< no longer sounds a con#incing message
to hear 2rom the e+perts. (nd .hat<s more3 .e ha#e to choose .hich authority to
listen to.
So )ac1 to the things themsel#es3 and to my o.n e+perience3 discarding all
mere opinions and 2antasies on the .ay. 4ot )ecause my e+perience is li1ely to
)e #ery di22erent 2rom anyone else<s3 )ut simply )ecause it<s mine3 I can
e+perience it properly3 and it<s more 2ull o2 li2e and #igour and reality than
anything else that<s a#aila)le to me. (nd may)e a )it )ecause so many other
people .ho might )e e+pected to )e interested are actually )usy loo1ing do.n
microscopes3 playing .ith particle accelerators3 or e#en .atching the tele.
I sa. an ad#ertisement once 2or a ma1e o2 tele#ision that said it represented
@Fne Step 4earer to Reality<. It<s a long .ay to go i2 you going to loo1 in that
direction3 and I thin1 I 1no. o2 a short cut. I don<t 1no. i2 the same thing applies
to microscopes and telescopes and science la)oratories in general3 .hether they
too are in some .ay missing out on reality.
So the reason 2or going )ac1 to my o.n e+perience and treating it as my
@primary source< is as o)#ious and simple as that: it is my e+perience3 and no8one
else<s. (ll I can 1no. a)out your e+perience is .hat you can tell me7 .hich3 I
)elie#e3 does not amount to #ery much. (nd ho. do I 1no. that> From my o.n
e+perience3 o2 course. I 1no. that all I can tell you a)out my e+perience3 all that I
can hope to get into .ords and to communicate to you is almost nothing
compared to .hat is .as actually li1e to go 2or a .al1 in the 2ields a couple o2
days ago3 or to sit here ga0ing out o2 the .indo. 8 or e#en compared to my
memory o2 it3 .hich is all I ha#e no.. (ny one such moment is 2ull o2 literally
in2inite #ariety3 )eyond anything I could e+plore mysel23 let alone put into .ords.
I can only communicate .hat I can abstract 2rom my e+perience3 and then
2ind .ords 2or3 .hich is no more than the 2aintest o2 suggestions and outlines. I
presume it<s the same 2or you. So all I get 2rom anyone else3 ho.e#er impressi#e
and .eighty their authority3 is a)straction 8 .hich lea#es out almost e#erything.
The .ords .e do use are .onder2ully rich3 I 1no.. &hen I say @tree< or @s1y< that
carries an enormous .ealth o2 association 2or me3 and .hen you hear these .ords
I<m sure that .hat they e#o1e is in no .ay less7 )ut )et.een your associations
and mine there is only the narro. )ridge o2 the .ord. (nd .hat happens .hen I
loo1 out o2 the .indo. is not 6ust the associations I ma1e .ith things C it<s the
#i#id3 real3 uni/ue detail o2 a moment o2 human e+perience. A4ot 2orgetting
e#erything else o2 .hich I am also a.are at that moment3 through my other
senses3 inside the room3 inside my )ody and my inner .orld.B
So I .ill go3 .hen I can3 to my o.n e+perience3 and try to learn 2rom that.
Dy o.n e+perience a22ects me more deeply and po.er2ully than anything that
can e#er reach me through the medium o2 a)straction and language.
I 2eel sure enough o2 this3 and con2ident in my resol#e. 9ut there is3 I<m
a2raid3 still one other possi)ility to )e considered Aat least one that I can thin1 o2B:
it is possi)le that the imortant aspects o2 e+perience can )e contained in the
a)stractions .e ma1e3 and so can perhaps )e communicated7 that all the details
that .e cannot include actually don<t matter so much3 in spite o2 their .onder2ul
/ualities o2 #i#idness. I2 so3 i2 the part o2 e+perience that matters can )e
a)stracted and spo1en3 then it is enormously li1ely that there are other people
.ho are )etter at disco#ering and e+pressing it than I am 8 so I<m certainly )etter
o22 chec1ing out .hat other people say. In practice most o2 .hat is o2 human
#alue and signi2icance is not simply our 2irst le#el a)stractions 2rom our
immediate e+perience 8 it is 2ar3 2ar more than that. &e build a)stractions. &e
2ind patterns o2 patterns3 and patterns o2 those patterns - and .e e+tract and
compare and conceptualise at e#ery le#el3 )uilding lin1s and )ridges and spires
and ornaments. &e spea1 to each other not 6ust o2 )oats and trees and headaches3
)ut o2 truth and lo#e and 6ustice and hope and 6ealousy and understanding and
dou)t and Hod and loneliness - I2 any o2 that matters3 then .ords and thought
and )uilding together matters.
These seem more than 6ust #ery /uestions3 they are momentous3 and must
)e .orth li2etimes o2 serious thought7 cathedrals o2 thought3 that I .ill ne#er e#en
)egin to imagine. 9ut3 oh )ut: ho. am I to decide .hat it means 2or something to
matter3 to )e important3 e+cept )y chec1ing in my o.n e+perience> (nd e#en i2 I
decide that there may )e the greatest signi2icance in .ords and a)stractions3 then
.ho shall I listen to3 o2 all the many3 many #oices> &hat )ut something in mysel2
is to )e the 6udge o2 that> Day)e there .as a time .hen there .ere 2ar
candidates 2or the role o2 .ise teacher and authority a#aila)le 8 the church3 a 2e.
rare )oo1s3 the philosophers o2 the day3 the one @guru< I might ha#e the 2ortune to
encounter 8 )ut no. the choice is #ast3 the /uantity o2 in2ormation o#er.helming3
and it is a pro)lem. I must someho. learn to discriminate 2or mysel23 .ithout that
I .ill learn nothing at all3 )ut ho.3 .hat is such discrimination apart 2rom some
personal instinct>
Pet another possi)ility occurs to me: that there are 2orms 2or the
communication o2 .isdom other than 6ust .ords3 that there are important things
that can )e communicated in other .ays that may not )e so limited )y the process
o2 a)straction. Dost o2 the great spiritual traditions emphasise direct contact .ith
the Daster as essential and as something entirely di22erent 2rom reading or
listening to .ords. I am entirely ready to )elie#e that: )ut )elie2 doesn<t resol#e
the pro)lem. I don<t ha#e a Daster3 or yet 1no. .here or ho. to loo1. I 2eel #ery
uncom2orta)le a)out the .hole idea o2 @guru hunting<. I feel3 Ainside mysel23 in
my e+perienceB3 much happier a)out the idea that I can learn 2rom .hat is around
me3 .hate#er I encounter3 including people ; and that I ha#e to trust my o.n
instinct to discriminate .hat and .ho is o2 #alue3 .hat counts as ,uality in all
this. That capacity 2or discrimination is the essential7 I may go to the other side o2
the .orld in search o2 a guru3 or trust .hat the accidents o2 2ate3 or the .ise hand
o2 destiny3 )rings my .ay3 )ut I .ill still ha#e to discriminate3 to recognise3 to
choose3 and to respond3 or none o2 it .ill )e o2 any #alue at all. So I ha#e to learn
to de#elop that in mysel2 ; 2or .hich3 I<m /uite sure3 the right teacher .ould )e
in#alua)le. (ll this /uestioning generates endless circles.
9ut something emerges 2rom this meandering3 something important Ait
seems to meB. %hrases li1e @it<s important< and @that matters< 1eep recurring.
&hate#er these ideas mean3 surely that matters. A5o.<s that 2or the .ay out o2
the circle>B I need to sort out .hat they mean. (nd 2inally3 again3 I ha#e only my
o.n capacity to 6udge that I can rely on.
It<s the /uestion o2 value3 and ho. to recognise it. I 1no. that seems a huge
/uestion 8 )ut there is one essential to it Aand this is importantB: .hate#er
I may thin13 .hate#er mental circles I may go round in3 the real meaning o2
importance3 o2 .hat matter3 is in my actions. &hat matters to me is sho.n not in
‘The 5ternal 6ather will call you to
account for what you can comrehend and
not for what you cannot.’
@ Aostoevsky
.hat I say3 or thin13 )ut in .hat I do. A=5o. can I 1no. .hat I care a)out until I
see .hat I do>?B
Ideas can )e interesting and 2un3 and e#en ha#e an e22ect3 )ut they can also
)e empty3 or at least disconnected 2rom anything else. The @idea o2 #alue<3
.hate#er its attraction as an idea3 is empty A2or meB e+cept inso2ar as it enters into
my actions. Dy actions re#eal my #alues. Dy #alues3 .hat matters to me3 spea1
aloud in my e#ery choice: e#ery .ay in .hich I risk conse,uences, A2rom .hich
danger @ha#ing ideas< can )y itsel2 )e 1ept sa2ely insulatedB. (nd the act o2
choosing is personal3 indi#idual3 mine; ma1ing choices is a)o#e all .hat it means
to )e a person3 to )e me. This is the real meaning o2 responsi)ility: that I ha#e
una#oida)le to respond to the .orld as it )ecomes as a conse/uence o2 my
I might )e .rong3 e#en a)out this7 choice might )e an illusion. In .hich
case it doesn<t matter .hat I imagine I choose3 it doesn<t matter that I ha#e the
2alse impression o2 imagining that I choose. I2 I am impelled )y 2orces other than
my imagined acts o2 choice3 then I ha#en<t e#en the 2reedom to choose to
surrender to that 2orce or not7 or the 2reedom to thin1 these thoughts or not. )o 8
e#en the ossibility o2 lac1 o2 real choice can )e completely discounted. I can act
as if I ha#e 2reedom: i2 I am .rong it matters not at all 8 i2 I am right then it
matter a)solutely. 4o choiceE A(ctually3 2or all this care2ully reasoned argument3 I
simply cannot )egin to imagine .hat it might mean to genuinely act as i2 I had no
2reedom o2 choice: try it3 i2 you dare3 and i2 you can honestly see ho. -B
So I act as i2 I ha#e 2ree choice 8 I choose to so act. (nd then the only
possi)le meaning o2 #alue3 o2 importance3 o2 morality3 is there in the 2act o2 .hat
I actually do.
I2 I am prepared to stand up and say =I don<t 1no. 2or sure .hat it means to
)e right or .rong7 I don<t 1no. 2or sure ho. I might e#er )e 6udged as right or
.rong 8 )ut I choose to do this; (nd I .ill stand )y it3 ta1e the conse/uences
even if # am wrong before the 'udge that # do not know !B I2 I am prepared to say
that Aand act on itB then there is a 1ind o2 moral dignity e#en in my errors. I can
see no other .ay.
I read the @9rothers Karama0o#< .hen I .as /uite young3 still in my
t.enties3 and .as enormously impressed )y it. It includes a story3 a sort o2
para)le3 that is told )y I#an. 5e loo1s at the .orld and sees the su22ering o2 the
innocent3 o2 the children3 horri2ying e+amples o2 .hich he collects. 5e is told )y
the teaching o2 "hristianity that this is the price o2 Hod<s )argain .ith us: that .e
ha#e )een o22ered the chance o2 a tic1et to %aradise in return 2or our #irtuous
)eha#iour3 )ut that o2 course this )argain can ha#e real meaning only i2 .e ha#e
2ree .ill. Thus our tic1et is )ought at the price o2 our 2reedom 8 and o2 the
su22ering o2 the innocent that it entails. I#an simply says that he declines the
)argain. That the Hod .ho is prepared to o22er it has done so at a price that I#an3
as a limited and mortal human )eing3 6udges as not .orth it3 and thus as
essentially immoral. For this imagined act o2 courage it seems right to respect
I#an more than the Hod he con2ronts. The seat o2 morality must )e in each o2 us
and not in any e+ternal authority7 only then can it ha#e any moral meaning. I
don<t thin1 that<s the 2inal o2 the )oo13 )ut I#an is hopelessly rational3
ho.e#er creati#e and imaginati#e.
(ll this could sound li1e a 1ind o2 impossi)le rational circularity again. 9ut
it isn<t. &hat it comes do.n to is pain2ully simple7 a pain .hich rationality may
.ell see1 to a#oid. I actually 1no. all 1inds o2 simple e+amples in mysel2 o2
sensing3 2eeling3 recognising .hat is right or .rong3 .hat is #alua)le3 .hat
counts as /uality3 .hat really matters ; and then o2 not acting on my 2eelings.
Things as simple as .atching a 2ilm on the tele .hich I 1no. is harm2ul ru))ish3
)ut .atching to the end7 or that I could ma1e some gesture o2 help or
support to someone3 )ut don<t7 o2 that I am lying3 or )eing secreti#e3
simply to a#oid some pain 2or mysel27 that I pretend not to notice something so
that I .ouldn<t ha#e to act on it7 that I gi#e up something important )ecause I am
a )it tired or discouraged or not getting enough praise7 and so on and on. Real
ordinary )asic stu22. I2 I can<t sort that le#el out3 then the philosophical
speculation3 the rational sophistication3 is .orth nothing3 is mere sophistry. I
know that.
There are #ery many situations3 possi)le choices3 .here I<m really not sure
.hat<s right3 I 2eel torn3 in a dilemma3 a genuine con2lict ; and I<m inclined to
see those as the signi2icant and di22icult issues3 )ut I thin1 that may not )e right.
They present a di22erent pro)lem3 and it<s certainly not a slight or easy one .hen
it happens7 )ut there is much more immediate signi2icance 2or me in what # do
know, but don’t act on, ho.e#er tri#ial. Fnly )y addressing that dread2ully
mundane and undramatic )it o2 my pri#ate reality can I hope to de#elop any
discrimination in the greater dilemmas 8 ha#e I any right at all to spea13 to ha#e
opinions a)out #alue or truth in any greater conte+ts.
So> Is this an empty thought3 or .ill it a22ect my actions in any .ay>
‘"hereof we cannot seak we must
remain silent.’
I don<t 1no. i2 any o2 this is really .orth recording. I suppose I 2eel it
might )e o2 some #alue3 pri#ately3 i2 it helps me. (nd might )e .orth )eing a
little more pu)lic a)out i2 there<s any chance o2 it helping anyone else. &hich I
don<t thin1 there .ill )e unless I ta1e it to heart mysel2. It is 2or me to gi#e it
meaning and #alue3 or it .ill ha#e none.
&here ha#e I hidden the )o+ that contains my se+tant> To .hom ha#e I
gi#en a.ay my o.n responsi)ility 2or 6udging .here I am and .hich .ay I
should go>
(nd in terms o2 all this )oat8)uilding3 and thin1ing3 and .riting3 and sailing
o22 in search o2 some #ague idea o2 understanding> I think that i2 I can do it .ith
enough openness3 .ithout 1idding mysel2 or anyone else a)out my moti#es3 not
in2lating or dramatising them3 .ithout imposing the conse/uences on anyone else
unless I am honest .ith them 8 i2 I can manage all these things then Aapart 2rom
)eing a man3 my sonB3 it .ill )e no .orse than anything else I might do3 and I
.ill learn 2rom it. I2 I could manage all those thing I<d learn 2rom anything I did.
Dy .or1 Ain the sense o2 the only thing I as1 to )e paid 2or3 and there2ore3
)eing human3 try to do as .ell as I can3 and still 2eel con2used a)out )eing paid
2orB is as a psychotherapist. I do as1 mysel2 .hether I<m 6ust .or18shy3 in a #ery
ordinary sense3 and only too happy to de#ise a .ay o2 a#oiding it that might
sound e#en hal28.ay accepta)le.
I don<t think so: at least3 at least no more than a little )it. I actually do en6oy
my .or1 8 I .ould miss it greatly i2 I succeeded in a#oiding it altogether 8 and I
do 2eel that it is important. I don<t ho. to descri)e .hat I actually do7 it<s not
hard to ma1e a slightly esoteric mystery out o2 it3 .hich I don<t thin1 is really
6usti2ied. It<s something li1e this: I try to help people e+plore the connections
)et.een thought and 2eeling and meaning and #alue and action through the
medium o2 relationship and communication3 .hich includes3 o2 course the 2ailure
to communicate and relate3 mine as .ell. (ll this is held together )y the 2eeling
that it matters. I don<t .ant this trip to )e an a#oidance o2 that in any .ay.
Ideally3 and a)o#e all3 I .ould li1e to 2eel that it might someho. e#en ser#e those
things in some .ay. The possi)ility o2 )eing .rong is3 o2 course3 e#er present3
and so cannot )e allo.ed to )e a 2inal discouragement.
%art o2 the ritual o2 the launching o2 a ne. )oat is the naming: it<s
something I<#e .orried a)out3 6ust on the edge o2 consciousness3 2or
a long time3 )ecause it seems so momentous7 that it is 2ull o2 appropriate meaning
and pro2undity should )e e#ident3 )ut that meaning itsel2 should not )e too
o)#ious. Hi#en that3 it<s not going to )e easy. 4e#ertheless3 I ha#e 2inally reached
a decision3 though i2 I could 2ind an e+cuse to delay it 2urther I .ould3 )ecause
the name is certainly not yet part o2 her. 9ut she is to )e launched3 and she must
ha#e a name: perhaps she .ill gro. into it.
The name comes 2rom a story that I read in Rumi3 and so /uali2ies 2or some
o2 my criteria. JalYlu<ddZn R[mZ .as a thirteenth century Su2i mystic and poet3
and .as a great story8teller3 as .ell as a spiritual teacher. 5e tells @teaching
stories<3 that are intended to con#ey messages o2 spiritual import. 5is great .or1
is the Dathna.Z3 a poem o2 o#er 23$$$ distichs3 .hich I ha#e on my shel2 and
thin1 is .onder2ul3 though hard to read in translation3 and I don<t spea1 any
%ersian. I ha#en<t actually 2inished it yet3 and may choose it 2or my )oo1 to ta1e
to the desert island 8 .hich must )e getting /uite cro.ded )y no.7 I should at
least meet some interesting people there. Fr I could ta1e the initiati#e and carry it
on )oard.
The story in the Dathna.i that I am thin1ing o2 is a)out a prince called
Da6nun .ho is in lo#e .ith a .oman called Layla 8 .ho to him is3 o2 course3 the
most )eauti2ul .oman imagina)le. &hen the "aliph sees Layla he says to her:
=(re you really the .oman )y .hom Da6nun has )een so distracted and led
astray> It does not seem to me that you are a .oman o2 any remar1a)le )eauty.?
=9e silent3? she replies3 =since thou art not Da6nun.?
The )oat is to )e called Layla. (t one le#el this simply means that she is
)eauti2ul to me3 and that is all that matters. (t another le#el the story seems to
mean Ato meB that only one .ho sees )eauty and3 perhaps3 1no.s something o2
lo#e3 has a right to spea1 o2 )eauty. &e should spea1 only o2 .hat .e 1no. and
2eel and e+perience 2or oursel#es. It is meaningless 2or us to deny the reality o2
any truth or #alue in .hich our o.n passion and commitment are not engaged.
So the story could )e seen as a phenomenologists mani2esto ; in the strong
sense o2 asserting the #alue not only o2 honest o)ser#ation o2 2irst8hand
e+perience3 )ut also o2 engagement in it.
Dy )oat3 then3 .ill )e called Layla ; and 2or all my dou)ts3 soul8searching
and mental ram)lings she represents at least my recognition o2 the #alue o2
engagement. AI .ill not )e dra. 2or no. on the contradiction o2 the .ay my
engagement seems to in#ol#e a high degree o2 9e silent- 2or thou
art not a)out to launch the result o2 t.o years .or1 into the .ater.
5a#ing noticed t.o aspects o2 our .ay o2 ma1ing sense 8 ha#ing @pic1ed
them out< as recognisa)le patterns 8 it .ould )e help2ul to ha#e .ords 2or them3
to name them so that they can )e re2erred to more )rie2ly than )y a paragraph o2
Naming seems to )e an essential aspect o2 our sense8ma1ing. There is a
deep8rooted interplay )et.een thought and language3 right 2rom the )asic lin1
)et.een concetualising and naming up to 2ar more comple+ le#els3 that is
pro)a)ly impossi)le to disentangle since .e cannot suspend our use o2 either. It
is something that .ill )e .orth e+amining more closely in the idle hours o2 a
night .atch.
For the conceptual act o2 separating out an o)6ect 2rom the continuum o2
my e+perience I shall use the .ord e(traction. &hen I percei#e something as
separate3 .hen I conceptualise an entity A.hich may not ha#e )een separate
)e2ore3 .hate#er that meansB3 I e(tract it 2rom its conte+t3 and Apro#isionally3 at
leastB discount its connectedness.
For the perception o2 a attern through .hich I connect together aspects o2
my e+perience into a single .hole3 I shall use the .ord abstraction. I abstract a
pattern as a .hole3 and discount the separateness o2 .hat it lin1s.
5a#ing e+tracted and a)stracted something I can then treat it as a @thing in
itsel2<3 I can thin1 a)out it3 name it3 relate it to other thing3 ha#e 2eelings a)out it3
and so on.
&hat I ha#e 6ust )een doing is an e+ample o2 .hat I ha#e )een tal1ing
a)out: I abstracted t.o patterns and named them Ae+traction and a)stractionB.
These t.o concepts are not entirely di22erent AI e#en .onder i2 I<m 6usti2ied
in distinguishing themB: they ha#e some 2eatures3 some patterns3 in common Aso
that I could perhaps 2ind a common name 2or them )oth togetherB. 9oth in#ol#e
the recognition Aor e#en creation?B o2 an entity out o2 a continuum .ithin .hich
it might not other.ise )e distinguished. *+traction means to separate out3
a)straction is to connect together as a .hole and then to separate out3 to e+tract3
the .hole that is thus 2ormed.
*+traction could thus )e seen as a @limiting case< o2 a)straction3 .here the
o)6ect is simple enough in 2orm to )e una#oida)ly seen as a .hole ; li1e a
straight line3 or a triangle. There is a )uilt8in relati#ity to these concepts 8 they are
psychological concepts 8 so I must )e care2ul to use them to help me understand3
and not allo. them to distort my understanding. Fne o2 the una#oida)le pro)lems
o2 perception and thought is the .ay it ac/uires a rigidity o2 its o.n. &e ha#e
ha)its o2 seeing and thin1ing: .e can<t do .ithout them3 and as they )ecome
ha)its they )ecome easier to use 2luently3 needing 2ar less attention and energy
8 )ut then .e perhaps 2orget ho. not to use them3 not to see and thin1 in that .ay.
(s a psychotherapist this is a daily o)ser#ation.
It .ould )e reasona)le3 then3 to use the .ord @a)straction< as the more
general3 .ith the understanding that it includes also the act o2 e+traction.
(ll this .ord8play3 concept8play3 may sound o)scure and hair8splitting3 )ut
it does actually help me to sort out all this in my head ; it clari2ies the concepts3
sharpens their edges.
*+amples may help too. I2 I loo1 out o2 my .indo. I see a tree ; /uite a
2e. trees.
Some o2 the trees stand out #ery clearly3 .ith the s1y or a 2ield as
)ac1ground ; some are grouped together in hedges or .oodland. 5o.e#er
2amiliar they are it is still a conceptual act to pic1 out a tree and see it as
something in itsel2: I e(tract it 2rom its )ac1ground and I name it. In that moment
it is more signi2icant 2or me that its )ac1ground3 I attend to it3 i2 only #ery )rie2ly
and slightly. I can also e+tract and name the s1y3 or the 2ield. To e+tract a tree
2rom the .oodland across the ri#er is less simple. I easily see the .oodland as
distinct 2rom its )ac1ground3 )ut its @hard to see the trees 2or the .ood<. Fnly my
e+perience tells me that the .ood consists o2 a num)er o2 trees.
( single tree consists o2 a comple+ structure o2 )ranches and lea#es. &hen
I see the tree and I gi#e no attention to these details3 then I a)stract the o#erall
unity o2 the tree. It<s not that any particular tree is an a)straction ; each tree is
entirely physically real ; )ut the tree concetualised as a tree, categorised3 is an
a)straction. @(ll o2 these )ranches ma1e a tree< and @all these trees ma1e a .ood<
are )oth a)stract statements Aat a #ery lo. le#el o2 a)stractionB. @(ll percei#ed
o)6ects are mental concepts< .ould )e a #ery high le#el o2 a)straction Aand not
one I<d agree .ith3 personallyB.
