When we get right down to the heart of the matter what David Bohm calls ‘the system of thought’ is nothing other then logic itself. Thought is logic and logic is thought. So if we know what logic is, then we have the system of thought worked out once and for all. We all know well enough what the word ‘logic’ means – it means that stuff is logical. Of course we know what logic and being logical means. We hardly feel that we need to explain it. We are also aware that there exists a lofty and highly abstruse mathematical discipline of logic that is there for anyone who is foolhardy enough to want to go into the subject more deeply. As far as we know, however, the understanding of logic that is inherent in this discipline is not different in any essential detail from our own basic understanding of it, and so – generally speaking – we are not particularly concerned about going any further into the matter. Why should we?
We could, as a matter of interest, consider what is involved in the normal, everyday understanding of what ‘logic’ means. When stuff is logical, the implication is of course that one step follows another step in a lawful sort of a way. What’s logical is sensible – it is ‘legal’ from a rational point of view, it makes perfect and undeniable sense to all concerned. What is illogical, on the other hand, is unrealistic, unreasonable, badly conceived, just plain ‘wrong’ and – in the final analysis – pure madness. Another way of exploring the question of what logic is all about would be to say that it has something to do with ‘creating mental clarity’; there is the assumption that when I think about a problem in the correct way there will be a resolution of the problem, the scenario is that after fumbling about in the gloom for a while, I find the light switch and then ‘all is revealed’. So (looking at logic from a subjective psychological viewpoint here) it can be seen that we have two key assumptions:  That there is a right way to proceed, and  that when we proceed in the right way, there is a ‘pay-off’.
If we combine the notion of there being a ‘lawful or correct route to take’ with the notion that there is an attractive sort of a prize to be obtained if we find this route, we ought therefore to have this business of logic sorted. Putting the two notions together, we can say that:
Logic is a connective thread that seems to lead somewhere, and the impression given by this is that if we find the right thread and ‘yank’ on it hard enough we will succeed in ‘pulling out a plum from the pudding’.
It will be noticed that we have been using phraseology such as ‘seems’, ‘appears to’, and ‘the impression is given’ rather a lot and so it is probably clear enough that we are going to try to debunk the claims that logic (implicitly) makes for itself. On the one hand logic is self-evidently correct – indeed, the whole point of the mathematical discipline of logic is that it allows us stringently prove or disprove all possible definite assertions. A logically coherent assertion may be defined as:
A statement which, on the basis of ‘first principles’, can be proved beyond any doubt to be true.
On the other hand however what we are arguing in this book is that there is a trick in this ‘first principles’ business, which is to say, any particular logically valid statement is only valid with regard to the context which it presumes. What this qualification means is that logic ought properly to be defined as ‘the discipline which seeks to elucidate the lawful relationships that exist between the elements that are to be found within a particular set’. This cautious definition clearly indicates the relative (i.e. local) veracity of logical procedures in general and prevents us from falling into the trap of assuming that there are any sort of absolute (or ‘universal’) implications at all. With the benefit of this definition, we can now see the logic’s ‘hidden snag’, which is this:
The discipline of logic can enable us to say with absolute certainty if a particular statement regarding the relationships between these elements is true or not true, but what it cannot do is say anything meaningful about the actual elements themselves.
To put this another way, whilst logic can determine what the relationships are between the elements within its domain, it cannot tell us what relationship these elements have to anything outside that domain. As J.G. Bennett says (1956, p 170),
We have been forced to admit that precision and generality are to be achieved only if one is sacrificed to the other.
In other words, precise knowledge of what is happening on the local scale is obtained at the price of a complete lack of knowledge regarding what that ‘small picture’ has to do with the greater scheme of things. Through the judicious use of logic everything becomes admirably clear on the microscopic level, but at the same time we gain this clarity we lose our connection to the macroscopic level and so we end up knowing everything about the part but nothing about the relationship of our thoroughly mapped out part to the whole. In fact, we actually lose sight of the whole altogether. In practice therefore, we don’t see the snag and so we do fall into the trap of believing that logic provides us with absolute knowledge about ourselves and the world we live in. Logic acts a bit like a bully in this respect, because when we get up close to it (which we do every time we indulge in any sort of ‘rational thought-process’) we very quickly come under its sway and end up seeing things its way, as if ‘its way’ were the only way. Therefore, from a psychological point of view, we are in fact perfectly justified in seeing logic as the guise of a ‘subjectively coercive’ mental factor or force.
THE VIRTUAL PRIZE
Putting this somewhat more brutally, we can simply say that logic is the great ‘psychological deceiver’, and that the essence of the deception that is being perpetrated on us is that the ‘prize’ which we obtain as a result of finding the correct logical thread to yank on is taken away from us again in the complementary (and hidden) move of the logical mechanism. A gain that is gained only to be lost again in the next half of the cycle is no gain at all, and therefore – as we said in the previous chapter – for the system of logic to tempt us with the prize, without also informing us of the complementary ‘nemesis’ that we necessarily incur at the same time, is pure deception. This is the trick which suckers us in, and once ‘in’ we become too short-sighted to see what is actually happening to us –we cannot see that we have made the grave mistake of ‘trying to sort out the whole from the basis of the part’. I am, for the ten zillionth time, suckered into thinking that I can solve life with the aid of a particular theory, or model, or method, or dogma, or pill, etc. Without knowing it, I have taken on the circular task of trying to change my situation without changing the one thing that needs to be changed, which is me (or my way of thinking about things, which is the same thing).
The great lure of logic is, as we suggested at the beginning of this discussion, is that it can sort out my problems for me. It leads to ‘a solution’. Logic holds out the promise of being able to ‘crack it’ once and for all – it entices me in because of the feeling that I have that if I find the right thread, I will indeed be able to pull out a plum from the pudding. The juiciest of prizes will be mine. Therefore, it goes without saying that when I feel particular under pressure, the temptation is to ‘get logical’. I invest everything I have in whatever rational approach it is that has grabbed my fancy, and I let it lead me ‘where it will’. Now, as we have been saying all along, where logic leads me is into the futility of ‘disconnection that does not know itself to be disconnected’. The ultimate expression of disconnected logic (which is where logic is followed to its end, with no regard to anything outside of it) is the state of organizational closure, which is a perfectly ‘known’ pragmatic reality that has no relationship to Reality-as-a-whole’. Organizational closure is the state of being ‘closed to any other way of looking at things, which means that the way you already have of looking at things is ‘God’; the curious thing about this state is therefore that the conditioned self (the self which constructs itself according to its closed way of looking at the world) has no bridge between it and the unconditioned self (i.e. the unconditioned reality, or ‘reality as it is in itself’). Since any reality that the self might possess must come from ‘reality as it is in itself’, rather than ‘reality-as-I-see-it’, this means that the ‘me’ which disconnected logic creates is a wholly unreal thing, a fiction and nothing more.
We can therefore say that when we run with rationality, to the end of its road, what we end up with is not the prize that we thought we were going to get, but a virtual prize. However, we also have to bear in mind that lucky recipient of this virtual prize is the virtual (or false) self, and so we have the situation where the virtual ‘me’ receives the virtual prize, which provides me – at least initially – with a good old-fashioned dose of virtual happiness. So in a sense (in a very superficial sense) all is rosy in the garden and no one suspects that anything has gone awry…
LOGIC AS RISK AVOIDANCE
We may define the ‘circular journey’ as being what happens when we substitute an external task for the internal task. We launch an all-out assault on our problems based on a particular way of seeing those problems. Alternatively, we said that we get caught up in a circular journey when we look for the ‘quick fix’, when we fixate on some sort of short-term goal, with no regard for anything else other than ‘getting whatever it is we want’. Circularity can therefore be seen as an inevitable consequence of reactive or mechanical behaviour, which is also the same thing as ‘stubborn wilfulness’. Just now, we looked at things in a slightly different way and said that circularity occurs as a result of trying to cure a painful situation by changing ‘what is around me’ rather than realizing that it is me that is at the root of my pain, not external factors. But of course if I try to change that ‘me’ this is no different because by the very act of evaluating myself as needing change, and then trying to execute this needful change, I have sneakily turned the ‘myself’ into an external task. What I have done in effect is to create a dummy target or red-herring that is going to ‘take all the flak’ – what I am really doing in all this is to conveniently distract attention away from the ‘me’ that wishes to modify the old bad ‘me’. Therefore, by launching into an all-out attempt to change myself I cleverly avoid having to change, because in this process of desiring change I have surreptitiously elevated the self that wants the change to an unassailable position. Who, after all, is going to think of questioning the viewpoint that says ‘something has got to change here’? By blaming myself, I sneakily validate myself, and so we can see that self-blaming (or self-castigation) is at root an insincere sort of a thing; in fact the general rule here is that any sort of critical self-evaluation is a vindication of the self that does the evaluating. Or, to put it another way, what we are looking at here is the vindication of the system of thought.
STANDING UP AND SITTING DOWN
What sets all this in motion is difficulty (or pressure) and so we can see therefore that what we are actually looking at here is the extrinsic self’s defining motivation, which is pain-avoidance. The extrinsic self is driven purely by its need not to feel bad about anything, and out of this very basic need comes all sorts of complicated behaviours and games. Pain can of course come from all sorts of specific situations, but we can bypass this jungle and go straight to the heart of the matter by saying that the essential difficulty that the extrinsic self is facing is the difficulty of being in reality. In actual fact, it has to be said that this genuinely does constitute a problem inasmuch as the extrinsic self can only carry on being what it thinks it is by avoiding reality; reality demands everything we have, and this total demand means that the self-deceiving way of thinking that goes to create a believable impression of ‘the self’ has to be jettisoned. We can use Alan Watts’ metaphor of the lap that is formed when a person sits down – if the lap were to assume that its ongoing existence were of paramount importance, and if – furthermore – the lap were somehow to be in charge of the person, then it would dictate that all further activities must be undertaken from a seated position. The seated position corresponds in our (borrowed) metaphor to the mentally lazy situation which we have been calling the psychologically unconscious state – it is very superficial way of seeing the world that is too superficial to have any inkling of its own superficiality. ‘Standing up’, in this metaphor would correspond to ‘doing psychological work’, which is another way of saying that the difficulty inherent in life is being tackled face-on, without any holding back, or sneaky self-deceiving dodges (or ‘cop-outs’). Doing psychological work (which means experiencing difficulty face on) is incompatible with the extrinsic self, in just the same way that standing up is incompatible with the lap.
