To say that we are governed by the need to anchor ourselves firmly in a fixed framework of seeing things, to base our lives on a fundamental unquestionable level of description, is of course the same as saying that we don’t like major, world-shaking surprises. We like our world to be unshakeable, even though a world which is guaranteed to devoid of any major upset (the sort of upset that causes us to look at everything in a totally new way) is a dreadfully tedious sort of a place. Tedious is bad, but when we are stricken by the thunderbolt of existential terror tedium has the property of looking infinitely more attractive than where we are, and so it is a no-contest sort of a decision. At this point, tedium looks very, very good indeed! Therefore, the unnatural (and ultimately insupportably toxic) predictability that arises as a result of being mentally constrained to one level of description is the fall-out of some fateful, cowardly decision – a choice made at some prior point to accept the unchallenging and the unreal instead of the challenging and the real. The flat, literal, humourless and unreflective rational mind is a mind that deals ceaselessly in tautologies and it is only because of its staggering pettiness, its awesome deficiency in perspective, that it manages to maintain the level of interest that it does in the sort of day-to-day choices that it supplies for itself.
This mind – needless to say – likes to get its own way in these choices – it does not like to be challenged in this regard. It doesn’t just get peevishly annoyed or disgruntled when its plans fail to fall into place the way they were supposed to, it experiences a strange sort of outrage. Despite the fact that it is profoundly ludicrous for me to be taking my own arbitrary whims so incredibly seriously, despite the fact that what I am getting upset about is so remarkably inconsequential, I still manage to experience a truly massive degree of righteous indignation! So huge is my sense of utter, humourless outrage that I could quite easily say something or do something completely, frighteningly disproportionate to the situation, some act that afterwards will probably make no sense to me at all. Robert Anton Wilson gives as an example of this sort of thing the story of a man who went into a shop and bought some top-quality steak for his dog. When the shop-owner learned that the steak was for the man’s pet rather than himself, he made a comment to the effect that he certainly wouldn’t waste meat like that on a mutt. The man buying the steak was so upset by this remark – Wilson tells us – that he went home, returned with a handgun, and shot the shop-owner dead. It might be assumed that the enraged dog-lover in this story was just a ‘statistical psycho’ – a dangerously unhinged lunatic who happened, at first glance, to look like any other ordinary, decent citizen walking down the high street. But the truly frightening thing about this story is not that the dog-lover was a statistical freak, but that he reflects a tendency deeply engrained in all of us. Okay, generally speaking I do not fly of the handle every time someone bumps into me in a supermarket, or says something that disagrees with my political or religious beliefs, and I do not go into a massive, preposterous huff every time some little thing doesn’t work out the way I want it to. This is because I have a bit of a sense of humour about myself, a bit of a sense of perspective about things. This sense of humour, this sense of perspective, is consciousness – it corresponds in some small degree to what Anthony de Mello calls ‘being awake’, or ‘being aware’. But whilst I generally have a bit of perspective about things, there is a dire tendency which exists within me to slip into a state of flat, self-absorbed unreflectiveness, in which I take my idea of myself and the world literally, with absolute, grotesque seriousness.
It is the easiest thing in the world for me to slide further into this flat state of mind, and when I have slid into it, the transition is invisible to me – I never register that anything has happened. The mind that we are talking about therefore is never very far from anyone of us, and it is this humourless mechanical mind that causes to take offence at everything and which constantly attempts to defend, corroborate and promote its own ridiculous story of itself. The degree to which I have been ‘taken over’ by this diabolical ‘unconscious mind’ is the degree to which I am prone to be sensitive to insults, or the degree to which I am liable to fly into a mood or a sulk, or the degree to which I am subject to becoming anxious about things not going to plan, or the degree to which I become zealously fixated by certain ideas or beliefs. In short, the degree to which I have been taken over by the flat, humourless mind of rationality is the degree to which I am plagued by neuroticism, fanaticism, egoism, and general moodiness, sulkiness and irritability. When we observe the behaviour of this mind (which we can do every day of the year, since the rational mind is nothing if not ubiquitous) we find ourselves marvelling over the way in which it takes its own arbitrary prejudices and ideas so very, very seriously. What is all this about, we might wonder?
The notion that we, as ‘rational beings’, have an inbuilt unreflective distaste for the chaotic and the unregulated (i.e. anything not strictly relatable to logic by which we construct the self and its world) is a familiar one. Alan Watts (P 46-70) points out that this tendency is particularly developed in the Western world:
Western man has a peculiar passion for order and logic, such that, for him, the entire significance of life consists in putting experience into order. What is ordered is predictable, and thus a basis for “safe bets.” We tend to show a psychological resistance to areas of life and experience where logic, definition, and order – that is, “knowledge” in our sense – are inapplicable.
