Virtual Separation

Just as long as the continuum of logic exists then there can be such a thing as ‘a location’ and just so long as there can be such a thing as ‘a location’ then there can be such a thing as ‘a journey that can take place between them’. In other words, a symmetry break creates a continuum. The points which make up a continuum are held apart at the same time as being held together: they are ‘apart’ because being at one location on the continuum is a genuinely different proposition to being at another location, and they are ‘together’ because it is possible from any one particular starting-off location to reach any other location on the continuum. A continuum demonstrates Aristotle’s principle of mutual exclusivity – which is to say, if I am at one place then I cannot at the same time be at another. This logical principle is what defines the continuum – the impossibility of being at two or more locations at the same time is what makes the continuum a continuum because it is this stipulation that makes the very idea of ‘location’ meaningful. Were the principle of exclusivity to be violated then the whole thing straightaway falls apart at the seams. To say that a continuum ‘demonstrates’ Aristotelian two-term logic (i.e. either I am here or I am there) does not therefore get the idea across properly – a continuum is the same thing as Aristotelian two-term logic, from beginning to end it is nothing else than pure ‘either/or-ism’. Locations do not of course have to be physical since wherever we have quantification (or categorization, which is the same thing) we have the possibility – in fact the necessity – of localization within that framework. This gives us another way of approaching two-term logic –

Not only is it that case in Aristotelian Logic that if you are in one location then you cannot also be in another, it is also the case that, within the terms of this logic, you have to be somewhere.

 

If we look at what these two strictures mean in the widest possible sense – which is to say when applied to locations within a logical system or continuum – it can be seen that they neatly encapsulate everything that we have been saying about the rational mind. Within the terms of the continuum of rationality, all phenomena have to obey the law of either/or. Within a particular system of measurement whatever is being measured must fall within one category or another. If it doesn’t then this means that the system is being ‘disrespected’ – the inference is that the system has no genuine applicability, that it is a nonsense. The second stricture comes down to the same thing. It sounds reasonable enough on the face of it to say that a phenomenon, if it genuinely exists, must exist somewhere. In terms of physical location this is a well-known logical principle – when something has gone unaccountably missing we invariably say to each other at some point or other “Well, it must be somewhere…” Similarly, when we try to make sense of something, or try to pin it down within our conceptual framework, we also rely on this principle – that the datum under consideration must be categorizable in some way or other. We take it totally for granted that whatever it is that we are investigating must have some sort of relationship to the framework which we are using to do the investigating. We always direct our analysing outwards, in the blind belief that resolution must be possible if we keep at it long enough; the other possibility – the possibility that the basis of our analysing may be at fault – is one that never occurs to us. The underlying psychological reason for this one-sidedness can hardly be called a mystery – logic does not work when its premises are brought under examination and our ultimate allegiance is, as a general rule, to the continuing integrity of the system of logic above all other considerations.

The consequence of this misplaced but totally unyielding allegiance can be seen in any neurotic condition that you might care to think of: in neurosis we invest completely in the unrealistic possibility of fixing our neurotic predicament via purposeful activity (or purposeful thinking, which is the same thing), and so when this purposeful activity fails us – or, to be more accurate, when it rebounds on us – we respond to the resultant exacerbation of the distress caused by our neurotic predicament by ‘upping the ante’ and escalating our purposeful behaviour even more. Neurotic suffering means that I am locating my problem where it doesn’t belong so that rather than looking where it does belong – in my narrow logical way of understanding the world – I perceive it extraneously as existing in the world, or in some aspect of myself. The torment-producing snag in this not-so-clever dodge is very easy to see –

In order to fix the (falsely) extraneously located problem I have to utilize the very system of thought that has created the problem in the first place and so my means of ‘resolving’ my difficulty is also – unbeknownst to me – the root cause of the difficulty.

 

VIRTUAL SEPARATION

 

We have said that points on a continuum are held apart at the same time as being held together.  They are ‘apart’ because – within the terms of the continuum – being in one location is pre-eminently different proposition to being at another. Locations on the continuum of logic are not just different, they mutually exclude, as Aristotle said. They are ‘together’ because it is possible to reach – via a strict logical process – any other location on the continuum from the starting-off point, wherever that might be. Taken together, these two strictures give us a good feel for what is mean by the term ‘continuum’ and we can put forward the following functional definition –

A continuum separates possibilities at the same time as logically relating them to one another.

If the possibilities were not separated then the obviously the different locations that it is possible to visit are not different after all, and so the whole thing becomes a nonsense. If the possibilities were not logically connected then – even more obviously – the whole idea of the continuum is again completely lost. In the first case any movement between points is possible but at the same time meaningless, whilst in the second case there simply can be no possibility of any planned (i.e. controlled) movement that will take us from one point to another. We can say three things here, which when considered together tell us something rather intriguing:

[1] Linear change has no existence outside of the continuum of logic.

 

[2] The continuum of logic itself has no existence apart from the symmetry break that created it. 

 

[3] The symmetry break in question has no existence outside of the context which it itself presupposes.