Ideally, the extrinsic self would like to navigate its way through each day so as to avoid as much pain or difficulty as it possibly can, and it employs its considerable cunning and expertise to this end. It seems valid enough to say, as Scott Peck does, that the reason for this implacable law of ‘always taking the easiest path’ is laziness (or the unwillingness to extend oneself), but we could say that the reason for this behaviour is simply because the extrinsic or conditioned cannot maintain the fiction of itself ‘under pressure’ – it is unwilling to extend itself because the degree to which extends itself is the degree to which it goes beyond itself (i.e. the degree to which it is not itself). All we really need to know in order to understand the extrinsic self is the fact that whatever it does, it always does for itself, for its own gain. This comes down to avoiding pain (or self-negation) and seeking pleasure (or self-validation); it often talks of many fine-sounding ideas and sentiments but at the end of the day it all comes down to self-validation – this another way of saying that the number 1 (hidden) agenda of system of thought is to validate the way of looking at things that is itself.
So when we talk about the circular journey as being the inevitable consequence of substituting an external task for the internal task (which is to say, replacing the infinite game with a finite game), it can be seen clearly enough that this appallingly dire (and ultimately life-denying) consequence is not really a problem for the rational self that is distracting itself with its ‘externally-directed fixing behaviour’ since that self’s only allegiance is to perpetuating its game. If the game takes it around in circles, as it must, then that is perfectly acceptable to it – just so long as it doesn’t have to let itself know that this is what it is doing. As we have said, this isn’t a problem because the extrinsic self’s allegiance is not to truth but to itself. And anyway, if the truth were known (which it generally isn’t) the thought-created self doesn’t just walk the circular journey, it is the circular journey – it is the beginning and the end, and everywhere in-between.
We can sum up all of this by saying that when the going gets tough or awkward or strange or painful then this difficulty is an unfailing trigger for avoidance-type behaviour. This is – of course – not exactly news. What is news (so to speak), is the idea that the system of thought (i.e. the faculty of rational thinking that we use automatically every day) is itself nothing more than ‘the means of avoidance’. We might as well just come right out with it and say that ‘the system of thought is avoidance’, since ‘avoidance’ basically translates into ‘availing of the offer made by the system of thought’, which is simply another way of saying that I try to escape the difficult situation that I am in by some sort of cleverness. ‘Trying to extricate ourselves from the hole that we are in by our own efforts’ is ‘the way of error’, the via erratum of the alchemists.
The key to bringing together everything that we have been talking about in this section is to see that it is possible (in fact it makes a lot of sense) to understand difficulty in terms of uncertainty regarding the continuance of the extrinsic self. We have already said that all the extrinsic self cares about – basically – is its own continuance and difficulty is ‘difficult’ precisely because it makes the continuation of the consistent pattern of reacting that is the extrinsic self problematic. It ‘gets in the way’ and therefore blocks the smooth functioning of my pattern. We might as well say that any idea of ‘problem’ and ‘difficulty’ that we might have is constructed in this particular, distinctly prejudicial way, from the standpoint of the central, almost entirely invisible, assumption that I must be allowed to carry on with my game (‘game’ meaning ‘the way that I have of living life’). This is the unconscious rule that governs all the activities of the extrinsic or virtual self, and anything that threatens my ability to enact the rule generates all sorts of powerful (and ultimately all-powerful) motivations regarding the unquestionable need to safeguard the integrity of my game. The ultimate expression of this motivation, the motivation that seeks to obey the rule underlined above, is simply fear.
THE PROBLEM OF ‘BEING IN REALITY’
We have set out very plainly what it is that the extrinsic self secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) wants – it wants to be able to continue. There is an insurmountable difficulty here however because this unconscious rule that I have puts me in conflict with the actual nature of reality, which is change. This is the basic predicament that I find myself in – I am in conflict with life, yet at the same time ‘life’ is what I crave. I want to be part of ‘what is going on’, but in order to be truly part of what is going on I must surrender myself, and this – to me – appears to defeat the whole point because I don’t just want for life to be in life (so to speak), I want for me to be in life… The essence of my problem is that I cannot understand how to ‘be in reality’, although I am very unlikely to see matters this clearly. From the rational perspective of the system of thought it most definitely is an impossible situation; it seems impossible to the system of thought because it is impossible for the system of thought:
There is simply no logical way to ‘do it’, which is to say, there is no way to adapt myself to reality. I cannot calculate or plan my way through this one since life is not a problem to be solved, anymore than it is a competition to be won…
A good way to get at the heart of this cast-iron impossibility is, therefore, to state matters thus:
There is no way to live life through logic (which is to say, there is no risk-free way to live life).
CONTROL AS RISK AVOIDANCE
This formulation of matters brings us of course straight back to the topic in hand, which is logic. Logic is as congenial to us as it is because it offers us a chance of beating risk, of side-stepping uncertainty – that is why we are so fond of logic and things rational, and it is also why we are so fond of methods and procedures (which equal control). Logic and the methodology are the one and same thing at root: logic is an explicit understanding of the relationship between a number of apparently different positions, and methodology is how I get from one of these positions to another in a controlled (i.e. predictable) way. Logic is what I use to inform my knowledge of my situation, and it is also what I use in order to logically manipulate my situation so that I might obtain the type of change that I want to see happen. Methodology (or control) can therefore be described simply as ‘logic put into action’ and both logic and control can be neatly defined in terms of ‘risk avoidance’.
THINKING ABOUT RANDOMNESS
It is easy enough to see why control can be defined succinctly in terms of avoiding risk since the whole point of control – as we all know very well – is that we do not want there to be any chance involved in relation to the question of whether or not I attain my goal. I want to be able to predict this fact with 100% accuracy – I want to rely on it. The association between a sense of safety and a 100% effective way of obtaining the things that I want and avoiding the things that I don’t want is obvious to anyone. But where is the risk-avoidance in logic, which is a purely abstract sort of a thing? What is there to risk? The way to understand this is to note that the analogue of ‘risk’ in relation to physical processes is the highly abstract and highly mathematical notion of randomness. In terms of logical relationships and deductions and inferences (and the like) we may further note that randomness basically translates as a sort of uncertainty. A good person to explain the peculiarities of the nature of randomness to us (in a properly technical but easily understandable sort of a way) is physicist and popular author in physics Paul Davies. We can find a pertinent paragraph in The Cosmic Blueprint (1987, p 75):
…It is surprisingly hard to capture the concept of randomness mathematically. Intuitively, one feels that a random number is in some sense a number without any remarkable or special properties. The problem is, if one is able to define such a number, then the very fact that one has identified it already makes it somehow special. One strategy to circumvent this difficulty is to describe numbers algorithmically, that is, in terms of the output of some computer program. We have already met this idea at the end of Chapter 3 in connection with the idea of the jumping particle. Special (i.e. non-random) numbers are then those numbers that can be generated by a program containing fewer bits of information than the number itself. A random number is then a number that cannot be thus generated. It turns out, using this definition of randomness, that almost all numbers are random, but that most of them cannot be proved to be random!
If ‘random’ simply means non-special then this means that we can also define what it means to be properly random by thinking in terms of set theory. If I invoke a certain defining rule, and thereby call into being a set, then all the elements in this special are by definition special (which is what Davies is saying). They cannot avoid being special, in fact as we have said the whole point about a set is that it is special, i.e. it is ‘elevated above all the rest’. Now saying this allows us to see straightaway what non-special (i.e. random) must be – non-special is all the stuff that we do not define, or specify, in our original mathematical invocation. Any particular set is always guaranteed to be vanishingly small when compared to the ‘whole of everything that is possible’, and so Davies’ statement that almost all numbers are random numbers is bourn out. Furthermore, we can see very easily that if no specific rule was passed in the first place (if no rule was made more important that any other rule), then the Universal Set (i.e. everything that is, was, and ever could be, without exception) is entirely non-special, or entirely random!’
This is a curious sort of a thought – although, to be strictly accurate it is not, and could not be, a ‘thought’ because when we thinking about something we are making that something special. Perhaps we could say that it is a curious ‘non-thought’, but whatever it is, it throws our usual way of seeing things completely into the ditch. The Universal Set is something of the very greatest significance (how could it not be?) and so how can we casually say that it is ‘nothing special’? Actually, the Universal Set is pretty much the same thing as what we might be inclined to call ‘God’; at the very least we would have to refer to it in terms of something like ‘the Universal Creative Principle’, and yet here we are asserting that this Great and Mysterious Portal through which all phenomena are born just isn’t special at all. This is obviously a point worth reflecting upon. The more we do reflect on it, the more likely we are to see that the thing we are having problems is the idea that the Universal Set cannot define itself – and of course if it can’t define itself it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that nothing else can! Taking a bold leap from set theory to ‘cosmic psychology’ now, we can suggest that the Universal Set is essentially the same thing as unconditioned consciousness, and so what we are basically looking at is the idea that consciousness cannot focus on itself, to see what it ‘is’. This is something Alan Watts talks about very clearly. Here for example Watts (1997, p 76-7) argues that all things have to be a mystery to themselves, because one half of the equation is always unknown to us:
…The philosophy of Taoism, which I speak of when I talk about the Book of Changes, or the I Ching, is based entirely on the idea that the universe is the result of an interplay between primordial differences, such as up and down, back and front, black and white, is and isn’t, male and female, positive and negative. The word yang in Chinese refers to the south side of a mountain, which is the sunny side. The word yin refers to the north side of the mountain, which is the shady side. Did you ever see a mountain that was south-sided only, with no north side? Yang may also refer to the north bank of a river, which gets the sun, and yin to the south bank of the river, which gets the shade. And so, of course, the yin-yang symbol is half dark and half light. It looks like two fishes interlocked, chasing each other. They actually form a more complicated symbol, however: a helix. The spiral nebulae have a form like a helix. It is also the position of man and woman making love, in which, fundamentally, each is trying to get inside the other. They are trying to get into the middle of each other, but there is always a difference somehow, and they can never quite get to the other’s centre. They are two parts of a whole, just as, if I want to see the back of my head, I can turn it round and round, but I can never quite catch up with it. But that is what makes everything work. It is said in the Vedanta Sutra that the Lord, the supreme knower of all things, who is the knower in all of us, doesn’t know himself (or herself) in the same way that fire does not burn itself and a knife doesn’t cut itself. So to God, nothing could be more mysterious than God.
THE RATIONAL TEA-PARTY
What Alan Watts is saying here is that consciousness can never be the object of its own enquiry since whatever direction we look in it is always behind us. It is never to be found within the field of our own rational enquiry, and at the same time there isn’t any place where it isn’t. The answer to this apparently contradictory statement can only be that the place where we look isn’t actually a real (or ‘concrete’) place at all, but rather it is ‘an abstraction from reality’, a mere formalism that has no existence outside of its own private circle. In this, the field of rational enquiry is like a formal tea party, incongruously held by English officers and their wives in British India during the days of the Empire – such functions were governed by an elaborate and rigidly observed set of rules, but the whole thing can now, with the benefit of hindsight, can be seen quite obviously to be no more than a ‘conceit’; we can easily see that it is a perfectly laughable absurdity in the wider context of what was going on at the time. To continue our point, then, looking for any sort of ultimate truth within the remit of rationality would be just like looking for the secret of life, the universe, and everything within the context of a stilted social function that only got to exist in the first place by ignoring everything that was going on around it!
