Finite and Infinite Messages [Part 1]


When we focus our attention on the decomplexifying emotions (which we can also refer to as the ‘afflictive’ or ‘compulsive’ or ‘lower’ emotions) the picture we obtain as a result is rather dire – we then see that just about everything we do (and think) boils down to nothing more than evasion, a sneaky way of not being who we really are, of not seeing what is really there! At the core of this evasion lies the notion of the false ‘I’.  In anger for example, what happens is that by reacting within the framework of anger, I validate that framework and create as a consequence the ‘I’ of anger.  Reacting, we said, comes down to ‘wanting’ or ‘trying’, and all compulsive emotions are basically about the dissymmetry of wanting. What ‘dissymmetry’ means in this context is that one outcome is not seen as being equal to the other: If I am craving, then obtaining what I am craving for is not seen as being the same as not obtaining it. I am greedy for the first possibility and fearful of the second. Greed and fear, we said, are the two sides of the same coin; they are the two faces of extrinsic motivation, which is the ‘motivation of games’. Extrinsic motivation, we can also say, is the motivation that is based upon assigned meaning rather than intrinsic meaning, and it corresponds to this business that we have just mentioned of ‘wanting’ and ‘trying’.



As soon as I want, I create a wanter, and as soon as I try, I create a trier, and these ‘pseudo-entities’ only exist within the framework of meaning which their wanting and trying created in the first place. This is where negative freedom comes in: because what we are talking about is a tautological (or ‘closed’) system of meaning which excludes any possibility of openness, then the freedom to obtain within that system those goals which make sense within that system (and avoid those ‘anti-goals’ which make sense within that system) is actually the freedom to avoid Reality. This is of course the thing about games that we find so attractive – avoiding Reality is our secret agenda, after all. The flip side of the deal is that we have voluntarily handed over our real freedom to obtain the ‘freedom to believe in the game’, and that means that we are stuck in the game. The ‘I’ of anger can never escape being angry, because it is the anger, and the ‘I’ of craving can never cease craving, since it is the craving. These false selves cannot make the journey into Reality, because they were not real in the first place; since the ‘starting-off point’ is phoney, the journey can never start – the whole attempt to get anywhere real is guaranteed to be no more than an exercise of the imagination, a flight of fancy. The whole point is that the tautological reality of games is closed – it doesn’t meet up with Reality anywhere, it is sealed off. The ‘I’ of the system is the denial of the true ‘I’. Just to repeat ourselves yet one more time: what we are talking about is a closed or extrinsic system of meaning (a superimposed, substitute reality) which excludes the open, intrinsic meaning which is the underlying genuine reality by the very process of being what it is, i.e. denial.




It might seem odd that we should concentrate so much on ‘the negative’ when surely – many would say – it would be more interesting and uplifting to turn our attention to the ‘positive’ side of things! As it turns out, we have no choice in this, and why we say this ought to be clear by now. To deliberately turn our attention to uplifting or mind-expanding affairs would be a reaction, a reflection of our unconscious limitations – when the motivation for seeking the higher is to get away from the lower, this is false motivation. Furthermore, were we to focus on lofty and inspiring ideas the effect would be to give us the feeling that we have a chance of getting somewhere, and this ‘upsurge’ of hope inevitably gets translated into negative freedom. Instead of Work, we are shunted into pseudo-work, into the endlessly deceptive freedom of the imagination. The sign of true progress comes not from great-sounding ideas but from a growing awareness of how little freedom we really have, and a fine appreciation of the forces that are acting against us. As Ram Dass says, despair is an absolute precondition. Chogyam Trungpa (1976, p 5-6) speaks equally emphatically:


As long as we follow a spiritual approach promising salvation, miracles, liberation, then we are bound by the “golden chain of spirituality.” Such a chain might be beautiful to wear, with its inlaid jewels and intricate carvings, but nevertheless, it imprisons us. People think they can wear the golden chain for decoration without being imprisoned by it, but they are deceiving themselves. As long as one’s approach to spirituality is based upon enriching ego, then it is spiritual materialism, a suicidal process rather than a creative one.



All the promises we have heard are pure seduction. We expect the teachings to solve all our problems; we expect to be provided with magical means to deal with our depressions, our aggressions, our sexual hangups.  But to our surprise we begin to realize that this is not going to happen. It is very disappointing to realize that we must work on ourselves and our suffering rather then depend upon a savior or the magical power of yogic techniques. It is disappointing to realize that we have to give up our expectations rather than build on the basis of our preconceptions.



We must allow ourselves to be disappointed, which means the surrendering of me-ness, my achievement. We would like to watch ourselves attain enlightenment, watch our disciples celebrating, worshipping, throwing flowers at us, with miracles and earthquakes occurring and gods and angels singing and so forth. This never happens. The attainment of enlightenment from ego’s point of view is extreme death, the death of self, the death of me and mine, the death of the watcher. It is the ultimate and final disappointment. Treading the spiritual path is painful. It is a constant unmasking, peeling off layer after layer of masks.  It involves insult after insult.


Trungpa is speaking of the ‘path of disappointment’  – a series of letdowns that culminates in the ultimate disappointment, the ultimate letdown of discovering that actually the only freedom I was ever really interested in was the freedom to perpetuate my avoidance. The ‘negative way’ of the path of disappointment is a way of disidentifying with our habitual way of looking at things, which is ‘inverted’ or back-to-front. If we were to say that our rational perspective is like a plausible salesman who is perpetually trying to sell us bogus goods, then the path of disappointment is the painful process of becoming disillusioned with this salesman, so that in the end one realizes with a jolt that he is actually a complete scoundrel and a liar. To be able to travel this path is a real trial because it goes against everything that we normally trust in. As we have said, when things turn ‘bad’ we automatically turn to our rational mind for support, we seek help in negative freedom, and as a consequence we identify strongly with the virtual entity at the heart of negative freedom which we have called the false ‘I’. To be able to suffer insult after insult without doing this (or without seeking comfort by identifying with a ‘martyr self’) is practically unthinkable, and yet this is what this is precisely what the process requires.



There is another way in which we can see how ‘becoming aware of limitation’ turns out to be unexpectedly helpful. When we stare at one primary colour long enough, it suddenly ‘flips-over’ and becomes its own opposite – it reverses and momentarily becomes the complementary primary colour. Similarly, when we look at limitation long enough, when we really and truly soak in what limitation means to us, then this teaches us about freedom. When we give up fighting against the locked door which bars our way, it no longer stands between us and freedom – freedom is not to be obtained by finding a way past the grim prison walls that hold us in, but by allowing the walls to find their fullest expression. This is the trick that prison walls (along with all other material characteristics) have – that they are only what they seem to be when we struggle against them. As Pema Donyo Nyinche says, when we do not fall for the trick of illusion (which means resisting either positively or negatively) then illusion, instead of trapping, liberates. Our next step, therefore, will be to look as the decomplexifying (or ‘freeing’) emotion of love by studying its degenerate, decomplexifying analogue, which is also called ‘love’.




Love – in the usual sense of the word – is a classic decomplexifying emotion. By this we mean that it is a predictability enhancer. Even though it seems appallingly ‘reductionist’ we cannot avoid making the observation that love (as it generally operates in our lives) works by channelling us towards to the known, by channelling us towards defined goal-states. In other words, it channels us out of Reality and into unreality. Decomplexifying love is a world-shrinker – it implodes our world, causing it to collapse ever closer to a virtual reality ‘point attractor’. It is a fatal attraction towards ‘the wrong sort of infinity’, the infinity of negative freedom. The analogue of ‘love that traps’ is the ‘love that frees’, which is complexifying love. Complexifying love is a world-expander, a Reality Explosion, a movement in the direction of true infinity, true freedom. There is no single local ‘point of attraction’ which demands our attention. Everything is the attractor, and there is nothing that is not the attractor. So what we have here are two complementary directions of movement, the equilibrium-seeking direction and the non-equilibrium direction, which isn’t a ‘seeking’ sort of a thing at all because it is free from preconception, free from any trace of predisposing bias. It doesn’t know where it is going, and that is the beauty of it.