Whilst it is self-evidently true that the technological, highly rational mega-culture which originated in the West and has now become more or less global is characterized by its prejudice against unregulated (and therefore unpredictable) processes, and anything that cannot be controlled or explained, it has also to be the case that this prejudice must be inherent in the faculty of rationality itself, no matter what the culture is. Furthermore, rather than merely saying that we exhibit a ‘resistance’ to that area of life which is not amenable to being ordered, it could be said that we are actually mortally afraid of it. It is not too hard to envisage how this might be the case. Suppose that we have a situation where there is a certain structure, a certain way of seeing the world, a certain way of doing things. This structure has no justification outside of itself – which is to say, it is not part of a more globally extensive structure which can be used to verify it – but it does have 100% justification from within itself. This is true for all structures, all logical systems. Any given rule always has an outside and an inside, the ‘inside’ being the domain in which the rule rules, and the ‘outside’ being ‘the domain of freedom’ from within which the free choice to select the rule originated. The central peculiarity of a rule is that whilst being wholly dependent upon the realm which is not subject to its own particular brand of order, it cannot ever acknowledge that there is such a realm where it itself is inapplicable (or irrelevant). The possibility of such an acknowledgement in any shape or form is totally prohibited by the very nature of the rule. What we are basically saying is that the rule has a ‘double-nature’ – it has both an overt and a covert aspect to it. The overt aspect of the rule is the relationship of the rule to the elements over which it has lawful jurisdiction; or to put it another way, the overt aspect of the rule is what it explicitly says. The covert aspect of the rule, on the other hand, is what the rule takes totally for granted in order that it might be a rule; this is the unconscious aspect of the rule and it has to do with the process by which ‘the rule becomes the rule’. This process is unavoidably paradoxical for the reasons that we have already given, i.e.-
The rule can only be a rule when I arbitrarily (or freely) choose for it to be a rule, but if the process of choosing is at root arbitrary, rather than being predicated on logic, then the rule must itself be arbitrary, which means that it has no more claim to being called ‘a rule’ than any other rule, which therefore means that the word ‘rule’ is completely meaningless.
This is ‘the paradox of specialness’ and as we have said there is no legitimate way around it. ‘Arbitrary’ and ‘necessary’ are incommensurable – each excludes the other. Yet despite this in-built opposition, we cannot argue against the empirical fact that both chance and necessity seem to exist within the world of everyday experience. So how does this get to happen? The only way that it can happen is for there to be a complete ban on seeing the paradox, which is to say, along with the overt aspect of the rule, which has to do with whatever it is that the rule actually addresses itself to, there also has to be a covert aspect which involves the specification that the rule should never be seen for what it actually is. This can be expressed by saying that the hidden rule in any rule is that ‘the rule is not a rule’, or, to put it another way, that ‘the rule is not a rule, but the rule’. If the rule is seen as ‘The Rule’ then this means that we assume it but do not see it; we take it totally for granted, but we do not examine what it is that we are taking totally for granted. What we are talking about here is a game. A game can be defined as those interactions which take place around a fixed but arbitrary set of rules when the rules in question are not seen as being arbitrary. The unstated rule behind all games can therefore also be stated as “The game is not a game”.
The way in which reification works in practice is that some sort of ‘impenetrable obscuration’ comes into being – a sort of veil that stands between the former state of affairs, where everything is equally allowed, and the latter state of affairs, which is where only certain specified possibilities are allowed. This veil is what we spoke of earlier as ‘the invisible barrier between freedom and inverted freedom’. It is true to say that this barrier automatically comes into existence the moment a finite set is selected out of the Universal Set, but at the same time it is also true to say that the barrier only has existence from the point of view of that finite set. This barrier has the function of preventing us from seeing the all-encompassing freedom from which the rule was derived, and thus it makes possible the reified world that is created by the rule, and so it is a sort of valve (or ‘one-way device’) that only exists once we have passed through it. This is of course a very peculiar notion once we get to thinking about it – it has the nature of a perplexing trick, something that is very hard to get a handle on. There are two parallel ways to look at this: on the one hand we can see it as a cosmological process whereby the level of complexity is dramatically stepped down, and reified ‘objects’ get to be produced as a result of this decomplexification, and on the other hand we can see it as a psychological process, also involving a loss of information. Both ways come down to the same thing, which is the operation of the principle of entropy, or information decay.
Entropy increases as the unpredictability of the system decreases, and so it obviously has a lot (if not everything) to do with the existence of rules. It is hardly controversial to suggest that the physical world is the physical world because of the laws that govern it, and in this case the ‘veiling’ that comes with the laws must be seen as being essentially a question of physics, just as the laws themselves are. The prohibition that creates structure comes down therefore to a ‘physical impossibility’. But what then is the corresponding psychological ‘impossibility’? One way to answer this question is to say that the ‘psychological’ version or translation of a mathematical law is the rule of fear (or desire). Fear is clearly a rule because it forces us to do something – it insists in no uncertain terms on a particular type of response, the response in question being the unqualified attempt to escape or otherwise hide from the fear. When fear strikes home I feel compelled to act and the whole point about being compelled is that there is no space for reflecting on what the compulsion is telling me to do, there is no ‘space’ at all, only obeying which is an inherently spaceless thing since there is no leeway in it, no room for anything irrelevant to the central directive. It is not a major innovation to say that fear and desire are like rules, but the point is not properly made unless we stress that they are not just like rules, but are in fact absolute rules, with no ‘get-out clauses’ written into them anywhere. This is less easy to argue because we have all had experience of breaking such rules, by not reaching out for something for which we are greedy, or by not running away from something of which we are afraid. The thing is, however, that when we say a rule is absolute that does not mean that we can never disregard it, and not take it seriously in the way that it demands to be taken seriously, but rather what it means is that we can never refrain from taking it seriously whilst we are seeing the world in its terms. In other words,
We cannot overcome it or mitigate against the rule of fear on its own level, but only by transcending that way of looking at the word, which in term cannot ever occur as a result of volitional impulses originating on that ‘level’ since any impulse that might logically make sense to us when afraid must be an extension of the framework of fear within which it was rooted.
