Michael Toms: Henryk, what is
Eco-philosophy, and how does it differ from what we ordinarily interpret as
Skolimowski: Eco-philosophy, as I see it, is a rational reconstruction of the
human condition as we approach the twenty-first century. I emphasize the term
“rational,” for reason at large is not something to scorn. Indeed, I cannot
see any reconstruction whatsoever to be accomplished through unreason. However,
I do not identify reason and rationality with the precepts of narrow science, or
with computer-like thinking. Reason and rationality are a glorious
accomplishment of evolution, and for me reason encompasses it all, including all
our sensitivities. The generic term for philosophy is philosophia, the love of wisdom, and this is what philosophy has
been through millennia. It tries to aid us in the quest for meaning, in the
quest for an understanding of not only the trivial everyday life, but also of
this larger cosmos—its furniture, its intricacies, our connection with it on
the physical level and all other levels as well.
Now in the twentieth century, as a result of specialization, all disciplines were forced to specialize. In addition, even philosophy has done it. The idea of scientific philosophy arrived on the stage around 1910 with Bertrand Russell. Then the philosophers from the Vienna Circle in Vienna, in Austria, picked up the idea and pushed it to an extreme. Philosophy became a scrutiny of the structure of language and, in my opinion, was short-changed. Bit by bit, philosophy was made an inquiry into the nature of linguistic propositions. Philosophers became preoccupied, to the point of obsession, with how language works. Distinguished philosophers such as J. L. Austin started writing essays on “Ifs and Cans.” If you think how much that is removed from the real quest of philosophy, then you realize that something bizarre has happened.
Nowadays, even analytical
philosophers themselves are rather unhappy with the position they have been
pushed into. They try to get out of it. Somehow, however, they are stuck. They
try to get unstuck in a piecemeal way, while what we need is a total
reconstruction, changing the whole mode of thinking, of perceiving and of
valuing. It is here that Eco-philosophy comes into focus as a new cosmology, a
new way of rethinking the multitude.
of conceiving the universe as a clock-like mechanism, governed by
deterministic laws, in which we are stuck as a little bolt or screw, we can
assume that the universe is a sanctuary and
we are its custodians—priests if you will. The mechanistic universe was based
on the assumptions of the mechanistic nature of the cosmos. Eco-philosophy is
based on the view that the nature of the universe is unfolding, evolutionary,
and emergent. Because it’s emergent, you don’t know what will happen next.
It is the glory and the beauty of evolution that it is creative, producing new
variations—of which the human mind is one. Every new idea is a blossoming of
creative evolution. A new philosophy is for me a manifestation of the ability
of evolution to create through us. Put otherwise, a new creative conception of
the cosmos is a response of evolution—through us!—to get unstuck. For if we
are stuck, evolution is stuck. We have got locked in a cul-de-sac and now we are
unlocking ourselves by creating new vistas through which we show that we have
somewhere to go, and that evolution has somewhere to go.
is a very short answer to what Eco-philosophy wants to accomplish. It wants to
create a new cosmology within which we are at home in this universe and at peace
with all creation.
Most of us, when we hear the term “philosophy,” have a vision of musty books on library shelves. In our society, philosophy has been relegated mostly to the halls of academia. One doesn’t find the philosophical view, or lice philosophical approach, very much present in mainstream society or life. We don’t often hear our politicians ask, “What are the philosophical implications of this particular piece of legislation?” That’s just not part of the consideration. Why do you think this has happened in our society? Why have we come to this, where philosophy is no longer really present in the everyday, practical side of life?
in part the result of the growing specialization in the twentieth century. But
it’s also the result of a mistaken myth that the glory of the human condition
lies in the improvement of our material lot and that, consequently, you have to
bank on material progress, on technology and science.
want to point out to you that those very assumptions of material progress are
philosophical assumptions par excellence. We may think that we have thrown
philosophy out of the window, that we do not need it. But our pragmatic modes of
operation, the ways we think what reality is, are all based on some
philosophical assumptions. Usually they are rather crude assumptions in which
the universe is conceived predominantly as material, and we are conceived as predominantly
acquisitive creatures, or comfort creatures. Yet we know that the most glorious
moments of our life and in the history of the human species are not the ones in
which we live as comfort creatures, So to the degree to which present philosophy
has cast us in the image of comfort creatures, it has put a philosophical
straitjacket on our being. We are thus victims of a shallow philosophy.
enough, a good deal of philosophy is contained in those dry books that gather
dust on the shelves of our libraries. But in addition to those, there are some
very exciting books on philosophy to which we return over and again. If you take
the history of your own program, “New Dimensions,” what I’ve been seeing
over the years is a development of a new, exciting philosophy. Philosophers do
not have the monopoly on creating new philosophy. New philosophy is emerging all
the time. For philosophy has always been an in-depth reflection on the human
condition. It will be alive as long as the human condition is alive, as long as
we persist in being human. Thus I dare say that as long as we search for humanity
in ourselves, as long as we search for freedom; we are not going to be confined
by shallow philosophy which reduces us to comfort creatures.
a sense, each of us is a philosopher?