We started off this section by asking what exactly the ‘risk’ is that logic may be said to be avoiding. We then tried to answer this question by saying that the risk that is being avoided in logic is the risk of uncertainty creeping in; after all in logic, statements are made in the most definite manner – “If X, then Y” we say, with surgical precision. The ‘beauty’ of logic (if we may call it that) lies entirely in the immaculate lack of ambiguity that is present in all its arguments: when I make a logical statement I am asserting a relationship in such a way that there is no doubt, fuzziness, or general uncertainty about it at all – the word ‘MAYBE’ is not part of the logical alphabet and the psychological security implicit in this lack of the unruly [?] factor explains why we are so fond of all things logical.
Uncertainty, we then said, comes down to randomness: if two statements are logically connected to each other, then there is no random factor involved, but if there is no logical relationship between the two statements, then their relationship is a purely random one. Once we think about this, it is so obviously true as to be hardly worth pointing out in the first place! Logic is logical in nature, and randomness is a-logical in nature, and so to argue that logic is a form of ‘avoidance of the non-logical’ is pretty much redundant. All the same, it is worth going through because it has helped to focus on the difficulties involved in talking meaningfully about what ‘logic’ is and what it is not.
LOGIC AS ‘CONTINUITY’
One very useful point that we have hit upon in all this is the idea that where there is a ‘train of logic’ there is continuity. There is ‘change’, of a sort, but there is also continuity in this change. Our normal way of looking at things is to say that if there was change without continuity then this would be chaos or randomness, rather than logical progression, and this, therefore, means that logical continuity is the only thing that makes the difference between chaos and order. What we are basically saying here is that logic consists of ‘attachment’ – a logically coherent system is a system that is held together by specific attachment, which runs like an ‘unbreakable thread’ (to borrow a simile from Krishnamurti) from one element to another. Suppose I am standing on the battlements of my ‘castle of logic’, looking out at a potentially hostile world. If there are any random elements out there, then this means that there is simply no possibility of attachment between me and the random elements. I cannot hook onto them, I cannot relate to them – in fact I have no possibility of forming any relationship whatsoever. I have no way of suspecting that they are there, or knowing that they are there. Therefore, we can say the following:
Randomness (or uncertainty) constitutes an unbridgeable gap – and this gap means that there is absolutely no continuity possible as regards the ‘established structure’. Randomness is therefore equals discontinuity.
The corollary of this statement is that logic must equal continuity. Logic is continuity, no more and no less, and once we understand this we can see that the ‘risk’ (with regard to any conceivable train of logic) is that this all-important continuity will be lost. We might want to ask what exactly the continuity that we keep talking about is in: the natural tendency is to think that ‘the stuff that gets continued’ is the primary question, that this is more important that wondering ‘what continuation is’; what we want to know is “What gets continued’? A good way to answer this question would be to make some sort of statement such as this:
Logic essentially involves the continuity of a key set of assumptions so that whatever set of assumptions it was that the original logical assertion rested upon, gets carried faithfully forward in all subsequent assertions.
We want to know what sort of ‘assumptions’ we are dealing with here, but in actual fact the actual nuts and bolts of what we are talking about is entirely irrelevant – when it comes down to it all that matters, in order for logic to carry on being logical, is that whatever ratios (or proportionalities) were present in the initial situation, should be preserved faithfully through all ‘overt’ transformations, and thus be present in all subsequent situations. What the ratios are in is perfectly unimportant. Davies (1987, p 23-24) explains the idea as follows:
A linear system is one in which cause and effect are related in a proportionate fashion. As a simple example consider stretching a string of elastic. If the elastic stretches by a certain length for a certain pull, it stretches by twice that length for twice the pull.
So, to think about Davies’ example a little bit more, if we say that the initial situation is were there is an elasticated piece of string with length 1 metre, under a stretching force of 5 Newtons, and the subsequent situation is where we have a piece of string that has a length of 2 metres, which is being subjected to a stretching force of 10 Newtons, then although situation  is clearly different to situation , because the basic proportionalities have been faithfully preserved nothing significant has actually changed. When we are dealing with a linear (or ‘logical’) system we can say – in exactly the same way – that all logical transformations that the system (which is essentially composed of ‘a specific set of relationships’) might undergo always must always involve this same ‘lack of change’. We said a minute ago that what the relationships actually refer to doesn’t really matter; all that matters is that there are a set of ratios (or proportionalities) there to be preserved. The ratios could refer to an actual material substance, or they could equally well refer to the attributes of some sort of ‘virtual or imaginary substance’. Really, the whole thing is simply abstract, existing in the realm of maths (or rationality) rather than matter, and so we can see that what gets continued in logic is basically the same sort of thing as a ‘rational idea’.
THE SYSTEM OF THOUGHT IS LINEAR
Once we acknowledge this fact, then it is the easiest thing in the world to see that the set of mental rules which go to make up the system of thought have to be a linear (or logical) system. In other words, we can easily see that the system of thought must equal ‘the set of all those linear transformations that it is possible to make on the basis of our initial assumptions’. This gives us the following pretty exhaustive definition:
The system of thought is a progressive development of a number of mental ‘situations’ such that each subsequent situation embodies exactly the same set of internal relationships as all the previous ones.
Since we have gone to considerable pains in the last chapter to argue that ‘a particular viewpoint’ equals something called ‘the system of thought’ we can see that there is much simpler way of explaining the key characteristic of the system of thought – all we have to say is that ‘the same viewpoint is preserved throughout’. From here it is no jump at all to arrive at this statement:
The risk which is being assiduously avoided in logic is risk to the integrity of the system of thought.
Basically, the system of thought does not, by its very nature, ever risk losing its own fidelity to itself; it is, in other words, irrevocably committed to the task of preserving and promoting itself come what may. If we were willing to indulge in what most would see as absurd anthropomorphism, we might ascribe to the system that is logic an inbuilt abhorrence to the thought of ever deviating from its own limits, of ever moving beyond that particular set of defining rules which constitute its essential nature. Logic, we might say, is simply incapable of ever ‘letting go’ of what it already knows. What is within its remit it allows, all else it denies (without even knowing that it is denying). What it knows, it knows, but what it knows not, it knows not (and neither does it know that ‘it knows not’). For this reason it is plain that to say something like ‘logic has no interest in what might lie outside of its domain’ is to completely and utterly understate the matter; what we are talking about here is something else again – it is an ignorance that is profoundly blind to itself, an ignorance that is wholly ‘ignorant of its own ignorance’.
WHY THE GREEKS DESPISED CHAOS …
As a culture, we are very much inclined to believe that logic, if carefully followed, will reveal to us a whole realm of order. It reveals – so we would say – a world of mathematically precise beauty and intricacy, a world that is both aesthetically dazzling and intellectually satisfying. The ancient Greeks, according to mathematician and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, saw this ‘order’ as perfection itself, and the opposite to this perfection, so they believed, was the hideous and disgusting spectre of chaos, or apeiron. Apeiron meant both ‘chaos’ and ‘infinity’, and for Rucker (1995, p 2-3), this provides a strong hint as to why the word tended to be used with such metaphysical distaste:
Infinity commonly inspires feelings of awe, futility and fear. Who as a child did not lie in bed filled with a slowly mounting terror while sinking into the idea of a universe that goes on and on, for ever and ever? Blaise Pascal puts this feeling very well: “When I consider the small span of my life absorbed in the eternity of all time, or the small part of space which I can touch or see engulfed by the infinite immensity of spaces that I know not and that know me not, I am frightened and astonished to see myself here instead of there . . . now instead of then”.
It is possible to regard the history of the foundation of mathematics as a progressive enlarging of the mathematical universe to include more and more infinities. The Greek word for infinity was apeiron, which literally means unbounded, but can also mean infinite, indefinite, or undefined. Apeiron was a negative, even pejorative word. The original chaos out of which the world was formed was apeiron. An arbitrary crooked line was apeiron. A dirty crumpled handkerchief was apeiron. Thus, apeiron need not only mean infinitely large, but can also mean totally disordered, infinitely complex, subject to no finite determination. In Aristotle’s words, “. . . being infinite is a privation, not a perfection but the absence of limit. . .”
There was no place for the apeiron in the universe of Pythagoras and Plato. Pythagoras believed that any given aspect of the world could be represented by a finite arrangement of natural numbers, (where natural number means ‘whole number’). Plato believed that even his ultimate form, the Good, must be finite and definite. This was in contradiction to almost all later metaphysicians, who assumed that the Absolute is necessarily infinite.
STABILITY VERSUS INSTABILITY
A good basic way to understand the difference between chaos and order (or chaos and logic) is to say that whilst order always maintains certain key ‘rules’, chaos has no such fidelity to any rule (or any principle) and as a consequence it shifts and slides all over the shop, in a disgracefully ‘unfixed’ or ‘ungrounded’ fashion. It holds to nothing, and nothing holds to it, and so it is lacking in that one thing that the rational mind needs above all else – continuity. There is no thread, no sense, no ‘plan’, no ‘agenda’; there is no logic to its movement at all and this is what insults our sensibilities. When we think deeply enough about the phenomenon of ‘ungrounded instability’ (which is what we are talking about here) there is something in us which recoils in horror at what we have seen – it is a like some kind of monster, a freakishly uncontrolled and uncontrollable thing that actually scares us when we glimpse what it is about. Here we have change without any basis or context, change which is not regulated by fixed rules – but rather change which is governed by rules which themselves are randomly mutating all the time. The only rule here boys, is that there is no rule…
We can readily see therefore that it is not just a question of the Greek philosophers infecting us with their distaste for apeiron, actually there is something about ‘rule-lessness’ that would disturb any normal sort of a person, whether they come from a culture originally influenced by Greco-Roman ideas or not. If the key attribute of chaos is that it preserves nothing, and holds no form sacred, then the key attribute of order (or ‘logic’) must be that it does precisely what chaos doesn’t, which is to say, it holds one particular ‘blueprint’ sacred, and preserves it come what may. Chaos is unstable whilst logic is stable, in other words, and it goes pretty much without saying that of the two stability is far more attractive to us, basically because when things are stable, then ‘what we have we get to keep’. Now on the face of it, this seems to be an unequal match – all the advantage would appear to lie with logic, whilst chaos is revealed to be totally ‘useless’ and a general scourge besides. If we think a little deeper however we find (as usual) that our normal, commonsensical way of looking at matters provides us with conclusions that are quite simply wrong. The point is that ungrounded instability has a hidden talent (without which the universe could not function even for a second), and immovable stability has a secret drawback, which lands us in truly dire circumstances time and time again, due to our inability to appreciate it. We will come to ‘the secret advantage of chaos’ in a moment, but before we do we will first consider the secret disadvantage of order, which is – in a nutshell – that it constitutes a trap.
