And because the human being is such a peculiarly beautifully organized nervous system, and has this tremendously subtle cortex which is capable of all kinds of thinking about thinking—you can turn yourself on in the most extraordinary ways by, for example, getting earphones which repeat what you say just a fraction of a second after you say it back to you; they delay it. And you can get an oscilloscope tied up with your own heartbeats, and get feedback through in this way, so that you suddenly begin to see yourself behaving, and it completely balls you up. Because you wait for yourself to go on. But then you realize it’s you doing it. But you can’t wait on your heartbeat. You can’t wait on what you say. And you get this sensation of going faster and faster and faster and faster until you just have to close the whole thing off or you’d go crazy.

So that’s what we’re doing. And our civilization and our social institutions reflect this in hundreds of ways. And this would be true of any civilization, because all civilization is based on the development of consciousness and feedback—that is to say, the property of self-control, of being self-conscious, looking at what you have done—and then being able to criticize it and correct it. But who criticizes? Is the critic reliable? When you criticize yourself, who will criticize the critic? You see? Or to put it in the other way: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who will guard the guards themselves?” Who will take care of the policemen? Who will govern the president? And that is the big problem. And when we get tied up in that problem—the Chinese got tied up in it because they were simply a very high order of civilization; so did the Japanese—there has to be a break. Somebody has to start throwing things, otherwise everybody will go insane. So Zen functions in that culture as a way of liberation from the tangle of being too civilized.

— Alan Watts in Zen and the Art of the Controlled Accident

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