And if you examine in some depth those notions which assert, “We don’t need
philosophy, we are pragmatic, we are realistic,” you find they are based on
some philosophical notions. What is it to be “pragmatic”? It means to assume
that economic gains are most important in life. Is that true? What is it to be
“realistic”? There is a paradox here. What goes under “being
realistic” is totally unrealistic nowadays. For we behave in a foolish,
destructive, anti-productive way vis-à-vis ourselves, vis-à-vis the
environment. And we call it “realistic.” When you think about it, it is
we have to evolve a new concept of realism whereby we are less destructive to
ourselves, to other beings, to the environment—or expressing it in positive
terms—more life-enhancing. And this is another name for Eco-philosophy. It
attempts to be life-enhancing. It attempts to show what kind of beliefs and
values may help us in seeing ourselves more clearly as human beings, a very
special kind of species, who have the responsibility for themselves, but also
the responsibility for the planet and, if you will, for the rest of the
I remember Buckminster Fuller saying that more than seventy percent of the work
force in America is devoted to non-life-support activities, activity in
work-a-day America that really isn’t oriented toward enhancing life. In a
society based essentially on capitalism, with an orientation to the bottom line
and profits, how would one integrate Eco-philosophy? I mean particularly society
where the bottom line is paramount.
would look at the situation the other way around. Not how one integrates
Eco-philosophy into the existing structure—that concept would be a kiss of
death for Eco-philosophy—but rather how one integrates the existing world and
structure into Eco-philosophy.
may think this to be ambitious, but we have to be ambitious in order to make
sense of our life, in order to survive, in order to have a future. We are all
searching desperately for a new lease on life, for structures both economic and
political as well as human and ecological that are life-supporting—not only
to our individual quest for meaning, but also that are life-supporting to the
economy at large. What we are seeing is that the capitalistic structures simply
do not work even in terms of capitalism itself. These structures desperately
need a new lease on life.
capitalism as a cycle, a rather extravagant one, of Western civilization. It was
one avenue to see how far we can explore the world and what kind of benefit we
can accrue to ourselves individually if we say, “Everybody has carte
blanche to do as he or she pleases.” We have found that in the contingent
world we can’t do it, because if some pursue their avenue as they please—to
the detriment of others—the whole boat begins to tilt sooner or later. And
this is what is happening. Therefore, I see Eco-philosophy as an attempt to
provide a new set of structures whereby existing practices, visions, and ways of
interacting with each other can be renewed and translated in life-enhancing
the principles of Eco-philosophy is frugality, which must not be mistaken as
imposed poverty or abnegation. Frugality, for me, is a positive principle.
Frugality is a precondition of inner beauty. You have to pause a little in order
to realize that this is how the greatest works of art were created. When the
artist imposes on himself severe limitations and out of the chunk of marble
creates a marvelous sculpture, this is frugality in the best sense. With
limited means creating wonderful ends: This is what frugality is about. This is
partly in keeping with Buckminster Fuller’s idea of doing more with less.
This is what inventiveness and creativeness mean: with limited means creating
rich and excellent ends. This is, incidentally, what the Norwegian
eco-philosopher Arne Naess advocates: a life which is slender in means and rich
present society, it is just the reverse. We use enormously rich and versatile
means, and achieve ends in no proportion to the investment. We have become a
people who are developing means for other means which never translate into ends
which we can acknowledge as life-enhancing, as adding to our life and as adding
to the life of the planet. The other definition of frugality is that frugality
is grace without waste. I think we don’t have to apologize for using the
term “grace,” for it is part of the human condition.
occasion, I am asked to give a brief definition of Eco-philosophy. You cannot do
it. You need ten to fifteen hours to do justice to the idea which seeks to
redefine the lot. Eco-philosophy, like the Buddhist Eightfold Path, suggests
that all things are interconnected. Right assumptions about the world lead to
right beliefs, lead to right or correct thinking, lead to correct action, lead
to right livelihood, and lead to right contemplation. Action is important, but
only if it is based on right values and right visions. Otherwise, it is blind
action. Actually, we so often rush from one form of action to another form of
action, thinking that this other form of action is our salvation, while the
whole foundation of our action is unsound. Nowadays we have to rethink the
whole lot. Another way of looking at the situation in which we are at present is
to summarize it in the following way.
is enticing to seek.
delights of being are many.
delights of becoming are infinite.
the last phrase is one I want to emphasize. We are the creatures of becoming.
This is the nature of evolution. This is the nature of all evolving societies.
Unless we continually transcend, we petrify. The problem with our society and
with our education is that we have gotten stuck in certain forms of being. And
we petrify. Our present social structures and institutions are really interested
in self-perpetuation and creating people in their own image. They want
supporters which keep the system going. This is one of the reasons why in spite
of the fact that we have a huge system of education, it doesn’t help us in the
quest of enlightenment. Our educational institutions are set to make us obedient
ciphers, not to make us free people.
another principle in life is resisting change, being comfortable with the status
quo. When you speak of Eco-philosophy, one of the things that seem to be present
is constant change. There’s always an emergence of new thoughts, new ideas,
new ways to think, new ways to do things—that can be very uncomfortable. What
about that discomfort and working through it?
it can be very uncomfortable. But living in changing time is always
uncomfortable. However, if you live a life that is open and engaging, you always
find a response to the unexpected. It is the unexpected, the new, that is the
joy and delight of life. In the States, we try to immune ourselves from change
because it means insecurity. This is one of our paradoxes: On one hand we
say that we are the society that is changing, we are the society on the go;
on the other hand, we have tried to create an economic structure of security
through which we can be undisturbed. The two do not go together.
need to go deeper into the nature of the human condition and how we conceive of
what it is to be human. If you think that we are unfolding with evolution, that
we are creative, you have to embrace change and discomfort, for it is a part of
the beauty and agony of becoming. And you had better persuade yourself that it
is good, because it cannot be otherwise. So far as I can see, there is no way to
make people comfortable and immune from change and pain unless they are in the
Perhaps we can talk about how we can become more co-creative and overcome the negative view of the world which is so prevalent today. Optimism may be a biological necessity, and it’s certainly a principle of Eco-philosophy. Henryk, as you were saying, we are co-creators with evolution and we’re the determining factor as to what happens next. Also inherent in your remarks is the idea that somehow we need to celebrate life more than we’re doing, that life is rich and full. But so often, we’re looking at the holes, noticing the gaps, and experiencing problems. When we look around us, we realize that we’re in an environment permeated by a constant reinforcement of what’s wrong with the world—the negative, tile darker view. How does one break through this incredible reinforcement of the negative?