‘NO RISK’ EQUALS ‘A TRAP’
Stability is pretty obviously a double-edged sword. From the outside, beset as we are with the torments of uncertainty and insecurity, it looks like a haven, but once in it, we cannot help realizing – in time – that the haven of stability is not all it is cracked up to be. It is not anything like as marvellous as it looked from the outside, and in fact we can say that the very great desirability which it held for us when we were still striving to attain it was function of the ‘fear-of-insecurity’ that we were experiencing at the time, and does not in any way belong to the actual state of being ‘safe and secure’. The desirability of the safe haven we crave is the exact same thing as the undesirability of the uncertain space we fear – ‘greed equals fear’, in other words. Oscar Wilde was referring to the double-edged sword of stability when he said (in de Profundis) that when a man has ambition to be such a thing as a bank manager, and on account of this ambition strives mightily to become such, then the station that he eventually attains is both reward and punishment – it is a reward because he gets what he has been hungering after all those years, and it is a punishment because now that he has become a bank manager, that is what he is now going to have to be.
We are so damn sure that we know what we want that we disregard and discard all else, focussing narrowly only on those things that will help us to obtain our goal. Eventually, if we reach this goal, it is at the expense of life itself, since life consists precisely of those ‘random elements’ which we so keen to divest ourselves of. And of course even if we don’t achieve the goal we wanted to achieve, we are still just as stuck because we are no less invested, no less narrow in our interests, as the man who has achieved. Whether I am a winner or a loser makes not the slightest bit of difference in the end, because either way I have sold my soul to ‘the game’. Steven Hagen (1987), in his remarkably clear book Buddhism Plain and Simple (which is more about universal insight than any particular school of Buddhism) has a disturbingly powerful quote from the Chinese philosopher Yang Chu, writing in the fourth century BCE:
We move through the world in a narrow groove, preoccupied with the petty things we see and hear, brooding over our prejudices, passing by the joys of life without even knowing we have missed anything. Never for a moment do we taste the heady wine of freedom. We are as truly imprisoned as if we lay at the bottom of a dungeon, heaped with chains.
Here, in these few words, we have spelled out for us – in highly unambiguous terms – the downside of stability. It is a pretty good bet that no one, reading this, is going to feel particularly motivated to rush forward to avail of this particular ‘prize’, yet – horribly enough – it remains a fact that it is this reward, the much coveted ‘reward of stability’, that we are all standing in line to collect. The extent to which our lives are ruled by logic (or ‘rationality’) is the extent to which we are ‘stuck in a narrow groove’, since logic is, by definition, ‘a narrow groove’. The more we go down this groove the deeper it gets, since the process of following a groove is synonymous with the process of irreversibly disregarding and discarding all random elements. The deeper the groove gets, the harder it becomes to escape from it (or to be more accurate, the harder it becomes to actually see that we are in a groove) and so it can readily be seen that the overall prognosis for ‘living the life of the rational mind’ is not good.
We can conclude by saying that logic (or more specifically the system of thought) is a trap because once ‘in’ it, everything we do serves to enmesh us further in it. Whether I act on the basis of fear or greed it makes no difference – either way I am digging a deeper hole for myself because acting on fear or greed necessitates me buying into a specific way of looking at the world, and it also necessitates me making the invisible assumption that this specific way of looking at the world is the only possible way. In short, we can say that:
THE PRISON OF THE RATIONAL MIND
We have been arguing that it is possible to look at the system that is logic in two totally different ways. We can look at it – as Plato did – as being the immaculate template of all possible manifestations of ‘positive order’, the source of all meaning in the universe, or we can look at it in terms of ‘an arbitrary (i.e. unnecessary) restriction of freedom’ – a narrowing of possibilities which boxes us in’ without us ever noticing that anything has happened. The latter is obviously not quite such a ‘logic-affirming’ viewpoint! There is of course a
Whether I assert or deny the effect is the same because asserting and denying both reinforce the validity of the framework of logic upon which that asserting or denying is based.
great satisfaction and security to be had in this ‘lack of freedom of things to be any other way’ and that is why we like logic and dread chaos. Logic, we might say, is a prison which we are relieved to be in because of our overpowering need to have what we might call ‘conceptual continuity’ in our lives – we happily overlook the prison-like aspect of the iron reign of rationality in return for the feeling of safety that it provides us with. The principle that we are looking at here can be stated very simply:
‘Security’ (i.e. zero risk) equals ”the curtailment of possibilities’ and ‘the curtailment of possibilities’ equals prison.
As always, we are not saying that the rules of logic are ‘not true’ – we are saying that they are relatively true, which is to say, they are self-evidently and unquestionably true just as long as we stay within the framework of assumptions that is taken for granted by the system of logic. Thus, logic isn’t really security and it isn’t really a prison, but given the fact that I have irreversibly lost perspective on the matter and ended up as a result quite unable to appreciate the difference between absolute and relative truth, the bars of the mental prison which I am in are just as impervious to bending as the iron bars in any prison cell anywhere in the world. Logic is a mirage that solidifies around us and traps us as thoroughly as if it were real. It might as well be real as far as we are concerned, since is effectively constrains and determines our perceptions, thoughts and behaviour from the moment we start to think about the world to the moment we take our last breath. So, although the rules of logic that contain us aren’t really final (in the way that they implicitly represent themselves as being), that doesn’t stop us acting as if they were.
For this reason, to quickly dismiss the virtual world that we live in as simply being ‘unreal’ is not particularly helpful – the ‘heavy body of my thoughts and beliefs’ that I continually orbit around might be illusions, but they are ‘real illusions’; they have been created by the long-standing cumulative effect of my attachment (and the actions that I carried out on the basis of my attachment) and just so long as I continue to live in accordance with my attachment the mental gravity which holds me deterministically in its grip has its lawful dominion over me. It is, therefore, simply no good at all me protesting that the virtual world which I have crystallized around myself ‘isn’t real’ – it is ‘real for me’ and until I have paid what I owe (‘down to the very last penny’ as Jung says) then I am not getting out. There are no ‘short-cuts’ by which the virtual or extrinsic self can escape from its virtual world – this is more than obvious once we remember that the system of thought (which is itself – and one and the same time – both the prospective escapee and the prison from which he wishes to escape) is by definition ‘a short-cut that doesn’t actually lead anywhere apart from right back to where you started’.
THE SECRET ADVANTAGE OF INSTABILITY
If the ‘secret disadvantage’ of stability (or order) is that it is a trap, then it ought to come as no great surprise if we suggest that the ‘secret advantage’ of instability (or chaos) is its ability to free from that trap. The idea that chaos could have uniquely useful properties is one that has appeared only relatively recently in the scientific world; in fact this radically new way of understanding nature appeared out of nowhere – so to speak – in the form of the ‘Chaos Revolution’ that swept through the scientific world in the late nineteen seventies. It was this revolution in thinking that James Gleick drew attention to in his book Chaos. The story Gleick tells is a curious one – scientists in many diverse fields, ranging from economics to meteorology, had independently (and more or less simultaneously – come to believe that chaotic (or non-linear) processes played a major part in the way the world around us actually works, despite stout opposition from the ranks of the orthodox. Chaos theory cut across the well-established barriers between the different scientific disciplines in the most shockingly uncompromising way, as Gleick (1987, p 3-4) here relates:
Where chaos begins, classical science stops. For as long as the world has had physicists enquiring into the laws of nature, it has suffered a special ignorance about disorder in the atmosphere, in the turbulent sea, in the fluctuations of wildlife populations, in the oscillations of the heart and brain. The irregular side of nature, the discontinuous and erratic side – these have been puzzles to science, or worse, monstrosities.
But in the 1970s a few scientists in the United States and Europe began to find a way through disorder. They were mathematicians, physicists, biologists, chemists, all seeking connections between different kinds of irregularity. Physiologists found a surprising order in the chaos that develops in the human heart, the prime cause of sudden, unexplained death. Ecologists explored the rise and fall of gypsy moth populations. Economists dug out old stock price data and tried a new kind of analysis. The insights that emerged led directly into the natural world – the shapes of clouds, the paths of lightning, the microscopic intertwining of blood vessels, the galactic clustering of stars.
The change in thinking which allowed these theorists to look to chaos for answers to the riddles that had been confounding them was genuinely revolutionary, requiring as it did a 180 degree turnaround in our attitude to disorder and randomness. Such revolutions do not take place without a fight either, as Gleick (p 37-8) points out:
Every scientist who turned to chaos early had a story to tell of discouragement or open hostility. Graduate students were warned that their careers could be jeopardized if they wrote theses in an untested discipline, in which their advisors had no expertise. A particle physicist, hearing about this new mathematics, might begin playing with it on his own, thinking it was a beautiful thing, both beautiful and hard – but would feel that he could never tell his colleagues about it. Older professors felt they were suffering a kind of midlife crisis, gambling on a line of research that many colleagues were likely to misunderstand or resent. But they also felt an intellectual excitement that comes with the truly new. Even outsiders felt it, those who were attuned to it. To Freeman Dyson at the Institute for Advanced Study, the news of chaos came “like an electric shock” in the 1970s. Others felt that for the first time in their professional lives they were witnessing a true paradigm shift, a transformation in a way of thinking.
Those who recognized chaos in the early days agonized over how to shape their thoughts and findings into publishable form. Work fell between disciplines – for example, too abstract for physicists yet too experimental for mathematicians. To some the difficulty of communicating the new ideas and the ferocious resistance from traditional quarters showed how revolutionary the new science was. Shallow ideas can be assimilated; ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility. A physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Joseph Ford, started quoting Tolstoy: “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted to explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
However, once the revolution had taken place, and the opposition forced to climb down, it was universally recognized that the new way of understanding chaotic processes sheds a great deal of light on all sorts of things. Chaos theory (and more recent, related disciplines such as complexity theory), are now seen to be crucially important in learning to describe a very wide class of natural processes. More than this, however, there is now the radical implication that nature herself relies on these processes to achieve ends that she could not achieve via linear means. This is precisely what Paul Davies (1987, p 54) is saying in the following passage:
Although the word chaos implies something negative and destructive, there is a creative aspect to it too. The random element endows a chaotic system with a certain freedom to explore a vast range of behaviour patterns. Indeed, chaos can be employed in an efficient strategy for solving certain mathematical and physical problems. It is also seemingly used by nature herself, for example in solving the problem of how the body’s immune system recognizes pathogens.