 

The journeys undertaken between the various locations are real journeys if the continuum itself is a real sort of a thing but not real otherwise. But as we can see, the continuum is only a symptom of the symmetry-break, and the symmetry break is only real from its own viewpoint – a viewpoint which itself cannot therefore be said to be independently or objectively real. Thus, the operations that take place within the logic continuum (or within the system of thought, which is another way of talking about the same thing) are meaningful only when we refrain from noticing the self-referential loop that creates the system in the first place. The journeys that we make within this realm are virtual journeys, and the locations between which we journey are also virtual. The locations appear to be different – but actually there is no difference at all! All change that takes place within the continuum or system of logic is virtual change, and any ‘information’ relating to the various states that are possible within the system is therefore no more than ‘virtual information’. If we use the idea of the sheet of canvas which has developed wrinkles or hollows in it (each hollow representing the virtual space that apparently exists between PLUS and MINUS poles) we can say that as long as there is enough ‘slack in the canvas’ then we are permitted the luxury of the hollow, and in this case we find ourselves in possession of the boon whereby there actually does seem to be a distance (or separation) between all the points or locations on the continuum, and so the virtual manifests as being pragmatically real. Take away the slack however, and the continuum folds up instantly, as if it had never been (which it never did). When the slack – which was never really there in the first place – is taken away all the separation between points vanishes and all the logical rules upon which the continuum was made are revealed as being utterly redundant, utterly fatuous. The whole thing just collapses without leaving a trace – it doesn’t just negate itself, it super-negates itself.

 

SPACE-TIME PRODUCTIONS

 

The rampant ‘out-bunching’ of the informational contour-lines as they leave the North Pole of the information core (which itself contains no PLUS and no MINUS, no ‘NORTH’ and no ‘SOUTH’) may therefore be said to represent the production of a fully-fledged virtual reality – the virtual reality of ‘space-time’. For this reason it could be said – if we want to be accurate about it – that entropy (rather than some all-powerful patriarchal Creator God) is the author of the phenomenal universe. Just as entropy produces all frameworks, all polarities, all subject-object dualities, it also produces space-time itself, which can be seen in a pretty straightforward way as a combination of the over-arching framework of the spatial dimensions and the basic temporal polarity of <PAST> versus <FUTURE>. Entropy produces space-time, but because entropy means ‘informational loss’, and since in absolute terms there can never be any such thing as ‘information loss’, there is no such thing as entropy. Or to put it another way, there is no such thing as entropy except when one looks at things from the point of view of an unquestionable or absolute framework (always bearing in mind the pertinent fact that any possible framework, when questioned, will inevitably show itself to be the very furthest thing from ‘absolute’).

 

ENTROPY CREATES CERTAINTY

 

Instead of saying that entropy produces our frameworks, our basic polarities, and the fundamental subject/objective polarity which we base all of our understanding of the universe, we could just come right out of it and say that entropy creates certainty, which is the only currency of the rational mind. This is – it must be acknowledged – a tremendously challenging statement. It is in fact the single most challenging statement it is possible to make – no matter how hard and long you think about it, you aren’t going to be able to come up with anything even remotely close. The classic ‘mind-blowing’ hypotheses’, such as for example the suggestion that we were put here on planet Earth by aliens, or the suggestion that actually all the important events in history have already been foretold, or that human affairs under the control of some shadowy all-powerful secret society, all pale into pure insignificance (if not to say pure banality) when compared to this. No matter what anyone says, this sort of thing only ever comes down to one type of certainty being transcribed into some other type of certainty, one dreary theory being replaced with another equally dreary theory. It doesn’t matter what one is being certain about – what one is literally describing – it all comes down to the same thing in the end, which is not the supposedly amazing thing being described, but the ubiquitous system that is being used to describe it. No matter what the system talks about, dreams about, or enthuses about, it is all just a red-herring, a ‘dummy-issue’ – what the system is really talking about, dreaming about, enthusing about, etc, is itself and itself is the single most tedious, worthless, crappy thing there is or ever could be. ‘Itself’ is ‘non-information masquerading as information’, or in other words ‘itself’ is entropy.

Even though the statement that it is entropy that creates certainty is maximally challenging, it is also not too hard to argue. In essence, we can say that certainty – which is to say the possibility of making statements that are definitely true – is a function of the unquestionable nature of our premise. This can be expressed in terms of a very simple and very obvious reciprocal relationship –

The less I can question the basis from which I operate in my thinking, the surer I am going to be about the products of my mental operations.

 

THE UNRELIABLE WITNESS

 

This is nothing if not straightforward – if a witness is reliable we can trust his testimony and if he is not then whatever he tells us is quite useless, no matter how vehemently he swears that he is telling the truth. If an outstandingly wise and knowledgeable person tells me something it is well worth my while listening, but if a complete fool tells me something then I would be a fool myself if I were to take any notice. With regard to the logical operation of the mind it is not knowledge that matters but the reliability or applicability of the rules of logical that we are applying, and this in turn is a function of the validity of the premises which we are assuming, since rules come out of a particular framework, a particular logical ‘stance’. This however is where we run into trouble because the nature of reality is such that it cannot be legitimately reduced to any single logical angle or stance. The richness of reality is a function of this ‘irreducibility’ – it is a function of some basic ineradicable form of elusiveness. Rudy Rucker (P 161-2) puts this nicely in mathematical terms,

Try to catch the universe in a finite net of axioms and the universe will fight back. Reality is, on the deepest level, essentially infinite. No finitely programmed machine can ever exhaust the richness of the mental and physical world we inhabit. 

Whilst this is great news from the point of marvellous inexhaustible richness, it is not such great news with regard to our desire for certainty, and so our problem is basically how we are going to ignore or turn our back on all that seething, groundless, unfathomable richness. This is in fact the basic problem of the rational mind and if we understand this then we understand why there exists this perverse tendency in us all to gravitate towards small-mindedness, to shun the mysteries of life by embracing petty dogmas and theories, pointless rules and empty formalities. The principle regarding the trade-off between the much desired commodity of ‘certainty’ and the amount of ‘ufathomableness’ (i.e. ‘depth’) we are prepared to tolerate in life is what lies behind the characteristic human behaviour of ‘stubbornly pretending to be much stupider than one really is’. Because we need the certainty of our banal so-called ‘truths’ so much, we settle for an existence that is so shallow that it enters the realm of the utterly ridiculous. This shallowness can be simply explained as a steadfast and assiduous refusal to look any deeper than the ‘outermost skin of the onion’, so to speak, which is the surface-level appearance of reality as it is produced by our conceptualizing  mind.

