Much has been written about the ‘shift’ that took place during the last three-quarters of the twentieth century from the paradigm of certainty (in which the possibility of absolute knowledge was taken for granted) to the paradigm of uncertainty, in which absolute limits to ‘our power to know’ have been identified, leading us to the position where (in accordance with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Relation) we cannot know one aspect of reality unless we ignore other aspects. The Uncertainty Relation means that any apparent step forward (in terms of ‘knowledge gained’) is counterbalanced somewhere else – off stage, so to speak – by a step backwards which is due to the increase of entropy (i.e. information-to-the-minus-one) that is simultaneously incurred with the increase in knowledge. But if an increase in information (W) is always accompanied by a corresponding increase in the reciprocal of information (W-1) then the advantage offered by the rationalizing process is purely illusory, which completely undermines the key ability of the rational mind in one stroke! After all, what else has the rational mind got going for it apart from its wonderful ability to ‘understand’ stuff? If it can’t authentically represent reality to us (which is what it attempts to do with its theories, models, ideas, propositions, etc) then what exactly is the point of it?
This is taking the paradigm of uncertainty rather further than most of us would be happy with. The position taken by most people (or at least, the position taken by those people who care enough to be bothered to take a position on the subject in the first place) would undoubtedly fall short of saying that the rational faculty is completely useless, completely fatuous. And indeed this does seem to be an extreme viewpoint – after all, how would we as a species have got in the world without the ability to think logically about things? It is however not necessary to resort to one polar extreme or the other and say either that the world which is shown to us by our everyday thinking minds is ‘wholly unreal’ or that it is ‘the ultimate reality’. What we could do is simply note that there are two worlds, one being the Realm of Form (which is where everything is defined and ‘separated out’ into perceptual / cognitive compartments) and the other being the Formless Realm (where there is no such thing as definition and no such thing as ‘separate things’). Inasmuch as we are operating daily within the Realm of Form we would be well advised to pay all due respects to the function of rationality and the conditioned knowledge that this function reliably provides us with, but if we are not to get entirely alienated from our true (Formless) nature as we live in this world it is essential that we stay in touch with the subtler reality of Formlessness, which is a reality that is all too easily driven out by the crude IT IS / IT ISN’T attitude of thinking. The idea that we do not need to deny either the ‘obvious’ outward appearance of the world, or its hidden inner aspect, is well articulated here by P.D. Ouspensky (1934, P 144-145):
Knowledge of the world as it is is something more subtle and more complex; it does not require any denial whatever of the outward existence of the phenomenon in question. But the outward aspect of the phenomenon is in this case known by man in its relation to the inward aspect. Moreover, the distinctive characteristic of right knowledge is the absence of any negation in it, especially the absence of negation of an opposite view. “Real”, i.e. many-dimensional and complete, knowledge differs from material or logical (i.e. unreal) knowledge above all in its not excluding the opposite view. True knowledge includes in itself all contradictory views, of course after first divesting them of artificial complications and superstitious interpretations. It must be understood that the absence of the negation of the opposite does not mean necessary acceptance of the false, the illusory and the superstitious. Knowledge is a correct separation of the real from the false, and this is reached not by means of negation but by means of inclusion. Truth includes all in itself, and what cannot enter it shows by this very fact its falsity and incorrectness.
In truth there are antitheses; one view does not exclude another.
EXTRINSIC VERSUS INTRINSIC
A very simple way of talking about ‘mental health’ – i.e. ‘the state of being Whole’, or ‘the state of not being alienated from the truth who we really are’ – in relation to either denial or assertion is to say that if I base my sense of security upon saying that such-and-such is definitely true, then this is not healthy, anymore than it is healthy to say that such-and-such is definitely untrue. Therefore, if I say that anything ‘spiritual’ (or ‘mystical’) is pure bullshit and no more than wish-fulfillment or escapist fantasy then this is an unhealthy attitude of mind because it is closed. Saying that it is ‘closed’ is another way of saying that we tie all our well-being to an arbitrary attitude of the rational mind, and so from this point on our allegiance is not to ‘the truth’ (whatever that may be) but ‘to what I arbitrarily say the truth is’ (i.e. to my belief). This is obviously ‘unhealthy’ in the most basic sense of the world health because there is no longer any wholeness. Whenever I take up a definite mental posture, then there is division, and there is also conflict between the divisions.
Wholeness only arises as a result of an attitude that is not ‘stiff’ or ‘assertive’ (or otherwise ‘purposeful’) because if I am stiff and assertive in my mental posture then very clearly I must be defending one thing against another thing. I have chosen to see the world in one way, and I am therefore committed to repressing all other views. Consciously, I am fighting against the opposite to what I belief in, so if I believe in the existence of God then I am committed to fighting against the viewpoint which says that ‘there is no such thing as God’. This has to be the case – if I deliberately take the attitude that ‘there is a God’ then I am immediately subject to the doubt that perhaps there isn’t (since any positive assertion always implies the negative assertion) and if I am subject to doubt then it goes without saying that I must fight against that doubt. If I don’t fight against the doubt – if I don’t police my thoughts in other words – then doubts will enter into me and my firm position will be eroded!
So although it might on the face of it seems (to most of us) highly commendable to have a firm belief about this, that or the other, all that ‘belief’ really means is that I am locked into endless conflict between opposites – a wearying and worrying conflict that can never ever be resolved. This is one aspect of the conflict that is created by taking up a particular (or defined) mental attitude and it is as we have said more or less ‘conscious’, in that we know who or what the enemy is, and can always point to that enemy of asked to do so. The other aspect of the conflict (or loss of Wholeness) is unconscious because it involves a struggle which takes place on a much deeper level – the struggle between the known and the unknown, between certainty and uncertainty. This struggle has to be unconscious for reasons that we have already discussed – the closed mind cannot allow itself to see that it is closed, otherwise it has to see that everything it thinks it knows isn’t really true, but only provisionally true, and there is no security at all in this.