I am listening to some music3 a symphony.
I can pic1 out3 e+tract3
indi#idual notes and sounds7 I can percei#e some o2 these notes as connected to
2orm a melody. This lin1ing is an act o2 a)straction. ( melody3 a tune3 is a #ery
real entity in itsel2. It may ta1e me a .hile to
@get< it3 to hear it3 2eel it as a single thing rather
than a collection o2 )its3 )ut it<s a #ery real and
signi2icant e+perience to come to 1no. and lo#e
a good tune.
Trees are very common example used in philosophical clarifications. Does the
image of the philosopher sitting at a window gazing out on a sylvan language
correspond to reality, or is it just a fantasy shared by philosophers?
I have recently discovered Mahler (without the Columbus Error of imagining I was
there first). I am woefully slow in my response to music, and it can take me long time
before it becomes familiar and I begin to recognize form and order in it. Only then,
and bit by bit, do I find my emotional response developing. It’s well worth the effort
it takes. In some cases, like the last movement of the 9th symphony, I begin to feel
that the lack of form is deliberate, and part of its power. That seems to be another
level of abstraction.
Music is an unconscious e(ercise in
metahysics in which the mind does not
know it is hilosohising.
Day)e the .ord @a)stract< e#o1es some sense o2 unreality3 .hich is un2ortunate.
I certainly do not see or thin1 o2 trees or .ords or tunes as unreal. The 2act that I
conceptualise them3 thin1 a)out them3 relate to them in a particular .ay3 doesn<t
depri#e them in the least o2 reality 8 )ut it does in a sense add something3 a 2orm
o2 conceptual separation and connection that may or may not correspond to
another 1ind o2 separation and connection in an o)6ecti#e .ay o2 loo1ing at the
.orld. The )ranches and lea#es o2 a tree ha#e a physical connection: trees in a
.ood less so A)ut there may )e a more o2 a lin1 than I 2ully understandB. The
unity o2 a melody3 apart 2rom my perception o2 it3 is an e#en more metaphysical
I ha#e 2ound another more nostalgic e+ample3 though it comes 2rom .hat
my children .ill remem)er as the dusty recesses o2 the mysterious attics o2 their
li#es rather than o2 my o.n. There used to )e small )oo1s o2 patterns3 called
(ltair Gesigns3 that I thin1 .ere )ased on Doorish mosaic patterns. "olouring
them in used to gi#e a magical sense o2 the in2inite #ariety that could )e hidden
)elo. a #isi)le sur2ace. I ha#e 2ound one and .ill copy it out here. It seems to )e
a ready metaphor 2or the .ay .e ma1e sense o2 the .orld.
&e are presented .ith e+perience .hich o22ers much #ariety and con2usion
and chaos3 )ut also much order and pattern7 .e ha#e some 1ind o2 choice a)out
.hat .e actually pic1 out. Some patterns are o)#ious3 li1e the .a#es on the sea3
though .e can ignore them3 or 2ocus on something else. A9y shutting our eyes
and listening3 2or e+ampleB. Some are #ery po.er2ul and much harder to ignore3
li1e thunder3 say3 or e+treme pain. There is a /uality o2 #i#idness3 and
immediacy in e+perience that it can )e hard to see )eyond. 9ut there may )e
other patterns there to )e percei#ed. I2 I am in pain3 I .ill hope the doctor .ill )e
a)le to see things3 or as1 me things3 that .ill )e highly rele#ant3 e#en though ITm
not a.are o2 them.
The initial design3 prior to any colouring3 AFig.1B is to represent the .orld3
or the 2ield o2 our perception: there is e#idently much order and pattern there3 )ut
as yet nothing is pic1ed out. It is an interlin1ed .holeness3 em)odying much
order and regularity. 9ut i2 I .ant to do anything .ith it3 reproduce it3 2ind my
.ay around it3 communicate a)out it3 then I ha#e to Tma1e senseT o2 it 2irst. I ha#e
to pic1 out some o2 the patterns3 separate them 2rom the rest3 and pro)a)ly to
simpli2y them a )it3 to name them. Intil I do that it is all an unmanagea)le
It is very important to realise that the starting pattern, uncoloured, the original
chaos, is the phenomenological world of experience. It is not the world as made up of
Loo1ing at this chaos3 .e seem to almost una#oida)ly 2ind oursel#es
searching 2or some order and regularity.
%ro)a)ly the 2irst thing .e notice is the
.ay the space is di#ided up into small
#ariously shaped little areas or cells.
&hen .e see these cells .e e(tract them
2rom the disorder o2 the .orld. *+traction
separates. The lines that di#ide them .e
see simultaneously 8 it doesn<t seem
correct to say .e notice either lines or cells 2irst. To ma1e sense o2 the page .e
might start )y descri)ing each little area3 its shape3 and ho. it 6oined on to the
shape ne+t to it. That is a start3 )ut it might ta1e 2ore#er3 especially i2 Aas tends to
happen in the .orldB e#ery particular patch .ere uni/ue in its detail3 and unli1e
any other patch.
&ut some o2 these small patches can )e seen together ma1ing distincti#e
larger shapes. &e might latch onto the se#en8pointed star that appears here and
there AredB. AFig.2B APou may ha#e noticed something /uite di22erent3 and nor
seen this star until I pointed it outB. &hen .e see it3 it suddenly stands out3 .here
a moment )e2ore .e may ha#e missed it. &e ha#e abstracted the star. It is
actually not /uite a symmetrical se#en8pointed star Athere is a slight asymmetry i2
you loo1 closely. In calling it a se#en8pointed star I<#e actually le2t /uite a lot o2
detail a)out its particular shape and proportions: my description3 though help2ul
and correct3 is not /uite comlete. ()straction omits detail.
I2 I start pic1ing out se#en8pointed stars I .ill 2ind that they occur in pairs
together. I .ill then disco#er that these pairs 6oin to ma1e groups o2 2our. The
groups o2 2our are arranged in a regular .ay right across the paper. 4o. ITm
really co#ering some ground 8 and I<m ma1ing patterns o2 patterns. Fnce I am
hoo1ed on stars3 there are plenty more. There are 2i#e8pointed stars to )e 2ound
around each group o2 2our se#en8pointed stars ApurpleB. (round this group there
are eight si+8pointed stars Alight greenB. I2 I pic1 out all these3 I could 6ust a)out
co#er the .hole paper. AI ha#e understood the .orldB. 9ut there are other stars
around that I ha#e completely missed. For e+ample3 there are t.o di22erent 1ind
elementary particles, or any other theory. Elementary particles are not the basic stuff
of our world before we start colouring it in: they are a very high degree of abstraction
from experience, very 'deep' patterns in one very limited direction. We tend to see
this direction as leading to a very profound understanding of things. The concept of
elementary particle has never helped me personally to cope with anything I have ever
come across, except physics exams.
‘ at the start is a chaos in which one is lost.
The individual tries to cover it over with a
curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. #t
does not worry him that his ideas are not ‘true’
< he uses them for trenches against his
e(istence, as scarecrows to frighten away
-rtega y .asset
o2 2our8pointed star that I ha#e not included A)lue and dar1 greenB. These o#erlap
the stars I had already 2ound3 so the Tcomplete descriptionT I .as heading 2or
.ould ne#er ha#e 2ound them. 9ut ha#e another loo1: on a di22erent scale there
are )ig circles Ayello.B. AThey are actually not /uite circles7 theyTre /uite
comple+ shapes really3 )ut .hen I la)el them as circles I can see themB. Suddenly
I see them e#ery.here3 the paper is 2ull o2 )ig circles. It loo1s as i2 I could
e+haust the entire pattern 6ust .ith these circles3 ma1e sense o2 the .hole thing.
AThough i2 I go too 2ar .ith circles3 colour them all in3 I shall )e )ac1 to a 1ind o2
con2usion againB.
&e ha#e already a #ery po.er2ul metaphor 2or the .ay .e ma1e sense o2
things. Faced .ith chaos .e start to pic1 out pattern and regularity. 9ecause .e
can discriminate )oundary and 2orm3 certain things stand out. Initially3 .hile our
#ision is #ery local3 itTs the small units .e see. Then some o2 those get put
together to ma1e recognisa)le o)6ects AstarsB3 .hich once seen are hard to a#oid.
These o)6ects then can )e o)ser#ed to relate to each other in certain .ays Agroups
o2 starsB. 4o. I am )eginning to 2ind my .ay around3 I could ma1e a map3
communicate3 2ind my .ay home again. IT#e got 2i#e8 si+8 and se#en8pointed
stars to 2ind my .ay )y3 and .ith those I can go
It is apparent 2rom this simple e+ample that I ha#e some choice a)out .hat
particular patterns I pic1 out. Fnce I am committed to3 or loc1ed into the ha)it o23
one particular .ay3 then others may )e precluded entirely. (lternati#e .ays o2
seeing patterns may )e e/ually #alid3 may in some sense )e e/ually e22ecti#e3 )ut
they can )e mutually e+clusi#e3 and may lead to #ery di22erent conse/uences3
di22erent .ays o2 dealing .ith the .orld.
I2 my .orld is made up o2 2i#e8 si+8 and se#en pointed stars3 .hat happens
.hen I meet someone .ho steers )y 2our8pointed stars> There arenTt any in my
.orld. 5e seems to ha#e si+ and 2i#e3 )ut no se#ens. &e are ripe 2or some
misunderstanding and e#en argument. &e might e#en go to .ar o#er some such
ma6or issue as denying the e+istence o2 se#en8pointed stars in the .orld. (nd as
2or mystics .ho tal1 a)out huge circles that are really the )asic structure o2 all
)eing.... at least .e can agree that they are o)#iously mad. Just to add to our
9a)el o2 con2usion3 there are e#en people .ho see a sort o2 .a#e AgreyB. These
.a#es3 they say3 are huge7 so )ig that .e can only e#er see a tiny part o2 one in
our li2etime3 and yet they run right to the edges o2 time and the uni#erse3 and 6oin
e#erything together in one great lin1ed .hole. &e are each part o2 those .a#es3
and .hen .e die ....
There are di22erent .ays o2 loo1ing at the original uncoloured design3 and
di22erent .ays o2 loo1ing at the .orld. &hich o2 these .ays is right3 or more real3
or )etter3 or more use2ul> &hich o2 these patterns o2 stars or circles really e+ists>
&e can only say that they all do. The reality is the .hole lot3 the .hole thing3 the
totality7 stars and circles all e+ist3 along .ith an unlimited num)er o2 other things
that .e ha#e not yet noticed. (ll our seeing and naming3 pic1ing out patterns3 is
partial and limited: .e see part o2 .hat is3 aspects o2 .hat is. &e need pattern to
ma1e sense3 to cope .ith the .orld: .e gloss o#er detail3 ignore much o2 .hat is
there3 .e a)stract )ecause .e cannot manage e#erything that there is.
It is di22icult to sleep .hen tomorro. is so 2ull o2 un1no.n and momentous
possi)ility. To occupy these slo. minutes o2 insomnia I ha#e disco#ered 8 or
in#ented 8 a game3 that reminds me o2 the one I played as a child3 o2 trying to
imagine that nothing e+isted. This one )egan as a .ay o2 inducing sleep .hen my
mind .as too acti#e3 )ut it seems to lead on 2rom that simple practical 2unction:
)ut in .hat direction it may lead3 and to.ards .hat conclusion3 I am not sure.
Sometimes it e#en 2eels as i2 it could )e a little dangerous 8 )ut I am not good
enough at it 2or it to )e a real ris1. Day)e i2 I practice enough ...
Since it is most easily played initially .ith the eyes closed 8 e#en )etter in
the dar1 so there is no sensation o2 light .hatsoe#er3 and since complete silence
also ma1es early attempts much easier3 lying in )ed in the middle o2 the night is
the ideal to practice3 .hether sleep results or not. Li1e all good games it is #ery
simple in its )asic concept3 )ut #ery di22icult in practice7 perhaps 2ortunately.
Initially one simply allo.s onesel2 to )ecome a.are3 in an idle3 random and
un8pressured .ay3 o2 any sensation that is occurring at the moment. I2 it is dar1
and /uiet it .ill )e a matter almost entirely o2 )ody sensations. Tonight3 rather
s.amping e#erything else3 it is this tension in my stomach. Fnce I ha#e
consciously registered that I can @loo1 around< 2or other things. &hat am I a.are
o2 .ith my hands and 2eet> 5o. does my )reathing 2eel> (ny discom2orts3 aches3
itches3 .armth or cold> (ll o2 this I am naturally a)le to recognise3 to locate3 to
name 8 in a rather imprecise sort o2 .ay3 )ut there is a de2inite sense o2 2orm and
structure. Dy 2eet are a.ay do.n there 8 my hands are here3 my tongue is inside
my mouth3 the cool air on my ear is 6ust there ... and so on. I gi#e them all
meaning3 I place them relati#e to me, to my )ody. They are all my in2ormation at
the moment a)out the .orld I am in.
4o. I try to o)ser#e this process more closely3 and try to disco#er e+actly
ho. it is that I structure all these sensations: how do I 1no.3 .hat do I mean3
ho. do I recognise that a particular sensation is .here it is3 that it means .armth3
or the .eight o2 the )lan1et on my s1in3 or .hate#er> &hat is it a)out a sensation
in my 2eet or stomach that tells me where it is3 or tells me .hat it means> It is
possi)le 8 and may)e it<s a 1nac1 that needs to )e learnt 8 )ut I thin1 it is possi)le
to let all these sensations )ecome gently detached 2rom the meaning I gi#e them.
I can )ecome more acutely a.are o2 the /uality o2 a sensation 8 o2 .armth3 or
tension3 or itching 8 in such a .ay that it )ecomes less 2amiliar3 less easy to la)el
or locate. I used to do the same thing .ith .ords as a child: concentrate on
2amiliar .ord3 and 1eep repeating it again and again 8 and it )egins to lose its
connection .ith its meaning and )ecome 6ust an odd sound.
&hen I do this .ith a sensation the point comes .here it )egins to dri2t3 the
physical structure o2 the .orld as I 1no. it )egins to lose its usual sta)ility and
)egins almost to loosen and shi2t3 e#en to disintegrate. There is nothing I can
grasp 2or certain to say that one sensation is nearer o2 2urther3 a)o#e or )elo.
another7 that my tongue is in one place and my stomach another 8 the 2amiliar
2orm and structure o2 all these things suddenly ha#e a sudden uncertainty and
4ormality can )e regained in an instant3 o2 course 8 it is )y no means so
easily lost as that 8 )ut the game is to see ho. 2ar I can mo#e to.ards the
e+perience o2 2inding mysel2 in a .orld o2 pure sensation without form or
I am guessing3 )ut I imagine that this may )e something li1e the .orld o2 a
ne.8 )orn in2ant7 lying in my cradle all those years ago I must ha#e )een a
natural player o2 the Hame. The 2amiliar structure o2 my .orld3 its 2orm and
meaning 2or me, is something I ha#e learnt3 )y practice and ha)it3 and there2ore
may)e can unlearn3 can 2ree mysel2 2rom the ha)it and step )ac1 to.ards a more
nai#e and primiti#e state.
In the ne+t3 more ad#anced3 stage .e can carry the practice into other areas
o2 our e+perience. The other sensory modes 8 hearing and sight 8 ha#e )ecome so
2irmly grounded in interpretations that they are e+tremely di22icult to sha1e to
e#en the slightest degree: that3 I thin13 is a #ery ad#anced le#el o2 play. 9ut in the
dar1ness and the silence as our physical sensations )egin to dri2t and loose their
already slightly tenuous relations to each other .e may )e a)le to )egin to
include the area o2 feeling. It is closely related to3 perhaps hard to distinguish
2rom3 physical sensation3 so it is not such a )ig step. &hat do I 2eel at the
moment> Go I ha#e a 2eeling about any o2 my )ody sensations 8 that the .armth
is pleasant3 or e+cessi#e3 that the itching3 or tension in my stomach3 is
disagreea)le> 5o. am I 6udging3 and ho. much interretation and ha)it is
in#ol#ed in my 6udgement>
(nd .hat o2 other less speci2ic 2eelings> (re there things I<m an+ious or
angry a)out3 .hat are the hopes and needs and 2ears I 2eel at the moment3 perhaps
o#er #ery small and e#ery8day things3 or may)e .hat seem to )e )igger and more
2ar reaching perspecti#es.
(nd .hat a)out thoughts3 memories3 imaginings 8 they come and go in the
same .ay as my sensations7 they may )e insistent or elusi#e3 #i#id or #ague7 I
may recognise them3 ha#e 2eelings a)out them 8 )ut .hat actually are these
things in themsel#es3 detached 2rom the .e) o2 associations and relations that I
ha)itually gi#e them>
These are not /uestions that can )e as1ed o2 anyone .ho is not an
assiduous practitioner o2 The Hame 8 2or The Hame is to genuinely e+perience
the /uestion3 to actually 2eel the insta)ility o2 dou)t ... This particular game is not
o2 course anything to do .ith ans.ering any o2 these /uestions. (ny tendency to
arri#e at ans.ers is 6ust another mental or emotional process3 to )e allo.ed to
2ree itsel2 2rom meaning3 li1e any other.
(nd3 apart 2rom its application as a sopori2ic or a mental amusement3 .hat
might the value o2 all this idle amusement )e3 i2 there is to )e any>
In the moment o2 true dou)t3 in the true recognition that meaning is
something that # gi#e3 that structure does not reside in e+perience )ut is imposed
)y me )ecause I cannot 2unction .ithout it 8 in that moment I approach a 1ind o2
)lac1 hole 8 a disintegration into .hich I could )e helplessly dra.n3 in .hich no
meaning can possi)ly sur#i#e: I may )e lost 2ore#er. That is the danger o2 The
Hame 8 there may )e no .ay )ac13 or no .ay to else. 9ut then again3
there is another theory a)out 9lac1 5oles in the cosmos: through one I may re8
emerge into an (lternati#e Ini#erse: perhaps I might come out at the other side
o2 this psychological 9lac1 5ole and 2ind that meaning and structure ha#e
re2ormed in an entirely different way; may)e the .orld as I constructed it in the
desperate urgency o2 childhood .as a truly nai#e and premature #ersion7 perhaps
I .as simply dri#en to accept it as pro#isionally ade/uate )y my immediate need
2or sur#i#al 8 )ut no.3 in my more li)erated and re2lecti#e adulthood I could
recreate the lost innocence o2 the 2irst )right moment o2 li2e enough to redisco#er
)leeing is no mean art9 for its sake one must stay
awake all day. Ten times a day you must overcome
yourself9 that makes you good and tired, and is
oium for the soul. Ten truths a day must you find;
else you will be seeking truth by night, and your
soul will remain hungry.
&lessed are the sleey, for they shall soon
dro off.’
or recreate the .orld in a .ay that might approach e#en a small step nearer the
ideals o2 9eauty3 Hoodness and Truth. "hat if ..... >
( dangerous game3 perhaps3 and played 2or enormous sta1es 8 the )iggest
o2 all. I am not surprised3 I suppose3 that my psyche3 in response to e#en the
smallest degree o2 success is inclined to s.itch o22 the core processor 8 .hate#er
that might )e 8 and sleep.

The morning o2 the launching is 2ine and calm3 and .hat I consider to )e
my sanity remains intact a2ter its )rush .ith alternati#e uni#erses. The 2irst time I
launched a )oat o2 my o.n it .as a .indy day3 and cold .ith it 8 )ut I didn<t .ant
to .ait3 couldn<t go through another di22icult night7 my mental image o2 the )oat
.as as happy .ith the .ind as a )ird. I had called her @"urle.<. I launched3 and
capsi0ed .ithin three minutes7 and I had a small group o2 spectators 2or the proud
This time I am prepared to .ait 2or a /uiet day3 )ut it has come to me as a
spontaneous gi2t. The mast is lo.ered in readiness 2or the 6ourney to the ri#er and
all gear is sto.ed. There are to )e three o2 us to .itness the e#ent3 three .ho can
)e trusted to )e silent in the 2ace o2 dishonour. It is not in 2act 2ar to the .ater 8
along the lane3 )eneath the trees 2or .hich the mast .as lo.ered3 and do.n to the
stone slip.ay. There are t.o strangers there to represent The &orld at the
occasion3 )ut I thin1 they are una.are o2 the magnitude o2 their role3 and gi#e
only casual attention to their responsi)ility.
The mast is raised again: it is getting easier3 although my ner#es are still
tight enough to su)stitute 2or the rigging that she .as designed to do .ithout. The
mast seems so 2ar to ha#e no need o2 either. I place a coin )eneath the heel o2 the
mast. There are some gestures .hich cost perhaps a 2e. pence3 though o2ten not
e#en that3 )ut .hose omission 6ust might contri)ute to a disaster. There can )e a
2ine actuarial 6udgement )ehind the irrationality o2 superstition7 and i2 there is
one place .here .e 1no. oursel#es to )e at the mercy o2 2orces )eyond our
po.ers o2 understanding and prediction3 so that superstition is a most appropriate
insurance3 then it is in small )oat at sea.
( )ottle o2 "hampagne appears3 a proper act o2 2ore8thought .hich I had
neglected mysel2. Fne .heel o2 the trailer creeps o22 the edge o2 the slip.ay and
gets stuc1 in the mud )e2ore .e reach the .ater. The 6ourney 2eels to me already
to ha#e reached epic proportion3 and I am uncertain o2 my a)ility to cope .ith
any more set)ac1s.
&e reach the .ater7 I pour a li)ation o#er her pro.3 and say the traditional
.ords 8 and my heart is in e#ery one o2 them. She slides /uietly into the .ater7 a
/uiet that is shattered )y shrie1s 2rom inside the ca)in. She is 2illing3 rapidly3 .ith
.ater. I ha#e 2orgotten to 2i+ the log impeller in place3 lea#ing a large hole
through the hull. It<s not so easy to haul her out again .ith all that added .eight
o2 .ater. The &orld is )eginning to ta1e more interest3 2or disaster is lia)le to
catch the attention more than success. &hate#er sense o2 security .e may gain
2rom predicta)ility3 2rom things going to plan3 it<s actually 2ar more interesting
.hen they don<t. (t least the )ilge pumps are tested3 and the 2ault is recti2ied3
though my sense o2 )eing in control has diminished to a le#el that ought to
dis/uali2y me 2rom )eing in charge o2 a #essel a2loat.
The ne+t attempt is aided )y the "hampagne3 .ith .hich Layla3 ha#ing
ta1en her sym)olic share3 can no. a22ord to )e more generous3 and3 once more3
she slides /uietly into the .ater. She 2loats3 as light and elegant and serene as a on the .ater and the champagne3 and the mud3 and the stillness3 and the
light on the ri#er and her tall mast go to my head3 and I 2eel di00y3 and a little
.ea1 2rom a)out the solar ple+us do.n to the 1nees3 )ut .ith a 2ull heart. She
2loats e#enly3 and 6ust high o2 her mar1s 8 .hich is a little .orrying )ecause there
is still the .eight o2 much more gear to come. I .ill not )e needing any e+tra
)allast 8 and .ish to mysel2 that I could ru) out a couple o2 lines and redra.
some cur#es a little deeper and the 2ree)oard a little higher. It .ould )e a .hole
morning<s .or1 at the )oard7 and t.o years to )ring into reality.