This papery-thin surface-level appearance is a function of choices that we have made and then forgotten about with regard to how to look at whatever it is we are looking at. Alternatively, we could say that it is a function of unconscious choices we have made regarding what to look for in whatever we are looking at. Put like this, it can be seen that what we are calling ‘shallowness’ doesn’t even deserve that much credence since the outermost skin of the onion, no matter how thin, is at least part of the onion whereas the skin of surface-level appearances is not the skin of the onion which is reality, but the skin of our own percept system which is projected outwards so that it covers everything like some sort of dreadfully tasteless wallpaper that one cannot get away from. If it were only bad wallpaper we were suffering from we could at least complain about the decorator or the landlord but in the case of the projected ‘bad wallpaper’ of our perceptual/conceptual system there is clearly no one else to blame other than oneself.

 

IF ANYTHING COULD BE TRUE…

 

Whilst we can readily understand that the value of the testimony is strictly dependent upon the reliability of the one who testifies the idea that the degree of certainty we possess regarding the validity of our picture of the world is dependent upon how good we are at not examining our mental framework does not immediately make sense in the same way. This is because we automatically believe that there must be such a thing as ‘the right way of looking at the world’ – we are sure that it must be possible to have a framework that is absolutely reliable. The belief, so very strongly implanted in us, that there must be a way of looking at things that will correctly and fully reveal the world to us is what Prigogine and Stengers were talking about in the quotation given earlier when they spoke of  the impossibility of there being any such thing as ‘divine point of view’. If there were such a divine point of view then we could use it in order to become aware of facts that are objectively or independently true but if there were not such a divinely-sanctioned vantage point then what we would be seeing would reflect our own choices in the matter of whatever viewpoint it is that we are using (in other words, what we are talking about is not a genuine perception but ‘logical tautology’). If there were a divine point of view then the self which constructs itself with regard to this point of view would be a divinely sanctioned self, immutable and irreducible, but if there were to be no such specially exalted point of view, then anything at all could be ‘self’, and so there would be no self. If anything can be true, then nothing is true.

 

ENTROPY ADDICTS

 

Rationality means entropy, it means that the precisely-defined forms or images which we rely upon for our daily functioning are produced via the agency of ignoring, and then ignoring the fact that we are ignoring. The point that we have been making in all this is that the less we are able to question our framework the surer we are about the things about which we are sure. ‘Unquestionable’ means, as we were saying, that I avoid any awareness of the freedom which I had to choose or not choose the position that I am taking. It also means, as a sort of knock-on consequence, that I take things to be what they seem to be (or what I have tacitly accepted them to be). The rule here is that no matter what I do I must not under any circumstances look any deeper into what I am doing and why. If I do go any deeper then everything is guaranteed to blow up in my face.

 

This comes down to the situation of having a dependency upon soothing that is not at all dependable. It is like having a certificate which states such-and-such and such-and-such, upon the authenticity of which a whole set-up, a whole system, a whole world relies. Basically, I need to believe that what this certificate claims to be true really is true – I need to believe that it is genuine, that it is a true and authentic guarantee of whatever it is that it purports to guarantee. My willingness to examine the authenticity of the certificate is therefore going to vary in reverse proportion to the investment I have made. Once the system is in place, hanging as it does from this one precarious hook and nothing else, then clearly I will not want to do anything that will jeopardise the apparent validity of the hook upon which I am hanging my whole world. After all – pragmatically speaking – it makes no difference to me whether the certificate is genuine or not just so long as I believe that it is. Going on this logic therefore, I will enshrine the certificate behind glass and then stick it in a safe somewhere and never look at it again. And if you come along and start asking questions I am going to get extremely annoyed; if I could, I would probably love to have you shot or – even better – burned alive. Rather than seeing the complete lack of trust that I have in my own position (which is what my unwillingness to investigate the authenticity of the certificate comes down to) and rather than allowing myself to see the extreme un-wisdom of putting all my eggs in this particular basket, I will turn this all around and perceive instead the effrontery, the nihilistic irresponsibility, the sheer wrong-headedness of the one who dares to question the sacred touchstone.

The all-important commodity of certainty depends upon my vantage point being the absolute one-and-only true centre of the universe, and not just ‘one of many possible vantage points’, each one of which would automatically seem like the centre of the universe were I to adopt it. Because of my upside-down viewpoint the impossibility of there being such a thing as a special, divinely sanctioned point of view tends to come as a dreadful blow, despite the fact this impossibility is actually evidence of an awesome generosity, a generosity which stands in stark and shocking contrast to the meanness and pettiness of my own position. Such generosity appals and terrifies me because everything that I have, everything I am, the whole set up, the whole industry of ‘me’, depends upon my fundamentally mean-spirited and small-minded view of the world being the ‘right and proper’ one. In short, the whole shebang depends on me seeing everything upside down. We could say that it depends upon me seeing limitation as good, and the absence of limitation as an evil to be resisted at all costs but this wouldn’t quite be stating matters rightly. Rather, we should say that the whole shebang depends upon me unconsciously assuming that limitation is the source of all blessings, whilst making sure the whole time that I cover up any possible intimation of what we might call ‘no limitation’ with a remarkably effective strategy. This strategy can be seen in terms of the ceaselessly indefatigable industry of my own ‘self-willed stupidity’, which is to say, it can be seen as being constituted by my awesomely tireless and feverishly obsessive preoccupation with the repetitive or cyclic productions of my own frighteningly closed mind.

