It is possible to create a world out of endless logical tasks, each of which needs to be successfully completed before we can move on to the next one. If a task is not completely then we have to go back to the beginning again and start from scratch. If we can’t complete any particular task then we have to stay stuck. No matter how odd it might sound to say that we can construct a world out of literal or logical tasks laid end to end, this is a perfectly straightforward suggestion. It is both straightforward and entirely feasible – we can make a world in this way very easily! We know that this is a perfectly feasible way to create a world because we do it all the time. This is what David Bohm’s ‘system of thought’ does – it creates a world out of endless logical tasks that can either be successfully completed or not.
An alternative way of putting this is to say that the system of thought creates a world that is made of end-to-end games such that if we win at one game then we graduate to the next. A ‘game’ is a thing that only has the two possibilities in it – either you win or you lose. What – other than these two possibilities – could there be in it? In a game you can’t do better than winning and you can’t do worse than losing; what’s more, we can also point out that there’s nothing in-between! Naturally there’s nothing else in a game other than winning and losing – what else is possibly going to be of any interest to us? When we’re playing a game winning and losing is all that there is and this is another way of saying that when we’re playing a game the game is all that exists. Nothing else exists for us, nothing else matters to us. When we’re playing a game therefore the game is the whole world to us and as we have just said a game is nothing else other than win or lose, advantage or disadvantage.
This is actually a very interesting thing. If we say that a game contains nothing in it other than win and lose, advantage and disadvantage (which we can do since it is very clearly true) then this has a very interesting consequence – albeit a consequence that we might not straightaway spot. The consequence is that the game contains ‘nothing other than the self’. This isn’t actually a consequence so much as a corollary – if the game only has two things in it (those two things being winning and losing) then the game also has nothing in it other than the self since it is only ‘the self’ that either wins or loses… Who else can win or lose, gain advantage or incur disadvantage, other than the self? There’s no room in a game for anything other than the self – anything else is simply irrelevant. All that exists is the self and what it either wants or doesn’t want and what the self wants or doesn’t want, likes or doesn’t like, all boils down to the self. So there is nothing in a game other than the self, and the game – when we really look at it – is nothing other than the self’s system of positive and negative projections.
To say that a game contains nothing apart from the self really is the most extraordinary statement. We have already pointed out that when we play a game there is for us nothing else other than the game so that the game is now ‘our whole world’. We are therefore living in a world that is made entirely of the self! How can this not be an extraordinary thing? The very statement is itself a paradox. When we talk about ‘self’ we are at the same time talking about ‘the other’ – ‘self’ implies ‘other’, as Alan Watts says. We can’t actually have a self without there being a not-self for it to be high-lighted against and yet we have just said that when we are playing a game nothing else exists for us nothing but the game and that there is nothing in the game other than the self. I perceive myself to be this self, a self which is living in a world that is essentially different to it. The self gets to be the self by contrasting itself the background of the world. The self is the figure and the world is the ground – if both self and world were ‘ground’ then there would be no trace of self, the self would no longer exist. There would only be ‘the world’ in this case. And if both the self and the world were ‘figure’ then this wouldn’t work either because figure needs ground to stand out against. There’s no figure if there is no ground. So the self has to ‘play it out’ against the background of a world that is ‘not self’ in order to have the experience of ‘being a self’, if this is not too cumbersome a sentence construction.
This is a problem however because – as we have said – the self doesn’t live in a world that is ‘other’ to itself; on the contrary, it lives in a world that is a projection of itself, an extension of itself, and so what it has to do to get around this is to subscribe the freely-offered illusion that the projection is not a projection but an independent reality. So the game presents itself as not being the game but actual reality and this is how the whole show gets to go on the road and tour around the place. If we saw that the game was only the game (that it only seems real because we have tacitly agreed for it to do so) then at the same time as seeing this we would also see that there is absolutely no meaning in it at all. The whole thing would be instantly revealed as ‘a purely sterile exercise’. So what we’re saying here is that life as it is lived by the conditioned self is 100% sterile, 100% meaningless, 100% hollow, and that the only reason we don’t usually see this is because we are caught up in believing our projections to be a genuine independent reality. The conditioned or unconscious life is all about going around in tight circles without seeing that we are; it is all about ‘non-change disguised as change’. Seeing that the conditioned life is ‘unsatisfactory’ in this way is missing the mark entirely therefore – the conditioned (or rule-based) life is at all time perfectly futile, with no exceptions whatsoever. There is never anything about it that is not wholly and completely redundant; the ‘outcome’ – so to speak – was contained in the starting-off point and, what is more, the ‘starting-off point’ in question was never actually real in the first place!
