Only the Uncertain is Real


Uncertainty is real whilst certainty is unreal. Certainty is true, whilst the certain is false, is fictitious, is a lie, is an hallucination – there is no more fundamental ‘rule of thumb’ than this. Straightaway however we can see that this statement contradicts our most basic assumptions. We always use the reversed rule of thumb, the reversed yardstick – we say that what is certain is real and what is uncertain is at the very best only potentially real. ‘Certain’ and ‘real’ mean the same thing as far as we are concerned whilst on the other hand, the more uncertain a thing is the less likely it is that it will turn out to be the case. If it is infinitely uncertain then we won’t concern ourselves with it at all. If it is totally uncertain (with no chance of it ever being otherwise) then as far as we’re concerned it is also totally inconsequential, totally undeserving of any further consideration. This – we would say – is just common sense…


Common sense is however entirely untrustworthy here – it’s not just ‘untrustworthy’, it is in fact causing us to see thing entirely ‘backwards’. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians tells us that we ‘see through a glass, darkly’, and that we know only ‘in part’, but what we’re saying here is that we see everything a reversed image of reality (as a photographic negative is reversed) and so it is not even the case that we are seeing the world in part correctly. We know nothing because everything we supposedly do ‘know’ we have got backwards! In order to see how this ‘reversal’ takes place we need to understand how the thinking mind works – the thinking (or rational) mind works by comparing everything to its own fixed categories, its own unquestionable ‘yardstick’. When the match between the two is good, then we call this ‘certainty’ and this is how we know whether something is real or not. If it corresponds to our assumptions then its real! Comparing incoming data to our mental categories is how we determine reality: a 100% fit means 100% certainty and so from the POV of the thinking mind this is all the verification it needs. From the POV of the thinking mind, no other verification is needed.


Very obviously, there can be no such thing as ‘certainty’ without there being on the one hand ‘a standard’ and on the other hand ‘a source of data to compare with the standard’. In order for certainty to exist there must be ‘Actual’ versus ‘Expected’ – ‘Actual’ on its own isn’t good enough. There always has to be a measuring stick that is independent of what is being measured or else the whole business of ‘measurement’ becomes completely meaningless. Or putting this in terms of ‘comparing’, we can (again, very obviously) say that the whole business of making comparisons becomes a nonsense if there is only the one thing and nothing else to compare it with! What answers can we possible get from comparing a thing to itself? ‘Actual’ on its own, therefore, cannot ever be certain. It can’t ever be certain, and yet at the same time it must exist or else how could it be designated ‘Actual’? Who says reality needs to be verified, anyway?


We can’t get to be certain about anything as a result of only having ‘just the one thing’, but at the same time why would we need to be? What’s so very important about certainty, in other words? When there aren’t the two separate things of ‘what is to be measured’ and ‘what is to do the measuring’ there is no certainty anywhere to be had, not even a little bit of it, but the point we’re making here is that this lack of certainty is in no way ‘a lack’. There’s nothing missing just because there’s no possibility of some sort of external validation. Where is the need for validation, after all? And when it is reality itself that we are talking about – as we are – then how can there be any such thing as ‘external validation’ anyway? What’s outside reality anyway? How can there be an outside to it? Why should we need the seal of approval from hypothetical ‘something’ which supposedly exists independently of what is real? Reality doesn’t contains boundaries – if we say that there is a boundary then this means that there are two mutually exclusive elements there and how can reality contain two mutually exclusive elements?  Thinking that there can be is what the Lankavatara Sutra calls ‘false imagination’ –

False-imagination teaches that such things as light and shade, long and short, black and white are different and are to be discriminated; but they are not independent of each other; they are only different aspects of the same thing, they are terms of relation, not of reality. Conditions of existence are not of a mutually exclusive character; in essence things are not two but one.


Reality doesn’t have an outside. If it had an outside then by the very fact that we have said that it was on the outside we would be saying that it is there, that it is real, and if it is there / that it is real then it can’t be on the outside. This is the same paradox as trying to argue that there might be something that isn’t included in the Universal Set, ‘the Set of All possible Elements’! Reality doesn’t ‘make sense within a context’ because it doesn’t come with a context. If it came with a context then that context would also be reality and so it would be a context. So if we wanted to ‘check up on reality’ (to see if it really was real) then we’d have to invent a context, invent an external framework. We’d have to use a context that isn’t actually real, a FW that is only a projection of our own unwarranted assumptions, and then as soon as we use this ‘unreal context’ as a basis for validating or measuring reality then what we’re taking as reality will itself no longer be real. What we’re taking as reality would at this point have become no more than ‘an extension or projection of our own unwarranted assumptions’. What else could be expect if we’re using our own unexamined assumptions as a basis for determining whether something is real or not?


This demonstrates very clearly what this thing that we call ‘certainty’ actually is – it’s not a ‘thing’ in itself but merely an obstruction to our mental vision. It’s not an aid to our understanding, it’s a limit. Certainty represents a limit beyond which we cannot look and because we never look beyond it the thing that we are certain about gets to look like a real thing. Certainty is a cut-off point beyond which we never take any interest and given enough of these ‘cut-off points’ we can construct what looks like an actual world  – the only proviso being that it’s a world without any content. How can there be any content in a world that is created out of rules, a world that is created out of ‘cut-off points’ to our interest? We might reasonable assume that a world without content could never be viable, that it could never function as a world, but this is of course not the case! Clearly it is not the case – we live in exactly such a world every day of our lives. We obviously don’t need actual content!


