When confronted with what we used to call mental illness but now refer to as ‘mental health conditions’ we automatically defend ourselves by becoming dogmatic, incurious and controlling. Lack of curiosity and the urge to control go hand-in-hand since we cannot control without first having jumped to the conclusion that we already know just about everything (in outline at least) that we need to know. If I am working in the field of mental health then it is probably the case that I am not in the frame of mind of mind in which I can honestly say that I wish to learn, but rather I am in the frame of mind in which I wish to enforce what I have already learned. Of course, it is still in a sense true to say that I wish to learn, but the information that I am on the lookout is information that is relevant to the evaluative categories which I have already decided are the ‘right’ ones. In other words my theory determines what I look out for, and what I do not bother paying attention to. The theory (any theory in fact) is very important to me because it gives me the confidence that I need to enter into the fray – as long as I assiduously refrain from questioning my basic assumptions then I can put all my attention on the methodology of what I am trying to achieve, and this ‘concreteness’ will protect me from becoming too challenged by what is going on around me.
Essentially, our way of trying to restore people to a state of mental health is a thoroughly technological way. In other words –
It is not our assumptions and our goals that are under examination, but the means by which we might, on the basis of those assumptions, enact or realize those goals.
This is all rather strange though because we are taking it for granted that mental health can be attained by the application of technology; the problem being that whilst technology is great for fixing machines, human beings are not machines. The basic idea behind our whole approach to mental illness is that we can be helped to a greater degree of self-awareness, happiness, personal autonomy and wholeness by the expertise of technologists, but it appears (unfortunately for us) that technology is much better at producing unconsciousness, misery, dependence and a pathologically fragmented world-view than it is at healing these ills. It is true that the arts are not entirely excluded from the system, since there are for example therapists using art, dance, drama, creative writing etc, at work in psychiatric hospitals and day centres, but the role which these non-technicians take in the mental health industries is a very subsidiary one – it is the doctor-technician who is king, and all else is regarded – often with a fair degree of condescension thrown in for good measure – as being very much secondary to the progress that is supposedly to be made (in theory at least) by the enthusiastic application of high-powered technological wizardry.
From the particular perspective that we as a fully-fledged technological society are inescapably endowed with, it can be very hard indeed to see what exactly wrong with the idea that we can achieve mental health via rationality and its moronically grinning henchman, technology. One way to argue the case is to make the point that technology is ‘corrective’ rather than ‘creative’. This is not to say that technology cannot be arrived at via a creative process, but that once in place it is quintessentially ‘linear’ or ‘corrective’. Technology is a system of techniques or methods, and the whole point about a method is that it is ‘risk-avoidance’. If I have succeeded in inventing a fail-safe method for achieving a certain aim, then that is the same thing as saying that I have come up with a fail-safe way of avoiding any risk that my aim might not be realized (or, more generally, that anything that I have not previously specified might accidentally happen). Creativity, on the other hand, is not a directed process and it does not have a predetermined goal, which absolutely rules out the possibility of a method (or an algorithm) since any outcome that can be logically specified is by definition not random (or accidental) and therefore cannot in anyway be said to be creative. This is of course not to say that creativity is no more than randomness – randomness is rather the risk that we take in order that we might hit upon a realm of order that is invisible to us given the particular type of blindness that we are heir to as rationally orientated beings.
Logical procedures, then, replicate or rearrange patterns that we already know about, whilst creativity is the process which may or may not happen when we let go of the established guidelines and allow ourselves to fall headlong into an abyss of uncertainty. If we say that the condition of being mentally health may be obtained as a result of adhering slavishly to an external or extrinsic order, and minimizing any risk of something unexpected or unplanned happening, then we are taking a very peculiar view of ‘mental health’. Mental health becomes concomitant with being very conservative, very cautious, very rational, and very non-creative. It is therefore some sort of predefined state of being – a standardized commodity, a modality of mental functioning that we can simply ‘copy’ from some handbook somewhere. ‘Sanity’ is defined by the system in other words, and in order to be deemed sane, I must conform to that system. But already this starts to sound rather unpalatable. Whose view of sanity is this? How can my degree of mental healthiness possibly be determined by comparing my way of looking at the world to some standardized viewpoint? And if my mental functioning did match exactly with the ‘book of rules’ then wouldn’t that make me a grotesque caricature of what a human being ought to be? Would I not in that case be more machine than man?
It cannot be denied that all technological approaches involve specified goals and a specified means by which we can reach those goals (which is to say, our approach is based on algorithms) and so, this being the case, what this means is that the modality of mental functioning that is to be brought about by the technological intervention in question must be a faithful copy or reflection of a static set of instructions (or rules). Therefore, according to this view of the matter, mental health must equal stringent conformity to these rules. The problem here though is that what we are describing is not a human being but a machine, and as Gurdjieff says, in order to understand machines we don’t need psychology – we just need a good grasp of mechanics. However, Gurdjieff’s point is that we generally are ‘machines’ and so in a limited sort of a way ‘procedural’ means of curing mental ill health is legitimate. However, given that the mechanical mode of consciousness (which would be more accurately referred to as the mechanical parody of consciousness) isn’t actually ‘healthy’ at all, but rather ‘unhealthy disguised as healthy’, which is to say ‘un-wholesome disguised as wholesome’, the legitimacy of procedural methods of procuring good mental health is itself an example of ‘illegitimacy disguised as legitimacy’. To put this in a simpler way – the procedural approach is only good for propping up the status quo of our ‘sick’ way of life or our ‘sick self’ (which we do not recognize as being ‘sick’ because it is ‘sickness disguised as health’). And even then, it has to be acknowledged that procedural means of attaining mental health do not and could not ever work in the long-run but only in the short-run, which means that they are ways of delaying the inevitable which misrepresent themselves to us as having actual genuine utility.