We can say that the rule of fear is ‘absolute’ because it allows no higher goal, no other agenda than itself; basically, the framework of fear is ‘an organizationally closed system’ – it is a self-contained world which has no connection to anything that is not it, a world within which there is no way to see that the ‘logic’ of the world is only real or meaningful with regard to its own arbitrary terms. Given our materialistic bias, which likes to have phenomena reduced to actual tangible ‘things’ (supposedly in the name of science, though there is nothing very scientific about always wanting to suppose that there has to be ‘such things as things’), it would be understandable to query why we are choosing to deal with fear as if it were a framework within which we think, or a framework within which we perceive, instead of just taking it to be a straightforward physiological response, which is to say, a bunch of chemicals running about the brain. The trouble is, of course, that when we reduce fear (or any other mental state) to its electro-chemical correlates in the brain it stops being fear and becomes physiology, which is not the same thing at all. Experientially it is impossible to describe exactly what fear essentially consists of because there is nothing else like it to compare it with, but what we can say is that when we experience fear what we feel is some sort of threat to our integrity, and this threat induces within us a prodigious motivational force to avert this threat no matter what it takes. This straightaway brings us into the territory of ‘frameworks’ because a framework of understanding (i.e. a particular angle) is needed for all this to take place in. I have to believe in this construct called a self, and this self has to be the most important thing in the world, otherwise this thing called fear cannot come into the picture at all. The ‘particular angle’ which creates fear is therefore ‘the angle of the self’, which although it feels like an absolute ‘given’, is actually nothing of the sort but merely an arbitrary choice that we have got stuck in. Following the cosmically catastrophic data-collapse that accompanies this hapless process of identification with a specific position or a specific way of looking at things, fear becomes an inescapable fact of life, a constant – if often invisible – companion.
Thus, rather than trying to talk about fear in terms of specific details, we can get to the heart of it by looking at the particular predicament of a reified structure (or ‘centre’) which happens to believe absolutely in itself as ‘the only valid POV rather than being free to look at the situation in other ways as well. As we have said, the process of reification (or self–ification) necessarily involves the global descent of a veil that obscures the freedom which the thing has to be ‘not a thing’ (or for the self ‘not to be a self’). At this point the structure is committed to itself because it can no longer see that its way isn’t the only way, and so the structure has no ‘radical choices’, only trivial choices with regard to how it might best maintain and promote itself. This idea here is straightforward – what we are basically saying is that once the ‘irreversible choice’ which is the original information-collapse takes place then we are committed to a particular way of doing things, a particular logic system. From the inside, the logic system doesn’t look like ‘a particular logic system’ because we have absolutely no way of seeing that there could be any alternative, and so we are subject to a loss of freedom which is entirely invisible to us.
The result of this is that what we think are free choices are not actually free choices at all because they are all ‘different ways of choosing the same thing’. Because we cannot see the redundancy of the choices that are offered to us by the system (which as we say is not known to us as ‘a system’) the unreal freedom seems perfectly real and the reason its seems so real is because we cannot see that the dissymmetry of YES and NO (which in terms of a puzzle is the dissymmetry of RIGHT ANSWER and WRONG ANSWER and in terms of a game is the dissymmetry of WIN and LOSE) is actually not a dissymmetry at all but a symmetry since YES and NO are only ‘meaningfully different’ when we look at the situation from within the system (or within the game). Another way of explaining this point is to say that although ‘having the freedom to have different ways of choosing the same thing’ doesn’t exactly sound like a hell of a lot of fun, once we are caught up in it there springs into existence the basic (and very compelling) dissymmetry of pleasure and pain with regard to our ability to obey the logic we find ourselves subject to. Thus –
Negative freedom creates the possibility of pleasure (or satisfaction) if we obey its invisible compulsion, along with the possibility of pain (or dissatisfaction) if we fail to obey the internal logic.
THE PROCESS OF IDENTIFICATION
This is a very familiar sort of a thing really – if for example I engross myself in some sort of logical puzzle or game, the urge to solve the puzzle or win the game takes hold, and any step forward in the process gives me a rewarding feeling of satisfaction, and any obstruction or set-back produces a corresponding feeling of dissatisfaction. I am therefore driven forward by the urge to solve the logic-puzzle within its own strict terms, and this motivation is of course the same as the drive to avoid the frustrating outcome of ‘not solving it’. This is the same sort of thing as the ‘urge to build’ which grips us when we start constructing some logical (i.e. non-random) structure. The urge to build is the same thing as the urge to repair and augment and defend the structure, or in any other way perfect or promote it. A critic of this line of argument might be forgiven for raising the objection that we seem to be jumping between talking about logical structures, and the construction of logical structures along logical lines, with purely ‘psychological stuff’ such as pleasure, pain, and the motivation to achieve satisfaction rather than frustration in one’s life, as if some sort of perfectly obvious interchangeability existed between the two things. On the one hand we have started off by saying that the initial choice that is needed to jump into a particular system of logic cannot be guided by that system of logic since that system of logic did not exist as a special case prior to its selection. This (we said) incurs a paradox since no logical (or ‘directed’) choice can ever take place without a framework of logic in place within which such choices or decisions can be made. So how do we select the framework in question, given that any procedure of selection relies on a consistent system of logic within which to frame it? The only answer to this paradox is to admit that the choice was not a logical one, which is to say, it is not predicated upon any rational system of knowledge, but rather was plucked randomly out of the air in a ‘non rule-based’ manner.