 

REFUSING TO SEE ONE’S OWN IRRELEVANCE

 

The continuum of logically related possibilities which is the rational mind can be characterized in another way by saying that it embodies a fundamental refusal to accept that there might be something which has no relationship with its own particular slant. This is like someone who refuses to let a fact stand as it is, but always insists on having the last say. So no matter what you say, I will always come back to you with a “Yes, but…” where the ‘but…’ represents my own angle which I am now going to tack onto what you have said, thereby making what you have said part of my truth. In this way I automatically deny you any credit that you might otherwise have had coming to you for your insight and claim it all for myself instead. In the same way as a person who always wants to be the one who is right, the system of thought always co-opts everything of value so that the value in question corroborates its own authority. Rather than allowing elements to be what they actually are, the system reinterprets them according to its own ideological standpoint. Whilst slimily paying lip-service to the element in question, it sneakily insinuates itself into the picture, thereby making itself a crucial part of it all. By sneakily inserting itself into the picture like this what the system is doing is taking over – it is copying the elements that it has appropriated from the outside world into its own terms, it is expressing them in its own language, speaking on their behalf, and therefore it is actually surreptitiously transforming the elements into itself.

 

SWAPPING TREASURE FOR TRASH AND FEELING GOOD ABOUT IT…

 

The ‘continuum of thought’ is the continuum of my own slant, my own agenda, it is the continuum of my refusal to take things as they are in themselves. We could equally well that the rational mind – which tippexes over everything it doesn’t agree with like a censor gone mad – is the continuum of my insistence of seeing everything my own way.  The insane insistence of the system on imposing a fantastically crude and impoverished viewpoint upon the world, whilst never pausing long enough to see what it is actually doing, sums up human psychology in a single sentence. Reams might be written on the subject, university lecturers might wax lyrical on the wonders of it all or feel inspired to write learned articles, but what we call ‘psychology’ all comes down to nothing the singularly banal and quite ubiquitous operation of substitution whereby the original subtle and ineffably wonderful ‘genuine article’ is compulsively (and perversely) replaced by a staggeringly crude and appallingly dismal ‘degenerate analogue’. This process can be seen at work every day –you only has to nip into the newsagents first thing in the morning, pick up the first newspaper you see, and give it a read. To get the real flavour of what a freshly minted degenerate analogue looks like there one can do no better than to have a look at one of the trashier Sunday newspapers – despite the evident obnoxiousness and undeniable repulsiveness of the product there is at the same time an unhealthy tug of attraction towards reading it, towards dipping into the wretched stuff, and if one does start to give in to the temptation there is always the ominous warning sensation that one is in a sense selling one’s soul for a moment’s trivial titillation. As one settles into reading it one’s finer sensibilities are progressively lost, one by one, until what is being read starts to look quite reasonable, if not completely commendable…

 

COMPULSORY IMPOVERISHMENT

 

The compulsive substitution of the cheap and the tawdry in the place of genuine treasure, whilst all the while fondly imagining that one is gloriously progressing, sums up life as it is when lived within the unconscious (i.e. rational) mode. The gung-ho, apparently glorious path of ‘onward degeneration’ into ever-decreasing circles of utter futility and perfectly ghastly absurdity traces the trajectory of a career that is based upon pursuing goals that are false analogues (or red herrings) and as we have said whenever there is a break in symmetry, an abrupt and invisibly cataclysmic plunge in the direction of drastically reduced available information, these red herrings spring up all around us in unending abundance. The state of being perpetually engrossed in, concerned with, made anxious by an unending daily supply of perfectly trivial mental attachments is what we call neurosis. A psychiatrist might argue that neurosis is the result of a malfunctioning brain, a psychotherapist might say that it is a learned pattern of behaviour, but the most basic explanation of all is to say that neurosis is due to a drastic increase in mental entropy, which is to say, an increase in the degree of inner impoverishment which we are unhappily subject to. When we look at things this way, we can turn around to the psychiatrist or the psychotherapist and suggest that their view of their patient or client’s problems is also a symptom of ubiquitous mental entropy. In fact any satisfyingly black-and-white theory or model or thought that we might have about the world is a symptom of mental entropy, without exception. And if you think – in  flat, rational sort of a way – that you understand this ‘entropy theory’ of mental illness causation (which is functionally identical to the ‘entropy theory’ of theory-causation) then this feeling of understanding too is a manifestation of  an invisible increase in inner impoverishment, a step backwards that feels like an accomplishment.

Why the rational life should be characterizable as a relentless ‘non-movement’ in the direction of ever-increasing tackiness, ever-increasing fatuousness, whilst the whole time causing one to suffer from the pernicious illusion that one is genuinely is progressing, naturally follows from the idea that the rationally-constructed self is a kind of hole or gap in the universal field of consciousness, an absence which perversely perceives everything else to be the absence, and itself to be ‘the real thing’, the fulcrum of existence, etc. If we can make the necessary effort in mental acrobatics to see everything ‘back-to-front’ from the way we usually see it, and see that the nullity which is the ‘me’ labours constantly under misapprehension of its own vital importance, its own ‘irreplaceability’, its own vital role, its own fundamental centrality in the scheme of things, etc, then it is easy to further see that the prognosis for this self is not very good. Its career, far from being glorious, partakes more in the quality of a kind of tragic farce or farcical tragedy – the tragic-farcical nature of which is due to the fact that it cannot see the true nature of the play which it is caught up in, and persists therefore in stubbornly in taking seriously what ought not to be taken seriously at all (which is to say, itself). The reason why the ‘me’ ought not to take itself so very seriously (that is, unless it actually wants to create an absurd situation) is simply because the ‘me’, along with the particular, oversimplified version of the world within which the ‘me’ constructs itself – is bought at the price of being stupendously unaware of the greater part of reality. Trying to do something, to achieve something, on the basis of this ‘lump of ignorance which sees itself as a positive entity’ is therefore bound to be something of a non-starter. What actually happens, in all cases, is that the node of self-deceiving deficiency which is ‘me’ unfailingly propagates itself in all its works. On the trivial level, I can achieve my goals and temporarily get to feel good as a result, but on a deeper level – since the entire remit of everything I know and perceive is based on a fantastically narrow and distorted viewpoint – any gains that I have made as a result of my assiduous purposeful behaviour is only ‘progress within a game’; it is progress only within the terms of ‘the game which is me’. No matter what I – as a conditioned self or ego – might imagine I am achieving in my life, all I am really achieving is to successfully perpetuate the delusion which is myself, on and on ad infinitum.