It is not necessarily obvious why a procedural or technical means of intervention cannot be effectively for increasing the mental health of an individual. If someone is serious disturbed – either very anxious, very depressed, or very psychotic, we automatically reach for the big guns. Any other approach just seems ineffectual. But although the chemical suppression of extreme mental distress can probably be justified on the short-term, it cannot help outside of this very narrow ‘emergency’ context. The reason psychological healing is an art rather than a technology is because the state of being mentally healed (or ‘whole’) necessarily involves ‘an original response’ – I have to learn to discover my own resources rather than relying on some external, technological resource. This is not to say that I have to do it all on my own, without the help of those around me, but what is essential is that this help should involve a genuine connection with those around me, rather than some technical exercise of power on their part. In the first instance there is vulnerability, and the willingness to be personally ‘touched’, and in the second instance there is invulnerability and the profound unwillingness to be there without the heavy-duty armour plating of the technical expert to protect oneself. James Carse (1986, P 76-7) makes this point well:
The character of touching can be seen quite clearly in the way infinite players understand both healing and sexuality.
If to be touched is to respond from one’s center, it is also to respond as a whole person. To be whole is to be hale, or healthy. In sum, whoever is touched is healed.
The finite player’s interest is not in being healed, or made whole, but in being cured, or made functional. Healing restores me to play, curing restores me to competition in one or another game.
Physicians who cure must abstract persons into functions. They treat the illness, not the person. And persons wilfully present themselves as functions. Indeed, what sustains the enormous size and cost of the curing professions is the widespread desire to see oneself as a function, or a collection of functions. To be ill is to be dysfunctional; to be dysfunctional is to be unable to compete in one’s preferred contests. It is a kind of death, an inability to acquire titles. The ill become invisible. Illness always has the smell of death about it: Either it may lead to death, or it leads to the death of a person as competitor. The dread of illness is the dread of losing.
One is never ill in general. One is always ill with relation to some bounded activity. It is not cancer that makes me ill. It is because I cannot work, or run, or swallow that I am ill with cancer. The loss of function, the obstruction of an activity, cannot in itself destroy my health. I am too heavy to fly by flapping my arms, but I do not for that reason complain of being sick with weight. However, if I desired to be a fashion model, a dancer, or a jockey, I would consider excessive weight to be a kind of disease and would be likely to consult a doctor, a nutritionist, or another specialist to be cured of it.
When I am healed I am restored to my centre in a way that my freedom as a person is not compromised by my loss of functions. This means that the illness need not be eliminated before I can be healed. I am not free to the degree that I can overcome my infirmities, but only to the degree that I can put my infirmities into play. I am cured of my illness; I am healed with my illness.
Healing, of course, has all the reciprocity of touching. Just as I cannot touch myself, I cannot heal myself. But healing requires no specialists, only those who can come to us out of their own centre, and who are prepared to be healed themselves.
Carse argues that health is not to be defined in terms of a lack of functional impairment but in terms of how honestly we come to terms with our functional impairment. This is similar to Ivan Illich’s idea of health as being proportional to the degree of autonomy with which an individual relates to his or her particular situation. If we define health simplistically as a measure of our ‘lack of functional impairment’ then the responsibility for obtaining health rests to a large extent with the technician who is trained to restore or correct functional ability. On the other hand, if we see health as a measure of the autonomy with which the individual copes with difficulty then obviously dependence upon trained health-care specialists constitutes a seriously unhealthy situation, even if the person concerned is – as far as their measurable vital parameters indicate – perfectly healthy. To a lot of people this will undoubtedly sound like utter nonsense. Suppose I am dying from some illness, and I refuse medical intervention on the grounds that I do not wish to hand over responsibility for dealing with my situation to a team of technical experts. Where is the sense in this we might ask? But the point is if I wish to take my chances with the illness, that degree of courageous risk-taking is itself healthy. If I am at peace with myself to the extent that I am quite willing to face death on my own (which is of course the only way that I can face death), then what could be more healthy than this? If I am ready to face my death on my own then this is without question the healthiest I can possibly be.
If I believe, as so many do, that ‘health equals lack of illness’ then this means that I believe that illness and death to be unhealthy. Of course, illness and death are unhealthy, according to the technical view of things. but illness and death are ineradicable, and if they are ineradicable this means that they are a legitimate part of life, and if they are a legitimate part of life, then this indicates that our desire to eradicate them is itself pathological, just as the denial of any fact of life is always pathological. How can death be unhealthy, given than death is as natural as birth? What is unhealthy, of course, is our attitude to death, illness and pain, which is to see them as facets of life that we would be better off without. What is healthy is not the intense urge to escape the challenge presented to us by the above-mentioned trinity, but the courage to accept them as and when they come along. With regard to the question of acute mental distress, we might be forgiven in wondering what exactly is so healthy about this? How can phobias, mania, obsessions, anorexia, panic attacks, depression and psychosis be healthy? The key to understanding this is to see that what constitutes the characteristic ‘visible features’ of mental illness is our resistance to the pain that we are suffering, rather than the pain itself. It is our attempts to defend ourselves, our ‘styles of self-distraction’ (as Chogyam Trungpa puts it) that go to create the particular hell-worlds that we find ourselves in. Neurotic mental illness is the embodiment of what happens when I try to shirk the responsibility for honestly relating to the difficulty of my situation – at first I seem to be able to escape the pain or fear that is legitimately mine, but this so-called ‘escape’ is achieved at such an enormous long-term cost that the very idea of ‘escape’ straightaway becomes absurd.
The principle of pain-refusal is somewhat harder to see in psychotic mental illness but it is there nonetheless, since the pain we are refusing is the pain of being presented with a multi-valent view of the world that overwhelms all our efforts to makes sense of it – we struggle to make sense it by coming up with increasingly exotic theories about our situation, but these exotic / bizarre theories often (although not always) cause us more pain than ever. They tend to ‘frighten the life out of us’, in other words.