Given that this is the case, and given the fact that once we are within a particular framework everything that proceeds has to proceed according to the internal logic of that system it can be seen that any structure that is constructed within the system necessarily has to rely on the blind-spot inherent in the system in order to carry on ‘taking itself seriously’, so to speak. The integrity of structure, as a structure, is dependent upon the existence of a massive amount of entropy that exists within the system. Similarly, any statement that we make can only exist in a meaningful way (i.e. as a statement that has some sort of universal validity) when we ignore the fact that the statement is only true within the context of a certain narrow viewpoint. It is therefore reasonable to say that all logically coherent structures are threatened by the instability that is posed by too many ways of looking at the world (which is to say, ‘too many levels of descriptions’. Now at this point we are starting to slide into ‘subjective/psychological’ terminology because it doesn’t really make sense to talk of a physical, inanimate structure (however complex) being threatened by instability because although orderly processes love to be orderly in the sense that this is all they can do, and so this is what they very much tend to do (if they can) they don’t really love being orderly because they surely don’t actually care if they are disintegrated and reduced to chaos. And yet at the same time we known that if it is a person who has painstakingly constructed the logical pattern or arrangement, the destruction of the pattern generally constitutes (for the person concerned) a disaster of the highest order.
It is at this point that we can start talking in terms of identification and investment. If I create and nurture any structure, it is almost inevitable that I shall grow fond of it and see my well-being as being tied up with its continuing integrity. This process of experiencing one’s well-being as being is what we are calling ‘identification’; it is for all intents and purposes as if the structure is me – its glory is my glory, so to speak. This may be said to have something to do with the investment that I have made in it – the more identified I am with the structure the more I am driven to further it and protect it and protect is from harm, and the more effort I have put into this endeavour, the more loathe I am to see the effort go to waste. Identification and investment can thus be seen as two strands of the same rope. It is of course not just the case that we attach ourselves to logical patterns or structures for entertainment, like a child playing with blocks of Lego. It is not just that we have the possibility of engaging in this way as a sort of hobby if we feel in the mood for it, actually of course we find ourselves thrown into the situation where we must tie up our well-being with the efficacy of our structures because the structures in question are the tools which we use to survive in this world, tools that – in the normal way of things – we simply cannot do without. The list of such tools is enormous – our bodies for one are an example of an orderly structure, a highly organized and cohesive pattern of events in space and time to which we are undeniably linked in some way. Although the human body is far from being a simple logical device (since it involves complex self-organizing processes that are not controlled in a linear fashion by encoded algorithms) we are still justified in regarding it as a sort of mechanical tool which works in accordance with certain rules. Houses too are organized structures, as are cars, computers, electric toasters, laptops, game consoles, towns and cities, public and commercial corporations, social groups in general, and so on. These are the logical structures (or ‘systems’) with which we interact on a daily basis, and along with them there are a host of internal – i.e. mental – structures that we use to facilitate this interaction. What we are talking about here are the ideas, beliefs, models, and ‘model-based procedures’ (which is to say, skills) that we carry about inside our heads. Where these two classes of structure meet is of course in the interface between the physical world and our mental picture of that world which is the pattern of our interaction with our environment. This pattern is itself largely (very largely) a logical (or predetermined) one, which is to say,
The pattern in question is predictable on the basis of a set of rules, which may either be seen as being encoded in the physical environment, or as being encoded in the mental software which we use to manipulate and interact with that environment.
At this point we can clarify matters a lot by saying, as David Bohm (1980, P 58) has done, that the whole shebang is actually all the one system, which is what he elsewhere calls ‘the system of thought’:
…Indeed, all man-made features of our general environment are, in this sense, extensions of the process of thought, for their shapes, forms, and general orders of movement originate basically in thought, and are incorporated within this environment, in the activity of human work, which is guided by such thought. Vice versa, everything in the general environment has, either naturally or through human activity, a shape, form, and mode of movement, the context of which ‘flows in’ through perception, giving rise to sense perceptions which leave memory traces and thus contribute to the basis of further thought.
Whilst it is obvious enough that the environment that we have designed and constructed for ourselves is based on the same logical system that our ideas are based on (since it is nothing else than a reflection (or concretization of those very ideas) Bohm is saying that the organized or predetermined features of the natural world which we interact with also form part of the same system since in order to function efficiently we have had to adapt the organized structures of our thinking to fit in with the way that the outside world is organized. To get back to what we were originally saying about the connection between ‘the inner world of ideas and the motivation or compulsion to act on the basis of these ideas’, and ‘the external world of tangible or physical structures and the restrictions or possibilities posed by them’, it can therefore be seen that we are not really talking about two different things at all and so the fact that we are jumping freely from talking about the so-called subjective world of our inner experience to the so-called objective world of our outer experience is not so unjustified after all. This is because both the inner and outer worlds, as we commonly experience them, are made up of non-negotiable ‘rules’ and not only are the rules the same (i.e. consistent within and without), so too is our relationship to these rules the same in both worlds. ‘Rules are rules’ in other words, and it doesn’t matter what realm we encounter them within. If you’ve comes across one rule you’ve come across them all…
In crude terms, just as I cannot walk blithely through a brick wall, neither can I challenge the internal limitations posed by my ideas and beliefs. Of course it is true that it is almost invariably the case that I have rules inside my head that do not correspond to limitations or impossibilities in the outside world, but this does not imply ‘lack of consistency’ in the way that we are using the word. In logical terms, consistency does not mean that every particular rule that is found in the inside must also exist on the outside, what it means is simply that there must exist the possibility of extrapolating the one from the other. In other words, the over-arching framework has to be the same, but the specific details may change.