9ut the magic o2 trans2ormation has happened: all that static .eight to
.hich I ha#e )een adding 2or so long has )ecome lightness. (s I stand )eside her
in the .ater she responds to my gentlest touch. ( relia)le .itness report that I
stood there in the mud3 .ith my arms around her pro. and murmured .ords o2
endearment. Fnce I am a)oard she 2eels steady )ut responds and participates in
e#ery mo#e I ma1e. &e raise the sail and cast o22 in the lightest o2 )ree0es. She
spreads her .ing3 leans almost impercepti)ly3 and mo#es through the .ater 8 .ith
a per2ection o2 )eauty )y .hich I am already distracted3 and 1no. that I shall )e
led astray 8and that I shall go .illingly.
It is e#ening3 and only time 2or us to sail gently up the ri#er to a /uiet )elo.
a )an1 o2 oa1 trees3 .here )lue)ells mist the ground .ith colour and the air .ith
per2ume e#ery spring. It is a spot to .hich I return e#ery year since 2irst I
disco#ered it3 and .ould I 1no. 2eel called )ac1 to 2rom .hate#er corner o2 the
.orld I might happen to )e .hen Day comes. I ha#e e#en3 in a sentimental
moment3 suggested that I .ould li1e my ashes to )e one day o22ered to the
)lue)ells in this .ood3 i2 the 2ishes don<t ta1e them 2irst.
The night is completely still3 e+cept 2or a 2e. curle.s and a pair o2 "anada
geese not 2ar a.ay. The .ater departs and lea#es us on the mud during the night3
and I 2eel li1e the cripple )oy o2 5amlyn .ho .as le2t )ehind 6ust .hen he
thought that the music and 6oy o2 li2e .as carrying him .ith it. 9ut the piper
returns3 and .e 2eel oursel#es gently li2ted again3 and 1no. that the doors ha#e
not yet closed.
I .atch the patterns o2 moonlight re2lected 2orm the .ater onto the dec1
a)o#e my head3 and 2eel ho. already something I shaped .ith my o.n hand has
ac/uired an identity o2 her o.n and )ecome a little secreti#e and mysterious e#en
to her o.n creator
#t is said9 C %ou have become mad because of
That which you love.B
# say9 C The full savour of life is there only for
the mad.B
%Dfi’E, /aoudh al rayDhin.
" /
First !orning
Separation & %elationsip
The morning comes3 and I .a1e up 2or the 2irst time in this ca)in3 as I shall
perhaps .a1e up many times3 to 2ind strange ne. .orlds .aiting 2or me outside. 9ut
this time 2eels li1e the First Dorning3 and the .orld is ne. .ithout tra#elling to search
2or no#elty. I can hear the .ater mo#ing past the hull ma1ing the 2aintest o2 sounds
against the laps o2 her plan1s. The tide is rising3 ha#ing turned and li2ted us o22 the mud
early this morning3 and no. she s.ings gently to her anchor .ith her stern turned up
ri#er and to.ards the rising sun. The sunlight streams through the open companion.ay
and hatch3 ma1ing )right patches that mo#e gently )ac1 and 2orth across the green
cushion on the other )erth3 the cream painted plan1ing and the #arnished .ood o2 the
mast 2oot3 and re2lects 2rom the sur2ace o2 the .ater to shine up again though the
portholes and ma1e rippling patterns on the dec1head .hich mo#e to the same rhythm.
I can 2eel the slight mo#ement o2 the )oat as she responds to the tide3 and to any shi2t o2
my )ody8.eight on the )erth. (ll this is 2or the moment is so simply and a)sor)ingly
real and )eauti2ul in its e#ery detail that I 2eel completely and contentedly at peace.
There is enough .armth in the sun to ma1e only simple clothes necessary. I 2ill
the 1ettle and put it on the sto#e7 I 2ind an apple7 I go out into the coc1pit to loo1 at my
.orld. It is a morning o2 rare 2reshness and clarity3 and a moment o2 great transition 2or
me. I can let go o2 the demands that )uilding the )oat has made on my attention3
en6oya)le as they ha#e )een3 and turn to.ards the un1no.n possi)ilities o2 the 2uture7
and )et.een these t.o greater preoccupations I can pause and simply loo1 out at the
.orld a)out me .ith a .ider perspecti#e and an undirected sense o2 2reedom. I3 too3 am
riding to a di22erent anchor and 2eeling the 2irst intimations o2 ne. tides o2 possi)ility
and mo#ement.
The cosmic rhythms o2 the sun and moon induce diurnal and seasonal rhythms in
all li#ing things on the planet. I 2eel these cycles in my o.n )ody3 in my emotion3 and
in my energy as it turns out to the .orld or )ac1 in on mysel2. I seem to ha#e rhythms
in my mind3 too3 that are no less responsi#e. Fne o2 the most noticea)le o2 these
happens each day: I ha#e descri)ed some o2 the @metaphysical games I sometimes play
at night: @&hat i2 4othing *+isted>< and @&hat i2 4othing had Deaning>< Athere are
others I ha#en<t mentionedB. The essential character o2 these games is o2 letting go o2
the 2amiliar .orld and its structure. It is a gesture that )elongs naturally to the night3 to
preparation 2or sleep A.hose 2unction is still so mysteriousB3 to the .inter 8 and3 I
imagine3 to death. In the morning there seems to )e a time o2 transition3 o2 a.a1ening
to the .orld and loo1ing at things .ith a ne. and unclouded #ision3 )e2ore the mind
)ecomes acti#e .ith its ha)itual responses and interpretations. This @2resh loo1< is a
.onder2ul sensation 8 and it goes .ith morning3 and spring3 and )irth7 and may)e .ith
.hate#er 2ollo.s death.
This morning it is particularly #i#id. I 2eel li1e (dam in the Harden o2 *den. I am
alone7 I am a part3 e#en the summit3 o2 creation3 I see and 2eel and taste as i2 it .ere the
2irst act o2 consciousness in the .orld. It is my tas1 to ac1no.ledge each ne. thing that
I see and e+perience 8 to loo13 to 1no.3 and to name. 9eauty did not e+ist )e2ore I
opened my eyes7 the sun .as not .arm until it touched my s1in7 the .ater did not
.hisper in the rushes until I listened. I e#en ha#e my apple3 and it certainly loo1s
tempting. (dam .as 2aced .ith a choice .hen he encountered his apple3 and it seems
to ha#e )een a particularly un2air one: to choose )et.een 1no.ledge and the simplicity
o2 %aradise as he 1ne. it. The catch .as that he could ha#e no idea .hat 1no.ledge
meant until a2ter he had chosen it3 and then there .as no .ay )ac1. I .onder i2 he e#er
regretted the choice 8 .hether .e as his descendants might e#er ha#e regretted the
choice> &hat i2 there .ere a .ay )ac1 no. 8 i2 my apple came .ith the .arning that in
eating it I .ould regain the Harden o2 *den )ut at the cost o2 the loss o2 1no.ledge>
The loss o2 consciousness I thin1 I ha#e to say: the consciousness o2 2reedom3 o2
choice7 the consciousness o2 mysel2 as e+isting3 as )eing someho. separate3 o2 ha#ing
the possi)ility and responsi)ility o2 choice7 the di22erentiation o2 good and e#il3 the
)etter and the .orse3 .hich that compels.
&ould I eat the apple> I2 I am tempted a little )it I thin1 it is a)o#e all out o2
curiosity. 9ut there .ould )e no .ay )ac13 no possi)ility o2 choosing to come
)ac13 no a.areness o2 choice at all3 I thin1 I .ould re2use. &hate#er consciousness is it
2eels 2ar too precious to surrender3 e#en 2or a li2e o2 ease and )liss. %erhaps )ecause it is
in some sense all I ha#e. &hat<s the point o2 )liss i2 I don<t 1no. I ha#e it3 that there is
some other possi)ility> A&e ha#e3 o2 course3 disco#ered our o.n unripe 2orm o2 the
Fruit o2 the Tree o2 Inconsciousness ; and it is )oth illegal and highly pro2ita)le. So
precious does consciousness seem3 and so pain2ully 2ragile3 so great the temptation to
a)andon it3 that .e try to deny others the 2reedom to gi#e it up. Suicide is another
#ersion7 )ut that<s illegal3 too.B
I am getting side8trac1ed. It must ha#e )een a pro)lem 2or (dam3 too. &here to
)egin> There are so many interesting things to thin1 a)out3 and li2e is so short. (nd the
1ettle is )oiling.
The .orld I ha#e )een gi#en3 my o.n Harden o2 *den3 is )usy: a 2e. herons
ha#e made their ragged nests in the tops o2 the oa1 trees a)o#e the )lue)ell .ood.
There are e#ery year3 )ut I can see at least three nests that are in use3 .ith their
ungainly occupants 2lying .atch2ully around in .ide circles3 or departing on important
errands3 to return and land .ith a 2e. a.1.ard 2laps. There are a 2e. roo1s around3
that the herons don<t seem to li1e7 and geese3 and shelduc13 and curle.3 and a )u00ard
.hose imperious call I can hear in the distance. There are t.o cormorants high in a tree
.ith their .ings spread: they loo1 #ery out o2 place in such a rural setting. I can see a
small and rather restless 2loc1 o2 oyster8catchers that ha#e settled 2or a moment. There
are other )irds3 too7 I shall get round to naming them .hen I<m not so )usy. ( small
group o2 )lac1 and .hite hei2ers has come do.n to the other )an1 and they are all
standing there staring at me. (s temporary Lord o2 "reation3 I am 2ree to .ander .here
I .ill3 or 6ust to stare3 li1e the hei2ers.
&hile the tide is rising3 I shall sit and stare3 and ha#e a cup o2 tea. This ri#er on
.hich I am so lightly poised is my lin1 .ith the great .orld3 and I can 2ollo. it .hen I
choose. &hen the tide turns I ha#e only to .eigh anchor and the .ater .ill carry me
do.n to the sea and )eyond3 to .here the .a#es lap the shores o2 all the continents o2
the .orld. I need no permission3 no tic1et3 no passport or #isa3 or che/ue)oo13 and no
airport or ship or motor.ay3 to turn my course to.ards any one o2 them I choose.
The )oat is my means o2 gaining this 2reedom3 and I ha#e )een a long time
)uilding her. I ha#e also )een .or1ing on .hat it means to claim my o.n 2reedom to
understand the .orld in my o.n .ay3 to ta1e up my primal )urden o2 consciousness as
.ell as I am a)le. Today I )egin to try the )oat3 to 2ind out ho. she .or1s in her proper
element: she seems #ery happy to )e here so 2ar. (t the same time it seems a good
chance to loo1 )ac1 and see ho. my e22orts to ma1e sense o2 the .orld are going
; .hether I am in any sense ready to mo#e 2or.ard to.ards some .ider and more
testing ocean.
The 2irst thing I notice: although I )egan this #enture .ith no conscious agenda3
no 2inal destination3 no route map 8 nothing )ut a .ill to see more3 and to see more
clearly 8 I ha#e increasingly 2ocused on trying to understand the process o2 ma1ing
sense itsel2. This has happened /uite naturally3 a sort o2 underlying tidal dri2t that has
carried me that .ay. There is also a natural logic to it: a )it li1e studying )oat design
)e2ore setting out to )uild one: it seems the o)#ious place to start. So I ha#e .illingly
gone that .ay: .ith the de2inite personal pro#iso that it is intended as a means o2
mo#ing on3 rather than an end in itsel2. Gesign is an honoura)le trade in itsel23 )ut I
.ould li1e to use anything I achie#e to carry me
It is one o2 the perennial temptations o2 philosophy ; perhaps not the 2irst that
(dam .as a.are o23 )ut his descendants ha#e o2ten encountered it o2 late: to return to
.hat is most 2undamental and certain3 and to )uild 1no.ledge and understanding on
this 2irm 2oundation. In practice this natural and rational .ish is doomed: there is so
much a)out oursel#es and our thought and language that .e cannot discard or seriously
dou)t )ecause they are the #ery means )y .hich .e thin13 including our dou)ting and
The metaphor o2 relaying the 2oundations o2 our 1no.ledge supposes that .e
ha#e some 2irm ground on .hich to stand and .or1. Fur real situation suggests a
di22erent metaphor: it<s as i2 .e are a2loat on the sea o2 )eing and our sense8ma1ing3 our
understanding3 is the #essel that 1eeps us a2loat. &e cannot hope to dismantle the ship
on .hich .e sail in order to )uild a )etter one. The )est .e can do is to plan to inspect
it as care2ully as possi)le3 and e#en to patch up or replace a 2e. )its here and there. &e
ha#e to accept that e#en i2 .e .ere to replace e#ery single piece o2 it 8 as Joshua
Slocum did .ith the Spay 8 the ne. ship .ill still )e the Dary Jane that .e )egan .ith.
The structure3 the 2orm3 cannot )e radically changed in this .ay: each ne. part that .e
2ashion is constrained )y the need to 2it in .ith the old7 )ut .e .ould3 at least3 get to
1no. her )etter in this .ay3 .hich can )e use2ul3 and .ould certainly )e reassuring.
So though I really don<t 1no. .here to )egin3 may)e it doesn<t matter too much.
It<s one o2 those impossi)le /uestions: I can<t e#en )egin to consider .here to )egin
.ithout assuming an to the /uestion. The point is that .e ha#e already )egun7
.e launched our )oat and )egan on our communal /uest 2or understanding a long time
ago3 .e are already a long .ay out at sea .ith no idea at all .hat<s ahead: it could .ell
)e the edge o2 the .orld. For a mid8ocean sur#ey3 the idea o2 ma1ing sense is as good a
starting point as any3 and )etter than most.
Da1ing sense is a mental process3 something .e do in our minds7 )ut it is not
urely mental. &e do it in intimate relationship .ith our )odies and our senses3 the .ay
.e are acted on and a22ected )y the .orld3 and also the .ay .e act on and a22ect the
.orld. &e also use our emotional responses3 .e e#aluate3 .e are instincti#e3 .e are
intuiti#e7 .e dream3 .e remem)er3 .e imagine. *ll o2 these things are our e+perience3
our .orld. &e try to ma1e sense o2 our .orld ; including all o2 our e+perience7 and
.e use our e+perience3 perhaps all o2 it3 to help us ma1e sense. The materials and the
tools are in this case the same thing. The idea that .e are3 or can e#er )e3 detached and
o)6ecti#e o)ser#ers is a 2anci2ul myth that .as introduced )y the scienti2ic method3 and
.hich science has ac1no.ledged as untena)le in recent decades. &e are in#ol#ed in
this thing.
Da1ing sense 8 o2 my e+perience. Da1ing sense o2 the .orld3 may)e3 )ut my
e+perience is all I ha#e o2 it. Dy conscious e+perience at that3 any other 1ind )eing
mere guess.or1.
"onsciousness itsel2 so easily )ecomes a mystery: .hat is it> 9ut the only
possi)le is #ery simple: it<s e#erything3 e#erything .e ha#e. So there<s nothing
to di22erentiate it 2rom3 to compare it .ith3 no conte+t to set it in. From our conscious
e+perience .e )egin to create a .orld3 to construct a .orld that ma1es sense3 to deduce
an o)6ecti#e .orld3 a theoretical .orld. I2 .e .ant to place consciousness in that
.orld3 to speculate on the o)6ecti#e3 theoretical nature o2 consciousness A2or .hich .e
need to )e pretty sophisticatedB .e should not )e surprised i2 this #ersion lac1s
something ; the su)6ecti#e reality o2 consciousnessE
Dy e+perience is e#erything that happens A2or meB. "an I say anything more
)asic3 more general3 than that> So .hat happens in my e+perience> Gi22erent things:
and I e+perience them as di22erent. There are di22erences7 I respond to di22erences. I
ma1e distinctions. That seems to )e the )asic mental process3 the primary mental act.
In calling it a mental act I am already ma1ing a )ig distinction3 )ut one .hich I
learnt #ery early on. Initially it is the distinction )et.een .hat I @recei#e<3 .hat is gi#en
to me3 .hat is a)solutely )eyond my control ; and that .hich I seem to )e a)le to
in2luence and control to some e+tent.
I ha#e e+perience ; .hich I can select to some degree: I can turn my head3 close
my eyes3 and so on ; )ut not determine .hat I .ill see .hen I loo1. (part3 o2 course3
2rom .ays I can physically alter the .orld. The tree outside my .indo. is part o2 the
given9 I can<t choose .hether or ho. it should )e ; e+cept3 2or e+ample3 )y actually
chopping it do.n. This rather important and interesting phenomenon3 my limited
capacity to a22ect the .orld3 is something I spend much o2 my li2e learning a)out ; it
scope3 its limits3 ho. I could3 or should3 choose to e+ercise it. I hope I ha#en<t 2inished
learning yet.
I can a22ect the outside .orld7 and I can a22ect the internal .orld o2 my thoughts
Aand maybe o2 my 2eelings3 and o2 my .illB. To .hat is gi#en I can respond mentally. I
can use my mind7 and the .ay I do this3 the .ay I see the .orld3 understand it3 ma1e
sense o2 it3 seems to ma1e an e#en more 2undamental di22erence to me than ta1ing an
a+e to a 2e. trees.
(ll this has a #ery misty and elusi#e /uality: mental e#ents3 shi2ts in
understanding3 are su)6ecti#e3 in#isi)le3 intangi)le. Trees are solid and o)6ecti#e. It is
much easier to 1no. that the tree is still there3 e#en .hen I<m not loo1ing out o2 the
.indo. Athough philosopher ha#e managed to ma1e a pro)lem out o2 that3 too ...B3 than
to 1no. .hether I understand the .orld the same .ay as I did yesterday. The .hole
thing has this strange sel28re2le+i#e /uality3 li1e trying to catch the image o2 a mirror in
another mirror: images 2orm and e#aporate3 /uestions re2lect and multiply to a receding
in2inity. I seem to )e le2t .ith either nothing or e#erything 8 and I can<t do anything
.ith either. Sometime I .ould much pre2er to go and dig the garden3 or go out to the
.or1shop3 plant a tree3 or cut one up and )uild a )oat3 rather than try and think any
more. 9ut I 1no.3 2or sure3 that .here#er I go my mind goes .ith me: .hat I thin13 the
.ay I understand3 does a22ect me continually7 so it is .orth thin1ing a)out3 and i2 I can
ma1e progress3 learn to do it )etter3 understand a little more3 ma1e )etter sense3 then it
.ill ma1e a di22erence to me and to the .orld.
(s a psychotherapist this 1ind o2 a.areness o2 thought and its is part o2 my
.or1 .ith other people. Such .or1 depends on the )elie2 that there is something in the
inner con2iguration o2 people that can either )e 2i+ed3 rigid and in2le+i)le3 isolated and
unresponsi#e3 or can change3 can gro. and li#e and respond to e#ents and possi)ilities.
(nd the di22erence )et.een these t.o states is enormous: it the /uality and o2
and )readth o2 e#erything that happens to someone3 to their e+ternal li#es and to the
people around them.

If Hitler had had a good psychotherapist … There’s professional self-importance
for you. Maybe some better friends would have been even more valuable.
So there is something a)out ho. .e thin13 ho. our inner .orld is3 that matters3
as .ell as )eing interesting. &hether .e ha#e much control or choice in these things is
another /uestion 8 the more important /uestion and the harder one 8 )ut to try to loo1
and see more clearly must come 2irst3 )ecause it<s one o2 the 2e. things that .e 1no.
.e can do.
I e+perience mysel2 as ha#ing an inner .orld3 .ithin .hich are things li1e
perceptions3 concepts3 ideas3 memories3 images3 2eeling and so on. It<s a place .here I
2eel I can e+plore3 and e+periment and play3 and deri#e great interest and pleasure. I can
descri)e e#ents and 2eatures in this .orld3 and tell you a)out it3 and as1 you a)out
yours. To do this3 o2 course3 .e need language. So shall .e stop3 and gi#e some
attention to that great and 2ascinating phenomenon> I 2eel some compulsion3 another
Siren lure3 to turn aside: .hat is language> .hat are its origins3 its limitations and its
po.ers> This great #ehicle o2 meaning and truth ; .hat does it really carry3 and .hat
does it distort3 .hat illusions o2 meaning and truth does it con6ure7 or are such illusions
all .e can e#er ha#e> Fr shall I stop my ears and 1eep ro.ing3 or lash mysel2 to the
mast ; and mi+ a 2e. more metaphors as a distraction>
Language seems to .or1 )ecause .e ha#e shared .orld o2 meaning. %ossi)ly the
e+ternal .orld is the only shared ground3 and is .here .e must )uild our meaning. &e
certainly use language to tal1 a)out our inner li2e: perhaps .e do this only )y the 2orced
a)duction o2 metaphors3 so that it<s no .onder they get a )it mi+ed in the struggle: )ut I
don<t thin1 that is all. I )elie#e other people<s inner e+perience is at least similar to my
o.n3 e#en i2 I can ne#er pro#e it. &hen you say @I am angry<3 2or e+ample3 I know what
you mean, not )ecause you<#e used a metaphor3 or made a )eha#ioural statement3 )ut
)ecause I )elie#e I ha#e a similar e+perience. I use this e+ample )ecause 2or a long time
I actually didn<t 1no. .hat it meant3 so I 1no. the di22erence. I actually thin1 that as a
child I had no real e+perience3 or insu22icient e+perience3 o2 people )eing angry. &hat a
sheltered childhood. I @disco#ered< anger .hen I had a teaching 6o) in my early
t.enties. The strange internal emotions I .as ha#ing shoc1ed me ; )ut I .as a)le to
say @This must )e .hat people mean )y anger<3 and could )egin to 2it this ne.
e+perience into my understanding. A(long .ith my comple+ reactions it ; 2or
e+ample3 I .as )oth a )it 2rightened and ashamed o2 it.B The It1u8Inuit *s1imos
allegedly ha#e no .ord 2or anger3 in spite o2 their AallegedlyB great num)er o2 .ords 2or
- It is this inner .orld that I .ant to e+plore in parallel .ith the outer3 in
recognition o2 the importance3 and interest and )eauty and strangeness o2 )oth3 the
similarities and di22erences3 and the endless interactions )et.een them.
&hat goes on in here in my mental .orld3 .hat happens3 .hat do minds do? I
don<t .ant to challenge the di22erence )et.een the outer and the inner3 the o)6ecti#e
and the su)6ecti#e3 and so on. That<s not the point at all. I can certainly .onder .hat
these di22erences might mean3 )ut I can<t challenge the 2act that there is a di22erence. To
say3 2or e+ample3 @e#erything is su)6ecti#e<3 or .hate#er3 6ust ignores a distinction that I
1no. I am a.are o2.
That seems to )e the 2irst thing my mind does: it makes distinctions.
I am a.are o2 di22erence3 I respond to di22erence. That3 2or the moment3 seems
a)out as )asic as I can go3 a sort o2 personal @cogito3 that I can<t see any .ay o2 either
disputing or analysing 2urther.
I ma1e distinctions: I e+perience #ariety3 I respond to
the 2act o2 #ariety3 I di22erentiate. I see3 hear3 touch3 taste3 smell ; and they are
di22erent. I e+perience red and green3 hot and cold3 loud and so2t3 s.eet and sour3 and so
on ; and they are di22erent. I notice similarities7 I notice degrees o2 di22erence.
That I am a.are o2 degrees o2 di22erence seems )asic: things can )e slightly
di22erent or #ery di22erent. There seems to )e t.o 1inds o2 di22erence Adi22erent
di22erencesB: a sliding @analogue< scale o2 di22erence ; li1e green3 ranging 2rom light to
dar1 green ; and @digital< clear )oundary di22erence3 as )et.een green and red. &e
thin13 ma1e sense3 using )oth 1inds o2 di22erence in di22erent .ays. There are many
conceptual di22iculties and parado+es conse/uent on the con2usion )et.een these t.o.
Hreen can shade continuously into )lue .ithout suddenly )ecoming )lue at any precise
I have actually in the last few months come across statements that the Inuit have 4,
7, 9, 17, 20 or 40 different words for snow. It has become one of the myths of
epistemology — and, finding scepticism generally more comfortable, am happy to
read more recently that it’s based entirely on myth. That we tend to know and use
different words according to our experience and interests is a fairly trivial observation.
