What is the Non-Equilibrium World’? What’s it like? How do we get there? What is living in the Non-Equilibrium World like? These are all excellent questions to ask, just as long as we bear in mind that we can never actually get any answer to them! We can never know the answer to these questions because the question itself embodies a contradiction – ‘non-equilibrium’ means ‘not like anything’ and so to ask what the non-equilibrium world is ‘like’ actually means nothing! That is the ultimate ‘ridiculous question’. The Non-E World is like nothing at all…
We can say what the Equilibrium World is – just as long as we don’t mind using self-referential descriptions, which are what the E-World is inevitably based on. An E-World, we might say, is a world that can always (under all circumstances) be ‘compared to standards’, a world that can be ‘exhaustively quantified and defined’. The E-World is ‘the world of the known’, in other words. We can say what the E-World ‘is’ therefore, but only within the terms which it itself supplies, only within the terms of the framework that we are not allowed to examine. What this means is that we can know only too well what the equilibrium world ‘is like’, but only by using a way of knowing that is itself fundamentally unreliable. Our so-called ‘knowing’ is only an illusion, in other words (even though this illusory knowledge can still be pragmatically useful, when it comes to navigating the everyday world that we live in).
There’s nothing really to be interested in when it comes to the E-World. It is ‘a dead field of knowledge’, forever devoid of any surprises. We can never find anything in it that wasn’t implicit in our starting-off assumptions, in other words. It’s not just that the E-World is ‘devoid of interest’, it’s suffocating. There’s never anything genuinely new in it and that means that we are, in some kind of a way, always hungering after something that it genuinely new, genuinely different. We have a very peculiar relationship with the E-state– we always aim at it, but when we actually catch up with what we’re aiming at we will always discover that is not really what it’s cracked up to be! This is the same as saying that as soon as we get what we want we discover that we no want longer want it. It’s also the same as saying that when we manage to be one hundred percent in control of our situation, the satisfaction that we expected to obtain never really materialises – instead, we are left with an unpleasant feeling of ‘hollowness’, a type of ‘hollow feeling’ that we can’t quite pinpoint, even though – on some level – we still know it to be there.
It’s a common enough thing to read in psychological or spiritual literature that our problem is that we are always ‘clutching at illusions’, or ‘fighting or fleeing from them’, but this way of talking about it don’t adequately convey what is actually happening here. It would be better to say that when we catch hold of an illusion we ourselves become an illusion; or that when we fight with an illusion we become an illusion too, or that when we run from an illusion then we become every bit as illusory as what we are running from. That would account for the ‘hollow feeling’ better – we’ve lost the core of who we are without realising it. It’s not just that the ‘prize’ is fake, so too is the one who has attained it.
In a way could be said that we have gone through a type of trap-door and entered into ‘a hollow world’ that we can’t perceive to be hollow. We can’t see the hollow world (which is the E-state) to be hollow’ because we ourselves are hollow – we have been converted into an ‘abstract version’ of ourselves. Once we enter the equilibrium world then our fate is sealed so to speak, since the only type of things we going to be interested in our illusory things! Being interested in illusions ensures that we will remain illusions ourselves. Illusions are of no interest after all – they are only of interest when we are illusory too. Nothing we do will ever change our situation therefore, even though we keep on (naturally enough) thinking that it will. We are denizens of the Shadow Realm now and all the activity that we engage in only really has a function of making sure that we stay shadows. All of our activities are null-activities, in other words; all of our aspirations are null-aspirations.
Society is a perfect example of a null world – when we are in the Social Equilibrium-World we are kept busy doing things that have the secret function of ‘keeping us unconscious’. This function is never referred to anywhere, but it is fair to say that equilibrium-seeking activities constitutes the entirety of what is going on here – inasmuch as we are guided by the rational-conceptual mind, we are always trying to attain equilibrium values . We think something else is going on, we think the reason for our activities is something else, but really it’s all just for the sake of keeping us safely unconscious. Alan Watts speaks of ‘the taboo against knowing who we really are’, and this is just another way of saying that the function of our socially-approved equilibrium-seeking activities is to make sure that we ‘never become aware of our true nature’. This is what the game is all about – it’s all about making sure that this is the one thing that never gets to happen, it’s all about making sure that we never realise who we actually are, and thus drop the illusion of ‘who we’re told we are’.