THE INSTABILITY PHASE
We can think about the mysterious ‘creative’ property of chaos in two ways. Firstly, we can say that chaos has the potential to periodically knock a primarily ‘linear’ (or ‘self-maintaining’) system out of its groove, allowing it thereby to utilize possibilities of self-organization that had hitherto been denied it. This is the idea that lies behind the ‘new science’ of complexity which came into being in the eighties just as chaos theory arrived in the seventies. Complexity theory (also known under such impressive names as Dynamical Systems Theory, and Non-Linear Thermodynamics) is very much a sister science to chaos theory and it can be traced particularly to the work of the Belgian chemist and Nobel prize winner Ilya Prigogine, along with that of pioneering theorist Erich Jantsch who took inspiration from Prigogine to create a whole new way of looking at the world based on the paradigm of self-organization rather than the old mechanical paradigm of ‘control hierarchies’ and directed change. To quote Jantsch from his book The Self Organizing Universe (1980, p 56):
The interrelationship of the self-organization dynamics of material and energetic processes from chemistry through biology to socio-biology and beyond seems to point to the existence of a general dynamic systems theory which is valid in a very wide domain of natural systems. The kind of general system theory which had been developed over the past few decades has searched for connecting features primarily with respect to the preservation and stabilization of structures (by means of negative feedback control). With a generalized theory of dissipative structures, the dynamic aspect of a general systems theory moves into the foreground and the macroscopic quantization of structures becomes of importance as well as the creative role of fluctuations.
The basic idea behind this new paradigm (which Prigogine speaks of in terms of the principle of ‘creative fluctuation’ or ‘order from chaos’) is that of the instability phase, which is where the single fixed track (or groove) is for a short period of time replaced with the ‘infinite possibilities’ of chaos. At this point a random fluctuation which manages to get through the usual protective ‘damping mechanisms’ gets vastly amplified via instability-creating positive feedback processes (as opposed the to stability-inducing negative feedback processes of linear self-maintaining systems) and this causes the system in question to reform or restructure in a totally new way. The surprise here is that the positive feedback instability does not result in a state of permanent chaos (which we would suspect) but rather a new realm of order – characterized by a jump in information content – is discovered.
The way that this ‘jumping business’ works in practice is that when a self-organizing system (called a ‘dissipative structure’ by Prigogine because like life in general it characteristically ‘dissipates entropy’) is pushed beyond its ability to cope – by increasing a certain operating parameter such as the throughput of energy up to the point where the structure starts to become unstable – then instead of trying to shore up its existing ‘coping strategies’ (so to speak) the structure abandons them, enters perilously into the instability phase, and re-emerges with the newly-gained capacity to operate under a different ‘dynamic regime’. Somehow, out of the chaos of the instability phase, information has been acquired that allows the threatened system to restructure in a way that was unimaginable from the standpoint of its previous dynamic modality. Although this all sounds very high-powered and worryingly abstruse, the principle can be seen operating even in a phenomenon as commonplace and unthreatening as a dripping tap. In this case the parameter which we have called ‘throughput’ comes down to the volume of water flow that is taking place through the tap, and it can be easily seen that when we increase this ‘throughput’ past a certain point the way which the water has of getting itself through the tap aperture and down into the sink becomes unstable – the characteristic shape that the stream of water used to have is lost and – after a brief chaotic period – a new twisty-turny sort of a shape is established as ‘the best way to do the job’. What is basically happening here is that the old answer to the problem becomes untenable, and a new solution is needed; the new solution to the problem of ‘how to do it’ can be looked at as a set of rules governing the process, and so what we are actually looking at here is a set of rules appearing miraculously out of the chaos of ‘not knowing how to do it’ (so to speak).
A word that is often used for this miraculous appearance of a-solution-in-the-form-of-previously-unavailable-‘rules’ is emergence. Emergence means that new and hitherto unexpected realms of information become accessible to the evolving system, which is then able to reorganize accordingly. The strange thing about emergence (the thing that we find it so hard to get our heads around) is that it just appears out of thin air, so to speak; in other words, there is no local source for the information. (A ‘local source’ might be for example a CD Rom with a programme written on it that you have just purchased at considerable cost from some software marketing company). There really is no local source at all and this is the very strange thing about emergence – as complexity pioneer and Nobel prize-winner Stuart Kauffman says, it is ‘order for free’. Thinking about things in terms of information gives us a good way to sum up the difference between ‘planned’ (or ‘programmed’ change) and the type of unexpected change that happens as a result of emergence – all we have to have to note is this:
Linear (or quantitative) change always preserves the information that was in it from the start, which means that there is no change in W. Non-linear (or qualitative) change, on the other hand, always involves a ‘jump’ in information content.
The motto here might be, therefore, that ‘there is no way to increase information content without risking losing the pattern that we already have’. In other words, if we want to make sure that we aren’t going to lose what we have already attained, then this cautious choice locks us into a future of ‘no further movement’.
SOLVE ET COAGULA
Interestingly, this idea throws light on the otherwise potentially cryptic alchemical motto solve et coagula. The alchemists referred to their work as proceeding in two stages, the first ‘coagulatory’ stage being where the product of the work is made solid or tangible, and the second ‘dissolving’ stage being where the prize that has been obtained is relinquished (or sacrificed) by allowing it to be dissolved away again. The point about this is that without ‘taking the risk’, the alchemical journey will come to an end, and ‘the thing that has been obtained’ will go bad on us, so to speak. But when the risk is taken, and the prize surrendered back to the universal acid bath (as it were), then there is the chance of continuing the work on a new and higher level, and the alchemical product can then be re-coagulated as a purer, less gross substance. The parallel with Prigogine’s order from chaos principle here is unmistakeable, if not to say striking, which leads us to the conclusion that the often maligned alchemical scientists weren’t such bad chemists after all, but merely a thousand years or so ahead of their time. Or perhaps even this statement is too complacent and too self-centred – perhaps it would be better to say that we are simply ‘behind their time’…
The coagulatory goal-orientated stage makes perfect sense to us of course, since that is the way we all do things (or would do things if we could); the dissolving or relinquishing stage on the other hand makes no sense at all to us, and it certainly isn’t part of our way of looking at life. For us, there is only the G.O. mode. There is in Conze’s Buddhist Scriptures a section by a modern Japanese monk and Primate of the Soto Zen School (Sessan Amakuki, 1954, p 135-6) which captures this one-sidedness – and the problems that arise from it – very clearly indeed:
Without claiming that the practise of meditation will always lead at once to the removal of ignorance and the opening of enlightenment, yet to be able to sit quiet for a time and turn one’s attention within oneself is a great advantage in ordinary life, and this is the beginning of meditation. People these days have their heads boiling with thought and are ever turned outwards as if searching for something. They have forgotten how to still the heart and turn within for the inward vision. In fact they know the way of going forward, but not how to withdraw. In controlling the traffic at cross-roads, we have the traffic lights, Go! And Stop! If there were only the Go! and not the Stop! accidents would be inevitable. The Stop! is essential. Modern people only strive to rush on, as if they were all in a horse-race, and they have lost the power of withdrawing and reflecting. They go ahead and go ahead, but in the end there is a deadlock, a jam, and they finish up the pathetic victims of a spiritual disaster. By paying attention to how to withdraw, by turning within and reflecting, one can reach the inexhaustible treasure there, can experience directly the spiritual Paradise of Amida.
Logic is the very same thing as the same thing as GO! mode that the author of this essay is talking about – it can ‘buy into’ stuff, but it cannot cleanly disengage. Once engaged, logic has to stay engaged, and so it is that it mires itself in what Sessan Amakuki refers to as a ‘spiritual disaster’. Rationality asserts and asserts, and the more it goes down this one-way street of asserting the more prone it becomes to a particular affliction; this affliction can be seen in terms of some dim sense of foreboding that follows us wherever we go. This sense of incipient doom (or perhaps meaninglessness) naturally causes us to assert all the more vehemently, like a liar has been caught out in his lie, but feels himself to have no choice other than trying to lie his way out of it. Thus, the system of thought, when log-jammed into a crisis of its own making, feels as if it has no choice other than to fall back on itself even more.
From our discussion of logic we can see that it simply isn’t on the cards at all for rational thought to consider letting go of what it has attained, without any guarantee of any sort that it will get something in return. This seems rather like jumping off a cliff on the off chance that an angel will swoop down from heaven to catch you, and it is therefore a choice that logic will never ever make, not if it broods upon it for a month of Sundays. Because logic will never, of its own free will, relinquish the grip that is has, it is doomed to futility – it can neither do anything, nor be anything on its own, and yet it will not (of its own accord) allow anything other than itself to have a look in. When logic is the master (as it is wont to be), then sterility is the only possible result.
The first way of looking at the ‘secret advantage’ of chaos – so we said – is that it allows us to switch tracks from one way of doing things to a subtler (or more complex) way of doing things. The second way of looking at the secret advantage of chaos is pretty closely related when it comes down to it, and it has to do with the unique ability of random elements to visit every possible location around them. This is an important idea in chemical thermodynamics and it is called ‘ergodicity’. Ergodicity simply means that there is a ‘free play of possibilities’; thus – just to give a rather daft example – we could suggest that there are two types of rain, ergodic rain, and non-ergodic rain. Non-ergodic rain is basically logical or directed rain – it is rain that has an idea about where it is going. We could also call this pre-programmed rain; perhaps you have had to simulate rain in a virtual computer-generated world, and so you write a program or algorithm for how the rain is to fall, its trajectory and so on. Now the thing about this pre-programmed (and therefore non-ergodic) rain, is that it is not going to strike your body all over – it is only going to land on those areas of your body that correspond to its programming, its ‘model’ of you, so to speak.
Now we are taking it for granted here that the programmer’s theoretical model of your body does not have an ‘exhaustive correspondence’ with your actual body since your actual body is a complex ‘real-world phenomenon’, rather than an abstract idea. This assumption is in accordance with the basic principle that formal descriptions can never totally correlate with real-world systems, i.e.
There is always more to the thing itself than ‘the theory of the thing’ (or ‘the idea of the thing’).
The great thing about ‘ergodic rain’ however (which, it will be remembered, is defined by the fact that it has a trajectory that was not pre-programmed or specified in advance) is that it has no idea about you. The result of this is of course that the ergodic rain hits you all over, and there isn’t a single little bit of you that doesn’t get wet. Because it hasn’t jumped to any conclusions regarding the structure and nature of the world that it is going to encounter, no door is closed to it, whereas the non-ergodic rain, because it is too clever (in that it has already made certain key assumptions about that world) is restricted and curtailed right from the very beginning. Although this example is as we have said a bit daft because in reality we would undoubtedly get thoroughly wet in both cases due to the mobile, fluid type property of water, the idea comes across passably well, and so we will not worry overmuch about the rather doubtful concept of ‘non-ergodic rain’.