NORMALIZATION VIA ‘NEGATIVE FEEDBACK’
It is of course the case that what we have earlier called ‘rational therapy’ (which includes the chemical intervention of psychiatry) is really just as special case of a normalizing or corrective mode of social feedback that we receive from the people around us all the time. If I wander off into ‘cloud-cuckoo land’ then the people around me are going to react to my departure from good sense by giving me the appropriate negative feedback. The simplest and most basic manifestation of this type of social negative feedback is illustrated by a mother snapping at her child to ‘stop talking nonsense’. Mockery is another well known way of enforcing the rules – if a man within a predominately male social group starts to veer off the beaten track other men are inclined to cover up their discomfort by jeering and making fun, albeit in a socially acceptable and apparently friendly fashion. Another basic tactic is simply to ignore the person who is talking what you consider rubbish – so if I am your dad and you start going on about something I can’t handle I just roll my eyes, shake my head and go back to my paper. All of these responses are classic ‘behavioural’ ways of modifying, or attempting to modify, irrational behaviour – we correct the other person by administering a negative social reaction, by punishing them in effect.
We all know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of negative social feedback and we all know how effective it is (which is to say, we know how painful it can feel), but this is not necessarily to say that negative feedback mechanisms are not necessary and useful in the social world. After all, if there is to be any sort of structure in society, then there must be a corrective process to maintain that structure. More generally, the fact that we live in a world that is governed by rules (such as, ‘if you walk in front of a fast-moving car you may be badly hurt’) means that we have to successfully internalize these rules if we are to stand a good chance of surviving from one day to the other. In short, we need to adapt ourselves to the determinate structure of our physical and social environment in order to ‘optimize’ our chances of surviving within that structure. However, as we have said already, the great problem is that we tend to subsume absolutely everything to the task of adaptation which means that instead of seeing it as a necessary thing but not an end in itself, we treat adaptation (and the process of optimization) as a sort of supreme Deity to be worshipped to the exclusion of everything else. When this happens the actual point of adaptation is lost because rather than seeing that adaptation as a process that can only have any meaningful existence when it is ‘adaptation for the sake of some greater value’ we end up worshipping ‘adaptation for the sake of adaptation’.
Being able to survive and function within the deterministic world which we live in is of great pragmatic importance, but at the same time it is only of ‘pragmatic’ important, i.e. –
There is no value in adhering to rules merely for the sake of doing so, and there is no virtue in conforming to a deterministic (i.e. rule-based) system purely for the sake of successfully conforming.
There has to be a ‘higher reason’ to what I am doing otherwise my whole life collapses into a tautological caricature of what it should be. After such a collapse has taken place the outward form remains more or less the same, but the inner meaning for what is going on has been completely lost. This process of ‘invisible degeneration’ is of course a very familiar – if not universal – story. We may think for example of an organization (such as a church or a trade-union) which once served a very valuable purpose, but which with the passage of time becomes no more than an institution which exists for no other reason other than looking after itself. By some entropic process of degeneration an insidious reversal of values has taken place and the form has become the thing, rather than the purpose. This reversal is of course not obvious because the outward form (or routine) justifies itself by paying lip-service to the ‘higher value’, but this effort has no real purpose other than to give the structure the right to go on existing. In such cases the persuasiveness of the logic is immense because it becomes just to unthinkable to imagine that the whole thing might simply be a vast folly, or monstrosity, which endlessly promotes and defends itself for no better reason than ‘inertia’. The psychological work involved in questioning the big structures which dominate our world is so major that we almost always take the cowardly option of conforming to them, and allowing ourselves to believe whatever cover-story it is that they promote in order to justify their existence.
The sort of ‘big unquestionable structures’ that we are talking about here are not necessarily external to us – the same principle applies equally well both within and without. On the one hand we have ‘external’ self-promoting structures such as institutions and commercial organizations, and on the other hand we have the ‘internal’ habits or routines which we conveniently accept as being valid rather than facing the difficulty of questioning them. Internal (or mental) routines go to make up the most of us when it comes right down to it – they are what we use to define ourselves, they constitute the ‘me’ that we are willing to fight so very hard for. The general idea is the same – with a hypothetical trade union organization for example, it might be the case that the organization in question was vitally useful and important at its inception but in time becomes no more than a lumbering anachronism. Similarly with a particular way of looking at the world, a particular idea – what starts off as being meaningful ends up meaningless, only we are particularly loathe to allow ourselves to notice the transition because we have become invested in the actual form of the idea. Investment in the form of the idea necessarily means that there has been a divorce from the ‘spirit’ of which the idea was an expression. As a basic principle we can say the following –
It tends to be the case that the actual usefulness of the idea in the first place is directly proportional to the degree to which we are unwilling to question it later on (and therefore also proportional the redundancy which develops in connection to it).
Instead of talking about ‘the idea’ (or ‘the theory’), we could equally well talk about the protocol-of-behaviour that springs from the idea or theory. Because I value a particular outcome I come up with a procedure which helps me to attain that outcome. This procedure becomes an established habit or routine which I end up adhering to more for the comfort that it gives me than for any pragmatic usefulness. This naturally sounds ridiculous because we cannot imagine ourselves being so incredibly stupid as to adhere to behaviour patterns that are actually ‘useless’ simply because we are unwilling to put up with the discomfort of abandoning them, and going ‘cold-turkey’, so to speak. Yet when we give the matter a little more thought we start to see that not only is this something that happens an awful lot – it is actually very hard indeed to think of any part of our behavioural repertoire about which this indictment isn’t true. Honest self-observation invariably discloses information that we don’t want to know about and one way to explain why what we see is so unpalatable is to say that it is information relating to the redundancy (i.e. uselessness) of our habitual structures of perception, cognition and behaviour.