 

THE ‘CONTINUUM OF HUNGER’

 

We can also look at this with regard to what we have said about the ‘continuum of logic’ which is the everyday mind. Bearing in mind the provisional nature of the continuum (i.e. bearing in mind the fact that the reality of the continuum is dependent upon the existence of a symmetry-break and a symmetry break only looks like a symmetry-break from the point of view which it itself has produced) we can say that the continuum of mind is a species of sterility which continuously manifests a virulent form of ‘false fecundity’. We can also characterize it by saying that it is a pseudo-region of informational impoverishment which represents itself as being the source of all information. Either way, the region of impoverishment has a frighteningly voracious quality in that it is never content to rest but must always reach outwards like an amoeba from hell which wants to engulf the world. Instead of the abstract, impersonal concept of the continuum we can think in terms of a person who is driven by some sort of terrible inner vacuum. Because I am inwardly impoverished, the overwhelming tendency will be – in the absence of great personal courage on my part – to turn my vice into a virtue and go flat out trying to impose my condition on everyone else. As soon as this is put down in so many words, what is being described becomes immediately recognizable as a deeply familiar phenomenon, both in individual cases and on the wider sociopolitical scale of things. One might for example think of religions, particular the repressive, intolerant protestant strains of Christianity, or perhaps the more obnoxiously vapid and two-dimensional forms of USA-style evangelism.

 

The principle applies also to all manifestations of grey, lack-lustre social conformity – to civilization in general, even. Industrial civilization has without doubt resulted in a brand of humans who are spectacularly uniform in their lifestyles, tastes, ambitions and this collective entity, rather than admitting itself to be gravely deficient in something vitally important ingredient and asking for help, implicitly sees itself as the best thing to happen to the human race and is busy trying to steam-roller the whole planet. In general, grim seriousness and grey purposefulness steamroller the more spontaneous, playful aspects of life. If someone isn’t as dull and serious as we are we – in a whole range of different ways -berate them, intimidate them, and generally beat them over the head with our sanctimonious principles until we frighten the spontaneity out of them for good. This in fact is exactly what we do with our children in the name of what we call ‘education’. The whole business of education is as grim and wretched as it is because it basically comes down to infecting the young with our own impoverished world-view and degrading their consciousness to such a level that they end up taking the nonsensical aims of our civilization as being self-evidently true. In a nutshell, industrial civilization is all about progress (i.e. technological and economic expansion) and progress is all about chasing goals, goals that are not genuinely practical in nature, but which represent themselves as being so.

 

GOALS AS THE INVERTED PERCEPTION OF INNER DEFICIT

 

Unable to find peace or contentment in ‘life as it is’ (which is to say, through the more contemplative or reflective modes of life) I must always strive forwards towards intensely compulsive goals – goals which represent, albeit unconsciously, all the good that is missing out of my life as it stands. Where there is a whole population whose inner life has been conditioned towards being barren, unimaginative, restricted, rigidified, narrow, brutal and generally bereft of any sort of healing spontaneity, this tendency to seize fanatically upon goals which promise to correct everything we deep-down we know is wrong, then this pattern of ‘misplaced or misdirected motivation’ has a tendency to act – as Jung says – like the psychic equivalent of an illness or contagion, and infect whole countries. Jung had in mind the situation in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, but Nazism isn’t the only virulent psychic contagion that we need to worry about – there is also materialism, consumerism, fundamentalism, nationalism, rationalism, and – as Jung said – any type of ‘ism’ whatsoever, without exception.  ‘Ism’s’ are our tendency to collectivize, to unite under a single banner, a single structure, a common way of thinking. Whenever we do this we automatically impoverish ourselves, but at the same time as losing out on the bounty of an authentic inner life we gain the validation of being able to look around us and see that everyone else agrees with us, and so the nagging feeling of uncertainty (which heralds consciousness expansion) ebbs into the distance, leaving us free to cease questioning ourselves.

We can also look at this phenomenon the other way around. Rather than saying that the aggressively self-promoting belief-structure which we seize upon has the function of distracting us from our inner impoverishment, via an inversion of perception whereby we see what we lack inside as being a problem in the outside world that urgently needs correcting (i.e. where we project our shadow onto the world around us) we can equally well say that it is our systems of belief that produce the inward impoverishment and sterility that drive us ever onward. This of course brings us back to the basic psychological principle exemplified in Antoine de F’s story of the tippler who has to drink in order to forget the shame caused by his drinking. This principle applies to just about all human structures and institutions (which are external manifestations of rule-based thinking) you can think of – the structures and institutions in question degrade our consciousness, destroy our creativity and autonomy, which causes appalling inner desolation, which causes us to buy into the structures and institutions more earnestly than ever. From a very short-sighted point of view we can point to our institutions and say that they of help to us but from a wider perspective it can be seen that they are only needed because of the damage they have already done to our autonomy. If I were to spend a few days in a long-term psychiatric hospital, talking to the inmates who live there and the staff who work there, I might say that the hospital is a valuable resource since the long-term patients could not look after themselves and survive in the world outside. If I were a bit more thoughtful than this however, I would see that it was the hospital itself which has institutionalized them and made them so dependent upon its routines, which means that the hospital is the cure for itself. If I am a heroin addict, then I might possibly see the brown powder sitting there in my spoon as my friend, since with this substance coursing through my veins I am instantly ‘life confident’. Yet the brown powdery friend who sits patiently in my spoon waiting to be dissolved with water, heat (and a little squirt of Jif lemon juice) is only so badly needed by me because he has taken away my ability to live without him.