I like the ground to be solid under my feet, and this means that I don’t like to be made aware that the platform upon which I stand is only ‘a construct which I have made up for myself’. If I see it as an arbitrary construct, possessing no reality in itself or of itself, then I straightway become aware of the infinity of space beneath me, and I am gripped by the terrible fear of falling into that infinity, of being pulled into its incomprehensible vastness! After all, in infinity, which has no edges, no ceiling and no ground, and which has nothing whatsoever to hold onto, what is there to support me? And even worse – if possible – in infinity, in which there are no meaningful boundaries, where am I to find this ‘me’ on whose behalf I am so consumed with terror?
THE ‘HEALTH’ OF A CLOSED SYSTEM
The relationship between the world of certainty which is provided for us by what Fritjof Capra calls the ‘Newtonian-Cartesian framework’ and the world of radical uncertainty, which is what we are left with when there is no such framework to orientate ourselves by, is of course the same thing as the relationship between the ‘organizationally closed system’ and whatever it is that lies outside of that system. A closed system – by definition – does not recognize that there is anything outside of itself and as we have said it similarly does not recognize that it actually is a closed system. We can therefore say that the ‘well-being’ (or ‘integrity’) of the closed system – its confidence in itself, the sense of complete assurance it experiences with regard to its ability to make definite statements about itself and the world it supposedly exists in, is dependent upon ‘it not knowing that it does not know’.
Essentially, the system in question can only function when it has (illegitimately) driven out all traces of radical uncertainty, in fact we have to go further than this and say that the closed system that we are talking about – which is the rational mind or rational self – can only function when it has driven out all references to the fact that there may be a possibility of such a thing as ‘radical uncertainty’. If there is even the slightest hint of a suggestion that maybe our fundamental assumptions are false, that there is the possibility of an uncharted gap or hole right at the centre of our knowledge, then all the assertions of the rational mind become no more than featherweight bits of tinsel thrown up in the air in the face of a stiff breeze. Even the slightest remotest chance that there may be such a hole in our knowledge throws everything. For the system to work there must be Zero Chance of discovering anything like this. Discovering that there is no provable basis to anything that we think we know is a bit like discovering that the priest who married you twenty years ago was no priest at all really, but only an impostor who liked dressing up in clerical garb and pretending to be something he wasn’t, only it is of course a lot more far-reaching in its implications. We will therefore all conspire for all we’re worth to make sure we never find out anything of the sort (and any discoveries of this nature that are made will be buried).
ADAPTATION TO WHAT?
The rational mind, by its very nature, always pushes for maximum definition / minimum uncertainty, which is the same thing as maximum adaptation, which is the same thing as ‘optimization of function’. To our usual way of thinking, all of these processes sound highly advantageous and the reason they sound advantageous is that we are always thinking in terms of an adaptation to some unimpeachably objective ‘external reality’. Because the external reality is so ‘unimpeachably objective’, there can be no questioning of it and because there can be no questioning of it there can be no question regarding the dictum that ‘adaptation is the highest good’. However even in purely ‘material’ of terms this is not so, as any ecologist will tell you. For example, if a species adapts itself to a specific ecological niche with no regard whatsoever to any other considerations, then this is indeed likely to bring dividends in the short-term, but the more adapted we are to a specific niche the more dependent we are on that niche, and since in the global ecology ‘no niche lasts forever’, we can see that adaptation is most certainly not the highest good. In fact, in terms of a methodology for survival, it turns out to be impossible to say what the highest good is; actually, in a complex world, no fixed strategy (or combination of fixed strategies) is going to work precisely because we cannot rely on our assumptions remaining relevant. Therefore, it could be said that the best strategy is to remain to some degree ‘organizationally open’, but since ‘open’ is not a strategy (but rather the absence of strategies) this still isn’t helping us get any closer to the type of ‘answer’ that we are forever looking for.
When we talk about adaptation with regard to the rational mind we are not talking about adapting to a material world so much as to the set of principles or rules that lie behind the material world. The assumption here is that there is a fixed principle of reality which we can become progressively better approximated. The way that we do this is to fine-tune our theories about the world, so that they get better and better at predicting what goes on in that world. To the extent that the universe is based upon fixed rules (or disymmetries) this strategy has sense in it, but once we lose our naïve assumption that the defined and definable world we see around us every day is the ‘ultimate reality’, then the idea that ‘mental adaptation’ is the highest good is also revealed as being fundamentally flawed. In other words –
If reality was the same basic sort of thing as the logical theories that we construct to explain it, then the task of optimizing or perfecting our descriptions of that reality would be supremely important, but since our logical theories are no more than projections of a limited reality that does not know itself to be limited, upon an unlimited (or N-Dimensional) reality the process whereby we become more adapted to the reality that is assumed by our theory is in fact no more than the process whereby we become adapted to our own assumptions, i.e. adapted to ourselves.
ADAPTING YOURSELF TO YOUR OWN BELIEFS…
What we’re saying here is the idea that when the rational mind pushes to optimize its grasp on the world that it is investigating it takes it for granted that it is adapting itself to a reality that is independent of and external to itself. There is clearly a basic sense of security and sanity to be had from such a process and it makes sense that we should want to do this. But because the frame-work is fundamentally incapable of knowing that it is not actually reality (but only as David Bohm says ‘a three-dimensional projection of a higher-dimensional reality’) the only thing that it is ever going to achieve through optimization-type processes is to reconfirm its base-level assumption that there are no higher levels of being or existence other than those that it already knows about. Thus, the rational mind is always caught up in a self-referential loop whereby it endlessly confirms and reconfirms its own logical premises, in a perfectly sterile and meaningless way.