As ever, a good bit of science -brain neurology, in this case - might give me a
theory, an explanation - but in experience the fact of making a distinction precedes
and allows the forming of theories about it; even if in theory it’s the nature of the brain
that precedes and allows the making of distinctions. If we make a distinction between
these two processes and ways of looking, then maybe we don’t need to make a
conflict out of it. Acknowledging points of view need not force a choice between
them, though we seem to be very attached to that point of view.
)oundary ; and yet green and )lue are discontinuously di22erent. Dathematics too1 a
long time to sort some o2 these pro)lems out rationally.
Seeing a tree3 remem)ering a tree3 imagining a tree ; are all a )it similar3 and
/uite di22erent. I di#ide all this up into di22erent areas3 space3 dimensions: the
e+perience o2 sight 2orms a sensory domain7 .ithin it colour 2orms a dimension3 a 2ield
o#er .hich #ariation can occur. 5earing is a sensory domain: the pitch o2 a sound is a
dimension o2 #ariation3 loudness is another3 tonal /uality is another. Internal physical
sensations3 emotions3 memories3 imagination - all these I distinguish ; they are
di22erent. I am ma1ing attern3 2inding form .ithin the di22erence.
I note here that .hate#er my a)ility to see similarities3 e#en to the degree that t.o
things may )e indistinguisha)le3 I ne#er lose a.areness o2 indi#iduality3 or particularity.
I may get con2used a)out .hich is .hich3 )ut I ne#er 2orget that they are di22erent
indi#iduals3 and that this distinction matters. Dy .orld is 2ull o2 particular things ;
and this particularity matters to me. To )e a)le to generalise is #ital to understanding3
)ut to lose indi#iduality .ould ma1e understanding seem pointless.
I di22erentiate ; and I lin1 together7 I lin1 through )onds o2 similarity3 o2
generalisation3 and I lin1 in the sense that pattern and 2orm connect parts into .holes. I
)egin to de#elop a language 2or these di22erences and lin1s. In a purely mental .ay I
am a.are o2 di22erences and similarities3 distinctions and lin1s ; and )egin to do
things .ith this a.areness. Instead o2 )eing passi#e )e2ore it3 or o#er.helmed )y it3 I
ha#e some .onder2ul mental capacities to )ring to )ear: I ay attention to selected parts
or aspects7 and I concetualise Ain .ays I tal1ed a)out as e(traction and abstraction
earlierB. These t.o are closely lin1ed ; though di22erent7 using them I 2orm Ae+tract3
a)stractB o)6ects3 entities3 things8as8distinct. Initially
I do this in domains o2 closely
Various words to do with time are appearing, as if things actually happen in a
certain order: there are several possible meanings for them - that as I grow up I
actually do these things in succession; that whenever I actually think there is some
order of progression that I follow; that there is a purely logical order of dependence in
these things, whether we follow it in practice or not. I would guess that all these are to
some extent true — but whereas talking about them forces us into a linear structure,
saying one thing and then another, our minds don’t seem to have this same restriction,
and we can mentally do things as an organic whole, whatever the logical dependencies
in our description may be. Whatever we think about often shares this quality of
organic wholeness and resists linear description. Maybe a holographic word processor
would help. Maybe not.
connected e+perience: I see @physical o)6ects< as groupings o2 perceptions .hich ha#e
continuity in )oth space and time. Red triangles and )lac1 lines are more immediately
distinguished than trees and )oats.

Lin1s across .ider gaps ta1e more time: the 2eel o2 a triangle to the touch can
connect .ith the #isual image3 the smell o2 a rose can connect .ith the sight o2 a rose. I
learn to ma1e lin1s3 and thus the things and concepts o2 my .orld gro. more rich: I
remem)er7 I learn7 I am changed7 I see and understand the .orld3 and relate to the
.orld 2rom and through my understanding7 and my understanding gro.s and changes7
the .orld and the .ay I relate to it changes.
This is all so o)#ious )ecause it<s so 2amiliar: nothing could )e more 2amiliar. So
it<s hard to see, to )ring our attention to3 to see perhaps in a ne. .ay. &e are thin1ing
a)out something that .e do all the time3 )ut .hich is in 2act so comple+ and so 2ast that
it may )e di22icult to see ho. it happens3 to discern any structure in the process itsel2 ;
/uite apart 2rom the 2act that it<s the thin1ing process itsel2 that .e are trying to thin1
a)out. It is #ery easy to )e )rie2 and 2acile a)out it: .hat .e must do i2 .e are serious is
to loo1 again and again at the most simple moments o2 perception and thought3 to
.onder a)out them3 to /uestion .hat .e do3 to test possi)ilities3 to see i2 .e can do
anything di22erently. It is #ery tedious to do it as care2ully as possi)le3 to 1eep trying
and not to gi#e up. It means paying the closest possi)le attention to the most ordinary
and mundane o2 things imagina)le.
&e see1 to go right )ac1 to the most 2undamental and simple 2orms o2
e+perience. &e .ho ha#e )ecome so s1illed and sophisticated that .e no longer gi#e
any thought or attention to the most simple things3 may no longer )e a)le to ma1e them
into pro)lems a)out .hich .e can as1 /uestions and see ne. things. &e are loo1ing 2or
patterns in the 2amiliar3 )ut at a ne. le#el o2 a)straction. This le#el o2 a)straction is not
at all necessary to )e a)le to percei#e and thin1: e#ery child in the .orld learns these
things in a #ery short time .ithout and consciousness a)out how to do it. 9ut i2 .e can
see ho.3 .e can perhaps learn to do it )etter3 learn a ne. 1ind o2 2reedom.
We perhaps have a built in predilection for certain objects — like human faces. The
way we see almost certainly depends on all kinds of things in our biology and history
(in theory …).
9ac1 here3 at the most )asic le#el o2 mental processes3 close to the ground o2 all
thin1ing3 there is something else that happens that I thin1 .e tend to miss3 )ut is o2
2undamental signi2icance.
&e ma1e distinctions3 yes: red and green3 loud and so2t3 )ig and small3 hot and
cold3 and so on: .e notice the di22erences3 respond to them3 they ma1e a di22erence to
us 8 and then .e remem)er them3 name them.
*nd there<s something else3 less easy to descri)e: .hene#er .e ma1e a
distinction3 e+perience a di22erence3 .e also e(erience a relationshi.
&e don<t 6ust see that t.o things are di22erent in si0e3 position or colour 8 in the
#ery act o2 distinguishing .e are also a.are o2 the connection, the relationshi 8 the
secific 2orm o2 connection and relationship 8 that e+ists )et.een that .hich .e ha#e
&e distinguish, e+tract things3 see them as things 8 a2ter .hich .e can treat them
as separate. &e thin1 a)out them3 manipulate them in our imagination3 relate and
compare them to other things3 other things .hich may only e+ist in our memories or
our imaginations.
The capacity to separate mentally3 to a)stract things and name them3 and treat
them as separate3 is enormously po.er2ul in its conse/uences. It is at the root o2 our
.ay o2 ma1ing sense7 o2 understanding3 manipulating3 controlling e#erything around
us. 4ot surprisingly .e are #ery a.are o2 separation3 .e see the .orld as composed o2
separate things. To connect them together again .e tend to create comple+ scienti2ic
theories3 and then .onder .hether these connection are real or imagined. 9ut it might
actually )e more accurate to say that it is the searation that .e imagine: that the .orld
o2 our e+perience is lin1ed into a single .hole3 )ut that in order to li#e in it in our
particular conscious .ay .e ha#e to create searation3 a separation .hich does not
actually e+ist.
‘&ut the arts of the world are all so related and
linked together that it is imossible to know one
without the other and without the whole.’
It seems to me that this separation is not itsel2 such a 2undamental part o2 the
.orld: or rather ; o2 course its 2undamental ; )ut so also is connection a
fundamental asect of our e(erience.
*#ery time .e @ma1e a distinction< .e also @ma1e a relationship<. *#ery time .e
dra. a )oundary3 notice a di22erence3 e+tract an o)6ect and conceptualise it ; .e also
are a.are o2 the relationship that e+ists across the )oundary3 or )et.een an o)6ect and
its conte(t.
&e cannot separate .ithout also )eing .are o2 these relationships ; they are
e/ually part o2 our concepts3 our understanding3 as the /ualities that de2ine the
distinction. &e cannot3 do not3 percei#e or thin1 a)out anything .ithout also including
its relationship .ith other things3 and .ith its conte+t.
9ecause .e name an o)6ect3 perhaps .ith a single .ord7 )ecause this singleness
o2 the o)6ect3 the separate unity and independence that .e gi#e it3 are so use2ul ; and
are thus the 2ocus o2 our attention7 )ecause this act of attention itsel2 is part o2 the
techni/ue o2 sense8ma1ing ; )ecause o2 all this3 .e 2ail to notice ho. much more than
that is in#ol#ed in the process.
The ob'ect 2or us3 the meaning o2 the name3 seems to )e the thing searated ;
)ut .e cannot actually separate: .hene#er .e do3 the act o2 separation .hich creates
the ob'ect also creates a conte(t to .hich the o)6ect has a particular relationship. The
meaning o2 the concept does not reside simply in the identity o2 the o)6ect3 )ut also in
all its relationships to the 2ull conte+t o2 the e+perience 2rom .hich .e e+tracted it. (nd
the meaning is not static: it continues to gro. .ith our continued e+perience o2 the
o)6ect and o2 the 2urther conte+ts .ithin .hich .e e+perience it ; including in the
2orm o2 memory or image. &hat I mean or understand )y @)oat< or @tree< is not the same
as .hat I meant or understood .hen I 2irst learnt the .ords3 or at any other time since.
Aifference and similarity are particular e+amples o2 relationship3 perhaps the most
o)#ious3 the ones that .e 2ocus on3 )ut they are not the only ones 2rom .hich .e )uild
meaning. @Relationship< is a #ery a)stract concept7 relationships can )e #ery su)tle and
comple+3 and 2ar more di22icult to see or descri)e or name ; )ut that does not mean
they are any less essential aspects o2 conceptual o)6ects. F)6ects ha#e @singularity<3 and
lend themsel#es to the @single pointed< /uality o2 attention and o2 naming. Relationships
are not @single< in this .ay3 they are more di22icult to loo1 straight at3 to distinguish in a
.ay that can )e named. ANaming and aying attention to are relational concepts3 as is
being aware of, and thinking about9 there is much here to thin1 a)out.B
The ri#er3 as I loo1 at it no.3 .ith the sun getting higher in the s1y ; and .armer
; is a shi2ting sur2ace o2 pattern and 2orm and colour7 there are 2ragmented and
shi2ting re2lections o2 s1y and trees ; the hei2ers3 .hich also had their o.n re2lections
in the .ater3 ha#e gone no. ; to .hich the .ater and the light add tones and /ualities
o2 their o.n. It all changes so rapidly that I cannot catch a moment and hold it to see
.hat shapes and colours are in it7 the colours are so #aried that I could not la)el or
reproduce a tiny 2raction o2 them7 i2 I let mysel2 2ollo. the detail and mo#ement that is
there in 2ront o2 me it is almost as i2 I could mentally dro.n in my 2amiliar ri#er3 as i2
some magical siren3 some spirit o2 the ri#er3 perhaps Syrin+ hersel23 could lure and trap
me 2or e#er. ( photograph .ould catch the shapes )ut lose the mo#ement3 and the
mo#ement is e/ually part o2 the reality o2 the ri#er.
(gain3 i2 I loo1 at the trees on the )an1: there3 too3 are spirits3 %an and his .ood
nymphs3 .ith their o.n 2orms and colours ; di22erent 2orms and shades and depths
2rom the ri#er3 .ith more sta)ility3 though there is mo#ement there too3 and again it is
all there .aiting to ensnare me .ith their endless temptation to detail. (nd the 2ields
and roc1s7 grass and 2reshly ploughed dar1 earth7 and the s1y3 sensations o2 elusi#ely
changing light and su)tle mo#ement.
I2 I e+tend my a.areness3 e+plore 2urther my possi)ilities3 I 2ind also there are
sounds and smells3 sensations o2 touch on my s1in and internal sensations in my )ody7
there are 2eelings al.ays in the )ac1ground3 and a 2lo. o2 memory and image3 o2
thoughts and ideas.
I am con2ronted .ith all this3 this
#ariety3 this pantheon o2 richness and
mystery3 all this possi)ility o2 e+perience3
and its dra.s me into its depths. AI recall
my 2irst e+perience o2 LSG7 had it not
.orn o22 I might ha#e )een standing in
the 2orest still ...B 9ut I am a.are o2
something else: I ha#e a 1ind o2 2reedom3
a possi)ility o2 choice. To e#ery part o2 it
all I can pay attention or not pay
attention3 respond or not respond3 go .ith
it or not go .ith it. The degree o2 2reedom #aries3 certainly: some sensations3 li1e pain3
are e+tremely insistent3 and some3 li1e a)stract ideas3 may )e #ery elusi#e and di22icult
to pursue3 )ut in some a)solutely )asic and primary .ay I e+perience the 2act o2 some
1ind o2 2reedom and choice. (ll this is3 so to spea13 @possi)le e+perience<3 o2 .hich I
seem to )e 2aintly3 #aguely a.are3 .hich I can scan in a detached sort o2 .ay3 and
choose to attend to in more detail or to pass o#er and remain as only possi)le ...
That @#ague a.areness< is an e+traordinary Aand also #ery ordinaryB a)ility: all
these shi2ting shapes and colours I can lump together into a sort o2 conceptual unit3 and
perhaps la)el as @ri#er< or @.ater<. (nother group )ecomes .oods or 2ields or s1y. &ith
this simple3 2amiliar techni/ue3 this s1ill3 this gi2t3 this art3 I need no longer )e lost or
o#er.helmed or caught in the lures o2 Syrin+ or %an. The ri#er may catch and hold me3
distract3 amuse3 di#ert3 2ascinate3 please or ser#e me ; .hen I choose. Fther.ise I can
dismiss it: it is simply @ri#er< ; all its in2inite #ariety contained and put in its place7 I
need nothing more 2rom it 2or no. than perhaps su22icient understanding to a#oid
2alling in. AShould I 2all in3 it .ould a)sor) my attention .ith some insistence3 so that I
.ould e+perience #ery little choice in the matter.B To some enormously use2ul degree I
ha#e3 in some mental3 conceptual .ay mastered the ri#er3 2ound a place 2or it in my
scheme o2 things3 made all the sense o2 it I need 2or no..
Li1e.ise .ith the .oods. Simply .oods: until I ha#e need o2 them3 some interest
in them ; then I can attend more closely3 see that they are made up o2 trees ;
di22erent trees3 oa1 and ash and )eech. AThere are times3 o2 course3 .hen I 2ail to notice
or use the 2reedom I ha#e3 and I may entirely miss the trees and see only the .ood3 or
perhaps miss the .ood and see only the treesB. (nd the trees are made up o2 trun1s and
‘Truly, nothing more resembles .od’s eyes than the
eyes of a child; they see the world for the first time,
and create it. &efore this, the world is chaos. *ll
creatures < animals, trees, men, stones; everything9
forms, colours, voices, smells, lightening flashes
< flow une(lained in front of the child’s eyes 3no,
not in front of them, inside them4, and he cannot
fasten them down, cannot establish order. The child’s
world is made not of clay, to last, but of clouds. *
cool bree0e blows across his temles, and the world
condenses, attenuates, vanishes. 8haos must have
assed in front of .od’s eyes in 'ust this way before
the 8reation.’
)ranches and lea#es ; di22erent lea#es and di22erent )ranches. (nd the )ranches are
made o2 .ood3 di22erent .oods. (ll o2 this 1no.ledge and discrimination I can use in a
#ariety o2 .ays: to a#oid )umping into things3 to decorate my .orld3 to en6oy3 to paint3
to cut do.n3 to )urn3 to car#e3 to )uild mysel2 a )oat ...
I can go deep into detail and di22erence 8 as 2ar as I .ish 8 or I can mo#e )ac13 let
the detail 2ade and elide3 coalesce into o#erall 2orms: altogether it )ecomes simply my
@#isual e+perience<3 and I can allo. it all to slip 2rom my attention3 all o2 it3 .hile I
attend to the sound o2 the curle.s3 or the 2eel o2 a #ery slight )ree0e on the )ac1 o2 my
nec13 or the need to hold the paper i2 the .ind tries to ta1e it 8 or to memories and
images o2 other times3 or to a)stract thoughts a)out perception3 attention and ma1ing
sense ...
I loo1 at the ri#er 8 and either my attention can )e caught )y the shi2ting detail 8
or I can ignore the detail and loo1 at the singleness3 the .holeness o2 the ri#er3 the .ay
all that detail remains someho. contained and .ithin limits. The ri#er stays3 .ith
managea)le appro+imation3 .ithin the same #isual outline7 the shapes and colours stay
.ithin an appro+imate range. &hile all these limits are un)ro1en it seems #ery e22icient
2or my normal acti#ities to treat it all as a single entity 8 @ri#er<3 and gi#e my attention
to other things. The ri#er in detail3 loo1ing at its parts is al.ays changing: not only can
I not step into the same ri#er t.ice3 I can<t e#en loo1 at it The ri#er @as a .hole<3
ho.e#er3 remains constant.
I2 it .ere to )rea1 these )ounds3 change dramatically in shape3 colour or
)eha#iour3 it .ould pro)a)ly attract my attention3 and I might dou)t my la)el and )e
open to treating it di22erently. &hen 9urnham .ood came to Gunsinane3 and stopped
)eha#ing li1e an ordinary .ood it called 2or a ne. 1ind o2 attention.
There are t.o .ays o2 dealing mentally .ith the .orld3 o2 allotting my limited
attention: I can di22erentiate3 )rea1 up into e#er 2iner detail 8 and I can amalgamate
#aried parts into single .holes. Some relationships )et.een separate things I allo. to
sta)ilise and to )ecome 2i+ed3 so that my attention can lea#e the collection o2 parts and
conceptualise them as a single thing3 a 2orm or pattern. &e can do )oth3 )ut .e can<t
pursue either to any end3 )ecause there may )e no limit in either direction 8 and .e are
oursel#es limited. &hat .e seem to do is a )it o2 each3 in an e#er8shi2ting )alance.
&e slide o#er detail3 a.are o2 the ri#er and s1y and trees3 and let our attention )e
caught either )y something that seems une+pected3 that stands out3 or )y something o2
particular concern and interest to us at the time.
Today is calm3 an almost .indless day7 the ri#er )egins to lose its o.n identity
and to re2lect the colours and shapes o2 the trees and s1y. Fn such a day I can only dri2t
.ith the tide3 or shatter the peace .ith my engine. (t such times I am particularly
sensiti#e to the slightest signs o2 a )ree0e: an almost inaudi)le sigh in the rigging3 a
cooling sensation o2 mo#ing air on my 2ace3 the sight o2 .hat are called @cat<s8pa.s<3
.hen a )ree0e ru22les the sur2ace o2 the .ater and a patch o2 the sur2ace is dar1ened
slightly and the re2lection )ro1en. To notice a cat<s8pa. is to respond to a ne. detail: i2
I .ant to 1no. something a)out the direction o2 the .ind I can loo1 e#en more closely
and o)ser#e the ripples on the sur2ace 8 the gust o2 .ind mo#es at right angles to the
lines o2 the ripples. Dore detail3 more in2ormation7 )ut there is little purpose that I
1no. in loo1ing more closely3 at the indi#idual ripples3 2or e+ample.
Fne o2 the great conse/uences o2 this s1ill in glossing o#er detail is that I )egin to
)e a.are o2 .ider patterns3 o2 relations and connections )et.een things 8 .hat is
sometimes called @the )igger picture<. (ll the di22erent signs o2 .ind Asound3 sight3
2eel ...B3 once la)elled as @.ind< can )e correlated. I learn ne. connections3 and .ith
them comes ne. meaning and ne. understanding. Dy a.areness o2 the .orld ta1es on
a ne. le#el o2 sophistication3 o2 higher a)straction and deeper understanding3 and I can
mo#e a)out in it .ith greater s1ill and assurance. The techni/ue o2 sense8ma1ing opens
up ne. possi)ilities and gi#es in many 2orms.
There is something else particularly interesting in this e+ample: I 1no. nothing o2
the .ind apart 2rom these slightly indirect signs3 and my 1no.ledge o2 it3 my concept
o2 @.ind< is something that arises 2rom correlating all these di22erent signs: the .ind is
something that ru22les the .ater3 cools my s1in3 ma1es a noise in the rigging3 mo#es the
clouds and the lea#es on the trees ... It<s an abstraction3 something I in#ent to e+plain
all these di22erent e+periences and .hich lin1s them together 8 ma1es sense o2 them.
The air as that .hich mo#es .hen the .ind )lo.s is a 2urther a)straction3 and in its
turn gets connected .ith other things3 li1e )reathing and )uoyancy. I in#ent things3
concepts3 a)stractions3 to connect and e+plain .hat actually happens to me. ( concept
li1e @the .ind< contains all these lin1s an patterns in its meaning: the .ind a single
thing3 the thing that the .ord means3 is a complete illusion ; or rather3 a complete
a)straction3 )uilt out o2 my e+periences and una)le to sur#i#e .ithout it.
The ri#er3 the s1y3 the trees3 the .ind ; each o2 these I separate and name. I
could de2ine each o2 these .ords3 thin1ing that in the de2inition I had caught the
meaning that I gi#e them. From these de2initions t.o things are missing: one is my
personal e+perience o2 ri#ers3 trees and .ind7 the other is the .ay these things relate to
other things3 the internal relationships that they contain3 and the relationship to their
I2 I attend to relationship3 I notice3 2or e+ample that the ri#er is beneath the s1y
and the trees3 it is contained by its )an1s3 it has a flat sur2ace .hich is hori0ontal in
relation to the landscape7 the trees are above the ri#er and the ground3 they ha#e a
vertical orientation3 uwards to.ards the s1y7 the s1y is above, behind, beyond
e#erything else. (ll these relational .ords are attempts to descri)e actual relationships
.hich are included in our perceptions and our concepts o2 these things.
Fnce I start trying to list some o2 the relational concepts that are in#ol#ed in
particular ideas3 I )egin to )ecome a.are ho. comple+ and .ide they are. The ri#er3
2or e+ample: it mo#es and 2lo.s do.n.ards7 it comes 2rom high up and
2lo.s do.n to the sea7 it gathers .ater and gro.s as it descends7 the tide rises and
rhythmically 2ills and drains the parts o2 the ri#er7 the ri#er has a history .hich
relates it to the landscape3 and also to the .ater8cycle o2 the planet7 the nature o2 water3
and ho. it relates to other things3 is part o2 the ri#er7 .ater has interactions .ith .ind3
.ith li#ing things3 2ish3 plants3 trees3 animals3 )irds3 people. &here do I stop> (ll o2
these things are part o2 the concept o2 @ri#er< 2or me3 2ull o2 connections and
relationships that reach out in space and time. There are also all the purely personal
associations ; .ith this ri#er in particular ; that are #astly rich and inter.o#en .ith
other things. I 1no. that these are speci2ic3 and not part o2 the @ri#er in general<
concept3 )ut I cannot separate them in my o.n understanding.
*ach thing to .hich the ri#er relates also could )e seen as the centre o2 another
.e) o2 relationships3 and thus are part o2 my understanding o2 @ri#er<. It doesn<t matter
.here .e start: .e can<t really stop until .e ha#e e#erything. To ha#e meaning is to )e
part o2 e#erything in this sense.
Fur conceptual .orld3 our meaning .orld3 is a .hole3 containing 2orm and
structure. This structuredness is o2 the nature o2 the mind3 o2 consciousness. Fut o2
.holeness3 the .holeness o2 e(erience3 the .holeness o2 our world3 the .holeness o2
the world A.hat do .e mean )y separating these three>B our consciousness creates
searation, and simultaneously3 in the same act o2 consciousness3 it creates
relationshi. There is no separation .ithout relationship A.e can conceptually separate
these t.o3 )ut they remain relatedB. &e cannot e+perience or thin1 a)out anything
.ithout these t.o processes occurring.