are quite right when you say that optimism may be a biological necessity. And I
would add that hope is not a prerogative of foolish people, but part of the
ontological being of man in this world. Once you lose hope, you disintegrate as
a human being. Well if so, why are we ridden with the plague of hopelessness,
helplessness, and a kind of dreariness? Why do we not celebrate life, when in a
sense life fully lived is life celebrated? There are many reasons; I’ll just
speak of two of them.
that the prevailing system of education develops above all the critical
faculties, the skeptical faculties, nihilistic faculties. In order to be
clever, you always try to puncture everything that is presented to you. You
try to cut everything into bits and pieces. This doesn’t develop an attitude
of wholeness and celebration of life. The educational system says, “If you are
clever, try to decompose and destroy everything.” But there is a deeper reason
still for this attitude of critical scrutiny, of dismembering everything, of
showing how you can always cut. This deeper reason is the acceptance of the
mechanistic world-view, which assumes that everything is made of discrete
atoms which interact in a deterministic way; and which also assumes that the
deeper you cut, the further you go. The tunnel / atomistic vision is inherent in
our mechanistic world-view.
other side of the coin is our inability to perceive holistically, in a connected
and integrated way. Now, hope requires an affirmation of a meaningful universe,
which is one coherent whole. The mechanistic universe isolates, separates,
detaches everything from everything else. Moreover, it is devoid of human
meaning. Hence, we have to transcend mechanistic science to create the universe
of hope. If you closely look at the mechanistic scheme, you realize that the
celebration of life is not there. “It does not belong to the system,” the
system does not have the terminology for such things.
hardheaded scientist may insist that this view of the universe is the right one.
I say that his assumptions are myopic and are distorting the real picture of
the universe. According to Eco-philosophy, we can choose a celebratory universe
in which hope is one of its dimensions. Now which assumptions about the
universe are right? There is no logical way
of resolving the dilemma. Therefore, my response to the question of who is
right, the pessimist or the optimist, is not to try to argue out the
proposition on logical grounds. Rather, I would propose:
see what pessimism is doing to us, on one hand, and let’s see what optimism
and hope can do for us, on the other hand.
Why should we assume that
the universe is dreary? Why not see that it bursts with new forms of life, it
bursts in joy all the time? We need to embark on the universe that is a place
for celebration, and we need to act upon our assumption. Only then, we can see
the strength and the power of this kind of universe. And to the extent that we
are one of its most intricate forms, the universe celebrates itself through us.
You cannot disprove logically such art assumption. Let us assume the universe
helps us to dwell in it, for we are a part of this universe. There is nothing
strange in the assumption that the universe is home for Man. Intuitively, this
view is more convincing than the one which assumes that the universe is a
hostile, indifferent, cold place in which we drift like helpless monads.
what we are doing while developing Eco-philosophy is returning to a connected
and hospitable conception of the cosmos, in which we are its right inhabitants
and which is home for us. I should mention here that these ideas are developed
more fully in my book, Living
Philosophy, Eco-Philosophy as a Living Tree. (Penguin, 1991)
of our institutions, as they have evolved and become a part of our everyday
life, have lost the original vision for which they may have been created. They
been created with a sincere concern for solving a particular human
problem, they may have been based on certain values and ethics, but it seems
almost one of the principles of institutions that, as they get larger and
larger, the values and ethics and similar concerns are almost pushed out of the
everyday decision-making process.
back to my earlier question about corporations and living in a corporate
society, how do those values and ethics come back into play? From what you were
saying, one projection of the future may be that an institution—say, a
corporation—might have a resident eco-philosopher to assess how profits and
the bottom line may be directly related to that institution’s concern with the
future overall effect of what it is doing. I’d like to relate that to the
importance of institutions once again showing a real concern with human values
and with ethics—basically, a return to integrity as an important component
in one’s everyday functioning.
again, integrity is something peculiarly human. It is not a property of the
mechanistic universe. It is not a property of a corporation that makes profit.
It is not something that you find in our economic accounting. It is only when
you have the peculiar sense that without integrity you are not whole, you are
not fully’ human, that you begin to inject into the system—whatever the
system is—a new parameter, a new dimension. And it is at this point that you
examine all institutions and realize that, somehow or other, almost each of
them alienates itself from the purpose for which it has been originally
created. This is part of the dialectics of life.
institution—or any set of institutions—is created to provide for certain
needs, certain requirements, social or individual, and usually it serves those
needs for a while. But then once those needs are satisfied, we come to evolve
new needs. The institution usually doesn’t evolve to cater to these new needs,
and it tries to respond in terms of the old needs. After a while, we find the
institution quite antithetical to new needs that have evolved in response to
life and in response to our own quest for going beyond, for transcendence. To
that degree, every institution—whether we take a little civic institution in
the city or an institution like the Catholic Church—has a tendency to get
stuck and to respond to early needs rather than new evolving needs.
it is the genius of a people or an institution that is able to adjust itself and
change with changing needs. Most institutions do not do it. The bigger they
are, the more clumsy and the more entrenched they become, and they try to
translate our needs into what they can do for themselves. At that point, there
is quite a chasm between what an institution is doing and what it ought lobe
doing if it were doing its right job. And this is what has happened, not only
with institutions, but also with technology at large.
may be thought of as a form of institution for taking care of our needs. Each
and all technologies were conceived for our good, for the betterment of our
individual and social life. This is the purpose they served for quite a while.
Then they became too big, too independent, too autonomous. Now they are
perpetuating themselves and—if we can anthropomorphize a little—have the
cheek of claiming us as an appendage to them. At this point, it’s
pathological, it’s really bizarre. An instrument has taken over. The
sorcerer’s apprentice has unlocked the secrets, unleashed the tremendous
powers which it is unable to control.
is something wrong in the process if it leads to consequences that are
antithetical to the original purposes. Well, to that degree, we have to really
change and scrap lots of institutions, including technology. I’m not saying
that technology will have to just be thrown on the rubbish heap of history. But
some of its forms that are antithetical to the ends of our life and that are
threatening the whole planet, that become a major threat to the whole model of
evolution—these have to be revised.
the humans have done can be changed and undone. To that degree, I am a kind of
staunch optimist. This is a way of really empowering ourselves, by knowing
that it all came as a result of certain visions, certain purposes, certain
programs, and that we have to restructure our visions. We can have the courage
to say, “We take our destiny into our hands again. We are not so helpless and
powerless as we would be made by some institutions.”
your suggestion that every major corporation might have a resident
eco-philosopher to oversee its overall values and its positive contributions to
life at large—it’s an excellent one! I actually would love to be invited by
some corporations as a resident eco-philosopher—and prove to them that it
would be a good idea.