Type-1 (or decomplexifying) love can be defined as a form of interpersonal interaction which shunts both participants down certain well-established avenues of behaviour. When two people fall in love with each other, what almost always happens is that all of their subsequent behaviour becomes predictable – all activity becomes subject to the one over-riding aim of securing and consolidating the relationship. In order to make our point, we can drastically over-simplify and say that beforehand the two individuals, like two gas molecules bouncing randomly around in a bell jar, were ‘doing their own thing’. After the ‘love-interaction’ they settle down, take out a mortgage, buy a house and have kids. This is clearly a type of love-reaction that has a definite outcome, the sort of outcome that can be identified in advance. In this view of things, the emotion of love traps me in a stable situation, and it is easy to see why this should be: the more in love I am the likely it is that I will react to this feeling by trying to ‘do something about it’, and because  ‘doing something about it’ equals control, we straightaway have the old story of me being trapped within the fixed or frozen view of the situation that I have had to identify with in order to control.




The type of control involved here is obviously ‘positively goal orientated’ in its nature, i.e. it is based upon the type of motivation known as attraction. There is a treasure out there, and we want to move in on it. The process starts, therefore, with the perception of surpassing value, and this perception is in itself quite neutral. I see something of beauty, but my seeing of it is quite detached in the sense that it has ‘nothing to do with me’.  Somehow, in the very first moment, I have not entered the equation and I am seeing the world as if I wasn’t there at all. This is a remarkably privileged position to be in. Normally, it is as if the world is somehow humouring me, showing me what I expected to see. It is a private show, a show for my benefit. Yet here I am seeing the world as it actually is – what I am seeing has not been stage-managed for my benefit, I am privy therefore to a very great secret, the secret of  ‘how things really are’. There is naturally a fascination to this, and yet the fascination almost instantly turns into greed, and that greed leads to the re-introduction of ‘me’, which spoils the whole thing. This is rather like the self-defeating paradox of tourism. Who wants to go away on holiday to a so-called ‘exotic location’ that has long ago been defaced by the tawdry trappings of mass tourism? Originally, there had been something there worth seeing, but now it is more or less impossible to encounter anything that is not a sham, a fake that is in place merely because someone imagines (correctly or incorrectly) that this is what the tourists come to see. The Ireland an American tourist sees is likely to be no more than a ghastly tacky simulacrum of whatever stereotype had been perceived to be the American idea of Ireland in the first place. That is what salesmanship is all about, a mixture of shrewd insight into what the customer wants along with the promotion of what I as the salesman see that I actually have to sell. It all becomes phoney very quickly because what I really have to offer as a unique nation is the honest, unpretentious, unmanipulated reality of what I already am. Once I get clever about it, and start stage-managing it, then the worm of self-consciousness has entered the apple.



We would all like to visit somewhere that is refreshingly naïve, refreshing ‘undiscovered’ – some place that has not been spoiled by the monster of mass tourism. When such a place is discovered, we hop on a plane and go there, and then the place is spoiled. The more beautiful the place, the more rapid will be the process of spoiling. By importing ourselves into the picture, we unfailingly destroy whatever it was that attracted us in the first place, and this brings us back to our discussion about positively goal-orientated control in connection to what is called love. In general terms, we can say that positively goal-orientated control involves importing ourselves into a beautiful and precious situation that was getting along fine without us. Once we are ‘in it’ it becomes as crap as we are. This is like Groucho Marx’s famous joke where he says that he wouldn’t want to join the sort of a club that would agree to have him as a member.



In general terms, the holiday location that we destroy is ‘everywhere we go’ – the beautiful and precious place we want to import ourselves into is the universe all around us, it is our actual environment. Specifically speaking, the beauty and preciousness will be located in a particular place, it will be perceived as existing as a particular part of our environment, and we will be tempted to make that Value relevant to ourselves by ‘engulfing’ it (or by otherwise securing it). Securing the Value which we mistakenly locate in a static framework of thought is like catching a beautiful butterfly as it goes along on its way, and then killing it and pinning it to a board so that we can enjoy its beauty any time we want.




We can give an example of this sort of thing. Suppose that you are walking down the street when you notice someone who is wonderfully attractive to you. They are like a magnet to your eyes. It is a case of ‘love at first sight’. Now, at that precise moment there is no control going on, only perception. We will say, for the sake of the argument, that you are unattached and romantically inclined, which is to say, you are in the market for a relationship. The perception of value, as we have said, translates almost instantly into (extrinsic) motivation, and this motivation, as motivation does, gets translated into action. The action in this case could take a number of forms, but essentially what is likely to happen, in the absence of any inhibiting motivation, is that you will seek to ‘get this person into your life’. This is the logical thing to do, after all. No one gets anywhere by letting once-in-a-life-time opportunities slip by without even lifting a finger. ‘He who dares, wins’ is the motto that seems to apply.



Let us say that you strike it lucky and you manage to make the other person part of your life, and you part of theirs. A relationship blossoms and before very long you are a unit, you are joined. At the moment when you first experienced the force of attraction that drew you towards the person, you would hardly have dared to believe that you would ever get to talk to them, let alone live with them. You would have considered that goal just too fantastic to ever come true. And now that you have got what you so much wanted, are you happy? Of course you were happy at first, you were in all probability on cloud nine, but is it still so good when everything shakes out, X number of years down the line? Is this a case of the chase being better than the catch?



The argument that we are sneakily putting forward here is not that marriages or long-term relationships always turn into dull, matter-of-fact routines where each partner takes the other for granted, merely that that this is what happens in the absence of some determined anti-entropic work. If things are allowed just to develop as things do, then, we will suggest, a routine is indeed what results.  We are not saying that love is an illusion, a transient and deceptive force of attraction which serves no end other than to bring people together to have children, we are just saying that this is what ‘love’ usually is, when it comes right down to it. There is an inexorable and ghastly process by which love in its true sense (as the perception of infinite Value) degenerates slowly but surely into reflex – the unconscious assumption of Value that is used as a rationale for a whole conglomerate of defensive, consolidatory, and self-maintaining purposeful activity which carries along (pointlessly) under its own momentum. Love becomes an institution; it becomes a set-up that exists for the purpose of maintaining and perpetuating itself, and as long as we don’t ask too many questions both partners can carry on just fine.




What we are talking about here is ‘love as an exercise in theatricality’. The initial moment of love, we will say, is purely a perception of a reality that is there, before we have got involved by doing anything about that perception. Therefore, at this precise moment, it is what love shows me that is important. The process is out of my control, and for this reason we can say that it is dramatic. As soon as I start trying to gain control, however, there is a ‘switch-over’ and love is pressed into the service of something else, which is in fact the framework of understanding that was needed in order to set about controlling. There is now another master, there – love is no longer the master but the servant. Another way of looking at this is to say that the sublime emotion of love is allowed meaning only insofar as it validates the ‘theatre of love’, i.e. it matters that there is a ‘me’ to love, and a ‘you’ to be loved, and love in return, but these two actors are in the final analysis no more that reified concepts, constructs of the system of thought that allows us to ‘hang on to’ fixed representations of what is happening here. Furthermore, I need you to know that I love you, and I need to know that you love me in return. It has to be known generally that we love each other; even ‘secret love’ requires an audience so that the secretness of the love can be appreciated -what use is a secret if no one knows that it is a secret? What we are getting at here is the Carse’s idea that the possibility of an audience has to be there in our heads, in order for us to be able to somehow ‘offer up’ our actions to a consensus ‘context of meaning’.