I seems right to say that the 2irst relationship in some sense is difference, and .ith
it similarity; that there cannot )e any other relationship .ithout there 2irst )eing some
distinction, )ecause relationship is something that occurs )et.een things. Structure or
2orm are internal3 relationship is e+ternal. (ny larger .hole has internal structure3 and
its internal structure is the relationships )et.een its parts. 9ut parts and .holes are
.hat emerges 2rom the act o2 consciousness. So distinction is someho. the ground o2
consciousness on .hich all else gro.s.
Relationships are patterns3 schemata3 that are independent o2 any particular
o)6ects Athough particular o)6ects .ill )e in a relationship in a particular .ayB. They are
not things that .e normally try to list or name in this .ay3 and although it is possi)le to
a)stract and name some relationships there is no reason to suppose that .e can do so
e+hausti#ely. The mind3 and the )rain3 seems to 2unction in a .ay that can hold
relational properties and include them as a 2orce in its conceptualising3 memory and
imagination 2unctions3 .ithout ma1ing them e+plicit o)6ects o2 consciousness.
Relationships occur between things A.hich consciousness has separatedB: the
initial separation is )et.een 6ust one thing and everything else. I e+tract an o)6ect3 I
gi#e attention to the o)6ect7 it emerges 2rom e#erything else3 the )ac1ground o2 the rest
o2 my e+perience to .hich I am gi#ing less attention. The o)6ect comes into e+istence
in its conte(t; its conte+t )eing e#erything else. This relationshi to conte(t is thus
primary in some sense. The o)6ect relates most strongly to .hate#er is closest to it3 and
in a more distant .ay to .hat is more distant. I can )ring to consciousness relationships
across any distance Aincluding @psychic distance<: i.e. .hat is distant in my mind3 in my
e+perience3 rather than 6ust physicallyB.
( relationship can )e named and conceptualised3 )ut the language and thought
in#ol#ed is more a)stract than the language o2 things. Some o2 it is em)odied in
reositions3 .hich 2unction as @.ords )et.een nouns<3 as relationships are
@relationships )et.een things<.
*bove, below, beside, in, inside, out, beyond, behind, before, after, between, in
front - are all prepositional concepts to do .ith spatial relationships. There are others
to do .ith time3 or .ith mo#ement: to, from, out of, away, towards, u, down, across -
and so on and on. There are a lot o2 lin1s )et.een these di22erent dimensions o2
e+perience3 space and time3 )ecause there are similarities )et.een them. &e
conceptualise and a)stract relationships enough to )e a)le to treat them as @things in
themsel#es<7 and then to )e a)le to recognise similarities )et.een them: the spatial
relationships o2 point on a line are similar to the temporal relationships o2 e#ents in
succession. 5ere .e are seeing the similarity )et.een t.o di22erent relationships3 in
di22erent conte+ts. &e 2reely use such relational similarities as sources o2 )oth
conceptual de#ices3 .ays o2 thin1ing3 and o2 linguistic de#ices3 .ays o2 spea1ing.
Thin1ing and spea1ing are closely related.
&hen things relate there is some symmetry )et.een them: they )oth contri)ute to
the relationship3 )oth are important3 signi2icant7 the e+istence and nature o2 the
relationship depends on both, it depends on their distinction and their connectedness.
&e are o2ten inclined to .ant to see one thing as primary3 as coming 2irst3 and the other
as deri#ati#e3 as depending on the 2irst. I 6ust mentioned thought and language as
related. &e might as1: @&hich comes 2irst> Go .e think as .e do )ecause o2 our
language3 or do .e seak as .e do )ecause o2 the .ay .e thin1>< %erhaps this is
)ecause .e ha#e such a )ias to.ards things happening one a2ter the other in a causal
chain. *#en i2 .e 1no. that<s o2ten not true3 that comple+ things can happen together in
mutually dependent .ays3 .e are not used to thin1ing in those terms. "hic1ens and
eggs e#ol#e together3 and so do language and thought. Dany o)6ects in the .orld and
concepts in our minds ha#e this relationship o2 mutual dependence. It is a .ay o2
thin1ing and seeing3 a ha)it o2 mind3 that .e need to de#elop.
I2 the primary act is ma1ing a distinction3 then .e could say that the primary
relational .ord is @not<3 so that .hen I distinguish and o)6ect3 @(<3 2rom e#erything else3
2rom its conte+t3 I am distinguishing @(< 2rom @not (<. The other @logical connectors<
li1e @and<3 @or<3 @implies< need some special consideration: they are deeply related to
conscious acts o2 attention and choice: I can attend to @(< or @9<7 or I can attend to @(
and 9< at the same time7 I can )e a.are o2 some need to choose )et.een them3 or
recognise that it doesn<t matter .hich I attend to: )oth are meanings o2 @( or 9<. Fr it
may )e that @(< seems to in#ol#e or include @"<3 or 2orces me to pay attention to "3 then
I say @( implies "<. These processes3 e+periences3 o2 the act o2 attention and
consciousness thus )ecome )uilt in the )asic 2a)ric o2 our thought ; so )asic that .e
call them logical or necessary. The conse/uences o2 this3 the patterns it generates and
.hich can then )e seen to run through many other things3 are endless.
Inderstanding3 the .orld3 ma1ing sense o2 the .orld3 come in 2act
through our interaction .ith the .orld. &e e+perience the .orld as acti#e participants3
not as passi#e o)ser#ers. The essentially relational nature o2 things is something in
.hich .e participate: .e are in relationship3 as .ell as seeing relationship. The seeing
is3 o2 course3 itsel2 an aspect o2 our relationship to things.
Fur minds interact .ith the .orld through the processes o2 response to di22erence
and relationship3 o2 e+traction and a)straction3 o2 separation and connection. &e also
interact through our )odies3 )oth passi#ely through perception3 and acti#ely through the
operation o2 our .ill. (lso in#ol#ed in our interactions are our 2eelings. These di#isions
into aspects o2 our )eing3 into mind3 )ody and 2eelings3 emerge 2rom our understanding3
our 2aculty o2 ma1ing distinctions. They are #ery traditional distinctions3 and are 2urther
e+tended in some traditions to include .ill3 spirituality and se+uality.
(ll o2 these aspects o2 oursel#es are something .e e+perience3 so they are also
aspects o2 our .orld7 thus they interact .ith each other in comple+ .ays as .ell as .ith
.hat is gi#en 2rom )eyond oursel#es. &e ha#e 2eeling a)out our thoughts3 and thoughts
a)out our 2eelings3 and so on3 in e#ery com)ination.
From our physical interactions come an enormous range o2 relational e+periences
and concepts. Interaction is relational. I2 .e )egin to list some o2 these .e .ill .or1
our .ay through /uite a large part o2 a thesaurus7 )ut a random selection .ould include
the Athe participle 2orm o2 the #er)3 .hich com)ines the 2unction o2 ad6ecti#e3
seems the most suita)leB:
8onnecting, searating, rising, falling, obstructing, allowing, obscuring,
containing, enclosing, e(tracting, overwhelming, nourishing, attacking, damaging,
destroying, concealing, rotecting, reventing, controlling, influencing, ushing,
ulling, forcing, causing, lifting, droing, releasing, holding, oening, closing,
reaching, taking, grasing, giving, filling, emtying, following, chasing, escaing,
standing, lying, running, sliding, flying, hitting , losing !
(ll o2 these things .e can e+perience through our )odies3 our participation in the
physical .orld3 and they are all relational 3 in#ol#ing some 1ind o2 interaction )et.een
things3 or some relati#e mo#ement or state that occurs )et.een things.
From all o2 them .e can abstract some essential aspect o2 the relationship3 so that
.e 2orm a concept and a .ord .hich .e can then apply in other situations .hich .e
recognise as similar. &e can also recognise lin1s Ao2 similarity and contrastB )et.een
these physical relationships and other relationships in di22erent domains. F2ten the
physical domain .ill )e the primary source o2 concepts and .ords and so they .ill )e
used in other domains in .hat seems to )e metaphorical .ay. For e+ample in the
mental domain .e may use many o2 the .ords in the a)o#e list7 similarly in
interpersonal relationships or logical3 social3 theoretical3 psychological conte+ts.
(lthough such usage o2 the .ords seems metaphorical3 it may )e more accurate
to say that in time they )ecome so 2amiliar in the di22erent domain that .e no longer
re2er )ac1 to the original physical e+perience. The meaning o2 the .ord may also )e
partly deri#ed and de#eloped through e+perience in the other domain3 and 2lo. )ac1 to
a22ect our understanding and e+perience o2 the physical. Deaning is ne#er either
completely static or completely rooted in 6ust one place7 and can ne#er )e considered as
e+actly the same 2or any t.o people.
The domain o2 feelings in#ol#es an e#aluati#e response to a relational e+perience.
This is 2ar more than a simple di22erentiation )et.een good or )ad3 )et.een a personal
@I li1e this< and @I don<t li1e this< reaction. &e ma1e 2ine /ualitati#e distinctions
)et.een3 2or e+ample3 1inds and degrees o2 2ear or anger in response to a threat7 and
each 2eeling can in#ol#e a su)tle conceptualisation: 2ear3 2or e+ample3 seems to contain
a concept o2 ossibility3 o2 something )ad that might happen7 anger contains some sense
o2 my indi#iduality3 and o2 in#asion or threat3 o2 loss or depri#ation3 to my indi#iduality
Aand .hat )elongs to me ;including my #aluesB. Feelings can )e #ery instincti#e or
primiti#e and undiscriminating3 or can in#ol#e #ery high degrees o2 sophisticated
thought3 interpretation and prediction a)out a situation. There is continual interplay
)et.een the domains o2 thought and 2eeling Aand all the othersB.
To ma1e a distinction3 to recognise a di22erence: ho.e#er simple and primiti#e
this act may sound3 in that it is not analysa)le in term o2 anything simpler3 is actually
/uite comple+: it is only possi)le to ma1e a distinction .ithin a field across .hich
#ariation can occur. That sense o2 a @2ield<3 a spread3 a dimension3 is already conceptual3
or part o2 the possi)ility o2 conceptualisation. I2 I ma1e a distinction I can as1 @(
distinction in respect o2 .hat>< *#en to dra. a line3 a )oundary3 .ith no sense o2 .hat
characterises each side3 re/uires a sense o2 sace or o2 time. Dore comple+
di22erentiation may )e in terms o2 si0e3 colour3 shape3 symmetry3 comple+ity - and so
on3 in each case clearly re/uiring some understanding o2 the /ualities3 structures or
dimensions .ithin .hich this di22erence can occur. There must )e some ground o2
possi)le di22erence .ithin .hich an actual di22erence can )e distinguished. 4o
conceptualised distinction can )e )asic enough to precede the conceptualised space
.ithin .hich it occurs. Such a space contains the possi)ility o2 relationshi 6ust as
much as it contains the possi)ility o2 distinction9 thus it is that distinction and
connection3 o)6ect and relationship3 emerge as t.o distinct )ut entirely interdependent
2acts or concepts.
)imilarity also is dependent on the dimension .ithin .hich it occurs. There can
)e no /uestion o2 similarity .ith out the /uestion @Similar in respect o2 .hat>< "olour3
si0e3 shape3 symmetry3 and so on3 )eing possi)le dimensions.
"ertain dimensions and types o2 similarity ha#e )een pic1ed out as particularly
signi2icant )ecause they pro#ide a possi)le )asis 2or measurement. The essential
property 2or something to )e measura)le is that it should )e ,uantifiable9 the property
o2 /uanti2ia)ility is closely related to our sense o2 particularity3 o2 indi#iduality. The
di22erence )et.een one and more than one is conceptually )asic3 and 2rom that
di22erence gro.s num)er. There is also the @analogue< di22erence )et.een si0es ; 2or
e+ample3 in the length o2 a line3 the si0e o2 a patch or a heap. Fne o2 the conceptual
achie#ements o2 our 2ore)ears .as to lin1 these t.o together3 so that points on a line
can )e mapped onto num)ers. Such maing 2rom one domain to another is )asically a
recognition that similar relationshis hold .ithin the di22erent domains. 4um)er has
)een one o2 the richest sources o2 pattern3 and the rigorous e+ploration and creation o2
pattern3 so that the possi)ility o2 measurement has produced the most po.er2ul and
de#eloped 2orm o2 pattern generation3 gi#ing us much o2 our science3 and hence3 it
could )e claimed3 a ma6or aspect o2 our understanding o2 the .orld. There are 2ields o2
science3 o2 mathematics3 and o2 course o2 thought and creati#ity3 that do not depend on
measurement or num)er3 )ut on some other o2 the .ays in .hich distinction and
relationship3 and hence o2 2orm and pattern3 are possi)le3 and on other .ays .e interact
.ith the .orld ; through our physical sense o2 mo#ement and 2orce3 2or e+ample. The
resulting understanding3 ho.e#er pro2ound3 does not seem to ha#e yet led to such
po.er2ul technologies3 to the possi)ility o2 manipulation and control o2 things in the
.orld3 to the same degree7 )ut that may change.
&e e+tract 2orm and .e )uild pattern in e#erything .e turn our attention to. (ll
our e+periences are thus rich in relationship. There are al.ays possi)ilities 2or 2urther
pattern to )e )uilt or re#ealed: e#ery pattern seems to contain more and more su)tle
possi)ilities contained or concealed .ithin it. For e+ample3 the initial concept o2
number 3 .hich must ha#e ta1en a #ery long time to de#elop and ma1e 2amiliar and
usa)le3 )ut .hich may )e one o2 the easier patterns to discern and play .ith3 created the
ground o2 an in2inite amount o2 mathematics. (s soon as the num)ers 13 23 3 - ha#e
)een conceptualised as patterns o2 relationship3 the .hole o2 modern num)er theory
; and presuma)ly 2ar more ; is already there and .aiting to )e e+plored. It is a 2act
)oth a)out the .orld3 and a)out our minds3 .hich are part o2 the .orld3 that actions
ha#e conse/uences. There is some structure to reality3 mental or other.ise3 so some
understanding3 and perhaps e#en a little truth3 is a possi)le goal.
( sense o2 num)er is a #ery early part o2 our a.areness: a one .ee1 old )a)y
notices the di22erence )et.een t.o and three items \%in1er p33!] ; and .e go on 2rom
there. That something so simple and )asic should ha#e such enormous conse/uences
seems mysterious. It seem that .hen .e ma1e use o2 a certain .ay o2 ma1ing sense .e
actually commit oursel#es to 2ar more than .e realise ; unless .e are prepared to
a)andon the sense8ma1ing. There is a logic3 a structure in thought that .e can<t a#oid i2
.e .ant to thin1. There seem to )e t.o distinct sides to our 1no.ledge and
understanding: 2or some things .e 6ust ha#e to get out there and loo1 i2 .e .ant to
1no. more7 2or others .e 6ust ha#e to think harder Ausing mar1s on paper3 or
computers3 or .hate#er3 to help us thin1B. Some things3 2acts3 are conse/uences o2 the
.ay the .orld happens to )e Aand could )e di22erentB7 some are conse/uences o2 the
.ay .e ma1e sense3 and can’t )e di22erent .ithout surrendering the essence o2 the
Einstein was once asked why we had made such progress in physics, and so little in
some of the things that seem to affect most of us more directly — like economic,
politics etc. He replied: “But that is obvious: it is because physics is easy.”
sense .e ma1e. The di22erence sounds clear and ought to )e easy7 actually in practice
it<s e+tremely di22icult. &hen .e )egin to thin1 and to count .e ha#e un.ittingly
committed oursel#es to the .hole o2 logic and num)er theory3 most o2 .hich .ill 2or
e#er )a22le and elude us.
"onsider this: i2 a 2i#e month old )a)y is sho.n an o)6ect .hich is then co#ered
)y a screen3 and another o)6ect is then put )ehind the screen ; i2 the screen is then
remo#ed the )a)y sho.s surprise i2 there is only one o)6ect there. (part 2rom .hat it
means 2or a )a)y to )e surprised3 .hich is only a /uestion o2 .hen such thought )egins3
the point is that # .ould )e surprised7 and in that surprise is something o2 the essential
nature o2 logic. There might3 o2 course3 )e an e+planation 2or .hat .ent on )ehind the
screen3 )ut the interesting thing is that 2eel I need an e+planation3 that something must
ha#e happened.
Fur .ay o2 seeing the .orld3 .hich gi#es us so much sta)ility and e22ecti#e
security3 determines .hat .e e+pect3 .hat surprises us3 .hat needs e+plaining3 .hat
counts as e+planation. There is so much here to )e thought a)out3 .ondered at and
e+plored. I can only try and see some )asic 2orm and pattern in it: to ma1e some sense
o2 sense8ma1ing ; the detail is potentially in2inite.
Gistinction and relationship are the )asis o2 all form and attern; and 2orm and
pattern are the )asis o2 all sense8ma1ing. ( attern is essentially an a)stracted
relationship3 a relationship .hich can )e recognised as the same3 e#en .hen the o)6ects
)et.een .hich it e+ists may #ary. %attern3 that .hich consists in the 2orm rather than
the su)stance o2 things3 is the essential means )y .hich .e ma1e sense3 and it depends
2undamentally on our capacity to percei#e and conceptualise relationship. The reason
pattern is so important to us in this conte+t is precisely that it is something that can
remain constant e#en .hen so much else is in 2lu+. "e re,uire constancy in order to
recognise3 to learn3 to predict3 to ma1e choices. 4one o2 these thing .ould )e possi)le
i2 there .ere not some aspect o2 reality that remained constant or repeated. In the
uni/ue reality o2 things there is perhaps no a)solute identity or total similarity: i2
uni/ueness .ere all .e related to3 then .e could not learn3 .e could not conceptualise
or recognise3 .e could not reason 2rom any one thing to another3 there .ould )e
nothing .e could 2oresee or predict or imagine3 to ma1e choices3 to act .ith reason or
purpose3 .ould )e impossi)le.
9orges tells the story o2 one Funes the Demorious3 .ho3 an accident3
had the capacity to relate to and remem)er e#ery detail o2 e#ery e+perience in e#ery
moment. 5e .as also paralysed )y the accident3 )ut it is hardly surprising that such
e+treme memory should result in paralysis: ho. .ould it )e possi)le to act at all
.ithout the a)ility to generalise3 to gloss o#er detail.
For Funes =-the present .as almost intolera)ly in its richness and sharpness3 as
.ere his most distant and tri#ial memories.
-these memories .ere not simple ones7 each #isual image .as lin1ed to
muscular sensations3 thermal sensations3 etc. 5e could reconstruct all his dreams3 all his
hal28dreams. T.o or three times he had reconstructed a .hole day7 he ne#er hesitated3
)ut each reconstruction re/uired a .hole day.
Loc1e postulated an impossi)le language in .hich each indi#idual thing3 each
stone3 each )ird and each )ranch3 .ould ha#e its o.n name7 Funes once pro6ected an
analogous language3 )ut discarded it )ecause it seemed to him too general3 too
am)iguous. In 2act3 Funes remem)ered not only e#ery lea2 o2 e#ery tree3 )ut also e#ery
one o2 the times he had percei#ed or imagined it.
5e .as - almost incapa)le o2 ideas o2 a general3 %latonic sort. 4ot only .as it
di22icult 2or him to comprehend that the generic sym)ol dog em)raced so many unli1e
indi#iduals o2 di#erse si0e and 2orm7 it )othered him that the dog at 3.14 Asee 2rom the
sideB should ha#e the same name as the dog at 3.1 Aseen 2rom the 2rontB.
I suspect - that he .as not #ery capa)le o2 thought. To thin1 is to 2orget
di22erence3 generalise3 ma1e a)stractions.?
Fnce o)6ects8.ith8their8relationships ha#e )een e+tracted and conceptualised
Ae22ecti#ely the same thingB then 2urther relationships8)et.een8o)6ects and
relationships8)et.een8relationships can )e e+tracted. This is the process o2 abstraction.
4e. le#els o2 a)stract o)6ects and relationships thus comes into )eing3 and these
a)stractions can in their turn )ecome the su)6ect o2 2urther relating and a)stracting. In
this .ay all e+perience ac/uires a structure: in this .ay .e ma1e sense o2 our .orld3
understand our .orld7 .e could say that .e create our .orld3 )ecause it is ine#ita)ly
And what if he tried to reconstruct one of those days? That would also take a
whole day, in spite of being a whole order of magnitude more complex — and
then if he tried to reconstruct one of those days …
Jorge Luis Borges (‘Funes the Memorious’, in ‘Labyrinths’ pp91-94.)
am)iguous .hether the structure is an aspect o2 our minds or o2 the e+ternal .orld.

(s .e )uild this conceptual structure3 our @structure o2 meaning<3 .e continually
generate ne. a)stractions3 ne. o)6ects3 @a)stract entities<3 as the .ind is an a)stract
entity3 and simultaneously .e generate ne. relationships )et.een them. It may re/uire
much thought and study to ma1e the nature o2 these relationships e+plicit7 it .ill seem a
mysterious process3 as i2 either the relationship e+ists independent o2 us3 and .aiting to
)e e+amined3 or in another sense as i2 .e already contained the essence o2 the
relationship already .ithin us3 only re/uiring some Socratic process o2 sel2 /uestioning
to elucidate it. %erhaps that is .hat .e mean )y intuition9 .ith e#ery concept that .e
2orm3 ho.e#er #ague and incomplete3 as it must al.ays )e3 .e at the same time 2orm
and know something o2 its relationships to conte+t and to other things. &e cannot in any
sense 2orm a concept .ithout also 2orming these relationships. &e may ha#e much to
learn a)out )oth concept and relationships3 )ut .e understand more than .e 1no.3 in
the sense that these relationships are contained in the concept3 in .hat .e personally
mean )y the concept.
The (ltair patterns3 .hich I produce as a metaphor 2or reality3 might help clari2y
all this a)straction.

The 2irst uncoloured (ltair design represents the initial #ariety o2 our e+perience
o2 the .orld )e2ore .e ha#e made any sense o2 it at all3 as (dam 2ound it .hen he
opened his eyes. To )e a.are o2 the #ariety .ithin our e+perience .e must also )e
a.are o2 the range3 the 2ield3 across .hich the #ariety occurs. In this case it is the t.o8
dimensional space o2 the page that represents all the other dimensions o2 e+perience.
&e3 as (dam3 the 2irst consciousness3 ma1e a distinction: in this e+ample .e pic1 out
one small patch3 a cell3 a )asic 2orm ; a @thing<7 .e e+tract it 2rom the )ac1ground o2
the rest o2 the page. &e see it3 .e 1no. something o2 its nature3 .e could recognise it
The inclusion of relationship as fundamental will have consequences for this
question too, which we must consider.
Maybe it’s really something like the Altair patterns, or my mental equivalent of
them, that I am unconsciously using to generate all this abstraction. Maybe I’m not
talking about reality at all, but only about some purely mental construct or metaphor
that I carry in my mind. Then I produce a metaphor, and say “Hey presto — look,
it all fits. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence — it must all be true!” when I was
actually thinking about the metaphor all the time, and have got nowhere near reality
at all.
again3 .e could name it Alets call it @(<3 not #ery imaginati#ely7 as (dam I<m still a
)eginner at namingB3 .e ha#e a concept o2 it. (t the same time as e+tracting it .e also
are a.are o2 the .ay it relates to its conte+t: to the neigh)ouring cells3 to the rest o2 the
page. &e see the )oundaries that di#ide ( 2rom @not8(<3 e#erything else3 its conte+t.
These )oundaries ha#e t.o sides across .hich a relationship e+ists o2 a particular 1ind.
&e can<t see a )oundary .ithout some sense o2 its t.o sides.
