Are you a “prickles” or a “goo” ?

(from The Book by Alan Watts)

I have sometimes thought that all philosophical disputes could be reduced to an argument between the partisans of “prickles” and the partisans of “goo.” The prickly people are tough-minded, rigorous, and precise, and like to stress differences and divisions between things. They prefer particles to waves, and discontinuity to continuity. The gooey people are tender-minded romanticists who love wide generalizations and grand syntheses.

They stress the underlying unities, and are inclined to pantheism and mysticism. Waves suit them much better than particles as the ultimate constituents of matter, and discontinuities jar their teeth like a compressed-air drill. Prickly philosophers consider the gooey ones rather disgusting — undisciplined, vague dreamers who slide over hard facts like an intellectual slime which threatens to engulf the whole universe in an “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum” (courtesy of Professor F.S.C. Northrop).

But gooey philosophers think of their prickly colleagues as animated
skeletons that rattle and click without any flesh or vital juices, as dry and dessicated mechanisms bereft of all inner feelings. Either party would be hopelessly lost without the other, because there would be nothing to argue about, no one would know what his position was, and the whole course of philosophy would come to an end. As things now stand in the world of academic philosophy, the prickly people have had the upper hand in both England and the United States for some years. With their penchant for linguistic analysis, mathematical logic, and scientific empiricism, they have aligned philosophy with the mystique of science, have begun to transform the philosopher’s library or mountain retreat into something nearer to a laboratory, and, as William Earle said, would come to work in white coats if they thought they could get away with it.

The professional journals are now as satisfactorily unreadable as treatises on mathematical physics, and the points at issue as minute as any animalcule in the biologist’s microscope. But their sweeping victory over the gooey people has almost abolished philosophy as a discipline, for we are close to the point where departments of philosophy will close their offices and shift the remaining members of their faculties to the departments of mathematics and linguistics. Historically, this is probably the extreme point of that swing of the intellectual pendulum which brought into fashion the Fully Automatic Model of the universe, of the age of analysis and specialization when we lost our vision of the universe in the overwhelming complexity of its details.(3) But by a process which C.G. Jung called “enantiodromia,” the attainment of any extreme position is the point where it begins to turn into its own opposite — a process that can be dreary and repetitious without the realization that opposite extremes are polar, and that poles need each other.

There are no prickles without goo, and no goo without prickles

Founder of The Ark Lab

Founder of The Ark Lab