Another way of approaching this is to say that there never was any change of any genuine ‘relief’ (or ‘release’) in the conditioned realm, which is the realm of thought. There is never going to be any let up from the pressure that we’re under, which is the pressure to ‘do something real’, or ‘be something real’. The continuum of logic is at all times perfectly sterile, as we have said, and so the pressure which we are under – as the hapless inhabitants of this continuum – is the unacknowledged or displaced pressure to find relief from this sterility, this terminal blandness or blankness, to somehow ‘make it good’. So when we say that there is never any genuine prospect of relief in the conditioned realm this is the same as saying that there is never any genuine break from the task that we are engaged in, which is the task of making the logical continuum into something that it isn’t! There is always the ‘task at hand’; there is always the job that needs to be done. As we started out by saying, the conditioned realm is made up of an endless series of literal tasks laid end-to-end without any gap between them. It’s not that this is hugely demanding or challenging, it is just a familiar old chore that is forever needing to be attended to. It is a bureaucratic task – like a very long and convoluted form that needs to be correctly filled in and sent off, so that we can then get on with completing the next form that has arrived in our in-box. It’s isn’t ‘rocket science’ (as they say) but it needs to be done. No creativity is required, just time and persistence and energy – there’s boxes that need to be ticked, and then when we have them ticked then there are other boxes, and other ones, so on and so forth forever.
The logical continuum is – at its heart – the very essence of pointless bureaucracy, therefore. The whole thing is one long drawn-out bureaucratic exercise that actually leads to nothing (even though it implicitly claims otherwise). This scenario is of course a nightmare of hideous proportions but the thing is (as we have said) that we never see it because we are always listening to the promises that are being made to us. We are always buying in the comforting illusion that the system is offering us; we are always believing that we are actually getting somewhere as a result of ticking all the boxes, as a result of completing all the tasks. That’s the whole point of the exercise, after all – that we ‘get somewhere’! This is how the game works therefore, as we have already said – it works on the basis of false promises, on the basis of misleading expectations, on the basis of lies. Obviously a world that is made up entirely of one task after another after another, with never any let up, is a far too appalling prospect for anyone to take on if they were to actually know what they were taking on, but the point is that we don’t. We never let ourselves see the truth of our situation and so we’re actually quite happy ‘to take it on’!
We practically never see that we’re stuck on a tread-mill that is going keep on turning around and around forever without getting anywhere. This is the true reality of the thinking mind, the true reality of the conditioned realm which is the on-going creation of the thinking mind. We don’t see the true picture because it is not given to us to understand; this isn’t a conspiracy orchestrated by some ruling elite (much as the ruling elite always loves to orchestrate conspiracies)- it’s just the way the rational mind works. The thinking mind can never see itself as it truly is. As we’ve said, the only reason the thinking mind works is because it can’t actually see what it’s doing, because it can’t actually see how it is working. This mind operates on the basis of limitations that it cannot see to be limitations; it operates from a very narrow basis that it cannot see to be so narrow. Or as we could also say, the thinking mind runs on the basis of entropy – logic oversimplifies reality via a process of irreversible information loss (it oversimplifies reality without us being able to have any awareness of the fact that it oversimplifies reality in other words) and the outcome of this is that the information which we have thrown out as a result of this ‘oversimplification process’ (which equals Reality Itself!) is lost to us, and we end up with some crude token of reality which we can’t help taking to be the genuine article!
It’s not just that the picture produced by the logical process isn’t the whole story – it isn’t actually any part of the story. It isn’t actually real at all. It’s simply not possible to ‘logically process’ reality without degrading reality into ‘a disguised version of unreality’. Reality isn’t a logical continuum – it isn’t an endless series of literal tasks (or statements) laid end-to-end. It isn’t something that can be measured or fitted into any kind of grid-reference system. Reality is the same thing as unconditioned space and saying that it is ‘unconditioned’ is another way of saying that it can’t be quantified. Our ‘quantifications’ are unreal; the scales that we use for quantifying stuff are simplifications of a reality that can’t be simplified. Unconditioned space is neither big nor small, in other words. It is the Atman, which is ‘bigger than big and smaller than small’.
A logical continuum on the other hand is the tautological extension of a geometrical point, which is an ‘exercise in redundancy’. The geometrical point, when extended outwards indefinitely, gives rise to the logical continuum, but at the same time that geometrical point only makes sense within the continuum (just as a grid-reference only makes sense within a grid), which makes it a tautological expansion of something that wasn’t even real (i.e. an ‘independently existent phenomenon’) in the first place. Reality as we perceive it through the thinking mind is some kind of a trick or deception therefore – it is something that appears to be what it is not, but what it more, this thing that appears to be what it is not isn’t anything! We could also say that the picture of reality that we receive via the logical mind isn’t reality but something which takes on the semblance of reality; it takes on ‘the semblance or reality’ by default, so to speak, since there is nothing else. There has to be something which is ‘reality’, after all!
We could also say that the real world gets refracted through the lens of our everyday mind and this ‘refracted form of reality’ has a property lacking in the original, un-refracted reality, the property of polarity. Polarity means that everything gets seen, everything gets constructed, in terms of sets of opposites. There exists a necessary tension between these opposites (‘opposition’ being the only way opposites can relate to each other!) and this ‘necessary tension’ (as Heraclitus says) is the dynamic basis for all the activity that happens in the polar realm.