If I were to be separated from the validating physical environment which I am interacting with then this would become obvious – I would then perceive that everything I perceive is an echo of my own self, that there is nothing else beyond the ultimately claustrophobic nightmare of the solipsistic vision. However, because we are safely grounded in the physical world (which as a largely deterministic or mechanistic system is a pragmatic independent-or-objective reality) we are spared the ‘perspective-less’ horror of the closed self which cannot ever escape from its own subjective projections with regard to what it groundlessly assumes ‘reality’ to be. It is only from time to time that ‘intimations of the essential tautology of the closed self’ strike home, and for most of us (with the exception of a few honourably tormented existentialist philosophers) manage very well at ignoring any such feelings. We manage superlatively well, in fact…
THE INFERIOR ANALOGUE OF MENTAL HEALTH
Earlier on we spoke of the ‘health’ or ‘well-being’ of the rational mind as deriving from its power not to see its own shaky basis. Equally, we could say that the well-being of the rational mind is a function of the ‘integrity of the game’, which in turn is a function of the efficacy of our ability to veil our own freedom from ourselves. ‘Freedom’ here means the genuine spaciousness of intrinsic space as opposed to the theatrical (or deceptive) spaciousness of extrinsic space. We can define extrinsic versus intrinsic space as follows:
Intrinsic space is space without a framework (i.e. space within which there is no possibility whatsoever of measurement) whereas extrinsic space is the space within a framework (which is no more than a logical continuum composed of all the points that are ‘allowed’ by the logic of that framework).
Mathematician and esoteric teacher John Bennett used the term dramatic when talking about the true (i.e. unconditioned) nature of the universe, by which he meant to indicate that what happens next in reality, fundamentally unpredictable. Fundamental risk is not at all to the taste of the rational mind however, which does not ever want to ‘let go of itself’, and so in place of intrinsic space it substitutes the extrinsic substitute. Within extrinsic space, as we have said, the only points that exist are those points which we have said can exist (through our choice of a framework) and so there is zero risk. There is zero risk because I can never leave the map, no matter where I go or what I do, and therefore rather than living in a dramatic universe (where there is no script) I live in a theatrical universe (where everything is scripted in advance). The thinking mind supplies the script, and I live according to the script, without ever questioning it, without ever paying any attention to what I am doing here.
Getting back to our notion of ‘extrinsic health’, the point that we are making is that since for the extrinsic mind to know that it can never get anywhere new would be to cause it to accept immense pain, pain that would fatally compromise its operation, its version of health (or well-being) must be directly correlated with its ability to mistake virtual (or scripted) space for the real thing. We can also look at this in terms of John Bennett’s idea of ‘negative freedom’. Negative freedom is freedom to be unfree without actually seeing that we are unfree – it is our ‘freedom not to be free’, in other words. We could also say that ‘negative freedom’ is a kind of substitute for freedom that subjectively functions as the real thing when we are in the passively identified state of mind. When negative freedom is substituted for the real thing then I am alienated from my true nature without knowing that I am alienated. Instead of health therefore, we could say that I possess an ‘analogue’ of health, which we can call ‘extrinsic health’. Extrinsic health isn’t my health at all – it’s the health of the system! Extrinsic health is actually false health –
My ‘health’ – when I am in the passively identified (or unconscious) state – is therefore the antithesis of true health since the substitute of true health that we are calling ‘extrinsic health’ is a function of my ability NOT to see that I have no intrinsic health (I have no intrinsic health because I have no intrinsic freedom).
This is analogous to the situation of a man who thinks he is rich because he thinks he is in possession of a fortune in gold coins when actually the coins are all counterfeit and therefore completely worthless. The man’s illusory wealth (and the good feeling that comes with that) is dependent his remaining in a state of ignorance with regard to his true situation, and so we might say that his ‘well-being’ (using the word in a very short-sighted sense) is the same thing as his ability to carry on avoiding the truth. In this narrow sense – which is a conditioned sense – the man’s ‘well-being’ is a function of his capacity to delude or deceive himself, and in exactly the same way we can say that our ‘extrinsic health’ is a function of our capacity to not have any doubts about the false world which we have adapted ourselves to, the world that we have secretly agreed to be real.
THE JAWS OF SELF-CONTRADICTION
The extrinsic mind is essentially an informationally -collapsed state that has lost all information relating to anything outside of itself – it has no way of knowing that its way of understanding the world is only partial and misses out completely on a supremely important central ‘fact’. This ‘fact’ is that it is not actually real in any final sense of the word, which is of course exactly the sense in which it takes itself to be ‘real’. The chief behavioural characteristic of the extrinsic mind is that when it is under threat (which is actually all of the time) it reacts by seeking to minimize the risk, minimize uncertainty. Alternatively, we could say that the extrinsic mind tries to safeguard its integrity by optimizing the process by which it obtains its goals. This is basic everyday psychology –
When I feel under pressure I react by increasing, or trying to increase, the degree to which I am ‘in control’ of the situation – the more challenged I am the more I fight for control. This means that I am stressed I automatically do my damnedest to ensure that the only things that happen are the things that I want to happen (i.e. the only outcomes that are allowed are those which I have specified in advance).
There is of course a very straightforward assumption behind this and the assumption is simply that when everything happens the way I want for it to happen (the way I have planned for it to happen) then everything will be ‘hunk-dory’. The situation where everything happens the way I want it to is the situation where ‘reality exactly equals my ideas about reality’, and the situation where reality equals my ideas is of course also the situation where my ideas equal reality. Thus, the ideal state which I am struggling to attain is the state where my picture of how things are has become 100% real and 100% unquestionable. When I am straining to arrive at this destination it looks very attractive and very desirable to me – precisely because it represents ‘minimization of risk’.