Fur concept o2 (
includes the 2orm o2 ( and its relationship to not8(. Further o)6ects3 9 and " and G3
also relate to their conte+ts3 and also to each other ; are they similar shapes> larger3
smaller> at .hat distance> similar orientation> colour> Something o2 all these
relationships is included in my concept o2 each. Then I see a pattern ; a star. (gain3 I
can recognise and name it7 )ut the only reason I could see it as a pattern .as that the
simpler o)6ects that ma1e it up are in relationship .ith each other3 and these
relationships are an inherent part o2 my concept o2 the o)6ect (. I see the star3 I don<t
hypothesise it3 or )uild it.
(nd so on. *ach act o2 discrimination3 o2 conceptualisation3 creates )oth an o)6ect
and an implicit net o2 relationships. I 2ocus on the o)6ect and name it and can seem not
to include any relationships3 )ut they are there in the concept: they .ill play a part in
my thin1ing3 my intuitions3 a)out (3 93 and ". I construct a .orld3 made up o2 2our3
2i#e3 si+ and se#en pointed stars3 groups o2 stars3 )ig circles3 and so on3 a .orld that
ma1es sense to me. (ll these patterns )egin to 2orm a rich set o2 interrelationships3
conse/uences o2 my particular .ay o2 a)stracting patterns3 and I could de#ote much
time to e+ploring them. ( 2e. millennia3 at least3 i2 it get much more complicated. 5a#e
I understood the .orld> Pes3 in a sense. I can no. 2ind my .ay around in it3 descri)e it3
ma1e predictions a)out parts I ha#en<t yet seen3 2eel I 1no. some o2 the underlying
principles o2 the mysterious and )eauti2ul .ay it 2its together. That<s #ery li1e .hat I
mean )y understanding.
The interesting thing a)out the (ltair metaphor3 the reason they used to 2ascinate
me and my children3 is that there are different ways of doing it. I can colour it in
completely di22erent .ays3 re#ealing entirely di22erent patterns and structures each time.
That<s .hy they .ere pu)lished .ith se#eral pages o2 each pattern ; though there
.ere ne#er enough. I can completely understand the .orld3 ma1e a total map o2 it3
lea#ing nothing out3 .ithout e#er disco#ering 2our8pointed stars. There is no 2inal truth
That’s the trouble with the edge of the universe.
a)out the pattern3 )ut many di22erent and creati#e truths. Some truths discriminate 2iner
details3 some point to )igger3 deeper3 patterns3 some .ill 2unction as more use2ul maps3
.hich allo. me to act on the .orld more e22ecti#ely. ASuppose3 e+ample3 I ha#e 2ound
some general .ay to manipulate 2i#e8pointed stars3 depending on their 2orm ; I can
change the .orld3 not 6ust in one place3 )ut .here#er there are 2i#e8pointed stars to )e
2ound3 in a .ay that someone still stuc1 on a couple o2 small cells couldn<t yet achie#eB.
There are many di22erent3 and e/ually #alid3 .ays o2 seeing and understanding the
.orld. Far more than there .ere in the (ltair )oo1.
In our understanding o2 the immediate physical .orld this may )e not )e entirely
o)#ious3 )ut .hen .e loo1 at higher le#els o2 a)straction3 comple+ ideas a)out human
relations3 social interactions3 #alue3 morality3 purpose ; the 1ind o2 thing *instein
2ound di22icult ; then the possi)ility that .e might actually understand things
di22erently )ecome rather more insistent.
Jumping to )ac1 2rom metaphor to reality3 and )lithely applying a 2e. s.eeping
conclusions to it:
The Ini#erse is one great lin1ed .hole3 in .hich all is connection3 and .hich has
its o.n uni/ue internal structure. Fnly the act o2 consciousness singles out any part o2
the .hole3 creates a separate o)6ect that .as not actually separate )e2ore. This act
.hich separates also created relationships3 .hich .ere implicit3 en2olded3 in the .orld3
)ut not e+plicately e+isting prior to consciousness. *+plicit e+istence only occurs
through consciousness3 .hich @un2olds< .hat is implicit. There is no uni/ue3 or right3
.ay o2 doing this3 no 2inal truth ; )ecause all such truth is partial3 less than the .hole.
The only 2inal truth is e#erything3 the .hole7 and consciousness is a long .ay 2rom
grasping the .hole7 consciousness seems )y its #ery nature to remain partial3
There is3 ne#ertheless something in consciousness .hich reaches 2or .holeness.
&e seem caught )et.een the t.o opposite e+tremes o2 uni/ue particularity and
.holeness. To truly @grasp the .hole< must mean to grasp the uni/ue nature o2 e#ery
"hen # am the )ea
5ach atom flames out of me
# bla0e1 5ach moment is
This one total moment.
part o2 it. Saying @*#erything<3 @The Ini#erse< means nothing3 there is no .holeness in
that. I can s.eep my arm round and point to e#erything on one gesture: that pointing
means nothing. (nd to truly grasp the nature o2 an indi#idual must mean to 2eel its
relationship .ith e#erything else.
&holeness means the uni/ueness o2 the 2inest detail also3 and the uni/ueness o2
each detail is a re2lection o2 the .hole. &e may struggle to.ards )oth3 desire )oth3
respond to .hate#er e+treme o2 )oth .e can achie#e3 )ut our )est is so little3 2alls so 2ar
short. It is interesting to notice that the core o2 all mystical teaching seems to indicate
)oth direction3 stri#e in )oth directions3 seem to suggest the possi)ility o2 )oth and e#en
o2 their 2inal identity. The true mystic appears3 li1e Funes3 to honour and respond to the
a)solute uni/ueness o2 the single o)6ect7 and at the same time to e+perience the
.holeness3 unity3 connectedness o2 e#erything. I can do no )etter than glimpse
metaphors3 )ut I can sometimes e+perience a 2aint touch o2 the a)solute magic o2 the
e+istence o2 one small thing3 one person3 one 2lo.er3 one ri#er3 one moment o2 light.
and also o2 the connected .holeness o2 e#erything3 the #anishing o2 disconnection. (nd
in some .ay I can 2eel that these t.o seeming opposites are someho. the same thing.
The tide has turned. (ll morning it has )een in past the )oat3 holding us
upstream3 and gradually 2illing the ri#er )eneath us. Then 2or a moment it .as 2ull3
poised .ithout mo#ement at its highest point. There .as no .ind 6ust then3 nothing .as
mo#ing. This state o2 undistur)ed immo)ility someho. seems to )e appropriate to a
landscape .here there is no #isi)le or tangi)le source o2 distur)ance. 9ut actually it a
moment o2 delicate )alance that is only #ery )rie2ly held. It is possi)le to .atch the
.ater closely3 and to see 2rom the small )u))les3 the 2loating 2ragments o2 t.igs and
lea#es3 and 2ine 2ilm o2 mud3 o2 .hate#er it is3 on the sur2ace .hether it is mo#ing or
not in relation to the )oat or the )an1. For si+ hours or so it 2lo.s and 2ills the ri#er3
then pauses a 2e. moments only3 and then turns and e))s again. &hen it turns the )oat
o2 course turns .ith it and hangs do.nstream 2rom her anchor. 9ut e#en )e2ore the )oat
)egins to mo#e there are the 2irst suggestion o2 do.nstream mo#ement percepti)le
close to the )an1. It almost loo1s as i2 the )reath out has )egun )e2ore the in8)reath is
complete: the static state that seems to )elong in this peace2ul and timeless scene is
actually an illusion.
The energy re/uired 2or this mo#ement must )e enormous 8 millions o2 tons o2
.ater li2ted this morning to a height o2 o#er t.enty 2eet3 and us .ith it 8 and yet the
source o2 all this mo#ement3 I ha#e )een taught3 is the distant and in#isi)le moon. The
pull o2 gra#ity 8 or the )ending o2 space8time into a cur#e: di22erent .ays o2
conceptualising 8 )ut the 2act is that the .ater mo#es.
It<s a strange e+perience to .atch it actually happen3 to try and feel .hat is going
on. It is oddly and deeply unsatis2ying to say simply =Fh3 it<s the moon -?. 4ot that I
.ould deny the moon its part3 )ut it<s 6ust not enough. I can<t accept that there is some
cause3 some 2orce3 emanating 2rom the moon3 as i2 nothing else .ere in#ol#ed. The
moon is part o2 .hat<s happening3 )ut I someho. 2eel that e#erything is in#ol#ed in this
together. In theory3 o2 course3 that<s right. It<s the 6oint system o2 the moon and the
*arth3 and the sun that together cause this mo#ement. (nd .ith them the planets3 and
the hei2ers and the trees and me. The moon3 )eing the )ul1iest near)y asymmetry3 gets
most o2 the credit3 )ut is as much as innocent )ystander as any o2 us. The 2orces and the
patterns and the relationships that )oth mo#e us and hold us together do not end or e+clude anything.
It is time 2or the anchor to come up3 to send the chain rattling do.n through the
chain8pipe on the 2ore dec1 8 and 2or us to surrender to the moon and the *arth and the
sun and the in#isi)le hei2ers3 and e#en to oursel#es 8 and to go .ith the e)). For all my
anticipation I ha#e perhaps )een delaying this moment3 2or I could ha#e le2t a couple o2
hours ago i2 I had not allo.ed mysel2 to )ecome so distracted. I .onder .hat 2orces are
in#ol#ed in these in#isi)le mo#ements in my inner .orld.
(.ay 2rom the steeper )an1 o2 oa1 trees .here .e ha#e )een anchored3 .here the
#alley and the ri#er .iden and open out3 there is 6ust enough mo#ement in the air to
hold the sail steady. The heat o2 the sun3 and .ho 1no.s .hat else3 mo#es the air. The
)oat mo#es .ith it3 enough 2or the rudder to ha#e some control3 and enough 2or the
.ater to )egin a discrete )ut happy chuc1le past the plan1s. %ast the house3 set )ac1
2rom the ri#er7 and the .or1shop3 among the trees. There is a )rie2 2lash o2 light as the
sun re2lects 2orm a .indo.3 a .indo. 2rom .hich I ha#e loo1ed so o2ten at
2ragmentary glimpses o2 the ri#er that no. carries me past.
" #0
Out to Sea
%elationsip and Intuition
9ecause o2 the care2ul and conscientious .ay in .hich .e count and record the
passing i2 time ; the counting can e#en seem a little compulsi#e ; I 1no. that I ha#e
li#ed through more than 2$3$$$ days in this )ody. F2 that impressi#e num)er there are
#ery 2e. that ha#e li#ed on in my memory in such detail that I could )egin Ali1e Funes
the DemoriousB to reconstruct them moment )y moment7 )ut I am sure that today .ill
)e one o2 those 2e.3 and I can imagine days o2 inacti#ity in my 2uture that .ould 2eel
.ell spent i2 I could pass them in reli#ing today in my imagination.
%art o2 .hat can ma1e a day deeply satis2ying is that it should ha#e its o.n
shape and unity3 should contain in miniature the archetypal 2orm o2 the ad#enture: the
departure at da.n AI .as a little )ehind at that pointB 2rom the sa2ety o2 the 2amiliar3 the
separation 2rom the support o2 security3 the #enture into the un1no.n3 .ith some
solitary purpose or tas1 o2 great import3 and then the 2inal return to sa2ety .ith the tas1
completed. The 2amiliar place is unchanged3 )ut no. loo1s di22erent through the
trans2ormed eyes o2 the ad#enturer.
I am indulging mysel2 a little in ele#ating a #ery modest #enture to a le#el o2
dramatic signi2icance that it hardly deser#es ; )ut as I 2eel no. it seems to me an
entirely good thing that .e should dramatise the 2orms and contents o2 our days and
years a little more. &e accept .illingly enough the #icarious pleasure o2 the ad#entures
o2 others3 real or 2ictional3 in .hich .e participate in our imagination3 )ut hesitate to
ac1no.ledge the microcosmic dramas that .e oursel#es enact in e#en some o2 the most
mundane aspects o2 our li#es. (.ay .ith such hesitation: .hy are .e so ready to
o)ser#e signi2icance at a distance and so reluctant to claim it 2or oursel#es>
(s today )egins its ine#ita)le #oyage into the gathering mists o2 the past3 I .ill
set the Royal *nsign o2 my o.n house at her masthead3 and she .ill not )e 2orgotten. It
is to an entirely 2itting end: .e3 Layla and I3 are securely at anchor in a small
)ay inside the sheltering )ul1 o2 the headland that 2orms the &estern side o2 the mouth
o2 the ri#er. The sun has gone do.n )ehind the hill no.3 so that its roc1 and tree
co#ered slopes are )lac1 and solid3 and drop their hea#y shado.s into the dar1 green
depths o2 the .ater. There are a 2e. other )oat at anchor here3 and a small #illage )elo.
the hill is )eginning to sho. its 2irst 2e. lights. (cross the estuary the hills are still
catching the last o2 the e#ening light.
I 2eel .ind8)lo.n and .a#e8tossed3 sun8)urned and sea8sated7 2ull o2 mo#ement
and light3 and the sound o2 .a#es )rea1ing3 o2 .ater surging )eneath the hull3 and the
.ild cries o2 seagulls7 o2 the 2eel o2 spray in my 2ace3 o2 the )oat li2ting and leaning3
easing )ac1 and li2ting again3 in a continual rhythm to .hich my .hole )ody has )een
re/uired to surrender and to hold )alanced through the pull o2 the tiller in my hand. The
romance o2 a small )oat at sea - on a 2ine day .ith a 2air .ind. 5o.e#er ro)ust and
ready the )oat may )e3 the romance itsel2 is3 I<m a2raid3 a 2ragile thing3 lia)le to shatter
and sin1 at any moment in the 2ace o2 the elemental discom2orts o2 cold3 2atigue3
seasic1ness and 2ear. 9ut not today: today has reached its completion .ith the romance
intact3 per2ect and precious3 and sa2e 2rom the threats o2 tomorro..
I ha#e no dou)t that our preoccupation .ith the .eather arises 2rom some
ata#istic murmuring in our collecti#e unconscious3 )ut ho.e#er little it really a22ects
most o2 us most o2 the time3 in any relationship .e may ha#e .ith the sea it is still
entirely appropriate3 2or there .eather is the greatest determinant o2 com2ort3 pleasure
and sur#i#al. Today has )een a gi2t: the .ind increased as .e came do.n the ri#er 2rom
almost nothing to a healthy Force 43 mainly *asterly3 reaching perhaps Force and
#eering to South *asterly during the day. ( per2ect .ind 2or a small )oat3 and )eing o228
shore on this &est coast the sea has risen to no more than a spirited play2ulness3 modest
and regular3 .ith a 2e. gently )rea1ing crests3 as i2 to in#ite Layla out into the .ide
.orld .ith a sho. o2 energy and delight restrained )y a .atch2ul care that it should not
2righten or discourage her .ith any careless sho. o2 e+cessi#e
The sun has shone steadily all day3 gi#ing a clarity o2 light that I 2elt I could
a)sor) .ith e#ery )reath3 and .ith e#ery o2 spray that )urst 2rom )eneath the
li2t and 2all o2 her )o.. The sea has )een )lue3 the 2oaming crests a luminous .hite3 the
s1y clear gold. I2 I sound as i2 I spea1 under some temporary hallucinogenic in2luence3
then I feel 6ust no. that .hat is unnatural is .hate#er pre#ents such #ision3 .hate#er it
is that most o2 the time o)structs and mu22les such intensity.
I thin1 I ha#e )een constructing 2or some time an inner armour o2 cautious
pessimism against the reality o2 this 2irst day out. The scope 2or disappointment has
)een enormous3 so that I ha#e 2elt it necessary to prepare in.ardly to con#ert any
2ailure o2 the dream into a rationalised realism. Today I ha#e had no need o2 that
armour3 or o2 any such rationalisation: that precautions pro#e unnecessary in the e#ent
does not in#alidate them in the least3 )ut I ha#e )een a.are that I ha#e )een
dismantling the armour3 piece )y piece3 all day3 and letting the light and sheer 6oy o2 it
all in.
I ha#e not3 I must remind mysel23 a)andoned the security o2 pessimism entirely:
hu)ris at sea is as dangerous as rotten plan1ing or corroded 1eel8)olts ; I 1eep the
temptation o2 e+cessi#e pride in chec1 .ith a small and persistent #oice that murmurs
under my romantic )reath: =Pou ha#e not )een tested yet: )ut the time .ill come .hen
you .ill )e.? It<s a #oice I may ne#er )e a)le to silence3 and3 .hether through caution
or superstition3 I don<t thin1 I should e#er try to mu22le it entirely: )ut the pleasure and
pride o2 today it cannot ta1e 2rom me.
I2 it is indeed pride that leads to hu)ris3 that can eat a.ay at the 1eel8)olts that
1eep our psychic )allast .here it )elongs3 then I ha#e certainly ta1en ris1s today.
5a#ing arranged deli)erately 2or the launching to ta1e place )e2ore as 2e. .itnesses as
possi)le3 today I .as ready 2or cro.ds to )e lining the )an1s. I came do.n ri#er .ith
my one sail 2ull and sheets 2ree3 2eeling li1e a 2our8masted )ar/ue running under 2ull
sail3 and deser#ing all the attention that such a sight .ould ha#e attracted.
Fne year the Tall Ships Race #isited our ri#er here3 and the .hole ha#en .as
2illed .ith the most .onder2ul 2leet o2 )ar/ues and )ar/uentines3 o2 1etches and
schooners3 o2 ) s/uare8rigged to.ers o2 sail3 o2 po.er2ul ga22s leaning o#er the
.ater and elegant tiers o2 2oresails reaching 2or.ard o#er pro.s that had )reasted all
the seas o2 the .orld. I .as 2ortunate enough to )e a)le to sail out .ith them in a
2riend<s )oat3 and it .as another great and memora)le day. Fn that occasion it .as my
o.n carelessness that led directly to a near disaster: on our /uiet and contented run
)ac1 into the ri#er3 .ith hardly a )oat in sight3 I .as at the helm3 and thus responsi)le3
.hen .e struc1 a channel )uoy that I had simply not seen ; or loo1ed out 2or. The
)oat su22ered )adly3 as did my pride3 and .e .ere luc1y that the plan1s .ere sto#e in
only a)o#e the .ater line3 so that .e .ere a)le to limp care2ully )ac1 in.
Today .e met se#eral other )oats heading do.n ri#er to.ards the sea. I am
inclined to deny any competiti#e strea1 to my nature AI am actually less competiti#e
than anyone elseB3 )ut e#en so I too1 each )oat .e sa. as a signi2icant measure3 i2 not
e+actly a challenge3 against .hich Layla could )e compared. She .as more )eauti2ul3
o2 course ; )ut more une+pectedly she actually sailed past some o2 them. Day)e today
my pride and elation ga#e the added li2t and o2 a topsail3 a couple o2 e+tra 2lying
6i)s3 and a 2ull set o2 studs to all courses ; )ut she .as 2ast. There .as a small racing
)oat that3 a2ter .e had passed her3 set a spinna1er and o#ertoo1 us again3 )ut the rest o2
the 2leet ; the three other )oat that .e met ; actually couldn<t 1eep up3 though I
dou)t i2 they .ere trying as hard as I .as. Li1e guests at a .edding they .ere tact2ul
enough to a#oid outshining the )ride.
I2 I ha#e any tendency at all to e+aggerate here3 to add a little )ias to my
perceptions3 then I shall ne#ertheless preser#e all the trans2ormations o2 #ision that
today has gi#en3 and retain them as part o2 my memory. %ersonal myths ha#e as much
#alue as collecti#e ones3 and the same 2unction in a22irming meaning7 and myths must
ha#e their origins3 and .hen they )egin to gro. they are rightly immune 2rom
R Fnce out past the heads she )egan to 2eel the sea3 )oisterous enough in a
2riendly and considerate .ay3 and she too1 to it and played along as i2 this is .hat she
had )een missing and dreaming a)out through all those long months o2 solitary
inacti#ity. &e encountered a 2riend as .e le2t the ri#er3 in a )igger3 more serious8
loo1ing sea )oat than Layla3 .ith deeper3 2iner lines3 more .eight on her 1eel and more
sail alo2t3 )ut .e sailed side )y side 2or se#eral miles .ithout any di22erence in speed. I2
he .as )eing easy .ith me3 then ; )ut no3 he .ould ha#e sho.n that he could ha#e
out8sailed us i2 he<d .anted to. Turning onto the .ind .e .ere le2t )ehind3 2or the
di22erence .ill al.ays sho. more close to the .ind3 and the smaller )oat is al.ays
slo.ed do.n more )y the .a#es7 )ut I .as #ery pleased )y the comparison. (nd proud
o2 an appreciati#e nod 2rom another sailor.
&e turned )ac1 only .hen the sun 2inally loo1ed prepared 2or its departure3 and
the air )egan to cool again. To sail on into the night is to enter a di22erent .orld 2rom a
sunlit day3 and calls 2or it o.n preparation in attitudes and practicalities3 and though
tempted .e are not ready yet.
The /uiet o2 this anchorage is as natural as sleep. I am tired: tired enough to )e a
little concerned that I .ould actually ha#e trou)le carrying on. &hen I .as younger the
occasional night at sea .ithout sleep .as something I could ta1e in my stride .hen
necessary: )ut my stride .ould 2alter tonight. I don<t 2eel I could stay a.a1e much
longer .hate#er happened. 9ut3 along .ith a 2e. thoughts a)out small modi2ications I
must consider3 that is a detail I shall lea#e 2or another day. There is .or1 to )e done3
more that needs to )e tried and tested3 )ut Layla has )een )orn into a di22erent
dimension o2 e+istence today that the )oard or the .or1shop 2loor. This
e#ening as dar1ness 2alls and the light is in her ca)in3 I<m going to coo1 a
simple meal3 loo1 at the stars 2or a .hile3 and then sleep3 .ithout thin1ing a)out
anything. For some reason I<m /uite una)le to descri)e going to sleep tonight3
surrendering consciousness3 really doesn<t 2eel li1e gi#ing up anything #ery signi2icant:
I 2eel so much part o2 the sea and the .ind and the s1y and the stars that to )e a.a1e or
asleep3 conscious or unconscious3 seems only a #ery slight and unimportant distinction.
I do indeed sleep .ell3 sur2acing a 2e. time 6ust enough to )e a.are that the )oat
is steady3 and the .ind no louder3 and the lights o2 the #illage still in the same place.
Dy morning re2lections today are #ery practical and immediate: a)out the )oat and the
.eather and the tide and )rea12ast. &hate#er philosophy is a)out it seems a )it
irrele#ant 6ust no.3 and its purpose and #alue 2ar 2rom o)#ious.
In all these attempts at understanding there seems to )e something missing3 and
they )elong more )ac1 on the stac1 o2 paper accumulating on my des1 than they do out
here. 5ere3 .hen I put my head out o2 the hatch3 the .orld is so .ith
immediacy and #i#idness3 .ith the 2reshness o2 the air3 the sound o2 gulls and o2
halyards clac1ing on masts3 .ith the colour o2 morning s1y and .ater and roc1 and
sea.eed3 .ith the slightly 2ishy3 salty smell o2 the )ree0e... and in here inside the ca)in3
the slightly .armer 2eeling out o2 the .ind3 the .oody smell o2 the )oat3 the colour and
The heights of siritual attainment are reached
through making the heart white in celestial
contemlation, not by making aer black with ink
#dries )hah
&eauty’s nothing
&ut the beginning of terror we’re still 'ust able to bear,
and the reason we adore it so is because it so serenely
disdains to destroy us. 5very angel is terrible.
tang o2 an orange I<#e 6ust peeled3 the e+otic 2ragrance o2 the 2resh co22ee standing on
the sto#e.