I would like to relate what you were talking about to a pragmatic, real-life
situation. If we look at the institution called health care, and if we look at
where hospitals have come to and how we deliver medical services to people,
we’ve reached a point of health care being a privilege and not a right.
We’re talking about excluding certain people from receiving adequate or the
best health care. I think this is an example of an institution that has come to
a place where the original vision that it was created for has been lost. Even
though there is still a concern to take care of people, we’re talking about
ways that can only take care of a certain number of people—those who have the
right kind of insurance and the right kind of support in order to take advantage
of the services provided. What about that?
care is a very good example of institutions that somehow alienated themselves
from what they were supposed to serve. Again, you cannot blame the institutions,
the hospitals and doctors; there is the whole universe that has gone its own way
and become uncaring to our well-being. And this is, again, a matter of in-depth
perception, a matter of realizing what health care is about. Is it the
maintenance of the machine that maintains our spare parts? The more sophisticated
the machine becomes, the more expensive spare parts become and the more
difficult they become to replace. And the more sophisticated the process, the
more costly the process, the more difficult it is to provide it to ordinary
the right response is not to try to make the mending process via this
mechanistic process less expensive, but to look at the larger picture. What is
health care? It is the maintenance of our health. It is our health that is at
stake. If you look at the problem of health as not only curing illness, but also
maintaining our well-being, you change the whole perspective on life, on health.
And then you ask yourself what kind of institutions you need to have, what kind
of health care you have to have in order to maintain health and keep it in the
state of radiance, rather than how to stop this process of prohibitively
expensive medical care that is bound to be more and more expensive as the
scientific and technological process gets more and more sophisticated. Again, if
you are locked in our system, there is no way out. So, you have to get out of
the system, and go to China.
there in 1976. What struck me is that China is a poor country without poor
people. What struck me is that in spite of the fact that there were 800 million
people there, everybody has basic health care. But it’s based on a different
principle than ours. And by Zeus, if China can do it, being such a poor country,
we should be able to do it. But we’ll be able to do it only if we change our
perspective. And this perspective is really not the perspective on the medical
machinery and how to improve it, but the perspective on life, health, and death.
When we talk about institutions and how to cope with them, I think that the
answer lies in changing the perspective of the people who run them, changing the
entire vision, and saying to yourself: We can do it otherwise.
occurs to me that the eco-philosophical view would encompass and accept death as
being a part of life. One of the problems with modern health care is the
constant emphasis on the prolongation of life at all costs. The lives of people
who are essentially no longer functioning as living beings arc prolonged with
technology, thereby creating more occupation of hospital beds, and so on. To
some extent, the medical establishment hasn’t accepted heath as a part of
tries to do that and tries to suggest that at a certain point the prolongation
of certain biological functions is not the prolongation of life. It is just
slow death, which is already there which we try to prevent, although we know
that we can’t. And this requires, again, a deeper look into the human
condition, rather than new strategy for how to make those people who are
already partly departed survive on a kind of vegetative level.
the parts of Eco-philosophy is what I call eco-yoga. In addition to rethinking
our principles, we have to go in our existential substratum through certain
exercises that enable us to perceive the world and people in a new way. One of
those principles is what I call reverential thinking. Once you start to think
reverentially about other human beings, and about our relationship with ecology
and the world, it does something to you. It really changes your perspective.
of this value vacuum, part of the problem with ethics, part of the problem with
integrity, is that our attitudes and our thinking are so irreverent. This objective thinking is a kind of careless thinking.
It’s nihilist thinking, while life in its modus
operandi is a very tender phenomenon. When we really take care of life, we
take care of life on the basis of a certain reverence for it. I would like to
reintroduce reverential thinking as a part of our modus operandi, as a part of our daily perception.
addition to the courses I teach at the university I go to a retreat, you may say, and I run two-week workshops at
Arcosanti—which is Paolo Solari’s city in the middle of the Arizona
desert—in which we try to translate principles of Eco-philosophy into
real-life situations. More recently, I have been offering workshops on Ecophilosophy
and eco-yoga on the island of Thassos in northern Greece. To enact a new
philosophy requires more than just thinking.
thinking is not thinking about reverence, it is thinking reverentially. And there is a difference. In order to think
reverentially, you have to, in a sense, rewire your perception, rewire your
assumptions. You have to stop thinking always in economic terms: How I can use
this piece of land as a resource... How I can use this person to my purposes?
Thinking reverentially is possible because we know that part of our life is
lived reverentially, that is, when we care for those who are dear to us, when we
are in love. Indeed, to be in love is to treat the other person reverentially.
reverence is not an idealistic principle, but one that really is part of our
state as human beings. I would wish to emphasize that this principle of
reverence for life is something that will help us on our road to the future.