There is a curious kind of ‘inversion’ going on here therefore – all of our purposeful activities (with the exception of those which are strictly pragmatic, or ‘non-symbolic’ in nature) have the function of ‘reifying our sense of ourselves’. We’re trying to make ourselves more real in other words; we’re trying to improve ourselves; we’re trying to ‘make something of ourselves’, or as we could also say, we’re trying to ‘attain something great’. The language used in games best explains what’s going on here – the point of the game (any game) is to win, and when we win we then become ‘winners.’ Everyone knows that it’s great to be a winner, but why? It turns out that this is a rather tricky question to answer properly – it’s great because we all know that it’s great, it’s good because we all say that it’s good, because we all unanimously agree that it is, but why? What is winning’ actually mean?
In order to answer this question in a ‘non-tautological’ way (i.e. without saying that ‘it is good because we all agree that it is good’) we have to look at what winning symbolises – winning is nothing in itself but it stands for something. That’s what gives it its ‘charge’, its powerfully magnetizing effect. On the most basic level, we can say that winning clearly denotes a special or non-ordinary state of existence that is not easy to obtain, a station in life (or in the game) which is highly desirable to obtain. We could also say that the point of winning is that it ‘distinguishes us from the crowd’ and that by doing this we become ‘somebody’ (because unless we distinguish ourselves from the crowd we aren’t anybody). ‘Winning’ therefore symbolises ‘attaining being’ in this case – we have ‘won existence’, we have ‘won actual genuine being’. This special state of being that we have obtained exists in contrast to the non-special (or default) state of existence which clearly isn’t worth very much! The fact that winning is such a great thing to aspire to shows that the state of ‘not having won’ or ‘not having succeeded’ is an entirely unworthy or ignominious one; winning is as desirable a thing as it is because the alternative is correspondingly undesirable.
At this point in the discussion we can now see that we don’t actually have to look any further in order to explain what is so good about winning – what we are looking at here is a simple ‘binary flip’ – what we have here is a system that has two possible modalities to it and so the only possible change that can ever take place is the change from Modality-1 to modality-2. In such a system Mod-1 is meaningful with respect to Mod-2 and vice versa and so what we are dealing with here is ‘a closed system of meaning’. ‘Success’ is defined in relation to the default state which is ‘failure’ (i.e. the state in which we have failed to distinguish ourselves), and failure is defined in relation to success. If everyone were to have ‘won’ (or ‘succeeded’) then this state of being would therefore no longer be a ‘distinguished’ one and so in order for winning to remain meaningful we would have to flip everything around so that the other complimentary modality that is now the desirable one. The game of ‘one-upmanship’ requires someone else to be ‘down’, in other words.
This is interesting because it shows that there actually is no absolute state of ‘winning’ – winning only exists in relation to our current, undesirable situation. Winning represent some kind of ‘improvement’ to this lack-lustre situation. So if we define winning as, ‘being somewhere else other than where we actually are‘ then we can see that although there is (or appears to be) this state of being called ‘winning’, it isn’t actually practically attainable. It isn’t practically attainable because it is ‘the object of my desire’ and the object of my desire is always ‘elsewhere’; the object of my desire is by definition ‘elsewhere’! ‘Winning’ can never stay ‘winning’, after all – it can no more stay ‘winning’ than a hot cup of tea can stay hot! This thing called ‘success’ only gains the mystique that it has by being ‘somewhere else’, by being ‘out of reach’. It is the approach to victory, the anticipation of victory that is the thing, not the achieving of it. What we are chasing is a projection in other words, and projections always have to exist ‘at a remove’, obviously! When projections are caught hold of and put in a safe-deposit box they turn into dust; they always turn to dust when we catch them because there was never anything in them anyway.
