The self always exists in a fully-compensated situation – that is the condition for its existence, there is always this qualification attached to its existence. If we could only be clear about this then that would be remarkably helpful for us; that would – at one stroke – free us from the need to be humourlessly engaged in all sorts of meaningless escapades!
Of course, from another point of view, maybe ‘meaningless escapades’ is exactly what we want. Maybe that’s what we’re after! If it is meaningless escapades that we want then the last thing we want to realise is that the self (by its very nature) always exists in a fully-compensated world. If this were the case, then to know and see quite clearly that the self necessarily exists in a fully-compensated situation would be an out-and-out disaster.
One way of talking about ‘the fully-compensated situation’ is to say that it is the World of Purposefulness, which is the world we exist in when we are operating on the basis of the rational mind’s assumed framework. This world is also sometimes called the Realm of Duality. The Realm of Duality is made up entirely of boundaries – boundaries are the only thing that is real here. Boundaries split the world into two halves – here and there, in and out, is and isn’t, and without the splitting of the world into two halves like this there can be no such thing as ‘purposefulness’.
To have a purpose is to have a goal and if there is a goal there must necessarily be ‘there’ rather than ‘here’. There’s no such thing as ‘a goal that is already here’, or ‘a goal that is already the case’. There are (rather obviously) two possible states in the World of Purposefulness – the state of having achieved the goal, and the complimentary state of not having achieved it. ‘Purposefulness’ is therefore the activity that is based upon switching the latter state of affairs for the former whenever possible. We switch the minus for a plus, which is of course the beloved mantra of the positive thinking movement.
A good way to think about the fully-compensated situation, says Gurdjieff’s student JG Bennett, is to consider a volume of liquid that is made up of molecules possessing a magnetic dipole, but which is electrically neutral overall (the obvious example here being water). On a very small scale of things positive and negative do exist separately, they can be taken as having separate existences, but the volume of water when taken as a whole is always perfectly neutral. This is because each molecule of water making up the volume is ‘neutral’ as a unit, obviously – the two dipoles cancel each other out.
In terms of this model therefore, we can say that all of our purposes (which are directed towards what would be regarded as the ‘positive’ outcome) are compensated for in the bigger scheme of things such that, in this bigger picture, there is – and never can be – any ‘overall winning’, or any ‘overall losing’. This is of course clear enough once we get to thinking about it! All positive displacements are balanced out by the corresponding negative displacements such that, actually, there is no overall movement going on. The same is true for Brownian motion, which also always cancels itself out so that there is no overall movement. Cups of tea don’t suddenly jump to the left or to the right, with all their molecules suddenly leaping in the same direction (even though it is this unlikely possibility that forms the basis of Douglas Adam’s ‘Infinite Improbability Drive.)What we are looking at here therefore is the perfect nullity of the purposeful self, which is a very alien idea to our culture. As a culture we spend all of our time celebrating ‘non-nullity’ of the purposeful self (which is to say, we celebrate the potentiality of that self to ‘progress’ or ‘develop’ in some meaningful way). To say that the self ‘always exists in a fully compensated situation’ is therefore complete anathema to us. In mathematical/logical terms what we’re talking about here is idea that every definite statement, without exception, always exists in a perfect state of perfect self-contradiction.
This is also a profoundly alien idea to us, and there is a direct parallel here – what we’re looking at is actually the same idea stated in an apparently different way. We can therefore repeat the point that to actually say that all definite statements, without exception, are perfectly self-contradictory, is anathema to us. To say this is not overstating matters – our whole world is based on definite statements and if we were to take on board the idea that each and every definite/literal statement that we use for describing the world is flatly self-contradictory then this would annihilate at one stroke everything we believe in. We would be putting the cat amongst the pigeons in a big way then – feathers are definitely going to fly!
Human nature being what it is therefore, anyone who comes along trying to make the very legitimate point that all literal descriptions are self-contradictory (or self-denying) is not going to meet a very favourable reception. This is heresy pure and simple and nobody likes a heretic! The ‘heresy’ is to say that the entire structure that we live our lives in orbit around – which is the structure that we have made out of our so-called ‘literal truths’ – is a non-existent thing. Since the whole point of ‘literal truth’ is that what is being stated in no-nonsense literal terms absolutely does exist (i.e. that it does not not-exist) and that it is therefore ‘as real as real can be’ then this is clearly the biggest insult that the literal mind can ever receive. This very straightforward insight that ‘literal truth is never actually true’ is something that very few people will ever be able to bring themselves to look at.
