The Playful Universe
Existence, the physical universe, is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by analogy with music, because music, as an art form, is essentially playful. We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano. Why? Music differs from, say, travel. When you travel you’re trying to get somewhere. And, of course, we, being a very compulsive and purposive culture, are busy getting everywhere faster and faster until we eliminate the distance between places…what happens as a result of that is the two ends of your journey became the same place. You eliminate the distance, you eliminate the journey. The fun of the journey is travel, not to obliterate travel. So then, in music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest and there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crackling chord because that’s the end! Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance. But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We have a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, “Come on, kitty, kitty,” and you go to kindergarten and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade…then you’ve got high school, and it’s revving up, the thing is coming, then you’re going to go to college…you go out to join the world, then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance, and they’ve got that quota to make, and by god you’re going to make that, and all the time the thing is coming, it’s coming! It’s coming! That great thing. The success you’re working for. Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, “My god, I’ve arrived. I’m there.” And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt and there’s a slight let down because you feel there’s a hoax. And there was a hoax! A dreadful hoax. They made you miss everything by expectation…we’ve cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.
- Alan Watts