These examples could of course be multiplied indefinitely. Our whole technological way of life is an addiction that only seems as marvellous as it is commonly portrayed because we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves without microwave cookers, mobile phones, i-pods, computers and TVs. This principle can be generalized to cover any structures or systems whatsoever. This might seem like a bit of a lunatic statement but it is undeniably true all the same. All structures, all systems, are oversimplifications of the genuine article, of the ‘Incomparable Whole’. As oversimplifications, they function as ‘illegitimate short-cuts’. When right wing politicians say that society’s ills are due to communists, international terrorist organizations, hippies, irresponsible parents, immigrant populations or certain malign ‘criminal elements’ this is an outrageously stupid oversimplification, and yet precisely because it is an oversimplification it presents us with the possibility of a satisfyingly straightforward course of action that will remedy the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in. This is the appeal of the crude oversimplification and the strength of this appeal is not to be underestimated – it is because of the sheer power of this attraction that mankind has wallowed in stupidity ever since his arrival on this planet. When the oversimplified explanation of life comes along (like a television evangelist in full rant) good sense is the first causality.

Whilst the oversimplified explanation is immensely attractive because of the way in which it offers an easy solution to life’s difficulties it is also the case that this attractiveness can never be more than a shallow and temporary allure. The short-term benefit is that we feel great satisfaction because we have a way to fix things, but because the explanation we have bought into is utterly misleading this generates the ‘long-term cost’ – which is formidable indeed. The long-term cost is that we get caught up in a horrendously dysfunctional cycle whereby our means of solving the problem is what creates the problem in the first place. What is more, the stakes are continuously being raised in this circle of counterproductive activity since the more problems I create with my short-sighted solutions, the more afflicted and desperate I become and the more I get driven into the welcoming arms of my ‘false friend’. This ‘false friend principle’ is to be found unfailingly behind all of the activities beloved by the self. On the smaller scale of things there are all the minor strategies which we use to cope with life’s upsets such as commiserating with ourselves, thinking positively, watching soap-operas, comforting oneself with familiar habits and routines, looking for comfort from others, and then there are all of our more obviously dysfunctional coping methods such as getting angry, criticizing and complaining, bullying or controlling others, bullying or controlling oneself, drinking and smoking. In addition there are the classic psychiatric ‘dysfunctional coping strategies’ such as anorexia, anxiety, OCD, self-cutting, and sexual addictions. Then there are also all those comfort-zones which rather than being located in ourselves or in our own private behaviour are to be found in the man-made environment. One could point at shopping malls, car show-rooms, holiday resorts, health spas, cinemas, recreation centres, pubs and nightclubs, lap-dancing clubs and gambling arcades but this is missing the point since the whole social environment is almost entirely one big comfort zone, as are all the various types of groupings and affiliations and movements that are to be found within society as a whole. A ‘comfort zone’ is normally seen as a behaviour but it may also be defined as an environment which facilitates the ‘acting out’ of conditioned needs – it is an environment which reflects one’s implanted assumptions about reality, in other words. On an abstract level therefore, the system of rules and precedents and prohibitions that lie behind the structure of the socialized consensus reality can legitimately be said to be a comfort zone, and a comfort zone is the classic example of a ‘false friend’.

When we get down to it the dichotomies of ‘micro-scale versus macro-scale’, or ‘internal versus external’, or ‘intrapersonal versus interpersonal’ inevitably turn out to be red herrings since all we are ever talking about is the self-same system of thought. The system of thought is the ubiquitous culprit, no matter what the crime – it is the arch-architect of all purposes and purposefulness, no matter how petty or how grand they might be. Whether we are talking about the tiniest, most minuscule and fleeting automatic mental strategy (some semi-conscious mental protocol designed at some forgotten point in the past as a Band-Aid to soothe some tiny, insignificant, fleeting mental hurt) or whether we are talking about the County Council or the High Court of Justice or the Ministry of The Interior it is all the same thing. Inasmuch as a process or structure is mechanical – which is to say, inasmuch as it is fully describable in terms of defined and quantifiable components or steps, linked in a strictly linear or logical fashion – then it is what David Bohm called ‘the system of thought’. Or to phrase this another way –

If an activity is purposeful (i.e. if it is designed to facilitate the attainment of a specified end) then this means that it is an illegitimate short-cut that implicitly denies its own illegitimacy.