Actually, the destination I am yearning to arrive at is the place where there is zero risk, the place where everything is perfectly ‘safe’. Fear can be defined as ‘an automatic or unreflective rejection of risk’ and so when I am afraid, naturally the minimization of risk looks very good to me indeed. In fact to say that it looks good is to grossly understate the matter – when I am afflicted with ineffable terror then the craving that I have for safety is quite immeasurable! The unreflective nature of my desperate yearning to be in the place where there is no risk means that I am not going to be open to the idea that the state of absolute security (the state of zero-risk) is not going to turn out to be the bed of roses that I thought it would, and so we can characterize fear as being a sort of headlong rush into a place which we assume to contain the possibility genuine well-being, when actually there is no such possibility there at all…
We can see why the ‘place of safety’ contains zero possibility of well-being by considering the fact that this risk-free destination is the situation where my rational or logical understanding of reality effectively replaces reality as it actually is. To put this another way, the place where I am headed is extrinsic space, which is as we have said the domain of the extrinsic mind. Extrinsic space is a purely rational situation, where the only possibilities that are open to me are ‘rational possibilities’. The notion that rationality contains possibilities (which is to say, possibilities for development or change) is incorrect however because as we have been saying overt and over again, rationality (which is to say, exclusive logic) is closed. If exclusive logic wasn’t closed it wouldn’t be exclusive logic, which is to say, if the limits identified (and thus created) by the operation of the rational faculty were not limits at all, then the whole ‘business’ of rationality would collapse before it ever began.
Information-wise, we can say that the much-desired situation of maximum safety / minimum risk is one of pure, undiluted confirmation. To say that the ‘destination’ of all optimization-type processes is a place where there only confirmation and no novelty is simply to say that this is a place where everything is defined and known, and nothing is undefined or unknown. However, this situation – where everything is apparently resolved – is also a situation of maximum conflict (or maximum impossibility) because we cannot define without there also being such a thing as non-definition, or as David Bohm says, it is ‘from the unlimited that the limited arises…’ If I try to get rid of the complementary half of the equation to ‘knowing’ – which is ‘unknowing’- then the impossibility of what I am foolishly trying to do reveals itself in the guise of a vicious and unremitting paradoxicality. Fear is born when I turn my back on uncertainty and yet, as Eckhart Tolle says in the following quote, uncertainty is the only place where life is to be found:
If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.
TRYING TO SEPARATE NORTH FROM SOUTH
The thing about the ‘universe of pure confirmation’ (the universe that totally agrees with our assumptions about it) is that it is an abstraction – it might look okay on paper but actually it is impossibility. We can try to get at this from a different angle and say that it is possible after a fashion, but only ‘after a fashion’. We could say that the universe of pure confirmation is another way of talking about an organizationally closed system, and that the key characteristic of an organizationally closed system is that it is devoid of any relevance (or connection) to anything outside of itself. It is ‘meaningful only to itself,’ or ‘real only on its own terms’. We can therefore say that one serious drawback to the extrinsic mind’s characteristic behaviour of ‘trying to bring everything to maximum definition’ is that this is a retreat into unreality which cannot see itself as such. It is a retreat that sees itself as an advance! Another drawback – as we have just said – is that when we do reach that place of maximum definition, we find to our dismay that there is no peace or satisfaction to be had here (despite everything we had been led to believe) because through our very ‘success’ in optimizing the rational mind we have unwitting impaled ourselves upon the cruel teeth of the liar paradox, which promptly start to chew us up for breakfast. We can succeed only to the extent that we fail, in other words.
The irony in optimization is that the whole point of my efforts is to bring about a situation of maximum security for myself, but what happens instead is that I get delivered into the ‘no win’ situation of the paradox. There is no security to be had here at all because the basic laws of logic which I unthinkingly rely on rebound in my face – the more I try to repel the situation I don’t want the more I get it, and the more I try to attract the situation that I do want, the further away it gets. I say NO to it as emphatically as I possibly can, but by saying NO I find that I am saying YES!
The liar paradox means that control has become quite useless to me, in other words. If YES equals NO then DESIRED OUTCOME equals UNDESIRED OUTCOME! Inasmuch as I am reliant on the possibility of successful control for my well-being, this state of affairs – far from representing any sort of security at all – actually turns out to be a total and utter nightmare. We invariably land ourselves in this nightmare every time we try to realize the dream of zero risk, in fact it happens every time we try to obtain any extreme at the expense of the other, opposite extreme.
This is because the situation where one opposite has been effectively ‘severed’ from the other opposite is an impossible one – we can easily imagine, in our fear or in our greed, that it is possible to wholly exclude the NO and only obtain the YES (or vice versa) but although we can easily assume that this is possible, it is not and every time we try to isolate one opposite in this way we get caught up in a mad oscillation between the two – one extreme turns into the other, which then turns back again, and so on. The isolated pole (i.e. NORTH with no SOUTH) is an abstraction, which is to say, it doesn’t exist in reality at all. When I try to realize the abstraction, to force it to happen, I find myself snared in a vicious double-bind that gets all the more vicious, and all the more painful, the more I blindly try to force into existence the abstract outcome that I have set my minds on. Because my mind is closed (i.e. totally rational and non-intuitive) I cannot question the reality of my goal, and because I cannot question the reality of my goal, I keep pressing for its realization all the more.
THE AMELIORATION OF PARADOXICALITY IN THE DETERMINATE UNIVERSE
In this discussion of what happens when we push to obtain one opposite at the expense of the other we have been looking at a kind of ‘ideal’ situation rather than the pragmatic reality of the world in which we actually find ourselves. The ‘ideal’ situation, we may say, is where the operation of the liar paradox is completely unimpeded, but in the physical everyday world that we see all around us the liar paradox does not always reveal itself – in fact the truth of the matter is that we can quite easily live our whole lives without ever becoming aware of it! For example, suppose that I am sitting in my living room looking at a certain item of furniture that I have decided I really don’t like at all I can very easily enact my negative attachment. If I throw the article out of the house I can be sure that this decisive action will not rebound on me; I know that OUT will not turn into IN – which is to say, I can be sure that the rejected piece of furniture is not going to come flying back in throw the window two seconds later and land on my head.