Reverence for life is not high idealism but stark realism, if we are to have a
when I first saw the title of your book, The Theater of the Mind, what came
to me was the drama that so often is
a part of what our mind creates. I thought of how much “theater” we create,
which in a sense takes us away from what our real purpose may be. I’d like you
to comment on that.
for me life is a drama, the whole evolution is a drama, and indeed the mind is
one of the most interesting theaters of all. I chose the title The
Theater of the Mind quite deliberately in order get away from various
scholarly and pedantic titles and the very scholarly, pedantic, and dry
treatment of the subject. I think that we have been overwhelmed with the
quantity of words, which has the effect of really numbing us. We often assume
that the more knowledge we have the more enlightened we become, that the more
words we can use the more knowledge we have.
that often the opposite is true. We are inundated by the mountain of
information and there is no enlightenment at the end. So I decided to structure
the whole book in a different fashion—as a series of illuminations inspired
very much by the Upanishads. It may be
a bit presumptuous to say, but such was my purpose: to write a series of Upanishads
for our times. Upanishads are those immortal stories about life and death, the meaning of the universe and the
meaning of our own life. And in those Upanishads, the role of the mind is second to none.
In the West, we have made everything pedestrian. Everything is ground to a dry powder of concepts, including the very miracle of mind. I think it is time that we reach for this splendid glorious instrument of evolution, the mind that we have and that is so important for everything else, and give it due respect. But giving it due respect also means celebrating it, realizing that the joy of the universe is the joy of having a joyous mind.
I remember being really excited by a book I read in high school—a book by Will
Durant entitled The
Pleasures of Philosophy. It excited me
because here was an opportunity to explore ideas, to study ideas, to see how
people thought and the ways they perceived the world around them. And yet, what
I saw of philosophy in school courses was often, as you say, pedantic. It was
presented as taking dusty ideas out of the past and saying, okay, this is the
way they thought and this is what you learn. It was not an evolutionary process.
Ideas from fine past were being dusted off and looked at in contemporary
times, but philosophy wasn’t a growing animal. In contrast, when I come in
touch with your work, it’s clear that you’re evolving a philosophy that is
both: mew and at the same time influenced by older and other philosophies. What
are these influences? What has most influenced you to move in the direction of
this new philosophy?
doesn’t have to be pedantic in order to be profound. And indeed, when I look
at the history of philosophy, the great philosophical systems, the great
philosophers were those who had the courage to confront problems. When you read
their texts, they are exciting although at times difficult. Philosophy for me
is exciting because it tries to confront those ultimate questions which are
always at the back of our minds.
converted to philosophy—or seduced to philosophy—by Plato in my teenage
years in Poland. I read voluminously, almost everything. Alter reading great
French writers such as Balzac, Maupassant, and others, I discovered the Greek
writers. I read Sophocles, Euripides, and then stumbled upon Plato, whom I first
read as a poet. But the reading was so fascinating, and the kind of
fiction—science fiction—he unveiled was so spellbinding that I couldn’t
recover from it. To this day, I don’t know whether Plato was one of the
greatest fiction writers or one of the greatest philosophers in his attempts to
discover what reality is all about.
late, I am of the opinion that the greatest philosophical and metaphysical
systems are as much created as they are discovered. By this, I mean that by
imposing a certain architecture on reality, we weave the whole reality around
this architecture and then consider this reality as objective. While doing this,
we forget that the original blueprint (to which reality conforms) is the human
invention. And to that degree, all metaphysics and all reality is human
gather from those remarks that Plato was one of the greatest and most lasting
influences on me. But then one had to move on. While studying in Poland, I got
under the spell of analytical philosophy. At that time, Plato was called an
old-fashioned metaphysician, a
lesser minds have never been able to do so. We are under the spell of those
lesser minds who are perpetuating the myth that analysis is the only philosophy
while completely forgetting what analytical philosophy was supposed to be about.
It was supposed to be about getting the language clear and precise, so that we
could tackle all the problems and solve them satisfactorily.
philosophy has become sharpening tools for sharpening tools. Because academic
philosophy does not help us in understanding the world and ourselves, we turn
away from it. However, we also are aware that because of the unprecedented
problems that have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century—such as
nuclear waste, the looming ecological catastrophe, and, last but not least,
understanding the universe and matter brought about by the new advances of
astrophysics and quantum physics—we cannot find solutions to our dilemmas in
we need to create a philosophy appropriate for our times and our problems. I am
neither decrying all philosophy nor advocating a return to the past—be it
Plato, the Upanishads, or some other
mystical tradition. I am in favor of creating a new, comprehensive holistic
philosophy suitable for the age of ecology which is dawning on us.
The Theater of
the Mind, you wrote something that I had
experienced in my own life; and that is the incredible similarity inn the
philosophies espoused by de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo. Though they were in
some sense contemporary, they didn’t know one another, and you make the
connection between them. De Chardin was a Catholic, Sri Aurobindo was an Indian,
came out of the Hindu system. How about that connection? What does it mean?
de Chardin was one of the great influences on me in recent times. I have been
fascinated by his story of evolution as one of the most thrilling adventures of
the human mind.
to reconstruct and shed light on such a phenomenon as total evolution is like
holding the whole universe, from its inception, in one’s palm. I’ve tried to
puzzle out how Teilhard arrived at his system. When I discovered Sri
Aurobindo, who arrived at a very similar system, I couldn’t believe it. There
is, of course, the theory that the zeitgeist
has worked through both of them. Zeitgeist
or not, I thought there must have been some influences.
when I was at Pondicherry in southern India, where Sri Aurobindo Ashram is
located, I finally got to some people who knew the entire opus of Aurobindo and
also were aware of Bergson. One lady had done a doctorate dissertation at the
Sorbonne on Bergson and Aurobindo. I said to myself, “Right, this must be the
connection.” I asked her point blank, “How much did Aurobindo learn from
Bergson?” She said, “The influence is so great that I would not be able to
distinguish one from the other.”
know, of course, that Teilhard was very greatly influenced by Bergson as well.