SPONTANOUS VERSUS DIRECTED THOUGHT
The psychological application of this idea of ergodicity versus non-ergodicity is very interesting and very pertinent because we can see that there must be two totally opposed ways of ‘mentally relating’ to the world. One, we could say, would be playful, uncalculated and ergodic, while the other would be serious, rational, and completely non-ergodic. These two ways illustrate the idea – novel to some – that rationality is not the whole, or even the most important part, of the mind. This is a crucial point: just because we have previously said that the rational (or logical) mind is a linear system, incapable of escaping from the prison of its own logical premises, that does not mean that the mind itself – which is to say, the psyche – is a linear phenomenon. If it was, then we would have no genuine adaptability whatsoever, and so we would be ill-fitted for the task of surviving in this chaotic and unpredictable world. Even more to the point, we could say that without the ingredient of ‘mental ergodicity’, we would have zero mental freedom – we would utterly mechanical, utterly robotic, and utterly lacking in whatever indefinable essence of freedom it is that makes our lives actually worth living.
The non-linearity of the psyche corresponds to what Jung called spontaneous thought, whereas linear rationality corresponds to directed thought, and whilst directed thought processes are of course what we are most aware of in terms of our day-to-day mental life, it is actually the spontaneous side of things that really carries the show. The reason for our lack of appreciation regarding the true importance of the role of spontaneous processes is basically because directed thought always ‘hogs the limelight’ – it is a show-off, so to speak, and if it does something it wants everyone to know about what it is doing. The spontaneous process is not like this at all – it works in secret, doing what it does without announcing what it does. Therefore, a good way of differentiating between the two is to say that the directed mode of thought is theatrical, whereas the spontaneous mode is dramatic. ‘Theatrical’ means that any development that happens was never really a risk because – if there truth were known – it was ‘scripted to happen’ all along; ‘dramatic’, on the other hand, is dramatic precisely because there is a risk, and nobody really knows what the outcome of events is going to be. As John Bennett puts it, the process is subject to ‘the law of hazard’; the ‘way things are going to work out’ is uncertain and subject to no guarantee because the universe itself is an unruly or uncertain sort of a thing – it is a dramatic universe, to use Bennett’s phrase. This brings us to the following interesting conclusion:
If the universe that we live in is dramatic in nature, and our rational thoughts are theatrical (along with the lives that we lead as a result of these thoughts), then our thoughts (and the lives that are scripted by these thoughts) are not actually real, since they do not partake of the essential dramatic quality of life.
THE THOUGHT IS NOT THE THING
We may note at this point that there exists a real (i.e. not arbitrary) barrier between the theatrical and dramatic realms. To be optimally accurate here, we ought to say that there is an irreversibility that acts in one direction, but not in the other. This can be thought of in terms of a ‘valve-like property’, which operates on the basis of the following fundamental law:
While the dramatic realm can give rise to theatricality, the theatrical realm can never produce any occurrence of a truly dramatic (i.e. unscripted) nature.
Thus, I can spontaneously write a script, but I cannot write the script for spontaneity. It is important to emphasize the absolute impossibility of the dramatic realm being contained within the theatrical realm, or of the dramatic realm being in any way ‘at the service’ of the theatrical realm, because this shows us just how ‘short’ the shortfall really is between our description (or ‘theory’) of the world, and the world itself as it actually is. It is not that our ideas ‘go some way’ to explaining the reality which they seek to explain, which is how we usually see it, but rather that our ideas and theories belong to ‘an entirely different sort of a thing’, i.e. they belong to the theatrical realm whereas reality is dramatic through and through. We have already mentioned the basic principle that a formal description never totally correlates with the real world system it seeks to describe, but to call this a ‘basic principle’ is not actually making the point strongly enough since, as Robert Anton Wilson points out, we all think we know this already. Therefore, because we think we know it perfectly well already, when somebody states this fact we don’t even blink – it doesn’t throw us at all. Yet, as Wilson also points out, we don’t ‘know it already’, we just think we do. Wilson, in his short but remarkably to-the-point book Quantum Psychology (1990) never seems to tire of saying this, emphatically, and with admirable vigour. For example (p 77):
Everybody understands that you cannot drink the word “water,” yet virtually nobody seems entirely free of semantic delusions entirely comparable to trying to drink the ink-stains that form the word “water” on this page or the sound-waves produced when I say “water” aloud. If you say “The word is not the thing,” everybody agrees placidly; if you watch people, you see that they continue to behave as if something called Sacred “really is” Sacred and something called Junk “really is” Junk.
This type of neurolinguistic “hallucination” appears so common among humans that it usually remains invisible to us, as some claim water appears invisible to fish, and we will continue to illustrate it copiously as we proceed. On analysis, this “word hypnosis” seems the most peculiar fact about the human race. Count Alfred Korzybski said we “confuse the map with the territory”. Alan Watts said we can’t tell the menu from the meal. However one phrases it, humans seem strangely prone to confusing their mental file cabinets – neurolinguistic grids – with the non-verbal world of sensory-sensual space-time.
As Lao-Tse said in the Tao Te Ching, 2500 years ago,
The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on.
The way that can be spoken is not the way that can be trodden).
We all know that ‘the thought is not the thing’ perfectly well (or at least we think that we do) and yet we all perpetually forget it. And elsewhere (p 87), RAW writes, in a similar vein:
According to pious Roman Catholics, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas equals the universe. In other words, everything in the universe exists also in the philosophy of Aquinas and everything in Aquinas exists also in the universe.
On the other hand, according to pious Russian Communists, the ideology of Dialectical Materialism as developed by Marx, Engels and Lenin equals the universe. Everything in the universe exists in Dialectical Materialism and everything in Dialectical Materialism exists also in the universe.
Disciples of Ayn Rand feel the same way about Objectivism.
However, aside from Catholics, Marxists, Objectivists and a few other dingbat groups like the Committee for Scientific Investigation of claims of the Paranormal or the Hard Shell Baptists, most of us, in this technological age, have at least a dim awareness that no coordination of words, however skilfully orchestrated, quite equals the whole universe. Whether we have ever stated it in the words I used in Part One or not, we have come to realize that nothing equals the universe except the universe itself.
Any philosophy, any theology, any coordination of words, any mathematical model, any scientific “system” must always remain something less than the whole universe. Such maps or models may describe large parts of the universe, but none of them can contain the whole universe. The most advanced mathematical physics, for instance, cannot predict what I will write in the next five minutes. (Neither can I, as Bergson pointed out.)
Paul Davies (1987, p 54) is saying the same thing in the Cosmic Blueprint when he asserts that ‘a chaotic system is its own fastest computer’:
Typically the errors in these ordinary dynamical systems grow in proportion to time (i.e. linearly). By contrast, in a chaotic system the errors grow at an escalating rate; in fact, they grow exponentially with time. The randomness of chaotic motion is therefore fundamental, not merely the result of our ignorance. Gathering more information about the system will not eliminate it. Whereas in an ordinary system like the solar system the calculation keep well ahead of the action, in a chaotic system more and more information must be processed to maintain the same level of accuracy, and the calculation can barely keep pace with actual events. In other words, all power of prediction is lost. The conclusion is that the system itself is its own fastest computer.
THE DUALISTIC OUTLOOK
We have in these chapters been putting a rather special emphasis on this ‘the thought is not the thing’ principle. Robert Anton Wilson uncompromisingly insists at every turn that our ideas about the universe are in no way a viable substitute for the universe, since ‘the only thing equal to the universe is the universe itself’, and this in itself is a point that is formidably hard to appreciate. Were we to even begin to properly appreciate this principle, then our heads would start to spin with a species of existential vertigo such as might be produced by the very best of Philip K Dick’s novels. But the particular slant that we putting on this business is rather more in the Gnostic vein, since we have been arguing all along that it is not just a matter of substitution, but substitution and inversion.
This ‘different emphasis’ makes everything a lot more sinister, as we can plainly see if we consider the matter a bit further. When we take into account the principle of inversion, then what this means is that some extraneous (or ‘extrinsic’) element has entered the picture unannounced. This element does not declare itself, and it does not in any way draw attention to itself, but what it does do is to take over (sometimes in a very subtle fashion, sometimes less so) absolutely everything that goes on. So the narrow and misrepresentative viewpoint that is our thinking does not simply interpose itself between us and reality, so as to disconnect us from life as it actually is (which would be bad enough, by any standards), it actually causes us to worship itself in place of Reality. This viewpoint is not merely a shoddy or inferior version of ‘the Truth’, since there can be no such thing as ‘an altered, over-simplified or degraded version of the truth’. The inferior analogue of the truth is actually nothing other than a lie, and we are in the service of this lie. Inasmuch as a lie overturns the truth for its own unworthy ends, the lie is evil, and this is exactly how the ancient Gnostics characterized the ‘visible world’, the ‘world of appearances’ that we live out our lives in as a result of being in thrall to the False God. According to the Gnostics, there are two worlds: one is the visible world (the world of definite and unquestionable meanings that we adapt ourselves to) which is ruled over by the principle of Darkness or evil, the other is the invisible (or essential) world that is the world of spirits and souls, and which is ruled over by the principle of Light. Gnosticism is thus a doctrine of dualism which maintains that life is a bitter struggle between the two opposing forces of light and darkness. It is our way to underplay such themes of cosmic conflict, and see them as ultimately being reconcilable within some Divine Plan, but Dualism does not include such a cosy plan. Gnosticism does not permit the luxury of a nice safe belief which says ‘everything will somehow work out okay in the end’. On the contrary, there is no guarantee that things will work out at all even if we do become motivated to take up the struggle, and if we don’t experience the sense of urgency that is brought about by this dualistic understanding of the world, then it is not just unlikely that things will work out well, it is actually a foregone conclusion.
OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE DUALISM
The uncompromising dualistic ‘take’ on things is extraordinarily important from a psychological point of view. It is to be suspected that most of us would register some degree of aversion towards the basic ‘Good versus Evil’ paradigm – for one thing, it has become a terribly tired old cliché, a formula that has been unrelentingly drummed into us by many centuries spent under the rule of Christianity. For another thing, when expressed in its purest and most unapologetic form (which is something that Christianity doesn’t tend to do in these modern times) it sounds like religious fundamentalism at its most ‘black and white’. A classic example of ‘pure dualism’ would be the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which saw life as being a battle-ground between two equally powerful deities, Ahura Mazda, embodying Light, and Ahriman, embodying Darkness. It is of course perfectly valid to object that this sort of a way of looking at the world lends itself very well to unconscious projection, in that we locate and absolutize all that is good in the one Deity projection-carrier, and all that is bad in the other. This is a profoundly unhealthy state of affairs – as any Jungian worth his salt will tell you – since the projector of the good and evil archetypal images will remain in a state of profound unconsciousness, completely and utterly failing to acknowledge the division in his or her own psyche. This, as everyone with even a little bit of psychological knowledge knows, is a recipe for disaster, pure and simple.