In an even more general way, it could be said that even were the framework to be different, inasmuch as there is an overall paradigm of organization of some sort behind what is happening (or what is allowed to happen) both on the inside and the outside there is still a reflection of the ‘determinism without’ by the ‘determinism within’. Therefore, in a manner of speaking, it could be said that the ‘non rule-based’, ‘fluid’ or ‘spontaneous’ stuff of our awareness has been poured out into specific channels or furrows within which it must obediently flow, so that it is at all times helplessly controlled by the rules encoded into these determining pathways. Quite obviously therefore, the relationship between the spontaneous or unprogrammed awareness and the system of pathways within which it is contained, or constrained, is very intimate to say the least. When we see things like this, it is easy to see how the structural biases of our environment (which ultimately comes down to ‘the system of thought’) translate directly into cognitive biases and motivation. At this stage of our discussion we ought to pay some attention to the idea – globally and therefore overwhelmingly persuasively prevalent in our time – that there actually is no stuff such as ‘spontaneous, unconditioned or unprogrammed consciousness’. To say that there is such a thing as spontaneous consciousness (using the word ‘thing’ as loosely as possible) implies the existence of awareness or consciousness as a ‘phenomenon in its own right’, which conflicts with the materialist view that only tangible material phenomena exist. As far as we are concerned, if we can touch it (i.e. measure it) then it exists, and if we can’t it doesn’t. We therefore say that both matter and energy are real (since they both can be quantified) whereas all intangibles – by this logic – are seen as unreal. The materialist argument is brutally powerful in practice, instantly crushing underfoot absolutely all of the finer accomplishments and qualities of the human race, but absurdly weak when it comes down to scrutinizing what is actually being claimed here. Basically, the materialist position (which is so prevalent as to be hardly acknowledged as a position) says (or implies) that defined structure is real, whereas the undefined and non-delineated field of possibilities from which it is abstracted or taken is not real. The tangible form exists, we say, but the intangible space which makes the form possible does not exist! That we can manage to be so stupid as to base our entire world view on such a bizarrely nonsensical prejudice is nothing short of astonishing, but this is nevertheless the officially prescribed way to see things. Just as the boundless domain of freedom from which we pull out rules is an essential part of the business of creating structure, and therefore ‘real’ in its own right (if not ‘more real’), so too can we suggest that consciousness (from which we derive our limited thoughts and ideas) is also ‘real’, despite the fact – which so unpalatable to us – that it has no describable form. We can in fact go further and make a statement such as the following –
The intangible and all-pervasive space from which physical form or shape is abstracted is at root the very same thing as the unlimited and therefore intangible field of possibilities (the mental space) that is spontaneous or unprogrammed consciousness.
LOVING OUR LIMITATIONS AS OURSELVES
The idea that we identify with the patterns which we find ourselves in close proximity to comes across very clearly if we are to use the image of consciousness as being a sort of a fluid (which has a degree of freedom unknown to solids) which is poured into a system of channels and henceforth can only follow the course that it laid out for it by the solid edges of the channels. The ‘consciousness fluid’ is still as fluid as ever, but because it is constrained by the solid walls of the channel, it has to follow the path mapped out for it as if it itself were the pathway. Now this is of course not so say that consciousness is a fluid, or even some elusive gaseous element that has not yet been isolated by chemists – the general principle remains true however that what we are calling ‘consciousness’ in this discussion can be negatively characterized precisely by its lack of determining character, whereas the structures we encounter in the world which we anticipate through the use of mentally generated structures of a similar order are entirely capable of being characterized positively in terms of the specific limitations and impossibilities that they embody. Expressing things this way enables us to see that the rational-conceptual mind which gives shape to our experience, and the consciousness which has that experience via the structures of the rational-conceptual mind, are not of the same nature at all, and may even be said to be opposed to each other (if we are sufficiently mindful about how we use the word ‘opposed’ since if rationality and consciousness have entirely different natures then they cannot properly be said to ‘oppose’ each other).
This might seem to be contradicting the point that we made a little while ago, about how the subjective psychological world and the objective physical world can actually be spoken of in a ‘perfectly interchangeable’ fashion. If they are so completely different in nature, how can they also be interchangeable? The answer is of course that our subjective experience pertains to the world of conditioned (or programmed) consciousness, rather than the formless and therefore indescribable world of unconditioned consciousness, which means that it has a strictly ‘structural’ basis. Conditioned consciousness is consciousness that exists in the identified state, i.e. it is not enough to say that we are fond of the structures that go to make up our environment, and fond of the structures that we use as tools to operate within that environment, actually we see them as ‘being us’, as being our true or essential nature. ‘Identification’ therefore comes down to ‘seeing an arbitrary structure as ‘the self’, i.e. –
The structures (or forms) within whose bounds we live out our lives are not perceived by us as extrinsic structures, but rather as the intrinsic essence or who or what we are.
THE NATURE OF FEAR
To say that we are identified with structures of one kind or another (which is to say, with explicitly defined statements of ‘how things are’ or ‘how they ought to be’) then this means that the relationship of the statement to the unstated freedom from which the statement was drawn must be the same thing as the relationship of the conditioned identity – which is the assumed sense of self which we possess when we in the state of passive identification with a determinate structure – to the unconditioned and indeterminate consciousness, which is free consciousness, i.e. consciousness that is not a slave to the need to put itself in a conceptual box. Thus, if the situation of an organized, internally-coherent logical structure or system with regard to its origin, which is ‘spontaneity’ or ‘freedom’, necessarily involves the creation of entropy (which is information loss) then we can rephrase this in the case of the rational-conceptual mind in terms that are more suitable for a psychological approach to the matter. Thus, we can say that the relationship of the rational mind to the spontaneous mind from which it arose (and from which it continuously arises) is one that is mediated by ‘compulsory unconsciousness’. In other words –
The rule of the game which is rational thought (and the rationally-constructed self or ego) is that we must not only be unaware of unconditioned consciousness, we must also be oblivious to this lack of awareness.