The covert aim of theatrical love is to support the framework of meaning, the system – if it doesn’t make sense as a story told within that framework, then it is no good. In Carse’s terms, if it can’t be explained or presented satisfactorily to a hypothetical audience that is sitting there in judgement, then it is useless to us because, in theatricality, we live our lives through the comprehension of this imaginary gallery of observers. The need to make sense to this audience is paramount since our ‘sense of ourselves’ depends upon it. This might sound bizarre at first, but a moment’s reflection is all that is needed to show that this is not such an odd thing after all – we are all crucified on the cross of consensus reality, where it doesn’t matter what things are, but what they appear to be. The pain of this crucifixion manifests as ‘social anxiety’, which can be acted out as social competency (i.e. success in the game), or repressed, which means avoidance of those situations in which we are going to be evaluated, and the consequent negative (or ‘punishing’) evaluation of oneself, on behalf of the ‘inner audience’.  The crucial thing to understand about theatricality is that it involves ‘a switch’ – a treasure that is real but unknowable  (because it is irrelevant to our evaluative criteria) is exchanged for a treasure that is unreal but knowable (because it is relevant to us). We could also say that ‘mattering’ is exchanged for ‘pseudo-mattering’. The point of the exchange is simply that we cannot possess what we cannot know, and so if we are insisting on possessing what we love, we will have to make do with a prize which is not really the thing that we originally set eyes on. We have to make do with a trophy that only has meaning within a dream.




All of this is really a very dismissive way of looking at romantic love, which is after all a topic that is endlessly celebrated in most cultures. Is it really fair to say that romantic love is merely something that reduces the chances that we might do something unexpected, something that channels us down a well-worn if not hackneyed groove within the field of ‘all possible human interactions’?  From the point of view of the current dominant ‘bio-determinist’ viewpoint which sees all human activity as serving the grim master of genetic predetermination, a reductionist view of love is of course de rigueur, but, even though it may look like it, we are not aligning ourselves with this all-consuming intellectual fashion because the whole point of our discussion of deterministic love is to throw light on non-deterministic (complexifying) love. The idea of a positive emotional interaction which does not serve some agenda or other is not new – it has for example been called Being-love by Abraham Maslow and Unconditional Positive Regard by Carl Rogers.  Rather than using the existing terminology however we will call decomplexifying love Type-1 and complexifying love Type-2, and we will distinguish between them as follows:



[1]        TYPE-1 Love can be illustrated using the example of conventional romantic love: two people come in contact and develop a special sort of a relationship, so that each person becomes the other person’s ‘most important person’. This is clearly a non-symmetrical situation: essentially, the person you love is very much not the same as some other person selected at random from the street. Dissymmetry means maximum prejudice, maximum ‘selection,’ maximum unevenness. Another way of looking at it is to say that two people who have fallen in love are like two atoms that have ‘reacted’ and formed a stable molecule – after the intensity of the reaction the future of the pair is correspondingly predetermined. Furthermore, if the pair is split up, neither will feel whole or complete.  If we say that Type-1 love is based on need (which is how Maslow characterised  deficit-driven love) then this means that it is motivated by fear, so it is action that is based upon the inability to do otherwise. Fear, as we know, is the other side of greed, and activity that results from fear/greed is automatic, or unconscious. It is easy to see that because Type-1 love is based on need (or unconsciousness), it is not love at all, since there is no genuine interest whatsoever in anything that lies outside the ‘I’ of the false self system.


[2]        TYPE-2 Love is not ‘localized’ or ‘specified’ in the way that Type-1 love is, it is concomitant with the perfectly symmetrical situation. You do not love any one person as being a specially important person who has a special relationship with you – instead, everyone is equally important, which means that you don’t take the idea of separate individuality as seriously as a person experiencing Type-1 love. Whereas Type-1 love is based on the process of identification (which goes hand in hand with a reduction in perspective), Type-2 love is the process of recognizing what people actually are, i.e. seeing the truth that lies beneath the illusion of separateness.  A person experiencing this type of love doesn’t go around reacting with people and ‘closing off’ – he or she stays reactive, without reacting. Although one feels for all people just as much as the romantic lover feels for his/her partner, there is no attachment, no dependency.  One stays ‘whole’ in all one’s dealings with others. This is the crucial difference because if I am whole either way then there is no secret agenda (no self-interest), and there is not the terrible fear of not getting what one needs to get in order to be happy or whole. This gives us a basic way in which to look at the two types of love:




Finally, we can conclude by saying that through complexifying love we raise ourselves to the level of the value that we perceive, and through decomplexifying love we bring that value down to our own level. In the first case, the ‘I’ that loves dies through its loving, whilst in the second case the ‘I’ that loves does not die but instead what it loves turns into ashes. This is the esoteric principle of the open hand versus the closed fist, which can also be understood in terms of the rebirth mystery: through dying we live, and through clinging on to life we condemn ourselves to a living death.




In our visualization of the two human gas molecules who get romantically entwined after a chance collision and henceforth suffer from a constriction of possibilities we neglected to mention that they undoubtedly had their own particular brand of predictability beforehand, i.e. they were already constrained in the type of interactions that they were able to get involved in. We can look at this diminishment of freedom in terms of conditioning, which is to say in terms of a latent propensity within the individual in question to have certain predetermined emotional and cognitive reactions to specific environmental triggers. The phenomenon of ‘triggering’ would therefore include what psychologists call traits, or ‘innate personality,’ along with socially learned behaviour. Conditioning, in essence, means that someone (or something) else decides what you are going to do under certain situations, not you. This deterministic cause lies in the past, and goes on exerting its repetitive influence into the indefinite future.  This is what Carse calls ‘the triumph of the known past over an unknown future’. If we leave aside the question of innate conditioning for the moment, what we are left with is a straightforward split between what Ivan Illich calls autonomy and heteronomy. In the former situation we are authentically ourselves, which is to say we ‘do our own thing’; in the latter we are what something else has made us, we dance to someone else’s tune. We are ‘externally determined,’ and the only time we feel any sort of relief from the pressure of the conditioning is when we manage to dance successfully to the tune, i.e. do what it wants us to do. For this reason, we are exceedingly prone to develop a short-sighted interest in obtaining this relief, i.e. not concerning ourselves with anything beyond it, and because all we are (effectively) interested in is dancing successfully to the tune, this has the consequence that – when it comes right down to it – there is nothing else other than the tune. The tune is the thing, and nothing else is allowed to come into it. This is Carse’s idea of a finite game in a nutshell.




So, let us suppose that you are a human particle, on a journey through space. The environment that you are travelling through contains lots of ‘potential’ stimuli, but the vast majority of these don’t mean a thing to you and so you ignore them. As a matter of fact, your environment may be said to contain an infinite wealth of stimuli, an infinite wealth of information, but as we have just said, this wealth doesn’t mean a thing to you and so for all pragmatic purposes it might as well not be there at all.


At some point or other you come into contact with a stimulus (or trigger) that strikes a chord with your conditioning. You don’t get philosophical at this point, you just react. This reaction can be either cognitive or emotional or behavioural (or any combination thereof) and it can either by positive or negative in character. Positive means you experience attraction towards the stimulus, negative means you experience aversion to it. Both attraction and aversion are compelling influences that very much tend to dominate our awareness by driving out any more subtle considerations. They are ‘attention-seekers’, and by pre-occupying us so totally they are responsible for the fact that we are oblivious to the richness of our environment.