However, there is a sense in which the dualistic outlook becomes not only ‘mentally healthy’, but actually indispensable for psychological growth. If we call the tendency to absolutize and externalize the principle of light and darkness objective dualism (i.e. the perception of dualism existing outside oneself), then we can say that the ‘healthy’ form of dualism is the subjective variety. What this basically means is that one perceives one’s own self as being a battle-ground for the forces of good and evil, and realizes that the principles of consciousness and unconsciousness are warring within each one of us for actualization. The reason that we are insisting that this is a ‘psychologically healthy’ outlook is very simple – it is the only outlook that will result in the perception of urgency that is needed if we are to transform the unconscious into the conscious mode of being. Our normal type of motivation, which is the compulsivity generated by the operation of the rational mind, is good for one thing and one thing only, which is to say, the perpetuation of the rational way of thinking that produced the compulsivity in the first place. The perception of the implacable self-interestedness of the system of thought in this regard is synonymous with ‘a sense of genuine urgency’ regarding our situation. As our awareness grows, so does our appreciation of the wiles of the adversary, and thus so to does our sense of urgency.
‘THE DRAMA OF UNCERTAINTY’
There is another equally important aspect to the outlook that we have referred to as subjective dualism, and this aspect has to do with what we might call ‘cosmic meaningfulness’. Normally our struggles, although highly meaningful to us in our own estimation, are in fact quite meaningless on the larger scale of things. To put this another way,
The meaning that the extrinsic self reads into its adventures or misadventures is a manifestation of ‘circular meaning’, which is to say, they are meaningful only with reference to itself. This self-referentiality in meaning ultimately adds up to ‘null-meaning’ since the extrinsic self was only ever a fictional (or illusory) entity in the first place.
Nothing the extrinsic self does is meaningful in a true dramatic sense because nothing it can do can ever take it outside of its script. It has meaning where that meaning has been written into the script, but beyond this tautological meaning it has nothing. As Krishnamurti says, the movement from one known to another is ‘no movement at all’. But the process of individuation (which is where a new or unconditioned viewpoint starts to disentangle itself from the system of thought) is genuinely meaningful precisely because it is a movement out of the script. This sense of urgency, and infinite vulnerability in the face of overwhelming odds, is concomitant with the emergence of genuine meaning, as John Bennett argues here in Volume 1 of The Dramatic Universe (1956, p 19-20):
To admit that all existence is uncertain and therefore hazardous may appear as the renunciation of all that mankind has striven for during the last two thousand five hundred years. It is held to the credit of the Greek philosophers that, in leading mankind into the age of reason, they banished forever those mysterious fears in which primitive man was supposed to have lived. The Greek philosophers – from Thales to Aristotle – were all in quest of a final solution to the great human problem of the meaning of existence. Even Anaximander, with his principles of ‘strife’ and ‘the fathomless’, believed that he had put aside the mysterious and the arbitrary in favour of a law of universal and ultimate validity which could be known and allowed for in the ordering of human affairs. Those who, like Heraclitus, believed that the meaning of existence was to be found in the saying ‘all things pass away and nothing abides’ also took it for granted that beyond the perpetual flux there was something stable – the One and the Many; ‘out of all, one; out of one, all’. In India, Gautama Buddha – contemporary of the early Greek philosophers – expounded his doctrine of universal causality, assuring his followers that the mystical fears by which they had been oppressed were illusory, and proclaiming that man could and must rely upon himself to work out his own salvation. In China, Confucius taught the reliability of human reason and adjured men to banish their fears of the unknown.
Since then a hundred generations have lived and died, and the banishment of mystical dread has been so successfully accomplished that modern man no longer fears the invisible. Instead, he finds himself confronted with the visible terrors of his own handiwork, and sees himself involved again in the uncertainty of history from which, until quite recently, he believed that he had been, or was soon to be, delivered. Belief in universal law has recoiled upon man, and in place of uncertainty he has found himself driven to the conclusion that inexorable causality shapes the future even to its minutest detail. Since this conclusion is fundamentally unacceptable to our human nature, we face a dilemma from which we cannot escape so long as we cling to any belief in absolute laws and final answers. This being so, we are forced to admit that rationalism can give no more than a false security that does not work in practice, and that it is necessary to look more deeply into the situation and to recognize that uncertainty and hazard must always be taken into account.
When this decisive step is made, we discover that we leave behind a great part of the difficulties with which human thought has been beset in the attempt to reconcile our human experience with belief in universal order and Divine Providence. If al that exists is uncertain, then it is not surprising that our human life is uncertain also. If uncertainty holds sway even in the operation of the Divine Will, then we can reconcile ourselves to the spectacle of human sufferings, against which we must revolt so long as we have to believe that they are a negative oasis set in a desert of perfection. Furthermore, the recognition of uncertainty and hazard in the workings of universal laws restores significance to our own human strivings. If man is not a pawn in the hands of an omnipotent and omniscient chess-player, then he may be something much more significant; to wit, a being upon whom rests real responsibility for taking his own part in the universal task.
Conscious experience faced with hazard is a state of need, and need confronted with uncertainty as to its fulfilment is dramatic. Therefore, we may speak of a Dramatic Universe, thereby drawing attention to the character which all existence acquires through the presence everywhere of relativity and uncertainty, combined with consciousness and the possibility of freedom. Where there is no drama – no suspense – there is no deep significance. It is artificial and inconsistent to suppose that there can be a drama of uncertainty and suspense in the life of man but none in the great universe. In order to appreciate the full significance of the force latent in the idea of a dramatic universe, consciousness must be restored to the efficient status from which it was banished by the atomists and by their modern descendents the logical positivists; for, confronted by efficient consciousness, uncertainty is no longer blind chance.
It is no small feat that Bennett, writing from a time when (apart from Einstein’s ideas on relativity and the new wave of quantum uncertainty) classical mechanics ruled supreme, managed to see through ‘false security of rationality’ and anticipate the significance of uncertainty. Although, having said this, it has to be admitted that we are culturally no nearer a true understanding of uncertainty now in the first decade of the new millennium than we were back in the middle of the last century – despite the paradigm shift that has undoubtedly taken place in physics due to chaos and complexity theory – the prevailing ideas are predominantly deterministic. This is particularly true in the field of biology, medicine and in psychology most of all, where the dark cult of ‘biodeterminism’ rules our collective thinking with a fist of iron. In conclusion to our ongoing discussion regarding the significance of uncertainty, we find that we can now say at least three things:
 It possesses the sublimely unprejudiced property of ergodicity, which provides us with the ‘missing key’ that is needed to unlock the iron doors of logic. Psychologically speaking, we can say that uncertainty is the mysterious guiding light through which we have the possibility of bringing ourselves back into psychological wholeness, out of the ‘unwholeness’ (or ‘one-sidedness’) of the abstracted rational mind.
 It can be seen in terms of universal hazard, which brings to each individual a responsibility which is theirs and theirs alone. The fact of this responsibility, as Bennett says, endows each individual action with significance. In Dualistic terms, we can explain Bennett’s point by saying that every action either serves one master or the other, furthering either the cause of consciousness, or unconsciousness.
 It can be seen as being synonymous with Reality itself, in that the movement from ‘one known to another’, being theatrical in nature, involves only trivial uncertainty, whereas the movement from ‘the known into the unknown’ (which is the same thing as ‘the movement into uncertainty’) is properly dramatic in nature. Inasmuch as we are experiencing this constantly unfolding movement into uncertainty (into the newness and freshness of the present moment), we are free from the invisible theatrical constraints of the rational mind.
IGNORING THE HUB
We could of course have explained the property of ergodicity very well indeed by going back to our old friend set theory. All we have to do to define ergodicity with set theory is to say that if the process concerned results in every location in the Universal Set being visited, then that process is ergodic. To put it another way, the process is ergodic if it has free reign over the whole range of possibilities (i.e. if it is not obstructed from any location whatsoever). On the other hand, when a process is so restricted, and can only as a consequence of this restriction visit locations found within a particular defined set, then that process is non-ergodic. Put this way, we can see very easily that ‘ergodic’ means pretty much the same thing as ‘random’ really, since random, as Davies’ says, simply means ‘unspecified’, or ‘not deliberately brought to our attention’. When an element is not specified, not deliberately brought to attention, then we can intuitively see that the element is ‘free’, ‘unobstructed’, ‘natural’ or ‘spontaneous’. If it comes it comes and if it goes it goes – its nature and behaviour is unspecified, it is not subject to any extrinsically originated law. We could also say that when a process is random (or ergodic) it has no problem with anything at all. Everything is allowed, all is permissible, and this, of course, is the only defining feature – inasmuch as it is a defining feature – of the Universal Set (which is to say, of the State of Unbroken Symmetry). The specific (or the logical) has no problem with whatever elements match its own particular structural prejudice, but it has insurmountable problems with anything that does not match its defining prejudice.
We can also look at this in terms of ‘fineness of mechanism’ – logic, we might say, is like a cog wheel with a particular arrangement of teeth in it. If you have the matching grooves to go with these teeth, then there is articulation between you and the logical cogwheel – there is ‘a connection’, and as a result of this connection you can ‘do business’. The essential point to understand about logic, however – as we have been saying most insistently – is that it is closed in terms of what it can accept because it can only accept things that agree with itself:
A particular logical regime is characterized by the fact that it can only accept itself, which is to say, it can only ‘do business’ with itself.
The ‘fineness of mechanism’ idea can be developed further than just talking about a simple cogwheel because we can say that there are ‘degrees of complexity’ that are possible within any particular mechanism. A simple definition of complexity would be to say that ‘the complexity of a system is a measure of the number of qualitatively different ways of seeing or interacting with the world that the system in question has’, and so all we would need to do in order to double the complexity of our mechanism would be to bring together two qualitatively different cogwheels and integrate the two sets of teeth on the same wheel. Each set of teeth can still interact with its own set of external elements and so we have effectively doubled the complexity of the system. Although still ‘closed’ the system now has a wider and more diverse way of understanding the world, which is to say, it has a more rounded (or less ‘one-sided’) view of things.