The irony of the inversion becomes even clearer now when we take all of the above on board. We spend most of our time straining for our goals, straining to better our situation, straining to better ourselves (in whatever way we might understand that), and what makes our goals so especially attractive to us are the positive projections that we hang on them! The attractive factor is the promise of ‘symbolic winning’ which represents – as we have just said that the redemption of our undesirable situation, the complete turning around of everything that is not right in our lives. In our everyday lives we feel – on some deep-down unconscious level – that there is a deficit in our situation and it is the prospect of this deficit being made good that – for the most part – motivates our purposeful activity. We unconsciously know that there’s something missing and we want to find it. The ‘making good’ of our present situation is the projection that has us hypnotised, it has us hypnotized because we see as representing actual being, which is what we want more than anything. What we are actually chasing is our own nullification however; our positive projections are our inner deficit ‘turned around’ to create the illusion of a ‘positive’, turned around to represent the phantom appearance of what we unconsciously imagine ‘being’ to look like, so to speak…
Our projections aren’t anything to do with being however – projections are only projections, after all! Projections are produced by the thinking mind and so they are the mind and there is no being in the mind, which functions (we might say) on the basis of an ‘unacknowledged deficit’, the deficit in question being that of reality itself. This may not be a familiar way of talking about the thinking mind but all this saying here is that the System of Thought does not in any way have the capacity to see itself for what it is (i.e. ‘a system of abstract representations’). The thinking mind doesn’t have the possibility of ‘making the jump’ to see that the thought about the thing is not the same as the thing; the TM is at all times purely concrete in its operation; which is to say, it doesn’t deal in other levels of meaning apart from the stated or official one. Thought takes itself completely literally in other words – it takes itself literally because the literal mode is the only mode it has! When we deepen thoughts we don’t see our thoughts to be thoughts – it takes consciousness to this. It is consciousness that gives us the perspective to see beyond the literal descriptions provided by the thinking mind and so without consciousness we are trapped in the world that is made up of thought’s constructs. This is why the TM always gives rise to runaway hyperreality when it is unchecked, when it is given free rein to ‘do what it will’. The hyperreal never acknowledges that it is hyperreal and that’s how it gets to be hyperreal; thought can’t recognise its own true nature and that’s why we say that it operates on the basis of an acknowledged deficit, the acknowledged deficit in question being – as we have just said – reality. Reality is the missing ingredient; ‘the Real’ is the murder victim, as Jean Baudrillard says, and hyperreality the ‘perfect crime’…
The lack of reality (or lack of ‘perspective’) in a system that is made up of literal descriptions (or literally-understood relationships) shows itself in this phenomenon that we have called ‘flipping over’ – ‘plus’ flips over to ‘minus’ and ‘minus’ flips over to ‘plus’ and reality always seems to be on the other side of the fence, the other side of ‘the flip’. It isn’t however because there is no reality anywhere within the system – both sides of the flip equal ‘the system’. The system has – as we have said – two modalities and both modalities equal ‘the system’. The fatal confusion arises because of the way in which – within the terms of the system itself – ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ are seen as entirely different things and not merely two modalities the same system. This is how the thinking mind gets to create ‘a closed system of meaning’ – precisely because of the way in which it treats ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ as not being the same but as being ‘as far apart as any two things ever could be’. There is a ‘false difference’ going on here, in other words, and we treat that ‘false difference’ as if it were the whole world in itself!
The false difference equals the endless flipping over of one opposite to the other, we might say. The false difference equals ‘the vibration’. To say that the Shadow Realm of theatrical appearances is an ‘inherently frustrating place to be’ is therefore something of an understatement! We could content ourselves with observing that this bipolar modality of existence is an inherently frustrating situation, but saying this quite fails to do justice to what we talking about here – this isn’t even a proper situation – it’s a ‘self-cancelling situation’, it’s a ‘non-situation disguised as the situation’. It’s not actually anything! It’s not anything and yet we are trying our very best to make it be something. It’s not anything and yet we are always doing our very best to believe that it is. The System of Thought is made up of two sides, both of which are equally unreal, both of which are equally abstract (or equally ‘removed from reality’), but the system is rigged so that it’s always the other side that seems to be where reality is! That way we are running forever running on the hamster wheel, that way we are forever playing ‘the Mind Game‘, hoping to pocket the jackpot that never comes. We picked up the Mind Toy and absentmindedly started playing with it; we started playing with it and now we just can’t stop. We can’t stop because the toy is playing us, and not vice versa…
No one really rigged the System of Thought this way of course, that’s just how it works. That’s how it works when we reject or push away the default (the ‘undistinguished’ or ‘undesirable’) state of being, which is something that happens automatically. There is a type of pain in seeing our situation as it actually is, there is a truth that we don’t want to know about and it is our instinctive or reflexive aversion to the pain of seeing this truth that fuels our positive projections, which we then go chasing merrily after. We know that there ‘something greater’ just out of our reach and so we can’t help grasping for it (or grasping for what we think it is). If we were able to develop a genuine interest in what our actual situation is then we wouldn’t have to automatically reject it and start looking for something better and then the hamster wheel would stop turning (or at least, it would stop turning so quickly).
As is always the case, the only way we can know about Non-Equilibrium World is to become very, very familiar with the Equilibrium World. We need to become familiar with the E-World in a way that we never have done up to now – we need to see it for what it truly is, ‘warts and all’. When we do this (when we enter into this degree of unreserved intimacy with our true situation) then we get to know something important about the Non-E world – we will then know very clearly what it isn’t!