It can easily be seen that, on your unfree journey through ‘open possibility space’ what you think and do is determined by two things: your internal agenda (or bias) and the external circumstances. Between these two there is no freedom, although this is not to say that we would not usually experience ourselves as lacking freedom in our daily journey from one thought to another, and from one emotional state to another. We can illustrate this failure to perceive freedom quite clearly by thinking about opinions. For example, let us suppose that I am a person who has a strong (negative) opinion about unmarried mothers and see them as being irresponsible, immoral, and a burden upon taxpayers such as myself. Now, I experience this opinion as being a free and authentic expression of my own individual self. In articulating this opinion, I experience quite distinctly the not inconsiderable satisfaction of ‘speaking my mind’. It feels good (or rewarding) to say what I think, to tell it like it is. Yet this process of ‘obtaining satisfaction by speaking my mind’ is a perfect example of the backwards-perception that is the hallmark of the state of mind known as ‘passive identification’. I think that the satisfaction comes from the courageous act of me asserting my individuality, but where it really comes from is from the cowardly act of me conforming to my conditioning. The point is that it isn’t ‘my’ opinion (or ‘my’ thought, or ‘my’ idea) at all, but merely a miscellaneous aspect of social conditioning that has somehow got lodged in my brain. If I were to become a bit more curious about what is going on and start looking around me, I would see that there are many other people coming out with the self-same opinion, also fondly under the impression that it is their ‘own’ opinion that they are articulating.




The act of me voicing ‘my’ opinion can be traced back to an initial compulsion, which in turn derives from the conditioning (i.e. the set of rules) that is operating. At the precise moment of experiencing the force of the compulsion, I have a moment of freedom in which I don’t have to act it out. If I were not to act it out (i.e. if I were not to do what the compulsion wants me to do) then I would become aware of something threatening my freedom. The situation is a bit like being in a room full of people who want me to join the Nazi party – if I conform to the pressure then everything will be grand and they will all like me, but if I don’t conform then they are all going to be very nasty to me. What do I do? Well, obviously my main thought is to avoid the threat of what is going to happen if I don’t go along with the pressure, but I also don’t want to feel bad about myself, which I will do because of the knowledge which I will have to live with concerning my craven behaviour in this situation. So, what I do is that I join the Nazi party and then convince myself that I actually agree with their ideas and values – I convince myself that I wanted to join the Nazi party in the first place and this means that I don’t have to see myself as a craven cowardly conformist. Therefore, I do not perceive the loss of freedom inherent in this process but instead I see it as a positive act of asserting my own values. I see what has happened as an increase in freedom, rather than a decrease. A simpler example of this is what happens when I as a drinker say that I drink because I want to, not because the compulsion to drink makes me want to. My ‘freedom to drink’ is actually negative freedom, but I do not see it as such.



In general terms, then, a compulsion (which is the enactment of a rule) works by giving us the option of identifying with it, and thereby avoiding any awareness of the way in which we have been fatally compromised. The type of freedom thus obtained is negative freedom, which we have also defined as ‘the power that we have to deceive ourselves’. For this reason, the state of being ruled by compulsions (which is the state of psychological unconsciousness) is also the state of being unaware of being ruled by compulsions. That is the great ‘advantage’ of negative freedom, and it is the reason why consciousness in its identified state gets everything ‘upside down’.





We have just said that just as long as I identify with ‘my’ opinions I won’t feel afflicted by them – I won’t feel predetermined in my responses or unfree as regards what I can think and do. However, as soon as I start to de-identify or separate myself from the opinion (i.e. question it) I will unfailingly start to experience the influence of the opinion as detracting from my freedom.  When I gain perspective and start taking back personal responsibility for how I cognitively/emotionally react to things the opinion will appear to me as a sort of an implant – it will be revealed as a bit of alien software that judges stuff on my behalf, thinks on my behalf, lives life on my behalf. I don’t actually have to do anything at all – all I have to do is just give in to it and then hear all of these opinions coming out of my mouth, and I feel all of these emotions rushing into my consciousness. There is the sense of things happening automatically, it is all as easy as falling of a log. This is what Colin Wilson was getting at when he wrote in his book The War Against Sleep about the helpful internal robot made up of learned responses or habits who eats dinner for me (or makes love for me), often even without me particularly noticing it. This apparently friendly internal robot lives life for us, purely by reflex, but the point is that there isn’t actually anyone there to witness what is going on. The lights are on, but no one is at home.


So, just to drill the point home one more time, as long as we identify with emotions or thoughts, they don’t seem to oppress us, rule us, or afflict us. But as soon as we gain a bit of perspective this situation goes through a hundred % change, it turns around so that things don’t seem so rosy any more. Instead of a strong feeling that the thoughts or emotions are self-evidently ‘right’ or ‘reasonable’ (so strong that we don’t even entertain the idea that there might be the tiniest shred of a possibility that they might not be right or that there might be valid alternative responses) we become uncomfortably aware of the arbitrary, ‘unreasonable’ and unconvincing nature of the thoughts and emotions. Beforehand, in the blissfully straightforward state of unconsciousness (which is restriction to one perspective, one description), we felt good even if we felt bad! We felt as if we were justified in feeling enraged, right to be paranoid, correct in our opinion, etc. Afterwards we don’t have the luxury of this unquestioning certainty; moreover, the automatic ‘pull’ of the thought or the emotion is scary because we don’t want it, but it is happening to us anyway. It threatens our autonomy; we are taken over by a pointless and banal routine that will assert itself over and over again, ad infinitum. Thermodynamically speaking, this is the inexorable force of entropy, the apparently inevitable increase of predictability of the psychological system. Entropy is the ‘dead hand of the system’ which reaches out from the grave to steer the rudder of our lives.




The concept of entropy is useful here because it evokes like nothing else the peculiarly perplexing and demoralizing difficulty involved in resisting predictability.  ‘Impossibility’ is one word that springs to mind, rather than ‘difficulty’. The crux of the problem is that identifying is EASY because it (initially) brings euphoria and certainty, whilst de-identifying is HARD since it brings (also initially) pain and confusion. So we have two choices:


[1] Stay in a comfortable and comforting bubble made up of self-evident truths where all responsibility is taken away from us so that we don’t actually have to think for ourselves, and where everyone agrees with us so that our experience is constantly validated and confirmed. This is the state that de Ropp speaks of as ‘passive identification’. Paradoxically, this state is easy at first because it is the state of negative freedom (or ‘non-work’) but it inevitably puts us in a very difficult position later on. Just as collaboration with an occupying power brings short-term benefits at a long-term cost, so too identification is guaranteed to put us in a very painful place. The paradox is that ‘no work creates the necessity for work’. In other words, the negative freedom of avoiding work creates for us a terrible predicament for which work is the only answer. We can illustrate this principle by using as an example a person suffering from chronic anxiety who has successfully avoided all difficult situations. Through being successful in avoidance the person ultimately puts himself or herself in the predicament where they have no choice but to avoid (because that is the horse they have put all their money on) but where avoidance is finally revealed to be the one real Impossibility. In the end, I find that I am avoiding truth, and yet truth is all there is.


[2] Plunge ourselves into a painful, uncertain universe where there are no guidelines conveniently at hand, and in which life suddenly assumes the character of a serious task that we have to tackle all on our own. We have to do it ‘solo’ because there is no agreement with consensus reality – we are incongruent with the normative values of the social equilibrium; what this means is that our experience becomes unique and unprecedented, so that we can no longer compare ourselves to our peers. There is no precedence and so there is no possibility of confirmation, which means that there is ‘no resting place for the mind’, no place to hide from the responsibility of seeing Reality for ourselves. Having no resting place for the mind means work because no matter where we look there is nothing familiar to hang on to, no niche which can offer the possibility of purchase to our clinging hands. Something has to be done, but we don’t know how to do it! Although work goes ‘against the grain’ because we are conditioned to do what we know rather than what we don’t know, it feels good at the same time because it is authentic – it allows the expression of the glory of our true nature. Therefore, although the path of dis-identification starts with loneliness, pain and confusion what happens is that the loneliness gives way to true communication, the pain gives way to unexpected joy and fulfilment, and the confusion gives way to the clear perception of Reality. For this reason, we learn to value the roughness of the road, because it is the roughness (or ‘irritation’) that causes the pearl to form.