 

SHORT-CUTS TO NOWHERE AND DESCRIPTIONS THAT DON’T CARE ABOUT THE REALITY THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DESCRIBE…

 

‘An illegitimate short-cut that implicitly denies its own illegitimacy’ is of course just another way of talking about a deceptive or false analogue. An illegitimate short-cut claims to take us to where we want to go without all the interminable difficulty and apparent lack of progress associated with the road we would otherwise have to travel. It doesn’t actually lead anywhere at all when it comes right down to it but the heady excitement generated by the promise of a quick result (a quick result without all the terrible effort we know we would otherwise have to expend) easily enables us to overlook this minor detail. Such short-cuts are what we generally concern ourselves – they are the standard diet of the rational life, and if anyone were to come along trying to interest us in the genuinely wholesome food of the ‘non short-cut’ we would treat them as a purveyor of poison. Collectively, we have as little interest in anything that isn’t an illegitimate short-cut as we do in any information that doesn’t correspond to assumptions that we have already made and then forgotten about. If it confirms what we have already secretly decided to be true, then we are interested and if it doesn’t confirm our unconscious assumptions then we simply pass over it without realizing that there was anything there to pass over. We ignore without registering the fact that we are ignoring, and this is what the mechanical (or unconscious) life is all about. This is not merely a habit we have trained ourselves in, it is the very nature and essence of a rule to be this way. Because we have identified with a mind that is based on logical rules (so that the rules we obey in our thinking no longer seem like arbitrary ‘rules’ to us) are we are subject to the pernicious blindness that rules are inevitably afflicted with – the blindness which cannot see itself. Rules are one-sided because this is what makes them rules in the first place, and the conditioned self disregards information which does not validate its own standpoint because this is what allows it to be a self in the first place.  It could be said therefore that I am only interested in illegitimate short-cuts because the rule-based self which I have automatically identified myself with is itself an illegitimate short-cut. A self that is itself ‘an illegitimate short-cut that implicitly denies its own illegitimacy’ is – needless to say – not going to have any interest whatsoever in travelling by what Jung called the via longissima. After all, if it had the stomach for the long road rather than the short one it wouldn’t be there in the first place.

The difference between the via longissima and the short-cut is that with the short-cut the objective or aim is always within sight. The goal is always within the measuring, conceptualizing grasp of the quantitative mind – I can see what it is that I am aiming for, I can understand how it is that I am to obtain it, and I can estimate how long it will take me to do this. The difficulty might be enormous and the length of time before the prize is plucked might be tremendous but as long as the prize seems worth it the measuring mind can hang in there. It knows that it is eventually going to get the big pay-off (or at least that it has a real chance of doing so). To our way of thinking this sort of thing is laudable. We admire people who play the long shot, who hang in there through thick and thin, who work towards the final goal with determination and relentless persistence but really this is an extreme example of the infinite obstinacy of the rational mind which will undergo great hardships over a long period of time just so long as it thinks it stands a chance of getting what it wants. And what it wants is not what it says it wants – it wants to achieve itself stated goal not because of the explicit value of the goal but because of the inherent validation of its starting-off point (its inaccessible assumptions) which this whole endeavour provides it with. Any doubt regarding the legitimacy of the starting-off point is completely pushed into the background and when this omnipresent existential doubt is pushed away into the background the result for the conditioned self is pure unadulterated euphoria.

Euphoria is the good feeling the self gets when it is able to totally take its own legitimacy for granted in the midst of the heady excitement of chasing some spuriously legitimized goal. The more exalted the goal the better is the quality of validation which the ego-self receives, and it is for this reason that fundamentalist religion excites the remarkable degree of commitment (and spectacular lack of any sense of humour) that it does. A person who is fanatical about his religion is a person who is fanatical about himself, and there is nothing particularly admirable about this. The same principle is true for all goal-orientatedness – the reason I am so stubbornly committed to my goals is because I am stubbornly committed to myself, and this necessarily involves being stubbornly committed to not seeing how utterly and laughably arbitrary the position I am taking to be ‘myself’ is in the first place. The reciprocal relationship between the investment made in a goal-oriented frame of mind – and therefore in the self which is constructed within this frame – and the awareness which one has with regard to the unnecessary nature of the rules that one is taking seriously shows clearly the relationship between the self and unconsciousness. Put simply, the self needs unconsciousness like alcoholic needs alcohol, like a gossip needs scandal, or like a wind-turbine needs wind.  Going back to the terms we were thinking in earlier, we can say that the purposeful self needs an end in view or else it cannot continue being a self. This is equivalent to saying that the game playing self needs to carry on playing its game or else it cannot continue to exist. But if everything I do is related to some finite end, some goal that I can see and understand, then everything I do (or think, since rational thought is the necessary precursor to purposeful action) is an illegitimate shortcut. This sticks in our throat like a medium-sized star-fish would do if we attempted to swallow it whole, since we are inordinately proud of our rational minds and the activity that proceeds from them, but the proposition that ‘purposefulness is always an illegitimate short-cut’ follows naturally and inevitably once we understand that rational thought and purposeful action has to exist within the confines of a continuum of logic. If my goals exist within the same continuum of logic that I exist within, then there is no genuine progress involved when I achieve these goals. There is no genuine progress because there is no ‘distance’ between me and my goals; me and my goals are tautological developments of each other – I am my goals in other words. This is the point that both Krishnamurti and Alan Watts are making – whatever my aspirations of self-improvement might be, no matter how lofty, they are bound to be the exact same thing as the ‘unimproved’ state of mind that entertains the aspirations. Opposites always exist within the self-same continuum of logic and therefore it must be the case that activity that is based on this logic will always be chasing its own tail. Purposeful action – by definition – always operates on the basis of chasing one opposite and fleeing the other and it must therefore always go around in circles.

This is a point that is worth stressing as many times as it takes in order to get it across – rationality (and purposefulness) involves invisible redundancy. It is not hard to construct any number of what appear to be water-tight arguments why this point is nonsense. After all, if I fetch in a scuttle of coal for the fire it does not immediately fly back out of the door as if it were on a length of elastic. If I go up the stairs to my bedroom I do not immediately find myself back downstairs again. If I make a first incision in your abdomen during the course of performing a laparotomy on you the incision does not immediately seal itself up again, and so on. So purposefulness – as we experience it in everyday reality – does not seem to be infallibly self-reversing in the way we have said it is. If it was infallibly self-reversing life would of course immediately prove to be utterly impossible!