Therefore, this is the connection. Bergson’s influence is really tremendous,
though not obvious.
see, evolution goes on. And so does our evolution about the meaning and the
significance of evolution. Darwin published his Origin of the Species in 1859. It was exactly the year in which
Henri Bergson was born—1859. When Bergson was a mature man, about forty or
forty-five, the whole impact of Darwin was already absorbed. Therefore, Bergson
could really accept the idea but also look at it in a different way. This is
what he did. He came up with the idea of
creative evolution. He conceived of evolution not merely as a process of
chance and necessity—as Monod and other Darwinists and neo-Darwinists tried to
make us believe—but as something much more subtle, much more miraculous. In
his work Creative Evolution, he put
this point across, and it is from those views that both Aurobindo and Teilhard
learned. Now, when we move into the second part of the twentieth century, the
impact of Bergson is already more accepted. One of the evolutionary biologists,
Theodosius Dobzhansky, said: As it was important in the nineteenth century to
see the connection between the human species and other species—that we are
brothers of chimpanzee and other apes and other animals—so it is equally
important in the twentieth century to see what distinguishes us from lower forms
of life. What I see as happening is that we are articulating the idea of
evolution. And it is such an awesome, complex, and beautiful idea that we are
far from fully understanding it.
whole book, The Theater of line Mind, is
a series of articulations of the idea of evolution. In a sense, it is a
celebration of evolution through the dancing mind, through the theater of the
what about the idea of the super jump, the quantum jump that can occur from one
thing to another? One often thinks of evolution as gradual, taking thousands of
years. And yet, throughout history we see this indication of the quantum jump.
What about that?
Well, in a sense we are all
waiting for this quantum leap of evolution that will carry us all to the realm
of enlightenment whereby like pure angels we’ll be able to solve all our
problems. I think that this state may be a bit away from us still. However, I
accept the idea that evolution does not progress smoothly from one stage to
another. It is not like building a pyramid. Evolution is discontinuous process
whereby after a discontinuity occurs there is a leap to a new level, and this
you can trace in various ways.
the history of science. Until the second half of the twentieth century, the view
prevailed that science is like a monolithic pyramid to which scientists, like
masons, add one stone each. If you look at the picture of the evolution of
science as presented nowadays by such people as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, it
is a different picture altogether. It is a dramatic picture, a discontinuous
picture, reminding us more of a kind of Shakespearean stage in which main
actors—basic theories—like kings in old tragedies are slain and new ones
emerge. Alter a new paradigm emerges, the old paradigm is dc throned like an old
is also confirmed by psychologists, according to whom our own individual
development does not proceed smoothly from year to year. At certain points,
there are periods of tension which is so great that we do not know who we are
any more. After the process of inner transformation, as it were, a new person
has emerged. For instance, a teenager has become a young adult,
Polish psychologist Dombrowski, calls this process of inner transformation
through pain “positive disintegration”: Disintegration of an older
personality occurs and a new personality emerges. The person has been able to
reintegrate. Hence positive disintegration. But some do not make it. And hence
the tragedy. This kind of process occurs not only once, but probably three or
four times. We shed off the old skin in pain in order to acquire a new one.
Thus, we can see that in actual life evolution proceeds through continuous
stages, but also through discontinuous ones.
similar idea is also expressed, though in different terms, by Ilya Prigogine. He
talks about dissipative structures which occur when an organism or environment
is under such great stress that it is unable to bear it any more: There occurs a
disintegration, after which there is a reintegration on a new level whereby the
old tensions and stresses can be accommodated. This is another way of
acknowledging that evolution is discontinuous. When unable to bear old stresses,
forms of life reintegrate on a new level. I think those are different names for
a very similar idea. A leap is made which is accompanied by pains and some
inclined to think that we as a civilization are going through a similar process.
Hence so much tension and pain in societies and individuals. There is no way of
knowing what will be the result of this leap. The nature of the emergent
evolution is such that the new stage, the emerging stage, is unsimilar to the
previous one. Let us hope that it will be a truly creative one and that it will
enable us to find structures and solutions adequate to our present problems.
mention that evolutionary change frequently involves pain and trauma. We can
apply that to our own individual evolution as well, our own individual living of
life amid growing and evolving. Sometimes, we go through painful times,
traumatic times, and yet, usually after that period is behind us we can see how
it was a growing process. We can see how we went into that stage as one person
and, out of the process of the pain and the trauma, we became another person. Au
evolutionary process took place there at an individual level.
so. But it is much easier to see it after the fact than when we are
in the period of transition and pain. Those periods are confusing, because
we are in between two stages, in between two paradigms, as it were.
point is that individual evolution happens in the same way as the macroevolution
does. I think that is an interesting point to make, that personal evolution is
the same as planetary evolution. And that would make the connection, too, that
as we evolve so also will the planet and the cosmos evolve.
perhaps a thought to think of, but not to celebrate, that pain may be a
precondition of growth. We do not want to acknowledge the idea while we are in
the process of pain. But perhaps it is inevitable that real growth is
accompanied by pain because it is the pain of transition from one state of
being, within which we are comfortable, to another state of being. Becoming is
is a Buddhist prayer that actually asks for suffering because that is the way to
growth, that is the way to enlightenment.
is beautifully put.
we need, and it can help us, to see our suffering in a different way and
Let us reflect deeper on our culture which so often tries to avoid suffering
at all costs. The consequence is that avoiding suffering at all costs happens at
the great cost of developing a kind of anesthesia, and this itself is a form of
suffering. I would rather acknowledge the suffering as an instrument of vital
growth than have the numbness that leads to atrophy and another form of
suffering. To put it briefly: As long as we live, as long as we grow, as long as
we become, we must not avoid suffering because this is how this universe is
made. In the universe of angels it may be different, but in the universe of
contingent human beings that is just the way it is.
could be wrong about this, but my sense is that often, when we think of
philosophy, we tend to see it as some kind of subject that gets studied. We go
to books and study someone’s philosophy, what they wrote, what they put out,
maybe centuries ago, or more recently. It’s a particular philosophy, and we study
it. And somehow, in that process we lose something of the value of philosophy.