"an understanding include all that> Is it not e+actly a necessary 2eature o2
understanding that it lea#es that out> Inderstanding is in some .ay a mental thing3
something that happens in my inner .orld ; and this #i#id 2reshness is de2initely not
mental3 and not a /uality in my inner .orld3 it<s #ery de2initely out there3 or e#en more3
right here ... %art o2 .hy it<s so 2resh is )ecause it so a)solutely e#ades any 1ind o2
mental containment3 the processes o2 understanding. 5o. great then is the 6oy o2 not
understanding3 ho. .onder2ul that there al.ays e+ists so much that I cannot contain
and comprehend.
I 1no. .ell enough3 o2 course3 that .hat I don<t understand can also )e #ery
threatening and dangerous. To )e sa2e demands some 1no.ledge and understanding7
)ut e#en then there is something in the danger that is not to )e contained or reduced7
that<s part o2 its )eauty. (ll I can hope to )e a)le to do is to respect it enough to 2ind a
.ay to harmonise a little .ith it3 to sur#i#e it. (nd .hat I .ould need then .ould )e an
understanding o2 )oats and .ater and .ood and .ind3 not o2 philosophy.
Fne o2 Rumi<s stories is a)out a grammarian ; Apossi)ly e#en .orse than a
philosopherB ; .ho em)ar1ed one day on a 2erry .ith a )oatman. 5e as1ed the
)oatman: =5a#e you e#er studied grammar>? and in response to the )oatman<s =4o?3
spo1en grammatically enough3 he says =In that case hal2 your li2e has )een .asted.? (
little later the )oat .as caught in a tide8race3 and the )oatman3 struggling .ith the oars3
says =Tell me3 ha#e you e#er learnt to>? The .as polite3 i2 ner#ous: =4o3 I
ha#e not3 my .orthy man?. =In that case3 oh grammarian3 the .hole o2 your li2e has
)een .asted3? replies the )oatman3 =2or .e are sin1ing.?
Rumi<s moral to this story is that mahw Asel28e22acementB is needed here rather
than nahw AgrammarB3 2or @i2 you are mahw Adead to the sel2B you may plunge into the
sea .ithout peril<. I .onder .hat that might e#er mean 2or me>
Loo1ing at the .orld today: ho. e+traordinary and a)surd that I should thin1
that I might 1no. or understand such a thing.... it is enormously much more li1ely that
I should ne#er do either in the remotest degree. That3 at least3 I can understand.
To that e+tent it<s not e#en a /uestion o2 2inding a )etter .ay o2 understanding7
the )est I can hope is to carry in mysel23 and not to deny in my li2e3 in my e+perience3
the element o2 not understanding: to #alue3 to respect3 to en6oy3 to re#ere e#en3 the
essential nature o2 e+istence that I can relate to3 participate in3 )ut not understand.
Inderstanding is simply one o2 those limited and limiting things Aa sort o2 @)odily
2unction<B that I 2eel compelled to do3 )ut aspire to transcend3 )ecause transcending it
seems to )e )oth possi)le and .onder2ul. The 2oolish error is to enshrine the e+perience
and hope o2 understanding as some all8em)racing and ultimate #alue. &hat a li)eration
it .ould )e to drop thatE
(nother day o2 sailing3 a more o#ercast s1y a)o#e3 a reduction in the .ind and
in the euphoria o2 the cre. )elo.7 )ut I ha#e at least )een more systematic in chec1ing
out ho. .ell things .or1 and no. ha#e a list o2 alterations I .ant to ma1e. The head o2
the rudder loo1s li1e a .ea1 point: there are huge stresses .here the le#erage o2 the
tiller e+erts its 2orce on the rudder and I can 2eel it almost groaning in the gusts3 so plan
to strengthen it .ith some 1ind o2 metal )and. Dy ingenious system 2or raising and
lo.ering the out)oard motor is not .or1ing as .ell as I<d hoped. It may )e )ecause I
made it o2 .ood .hich is )eginning to s.ell in the .ater and not sliding 2reely. (nother
)it o2 metal 2a)rication re/uired: something I tend to a#oid )ecause I<m not as happy
.or1ing .ith metal as .ith .ood. I am still .orrying a)out the le#el o2 the coc1pit
2loor3 .hich is certainly too lo. to drain out properly ; I had to 1eep the drain plugs in
.hile at sea. (2ter only a )rie2 time li#ing in the ca)in I<m a.are o2 needing more
shel#es: there<s going to )e a lot o2 gear to sto. on )oard.
So it<s home again 2or Layla and )ac1 into the .or1shop. I 1no. I could do
)etter i2 I .ent )ac1 to the )oard and started again: Layla II .ould )e per2ect.
The lure o2 2antasy dances li1e a .ill o< the .isp3 a )og 2airy3 6ust a little
.ay ahead3 .here all the pro)lems o2 this lumpen and intracta)le .orld could )e
trans2ormed into per2ection. These ungraspa)le images are .onder2ul and necessary
incenti#es to creati#ity3 )ut they are dangerous3 too.
"amus had an idea 2or a no#el ; .hich got no 2urther than a paragraph in his
note)oo1 ; on this theme. AI 2eel /uite grate2ul that he le2t only the one paragraph. %art
o2 the point o2 reading the no#el .ould3 2or me3 ha#e )een the e+tract this essential
idea3 this one paragraph3 so it .as much more e22icient in e22ort 2or )oth o2 us that he
got no 2urther. It might )e an idea .orth e+tending to the rest o2 literature. &oody (llen
read &ar and %eace a2ter doing a speed reading course3 and said that =it .as a)out some
Russians?7 much simplerB. "amus< story .as a)out a man .ho .as dri#en )y a
po.er2ul 2eeling that the potential #alue and meaning o2 his li2e must )e greater than
anything that he had yet disco#ered or achie#ed. The conse/uence o2 this 2eeling3 .hich
seems to )e lauda)le in itsel23 since pro)a)ly true3 .as that he made a complete mess o2
e#erything that could ha#e )een .orth something in his li2e: his .or13 his relationships
.ith people3 his marriage3 his 2amily3 his talents 8 e#erything. *#en on his death )ed the
same 2eeling .as there: it all could mean something else3 something more than this -
and )y no. he .as certainly right. Day)e I<#e trans2ormed the story in my o.n
imagination 8 I can no longer recall the original paragraph 8 )ut I ac1no.ledge the gi2t
2rom "amus3 .ho<s actual .riting I ne#er 2ound #ery reada)le.
I2 there is a counter8 )alancing 2orce to this dangerous lure 8 and it surely needs
one 8 then I thin1 I am getting a glimpse o2 .hat it might )e: lo#e o2 the particular3
loyalty to the particular. Layla is .hat she is3 and so long as she is good enough then I
ha#e no intention o2 a)andoning her 2or the imagined attractions o2 some ne. 2antasy.
&hen I can e+tent that principle a little I am li1ely to 2eel rather more settled.
&ith Layla )ac1 in the .or1shop I am )ac1 it my grand2ather<s des1 in my
study. AI call it a study3 )ut in 2act it is a small .ooden ca)in3 o2 great inherent /uality3
in a corner o2 the garden3 .ith .indo.s that loo1s out o#er a 2ield in one direction3 and
do.n to.ards the ri#er in another.B I<#e spent time here o#er the last 2e. months
pondering the nature o2 things3 and )eing )ac1 here no. I am a.are that )eing out in
the .orld has )rought a change in my perspecti#e. %erhaps the @Reality is Hood
*nough< principle is part o2 the same shi2t3 .hich is essentially a)out the importance o2
relationshi between things as an e/ually important part o2 the .orld and o2
consciousness as the searate reality of things.
The ne. idea Ane. 2or me3 in the same .ay as Dahler is ne.B is that
relationshi is as much a 2undamental reality as anything else. I ha#e a)sor)ed through
my li2e the idea that the .orld is made up o2 things that ha#e separate e+istence3 and
that connection )et.een them3 ho.e#er real3 are elusi#e3 hidden3 concealed ; only to
)e disco#ered3 or e#en in#ented3 through the mysterious o2 sophisticated a)stract
thought3 an esoteric pri#ilege o2 an intellectual elite. "ontrary to this idea I no. sense
that an a.areness o2 relationship is as much part o2 consciousness as the more o)#ious
a.areness o2 di22erence.
The relatedness o2 things in the .orld ma1es a real causal di22erence: it may )e
the only thing that does. It seems entirely o)#ious ; )ut I<m not sure I<#e e#er really
seen things in that .ay3 and seeing ma1es a di22erence. Relationship )et.een things is
.hat constitutes 2orm and pattern3 and the 2orm o2 things ma1es a di22erence. Layla
2loats AI can assert it as a 2act no.B )ecause o2 her 2orm3 the relationship )et.een her
parts and her relationship .ith things around her. The trees3 the ri#er3 the curle.s
pec1ing in the 2ield3 my o.n )ody3 )eha#e each in their o.n .ay )ecause o2 their 2orm.
The /ualities o2 things3 o2 .ater3 .ind and .ood3 come 2rom their internal structure. I
am part o2 the .orld: my )ody and my mind 2unction through their 2orm and their
relationship the .orld around. The e+ternal .orld has a structure3 a 2orm3 into .hich I
can only #ery see3 little )y little. Dy inner .orld has 2orm that I can 1no. more
deeply: in my reality3 my being, I am connected to e#erything else3 and can only
disco#er the nature o2 that relationship. It is in my doing, my acti#ity3 my
consciousness3 that my separation 2rom the .orld emerges: it is a separation8in8
consciousness3 a separation8.ith8relationship.
The ne.82ound consciousness o2 (dam could )e seen as his in#ention o2
separateness. The Fall .as the )rea1ing up o2 the .orld3 AI ha#e sudden #ery
unphilosophical image o2 5umpty Gumpty and his great FallB3 and .e ha#e )een
la)ouring e#er since3 li1e the King<s horses and men3 to put it )ac1 together again. 9ut
i2 the )rea18up is only in our consciousness3 then it is only .hen .e identi2y .ith that
part o2 our consciousness3 o2 our minds3 that .e 2eel disconnection to )e a 2undamental
aspect o2 the .orld.
"onsciousness is ; .ell3 strange. It mediates a particular relationship .ith
things: it generates perception3 1no.ing3 understanding. Is it perhaps an essential
/uality o2 li2e that it should relate through consciousness3 through response to 2orm in a
ne. .ay> ( stone responds to a #ery restricted range o2 in2luence3 Aincluding )eing
1ic1ed )y Gr. JohnsonB3 )ut li#ing things .iden the range o2 responsi#eness3 o2
sensiti#ity. (dam seems to ta1e a ne. step3 though perhaps along the same path3 2or the
2orms and patterns to .hich our human minds respond leap to a ne. le#el: a le#el o2
(ll li#ing things respond to pattern in the .orld: pattern around them that gi#e
in2ormation a)out di22erence .hich initiates a reaction in them. ( micro8organism
mo#es to.ards or a.ay 2rom light or heat7 a curle. sees some clue on the sur2ace o2
the ground that means there is something to eat )uried in the earth3 and they dri#e their
long3 cur#ed )ea1s in to get it. A(t least3 that<s .hat seems to )e going on out in the
2ield.B &e see e#er more su)tle patterns o2 meaning3 and in our minds .e ma1e sense3
.e .ea#e patterns o2 patterns3 meaning .ithin meanings3 and respond to those.
Through consciousness ; and only through consciousness ; 2orms and
patterns enter the .orld .ith causal 2orce3 the make a difference, in entirely ne. .ays.
&ith my human mind I ga0e up at the distant stars and set my course )y them3 or recall
my youth and start to dream o2 sea #oyages and metaphysics ; or3 .ith some di22erent
e+perience )ehind me Aone I might no. la)el as superstitionB I could see a
constellation3 a pattern3 in the stars that causes me to go out and plant seeds in my
garden3 or start a .ar .ith my neigh)our. &ithout consciousness3 .ithout li2e3 these
distant patterns3 ho.e#er real they might )e3 .ould ha#e no causal e22ect on e#ents on
this planet.
I2 the e#olution o2 li2e is to.ards consciousness3 ne. le#els o2 relatedness3
.here might it all )e leading>
(ll these ideas seem to me so e+citing and 2ertile that I can only 1eep running
round in mental circles and trying them out in ne. .ays and 2rom ne. angles ; li1e a
ne. toy I<#e 6ust un.rapped Aor a ne. )oat I ha#en<t yet 2ully triedB. I 2eel completely
disorganised and unsystematic .ith it: I ha#en<t the least idea how to )e systematic
; )ecause the ne. idea a22ects e#erything at once. I don<t 1no. .here to )egin. So I
ha#e to )rea1 it up into )its3 and ma1e the )its conscious one at a time. So I 1eep
thin1ing o2 )its3 6otting them do.n3 )e2ore I 2orget3 turning them round3 loo1ing again
2rom a di22erent angle ; and planning to .or1 on them all again later.
%hilosophy3 the human attempt to thin1 a)out things3 has generated dualities3
separations3 )et.een things3 that 2eel .rong and distur)ing. Thin1ing a)out perception
creates an un)ridgea)le gap )et.een me and the tree outside the .indo. Anot to
mention e#erything elseB. I 1no. only the e#ents o2 my inner .orld3 and e#en i2 some
o2 them are caused )y the tree they are3 as @images o2 the .orld<3 only partial3 selecti#e3
distorted and indirect ; )ut I ha#e no .ay o2 ho. 2ar or in .hat .ay.
&hate#er the reality o2 a tree may )e I am hopelessly cut o22 2rom it. (ny lin1 I try to
postulate .ill either )e a physical entity or process3 or a mental one3 and thus )elong to
one side o2 the gap or the other rather than reaching across it.
There is a #ery dated rationality a)out this argument ; .hich doesn<t feel right to
me ; )ut .hy not> 9ecause .e lea#e relationshi out o2 it. Fnce .e ac1no.ledge the
reality o2 relationshi between things then all the con2usion3 the dualities and parado+es
o2 perception and reality disappear. &hen .e percei#e .e are in relationship .ith the
.orld3 .ith something in the .orld. That relationship is a mutual e#ent3 a 6oint 2act.
The o)6ect contri)utes to the relationship7 I contri)ute to the relationship: there is no
need to as1 .hich o2 us is primary3 .hich o2 us is dependent ; .hich is one o2 the
main 2orms that the pro)lem ta1es3 and .hich renders it insolu)le. I2 the connection3 the
relationship3 )et.een the .orld and me is 6ust as real as the separation3 is a necessary
aspect o2 the separation3 then there is no need to search 2or some mysterious lin13 and to
despair at the inade/uacy o2 .hate#er .e postulate. To in#ent a ne. concept to
2unction as a lin1 .ill )e ine#ita)le to in#ent a ne. 2orm o2 separation3 and to re/uire
ne. lin1s to )e 2ound3 i2 the separation is all .e can see.
&e are part o2 the .orld3 and the relationships that e+ist )et.een us and other
things are simply aspects and conse/uence o2 the separation o2 oursel#es and o2 the
other thing7 this separation itsel2 is simply an aspect and conse/uence o2 the 2act o2
consciousness. &ithout consciousness there .ould )e no separation Aor relationshipB.
&ithin the .orld there is consciousness3 the act and process o2 sel2 re2lection: it is only
consciousness that )rings into )eing )oth separation and relationship3 )ut in doing so
does not3 and cannot3 )rea1 the essential unity o2 the .orld. 9oth separation and
relationship are simply parts and aspects o2 )eing conscious. The self as a separate
entity is then also a creation o2 consciousness ; and i2 .e 2orget that the sel28in8
relationship is e/ually real then .e may )e ma1ing a pain2ul3 and e#en tragic3 error.
(ny relationship in .hich .e participate consciously is )oth real and partial. &e
are part o2 the .hole3 in relationship to the .hole3 )ut any conscious relationship is
only partial. So our a.areness o2 any aspect o2 the .orld3 .hat .e call perception or
e+perience3 is to )ring out into causal reality some part or aspect o2 the .hole: to
)elie#e or 2eel that .e can in this .ay create an a)solute di#ision and separation3 an
‘Thoughts come at random and go at random. No device for
holding on to them or for having them.
* thought has escaed9 # was trying to write it down9
instead # write that it has escaed me.’
un)ridgea)le duality3 is an illusion. That .hich .e percei#e3 the cherry tree in the /uad3
or .hate#er3 is real7 .e oursel#es our real3 the connecting relationship )et.een us and
the tree is real.
"onsciousness )rings distinction and separation into )eing7 separation is only as
real as consciousness is7 at the same time3 e/ually and interdependently3 relationship
and connection are )rought into )eing3 and are as real as separation and consciousness.
These three are aspects o2 the same phenomenon3 and although .e may distinguish
them .e cannot truly di#ide them3 and need no see1 to reconnect them: .e need only
ac1no.ledge the nature o2 their relationship.
To )e conscious is to )e limited3 to )e partial3 to )e AconsciouslyB in relationship
.ith the limited and the partial. "onsciousness as an act: in our acts .e are limited: in
our being .e are simply part o2 the .hole. Separation is a transient e#ent in time.
Through consciousness entirely ne. patterns emerge into )eing: consciousness
distinguishes 2orms that in some sense al.ays e+isted )ut in no .ay .ere distinct prior
to this act o2 consciousness. &hat thus emerges into consciousness )ecomes causal3
e22ecti#e3 in the .orld: it ma1es a di22erence. "onsciousness changes the .orld3 its 2orm
in time. The .hole )ecomes di22erent in the act o2 consciousness to create
Fne o2 the relationships that .e are most intimately in#ol#ed in .hen .e thin1
or tal1 is that o2 intentionality.
The .ord in this sense means @a)outness<7 ideas3
There are se#eral strands to the .ords history: the Latin root is @intentus< to stretch
out3 .hich lead to )oth @intentare< to stretch out to.ards3 or threaten3 and @intendere<3
to intend. It .as used in scholastic philosophy3 e.g. )y (/uinas3 to mean @%ertaining
to the operations o2 the mind7 mental7 e+isting in or 2or the mind. This use is due to an
early translation into Latin 2rom (#icenna A".12B in .hich the (ra)ic .ord mae/ulat
; .hich I can<t print properly3 A@perceptions3 notions<B3 pl. o2 mae/ul A@.hat is
percei#ed )y the intellects3 intelligi)le3 1no.n<B3 is rendered )y intentiones . The
.ord .as re#i#ed )y 9rentano A ".1,B as the de2ining distinction )et.een the mental
and the physical.3 the /uality o2 @a)outness<3 or @The direction or application o2 the
mind to an o)6ect7 a conception 2ormed )y directing the mind some o)6ect.<
6irst intentions are the primary conceptions o2 things 2ormed )y the 2irst or
direct application o2 the mind to the things themsel#es Ae.g. a tree, an oak4
)econd intentions are secondary conceptions3 2ormed )y the application o2
thought to 2irst intention in their relations to each other Ae.g. genus, secies, variety,
roerty, accident, difference, identity.4 ARoughly .hat I mean )y another le#el o2
The con2usion o2 the .ord .ith @intention<3 in the sense o2 a conscious plan or
purpose3 is an odd mi+ture o2 accident and o2 some relatedness o2 meaning.
Thus some o2 the strands o2 the .e) .e use to ma1e sense.
thoughts3 .ords3 images3 memories3 maps and so on3 are essentially about something7
they re2er3 or point to.ards3 something other than themsel#es. It is a relationship .hich
is uni/ue to the mental .orld: can e#en )e ta1en as the de2ining /uality o2 the mental
.orld. *#en some e+ternal o)6ect3 li1e a map3 or a .ord3 or a picture3 is about
something else only through the mediation o2 a mind to ma1e the connection
AintentionallyB. It is a relationship that I know )ecause I participate in it.
9e2ore I get carried too 2ar a.ay on 2lights o2 speculation may)e I need to retrace
my course and loo1 more closely at a 2e. details. I )egan .ith the o)ser#ation that
through the process o2 consciousness .e ma1e distinctions3 .e dra. lines. It is an
essential part o2 the process o2 ma1ing sense that .e should do this3 )ut it has
conse/uences: .hen .e ma1e a distinction .e come to e+perience .hat .e ha#e
distinguished as separate3 as i2 .e ha#e se#ered the t.o parts3 as i2 there .ere no
connection )et.een them ; and .e come to )elie#e in this separation as i2 it .ere an
aspect o2 the real .orld. To disco#er .hat relation there might )e )et.een the parts3 to
recreate some connection is something that .e then ta1e on as a rather conscious and
deli)erate action3 as3 2or e+ample in our empirical sciences3 our philosophy3 our
psychology3 our psychotherapy e#en ; in short our e+ploration and en/uiry into
The pre6udice 2rom .hich .e seem to )egin is something li1e:
3at consciousness as di*ided sall be assumed to be absolutel& separate
until pro*ed oter3ise4
The pro)lem .ith this )elie2 in the separateness o2 things is that it is not true. The
line .e dra. is part o2 our .ay o2 ma1ing sense3 and thus o2 great #alue to us ; )ut the
line is not part o2 the real .orld3 the separation .e ha#e made @in our o.n minds< is not
a part o2 things and may play no part in the actual )eha#iour o2 things.
This much is 2airly simple and pro)a)ly 2amiliar3 and .e might guess that it .ould
not cause any great pro)lem e+cept inso2ar as .e might miss an a.2ul lot that .ay.
&hat<s really interesting3 and seems to me to )e generally o#erloo1ed3 is that .e don<t
really 2unction in that .ay at all3 .e don<t actually separate things in the .ay that this
rational process o2 ma1ing distinctions .ould seem to suggest ...
Rationally3 consciously3 .hen .e are )eing intellectually sel2 critical3 then perhaps
.e do7 sometimes3 .hen on our )est scienti2ic )eha#iour3 .e e#en aspire to )eha#e in
that .ay3 )ut I do not )elie#e that it is actually possi)le to really do so ; it<s no more
than a 1ind o2 intellectual pretence. &hat actually happens is di22icult to see rationally
and to descri)e clearly Asince our rationality is so strongly directed to.ards the ideal o2
separationB )ut it is something li1e this:
3at 3e rationall& separate 3e actuall& percei*e and respond to as being in a
particular relationsip4
&e dra. a line3 .e ma1e a distinction3 )ut .e do not se#er3 either in the .orld or
in our o.n e+perience3 that .hich .e distinguish. The line is not opa/ue. (s .e
continue to e+perience .hat lies either side o2 the line .e continue to e+perience the
2orms and patterns o2 relationship that cross that line. (ll the other possi)ilities 2or
pattern that e+ist remain and 6ust )ecause .e 2ocus on3 or la)el3 one particular pattern it
does not mean that .e actually suppress or totally ignore the others: they remain a
2orce3 more or less latent3 potential and unconscious in us3 )ut a 2orce ne#ertheless. &e
could say that the @.holeness o2 things< is not damaged )y the conscious process o2
di#ision and that .e continue to )e a part o2 and to relate to the .hole
Aphenomenologically .e must say @the .hole o2 our e+perience<B. Thus3 .e may say3
2ar more is actually operating in our understanding o2 the .orld than .e tend to
recognise rationally. &e 1no. 2ar more a)out things than .e can articulate or
consciously thin1 a)out.
It is clear3 2or e+ample3 that the practice o2 science3 e#en at its purest3 or o2
mathematics3 or mathematical logic3 in .hich the most a)stract structures and 2orms o2
reality and o2 reasoning are considered3 that .e ta1e 2or granted a le#el o2 2unctioning
that cannot )e included in the theory o2 the science or mathematics itsel2. &e o)ser#e3
.e respond to3 .e record3 .e measure3 .e thin1 a)out3 .e compare3 .e guess3 .e play
.ith3 .e .rite do.n3 .e select3 .e re2ine3 .e imagine3 .e speculate3 and so on ... all
these things are part o2 the practice o2 science and necessarily on the 2ringe3 out o2
reach o2 the scienti2ic theories themsel#es ; these are the @meta8scienti2ic< acti#ities
.ithout .hich science could not happen3 )ut .hich cannot )e contained .ithin the
theories. AThey can )e the su)6ect o2 other theories than the ones that they are a)out ;
part o2 the essential circularity3 the @)ootstrap< nature o2 scienceB. (ll these #ital
acti#ities in#ol#e and include in some .ay our intuiti#e understanding o2 the relations
)et.een things and )et.een ideas.