It can therefore be seen that greater and greater ‘ranges of possibility’ can theoretically be brought into play by adding different wheels together. This is obviously an intriguing road to go down because it seems to imply that there might be a way of reaching a maximally rounded view by the straightforward precedent of progressively adding an infinite number of ‘sets of teeth’ (which, in a more abstract sense, corresponds to adding an infinite number of different ‘algorithms’ or ‘mathematical recipes’). To put this another way, if we were to go on refining our logical cogwheel, over and over again, giving it finer and finer teeth, we would – at the end of an infinite period of time – end up with a cogwheel that has an infinitely fine action.
CONSCIOUSNESS EQUALS WHAT?
All of the above is basically a restatement of the basic principle behind Prigogine and Jantsch’s theory of ‘discontinuous evolution’ where a system jumps from one dynamic regime to another, via the random agency of a micro-fluctuation (which can be defined as little bits of chaos floating around that we can never wholly eradicate). As Jantsch says (1980, p 43):
A “new regime” corresponds to a higher level of interaction between system and environment.
Engineer, meditator and author Itzhak Bentov uses this general type of idea as a way of defining consciousness, equating this most mysterious of properties with the ‘quantity and quality of a system’s interaction with its environment’. Now in a sense any definition of consciousness has got to be a bit of a trick since consciousness is too universal and too all-encompassing a thing to be defined (i.e. there is nothing lying outside of it with which it can be compared) but we can nevertheless see the sense in Bentov’s deceptively simple formula since the degree of interaction of a self-organizing system with the outside world (particularly the degree of the complexity of the interaction) is a measure of how open that system is. A closed system does not relate to the outside world at all, but only to those elements which concur with the bias which it embodies; these elements constitute a closed set that the system in question takes to be the same thing as ‘the outside world’.
Psychologically speaking, we can say that a closed system – a closed mind – cannot perceive the world around it as it actually is, but can only perceive the projections which it superimposes upon this world (which it mistakenly takes to be the same thing as ‘the world around it’). This, we can say, corresponds to the state of ‘passive identification’ or ‘unconsciousness’. However, if we were to keep on increasing the complexity of the interaction which the system is capable of, what will ultimately happen is that the system will end up having no separate existence from the universe within which it exists, for the simple reason that ‘separate existence is a function of closure’. When my interaction is maximized, then I am in a state of perfect openness, and when I am unreservedly open to the universe around me, then I am the same thing as that universe. It is apparent that we are now in a position to make the following rather perplexing statement:
The system (the ‘self’) can be defined as having maximum consciousness when it ceases to have any separate existence from the environment within which it exists; in other words, the ‘self’ is maximally conscious when it no longer has any (independent) existence.
THE ‘FINE MECHANISM’
If we return from this digression into the question of ‘what consciousness might consist of’ (which we have in fact found to be a meaningless question, since there is nothing which it is not) we can see that there is a sort of a way to link the quantitative with the qualitative. We showed this by way of the mental exercise in which we imagined a simple cog-wheel (which has nothing more complicated than a regular array of big crude teeth) being progressively modified by the straightforward precedent of repeatedly adding an endless series of different types of teeth. Thus, a situation which we can represent in terms of zero information content (or, alternatively and equivalently, in terms of maximum entropy content, since the same pattern is forever recycled) can be the starting point for a series of more complex situations, until eventually we arrive at the situation where there is an infinite information (or zero entropy) content. At this point it becomes very clear indeed that we have passed well beyond logic (beyond mere mechanical ‘teeth’, which are inherently uneven) to a state of maximal inclusivity, which we can envisage in terms of perfect smoothness or evenness. [Maximum inclusivity also equals Perfect Symmetry]
What we have arrived at now is a mechanism that is so fine in its action that it is no longer a mechanism, it is more like water which flows over everything, or the all-pervading ‘ergodic rain’ that we were talking about before. This infinitely subtle mechanism accepts everything, and articulates everything, so rather than being like the crude, ‘block-like’ teeth of a big mechanical wheel, which exist right out on the circumference of the apparatus somewhere, what we are talking about here is more like the very centre point of that wheel, where the ‘gap between the teeth’ is necessarily infinitely small, since the central point is, indeed, ‘a point’. The further out from the infinitely fine centre we go, the cruder and more ‘block-like’ the affair gets, and the more ‘in your face’ it all gets, whilst the closer to the heart of things you get, the finer the mechanism gets, and the less obvious it all gets too. Right at the very heart of everything, the mechanism is superlatively, effortlessly, perfectly fine, and it is at the same time perfectly ‘non-obvious’ (so non-obvious in fact that we have no conception of it even being there). Thus, the most ‘crucial’ of things is also the most undervalued of things – we ignore the very thing that absolutely everything hangs on!
This point could not be put any more plainly or any more elegantly than it is here in Book 1, Section XI, Verses 27, 27(a) of the Tao Te Ching:
Share one hub.
Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose at hand, and
You will have the use of the cart. Knead clay in order
to make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the
purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the
vessel. Cut out doors and windows in order to make
a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in
hand, and you will have the use of the room.
Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of
Nothing that this can be put to use.
What we are basically saying here is that what we call ‘logic’ (or ‘order’) is something that has been ‘abstracted from the core of the things’. This means that it is also the furthest away from the core (or the hub) of things, and yet despite this it is what’s immediately ‘in our face’ – it is pre-eminently visible, and obvious, and important, and all the rest. It manages to wholly steal the lime-light and hog all the attention and to distract our attention from seeing where it actually came from, what its source is, so to speak. So much so, in fact, that we have gone to the extreme of denigrating and denying the unstructured and the unlimited, for all the world as if we were embarrassed or scandalized by it. In our discussion of order and chaos we have – inevitably enough, given our rationalist leanings – been trying to ‘rehabilitate’ chaos, cautiously and delicately introducing the idea that it does have some uses. But the truth is something rather different – the actual fact of the matter is that chaos is supremely important, it is the axle upon which the universe turns. The instability phase is ‘the crack by which the light gets in’ (to paraphrase what Leonard Cohen says in one of his songs). It is also what Ngakpa Chogyam (1986, p 90) calls intrinsic space which is “…the Space between ‘known’ areas of experience” without which we cannot grow or change. Intrinsic space (or ‘infinite instability’) is also what Buddhists more generally refer to as Sunnyata, or ‘the Void’.
A good way to grasp the practical significance of the role of instability (or ‘intrinsic space’) is to think in terms of the ‘constructed’ versus the ‘unconstructed’. There is a well-known verse in which the Buddha  asserts that there is such a thing as the ‘unmade’, and  explains just how fortunate that is from the point of view of the ‘made’ :
There is, disciples, an Unbecome, Unborn, Unmade, Unformed; if there were not this Unbecome, Unborn, Unmade, Unformed, there would be no way out for that which is become, born, made, and formed; but since there is an Unbecome, Unborn, Unmade, Unformed, there is escape for that which is become, born, made, and formed.
A construct is basically the same thing as a ‘logical continuity’, which is in turn the same thing as ‘a positively defined set’. We can also look at a construct as being ‘the successful suppression of risk’. But for there to be a construct there in the first place, there must be something unconstructed (or ‘free’) for it to arise out of; this is very obvious indeed if we look it in terms of set theory – how could there be a positively defined set, without there being the undefined Universal Set in the first place? In order to pull a rabbit out of the hat, I must have a hat to pull the rabbit out of…
THE DOOR AND THE GUEST WHO ENTERS THROUGH THE DOOR…
This is precisely what Alan Watts keeps saying – ‘for a thing to happen, there must be a space for it to happen in’. The space in which things are unconditionally allowed to happen is what we have called ‘radical risk’ (or ‘radical uncertainty’) – it is the ‘unformed’ situation in which forms can take shape one way or the other. To put it another way, we could say that the phrase radical risk refers to the lack of any control whatsoever about what happens next; an analogy would be a man who hasn’t made up his mind what he wants to do next. This lack of agenda seems worryingly lax from the point of view of our reasoning faculty, but it can be seen that such junctions of ‘not knowing’ endow the person in question with a freedom and flexibility that really is absolutely unlimited. The person who always knows what he wants to do, on the other hand (who we might see as strong-minded and admirably purposeful) is locked into whatever set of arbitrary assumptions he started off with, and as a result what we might mistakenly take to be a strength is actually no more than a type of hopeless stubbornness – I actually don’t have any other way of doing things and so I am forced to try to make this one ‘fit’, even when all the signs are that it won’t. I am like Maslow’s under-equipped carpenter – the one whose only tool is a hammer.
Intrinsic space – which isn’t actually anything – can therefore be described as ‘Openness which is sublimely and divinely indifferent to whatever it is that comes through it’ (it is Openness which is open to everything, in other words). This Openness is not anything in itself, which is to say, it is not a construct itself; however, just because it is not any ‘thing’, this does not mean that it is of no use, or that we can afford to disregard it. A simple way to explain this point is to say the continuity (the construct) is the guest, and the Discontinuity (the Unconstructed) is the door through which the guest is allowed to enter. The guest is defined, whilst the door is necessarily undefined; the door has to be undefined or ‘non-specific’ otherwise it wouldn’t be a door! This lack of definition is thus not a drawback, but, on the contrary, the most marvellous of advantages. If everything were defined, we would be caught up in a permanent log-jam – we would totally ‘stuck’, we would be snarled up forever in the worst most horrendous ‘logic grid-lock’ you could ever possibly imagine. For this reason, we can see that it is not merely the case that the undefined now has to be seen as ‘useful after all’; saying this does not even begin to do it justice – the undefined is not simply ‘useful’ since without it nothing at all would ever be possible, without it there is simply no ‘ball-game’. The non-constructed has to take priority over the constructed because for the following reason:
Whilst the Infinite Game can contain a finite game, a finite game cannot contain the Infinite Game. Whilst the Discontinuity can contain within it any number of continuities, any particular continuity cannot contain within it even the slightest trace of a discontinuity. This is the ‘dissymmetrical relationship’ between the Theatrical and Dramatic realms that we spoke of earlier.
If we bring together everything that we have been saying about logic and chaos, stability and instability, the predictable and the random, and connect this up with some sort of a universe (or ‘environment’) to which these must apply, then we can see that what we actually have here is not just a few ideas about the logical and the non-logical – what we have is a fully-fledged cosmological (and psychological) picture, lacking in nothing that would be needed in order to warrant its inclusion in the ‘Great Book of Cosmological Theories’ along with all those other time-honoured explanations of the universe, such as the one (as popularized by Terry Pratchett) that says the world is a disc sitting on the back of a giant turtle which in turn sits on the back of an even huger and more giant turtle, and so on. The plain fact of the matter is that if we have a grasp on stability and instability, and an understanding of the asymmetrical relationship that exists between the two, then this is a very good start to embarking upon a study of psychology that has not been subverted by the over-valued rational mind, which is not a servant of Reality but the God that is Logic.