The essential point about this whole business of conditioning is that by reacting only to those environmental stimuli has we have been prepared in advance to recognize we get caught in a tautology, a ‘world of confirmation’. We have asserted that our actual environment is infinitely rich, which is to say, endlessly complex, and this has the consequence that it can confirm any stance that is taken in relation to it. In other words, the ‘infinite information environment’ has the property of faithfully echoing any particular set of rules that is put into operation within it. What this means is that we obtain a very strong and very convincing feeling that we were right to do whatever it was that we did, and that (in general terms) we were right to think about things in the way that we did. So I have a suspicion, and I get clever on the basis of this suspicion – I test it out, either in a subtle or a not-so-subtle manner. Either way, what comes back is abundant and overwhelming confirmation that my suspicions were in fact totally RIGHT. This is the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The ‘suspicions’ that I was harbouring somewhere in the back of my mind are my conditioning – they are the ways of looking at the world that I have somehow picked up along the way. We might also say that my suspicions are my thoughts, they are the crude (or ‘decomplexifying’) assumptions that I have made about the world in which I am living. Now, as we have said earlier, these assumptions (or rules) might well be built into the actual environment in which I am living, in which case I will say that they are ‘correct’ assumptions. When this is the case we might say that the conditioning exists both in my head, and in the designed environment that I am adapted to. The point remains, however, that because the environment is designed, that means that it didn’t have to be that way, and so the ‘correctness’ of my assumptions is only a relative thing. A conditioned environment is a finite environment in that it only requires a finite amount of information to describe (or specify) it. This finite information is what conditions the environment, which means that only one standpoint can be confirmed by a ‘finite information environment’.



By way of contrast, the infinite information environment (as we have said) has the ability to confirm any suspicion. Although the infinite information environment can confirm any position we take (i.e. any finite message), it itself is not confirmation but novelty. What this means is that if we did not happen to be blind or oblivious to its richness, then the initial effect of our lack of blindness would be to baffle and confound us. As we have been saying all along, “When everything is true, then nothing is true.” In a conditioned environment there are always tracks for us to run along. Where the rails are, that is the RIGHT WAY, and where the rails are not, that is the WRONG WAY. So life in a finite environment is just like driving a train – straightforward enough because you just have to follow the tracks. In an unconditioned environment there are no tracks to connect with, there is no RIGHT WAY to react to stimuli. A complete lack of tracks seems to us like zero information because we have nothing at all to go on. We tend to say that ‘there is nothing there’, but this just goes to show how we are looking at it backwards – we see an informationally impoverished environment (a single set of train-tracks) as being a high information situation (because we have enough information to go on), whereas an informationally rich environment we see as being ‘empty’ because there isn’t just the one set of rules.  This inverted way of looking at things is characteristic of the conditioned (or identified) self, i.e. the self that is identified with a specific set of rules.




In his book Buddhism Plain and Simple (p 5-6) Steven Hagen illustrates this idea of the ‘infinite information environment’ in terms of a marvellous feast or banquet, and says that it is our ‘blindness’ with regard to this feast that results in the unhappy nature of the basic human situation:


Imagine that you see people seated at a sumptuous banquet. Long tables piled high with delicacies are spread out before them. a dazzling and mouth-watering array of foods, perfectly prepared, is steaming and glistening and sizzling right in front of their eyes, easily within reach.


But the people seated at this feast aren’t eating. In fact, their plates are empty. They haven’t helped themselves to so much as a crumb. They’ve been seated at this banquet for a long time now. And they’re slowly and steadily starving to death.


They’re starving not because they can’t partake of the wonderful feast, or because eating is forbidden, or difficult, or harmful. They’re starving because they don’t realize that food is what they need. They don’t recognize the sharp, urgent pains in their stomachs as hunger. They don’t see that what they need to do, all they need to do, is enjoy the feast that’s right in front of them.


This is our basic human situation. Most of us sense that something is amiss with our lives. But we haven’t any idea what our problem really is, or what we should do about it. We may see – perhaps dimly – that the food is there before us, but we don’t connect it to the pain inside us, even as that pain grows sharper and more fierce.


We long for something. We feel pain and loss. We suffer. Everything we need to alleviate this dissatisfaction is right there before us. Yet we don’t realize it.




A slight variant of this formulation of the basic human predicament would be to say that the problem is not so much that we don’t know that we need food, but rather that we look for it in the wrong place. Furthermore, we could say, every place we look is the wrong place. The fact that we never really experience the satisfaction that we are looking for generally serves to make us more committed to the search, rather than less. As Steven Hagen says, we have a sort of occluded or indirect perception that there is something really good out there – we sense that there is food there, but we never manage to avail of it properly. The really good thing that we can sense is of course nothing other than ‘life’ itself when it comes right down to it but what trips us up is the principle or law mentioned at the end of the section on symmetrical versus asymmetrical love. When we advance upon the good stuff, it recedes so that we tend to create a bit of an ‘impoverished zone’ all around us, which we bring along with us wherever we go. Sometimes we might get clever, and start receding or retreating ourselves, in the secret hope that we will gain the treasures of life through renouncing it. Or (which is more likely) we might buy into the accepted wisdom that says we will receive our just rewards by following the correct rules. Needless to say, none of these ‘tricks’ ever work – one simply cannot obtain happiness on purpose (anymore than one can avoid sadness on purpose). The belief that one can do either of these two things (which are both the same thing really) is the via erratum, and it is without any doubt the via erratum that our present civilization is given over to. The ability to obtain the result that we do want, and stave off the result that we don’t want, is the standard that flies proudly from the turrets and battlements of our technological culture.



The way of error is what is responsible for the ‘personalized zone of impoverishment’, and when this depleted zone really gets going, so that it becomes like a parched desert realm or an inner black hole that swallows up everything we throw in it without ever getting filled up, then of course we notice that something ‘bad’ is going on. Our awareness that there is ‘good stuff’ elsewhere becomes tantalizingly acute, and we become correspondingly tormented. Ronal Laing gives a good account of this state in his book The Divided Self. Buddhist descriptions of the ‘hungry ghost realm’, the preta loka, are clearly referring to this sort of situation. In general, the self-defeating (or ‘Self-destroying) nature of our attempt to ‘get the good stuff’ does not come so painfully to the fore, and so we carry on in the belief that we are doing reasonably okay at obtaining our slice of the Big Pie of Life, or we are at least reasonably secure in the belief that we stand a good chance of getting our bit of the Pie. It is this belief (generally speaking) that fuels the activity of the day.




Instead of speaking in terms of an unusable feast that we cannot avail of because of the essentially ‘selfish’ way in which we go about trying to avail of it, we can also use the idea of missing the party. Using this metaphor, we can say that the source of our restlessness and discontent is that we know, on some level or other, that there is a party going on and we are not in it. There is good stuff going down and we are not getting any, and what is worse, we have a strong suspicion that other people, elsewhere, are ‘getting some’ and that is really rubbing our nose in it. This is where the whole notion of ‘winners and losers’ comes in. For me to know myself that I am missing the party is bad enough, but to have everyone else know too is intolerable. I simply do not want to give anyone else the satisfaction of knowing that! This starts up a whole system of conspiracy because everyone is terrified of being seen to be a loser, and so we all start covering up our secret fear that we are a loser by putting on a performance of being ‘a winner’. “I’m alright Jack…” becomes the theme and naturally this attitude of denial gets awfully cruel when we meet someone who is unable to carry on with the pretence. We can’t deal with their unhappiness, for the simple reason that we haven’t dealt with our own. ‘Happiness’ has become a theatrical affair, which means that our shame about letting other people see that we have missed the party actually causes us to shut the door firmly in the face of reality, and so lose whatever chance we really did have of joining the party.



In terms of the ‘system of thought’, we can say that the overt reason for the system’s existence is to secure and support and celebrate the Great Treasure of life that we all know about and all pay lip service to. The system exists, in other words, to help us ‘get in on the party’, and it is through this glorious aim that the system validates itself. Yet the system is itself the perfect, infallible means of always missing the party. This is because the system exists purely for its own sake – it cannot take us anywhere outside of itself, and in fact if it admitted that there was anything outside itself (that it cannot help us to attain) then it would do away with its reason for existing. The system cannot exist at the same time as the Great Treasure and so it has to deny it, it has to cover it up with its own inferior substitute. Because the party utterly does away with the need for the need for the system of thought, the system of thought hates and fears the party more than anything else. This is a terrible irony indeed.