I’d like to hear you talk about how you see the relevance of philosophy to the
living of our lives, even the relevance of the study of philosophy to mow we live our life. Does philosophy have anything
to do with what we are doing?
a great deal. One way of looking at philosophy is to consider it as the study of
ideas of the past. Very respectable, very good for your general knowledge. But
there is another way. You then look at philosophy and consider it as a form of
life. Philosophy is a form of life itself. What we witness today is a separation
of philosophy from life because in our atomized, analytical society everything
is separated from everything else. No wonder culture atrophies.
society in which everything is separated and analyzed ad nauseam, philosophy is on one shelf and life is on another
shelf—and indeed so often life is on a shelf. When I talk about the relevance
of philosophy for life, I think I am not alone. In his book Small
E. F. Schumacher emphasizes very strongly that the most important task for
our times is not so much an economic reconstruction, although this is vital and
necessary, but what he calls a metaphysical reconstruction or a religious
reconstruction—looking deeper into our philosophical and metaphysical
foundations and seeing what has gone wrong. In this sense, philosophy is vital,
because many of our problems stem from the fact that we started to look at the
universe in too limited a way from the seventeenth century on. The metaphor of
the universe as a clocklike mechanism has constricted not only the meaning of
the universe and the meaning of cosmos for us, but also the meaning of our own
life. We have somehow strangled ourselves.
what I am trying to do in Eco-philosophy and
other books is to look for alternative philosophical and metaphysical
foundations. We have to realize that the mechanistic way is only one way and not
the best one. It is pernicious nowadays. Although it has brought great material
rewards, it is counterproductive in the long run. We have to create another
matrix, another architecture around which we can weave reality and the cosmos.
It must be an architecture of the Cosmos within which our life can breathe,
and thereby our philosophy will be life-enhancing. We need to establish a
symbiotic relationship with the cosmos and other forms of life. This cannot be
done within the mechanistic universe which splits and disintegrates everything
in the mortuary of our analytical thinking.
philosophy is one that tries to bring to bear such a conception of the universe
which is home for Man. In it, we are part of the flowering of the great blossom
of evolution. Within such a conception of the universe, we are not pitted
against other forms of life and especially we are not pitted against each other.
of the mechanistic conception of the universe, we have grafted Social Darwinism,
“homo hominæ lupus est,” man
is wolf to a man. And those two
conceptions, which are philosophical par
excellence, are working towards our own undoing.
am saying is the following: Our philosophical roots are not-nourishing us any
more. They are responsible for our plight. We’ll have to change those roots,
this whole foundation, so that it becomes again a tree that is nourishing us,
that connects us with the universe, with other forms of life, and with our
ultimate destiny which some call God. We cannot live in a shattered, meaningless
universe. Human being craves for meaning and this meaning is part of our
nature. So rethinking our foundations is not only an intellectual exercise, it
is part of the quest for meaning. It is our existential necessity.
that degree, I not only do not apologize for what lam doing. On the contrary, I
think that I am a part of a new wave whereby life takes itself seriously again
and wants to assert itself in meaningful forms—simply wants to flourish. The
Theater of the Mind is homage paid to life, which not only crawls but also
has the capacity to fly.
what you are saying, it seems to me that a life-enhancing philosophy would go
beyond the notion that there is only rational thinking and would include the
intuitive process. Intuition so often gets excluded when philosophy is presented
as a rational, linear, logical-mechanistic type of process.
conception of the mind in The Theater of
the Mind, I distinguish three minds. The first I call analytical or
discursive mind. The second I call the mind that is made of all the
sensitivities that evolution has developed. Intuition, compassion, and aesthetic
appreciation are included within the second mind. We can enjoy various aspects
of the universe only insofar as we possess appropriate faculties. I call these
faculties “appropriate sensitivities.” Through them, we elicit from the
universe what is there. Among those faculties, intuition, insight, emotional
responses are very important.
we look at each other, straight eyes to eyes, we see much more than the eyes. We
see the whole soul of the other person. We see in a sense the whole history of
the person. We see the whole history of the species. This is not an
exaggeration. Because eye-contacts are so important, because we have this
sensitivity built into our eyes, built into our mind, we can carry on many
conversations beyond mere words. We talk eye-to-eye.
“Mind 2,” love is also included. Love as an evolutionary, and existential,
phenomenon is both emotional and rational. As long as human beings is both
beautiful and rational. We do not need to apologize for it. We need to celebrate
scope of what I call Mind 2 includes all the sensitivities that evolution has
ever evolved, from the first tropisms of an amoeba to the genius of Einstein.
Mind 2 is the whole spectrum of these sensitivities. Within this spectrum,
human life is lived. We need to evolve a new broadened concept of rationality
which accounts for the whole spectrum, for the entire mind. We don’t want to
throw out rationality and become anti-rational or totally emotional. I insist
that both rationality and emotions, insight and abstract reasons are
capacities which evolution and human beings have evolved and which we enjoy.
these sensitivities have to be incorporated into a larger symphony of life,
plus those other faculties, sensitivities in status nascendi, which have not yet been fully articulated—as, for
example, premonitions. As evolution is not completed, new sensitivities are
being articulated. The “third eye” is perhaps this sensitivity which
enables us to see beyond seeing. So often, we do seem to be able to see beyond
seeing. What is the phenomenon of extrasensory perception if not the phenomenon
of seeing what our eyes cannot see?
is a way of integrating all those developments—from the development of the
first reactions of the amoœba to the development of faculties in mystics
and in people with extrasensory perception—that makes sense within the
spectrum of the sensitivities of evolution. It is for this whole spectrum that
we have to create a new rationality. I think that we can do it. And we can
rationally defend it. I myself refuse to be browbeaten by narrow rationalists
who try to intimidate us by telling us that the searches beyond the empirical
that extend to the mystical are not rational, and therefore are not worthy of
We need to salute evolution in all its flowering. We need
to see its greatness in our capacity for compassion and in our capacity for abstract
logic. The riches of evolution are immense. We have every right to participate
in them because we are a flowering of evolution. We also have the responsibility
to defend this participation as a rational process.
occurs to mire, Henryk, what could one do that is more important than exploring,
ideas and seeking wisdom? What else do people do?
glad that you have said it. We must be aware that exploring ideas and seeking
wisdom have a great value. But we must not stop at this stage. We in the West
have a great propensity to be little squirrels, to hold on to those great ideas
and think that because we have read them all, accumulated them in our abstract
coconut, these ideas themselves will make our life better, fuller, and more
think the second stage is to be able to translate those ideas into our
lifestyles, and I think that in this process the Eastern philosophies are much
better. We in the West arc very long on theory and short on practice. In the
East, I often feel, it is the other way around. They are very long on practice
and often short on theory. In the West, you have the paradox that you cannot act
upon the idea unless you understand it. So, we create elaborate great theories
and we try to convince ourselves that the theory is right. But in the end, we do
not do anything with it.
you just struck a chord. I used to feel that, too, about the Eastern approach.
