One way to put it is like this: we decide what is to be true before we actually check to see what is true, and this means that what we ‘find to be true’ isn’t actually true at all.
Our guesses about reality ‘set the stage’ for how we perceive it, in other words, but the thing about this is that the ‘guessing’ part of the process is completely concealed from us. We know nothing of the guesses that we have made – ‘thought creates categories, and then says that they are there already’, as David Bohm says.
Thus, we create for ourselves what we might call ‘the Universe of Confirmation’ – everything we perceive is ‘confirmation of our underlying invisible biases’. If we aren’t set up in advance to register a particular meaning’ then we won’t, and that is just the way that the thinking mind works. There is no other way that it could work – all data-processing involved rules and these rules aren’t given to us by via some sort of religious vision like Moses receiving ‘the Tablet of the Law’, we have to come up with them ourselves. We have to provide the rules for our data-processing ourselves because no one else will.
So far, everything we’ve said is very straightforward and pretty much uncontroversial. The ‘logical consequences’ of what we have just said is also very straightforward but – nevertheless – it’s a lot harder for us to take on board. Practically speaking, it is all but impossible for us to take on board! The ‘consequence’ that we talking about is of course that there are conceptual rational mind creates a virtual reality for us to live in. Just to say this, or intellectually ‘know’ it, is not such a big deal. We often come across this sort of idea and so it’s not particularly challenging. We can go around quite easily thinking that we know what this means and being OK about it but if we actually took on board what we imagine we know however then we would straightaway find that to be maximally challenging. To be genuinely aware that one is living in a reality that one has oneself created is an experience of pure unmitigated horror – there is no self-empowering ‘feel good factor’ here at all, no matter what the banal New Age dogma might tell us…
We need to ask ourselves what it means to be living in a world that is made up entirely of things that we ourselves had decided to be true ‘in advance of the event’, so to speak. How would it make us feel to know that? In a trivial sort of a way we are of course constantly slanting our perceptions of the world to fit what we would like to believe about it. That’s normal human behaviour – ‘what the thinker thinks the prover proves‘, says Robert Anton Wilson. This isn’t news to anyone; the idea that we only hear what we want to hear or see what we want to see is not challenging for us. The curious thing is though that when we ‘arrange things in advance so that we can then be ‘proved right’ in our assumptions we actually feel good about this! We get a rush of pleasure, a rush of warm, gratifying euphoria. The question is therefore, how can we possibly feel good about this? What kind of a fool would I have to be in order to feel gratified and vindicated by a victory that I myself have set it up in advance?
When it comes to living our lives within the virtual reality that we have set up in advance for ourselves then this may be said to be another order of ‘foolishness’ entirely. What we’re talking about here goes way beyond anything that we might normally call ‘foolishness’. The word is entirely inadequate. The virtual reality that we create for ourselves by getting the world to revolve around our unexamined assumption is a very special sort of situation – it isn’t what we might naïvely imagine a virtual reality world to be, which is ‘a kind of harmless fantasy world in which we can experience various things that we might not otherwise be able to’. The virtual reality that we are talking about would be better described as a kind of a ‘graveyard for consciousness’ or ‘graveyard for being’. It’s a deep, dark hole that we can’t get out of! We can understand this more clearly perhaps if we think about it in terms of tautology.
When we live in a world that is made up of the faithful confirmations of our assumptions (i.e. of our ‘unconscious expectations’) then this is a classic tautological situation. What we expect to happen is what happens. ‘Actual’ equals ‘expected’, and although this – on the one hand – sounds very good to us (because it is, as far as we are concerned, the yardstick for knowing when we have succeeded) but it is at the same time the formula for tautology or redundancy. The effect is inherent in the course, the conclusion is hidden in the premises that we have utilised in order to reach the conclusion. So from this point of view there is not so much satisfaction the operation at all- the so-called ‘success’ is quite hollow…
To say that something is tautological is to say that ‘there is no meaning in what we are trying to say’; we think we are saying something valid and meaningful, but we aren’t! In one way (in a very superficial type of a way) there’s a great deal of scope here, a great deal of freedom. All sorts of tautological realms can be created very easily indeed (they actually create themselves, just as one thought automatically leads to another) and if we go along with this viral proliferation process (the process by which tautological realities get to be multiplied indefinitely) and take them at face value, take them as being what they say they are, then there is a type of delusory freedom in this. We can go on believing in these hollow, mass-produced worlds indefinitely without us knowing the difference. On the other hand however, we can of course see that all this apparent freedom constitutes a very deadly type of trap – the deadliest type of trap there is, in fact. It’s a deadliest type of trap there is because at no point in this process are we ever going to reach the place of seeing that the tautological expansion is only a tautological expansion.