The system of thought is in essence a frighteningly convincing type of insincerity, the tremendously deep-rooted type of insincerity that is based on a fear so great that we cannot begin to look at it even for a second. There are actually two parties going on – one is the real party, and the other is a fake party where we all pretend to be having fun and having a great time whilst actually we are eaten up with a viciously proliferating inner desolation that we don’t have the courage to face.




It might well seem that such extravagant statements are out of touch with average day-to-day life which has its pleasant moments, its dull moments, and its unpleasant moments, but which doesn’t generally seem to touch upon the depths of horror that we are speaking of. Sometimes we even find that we are happy, and not faking it!  The point that we are making is that we become involved us in a self-defeating contradiction when we commit ourselves to purposefulness, the nasty sort of a glitch that Carse calls the ‘contradictoriness of finite play’. Now, for most of us, most of the time, we are not pushing purposefulness to an extreme. We are not taking the system of thought to its ultimate logical conclusion. The degree to which we are not relying on purposefulness is the degree to which we are able to partake in ‘the party’, and we all forget ourselves and are happy from time to time. We are happy despite ourselves, through no skill or cunning of our own. But this does not alter the fact that we are committed to the system of thought so that when push turns to shove we drop our ‘reliance on nothing’ in an instant and cling on tightly to our rational minds like a limpet clings to a rock. What this means is that our happiness is always going to fly out of the window when things don’t go our own way, and ultimately, things never will.



There is another way in which we can demonstrate the degree of attachment that we have towards our rational, goal-orientated minds, and that is by considering the phenomenon of boredom.  Leave most of us alone in a room with a bare minimum of sensory stimulation and diversionary apparatus, and we very quickly start to feel bored. I might seem like a really dynamic, creative, vivacious sort of a person when you see me running around ‘doing my thing’, but the chances are that if you take ‘my thing’ away from me it will be a very different story. Most all of us crack up in no time at all when our supports are taken away, when we lose the means of distracting ourselves in our games, and what this means is that we implicitly believe that the party is happening somewhere else. It has to be happening somewhere else, or else how come I am bored? This is irrefutable proof of the matter. When it comes down to it, where I am right now is almost always an informationally impoverished zone, a sort of industrial wasteland. Industry always creates wasteland, and so a glossy high-tech shopping mall always has its shadow standing somewhere behind it. On the one hand there are the goods to please and tempt the eye, and on the other hand there is the environment that has been ‘strip-mined’ to provide the energy and raw materials. Some places are made to look good, and in order that they look good other places have to look bad. To our normal way of thinking this is okay because I only go to the shopping mall – I don’t have to hang around in mined-out (or farmed-out) hinterlands or in industrial parks, or in the estates where the people live who work in the industrial parks (and the mined-out, farmed-out hinterlands). Eating sausages or chicken would be two specific examples of this principle: if I had to spend a day in a big commercial pig (or chicken) farm, and in the slaughterhouse and meat processing plants where all the behind-the–scenes stuff happens, it is highly probable that I would lose my appetite in the process. But, of course, all I need to do is see the final product on the shelf of the supermarket, and so there is no problem. The two sides of the equation are kept well apart.


When we are talking about self-distraction, however, we cannot have the luxury of never visiting the shadow side of our selves because it is the self we are always trying to distract ourselves from which is actually where we are. The ‘distracted self’ is where we aren’t, and we can only manage to keep up the illusion that it is where we are for so long before we ‘snap back’, just as if we were attached by an unbreakable rubber band. The degree to which I am alienated from my true self is the degree to which I get bored when there is ‘nothing to do’. Normally this is not so intense as to make me seriously rethink my attitude to life, and in any event I can generally find some way of taking the edge of the boredom when it really gets to me. After all, I am the number one expert at this particular task, the task of self-distraction! When I have really strip-mined my spiritual hinterlands, then it is not merely boredom I have to face into when I am ‘at home’ but depression and despair, and even though this painful communication ought to make me start to question the habitual pursuits that constitute ‘the way or error’ the fact of the matter is that it usually drives me further into the realm of negative freedom.




A while ago we said that there is a sort of reversal of expectations in that we expect a conditioned environment to possess a higher information content than an unconditioned environment, whilst actually the opposite is true. David Bohm points to this very same reversal of commonsense in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order in relation to the energy content of what we may call ‘occupied’ space versus the energy content of ‘empty’ space.  If we define ‘occupied’ space as a field in which there is some kind of wave-particle excitation occurring, then we can say that the expectation is that this excitation would contain more energy than a field in which there is no such wave-particle excitation.  Bohm defines ‘zero-point’ energy as the minimum level of energy to which it is possible for that wave-particle mode of excitation of a field to drop to. Bohm (1980, p 109-191) then goes on to say that there is a certain minimum length below which it becomes impossible to meaningfully define space and time:


When this length is estimated it turns out to be about10 –33 cm. This is much shorter than anything thus far probed in physical experiments (which have got down to about 10 –17 cm or so). If one computes the amount of energy that would be in one cubic centimetre of space, with this shortest possible wavelength, it turns out to be very far beyond the total energy of all the matter in the known universe.



What is implied by this proposal is that what we call empty space contains an immense background of energy, and that matter as we know it is a small, ‘quantized’ wavelike excitation on top of this background, rather like a tiny ripple on a vast sea. In current physical theories, one avoids the explicit consideration of this background by calculating only the difference between the energy of empty space and that of space with matter in it. This difference is all that counts in the determination of the general properties of matter as they are presently accessible to observation. However, further developments in physics may make it possible to probe the above-described background in a more direct way. Moreover, even at present, this vast sea of energy may play a key part in the understanding of the cosmos as a whole.



In this connection it may be said that space, which has so much energy, is full rather than empty. The two opposing notions of space as empty and space as full have indeed continually alternated with each other in the development of philosophical and physical ideas. Thus, in Ancient Greece, the school of Parmenides and Zeno held that space is a plenum. This view was opposed by Democritus, who was perhaps the first seriously to propose a world view that conceived of space as emptiness (i.e., the void) in which material particles (e.g., atoms) are free to move.



The reversal in question is therefore between atoms and empty space. Can make equivalence, as we have before, with ‘thoughts’ and empty consciousness. And say that thoughts are zero information  (appearance only, just for show) whilst empty consciousness is no show, but infinite wealth of information. Our whole time is spent pursuing the wealth that is only for show, and ignoring the true wealth that is not for show. When the theatrical wealth is not there, we are afflicted with boredom. Boredom seems to us to be telling that our environment is dead and uninteresting, but this understanding is inverted, as is all understanding in the domain of passive identification. It is my mind that is dead and uninteresting, not my environment. Boredom teaches us something about ourselves, not the world we live in. We think that the party has to do with the tiny ripples that move across Bohm’s ‘vast sea of energy’, and so we are oblivious to that vast sea. Instead of joining in the party, we chase shadows that run away as we chase them.



Of course, the shadows must have something going for them or we would not be so keen on chasing them, and we can look at this by developing the idea that there are ‘two types of party’.  We will first take the usual case which is where we react to the unpleasant stimulus of boredom by seeking a more stimulating environment. The transition from a low-stimulus to a high stimulus environment involves a lessening of the pain that is boredom and so it feels good. We are rewarded for our cleverness in finding an interesting environment. This is the type of good feeling that is always associated with successfully acting out (or repressing) a compulsion and we may speak of it in terms of the pay-off of negative freedom.  Negative freedom is therefore the first type of partying that we can do.