When the ‘collapse’ takes place, so that a structure ends up being deceptive in the sense that it has the function of pretending to serve a higher value when in fact it doesn’t serve any value other than itself, then external aggression and unyielding authority masks an inner rottenness, or ‘lack of meaning’. The lack of meaning derives from the fact that the structure serves itself, and has no connection to any greater reality (i.e. anything that is irrelevant to its own purposes). The process of ‘invisible degeneration’ has come about because the connection to any independent reality has been severed, and then been replaced with what we might call a ‘disguised tautology’. The tautology comes about because I am ‘adhering to a routine because that is the routine to which I am adhering’ I am ‘enacting a pattern because it is the pattern which I am enacting’, but because the pattern validates itself in some way, I do not see the tautology. This means that there is no true ‘I’, no individuality, no freedom, no ‘genuine movement’, only the dead logic of the pattern endlessly enacting itself through the passive vehicle of the ‘conditioned self’ which is me.
Rationality is always supremely meaningless on its own, and when we slavishly obey the logic of optimization all we are really doing is rushing down a brand new eight-lane motorway in a very fast and powerful car, heading towards our ruin. It all feels very exciting and progressive to be sure, but that is only because we haven’t thought clearly about where it is that we are actually going. Culturally, where we are ‘going’ can be seen in evidence all around us – we are, not to put to fine a point on it, disappearing up our own collective alimentary tract at a truly spectacular rate, and we are all so hooked on the feeling of ‘progress’ that we are utterly incapable of cottoning on to the awesome, mind-boggling sterility of where it is that we are so keen to get to. The ‘attractor state’ towards which we strive so unthinkingly is not actually a living state of being at all, but a pure ‘dead and cold’ abstraction – it is an idea in our heads and whilst ideas may be very effective at generating motivation and leading us on, they are no good for living in.
THE ‘HYPER-CREATIVE’ WORLD OF PSYCHOSIS
Nowhere do our unconscious assumptions about what is and is not normal come out more than we are confronted with what we call ‘mental illness of the psychotic variety’. If I am a rational psychiatrist (and I wouldn’t have got very far in my training if I wasn’t rational in my outlook) and I am interviewing you as a psychotic patient, then I am interested in the weird stuff that you are telling me only in a superficial or closed way. The interview is an exercise in power, in the sense that James Carse uses the word, which means that my world view is not at all open to being disturbed by you – I am not going to go away with any radical alteration to my beliefs because my beliefs are not up for question. Your beliefs however, are. This is not to say that the psychotic person’s beliefs are necessarily more valid or meaningful or pragmatically useful than the psychiatric doctor’s beliefs (often enough they are the source of much distress for the person concerned) but all the same I cannot hope to get any closer to understanding what is going on simply by writing off the bizarre ideas that I am hearing as errors. What we refer to as psychotic disturbances of the mind may be said to be, in a manner of speaking, manifestations of a sort of ‘hyper-creativity’, which generally tend to proliferate wildly to the detriment of the peace of mind of the person concerned.
Creativity in small doses, when set against a backdrop of uniformity, conformity, and an antiseptically standardized repetition of the same old thing, is generally seen as a marvellous sort of thing. It is easy to be fond of creativity when it occurs only in minuscule traces because as such it is no threat at all to the established order – when the flood-gates open however and the creativity we previously cherished pours out like a river overflowing its banks and submerging all the landmarks that we are so familiar with, then our appreciation turns into total terror. We discover that we never really liked creativity (by which we mean ‘the radically new’) at all, and the only thing we want at this point is to get rid of it and return to the banal safety of the regular, non-creative world. Unchecked creativity – creativity that over-runs the hallowed boundaries that our conceptual mind usually sets on reality – now appears to us as a particularly frightening type of sickness, a ‘sickness of the mind’. However, the voracious super-creativity of perception and belief that we come across in positive-symptom schizophrenia arises not out of madness, but out of the natural ‘richness’ of the non-rational mind – it derives from the very same psychic ‘horn-of-plenty’ that has inspired artists and mystics alike throughout the history of mankind.
In his book Uncommon Wisdom Fritjof Capra (1989) relates a conversation he had had on this topic with Stanislav Grof, a well-respected (in some quarters as least!) psychiatrist who does not adhere to the rational modality so beloved of his colleagues:
‘This comment,’ Grof explained [referring to comments by a Harvard psychiatrist that LSD therapy had helped neurotic patients but made them psychotic] ‘is typical of a misunderstanding that is widespread and very problematic in psychiatry. The criteria used to define mental health – sense of identity, recognition of time and space, perception of the environment, and so on – require that a person’s perceptions and views conform to the Cartesian-Newtonian framework. The Cartesian world view is not merely the principle frame of reference; it is regarded as the only valid description of reality. Anything else is considered psychotic by conventional psychiatrists.’
The idea that Grof is putting forward here can be very simply expressed –
Our culture defines mental health as a measure of the degree to which successful adaptation is made by the individual to the universally unquestioned ‘Cartesian-Newtonian’ framework’.
Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton are often said to be the founding fathers to the ‘rational enlightenment’ which burst into the scene in the eighteenth century, driving forth all half-baked superstitious notions of divine intervention and such like irrational notions like tendrils of early morning mist in a field are driven away by the relentless rays of the rising summer sun. The rationalist view says that absolutely everything can be explained by reason, which means that we can conceptualize the universe as a machine subject to determinate laws. Once the universe is seen in this way this opens the way for rationality to shine forth as the one and only true guiding light, and it also opens the way for the prophets of rationality to preach the new creed – a creed which basically asserts that ‘what accords with reason is fair and must be upheld, and what disagrees with reason is foul, and must be wiped out’.