The way this works out for us in the way that it clearly does is very simple – we make certain arrangements or configurations of these limits, these ‘points beyond which we do not look’, and we get them to represent content. Then, when we’ve done this, we conveniently forget that the arrangement or codification in question is merely a cipher, merely a representation, and proceed as if it were the real thing. Nothing could be easier to pull off, as it happens. Actually, the particular process that we’re talking about here happens all by itself – it doesn’t need our say-so, it doesn’t need our connivance. All it needs is our ‘laziness’ – mental laziness (or ‘inattentiveness’) is all that is needed in order that the products of the rational mind replace reality (as Jung puts it). Hyperreality isn’t a pussycat, hyperreality is aggressive and it proliferates like wildfire, like an infection. Hyperreality (the unacknowledged substitution of the real by the literal symbol) is aggressive in the way that rust setting in on a sheet of bright steel is aggressive, in the way that weeds growing in a flower bed are aggressive…



It might seem peculiar that this substitution process should take place as vigorously, as enthusiastically, as ruthlessly as it does but this should come as no surprise when we consider that what we’re looking at here is the nothing other than the operation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A cruder version of reality is taking the place of a subtler, more complex one, which is another way of saying that the entropy of the system is increasing. Less ‘describing’ is needed in order to do justice to the situation once it has been rendered in cruder brush-strokes and this means that the algorithmic complexity of what it being described has been drastically reduced. Things naturally devolve or degenerate: a crassly generic ‘mass culture’ out-competes any true culture. The true individual disappears under the tidal wave of stereotypical copies. As Robert Hughes says in The Shock of the New, ‘most art aspires to the condition of Muzak.’


Once we have this understanding of why there should be such a tendency for systems to become cruder, for them to become more predictable or generic, then we also have the understand of why it is that there is this ‘aggressive tendency’ for the unreal to replace the real. This is another way of talking about the same thing – as soon as we move from the idiosyncratic or unique ‘original article’ to a set of classes, to a collection of categories, then we have moved from the real to the unreal. Classes are not real – they are abstractions, generalizations, convenient over-simplifications. In the real world there is nothing else apart from individual, unique cases – to make someone or something into a member of a class and nothing more is therefore to do huge injury to whoever or whatever we are classifying in this way. Who or what they really are has been gotten rid of at one stroke, and this act of violence has at the same time been covered up by putting a generic copy in place of the true, priceless original.


The thing about this process by which the bland copy replaces the idiosyncratic original is not just that it that it happens ‘all by itself’ but that it is actually a succinct description or summary of how the rational mind itself works! The rational mind subsumes everything it encounters within its ubiquitous generalizations, within its ever-proliferating ‘classes’ or ‘categories’. How else could it work? If the thinking mind did not subsume everything within its generalizations, within its pre-decided categories, then it wouldn’t be working as ‘the thinking mind’. ‘Thinking’ wouldn’t be taking place! This is like asking what kind of a map it would be that didn’t leave anything out of its formal representation of the territory it is mapping; a map that ‘doesn’t leave anything out’, in other words. The answer to this riddle is of course that a map which doesn’t leave anything out isn’t a map at all – it is the territory! The only thing capable of faithfully doing justice to reality is reality. ‘The only thing equal to the universe is the universe’, as Robert Anton Wilson says.


Reality doesn’t need anything to represent it – it’s doing a perfectly good of being what it is already! Any form of representation of reality is automatically ‘an over –simplification’, i.e. an irreversible degradation or degeneration. It’s ‘irreversible’ because there’s no way to get back to the original from the basis of the (necessarily degraded) copy; the degraded or degenerate copy doesn’t contain any referents to the original. It doesn’t contain any referents to the fact that it is a degraded or degenerate copy anymore than an illusion tells us that it is only an illusion, or a lie tells us that it is only a lie. Certainty doesn’t contain any referents to the fact that it is a degraded copy (or inferior analogue) of the true original, which is radical uncertainty – if it did then it could hardly be so very sure of itself!


The only way to obtain certainty is within a closed system, a closed world, a closed context or framework. Within a closed context the meaning of things is final, irrevocable. Within a closed context what things mean, what things are, is decided forever. We can know them absolutely, unconditionally. Within an open world, on the other hand, all bets are off. Within an open context (which is no context!) nothing can ever be ‘known’ – it’s the fixed and unquestionable FW that allows us to ‘know’ things, after all. ‘CLOSED’ is however – as we have been saying – an inferior analogue of ‘OPEN’. It’s an inversion, a reversal. But we can say more than this – the point that we’re making in this discussion is that there is no such thing as an inferior analogue of reality. There is only reality – there’s no such thing as ‘an inverted form of reality’, a ‘reversed version of reality’. There are no versions of reality – all versions are unreal! There’s no such thing as a degraded or degenerate version of reality – it’s only our ‘false imagination’ that there is. The thinking mind inverts reality for us, and we unquestioningly believe this inversion, but at the same time there’s no such thing as the ‘definite reality’ that we believe in. The bottom line – as we started off by saying right at the beginning of this discussion – is that only the uncertain is real






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