Thus, in the mechanical systems that constitute the physical universe it is a perfectly feasible proposition to obtain one state, without immediately incurring the opposite state. If I push a bead on an abacus to the LEFT position it stays there, it doesn’t start oscillating madly between LEFT and RIGHT. And of course if we couldn’t rely on the possibility of ‘separating the opposites’ in the physical universe then there would be no such thing as order, and if there were no such thing as order, then there simply wouldn’t be a physical universe. This is another way of saying that if there hadn’t been such a thing as the primordial ‘break in symmetry’, then there would be no structure – there would be no form. When the universe has a ‘fundamental dissymmetry’ built into it then as a result we end up with the sort of physical world with which we are all so familiar. Within this world there exists the possibility of control, which is another way of saying that the control paradox (i.e. the liar paradox) does not generally come into operation. It comes into play only under particular circumstances. The fact that the control paradox does not come into operation means that we can obtain one specific outcome rather than the corresponding opposite outcome and this is of course what all machines, all mechanical processes fundamentally rely on. Paradoxicality banjaxes machines, the straightforward or unproblematic lack of paradoxicality facilitates them.
The everyday rational mind is the mind that understands straightforward mechanical situations. It is (in a manner of speaking) ‘built’ to understand this ‘non-paradoxical’ type of situation; more than this, we can say that the dissymmetrical (or exclusive) logic which lies behind the physical world is the very same logic that the rational mind is predicated upon, and so the two things – the physical world and the mind that understands, predicts and controls that world – are at root one and the same thing. It’s all the same structure, all the same system. It is because the liar paradox does not manifest itself in a wholesale manner in the physical world that the rational mind has the status that it very much tends to have, which is that of the ‘ultimate arbiter of what is true and what is false, what is possible and what is impossible’. In other words, it is because of the pragmatic absence of the liar paradox in our everyday lives that we have such a flat and unquestionable belief in the legitimacy of what our rational minds tell us.
THE QUESTION WE CAN’T ASK
A minute ago we spoke of the situation where there is a ‘fundamental dissymmetry’ that is inescapably ‘built into’ the universe. However, as we have been arguing, this fundamental dissymmetry is not so fundamental after all – it only exists when a certain choice is made (so to speak), and then forgotten about. This is of course a pretty odd idea – it naturally leads us to wonder who it was that made the choice in the first place. But the question “Who made the choice?” is a useless (or futile) one because it is ‘post information collapse’, and yet it seeks to gain information that exists prior to that collapse. Thus, the idea of choice causes us to look for a choice-maker, but the idea of a ‘choice-maker’ (i.e. a ‘creator’) only makes sense within the domain of dissymmetry, since it is a dualistic concept. A creator is defined in opposition to what is created, just like ‘myself’ is defined in opposition to what is not ‘myself’, but when we are talking about the state of Original Symmetry which precedes all dissymmetrical situations what we have to remember that IS equals ISN’T, which is to say SELF equals NOT-SELF (which simply means that any such notions as IS versus ISN’T, SELF versus NOT-SELF, EXISTS versus NOT-EXISTS etc, are wholly and utterly meaningless). There is therefore no point in us extending the dualistic illusion ever outwards (as we are so prone to doing) by asking who the chooser was since before the act of choice which collapsed the state of Original Symmetry there was neither ‘chooser’ nor ‘the thing that was to be chosen’.
THE CONTROL PARADOX
Even though there is no point in asking questions about ‘the state of Original Symmetry’ (with regard to how it arose or where it came from) we still cannot afford to ignore it or deny it or otherwise act as if it isn’t there. If we do then we run into paradox! Despite the fact that we are able ignore the control paradox on a full-time basis, it is still there and we do run into in our daily lives. Mechanically speaking, the control paradox is something that every cybernetic engineer has to be aware of – any device which is given the function of regulating (or steering) its own functions is running the risk of getting snarled up in the control paradox, of being reduced to a juddering standstill as the result of a +/- oscillation. A classic example of this sort of thing would be an experienced person steering a boat down a narrow river – because of the danger of running aground on either bank the inexperienced steersman over-corrects for any slight drift, which necessitates a counter-correction, which is also an ‘over-correction’, and which therefore also necessitates urgent remedy, and so on. The result as everyone knows is a disastrous oscillation – the path of the boat see-saws from one extreme to the other, courting the very danger that the steersman is trying to avoid. Cybernetics pioneer Gregory Bateson paid special attention to the control paradox, as related here by Capra (1989, P 82):
One of Bateson’s main aims in his study of epistemology was to point out that logic was unsuitable for the description of biological patterns. Logic can be used in very elegant ways to describe linear systems of cause and effect, but when causal descriptions become circular, as they do in the living world, their description in terms of logic will generate paradoxes. This is true even for non-living systems involving feedback mechanisms, and Bateson often used the thermostat as an illustration of his point. When the temperature drops, the thermostat switches on the heating system; this causes the temperature to rise, which causes the thermostat to switch off the heating system; thereby causing the temperature to drop, and so on. The application of logic will turn the description of this mechanism into a paradox: if the room is too cold, then the heater will come on; if the heater is on, then the room will get too hot; if the room gets too hot, then the heater will be turned off, etc. In other words, if the switch is on, then it is off; if it is off, then it is on. This, Bateson says, is because logic is timeless, whereas causality involves time. If time is introduced, the paradox turns into an oscillation. Similarly, if you program a computer to solve one of the classic paradoxes of Aristotelian logic –e.g., a Greek says: ‘Greeks always lie’. Does he tell the truth? – the computer will give the answer YES-NO-YES-NO-YES-NO….turning the paradox into an oscillation.
