Paradox And The Illusion Of Personal Causation

The puzzle is this: “How do we live life in such a way that we are not trying to do it in any particular way?” This is a puzzle that can come in many different guises, some more familiar than others. We can also express the problem this way: “How can we live life in such a way that we are not always trying to solve some sort of a problem?


When we express it like this the nature of the puzzle that we’re talking about becomes clearer of course – the so-called ‘puzzle’ is actually a paradox, which means that it isn’t really a puzzle (or a problem) at all. It isn’t a problem because it can’t be solved – it only looks as if it can be solved! The problem is that the problem isn’t really a problem therefore; or as we could also say, the problem is that we are taking the so-called problem seriously, as if it really were such.


The problem is that there is no problem. There seems to be a problem as far as we are concerned and so we try our best to solve it but because there is no solving of it we are trapped in this ongoing futile attempt to fix what can’t be fixed. There is no fixing of this particular problem because the problem is actually a perfect paradox and the whole point of a paradox is that every attempt we make to fix it rebounds on us straightaway. A problem is only a problem if there is a solution somewhere; if there’s no solution then very clearly there’s no point in trying to find one!


The original formulation of our puzzle was this: How do we live life in such a way that we’re not living it in some particular way (which is to say, in accordance with some idea or other, some theory or other). This is clearly a jinx in that the problem lies not with living life ‘not in any particular way’ but in the injunction that we should do so. The problem is in the instruction or rule that we have been given because as soon as we try to obey it we break it.


There is no glitch at all in living life ‘not in any particular way’. That’s the only way to live life – life is not something that happens in accordance with some idea, some notion, some cock-eyed theory about ‘how things should be’. That wouldn’t be life at all, but rather some sort of unhappy caricature of it. But just as soon as we try to live life ‘not in any particular way’ we are living life in a particular way and so we are glitched. We now have an agenda to live life without an agenda and that itself is an agenda. We are trying to obey the rule that says ‘there must be no rule’ and that just isn’t possible.


The thing about a glitch is that there is no space in it. A glitch contains no possibility of escaping from the glitch and that’s what makes it a glitch. A glitch is a glitch precisely because it does not contain the possibility of escaping from the glitch. ‘Space’ means that there is some possibility there, some possibility of moving in some way – if there is space in a situation then we’re not stuck. There’s no space in a glitch however; there’s no space at all and that’s why we are stuck.


We’ve been wrong-footed right from the start because what we’ve been told to do isn’t possible. We’ve been wrong-footed right from the start and because we’ve been wrong-footed right from the start no matter what we do it’s always going to be wrong. If we try to obey the rule or instruction then straightaway we’re wrong (because to obey the glitch-rule is to break it) and if we don’t try to obey the rule or instruction we’re wrong as well because – by definition – it’s wrong not to obey the rule…


That is in the nature of instructions after all – it is in the nature of instructions that we are supposed to do what we have been instructed to do. It is in the nature of a rule that we are expected to obey the rule! No rule ever comes with the lawful possibility of ‘not obeying the rule if we don’t want to’ built in as ‘part of the package’, so to speak. Another way of expressing this is simply to say that there is no space in rules. There is no space, there is no leeway.


There is no space in rules. How can this be however? How can something have ‘no space in it’ and yet still be a thing? If we go back to the rule which demands of us that we live in some way that isn’t trying to solve a problem we can see how this is a glitched endeavour – it’s a glitched endeavour because just as soon as we try to live life in a way that isn’t an attempt to solve a problem we are trying to solve a problem. We’re trying to solve the problem of ‘making sure that we’re not trying to solve a problem’. The particular way that we’re trying to live our lives is the way of a person who isn’t trying to solve a problem and that particular ‘way of living’ represents the solution to our problem, therefore.


So the thing is (as we said before) that we’re wrong no matter what we do. We’re wrong if we try to obey the rule because what the rule is essentially saying is that we have to live life in such a way that we’re not trying to obey a rule and if we obey this rule then we’re straightaway breaking it. But – as we also said before – if we don’t obey the rule then we’re also breaking it and so we’re breaking it either way. This is a classic double-bind therefore and the key feature of a double-bind is that it pretends to give us a possibility when what it’s actually giving us isn’t possibility at all. There is ‘no space in a double-bind’ in other words and that’s what makes a double-bind be a double-bind.


Now we can easily see that this is true for glitched rules – we can easily see that glitched rules seem to be pointing us in the direction of fulfilling a possibility that isn’t actually a possibility at all. We can get that. What we don’t get is that all rules are by their very nature glitched, because all rules have no space in them. We can’t see that every rule there ever was is inherently self-contradictory, is inherently glitched. We somehow assume that there is space in rules therefore, that they do contain some the honest-to-goodness possibility of obeying them successfully.  


Yet if a rule were to have space in it then there would have to be some difference between where it starts and where it leaves off. There would have to be a gap or discontinuity between ‘where the rule starts off from’ and ‘the outcome that comes about as a result of enacting the rule’. But this can never be the case – there can never be such a discontinuity. Genuine change never comes about as a result of enacting a rule. The only way change can ever come about is as a result of breaking the rule, not obeying it. That’s the only way that the unpredictable can ever come about – as a result of moving out of the Equilibrium State. When a rule is enacted this takes us closer and closer to the equilibrium and equilibrium means ‘no change’. We’re forever approaching a fixed point and this is the illusion of movement.


Where a rule starts off from and where it eventually goes to are the same place. That’s why we say that rules produce ‘linear change’ – rules result in change that can be predicted every step of the way and this isn’t change at all therefore. Nothing is happening as a result of following the rule and that’s the whole point of the rule. There is no possibility of change and so there is no possibility of ‘me producing that change’, no matter how hard I strain myself. Genuine doing cannot happen ‘on purpose’ – sterile stuckness happens, not genuine doing. Futile straining happens.


Psychologically speaking (instead of mechanically speaking, which is different) unless there is there is the space for something to happen it never can. Space means no rules, no purposefulness. Space means that I can ‘do it or not do it’, that its fine both ways. Space equals equanimity, therefore. It equals freedom. It equals the absence of rules. It equals creativity. There is something very peculiar about this however – something unexpected, something that we might not spot. If there is the space to either do the thing or not do it, then this does away with the illusion of the doer, the causal agent. This is fairly obvious, once we reflect on it. If there is no openness, no space, then I can say that I have caused something to happen. It was me, I did it. I am responsible. I am ‘the controller’. This is the illusion of personal causation. Creativity isn’t like this though – creativity isn’t causation. Creativity happens through us but we aren’t the ‘author’ of it, and so this lack of authorship dissolves the notion of the concrete self.


The illusion of personal causation is necessary if I am to believe in myself as an actual agent, as an actual separate self or entity that can decide on this or that, and put these decisions into action. To ‘be a self’ is to have the power of personal causation. If we debunk this ‘power of personal causation’ we also debunk the self therefore. Without the logical continuity there can be no concrete ego-self. If I become conscious enough to see that all action arises from freedom (or openness) rather than from mechanical necessity or rules or purposes, then at the same time I have seen through the illusion of the self…





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