 

MADNESS IN THE METHOD

 

The idea that methods (procedures, techniques, algorithms, protocols, etc) are futile and tautological is one that is not going to find much appreciation in a highly technological culture. Technology is how we define ourselves, it is what we use to feel secure and powerful in the world, and technology is quintessentially all about methods and techniques, so obviously we are not going to be falling over ourselves in our hurry to investigate the notion that methods are empty. The evidence that logical protocols work and bear fruit is all around us, so what kind of stupidity would it be to say that they don’t? Our civilization is founded upon methods and the hard-won knowledge which that knowledge is predicated upon. Without our ‘how-to’ knowledge we would be back in prehistory, or so it seems. This is not just a matter of machines – mobile phones, electric kettles, computers, cars, oil-refineries, chemical plants, power stations, etc – but also of the abstract functional structures that comprise our social organization such as the law courts, local government, banks, healthcare systems, and so on. The smooth operation of the overall system of which we are a part depends on the coherence and efficacy of its functional structures, just as the smooth running of each one of our individual lives depends on the toaster working in the morning, the hot-tap in the bath-room producing hot water, the toilet flushing, the car starting when we turn the key in the ignition, etc, along with all the invisible protocols that we observe – the ‘ten-thousand habits of the successful person’ which we follow to the letter everyday and which unfailingly guide us through the morass of potential chaos which lies in wait for the undisciplined around every corner. The way in all these myriad protocols mesh together both on the larger and smaller scale of organization to produce a coherent pattern of activity whereby we all go where we are supposed to go, and do what we are supposed to do, and all in more-or-less perfect synchronization is quite awesome. We depend on methods (i.e. patterns of goal-orientated activity that we don’t have to work out for ourselves each and every time we come across a need) in order to get through the day and the amazing thing is that it actually works. We rely on a hugely elaborate body of methods and – stupendously – it doesn’t ever let us down.

The problem is however that methods work too well, and their absolute reliability, their flawless immaculate predictability in achieving what we want out of them sends us straight to sleep. There is nothing like an absolutely guaranteed assurance of getting the result that we want for inducing an imperturbably profound state of stone-like unconsciousness and logic – and logic, which is what lies behind our methods, provides exactly this type of perfect guarantee. This is a bit like having a partner who is always there for you, who always does what they are supposed to do, who never acts in an unruly or unreliable fashion. One would think that having such a wonderfully perfect partner would engender a state of constant loving appreciation but of course it doesn’t – the psychological rule here  – as everyone knows – is that having a partner like this will produce instead a state of utter unconsciousness, of utter non-appreciative torpor, the state of ‘taking the person totally for granted’. What is more, if the perfect partner does let us down, our reaction is instant anger – we resent being woken up from the terminal torpor of our unconsciousness and are ready to lash out viciously at whoever has dared to disturb us. Curiously, although unconsciousness is basically a pile of crap – a thoroughly rotten and horrible state of affairs – we will defend it (and our right to spend our whole lives in it) with a venomous intensity that is quite off the scale. Beware he who disturbs the sleep of the unconscious sleeper for it is not thanks you will get but an axe in the head…

The analogy between the system of logic and the perfect partner needs to be qualified. If by ‘perfect partner’ we mean someone who always goes along with the established and expected pattern and who never neglects his or her duties in this respect then the analogy is a good one. This however clearly represents a very superficial idea of what a perfect partner should be. A superficially perfect partner is someone who observes the formalities in all things as if this is the be-all and the end-all. Psychologically speaking this is exactly true – the reason there is such a strong tendency for us to fall into the trap of believing that the formal expression of a thing is the thing itself and that scrupulous observation of the ‘form’ will solve all problems is because it is only if we have allowed ourselves to think that the token formula is genuinely identical to the reality that we can obtain the security of thinking that if we enact the formula correctly everything will be OK. We can only avail of this type of easy security (or cheap satisfaction) if we make ourselves incredibly dumb – but because we want this sense of safety so very badly ‘dumbing ourselves down’ accordingly is not a problem. It’s not a problem at all. The system of logic is like a superficially perfect partner in this respect because it is utterly reliable in what is actually an entirely redundant sense.

 

 

Art: North Pole, by Antonio Segura Donat

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Virtual Separation

  1. Guffawed loudly on several occasions — “amoeba from hell” being one. Gives me chills of joy. I don’t have to write anymore, but I probably will eventually. I think you’d love Beckett’s The Unnameable. Your “onward degeneration” brings to mind Beckett’s “keep going, going on, call that going, call that on.” This “farcical tragedy” is exactly what the Unnamable exposes without retreat into deus ex machinas. Even your observation that we pursue “false analogues (or red herrings)” brings to mind this from the Unnamable: “This cursed first person, it really is to red a herring.” Wrote about this relationship to Beckett in What Is Real and a bit in an old essay from the 1980s subtitled “The Thermodynamics of Thought”, where there’s a longwinded footnote about The Unnameable. Nothing is better than this humor, this forgiving laughter at oneself. I think the torture chamber of The Unnameable.

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      1. I used to go out with a drama teacher a while ago and via her influence I read ‘Happy days’. I was amazed to see all the psychological / philosophical elements to. Definitely a revelation, but since then haven’t ventured any further into Beckett territory. Sound like The Unnameable would be a good one to start with.

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    1. I guess it’s good to find the old amoeba from hell funny! Lots of connections with Beckett – to talk about red herrings in relation to the first person is a sly kind of thing to throw in, if I understand the allusion correctly. I love your phrase about the ‘forgiving laughter at oneself’!

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