A go-kart will run all by itself downhill from HIGH to LOW, the south pole of a magnet will be attracted to the north pole of another, a pendulum bob will move from the furthest extension of its swing to the opposite extreme, and so on. The same system of closed dynamism holds good (of course) in the psychological realm – one opposite attracts and the other repels. Everything is about securing the one and excluding the other. One opposite lures us on by seeming to be full of delightful promise whilst the other repels us beyond measure by being thoroughly ‘non-delightful’, by thoroughly hideous and repulsive. The positive pole, when we get close enough to it, subsumes the whole of what seems good to us about life and becomes as a consequence maddeningly attractive and with the negative pole the converse is true – it comes to personify everything that is undesirable and objectionable about life. Reality becomes polarized, in other words…
In the realm of polarity everything revolves around the mutual antagonism of one opposite to another. This is ‘the war of the opposites’. The notion of everything being about trying to gain one opposite and at the same time avoid the other doesn’t seem in any way outlandish or bizarre to us because this dynamism underpins so much of what we do. The principle of polarity actually underpins the functioning of the thinking mind, so of course we don’t see it as being strange! But even though the logic of ‘one opposite against the other’ doesn’t seem in any way bizarre or outlandish to us it is – the whole thing is actually quite nonsensical, to be perfectly frank about it. The central premise of the conditioned realm (that it is possible to have the one opposite without the other) is completely and utterly impossible. If it were possible to successfully run away from the undesired opposite and successfully reach the safety of the desired on then that would be fine, but this is precisely what is NOT possible. There just isn’t the space between the two poles to allow for this. There is no space between the two poles of PLUS and MINUS for the simple reason that PLUS and MINUS are the same thing, just as Alan Watts says BUYING and SELLING are the same thing, both being essential aspects of the same interaction. Whoever heard of a transaction that has buying in it but no selling, after all?
The ‘polar world’ is just another way of talking about a game and a game – as we have already said – is made up of only two things – winning and losing. In a game there is only ever one or the other and there is nothing at all between them. Nothing exists that is not related to either one or the other. What we are talking about here is a boundary – a boundary being a type of ‘mathematical fiction’. Boundaries have a legitimate enough existence in maths of course but not in the real world. A boundary is a boundary because of the way in which it separates the inside from the outside and this is therefore how we get to have ‘an inside’ and ‘an outside’. But the dividing line that gives rise to the whole polarity (the divide that gives rise to there being an inside and an outside) isn’t actually real itself. It’s just an abstract notion; it’s just an idea that we have imposed on the world (just as a meteorologist might impose a system of isobars on the Atlantic Ocean to represent the existence of a depression. So all of our activity, all of our thinking, all of our planning and scheming, our hoping and fearing, is based on polarity and polarity is just a construct of our arbitrary way of thinking about things…
We spend the biggest part of our lives trying to separate the opposites, trying to have the positive outcome rather than the negative one. We spend most of our waking lives trying to do this (trying to progress our situation within the terms of a polar framework) and yet what we’re trying to do just isn’t possible. The ‘war of the opposites’ is a pointless war – it’s never going to be won. This being the case, why are we so fundamentally orientated towards believing that it can, towards deluding ourselves that we can win it? Why are we holding on so absolutely tightly to the promise that the system of thought is giving us, the promise that one day – in reward for our effort – we are actually going to get something that will make the time we have spend devoting ourselves to all these tedious mind-created tasks worthwhile? Why do we cling so determinedly to the idea that the treadmill we’re stuck on isn’t a treadmill at all but a highway to some wonderful destination?
In a kind of a way it could be said that we actually are getting something out of this deal, even though we have up to this point been saying that we aren’t. The task is bogus alright, but we are nevertheless getting something out of it! This is ‘reverse or backwards-pointing logic’ – if there is a job to do then it follows that there must be one who is to perform it. If there is all this ‘pressure to perform’ (the pressure to do well rather than badly in the task) then it follows that this pressure must be on someone. It can’t be on no-one! If there is all this intense compulsion, then there must be someone who is being compelled. The conditioned self cannot exist outside of this world that is made up of one logical task after another, laid end-to-end without a break, this world without any possibility of relief or release in it. It cannot exist outside the world of polarity because constructs itself in polar terms.
So even though this world (the polar or conditioned realm) is fundamentally jinxed, the self-which-is-who-we-think-we-are doesn’t exactly have a lot of choice here. It has precisely zero choice in the matter – it has to make do in the jinxed world of polarity. It has to make the most of things because it can never leave this self-contradictory world. Its only option is to buy into the illusion that is being provided for it – the extraordinarily intoxicating illusion that it is possible to permanently separate the opposites, which is the same thing as the deluded belief that there is one day going to be an end to all the endless petty tasks. The only way out from the impossible dilemma is in other words to subscribe to the illusion that there is one day going to be a release from the pressure to ‘get it right’ that we are constantly under. If we didn’t keep on clinging to the belief that this is possible then how could we go on?