What we are talking about here is of course optimization, and optimization, it will be remembered, it the process whereby perfection is ruthlessly achieved – perfection that is, according to an underlying assumption which itself must never be questioned. Rationalism (by which we mean the unreflective or automatic enacting of the rules of logic), when seen in this light, shows itself up to be nothing more than a particularly nasty form of mental fascism, and thus any form of therapy that is based solely on the laws of logic ends up being nothing more than the dreadfully humourless and wretchedly uninspiring policing of the ‘thought fascism’ that the therapists in question unreflectively subscribe to. In short, rational therapy boils down to a seriously zero-tolerance attitude to anything that we see as abnormal thinking.
THE PARADIGM OF ‘LOCALIZATION’
The normative definition that Capra was talking about was the definition of mental health as successful adaptation to the Cartesian-Newtonian framework, which basically translates as the down-to-earth, self-evident reality that our common-sense rational minds show us everyday. This ubiquitous, utilitarian, and distinctly ‘non-poetical’ reality is wearisomely familiar to us all, compromising what Krishnamurti calls ‘the known’, and so in this view sanity consists of ‘believing only in the down-to-earth, perfectly ‘explicable’ rational world that all other sane people believe in’. This after all was the nature of Descartes’ apparent breakthrough – the understanding that ‘what can’t be logically proved, doesn’t exist’. However, just as soon as we start talking about the rationalist paradigm in this way, and its role in governing our perception and understanding of the world, we begin to notice a terribly ‘disagreeable’ aspect to it all. After all, just supposing that there is more to life than what is shown to us everyday by the tool of our rational minds – in that case what we call ‘sanity’ means ‘the state in which we are trapped within the limited world-view provided by rationality without ever knowing that we are so trapped’. Instead of using the tool, the tool uses us, it keeps us in thrall to itself, and thereby assures its own continuation as an ‘absolute necessity’. If reality were all we thought it was, then as we have said before optimization would represent ‘the only possible way to go’, but if it so happened to be the case that there was more to life than we have dreamt of in our rational philosophies, then straightaway we can see that slavish, unreflective adaptation to the known represents no more than an appalling act of cowardice and self-betrayal.
The rigidly-policed attitude of ‘automatic denial’ that we have to anything radically different to what we already know about means that we are zealously imprisoning ourselves not just in a mediocre world, but in an infinitely banal and quintessentially futile world – what ought to have been a stepping-stone on our evolution as conscious beings turns into an internment camp, what ought to have been one contributing note or phrase in the triumphant development of a symphony turns into the hideous sound of the same note being repeated over and over again, ad infinitum. Instead of a rich evolving harmony of musical notes, we end up with torture, and what is even more ghastly, it is a torture that we all very seriously profess to enjoy – in an unparalleled manifestation of sheer perversity, we spend our time patting ourselves on the back for being clever enough to appreciate the ‘one-note show’, and commending this travesty to each other as the very highest form of art.
The essence of Cartesian-Newtonian framework is that it involves the necessity for absolute definition with regard to ‘localization in linear space’. Linear space is the type of space that is defined by linear equations – it can be thought of very straightforwardly in terms of a three-dimensional grid between three mutually perpendicular axes, so that everything happening within this continuum has to be happening at some definable (and therefore describable) location. This is the basis of what is sometimes called Aristotelian logic, which is a system made out of completely exclusive categories. Exclusivity in this sense is also known as either/or logic, which means that if I ask you a specific question and your answer to that question is ‘NO’, then that necessarily precludes the possibility of the answer also being ‘YES’. As Aristotle himself formulated it – if the answer is YES then it can’t be NO, and if it is NO then it can’t be YES, and it can’t be both YES and NO at the same time… This seems like abundantly sensible to us because our minds run on either/or logic, this modality of thinking is the bread-and-butter of the conceptual mind and Aristotle, far from inventing it, merely spelled it out in a nicely rigorous format for us, a format that appeals because of its clarity and elegance of expression.
Aristotelian logic is what the paradigm of localization is all about – without it, the very notion of localization loses its meaning and disappears into mush. If point A is at location X 1 Y 1 Z 1 on our three-dimensional grid, then it cannot by definition be at any other location. The fact that point A is here absolutely precludes the possibility of it being anywhere else. If it is in one place then it cannot be in any other; it cannot be in two or more places at the same time because if it is then straightaway the whole notion of ‘being located somewhere’ loses its essential meaning – the framework of our thinking goes haywire on us and as a result of this ‘loss of framework’ a uniquely unsettling type of mental vertigo starts to set in. Now the very fact that we are able to relate (if only rather vaguely) to the possibility of this type of mental disorientation indicates that it does actually exist – there is such a thing as our mental frameworks coming undone, and there is such a thing as the eerie feeling of ‘spatial unstuckness’ that arises when we can no longer contain the objects and events of our experience within the context of how we like to experience them. What happens when we do lose our nice neat rational framework, which gives us the possibility of ‘taming’ our experiences by quantifying them within the bounds of what our belief-system says is ‘real’ or ‘valid’ experience, is that objects and events have more than one meaning for us at one and the same time. This is really the thin end of the wedge as far as reason is concerned because once we admit that something may have more than one meaning, then the very notion that there is a ‘thing’ there explodes in our face because the whole point of a ‘thing’ is that it is what we take it to be, and nothing else. If a thing doesn’t have the primary meaning that we took it to have, then this means that ‘the thing which we took to be the thing that we took it to be’ is only one of infinitely many meanings that we arbitrarily assign to it. What the ‘it’ is to which we are assigning the meaning of ‘thing-hood’ immediately becomes a open question – actually, our assumption that there is some ‘thing’ there (in the sense of an entity which has exclusive existence in its own right, outside of our own describing process) is just as much open to question as any meaning that we might be projecting. Thus –
When our (spuriously) absolute rational framework is taken away from us then everything becomes ‘relativized’ beyond recognition, and the very subject-objection polarity upon which we base our lives is revealed as nothing more than ‘a convenience’, or ‘a conceit’.