The control paradox is the sequential enactment of the Liar Paradox in linear time, therefore. Alan Watts, who was a contemporary of Bateson’s as well as spending some time on the same lecture circuit as Bateson in the highly fertile environment of 1960’s California, applied the notion of the control paradox to basic human psychology and pointed out that the type of difficulties that we routinely embroil ourselves can be seen in terms of this type of logical conundrum. In the following passage Alan Watts (1940, P 128-9) uses the idea of the ‘vicious circle’ to explain how we get caught up in the trap of applying solutions to a problem that make the problem worse rather than better:
At first sight the problem of the vicious circle may seem purely mathematical and remote from experience. But in fact it is only a rather complicated way of expressing the fundamental conundrum that those who search for happiness do not find it. It is again the problem of the donkey with the carrot suspended before his nose from a stick that is fastened to his own collar. If he chases it, using the aggressive technique, he does not catch it; if he stands still, using the passive technique, he still does not catch it. What can he do? The poor creature is apparently quite helpless. Of course, it will be said that any attempt to answer such riddles is an easy way to go crazy. This is very true, and for just the same reasons it will be discovered that any attempt to discover happiness is also an easy way to go crazy, and the world today is a crazy place just because people are trying to do it. We are a collection of people running wildly round in circles in frantic pursuit of our own selves, and the picture is not particularly edifying. Yes, if we should see ourselves from a psychological standpoint we should think we had walked into bedlam. We should see men running away from their won shadows, men trying to jump off the ground by tugging at their shoelaces, men trying to see their own eyes and kiss their own lips. It is like trying to mend a hole in one part of a handkerchief by taking a patch from another. For the trouble is that all our schemes, systems, and devices are partial. It is as if we ourselves were the hole in the handkerchief; we see some other part of the handkerchief and think how pleasant it would be to fill our emptiness by acquiring it. So we cut it out and fill ourselves, only to find that we are now the new hole – the invisible blind-spot in the universe.
The vicious circle that Alan Watts is talking about plays no minor role in everyday life, but rather it lies right at the heart of our most basic desire, which is the desire to ‘benefit ourselves’ (i.e. the desire to be happy). It is often said that, no matter what differences may divide us, everyone is basically the same in that we all just want to be happy. Admittedly, we all tend to go about the task of finding happiness in somewhat different ways – some more pathological than others – but the motivation behind all our diverse activities is the same. This motivation itself, as Alan Watts indicates, involves us in a vicious circle (or a double-bind) because once my happiness becomes an issue to me, then I am by definition neurotic since I have made a problem of something that is actually not a problem at all.
As Alan Watts says elsewhere, this approach inevitably ends up in me treating life itself as a problem to be solved – which is to say, as ‘something which needs to be controlled’. Once I start trying to control life, rather than simply live it (which involves an unconditional acceptance of life as something that is ultimately beyond my control, since it includes me) then I am doomed to chase my own tail endlessly since I myself am the ‘life’ that I am trying to control. Once I make an issue of being happy (or being benefitted) then I am in a double-bind because if I try to secure happiness for myself then I am neurotic, and if I take the opposite approach and try to deny my own happiness then I am also involved neurotic control. Whether I say a YES to my own happiness or NO makes no difference at all because both reactions make an issue out of something that ought not to be an issue – once I get caught up in ‘trying to control myself’ then I am trapped in neuroticism no matter which way I turn.
The complementary urge that plays such a big role in our lives is the urge to escape unhappiness, to flee from pain or fear, and this basic desire also embroils us in the very same double-bind. Whether I say that I have to escape my fear or whether I say that I have to fight and overcome it makes no difference at all because in both cases I have set fear up as my master. In the first case this is easy to see, because the negative purposeful reaction to fear means I am enslaved by the need to escape what is frightening me – which is of course what fear is all about. In the second case I have also set fear up as my master because when I say that I have to defeat fear then I am being driven by the fear of what will happen if I don’t successfully defeat it. In both cases I am driven by ‘unquestionable need’, and unquestionable need is simply another way of talking about fear. In short, reacting purposefully to fear puts me in a double bind because all purposeful reactions are reaffirming the issue that I am trying so hard to make into a ‘non-issue’.
THE MEANING OF THE MATERIAL WORLD
When we say that purposeful action is inherently self-contradictory this is the same as saying that all of our theories, models, ideas, beliefs etc are null in terms of information content. Purposeful action is action that is based on a specific way of looking at the world – a specific viewpoint makes it possible to make definite statements about the world, and a purposeful action is an abstract statement (i.e. a formal description) that has been translated into concrete terms. The paradoxicality inherent in the statement turns into movement that oscillates between PLUS and MINUS – it translates into change that cancels itself out in other words! If a statement gives rise to self-cancelling changes then this shows us that the statement in question is meaningless – it seems at first glance to give rise to change, but when we see that the (negative) return cycle of this change cancels out the positive phase of the cycle, then we see that there is ‘no change’. This therefore means that the statement, although it initially seems to be telling us something, actually tells us nothing. We might as well have not made the statement at all, which means that the statement is functionally identical to ‘no statement’, i.e. we never actually made any statement at all, even though it seems to us that we did.
The inescapable implication here is that the realm of form (which, it will be remembered, is the realm made up of confirmation-type +/- information) is unreal, or ‘only apparently real’. But how on earth can we reconcile this idea that ‘physicality is unreal’ with the ‘evident’ reality of our day-to-day lives, which are manifestly involved in physicality at every step of the way? And if we did take seriously the idea of the unreality of physical phenomena (including ourselves) what sort of psychological effect would this have on us? Would it not be the case that we would run the risk of developing a type of disdain for the physical world? Of course, if that did happen then we would find ourselves in the absurd situation of being contemptuous or disdainful of something unreal, which would make real fools of us, since if I am striking an attitude of disdain for something that isn’t there, then am I not a prize idiot?