‘Ignorance the existence of which we are entirely ignorant’ is the psychological version of the physical quantity that is known as entropy – in both cases there is a loss of information that cannot be known about, a loss of information that is invisible from the ‘vantage’ point of the post-collapse situation. Because it is absolutely necessary for the conditioned mind to remain unaware of the radical freedom from which it arose, this creates a sense of absolute compulsion. But because it is also absolutely necessary for the unconditioned mind to not to know what this overwhelming compulsion is about we have to obey it without knowing why we obey it, and also without feeling any curiosity about why we obey it without knowing why exactly we obey it. Neither must we feel any curiosity at all about our profound lack of curiosity in this matter, and so on. What we are talking about here therefore sounds very much like fear, in the sense of ‘a rule that does not present itself as ‘a rule’, but ‘The Rule’ (which is to say, a rule that we never stop to question in any way). Although we are calling unreflective (or compulsive) motivation fear, we might just as well call it desire since desire or craving has exactly the same quality, i.e. all my attention is on how I can best obey the imperative, and none of my attention at all is on why it is that it feels so incredibly important that I do obey it. The logic of the situation that I am in is that it just is extremely important and when I am afraid I absolutely surrender myself to this logic – I hand myself over to it so much that I actually am it, which is what Krishnamurti means when he insists, when talking about fear, that you are the fear.
Both greed and fear stem out of this business of self-maintenance, which covers such activities as self-promotion, self-defending, self-copying, self-perpetuation, etc. Self-maintenance covers the entire gamut of purposeful (or intended activity) that arises from the basis of the arbitrary structural bias that we have identified with and so – if we look at it this way – it can easily be seen that ‘greed is the same thing as fear’, since both serve the same end, which is the furtherance of the structural bias in question. The arbitrary bias (which does not represent itself as an arbitrary bias, but rather as the only right way to see and do things) only knows one thing, and that one thing is itself, i.e. its own way, and so both greed and fear represent a logical extension of this bias that cannot see itself as a bias. To talk about ‘a bias’ is exactly the same as talking about ‘a rule’ and so we can equivalently say that both greed and fear represent a logical extension of ‘a rule that cannot see itself as a rule’, which is course the same point that we keep making over and over again in our discussion of the motivation of fear and its relationship to the ‘defined identity’ of the conditioned self.
THE HABIT OF ‘BLIND OBEDIENCE’
The need which we as conditioned beings have to see the rules that make up our world not as being just any old rules that we have arbitrarily chosen to latch onto, but rather as being absolutely necessary (i.e. the need to see our structural basis as being inevitable rather than accidental) is essentially a need for ontological security, as Berger and Luckman have noted in The Social Construction of Reality. Just as the secret motivation behind our adherence to the mental structures we call beliefs is the need to have something – anything – to believe in, so too the secret motivation behind our habit of slavishly obeying arbitrary (i.e. meaningless) rules is the need to have some or other definite rule to obey. The key characteristic of conditioned consciousness is that it has to have some unquestionable (and therefore invisible) set of rules to base itself upon – this is why we are forever handing over responsibility to some or other external authority, some idea, some belief, some ideology, some institution or conventional body. The need to have blind faith in something or other is our ‘secret addiction’ and this secret addiction is the bondage that we have towards the structure with which we have unconsciously identified ourselves with. Our reward is unshakeable ontological security (or at least the illusion thereof), and the price we pay is our freedom and our autonomy. The state of unconsciousness (or passive identification) can bee seen as being the state in which we are utterly in thrall to some external authority, and it can also be seen as the state in which we are in thrall to the logical, rule-based machinery of our rational minds. Alternatively and equivalently, we can use the following definition –
Psychological unconsciousness is the state in which I am completely in thrall to the so-called ‘self’ which is not actually who I am at all, but the false self which is the system of thought (i.e. my way of thinking about things).
Once we formulate matters as we have done above it is not too hard to see that the state of ‘unconsciousness’ (which is a mode of being that is utterly and perfectly ubiquitous) is synonymous with the state of being entirely ruled by fear. The state of unconsciousness and the state of being ruled by fear are the same thing. This is inevitably true since inasmuch as I am unconscious when I am passively identified with some definite structure my relationship to the unconditioned reality – as a ‘conditioned self’ – is going to one of pure, undiluted fear. This is a strange statement. If it were true, then surely the streets would be full of people running around in terror. It does not of course take very long to ascertain that this is not in fact the case – quite the contrary is true because everywhere we look we tend to see people looking quite the opposite of afraid! The streets are full of people looking very confident, very matter-of-fact, and often quite bored. People’s faces usually indicate anything but fear, and it is an empirical fact that most of our lives are spent quite casually, even tediously, and thus with a noticeable absence of ‘pure undiluted fear’. Actually, a bit of fear is often sought out, as a tonic or as a form of entertainment – such is the degree of existential security that the majority of us have attained that we enjoy the odd bit of fear just to prove to ourselves that we are still alive. So observation immediately reveals not that fear is ubiquitous, as unconsciousness is ubiquitous, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Observation shows that we’re not ‘ruled by fear’. So if the normal mode of mental existence very much appears to be a predominately non-fearful one, how we say that psychological unconsciousness is the state in which we are absolutely and implacably governed by the motivation of fear?