VIRTUAL SPACE AS A ‘DEFICIENT ANALOGUE’
Exclusivity creates the phenomenal universe – if more than one assertion about that universe (or about the phenomena within it) can be true at the same time, then the meaning of the term ‘truth’ itself is irreparable damaged. At this point, the currency upon which the rational mind bases all its transactions is revealed as being ‘as bent as a 9 Euro note’, and therefore quite without value. To say ‘nothing is true’ is as meaningless as saying ‘everything is true’; both statements are inherently paradoxical – if nothing is true than this statement is also not true, and if everything is true then it is also true that this statement is not true, since that possibility is also part of ‘everything’. Either way our statements are terminally flabby, either way they are utterly incapable of saying anything meaningful at all, and since ‘saying something meaningful’ is the only point of a statement being stated in the first place, where exactly does this leave us? In Chapter 1 we looked at the idea that what we called ‘linear space’ is essentially a self-contained virtual reality since it only seems to have the genuine ‘space-like’ properties when we don’t look beneath the surface of what is happening. We can try to explain what a genuine ‘space-like’ property would be saying that it is when there possibility of actually moving somewhere different, or somewhere new. The reason virtual space is only virtual is very simply because it only ever recycles the same position over and over again, like a tape-loop that seems to show ‘an ongoing saga’, when in fact it only shows ‘the same old story’. This is always going to be the case because linear or virtual space is, as we have already argued, lacking in any connection to a wider reality (which is to say, it is not connected to anything that is not already itself).
In the absence of the type of freedom that allows it to escape from itself, virtual space ends up making itself into a kind of analogue of genuine space – it apes genuine space, but does so in a deficient way. We can explain the idea that virtual space is a deficient analogy of genuine space as follows:
Virtual space is a lower analogue of genuine space because the properties of the latter are distorted (or reversed) in the former, so that they become a ‘mockery’ of what they ought to be. Thus, genuine freedom becomes negative freedom (i.e. restriction that represents itself as freedom) and infinity becomes the mere ‘dumb repetition’ of a finite sequence over and over again. Genuine (or creative) infinity becomes misrepresented as ‘the endless sterile repetition of the same old thing’, in other words.
DEFINITION ALWAYS INVOLVES PARADOX
We have said that the Cartesian-Newtonian framework is all about localization, and we have also said that localization is all about Aristotelian (i.e. either/or) logic. Either/or logic works on the basis of exclusivity, which means that you can either have the one thing or the other, but you can’t have both. This is like a stern father telling his little daughter that she can either go to the cinema or go to the swimming pool, one or the other, and she had better make up her mind which it is to be. Now the paradigm of localization (which is to say, the Cartesian-Newtonian framework) is an even stricter father than this because it utterly denies even the possibility that there might be two or more ways about it, rather than just the one. Thus, either I can be in Manchester or I can be in London, but I can’t be in both cities at the same time. However, localization, at root, isn’t about geography, but rather it is about ‘definition with a framework of logic’, and so what the stern father is telling us is that the answer to any question that is posed within the framework of logic can only have a YES answer or a NO answer, but not both at the same time. So to use Erwin Schrödinger’s famous quantum paradox, regular logic says that either the-cat-in-the-box-with-the-poison-releasing-quantum-device is dead or it is alive. There are no two ways about this because the cat cannot be dead and alive at one and the same time.
This seems so very obviously true to us that even the vaguest shred of a ghost of an idea about taking exception to the blatant ‘restriction of possibilities’ that is involved in this particular demonstration of exclusivity never gets raised. We all bow to this logic, prime ministers and beggars alike. Yet the resolutely uncompromising ‘either-or’ of exclusivity isn’t an absolute law at all, but simply a restriction inherent in our arbitrary way of looking at things. The restriction, like all restrictions, belongs to our restricted way of looking at things, and not to reality itself; this has to be the case since reality, as it is in itself, is infinite. To say that reality is necessarily infinite or unbounded seems to us like a rather bold and unsupported assertion – after all, how do we know that reality (or the universe) isn’t finite and bounded, as some astrophysicists have suggested? Maybe we are simply finite creatures living in a finite world – in a box – and we are simply trying to find some sort of romantic escape from this distinctly prosaic and unromantic fact? But we are not just advancing the idea that ‘everything is intrinsically unbounded’ just as some sort of unquestionable philosophical premise; on the contrary what we are asserting is that  There is no way things could be otherwise and  It is possible to show why there is no way things could be otherwise. The argument that we have been using is of course the argument that says:
OPEN can give rise to CLOSED but CLOSED cannot give rise to OPEN’, and so the ‘undefined’ (or the unbounded) is always primary to the defined or the bounded.
What this is really saying is that all definitions are the result of ‘choice’, and that the state of ‘Original Symmetry’ exists prior to any choice that we might make. Choice means that there was the freedom to choose, and so freedom (i.e. lack of definition) comes before the definition, even though defined and the undefined states of being are the antitheses of each other. There is a kind of a relationship between the two but it is an asymmetrical relationship in that whilst the undefined can contain the defined, the defined cannot contain the undefined.