Such a line of thought might lead us to wonder what the correct attitude to unreality ought to be, and the answer to this is obviously that there is no ‘correct attitude’ to unreality since if there is nothing there, one clearly doesn’t have any attitude to it. But on the other hand, if we already believe that there is something there, then no amount of twisting and turning can extricate me from this belief since any reaction that I take straightaway reconfirms that there must be something there to react to. This shows us that the physical world is just like any other ‘issue’ we might come across since if something is an issue, then no amount of denying that it is an issue can make it less of an issue. Furthermore, if instead of denying I affirm the issue, then (very obviously) this doesn’t make the issue go away either and so I am caught in the same old double-bind as always.
What causes double-binds is literalism, which is the same thing as ‘self-referentiality’. A logical system (which is what the rational mind is) understands the world in terms of it own categories, which means that it understands the world in terms of itself. So if I look across the room and I see before me an armchair, then I say “This is an armchair”. This is an example of self-referentiality because I am ‘knowing’ (or identifying) the object that lies before me as an armchair via the process of imposing my mental category of ‘armchair’ upon it! This mental category is an integral part of my belief-system, so what I am doing here is ‘knowing’ the world by imposing my belief-system on it. My belief-system is me, and I am my belief-system and so we can also say that I know the world by imposing myself on it, which is (by definition!) a self-referential act.
When I say “This is an armchair” this is an example of self-referentiality, because I construct the meaning that is contained by the world ‘armchair’ by reference to my own categories of meaning. It is also an example of literalism because I literally mean what I say – I really mean that this is an armchair. I mean what I am (literally) saying and nothing else. The key to literalism, as Robert Anton Wilson explains in Quantum Psychology, is this preposterous word ‘is’ because I am not making any reference here to the vital idea that the object which I have neatly categorized (or named) is different in any way from my category (or name). I am not being conscious of the simple but crucial fact that my mental representation is only a representation and does not partake in any way in the essence of the ‘thing itself’ (always assuming that it is a ‘thing’ in the first place).
THE ‘DEAD LETTER’ VERSUS THE ‘LIVING SPIRIT’
Referring to things by the names that we have given them is of course rather useful and saves an awful lot of messing around, but this does not mean that we have to immerse ourselves so much in our communication system as to forget that we are using words to stand for a reality which is in itself not the same thing as the words that we are using! This sounds stupid because we all assume that of course we know this perfectly well already, but if we were to make the experiment of wondering around for a few hours listening to people speak we would hear very little ‘irony’ in speech (which there is when there is awareness of the fact that we are using conventions), and an awful lot of 100% unreflective literalism. We do not have any awareness that our concepts are unreal in themselves and rather than using them as tokens which we agree to use in order to point to something else outside of them we treat them as a genuine currency in their own right.
When words and concepts are used ironically there is a lightness and humour in our speech, and a refreshing, shimmering, sparkling quality to our communication. When on the other hand they are used flatly and literally there is instead an unreflective ‘business-like’ quality, a matter-of-factness that is serious, humourless and essentially dead. This is the ‘dead letter’ as opposed to the ‘living spirit’. When we are speaking in a dead or literal way we do not usually notice the lack of vitality in our words and the reason for this is that we assume that there is some ‘absolute meaning’ to them (i.e. a meaning that we didn’t put into them ourselves) – this ‘taken for granted’ meaning takes the place of the uncertain, provisional and therefore creative meaning that there is in conscious speech. When we are in the positive or assertive mode therefore we have a whole body of assumptions behind us which constantly throw up ghost-like projections in front of us; in our hurry to either reach or get away from these projections we reify them, and we fail to notice the appalling ‘deadness’ of our reified assumptions precisely because of our busy-ness. The information that we use to facilitate the obtaining of our reified goals is as we have said confirmation, and so it can be easily seen that this type of so-called ‘information’ partakes in the same deadness as everything else in the unconscious mode. We are using a valueless currency, but we are too busy to notice the fact!
AGREEING WITH YOUR OWN OPINION
Self-referentiality, in colloquial terms, equals ‘agreeing with your own opinion’ and as such it is 100% redundant. To see the world according to your own conditioning is no surprise – for a confirmed racist to come out with a racist comment is no surprise, for example. If you know that I am a fanatical believer in UFO’s and one day you hearing me espousing the view that UFO’s exist and have repeatedly visited the earth throughout the earth’s history this will not constitute anything unexpected and because there is nothing except total predictability in what I am saying, what I am saying cannot technically be considered as information. From the point of view of someone who knows me my assertion regarding the existence of UFO’s, although apparently meaningful, actually contains no information at all. Given the fact of how I see the world, when I act in accordance with this outlook (when I act in a manner that is consistent with it) I am not adding anything to what you already know! I am not actually doing anything that is news. If I have a prejudice engrained in me, and then I go ahead and behave in a way that enacts that particular prejudice this is logical, but it is hardly worth remarking upon. To say “That racist guy has just made a racist comment!” is of course a tautology and tautologies do not constitute genuine information.
When I agree with myself without knowing that I am in fact agreeing with my underlying conditioning, then it appears to me that I am making a spontaneous statement, and therefore what I say comes as a surprise to myself. This is evident from the satisfaction that I get in making the statement – if I experienced myself as merely repeating what I have already said ten thousand times before then I would straightaway perceive the horrible redundancy of me saying it yet once again, and this ‘perception of redundancy’ would prevent me from feeling any satisfaction at all. However it is in a sense as if I have discovered the truth of what I have just said for the very first time, which is to say, I experience the repeat articulation of an old prejudice as a spontaneous event. The phenomenon of ‘false spontaneity’, seen from a slightly different perspective, is remarked here upon by sociologist Stuart Hall (taken from Hebdige 1979):
It is precisely its ‘spontaneous’ quality, its transparency, its ‘naturalness’, its refusal to be made to examine the premises on which it is founded, its resistance to change or to correction, its effect of instant recognition, and the closed circle in which it moves which makes common sense, at one and the same time, ‘spontaneous’, ideological and unconscious.