The second, much more unusual case is where we do not react to the compulsive quality of the boredom. Because we do not act out (or deny) there is no immediate decrease in the discomfort level that we are experiencing, and therefore there is no reward. Once I pass through the ‘boredom barrier’ however, a whole new world opens up to me, a world whose existence I never suspected because it was in the one place I never thought to look. This new world arises out of my ‘freedom not to have to obey the compulsion’, and it is therefore the type of good feeling that comes out of autonomy or independence, rather than the type of good feeling that comes from being a successful slave. We can define the freedom to act out our compulsions as euphoria and freedom from compulsions as ecstasy.  Alternatively, we can say that euphoria is the freedom to lose ourselves in the shadows, and ecstasy is freedom from the need to lose ourselves in the shadows. Because of the inverted understanding that is synonymous with passive identification, both are experienced in positive terms. The euphoria-type party seems just as positive as the ecstatic party, and the distinction between the two is quite lost to us.



As we have indicated in our discussion of ‘ecstasy as the unplanned result of not giving in to the urge to distract oneself from the boredom of where one actually is’, as opposed to ‘euphoria as the result of successful self-distraction’, one way to characterize what happens is to say that in ecstasy we enter into a ‘whole new world’ that was there all along, but which we had always overlooked up to now.  This new world is contrasts with the old ‘universe of fulfilled expectations’ that swims into view as soon as we start reacting to the boredom. In this case, the banality or sameness of the world which we have entered into is masked by passion, i.e. by our belief in the reality of the goals which we are either chasing or running away from. The deceptiveness of this world arises from the fact that the goals never truly ‘come across’; they cannot ever come into being because goals are not real, they are only mental projections that exert a hypnotizing effect on us.




There is, then, a pay-off that comes with the successful interaction with a conditioned environment. When I come across a designed world that matches my expectations regarding what the world ought to be, I can tune in and receive a dose of confirmation. The euphoria that I thus experience tells me that I have hit the jackpot, and so the conditioned world, which I have successfully interacted with, becomes real to me. I have ‘bought into it’ and at this precise moment the nullity of what I have bought appears to me in a reversed form as the most opulent wealth about which I am getting understandably very excited. The message is “You have got it right!” The euphoria is a reward and as we have said it can be effectively defined in terms of a reduction of discomfort, which discomfort is in turn defined as an unpleasant feeling of unsatisfactoriness (or not-rightness) that derives from a ‘lack of fit’ between the raw material of our experience and our framework of understanding. It can be seen, therefore, in a negative way as the cessation of the unpleasant sense of pressure that there is on us to ‘do something about what is going on’, and it can also be seen in a positive way as the pleasurable glow of gratification that comes with ‘hitting the nail right on the head’. What we are saying is that a change from a great to a lesser level of pain is functionally equal to an increase in pleasure, just as a change from -9 to –3 is equal to a numerical increase of plus six. This is important because it shows that the motivation to avoid a negative goal is the same as the motivation to obtain a positive goal, i.e. that fear is the same thing as greed. This is another way of saying that all action that is compulsion-driven is exactly the same; in terms of information what it means is that extrinsic motivation produces activity that has no real ‘content’ – we can learn only about the rules behind the compulsion behind the action. About the real world we learn nothing at all.



Sex is a good way to explain extrinsic motivation: the sexual drive is unpleasant (in a subtle sort of a way) when unsatisfied, and it is this sense of pressure that drives us to find ‘the target’ of the desire, and interact in the specific way which will give us the ultimate ‘reward’. This is an ‘all or nothing’ kind of a thing – in the game of sex one either hits or misses, wins or loses, and it is this knowledge that makes us take great interest in manipulating the relevant variables to achieve a successful outcome. Extrinsic motivation is therefore all about target-seeking – the space which one navigates through can be seen as possessing contour lines that guide us towards our destination. At each point there is a message telling us whether we are getting ‘hotter’ or ‘colder’ in our search. By being successful, the search brings itself to an end – we hit the bulls-eye and we get the pay-off.  The uncomfortable feeling of a desire that has not yet met its specified object vanishes and in its place there is glow of pleasure, of rapture. This state cannot exist for long however because it is based upon duality (or ‘contrasts’) which means that the [+] can only exist when there is a [-] a bit further down the line. We obtain a PLUS by the action of a transient fluctuation of the ground state, and the other side of that fluctuation is a MINUS.  Both [+] and [-] are aspects of the same disturbance – as Gurdjieff said, they are the two ends of the same stick. What we are talking about here is the cybernetic paradox YES equals NO. 



In terms of extrinsic motivation what this means is that we cannot obtain the RIGHT result without at some future point obtaining the WRONG result. Because we have ‘handed over’ to the framework of thinking which allows us to have a definite, unquestionable RIGHT (which is what euphoria is all about) we have to pay the price of obtaining the definite, unquestionable WRONG (which is depression). The idea that we cannot create a ‘positive’ within an assigned value system of meaning without also implying the existence of a corresponding negative value is relatively easy to see. What we find harder to see is the reason why we cannot enjoy the reward of euphoria without having to (at some point) pay the price in negative euphoria. In other words, we can’t we just steer a course away from the negative that we know is floating around out there somewhere? It is hard for us to see the way in which any GAIN made by us personally must also be a LOSS made by us personally. We can approach the matter by thinking in terms of time:  if I have identified a particular location as being definitely RIGHT then that will give me a definite feeling of satisfaction. However, taking into consideration the element of time, as irresistible change or movement, means that I can’t stay there forever and because I have already burned my boats because if the location I used to be in was the one and only RIGHT place, then anywhere else must be WRONG. Therefore, creating a place where want to be also creates a place where I do not want to be, yet because of the conveyer-belt action of time I must necessarily experience the double-pain of leaving where I want to be, and being where I don’t want to be.  Having an ‘uneven mind’ means that we are committed to an endless round of pleasure/pain, pleasure/pain, plain/pain.



Going back to sex for a minute, suppose that there was no right way and no wrong way in sex, which is to say, that there were no contour lines telling us whether we were getting hotter or colder. Suppose everything is sexy. Because I am not committed to a particular way of looking at things, trying to optimise my position doesn’t come into it. My mind is redundant; my ‘tendency to unevenness’ is redundant, and therefore what we are talking about here is ecstasy. It is not right to say that sex is ecstasy, even though we have used the comparison, because the term ‘sex’ has a specific (i.e. YES/NO) meaning within our general understanding of things. In other words, it corresponds to a definite ‘notch’ in the gears of our conceptual mind. Ecstasy has nothing to do with notches or grooves in the mind, it is the state that comes about when the mind has no notches in it whatsoever, when the mind is perfectly even, so to speak. When my mind is even then all discrimination comes to an end, there is nothing there for the cogwheels, ratchets and gears of my conceptual mind to engage with. Instead of the ‘halting’ or ‘adjustment-type’ movement with which my experience ‘clicks’ neatly into its correct interpretive category, there is free movement – movement without a finite (or known) destination. Ecstasy, therefore, is what lies beyond the rationality, beyond thought. Because there are no right locations, no right places to be, there are also no wrong places to be, and means that ecstasy does not flip over into its opposite. It doesn’t have an opposite. Euphoria is characterized by its opposition to change, or flow, which means that we are forever ‘digging in’ and then being forcibly evicted. Ecstasy, on the other hand, is a wholehearted acceptance of that flow, a total lack of ‘resistance’.