It’s not just that we have invested too heavily in the literally-true statements that we have created for ourselves – there is an additional complication to the picture and that ‘additional complication’ has to do with the mental blind-spot that we are afflicted with as regards all of our logical constructs. Logic is founded upon this blind-spot; or as we could also say, logic doesn’t work without entropy. This is easy enough to show – any logical extrapolation always relies upon some kind of ‘basic assumed premise’, some kind of basic ground of ‘certainty’, and the only way it can ever arrive at such a basic premise, arrive at such at such a degree of certainty, is to shut down all questions. If we say that something definitely ‘is’ this or that it definitely ‘is’ that, then this means that we are ignoring all the ways in which our definite statements aren’t true. This is how we make everything be definite, by turning a blind eye to all contrary evidence. The end result is that what we have said to be true is true, simply because we have said it and so it must therefore be true!
‘Information’, we might say, consists in having lots and lots of different ways of looking at some assumed ‘thing’. This is admittedly a rather non-technical approach to information, but at the same time it says all that needs to be said. That’s it in a nutshell. What if they weren’t lots and lots of ways of looking at ‘some assumed thing’ – what would happen then? In this case, we very quickly run out of things to say, obviously. The book comes to an end and it gets slammed shut. In the case of a simple literal description ‘the book’ is only a few lines long at best and then that’s the end of the matter. End of story. We can’t go very far with a literal description in other words – we can’t actually get away from it because there’s nowhere else to go. The literal descriptor has (true to form) ‘shut down all the space’ and so there really is nowhere else to go. Via this business of ‘shutting down space’ (or ‘closing down all competing possibilities’) we create the phenomenon of ‘literal’ truth, therefore. We only have the one way of looking at the ‘assumed thing’ and what this means is that ‘the assumed thing’ (or ‘the apparent thing’) gets to be real as far as we are concerned. ‘Entropy creates literal statements’, in other words. Entropy creates certainty – entropy is what lies behind the output of the rational mind…
Things have to be closed down artificially – this isn’t something that is going to happen otherwise. If a child asks their parent endless questions about this, that and the other then the parent may get fed up and resort to replying with some tried and trusted formula like ‘Because God made it so’ and this is a classic example of ‘closing the subject down’. We put up a wall and we don’t look beyond it, and this manoeuvre provides us with the ‘literal meaning’ that we want. When we don’t use some manoeuvre such as this then the book stays open and we can derive no definite statements about anything, no matter how hard we try. Definite statements (or literal truths) can only exist in a closed universe. When we interpret a literal truth in the way that it itself demands to be interpreted then (as we said earlier) we never ever move away from that so-called ‘truth’ – we’re on a very short leash. Our journey ends as soon as it begins and so it isn’t a journey. In the case of non-literal (or open) message there is actually no stopping anywhere – we’re not on a leash. We never reach a limit that we can’t go beyond. No one shuts us down, no one ‘shuts the book’ on us – as the Buddhist saying has it, ‘Things don’t end, they simply change’. If things did end, then what would be on the other side of that ‘end’, after all? In reality, the only thing that ends is our interest in seeing what is there and it is this ‘enforced termination of our interest’ that creates the literal world we live in.
When we’re using the rational mind to interpret the world then the literal statements look absolutely fine to us – we don’t see anything contradictory about them at all. This should hardly come as any surprise since it is the rational mind that creates them in the first place! The RT operates on the basis of the blind-spot, the literal statements are constructed on the basis of the very same blind-spot, and so course we’re not going to see any problem here! Using the thinking mind to try to understand the true nature of definite statements is a joke therefore; we can set a thief to catch a thief but we can’t set a blind-spot the task of catching itself out! A prejudice can’t ever see itself for what it is. The thing about a definite statement is that it is a division – it’s a division between ‘correct’ on one side and ‘false’ on the other. The paradoxicality of the division can be seen in the fact that the boundary is ‘made up of plus just as much as it is made up of minus’ (as Alan Watts says someone). We can’t have boundary without both right and wrong and so to suggest – as we do explicitly suggest when we use little language – that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are two completely different things is plainly nonsensical. We may say that they are two different things, but they aren’t. They’re the same thing – they are the rule or boundary.