REDUNDANCY IN THE DETERMINATE UNIVERSE
Although my statements (and my purposeful actions) appear to me as being non-redundant, they are redundant all the same and this redundancy, despite being wholly invisible to me, nevertheless has to manifest itself in time. A redundant action is redundant precisely because it has no real consequences, and it therefore follows that the ‘consequences’ of a redundant action is that there are no consequences! Going on what we have said earlier, we can say that the inherent redundancy of ‘me agreeing with myself’ results in circular or self-cancelling action, and that this circular action is a manifestation of the ‘null information content’ of my statement. It is not necessarily easy to see how this principle works in practice within the field of everyday life. From a purely mathematical point of view, when we say that self-referential statements are self-cancelling because they are inherently paradoxical this is undeniable, but when I, come out with purposeful (which is to say, self-agreeing) action, in what way does this action cancel itself out? In what way – I am bound to ask – are all my achievements ‘non-achievements’?
It is an undeniable empirical fact that we experience measurable change (change that takes place within a framework) as being real change. Movement from ‘left’ to ‘right’, from ‘North’ to ‘South’, from ‘lesser’ to ‘greater’ means everything to us, and we certainly cannot see any redundancy in it. The undeniable empirical truth of our ‘non-perception of redundancy’ means that we find it very hard to understand why purposeful action is automatically self-cancelling, or null. For example, if I move an object like a heavy stone from one place to another, then there is obviously no law saying that the stone must one day return to its original location in order that the overall motion might ‘cancel itself out’. The massive stones making up Stonehenge are not going to automatically revert at some future point in time to their place of origin in Wales: they were moved – presumably at great effort – and they cannot be returned without an equal amount of great effort. For this reason we are very much inclined to say that the change is not vain, that it is not ‘virtual movement’ but the real thing.
What we are looking at here is however simply another version of the same ‘false spontaneity’ that we discussed a minute ago. When I am unaware of the bias that lies behind my statement (the conditioning that lies behind my purposeful action) then the statement, or the action, appears as something new, something unpredictable. Just as long as I am unconscious of the way in which my conditioning predetermines whatever it is that I am doing, then it appears that there is freedom in the doing. I feel as if my actions are spontaneous rather than forced. Another way to put this is to say that when I am identified with the viewpoint that is my particular slant on things, then the fact that it is a particular or arbitrary slant becomes invisible to me, and everything that I do as a result of being identified with this viewpoint comes as a sort of surprise to me, rather than something that is prefigured by that viewpoint.
We can use the same argument to explain why it is that change that takes place within the framework of space and time appears to be real when in fact it is not. The existence of the phenomenal world – the world that is made up of definite things – is predicated upon the dissymmetry that exists between the two opposites, between the left hand and the right hand, between positive and negative. This dissymmetry, although it seems fundamental and ineradicable, is as we have argued secondary to the state of Perfect Symmetry, which is not a philosophical or mystical idea, but the necessary ground of everything, and as such ‘more real than real’ (inasmuch as our concept of ‘real’ is itself unreal). This is unarguably so since the mental processes which we use in order to determine which propositions are real and which are unreal are themselves ‘unreal’ (which is to say, completely redundant) being dependent as they are upon an arbitrary bias that we are unconscious of.
What we are essentially saying here therefore is that the material world is a game that seems to be not a game ‘when we are in it’ (or ‘when we are playing it’). Since we don’t generally know how not to play this game (since we don’t know that we are playing a game in the first place) we find the suggestion that materiality is a game to be prime example of ‘nonsensical bullshit’, which indeed it is from the perspective of the game. Inasmuch as the game is all we know, and inasmuch as we cannot know the game to be a game, there is zero chance of us appreciating any such arguments as the one that we have just outlined! To say that matter (or the space-time universe) ‘is a game’ tends to sound dismissive and as we have already said if I were to walk around feeling dismissive of the empirical or phenomenological world this would constitute an absurdity, since why would I strike such a superior attitude if there were nothing to be superior to? The point is however that the material world such as we encounter it daily is informationally ‘null’ or ‘redundant’ if we take it as being ‘literally true’, but overflowing with meaning when we take it as a metaphor – which is to say, when we see it as being a symbol of something too profound for our rational minds ever to grasp.
The difference between relating to the constituent elements of one’s life as if they really are ‘what we say they are’ (or ‘what we think they are’) and relating to them as symbols of something that we cannot ever hope to know in any final way is tremendous. When I relate to stuff as if it literally IS what I think it is, then what this means is that I don’t actually ever see it for what it really is – I just automatically assume that I already know what it is and then skip on quickly to ‘what comes next’. This process of  assuming that I know what the thing is and  skipping on to the next thing is then carried on indefinitely. I just keep on repeating this same basic operation, whilst thinking as I do so that I am actually getting somewhere!
Given the fact that the literal foundation stones of our rationally-constructed world only work as foundation stones because we haven’t the slightest interest in looking at them any closer than we do (which is not at all!), then it is a forgone conclusion that we will be buried up to our eye-brows in a turgid morass of invisible redundancy. As a general principle –
Inasmuch as my life is conditioned by my thinking and my ideas (i.e. by what I automatically take to be ‘absolutely’ true) then it must be the case that my life – as I live it – is guaranteed to be a preposterous exercise in invisible redundancy, an exercise which persists as stubbornly as it does simply because I never see it for what it is. I am in other words continually ‘extending a tautology’ without seeing that this is what I am doing. We can therefore say that what we have called extrinsic health (i.e. ‘false health’) is where we carry on ‘not being aware of the redundancy’, whereas ‘true health’ would be where we actually see it….