As we have said, there is a party that we can search-out on purpose and take part in on purpose.  At the same time, however, the party which is conditioned happiness is insubstantial because it fades out as soon as we achieve it. What is more, it actually reverses, because the ‘reward’ that we have obtained has to be paid for (at some point) by in an equal and opposite amount of pain, and so the party is, in reality, a hoax because when you add up the credit and debit columns there is no net gain and no net loss. In fact there is nothing at all. We can relate this to Steven Hawkin’s statement at the end of A Brief History of Time where he states that ‘the net energy content of the universe is zero’. It is perfectly legitimate, on these grounds, to say that the physical universe is a type of a trick, just as a ripple on the surface of a body of water can be seen as a type of trick. The ripple is a trick in the sense that it looks like it has an existence of its own apart from the body of water, whilst actually, as we all know, there is only the water there. There is an illusion of an independent entity which travels across the surface of the water at a certain speed, but the truth of the matter is that the only real motion is the movement of the water up and down as the ripple propagates itself. The vertical disturbance to the water moves across the surface, but the actual particles of water are only moving up and down.  ‘Up’ and ‘down’ have an alternating existence; obviously if ‘up’ and ‘down’ happened at the same time then the net result would be a flat surface, i.e. the complete and utter non-existence of the ripple. In this sense, then, the ripple is a trick because it can only exist when ‘up’ and ‘down’ are separated, even though ‘up’ and ‘down’ are two aspects of one and the same disturbance.


In the same way, we can say that the mental universe that is mapped out in terms of pleasure and pain is a ‘trick’. It looks very tangible, and ‘positive’, just so long as we studiously avoid seeing that every ‘gain’ is paid for at some future date by an equal and opposite ‘loss’. This idea is discussed here by John Bennett (1961, p187-9) in connection with the Reactional Self:



The Reactional Self is dominated by external forces that have a dualistic character by reason of the two kinds of laws, positive and negative, that determine the state of the Will in World XCVI. It is, however, not a true dyad, for it can transmit only one Cosmic Impulse at a time. This is the chief characteristic of the Reactional Self, and it accounts for the role it plays in the economy of the total Self-hood. It is the source of the basic dualism of human reactions, with their dyads of pleasure-pain, like-dislike, activity and repose, affirmation and negation, attraction and repulsion. All these reactions are automatic – that is, null operations of the Will. For this reason, the Reactional Self could also be called the ‘Nullity in Man’.



The Reactional Self can experience the action of only one Cosmic Impulse at any one given time. When it experiences the affirming impulse, it is unaware of the denying force that opposes it. This produces a positive reaction that is manifested through the automatism of the Material Self. Likewise, a denying impulse produces a negative manifestation. In these reactions, there is no choice, and no decision. There is a polarity, but only one pole is situated within the Self.



The Reactional Self being only a channel through which one or another impulse can flow, there can be situations in which it responds to, or acquiesces in, the action of the Reconciling Impulse. In other words, the Reactional Self can respond to Divine Mercy. By its acquiescence it is linked with the higher parts of the self. Usually, the Reactional Self, on account of the habits deeply engrained in the sensitive matter of the hyparchic regulator, is unable to respond to the subtle influences originating in the True Self. Nevertheless, even when ‘poisoned’ in this way it is a necessary instrument, for it acts at all times as a sensitive medium linking the material and the spiritual realms. In living organisms it is associated with the working of the hyparchic regulator which stands between the eternal pattern and the electro-chemical mechanisms of the body. The Reactional self is, by reason of its one-foldedness, the seat of the blindness of man to eternity and hyparxis. Its true role as a link is always liable to be distorted into the opposite role of a barrier or screen which cuts of the ‘outer’ portions of the Self-hood from the ‘inner’. What should be transparent becomes opaque; what should obey usurps the place of the ruler. The Reactional Self, which should be an ideal instrument for transmitting the impulses of Individuality into the Material World, by the crude processes of like and dislike, affirmation and negation, and the whole gamut of reactions that determines the ordinary behaviour pattern of man.



All these are the consequences of existing in a world characterised by negative triads; that is, a world of null-processes… the reactional self does nothing, creates nothing, comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. And yet, being endowed with sensitivity and the power of reaction, it can usurp the place and imitate the acts of will that belong to the True Self.



Isolated, the Reactional Self is a nullity. When it is in the state of delusion, it is unaware of its inability to perform any true act of will and, therefore, ‘believes’ in its own world. From this delusion it becomes subject to pleasure and pain as actual facts – being unable to see the compensation that reduces them to null-situations. The idea of nullity in polarity is illustrated in the electrical neutrality of large bodies; however intense may be the local electrostatic fields surrounding the atoms, there is a space-distributed compensation that makes the whole body almost perfectly neutral. The situation in World XCVI is analogous to this. When unrelated to the higher worlds, the Will in world XCVI is isolated and takes no part in the transformation of entities, except in the form of universal laws.



What we are looking at here is the profoundly ghastly prospect of a world in which we do things, convinced of the reality and efficacy of our actions, whilst the whole time we are doing nothing at all. This is the solipsistic vision which most of us seem never to penetrate to. Those that have done so have tended to ‘stick’ at this point and walk away thinking that there is no more meaning to the world than the meaning that we have put into it. Needless to say, this makes for a grim philosophy. This terrible view represents the ultimate perception possible for the system of thought and as such there is certain honesty or truth to it. But the mistake of existential philosophy lies in thinking that there is nothing beyond what rationality can see. There is information in the universe, but that information is not within the remit of thought, so that what is as clear as day to the village idiot, may be utterly impenetrable to the highly developed mental powers of the academic professor. Such is the power of thought.



John Bennett speaks of a state in which every positive gain is unerringly and unfailingly annihilated by its opposite, so that no matter what we think we achieve or create in life, in reality we have done nothing. It is exactly as if we had never existed at all. Carlos Castaneda also refers to this state when he talks about the sorcerer’s concept of controlled folly. Controlled folly is when a sorcerer engages in goal-orientated activity exactly as if the outcome of that activity matters to him or her, whereas the truth of the matter is that he or she is sublimely indifferent to the failure or success of what they are doing. This sublime indifference arises from the clear awareness that it is the same situation whether the goal is obtained or not.  Most folk carry on under the strong impression that there is indeed a total difference between the RIGHT and WRONG outcomes of purposeful/rational behaviour and therefore their behaviour may be termed simply folly.



As we have implied, existentialist philosophy halts at this insight, and declares the whole of life to be a ‘null situation’, but, as Bennett states, this state only occurs when rationality acts in isolation from the higher consciousness. There are a number of ways in which we can usefully look at this. For a start, we can say that nullity means tautology, which means ‘no new information’. If, therefore, I engage in what we might call ‘pure goal orientated activity’ then everything I do is a logical extension of my premises, my assumptions, and I am not ‘in life’ at all but in the system of thought. This is a static ‘distracted realm’, which possesses the deceptive type of movement that is based on oscillation from PLUS to MINUS and back to PLUS again. We could also say that it is the realm of trivial uncertainty. Now, because we have defined the null situation in this way necessarily draws our attention to the ‘non-null situation’ which is where there is a disagreement between the mental map and the activity that is going on. This is where there is a genuine development, in other words, or a movement out of equilibrium. This movement does not occur as a result of the exertion of personal will, it does not happen because we want it to happen, and it doesn’t happen because we have conceptualised it. What we can say is that




So, another way to look at ‘null situations’ is to say that this is the state that we are in when we do not work, i.e. when we are fully engaged in the pseudo-work of self-distraction. This parallels Bennett’s statement elsewhere in The Dramatic Universe where he says that Reality is Work. In fact, this description of Reality is possibly the most meaningful and telling one that it is possible to have, because it points us in the only direction which there is to go, i.e. at a perfect and complete tangent to rationality.



We have already examined the suggestion that the purposes enshrined in decomplexifying processes – whether they be rational operations or emotional reactions – have the nature of decoys or red-herrings to distract attention away from the covert agenda which is to confirm and reconfirm the viewpoint from which they arose. This is a way of saying that our goals are surrogate issues that are there to stand in for some sort of meaning that we do not want to address (which is equivalent to Alan Watts’ assertion that the material realm is an analogue for the spiritual). From this it follows that the pay-off of the material realm must be an analogue of the ‘pay-off’ of the spiritual realm, i.e. euphoria stands in some sort of correspondence to ecstasy. It is to this idea that we will next turn our attention.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s