Day)e all this philosophy o2 science is a )it o2 a red herring7 there are much
clearer and more do.n to earth .ays o2 loo1ing at all this...
In all our e+perience3 our perception3 .here .e ma1e distinctions at a conscious
le#el3 .e also are a.are o2 relationship )et.een the parts3 across the lines .e dra.. The
clearest e+amples are perhaps in our #isualUspatial sense.
%atterns and relationships run across any lines that .e may dra.. &e may select
certain patterns 2or our attention3 )ut others .ill also @register< in some .ay ; in our
memory3 our su)conscious3 in potential3 as latent possi)ilities ... it may not matter
.hich o2 these phrases is used3 the sense remains: in some .ay .e are still in2luenced
)y3 respond to3 patterns )eyond those .e speci2ically pic1 out and la)el. These patterns
responses are also an awareness of relationshi.
(ll pattern response is an a.areness o2 the 2orm and relationship o2 things. %attern
is a 2orm o2 relationship. *#erything e+ists in relationship: pattern is a simpli2ied3
a)stracted 2orm o2 relationship.
It is the primary acti#ity o2 consciousness to ma1e distinctions3 to )e a.are o23 to
respond to di22erence.
For e+ample3 i2 .e see the
.e see straight a.ay that there are t.o things there3 and moreo#er3 the t.o things are

is di22erent 2rom
To ma1e the distinction3 to )e a.are o2 the di22erence is a primary act o2
consciousness: .e don<t ha#e to .or1 it out3 deduce it ; .e 1no. it3 .e see it. &hat
e+actly is the di22erence3 in .hat property or /uality do they di22er> 4ot di22icult7 in
shape or form. (ctually .hen .e loo1 at aB there is more that .e are a.are o2.
For e+ample:
is di22erent 2rom )B
or 2rom cB
or 2rom dB
&hat .e ha#e here are the same t.o shapes )ut arranged di22erently: they are in a
di22erent relationshi to each other. To descri)e the relationship .e need .ords li1e left,
right, above, below. 9ut .e can see the di22erence .hether .e try to descri)e it or not.
(nother e+ample:

eB is di22erent 2rom 2B

(gain the di22erence is one o2 relationship3 in this case o2 inside and outside.
Loo1ing at eB and 2B there is almost a physical 2eeling o2 di22erence3 as i2 .e almost had
some sensation in our )odies to do .ith )eing inside something o2 outside it ...
In these e+amples .e are saying that there are t.o di22erent things3 each .ith a
di22erent shape3 )ut occurring in di22erent relationships. &hy do .e say that3 rather than
that there is one thing in each3 )ut .ith a di22erent shape or 2orm> &e could indeed say
that3 )ut it seems more @natural< to descri)e3 or e#en see these e+amples as t.o separate
5o. a)out


ho. many things there> Four3 o)#iously. 9ut .hat i2 .e arrange them a )it di22erently:

Still 2our things3 no less o)#iously3 )ut no. there are also two things in ne. sense:
t.o grous o2 lines. &e ha#e some choice a)out ho. .e di#ide things up3 although
psychologically3 in practice3 the sense o2 choice may not )e #ery apparent. In hB .e
can<t help seeing t.o groups.
5o. a)out:

and 6B and 1B
5ere .e ha#e a pair o2 o)6ects3 semi8circles3 )ut in three di22erent relationships.
9ut .hat i2 .e ha#e them in a 2ourth possi)le relationship:
Is this one or t.o o)6ects3 and i2 t.o is it t.o semi8circles as in 6B or 1B > Fr is it
2our /uarter8circles ... and so on.
5o. .e di#ide things up3 or ho. .e see them as single o)6ects #aries3 )ut clearly
some .ays are simpler3 more natural3 more o)#ious3 more practical3 2unctional3
con#enient than others. iB is t.o semi8circles @)ac1 to )ac1< and lB is a single circle. The
@choice< A.hich may not )e #ery considered or consciousB o2 ho. .e di#ide things up
depends on many things3 )ut clearly it is in some .ay at least partly psychological: it
depends on us3 ho. .e see3 as .ell as on the things themsel#es. Fur e+perience o2 ho.
things )eha#e in the .orld ma1es a di22erence: i2 the circle o2 lB stays in one piece .e
.ill )e content to see it as a circle3 )ut i2 it 1eeps di#iding into t.o semi8circles3 as 6B or
1B .e may pre2er to treat it as t.o separate parts. There are many 2actors in#ol#es in
ho. .e di#ide the .orld up3 not least our o.n personal e+perience and memory.
Form3 pattern and relationship are abstract concepts3 aspects o2 e+perience .hich
.e can e+tract3 or 2ocus on3 or see as )eing constant3 in#ariant3 or shared )y di22erent
e+periences. &e ignore some detail3 or other 2eatures and 6ust consider a particular
For e+ample:

and n)
are )oth e+amples o2 the relationship @)eing inside< or @containing< occurs3 e#en though
the 2orms are di22erent. 9oth are e+ample o2 a particular pattern. The relationship and
pattern are in#ariant )et.een the t.o cases. There are details o2 di22erence that .e are
ignoring3 other relationships and patterns that are not the same in the t.o cases ; i2 .e
loo1 at cur#es3 or count corners3 2or e+ample. There may )e many di22erent patterns and
relationships e+isting in a particular situation or e+perience3 and there is a more or less
conscious process o2 selection that occurs .hen .e name or other.ise respond to a
particular pattern.
This process o2 ignoring some aspects3 some details3 and 2ocusing on particular
2orms3 relationships and patterns is one o2 our primary3 perhaps the primary3 method
that .e use 2or ma1ing sense o2 things. It has enormous and #alue3 as .ell as
some dangers and dra.)ac1s3 some o2 .hich should )e clear already.
&e could state the #alue and the danger as 2ollo.s:
It is often te form5 relationsip and pattern of tings5 rater tan te details5
tat matter5 tat make a difference4
The dangers and dra.)ac1s could e/ually )e )rie2ly stated:
It is often te uni6ueness and details of tings tat matter5 tat make te
important difference4
Fr3 to try another #ersion3 .hich may actually include this one:
It is often forms5 relationsips and patterns oter tan te ones 3e are
considering 3ic matter5 3ic make te important difference4
To suggest a couple o2 e+amples .hich might help to ma1e sense o2 these
@(re the sheep in the 2ield>< I2 they are inside the 2ield3 then I may not need to
1no. e+actly .here each one is ; and it .ould )e a .aste o2 time i2 you tried to tell
me. AIt might ta1e hours3 and they 1eep mo#ing any.ayB. It<s the @inside8ness<3 the
relationship3 that matters. There are other details3 or other relationships that might or
might not matter: are they in the corn 2ield> (re the ali#e> 5o. many are there> (re
they my sheep> The potential 2or detail is endless: to )e a)le to 2ocus on the one thing
that matters at the moment3 .hether the sheep are sa2ely contained some.here3 gi#es an
enormous degree o2 e22iciency.
&hich relationships and patterns matter3 ma1e an important di22erence3 depends
on many things: in general3 on the conte(t, on considerations )eyond the immediate
The .ay .e ma1e sense o2 things may seem to )e a logical and rational issue3 to
)e clari2ied )y loo1ing more care2ully and closely at things3 )ut it<s not as simple as
that. There are al.ays di22erent .ays o2 doing it3 and .hich is appropriate tends to )e a
human /uestion3 a psychological3 #alue8laden3 conte+t8dependant /uestion.
*#erything that e+ists is uni/ue3 )oth in terms o2 the details o2 it i2 e+amined
closely enough3 or in terms o2 its conte+t3 its relations to other things3 to the rest o2 the
.orld. I2 .e )ecome lost in detail3 in the uni/ueness3 o2 things3 .e .ill )e una)le to act3
to 2unction3 to learn3 to predict3 to ma1e plans. &e need to a)stract3 to conceptualise3
categorise3 generalise3 see 2orm and pattern3 ma1e sense o2 the .orld. 9ut .hen .e do
those things .e distance oursel#es 2rom the uni/ueness o2 things3 .e ignore the details
o2 reality3 .e miss things3 .e ma1e mista1es )ecause real things don<t 2it our
a)stractions3 don<t 2ollo. our a)stract patterns3 don<t act according to our generalised
So ha#e .e done all .e can to say .hat .e mean )y 2orm3 relationship and
pattern> I2 they are in 2act primary can I say any more than it is this or this etc.> Li1e
as1ing @.hat is red>< It is this. I2 I .ant to sho. that I mean this colour rather than
shape then I can 1eep the shape constant and change the colour ; sho. a )lue circle
and a green circle etc. until you get the idea o2 colour7 then you .ill 1no. .hat I mean
.hen I say @this colour is red<. Similarly3 i2 I 1eep the colour constant and change the
shape Aa red triangle3 a red s/uare etc.B then you .ill 1no. .hat I mean .hen I say
&hen I 1no. the shape3 the 2orm o2 something3 then I 1no. /uite a signi2icant
amount a)out ho. it .ill act in the .orld3 ho. it .ill interact .ith other things. ADore
than i2 I 1no. its taste or smell3 or ho. it .ould sound i2 I hit it3 2or e+ample ... or is
that 6ust a )ias o2 mine>B
6orm can )e simple or comple+. ( circle is a simple 2orm3 a co. is a comple+
2orm3 a 2ield 2ull o2 co.s is a more comple+ 2orm ... I could see each o2 these as a
single e+perience3 or I can )rea1 them up into parts. *#ery 2orm can )e di#ided up3 can
)e seen as )eing made up o2 component parts. It is not so @natural< to see a circle as
)eing made up o2 parts as to see a co. a made up o2 parts ; e#en more so a 2ield 2ull
o2 co.s. 9ut there is some choice there7 di22erent .ays o2 doing it. That<s part o2 .hat
pattern is. 6orm is a property o2 .hat is there7 attern is 6ust one possi)le .ay o2
arranging3 o2 di#iding up3 o2 pic1ing out a part or a 2eature o2 2orm. Form is thus a
limiting case o2 pattern. %attern is a partial aspect o2 2orm3 either a part that is pic1ed
out Aa )lac1 patch on one o2 the co.s...B or a 2eature3 a regularity3 an aspect Athe co.s3
.hich all resem)le each other3 as opposed to the 2ield or the trees3 .hich are something
( co. mo#es: it changes shape3 )ut retains enough similarity that I can still call it
a co. ... Ai2 there is continuity it is the same co.7 i2 I loo1 a.ay and then return some
time later then I may )e sure it<s still a co. I see3 thought it may not )e the same one.B
&hat counts as @su22iciently similar< to still count as a co. is an open /uestion: not a
#ery di22icult one .ith co.s3 )ut endlessly con2using3 de)ata)le and 2ascinating in some
cases Atruth3 6ustice3 a li#ing human )eing Aem)ryoB3 madness3 an elementary particle3
danger3 )eauty3 consciousness.... etc. etc.B.
I use 2orm and pattern to ma1e sense o2 the .orld. I cannot cope .ith things3
cannot hope to respond to things appropriately i2 I try to note e#ery detail ; )ut i2 I
pic1 out parts3 aspects3 atterns3 and relate to them3 Athin1 a)out them3 la)el them3
remem)er them3 compare them3 2ocus on them3 .atch their )eha#iour3 measure them
etc.B then I can get a grip3 2ind my .ay around3 ma1e a map3 make sense o2 the .orld ...
AI can cope .ith a 2ield o2 co.s3 ta1e some appropriate action ; )ring them in 2or
mil1ing3 run a.ay 2rom them3 .hate#er ; i2 I see them as co.s. I2 I get caught up in
the endless detail o2 shape and colour that I actually see3 then I .ill )e una)le to ma1e
any response to them @as co.s<. B
&hen I ma1e a distinction3 dra. a line3 separate a part or aspect3 a)stract a
pattern3 and so on3 I gi#e mysel2 simpli2ied handles to grip things .ith3 so that I can
thin1 a)out them3 reason a)out them3 I omit much o2 the in2ormation that I ha#e
a#aila)le3 I lea#e much o2 it out o2 account ... )ut I do not actually lose it all. In perhaps
relati#ely patchy and disorganised .ays it remains in my mind3 my memory3 my
impressions. (ll those /ualities and patterns that .ere not strictly rele#ant or
descri)a)le Athe e+act shape o2 a co.3 the #ariety o2 mar1ings3 the sounds they can
ma1e3 the .ay they mo#e3 the loo1 in a co.s eye3 the smell o2 .arm mil1 in a )uc1et ...
all my o.n pri#ate e+periences and associationsB are not essential to my concept o2 a
co.3 )ut are #ery much part o2 my idea o2 a co.. I may ha#e a 2e. /uite general and
@rational< ideas a)out co.s and predictions that I could ma1e a)out them that .ould
pro)a)ly agree .ith yours ; and some .ays that I am )etter or less .ell in2ormed than
you ; )ut also I ha#e my o.n personal @2eel< 2or the reality o2 a co.3 and 2rom that I
can also ma1e predictions. AJust ho. .ill a certain co. react i2 I mo#e too /uic1ly3 or
shout...B. This is perhaps .hat is called my intuition a)out co.s. It is not really di22erent
in 1ind 2rom my rational 1no.ledge3 6ust a )it more personal3 a )it more di22use3
#aguer3 less simpli2ied and organised ... )ut other.ise much the same. 4othing #ery
mysterious or paranormal a)out it.
&e ha#e intuiti#e as .ell as rational 1no.ledge a)out e#erything in our
e+perience. &e ma1e distinctions3 pic1 out certain patterns3 .hich )ecome the principle
#ehicles o2 our pu)lic 1no.ledge and communication3 our sciences3 our rational
organisation o2 our e+perience that .e contri)ute to the pu)lic domain7 )ut .e retain
our pri#ate and unsystematised e+perience ; our intuiti#e 1no.ledge.
&e dra. lines3 ma1e distinctions3 select patterns3 and the process ser#es us .ell3
)ut at the same time there are other patterns3 there are other /ualities and 2orms3 there is
a particular 1ind o2 relatedness of things that is not included )ut .hich remains
accessi)le to me. &e can agree a de2inition o2 a circle3 and communicate and reason
a)out it ; )ut I 1no. @intuiti#ely< and .ithout proo2 that3 2or e+ample3 it .ill roll
do.n a slope )etter than a s/uare ... it .ill )e more com2orta)le to hold in my hand ...
or that circles .on<t pac1 in a )o+ as .ell as s/uares ... or that a )all )earing .ould roll
round inside a circular )o+ .ith less noise than inside a s/uare one ... that ripples on
.ater 2rom a stone3 or planetary or)its are more li1ely to )e round than s/uare ...5o.
do I 1no. all these things> Fh3 it<s 6ust my intuition ... &e ha#e massi#e amounts o2
that 1ind o2 1no.ledge3 or @2eel< a)out things3 and .e use it3 act on it all the time. The
practice o2 science and mathematics is actually 2ar more dependant on this le#el o2
mental 2unction than on the more organised3 a)stract3 o)6ecti#e and rational.
Tat 3ic 3e rationall& separate remains in relationsip 7 bot in
te e2ternal 3orld and in our tinking about te 3orld4
I ha#e concentrated in these e+amples on the #isualUspatial sense3 )ut something
similar applies to all the dimensions o2 perception ; and e#en 2urther to all e+perience.
In distinguishing sounds3 2or e+ample3 I do more than 6ust di22erentiate: I respond to
relationship. T.o di22erent notes can )e easily distinguished3 )ut they also relate to each
other: they may harmonise3 )e in some simple relationship such as an octa#e3 2i2th or
third ... here the relationship #aries3 and I respond to each /uite di22erently. %erhaps
colours and tones are the same: red ne+t to yello. is /uite di22erent 2rom red ne+t to
)lue. Do#ement3 change3 time di22erences must also )e included: in some .ays music
is the clearest and purest e+ample o2 all this: di22erent relationships3 patterns3 in /uality
and time allo. di22erent music and lead to entirely di22erent e+periences.
Do#ement is an interesting phenomenon: I am .atching a single lea2 mo#ing
)ac1.ards and 2or.ards3 )lo.n )y the .ind ... my a.areness o2 mo#ement seems to )e
a primary e+perience7 I am not a.are3 2or e+ample3 o2 2orming a series o2 images .hich
I then compare and note di22erences. The continuity o2 a single o)6ect3 li1e the lea23
.hich mo#es3 or the trun1 o2 the tree3 .hich is stationary. It does not seem to depend
entirely on memory Athough c2. Dan &ho Distoo1 5is &i2e...B7 it<s more as i2
constancy3 )eing unchanged3 and mo#ement3 changingness3 .ere primary /ualities o2
perception. I a)stract the concept o2 time 2rom the e+perience o2 change rather than the
other .ay round.
Fne o2 the essential ingredients o2 pattern is continuity in time. There can )e no
pattern .ithout some continuity ... e.g. imagine a single note .hich continually
oscillates up and do.n ... there is in some sense no continuity as the note is constantly
changing3 yet there is clearly a pattern ; the continuity is there in the single note3 some
/ualities o2 .hich do not change: I e+perience it as continuous3 there is no gap3 no
space3 silence. )rea1ing it up. *#en i2 there .ere I could hold enough continuity to
percei#e a pattern: a piano playing a scale3 2or e+ample ; there are )rea1s )et.een
each note3 and yet I lin1 them. They share some continuity o2 /uality and location3 as
.ell as relationships o2 pitch. ADost o2 us percei#e pitch only as relationship ; .e lac1
per2ect pitch. &hat might the e/ui#alent o2 per2ect pitch )e 2or the other senses> &e
seem to percei#e colour as an a)solute3 )e a)le to la)el it .ithout anything to compare
it to3 )ut ho. accurate are .e> B
"ontinuity3 mo#ement3 change Aall o2 .hich are @patterns in time<B3 pattern3 2orm3
relationship ... are emerging as primaries o2 perception7 and then there is a process to do
.ith consciousness that in#ol#es gi#ing attention to3 pic1ing out3 selecting3 possi)ly
la)elling3 emphasising3 2ocusing on3 A)eing a.are3 conscious o2B that is more secondary3
in#ol#es some degree o2 2reedom ...
Dy 1no.ledge3 learnings3 a.areness o2 the .orld3 .hat I @am< mentally3 seem to
)e an accumulation o2 the e+perience I ha#e had and the .ay I @pattern< it ; and ho.
.ell I retain3 remem)er all this ...
&hat are the @primary irreduci)les< o2 e+perience3 o2 perception > Fualities Ain all
sensory dimensions3 including introspecti#e3 emotional and rationalB7 difference,
distinction7 degrees o2 di22erenceUsimilarity7 changeGmovement and constancy; and
form3 relationshi ; including 2orm in time3 attern.
&hen I see something I see )oth /ualities Acolour3 tone3 )rightness3 te+ture...B and
shape3 the .ay parts o2 the 2ield relate. I see a red circle: I respond to the /uality o2
redness7 I distinguish the red part 2rom the rest o2 the 2ield7 and I respond to the
@roundness<3 the 2orm3 arrangement3 pattern that the redness ma1es. I2 the red circle
changes ; 2or e+ample it gro.s or diminishes3 or i2 it mo#es across my 2ield o2 #ision3
then I am a.are o2 that3 as a primary 2unction3 not through a process o2 comparison or
deduction or guess.or1 ... the redness stays constant3 the roundness stays constant ;
and there is mo#ement3 change. Suppose I see a red circle and a red s/uare3 .ith no
mo#ement. They are di22erent ; again a primary perception3 I do not deduce the
di22erence )y any process ... I percei#e 2orm3 some relationship )et.een parts o2 the
I hear a sound ; a single note3 2or e+ample. I am a.are o2 its /ualities: pitch3
loudness3 tim)re3 tone etc. A.ords may )e less precise hereB. I2 it is constant or i2 it
changes3 that is a primary /uality. ATime is an a)stract concept deri#ed 2rom this
primary e+perience o2 changeB. (gain I am a.are o2 form9 at its simplest the single
unchanging note has a de2inite 2orm Ai2 there are two notes sounding do I percei#e that
as a single sound o2 a di22erent /uality or as t.o distinct sounds> Less clear than the
circle & s/uare e+ample ; it depends on my musical sophistication among other things
... I2 they are @di22erent enough<3 .hate#er that means3 then I .ill distinguish them3
other.ise I might not. %erhaps .e could say the same thing a)out a #isual perception
; though here it<s a matter o2 language: i2 the red s/uare and circle are touching I
might call them a single shape or t.o shapes touching3 )ut there .ould )e no dou)t
a)out .hat I .as seeing. Sound is /uite di22erent: I .ant to 1no. a)out causes9 is it one
or t.o instruments playing> "an I detect t.o di22erent locations as .ell as /ualities>
Oisually also I .ould say @&hat is this> ( picture> T.o physical o)6ects> (
hologram ... etc.B (ll sounds ha#e some 2orm or pattern: in the moment ; di22erent
location3 pitch3 loudness etc.3 and in time ; duration3 repetition3 rhythm.
Smell and taste seem to ha#e /uality .ithout 2orm7 may)e not /uite true ; there
can )e some relationships: t.o 2la#ours go .ell together3 2or e+ample A@not this .ine
.ith the 2ish...<B3 )ut it is not something .e ha#e carried #ery 2ar3 and perhaps are not
a)le to. (s an art 2orm coo1ery ; and @aromery< ; are not as de#eloped as music3
painting or literature. AI hear distant protests ... perhaps the loss is mine.B
Touch is another di22erent case Athey are all di22erentB: touch seems to need
mo#ement and change3 .ithout it I can percei#e #ery little Aunless there are e+tremes3
2or e+ample causing pain ; and .hat a)out hot and cold> They don<t need to change to
)e o)#ious.B 9ut tactile sensation through my s1in: part o2 it depends on mo#ement ;
te+ture and shape entirely on mo#ement. For most o2 us a not #ery de#eloped sense.
ATry getting as much in2ormation as you can a)out an un2amiliar o)6ect in the dar1 )y
touch alone ; a #ery la)orious and rather so)eringly limited processB. Dost 2orm here
is dependant on mo#ement3 and hence also on proprioception ; my sense o2 the
position and mo#ement o2 my )ody.
Some senses are partly lin1ed: shape as tactile and shape as #isual. Location as
#isual or auditory ... mostly they are remar1a)ly independent3 and it ta1es a lot o2
sophistication and @theory< to ma1e lin1s. Locating the source o2 a smell3 2or e+ample3
can )e remar1a)ly di22icult. In many cases .e seem to ma1e the lin1s #ery naturally
and easily. AThere seem to )e connections3 @mappings< )et.een areas o2 the )rain that
.ould ma1e this more easily understanda)le physiologically.B
%erhaps )ecause o2 the di22erent degrees to .hich our 2i#e senses allo. the
e+istence o2 2orm and pattern3 .e emphasise them #ery di22erently. Fur @sense o2 the
.orld< tends to )e primarily #isual3 2ollo.ed perhaps )y tactileU propriocepti#e ; the
.ay .e interact .ith things through touch and physical mo#ement. ATry .al1ing on an
imaginary line .ith your eyes shut ...B Smell and taste enter in #ery little ; they are a
1ind o2 )onus3 and a sur#i#al aid in our personal struggle3 )ut play little part in our
sense ma1ing3 the .ay .e map or understand the .orld. Sound3 rather surprisingly3 is
also marginal: .e get personally #alua)le in2ormation3 and perhaps great pleasure3 )ut
Aapart 2rom language ; recording3 thin1ing3 communicating ...B not much is used in our
understanding o2 things.
Form, relationship, pattern, mostly visual, with some tactile and proprioceptive.
These are the ways we conceptualise and map. We are aware of form and pattern and
relationship ... and we then build and compare and connect and ... thus our world