This key insight is not something that is ever going to come about as a result of ‘us abiding by the rules of the game’! The tautological expansion never declares itself to be a tautological expansion just as the game never reveals itself, at any stage, to be a game. We can play the game forever without it ever revealing itself to be a game; this is the safest bet there is – that playing by the rules of the game will never generate insight into the nature of the game. Playing by the rules is how not to get insight into the nature of the game!
So when we talk about ‘deciding for ourselves what is true and what is not true without being able to see that we are making any such decisions’, this is ‘the deadliest trap there is’. This is precisely what is mean when in the idiom of mysticism that is said that we are asleep, when it is said that we have all fallen into a death-like sleep, a ‘soul-sleep’, a sleep which we are not able to wake up from. We can’t wake up because we can’t see that the literal truths which we believe in aren’t really true at all. We can’t see that these ‘literal truths’ are only metaphors and so these so-called ‘literal truths’ send us into a deep magical sleep, just like Little Briar Rose in the fairy tale. Saying that we are ‘asleep’ is therefore no different from saying that we are ‘playing a game when we don’t know that we are playing it, and are not therefore able to stop playing it’.
The reason we can’t stop playing the game, no matter what we do, no matter how much effort or dedication we might put into the attempt, is because we aren’t actually playing the game at all. We’re not playing the game, the game is playing us. The game is playing us and if the game is playing us then clearly it doesn’t matter a damn what we do! Clearly, no matter what we do we aren’t going to be able to change anything –the game is making all the decisions, the game is calling all the shots, not us. We are a function of the game and not vice versa – we can play the game of ‘not playing the game’ if we wish, but this too is only a game. If we look at this in terms of assumptions that we have made without knowing what these assumptions are, without knowing that we have even made any in the first place, then we can immediately see what the problem is – the fact that we don’t know what our assumptions are, nor that we have even made any, means that we are being controlled by these assumptions without us knowing it. They determine our perception of reality every step of the way, and our ‘perception of reality’ informs all our so-called ‘choices’…
We might claim that we are consciously making what we like to call ‘choices’ (we do both implicitly and explicitly claim to be consciously making choices) but these so-called ‘conscious choices’ are being determined by choices that have already made and forgotten about, which takes the freedom out of them. Our ‘conscious’ choices are being determined by our unconscious choices, in other words, and so they are not so conscious after all. This then is no minor psychological curiosity talking about here – everything we consciously ‘know’ is the result of decisions that we have made without knowing that we have made them, and so we can no more say that we are genuinely ‘aware’ than we can say that we genuinely have ‘free’ will. We can and do say this, but we’re talking out of our hat!
Just as long as we decide what’s true ‘in advance of the fact’, so to speak, then our perception of reality is going to be determined by some factor that we have no way of knowing about, some ‘reality-determining’ factor that we don’t even know to be there. We’re playing with loaded dice but we don’t know it, therefore. Just as long as we decide what’s true ‘in advance’ without knowing that we have then we are playing a game without realizing that we are; we’re playing a game that we can’t ever stop playing because we don’t see that we are playing it. Just as long as we trust the thinking mind to show us reality we’re caught in this trap, and when do we not trust the thinking mind to ‘show reality’? When – after all – was the last time any of us ‘doubted the rational mind’? Don’t we take the rule-based thinking mind utterly for granted in everything we do?
This is the critical point to understand – if we want to have a world that is made up of ‘knowable building-blocks’ with no gaps or cracks between them, a world in which it is possible to know things for sure (or ‘know things in a final way’) this then we have to use rules. We have to use rules because only rules can produce certainty! How are we going to evaluate the situation without rules or criteria? There’s a problem here however – a glitch of major proportions has arrived on the scene. The glitch is that we have developed a ‘blind spot’ – there is now an invisible bias in the system that causing us to see the world in the definite way that we do. There’s no other way to create ‘conceptual certainty’ other than by having such a ‘blind spot’; there’s no other way to create concepts, no other way to create ideas or thoughts. Rules are needed to produce certainty and the rule is itself ‘a blind spot’ – it’s a blind spot simply because we can’t question it without it that the rule ceasing to be a rule. The rules tell us in black-and-white terms what is and what is not and here is a certainty for us all wrapped up in the very finest wrapping paper with a nice bow on top. This is what we want, and this is what we get – the only thing being that we have to agree (without knowing that we have agreed anything, of course) never to question the rules of the game. It is this secret agreement never to question the rules of the game that produces ‘the Universe of Confirmation’…
Art: ‘Prometheus Rising‘, by Ian Hess