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7 best Alan Watts books on philosophy and life
He left behind a mind-expanding collection of books.
- Alan Watts wrote more than 25 books on the subjects of philosophy and religion.
- He was among the first to bring Zen Buddhist thought to the West.
- Subjects ranged from dualism in philosophy to the troubles of modern man.
Alan Watts was a gifted philosopher who tasked himself with the near impossible, putting that which transcended the knowable into words. A counterculture mystic and a spiritual entertainer with an eye on the divine, it's no surprise that Watt's philosophy and wisdom filled a number of books.Watts didn't ask for you to follow any creed, or to look to him as a guru or any other self-defeating self-help drivel. He simply asked just for you to be. The following Alan Watts books cover a number of different topics — a messenger of Zen, Watts bridged the gap of understanding between the East and West — and paint a full picture of a well-lived life in a whimsically poetic way. One that compels you to gaze within yourself and the cosmos around you.
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Many wonder what Alan Watts book they should read first. A centerpiece in the bibliography of Watts is a piece usually referred to just as The Book. It is here where Watts sets out to discover what he believes to be the fundamental misunderstanding of who we really are. The idea of the "Ego" or self as an isolated being not connected to the rest of the universe has given us a hostile view of the world "outside of ourselves."
Watts works to do away with all of these arbitrary divisions, which are products of our language and upbringing. Working from the Hindu Vedanta and other assorted Eastern works, Watts crafts a new way to view the self and the universe together:
"How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god."
With language that is inherently playful and conversational, Watts expertly pokes fun at the belief of viewing the Self as a contained and separate entity from the whole.
Become What You Are
You'll find a number of Watt's philosophy have been disseminated online through a hodgepodge of lectures taken throughout the years. Become What You Are is a unique set of essays that can be read in a few sittings. The book reads as a disconnected set of ideas as commentary on ways to live.
"You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now... there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So become what you are."
This wonderful kernel of truth blossoms throughout the rest of the book and acts as another introductory entryway into his more deeper and comprehensive works. His grasp and ability to express abstract ideas in such a way that anyone can understand it, is a gift that is expertly shown throughout this book.
The Way of Zen
Long before yoga studios and hip Zen maxims flooded the Western streets, Alan Watts was explaining and practicing the principles of Zen Buddhism to a new audience of readers. The Way of Zen delves into the origins of the religion and what it means to practice Zen in the modern world. Watts believed that Zen was one of the most important concepts to arise out of the Eastern sphere.
Zen is explained to the best of its ability, for it is something that needs to be felt and experienced. The explanations in this book are given with a wink and a cosmic smirk.
"The centipede was happy, quite, until a toad in fun said, 'Pray, which leg goes after which?' This worked his mind to such a pitch, he lay distracted in a ditch, considering how to run."
Zen is one branch of Buddhism. The Way of Zen teaches you that zen emerges from spontaneity and leads you into the present moment and the experience of the now. Throughout the book, Watts contrasts this way of thinking to the rapid-paced and unreflective nature of modern society and its tendency to make us feel unfulfilled, rudderless and empty.
"A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only 'getting somewhere' as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance."
Nature, Man and Woman
Watts was always interested in exploring the underlying notion of dualities and their effect on mind. He called them, "the great two poles of human thought, spirit and nature." Drawing on his vast knowledge of Taoism, Alan Watts imagines a new viewpoint between the connection of man and the universe.
It's stated in the preface of the book that this is a work where he's "thinking out loud." This is Alan Watts at his best as he digs deep and weaves without abandon into the most curious parts of our nature.
"... the problem of man's relation to nature raises the problem of man's relation to woman – a matter about which the spiritually minded members of our own culture have been significantly squeamish."
The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for the Age of Anxiety
This is a book that's whole purpose is to get you within the now and live in the present moment. We've heard this cliche so many times now, the words ring hollow. But Alan Watts will always be the master of bringing wisdom to the mundane and the lost oft repeated adages we take for granted.
Written in 1951, his prophetic words predicted the rapid pace of modern society led by increasingly more complex technology. The consequence of this would be that our connection to the real and authentic experiences would not only diminish but barely come about again.
"Tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly."
In My Own Way: An Autobiography
Here we have a change of pace as we get to read Alan Watts' autobiography. Watts starts out with his upbringing in rural England and slowly wades into his life as the spiritual counterculture figure many would come to know him by.
In My Own Way recounts many of his interactions with the gurus and celebrities of the day, psychedelic experiences and of course the philosophical insight that overflows from so many of his other books and lectures.
"My vocation in life is to wonder about at the nature of the universe. This leads me into philosophy, psychology, religion, and mysticism, not only as subjects to be discussed but also as things to be experienced, and thus I make an at least tacit claim to be a philosopher and a mystic."
The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
The Joyous Cosmology joins the ranks of some of the best psychedelic books ever to be written. Alan Watts' insights into the altered consciousness of psychedelic experience rivals Aldous Huxley's seminal work: The Doors of Perception. Continuing the tradition as philosophical seeker and not one just out for recreational fun – Watts saw the true worth of psychedelic exploration.
He believed true insight could be found:"when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding." Far ahead of his time in relation to both the sixties counterculture and our own era, Watts argued for the protection and right to our own brains and nervous systems. Fundamental rights that weren't up for debate by any form of government.
"It is generally forgotten that our guarantees of religious freedom were designed to protect precisely those who were not members of established denominations, but rather such (then) screwball and subversive individuals as Quakers, Shakers, Levellers, and Anabaptists. There is little question that those who use cannabis or other psychedelics with religious intent are now members of a persecuted religion which appears to the rest of society as a grave menace to "mental health," as distinct from the old-fashioned "immortal soul." But it's the same old story."
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.