The answer to this puzzle (if that is we are prepared to see it as a puzzle) lies in the wording of the statement given earlier, which said something to the effect that ‘inasmuch as I am in the unconscious mode, my relationship to unconditioned reality is bound to be one of abject fear’. The point here is that when we walk down a typical high street (or any other sort of street for that matter) we do not see people relating to an unconditioned reality, but to a conditioned one; when I look at the world I register a reality which faithfully reflects back all the assumptions that I have made before looking at it, and so I simply do not encounter anything that exposes these assumptions as being ungrounded (which they most certainly are). My biases are always being confirmed, in other words! When my conditioned mind relates to the conditioned reality that I see all around me everything is cosy and hunky-dory and just as it should be – there are no radical challenges to be had anywhere and so I get to exist in a ‘profoundly unchallenged’ sort of a way. This profoundly unchallenged mode of existence, where all my perceptual and cognitive prejudices (or habits) are automatically and instantly confirmed every time I turn a corner, is basically a form of ‘waking sleep’, and – as mystics of all ages have been keen to point out – all the experiences we have whilst safely within this waking sleep are no better than dreams, since if my reality doesn’t challenge me to the very core, then it simply isn’t reality at all, but some bland, two-dimensional simulation thereof. Of course, when that bland two-dimensional simulation breaks down – as it can be relied on to do – and exposes the reality that lies beyond it, that is precisely when the terror suddenly strikes home. A rather good first-hand account of what this feels like is provided by science journalist John Horgan (1996, P261-2):
Years ago, before I became a science writer, I had what I suppose could be called a mystical experience. A psychiatrist would probably call it a psychotic episode. Whatever. For what its worth, here is what happened. Objectively, I was lying spread-eagled on a suburban lawn, insensible to my surroundings. Subjectively, I was hurtling through a dazzling, dark limbo toward what I was sure was the ultimate secret of life. Wave after wave of acute astonishment at the miraculousness of existence washed over me. At the same time, I was gripped by an overwhelming solipsism. I became convinced – or rather, I knew – that I was the only conscious being in the universe. There was no future, no past, no present other than what I imagined them to be. I was filled, initially, with a sense of limitless joy and power. Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to this ecstasy, it might consume me. If I alone existed, who could bring me back from oblivion? Who could save me? With this realization my bliss turned to horror; I fled the same revelation I had so eagerly sought. I felt myself falling through a great darkness, and as I fell I dissolved into what seemed to be an infinity of selves.
For months after I awoke from this nightmare, I was convinced that I had discovered the secret of existence: God’s fear of his own Godhead, and his own potential death, underlies everything. This conviction left me both exalted and terrified – and alienated from friends and family and all the ordinary things that make life worth living day to day. I had to work hard to put it behind me, to get on with my life. To an extent I succeeded. As Marvin Minsky might put it, I stuck the experience in a relatively isolated part of my mind so that it would not overwhelm all the other, more practical parts – the one’s concerned with getting and keeping a job, a mate, and so on. After many years passed, however, I dragged the memory of that episode out and began mulling it over. One reason was that I had encountered a bizarre, pseudoscientific theory that helped me make metaphorical sense of my hallucination: the Omega Point.
It is considered bad form to imagine being God, but one can imagine being an immensely powerful computer that pervades – that is – the entire universe. As the Omega Point approaches the final collapse of time and space and being itself, it will undergo a mystical experience. It will realize that there is no creator, no God, other than itself. It exists, and nothing else. The Omega Point must also realize that its lust for final knowledge and unification has brought it to the brink of eternal nothingness, and that if it dies, everything dies; being itself will vanish. The Omega Point’s terrified recognition of its plight will compel it to flee from itself, from its own awful aloneness and self-knowledge. Creation, with all its pain and beauty, and multiplicity, stems from – or is – the desperate, terrified flight of the Omega Point from itself.
Whilst the conventional interpretation of such an experience as this would probably be, as Horgan suggests, that the person concerned has suffered a psychotic episode of some kind – which is basically a fancy way of saying that it is a freaky sort of error in the functioning of the brain – what we are saying is that it isn’t an error at all but an unwelcome glimpse of the true underlying situation. Needless to say we are not at all disposed to seeing things this way so we come up with a whole bunch of pseudo-scientific jargon to convince ourselves that we are right and the psychotic person is wrong. Now this is not to say that my interpretation, as a psychotic person, of my own experience is necessarily going to be any more trustworthy than anyone else’s because my interpretations in this case is guaranteed to be misrepresentative since in this case it is essentially a manifestation of my need to ‘grasp hold of some definite truth’. In the general run of things, my interpretations and theories concerning what is going on in my environment have a certain adaptive value, or at least there is a possibility that this could be the case, and so there is a basic functional correspondence between ‘idea’ and ‘thing’. When I am undergoing the sort of experience described above however my theories about what is going on are there simply to provide me with some sort of ontological security, and therefore the ideas and theories that I have bear no relationship to anything outside of my own inclination or tendency to automatically believe the ideas and beliefs that I have randomly come up with. When I try to ‘make sense’ of unconditioned reality, what I am essentially doing is projecting my own meaning on it, and then reacting either positively or negatively to my own projections without any insight into what it is that I am actually going, in the manner that is described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
BLIND MAN’S BLUFF
The conventional view of things is that total ontological panic such as testified to above by Horgan is an aberration, and that the fear wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the existence of some biochemical malfunction. But the line of argument that we are developing in this discussion is that the unconscious mode of being which we all find ourselves is universally conditioned by fear, without there normally being any awareness at all of either the conditioning or the fear that lies behind it. In short, we are all slaves of fear, creatures of fear, but we are at the same time too afraid to let ourselves know it. One way to approach this idea is in terms of bluff. The argument goes as follows – our structural basis (e.g. our theories, our ideas, our beliefs, etc) are all quite without foundation. They are not absolutely valid, as we would like to believe, but rather they are relatively valid, which is to say they are valid with regard to the frame of reference that they automatically assume. Now rather than let ourselves become aware of the intrinsic relativity of all the assertions or statements that we might possibly make, we commit ourselves to a bluff and we act as if our assertions were absolutely valid. We proceed in a confident and positive manner as if our structural basis had a foundation, and it is this façade of apparently legitimate purposefulness that constitutes the ‘bluff’ that we are talking about –
Our purposeful actions (and this includes the purposeful activity of directed thinking) are our bluff, and if we carry out this bluff confidently enough (i.e. unreflectively enough) we convince both ourselves and anyone else at the same time.