Both ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are functions of the very same boundary, the very same rule; more than this, we can say that the boundary (or rule) IS both ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and that and to say this is to directly acknowledge the paradoxicality inherent in all certainty. When we make a literal ‘statement of fact’ we incur positive and negative to the same extent and this is obvious if we listen to a literal statement in an open way (which is to say, when we listen in a way that is more like an artist and less like a technician waiting to carry out a task) – immediately the literal message stands out as being somewhat ‘unreal’, ridiculous even. The concrete message is more than just ridiculous if you listen to it with the rational mind being there to interpret the meaning, when we listen without thought immediately coming into play then any concrete statement that we hear sounds so very trivial, so very petty, so very small, so as to not mean anything at all. There’s no ‘nourishment for the soul’ in it at all, as we all know.
If there was a rule (if there really was a rule) then ‘yes versus no’ would mean something, but there are no rules in ‘the bigger picture of things’ – there are only rules when we ourselves make them up. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we ‘deliberately invent the rules’ (even though we could do); our assumed vantage point is itself a rule, even though we don’t see it as such, and this assumed vantage point set up its own rules quite automatically. The rules are inherent in it. So for example, if I have been bitten by a snake and I want to know whether the snake is venomous and not (is it for example a deadly banded coral snake or simply a harmless false coral snake?) then this difference, the difference between yes and no, could mean the difference between life and death for me, so I can’t say that the literal statement ‘the snake is venomous’ / ‘the snake is not venomous’ is meaningless. Of course I can’t say this. But in the bigger picture of things, with regard to ‘the Whole of Everything’ whether the answer to any question is yes or no makes no difference at all because both still equal ‘the bigger picture’. Thus, when we have switched from the personalised or conditioned consciousness to the wider consciousness (i.e. the consciousness that is not predicated upon a definite viewpoint then the world we perceive is not made up of issues, which is to say it is not made up of ‘yes versus no’, ‘right versus wrong’ and that is why there is peace in it. There is no such peacefulness in the personalised or attached version of consciousness. Thought is conflict and fragmentation, as Krishnamurti says.
The ‘bottom line’ is that we CAN take our fixed viewpoint being absolutely valid (rather than just ‘a rule that we have assumed’) and in this case literal statements will be very meaningful for us, but what we have done in this case is that we have ‘made everything about us’ – that’s what the self does, after all! When we make everything about us we incur the nullity however – we are ‘incurring the nullity’ because we are looking at the world from the standpoint of a fixed or definite point of view. A fixed point is inherently paradoxical, as we have already argued, and so what this means is that the world we construct around us out of this viewpoint must also be paradoxical, must also be self-contradictory’. There’s nothing wrong with paradoxes, of course – as it is said, ‘a paradox is simply the truth standing on its head to attract our attention’! What then is the truth? The truth is that the world can’t be seen in terms of a fixed point. The world (or reality) is the very antithesis of a fixed point. The fixed point equals ‘closed’ whereas what we are attempting to view with our fixed viewpoint equals ‘open’, and open cannot be represented in terms of closed. Open can’t be represented at all when it comes to it – how after all can ‘the Whole of Everything’ be represented in some lesser or limited form? When we try to do this we get caught up in ‘bias that can’t see itself as such’ – we fall headfirst into delusion, in other words…
We are absolutely encouraged to look at the world in a ‘no-nonsense literal way’ – the pressure we’re under to do so is immense. This is where the ‘profit’ lies, quite undeniably! The profit lies in playing the game, and not just ‘playing the game’ but playing the game so well that we know longer know that we’re playing a game. This is what’s encouraged by our society, needless to say –to understand the world (and ourselves) literally. There is no respect for those who do not take the concrete world and its goals seriously. Every time we listen to someone talking we get sucked into this literal reality – we get pulled into it from all directions. But we’re colluding in our own nullification when we ‘play the finite game’ (as James Carse puts it); we’re standing in the way of our own true being. We’re conflicted with ourselves in the deepest possible way; ‘To succeed is always to fail,’ Alan Watts says; our curse therefore is that we are bound to fail to the extent that we succeed. What possibly interest can there ever be in the literal word therefore – where will it ever lead us except into the realm of disguised meaninglessness? To cultivate the impersonal consciousness, which is the wider view, is on the other hand the very gateway into reality. That’s where reality is to be found, not in the games we are encouraged from birth to play. When people like Jordan Peterson or Gabor Mate talk about a sense of meaning as being the thing that sustains us in life, rather than happiness or ‘success’ or belief or anything else, this is where meaning comes from, the only place existential meaning can come from – going beyond the literal or definite meanings that imprison us…