Just because Alan Watts said it, doesn’t make it wrong. Or, putting it another way, just because Alan Watts said it, doesn’t make it right. He is not the point. But he did say some interesting things in the course of an interesting, morphing life.

Here is something Watts said in an essay prompted by The Dharma Bums. (He was not happy with Kerouac’s portrayal of him in that book.): “Conventional thought is the confusion of the concrete universe of nature with the conceptual things, events, and values of linguistic and cultural symbolism.”
He is talking about abstraction, which is ‘conventional thought’, versus concrete observation, which is unconventional thought.
When this quote begins to make sparks inside you, you begin to see that a lot of your everyday thinking is putting things, people, and events into categories; rather than letting them exist in their uniqueness, or on their own terms. When we set particular things into an intellectual ‘frame’ or grouping, we are working to deny them their individual reality. Whenever you say of a thing, ‘This is that’, rather than ‘This is this’, you’re adding to the thing, and thereby really detracting from it. You’re seeing it in terms of something else, such as a category you already have or an interpretation through which you already see things, rather than seeing it as it is, right there in front of you.
Conventional thought, if Watts is right, is a way of controlling reality. His theme relates to our upcoming Mockingbird Conference in New York City (March 31-April 2).

In case you think this sounds abstruse or unrelated to what you’re interested in, think the late Medieval struggle between the philosophers who called themselves Nominalists and the philosophers who called themselves Realists. It was the essential background for Luther.

Episode 35 of PZ’s Podcast considers the nature of things if they don’t have names.
Episode 36, which will be released Thursday, gives some examples of un-conventional thinking, the thinking which eschews categories.  An instance of this, and quite hilarious if you’ve been exposed to what he is lampooning, occurs in Somerset Maugham’s 1938 novel Christmas Holiday. There we are given a tour through the Louvre that is conducted by a pompous parent for the edification of her two young children. That painful tour represents ‘conventional thinking’. But then, immediately afterwards, we are given a tour conducted by a most afflicted young worker in a Paris bordello, as she guides a befuddled and supposedly intellectual young man right to the spot where they can both appreciate a somewhat hidden still-life unconventionally. The whole thing’s a hoot, but it’s also moving.  
I hope you’ll hear me out, as we begin with that ‘genuine fake’ Herr Watts, survey the punctures of abstraction in the wheel of reality, then allow suffering ‘Lydia’, in Christmas Holiday (who was played by Deanna Durbin in the movies), to bring us straight to the hem of a specific beautiful thing.

Listen here.