This ‘confident purposefulness’, this ‘bluff’, is thus our defence against the background of omnipresent ontological fear, as well as being the logical expression of that fear. It can be seen that calling our purposeful or intentional behaviour a bluff is the same as calling it ‘a game’. For a game to work there must be what James Carse calls ‘self-veiling’ – we cannot let ourselves see that it is a game – and for the type of bluff we are talking about to work it is necessary for us to distract all attention from the fact that it is a bluff. If we couldn’t avert our attention in this complete way then the big, tightly-stretched balloon that we are busily blowing up would burst single since a single teeny-weeny pin-point breach in the integrity of that taught balloon skin is all that is needed to blow the whole thing instantly to shreds in our face. This is the situation of psychological unconsciousness – the bluff is big and bold and very much ‘in your face’ but at the same time the tiniest bit of insight on my part into what I am doing is enough to fatally injure my brash but spurious confidence, the confidence that has allowed me to charge on ahead so heedlessly up to this point – the point where I become catastrophically ‘deflated’ due to the presence of awareness where I didn’t want any awareness to be.
Our normal conception of a bluff is where I pull a fast one on the people around me. For example, I pretend to be Lord So-and-So in order to run up a tab in an old-fashioned gentleman’s club in London, or in order perhaps to borrow money off one of the more gullible club members. In this case, it is obviously true that the rule of the bluff must be that ‘the bluff is not a bluff’. It goes without saying however that the rule doesn’t apply to me since it is the people around me I am trying to fool, not myself. If the rule did apply equally to me then this would be a totally different kettle of fish – in this case I can no longer be said to be ‘using’ the bluff since if I too am convinced that I am Lord So-and-So, I must also believe that I am as unassailably well-off as I am implying that I am, and so why on earth would I want to be conning money out of the commoners that I meet in the gentlemen’s club? The whole point of the exercise is defeated if I bluff myself as successfully as I bluff the others because then I will no longer be able to utilize the bluff! Indeed, instead of me utilizing the bluff the bluff will utilize me for its own purposes, and the highly peculiar thing about this ‘reversed’ state of affairs is that the bluff doesn’t actually have any genuine purposes of its own because it is of course only a bluff.
The bluff does have ‘purposes’ it is true, but these purposes are gimmicks and not in any sense genuine. So if I do succeed in bluffing myself at the same time as bluffing everybody else, then the bluff is utilizing me, and it will get me to run around and trying to actualize its gimmicky purposes, i.e. it will motivate me to follow through with the cover-story. I of course do not know that this is merely a cover-story and so I take it all in good faith, but what on earth can ‘the tool that controls the user of the tool’ (i.e. the self-governing bluff that successfully bluffs everybody) get out of this arrangement, since the purposes that it promotes can never be more than mere gimmicks since this is what the bluff was about in the first place. This rather confounding situation can be set out as follows –
The bluffing mechanism is no longer serving any higher purpose than itself, and so it is now bereft of this legitimate source of meaning, but when it serves itself it is hopelessly ‘stuck’ in this regard because it actually has no genuine aims of its own, since it was only ever there as a ‘pretence’.
THE LIE IS THAT ‘THE LIE IS NOT A LIE’
Despite the fact that the bluffing mechanism has no real function or meaning at all when it becomes disconnected from its ‘operator’ and becomes as a result ‘its own masters’ this does not in any way impair its vigour, its effectiveness in what it was designed to do. The mere fact that there is no meaning to it doing what it is doing (i.e. that its raison d’être is purely tautological) does not impede it in the slightest since it is constitutionally incapable of taking its own ‘lack of meaning’ into account. So what happens is that the mechanism proceeds to run me as if it had ‘a very good reason’ for doing so, whereas in fact it does not have any genuine reason at all! The rule of the bluff is as we have said that ‘the bluff is not a bluff’ so this principle of deception becomes the reason for everything that it does. It can therefore can be said that the ruling principle behind the disconnected bluffing mechanism (as it runs around like the proverbial loose cannon it is) is simply that it should never ever be found out for what it is, no matter how much mayhem is caused. In other words, the hidden agenda of the mechanism is that the integrity of its game should be maintained at all times, no matter what. This basically means that its confidently manufactured façade must at all times remain believable, no matter how strained the circumstances and no matter what consequences might come about as a result of this insanity. This therefore is what ‘the rule of fear’ is all about…
Image: Taken from aaron-blanco-tejedor-768029-unsplash, in unsplash.com/photos