When I first became exposed to Hindu philosophy, the Upanishads and Vedanta, there was an emphasis on getting the experience of
becoming one with the universe, as opposed to developing time philosophy behind
that experience. Then I came in touch with the Tibetans. And it’s really
extraordinary. They emphasize the practice, but they have an incredible
philosophy behind it. They have what seems to be an endless supply of literature
and tradition. It’s recorded in writing, and is the bedrock philosophy of
have envied Tibetan monks for their capacity to lead a connected life wherever
fate and vicissitudes brought them. They seem to be able not only to survive,
hut to flourish in such a way that they become exemplars. We look at their lives
and wonder how it is possible to have such a connected life in those very
distressing and disintegrating times. It may be so because of their integrated
philosophy, whereby general Buddhist philosophy is combined with rigorous
practices and yogas which make this philosophy one’s inner reality.
was commenting on the paradox of the Western mind, what I meant to suggest is
that so often after we have learned the theory we say: “Well, now I know the
theory, and the theory should work for me.” And we stop at that. This is not
really a living philosophy. I think that for the last three centuries we have
over-emphasized the abstract quality of knowledge and the importance of ideas in
one’s mind at the expense of life as a living form. So many great minds,
including the Buddha, said that the art of living is second to none. What is
important, therefore, is to be able to find the ways whereby good ideas are
interiorized, whereby they reach the level of our being, change our
consciousness, and we become them.
this reason, I have developed of late, as a parallel to my Eco-philosophy,
what I call eco-yoga. At first when one hears the term, one thinks it’s a bit
of a joke. But it isn’t, because no good ideas, no good principles, no wisdom
that one accumulates in the abstract part of our brain is good enough unless it
can inform you how to live. Unless it becomes living wisdom, it is not wisdom.
find a way whereby a good idea is translated into the layers of your being is
itself a creative act. For this reason, I have claimed that we have to make a
radical transition in our culture from what I call the methodology of
objectivity to the methodology of participation. The whole of life is
participation, while methodology of objectivity in a sense denies this idea.
Within our methodology of objectivity, everything is an object, set apart, put
in the laboratory and cut with our analytical scalpels. In contrast, the
methodology of participation is based on empathy, on understanding other forms
of life in their own terms—on understanding the underlying unity of it all. It
is a holistic one. It is one that requires that you take responsibility for all.
If you are aware that you are a part of a greater whole, you have to take
responsibility for this whole.
eco-yoga is a part of this methodology of participation. It took us time to
develop fully the methodology of objectivity to where it became enshrined in our
schools of academia. So it may take us a considerable time for new insights to
be transformed into new participatory strategies, whereby our research and our
learning will be based on the idea of participation, empathy, compassion, rather
than dissecting, objectivizing, and separating.
to me, Henryk, like a Western philosopher has taken on the non-dualistic
thinking of the East.
you look at evolution holistically, you realize that it is one total process.
You remember our friend Anaxagoras, who was Socrates’ teacher. Anaxagoras
claimed that all is mind. Then the history of philosophy developed along
different avenues. But now when you look at how important mind is in co-creating
with the universe in creating realities, it makes sense to say that at a certain
point of analysis, mind becomes indistinguishable from reality itself. This
conception I call Mind 3—to return to our earlier discussion—mind as coextensive
with reality. The idea of mind, nous, in Anaxagoras, is so important that it is conceivable to think
about the doctrine which I call “noetic monism,” one which asserts that mind
is inherently woven in every aspect of reality and every perception of it.
Through this conception of mind, we can resolve many of the spurious dichotomies
and various dualisms which we inherited from Descartes on. Our various
activities—loving, doing logic, creating new worlds—are parts of the same
mind. Doing different things, we are all parts of the same mind which functions
in different capacities.
talking about what might be called universal mind, that we’re plugged into.
mind, that’s right—of which we are aspects and which we articulate. I think
that this idea of non-dualism, Aviate in Hindu philosophy, can be now justified
in a new rational way. Part of my rethinking concerning the nature and place of
mind in the universe goes in this direction.
have to simultaneously redefine three things: reality, knowledge, and the
mind. By trying to understand one part of it, we simultaneously throw light on
the other two parts. For each concept defines the other two. The conception of
mind informs you what knowledge is and what reality is. Conversely, a given
conception of knowledge immediately delineates for you the scope of the mind
and of reality. It follows that if we start with a wrong concept of
reality—for example, that it is some kind of clock-like mechanism that is
detached from us—we immediately receive a distorted conception of knowledge,
one that accentuates the accumulation of physical fact; we also receive a very
screwed-up conception of mind as a Tabula Rasa, a blank sheet of paper on
which experience writes. You can see that if you make one basic step that is
wrong, the whole thing falls into pieces. This is what happens with Western
culture and Western philosophy. We have to reconstruct it. You and I.
you and I. And you’re suggesting too that we have to take our minds, our
little minds, and expand our notion of what our minds may be capable of.
little minds which, I put it to you, are not so little if we allow them to be as
great as they potentially are.
(From: At the Leading Edge: New Visions of Science, Spirituality, and Society,