We can get a handle on this idea that either/or logic is a restriction-imposed-by-ourselves by looking at the liar paradox. Either/or logic says that the answer to any question that is correctly framed must be either [YES] or [NO]. These are the two terms of Aristotelian logic – there simply are no other categories there to play about with, and this ‘limitation to two categories’ is precisely what makes logic be logic. We know from the liar paradox that YES and NO are not really two totally different, unconnected possibilities, but rather YES is another way of saying NO, and NO is another way of saying YES. Actually, there aren’t two categories here at all but only the one because YES and NO are the two ends of the very same stick – the only reason we don’t see this is because we are so ‘sunk’ in the rational modality of awareness that we simply don’t have the perspective to see the fact. However, even when we are within the rational modality we can see that something is wrong with our nice, simplistic scheme of things because when we try to compute the answer to the liar paradox (or some other variant of the liar paradox) we find out that the there isn’t a neat resolution to the answer we get. We do not get an answer that is ‘either YES or NO’, we get an answer that says, if ‘YES then NO, and if NO then YES…’ This means that we don’t come to a halt, which is what we want, but rather we keep on oscillating between the affirming answer and the denying answer. ‘Either/or logic’ turns into ‘both/and logic’ before out very eyes, and we are forced see that YES and NO are disguised ways of saying the same thing. Despite the fact that we might be tempted to think so, the paradox which tells us that “YES = NO” isn’t an error or an anomaly, it is accurate information that doesn’t happen to make sense within the narrow terms of my rational mind. Actually, it is the viewpoint taken for granted by my rational mind that is ‘the error’, the only problem being that I am loathe to see it as such, being attached as I am to the short-term benefits that accrue from my allegiance to this corrupt (i.e. covertly self-serving) system.
A good way to explain paradoxicality is to say that the reason a paradox jumps up into my face like the unexpected jack-in-the-box it is because I am trying to do something sneaky – I am trying to ‘get away with something’. On the surface it appears that I have indeed got away with whatever it was that I wanted to get away with, but the arrival of the paradox brings me the unwelcome news that things aren’t working out the way I had hoped after all. There is an extremely annoying ‘fly in the ointment’ that just won’t go away. The sneaky thing that I am doing when I formulate a question on the basis of Aristotelian logic is that I am apparently making an open and unprejudiced enquiry, whilst in reality I have already ‘cooked the books’ so that I am guaranteed to get the sort of answer that I am secretly looking for. This always happens when I ask a logically defined question about the world – there isn’t actually any way around it. After all, when I ask a question I tacit assume a framework within which the answer-to-come is going to make sense; what I am doing therefore is asking for an answer on my terms, without admitting that I am inserting this implicit demand (or condition) into my question. Basically, I am demanding that the answer-that-is-to-come makes sense to me in the same way that everything else makes sense to me, and because the only way on know for things to make sense is in the way that they do make sense to me, I cannot for the life of me see that I am doing anything sneaky (and ultimately self-defeating) here – which is exactly what I am doing.
When I fit everything inside my framework by automatically assuming that the answer has to come in a form that is congruent with my habitual way of understanding the world I am assuming that I have left nothing important out of my calculations, whereas the truth of the matter is that I have amputated a limb from reality, and then gone on to make the error of treating this amputated limb as a hale and hearty creature instead of just the inanimate remnant that it is. Actually, it is only a mental abstraction and mental abstractions never yield genuine information but only information of the virtual (or self-cancelling) nature. The only thing abstractions ever do is to rotate slowly in virtual space; they turn mechanically around and around like a joint of meat on a spit, going ‘YES, NO, YES, NO, YES, NO…’ – mocking us in this way for our stupidity (despite the fact that we are almost always too stupid to see it). When we believe in those abstract data which we call ‘location’ in space ant time then we use an abstract frame of reference to define absolutely everything about us. Anything that does not have a place in space and time is denied, cut off at the root, discarded with maximum prejudice. The only problem with this neat scheme, however, is that the part of us which we are discarding is the only real part, and the part of us which we have defined using the black-and-white grid of Aristotelian logic isn’t actually who we are at all – it is just the ‘version of us’ which is allowed by this logical system, which means – curiously enough – that the system-friendly version of us isn’t actually us at all, it is only just the system. As a general rule –
Anything defined by the system of logic is the system of logic since its definitions are entirely coherent with itself. Furthermore, the all-important and all-powerful system of logic itself isn’t anything special at all really, except to itself. The system of logic is a ‘virtual empire’ – an empire that only seems real when we are in it.
THE QUESTION THAT WE NEVER THINK TO ASK
What we have done ‘wrong’, so to speak, when we ask a rational question is that the second we ask it we close the door on a vast and undreamt of realm of possibilities – it sounds like we are passively requesting information from Mother Nature with our cap in our hand whilst in fact we are aggressively hustling into jumping through a hoop for us. In asking the question we have illegitimately subsumed everything into our chosen frame of reference and so instead of interrogating an external reality, we have actually sealed ourselves off into a pocket-sized universe, an organizationally closed system which has no relationship to anything outside of itself. In this claustrophobically closed mental world we ask questions that are extensions of our taken-for-granted way of thinking, of an object which is also an extension or projection of our way of thinking. Anything discontinuous to the system (any connection to the non-abstract reality) has now been thoroughly done away with and so what happens to me is that I end up doing a mechanical dance, the steps of which have all been decided in advance, and which is guaranteed to take me in a circle. My fate, as a creature of the disconnected rational mind, is spend all the time that I have available to me contemplating my own assumptions as if they were an independent reality, I am locked into a sterile orbit around my own arbitrary mental projections, fondly imagining the whole time that these virtual objects are a manifestation of absolute truth. Actually, the one thing that makes this life bearable is the belief that it ‘has to be so’ – were I to see that it does not have to be so, and that I persist nevertheless simply because it suits me to believe that ‘it does have to be so’, then this perception of the utter perversity and absurdity of what I am doing would constitute a ‘non-sterile perception’. A non-sterile perception is simply a perception which is not conditioned by the thinking in which it is embedded – it represents ‘an answer to a question that I did not ask’, so to speak. Furthermore, it represents an answer to a question that I am unable to ask, since if I was able to ask it, then I wouldn’t need to. To sum all this up, we can say that when I ask a definite question, then the answer I get back is information of the type the Model of Pragmatic Information calls confirmation, because it confirms the validity or meaningfulness of the question. When an answer comes to a question that I am unable to frame (because of the blinkering effect of my assumptions) and therefore did not ask, then this is information of the type that the Model of P.I. refers to as novelty – it is novelty because it represents a view of reality that is wholly unexpected. Confirmation means that the reality I perceive is continuous with the structure of the thinking that I use to perceive it with, whilst novelty means that the reality I perceive is discontinuous to my thinking. Thus, we can say that the question I never think to ask is “Is my framework of thinking completely and utterly redundant?” Novelty is the universe’s way of answering this unasked question; it is the universe’s way of disagreeing with our assumptions (which is why we are so little acquainted with this particular type of information) – to put it another way, novelty is nature’s way of not taking our mental constructs seriously.
INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC SPACE
When we look at locality within the terms of ‘locating incoming sensory data within a pre-existent evaluative framework’ it is not too hard to argue that the world which is thus assembled is real only because we arranged for it to be real. In other words, from the point of view of the mental processes which we use to construct a picture of the world, it is not too challenging to suggest that the definite value or meaning that each bit of sensory information takes on for us is only definite (i.e. precisely localized within an all-encompassing context of understanding) because we have agreed with ourselves that it should have that definite meaning. We have compared the incoming data to all the ‘possibilities of interpretation’ that we have in our files, and then allocated significance to the data on the basis of whatever ‘match’ we found. When there is a match then the information agrees with our means of interrogating it, and so the information is by definition confirmation; if there is no fit then the information is written off as rubbish, or ‘error’, and so what was actually novelty gets turned into confirmation anyway, by default, so to speak, since the system is constitutionally unable to allow for the possibility that there is significant data out there that doesn’t match its criteria for determining significance. It can’t allow for that because if it allowed for the possibility that there was a big whole in its knowledge – that it has missed something out in its calculations so to speak, something of unknown import – then this would throw doubt on the validity of all the stuff that it does know about, since who is to say that this positive knowledge wouldn’t all be turned on its head by what we can’t know about, but which is there all the same.
If the system of knowledge to which we subscribe did take account of the strictly provisional nature of its pronouncements regarding the ‘greater reality’ about which it is its business to tell us about then this would be like a High Court Judge who keeps doubting his own judgements and as a consequence can never finish a case – we rely on the rational-conceptual mind to say for sure what is what so that we can get on with our purposeful activity. Its job is to turn uncertainty into certainty, to reduce everything to crisp black & white terms – if we had to see the world as it is, as a murky series of maybes, then we would never get anywhere. Purposefulness relies on definite picture, a definite theory as to what everything is all about, and what exactly is going on at any one time, and for this reason the rational mind (who’s job it is to provide us with this definite picture) cannot admit for one second that there is a glaring great hole right in the middle of it.
We can possibly agree, therefore, on the basis of this discussion, that the localization of meaning in our rational minds (i.e. ‘this means that’ and ‘this means the other’…) is an imposed sort of a thing, a necessary scam. But if someone were to suggest that the Newtonian-Cartesian framework is not an inherent feature of the external physical universe, that it is somehow imposed by our minds, then this is very challenging indeed. If you tell me that you cannot give me a crisp black-&-white answer with regard to the question of “where exactly am I?” I will naturally think that you are hedging, that you are withholding information from me for some reason. After all I have to be somewhere, don’t I? Existing is concomitant with being somewhere; if I exist then I have to exist somewhere – the two ideas of being and location seem to be inseparable. Furthermore, it is obviously the case that it is the fact that things have to have specific and mutually exclusive locations in space, in order that the physical universe continues to make sense to us as a physical universe.
The strict no-nonsense logic of localization (the Cartesian-Newtonian framework) is synonymous with the state of materiality (or physicality); the whole point about matter is that the discrete entities or elements which make it up are strictly bounded in space. So if I am travelling along in space on a straight line, for most of that line the answer to the question “Is the solid body XYZ to be found here?” will be [NO], and for a brief, finite portion of that line the answer to the same question will be [YES]. If the crisp +/- logic of these answers breaks down into ambiguity, then the whole paradigm of locality has been fatally violated and the bugbear of quantum physics (non-locality) raises its fantastical head – in other words, the very notion of ‘place’ starts to lose its meaning. We can use the Model of Pragmatic Information to try to get a handle on ‘locality versus non-locality’. When we are relating to the physical world, as it appears in the Cartesian-Newtonian framework, then all the solid (i.e. non wave-like) phenomena in that world can be presented in a sort of ‘digital’ picture made up of [+] or [-] answers. Obtaining information about the elements that make up this world is exactly like playing the game of ‘Battleships’ – you read out three grid-references corresponding to three squares on my board, and I tell you in each case whether it is a ‘hit’ or a ‘miss’. This is of course a pretty straightforward idea to grasp, nothing too fancy about it at all, but despite the simplicity this is all we need to understand in order to get the hang of what we have been calling locality and why it is that locality corresponds to confirmation-type information. What we are basically saying here is this –
It is the fact that the information we receive comes to us only in the form of crisp +/- answers that creates ‘locality’. Therefore, ‘confirmation’ and the state of ‘materiality’ are equivalent.
If on the other hand I was playing ‘Battleships’ with you and I started saying [MAYBE] to you instead of [YES] or [NO] then you would in all probability get very fed up with me; the game is of course totally ruined by the [?] answer. Thus, we can make the following statement –
It is impossible to play a game based on locality if the information we receive when we interrogate that world comes back to us in the form of novelty, which is to say – open-ended answers. If confirmation is the type of information that is associated with locality, then novelty must be associated with non-locality.
CONFIRMATION IS ‘VIRTUAL INFORMATION’
Despite the fact that confirmation seems to us to be a concrete and thoroughly no-nonsense type of information, as opposed to the surreal lunacy of novelty, it doesn’t actually qualify as proper information at all – actually, it only seems like information to us because of a trick which we are unconsciously party to. The simplest way of showing that confirmation isn’t bone fide information is to look at the definition of information, which is given by Shannon as a quantity that varies in reciprocal proportion to the amount of predictability in a message. In other words –
If I know what the message is going to say beforehand, then there is no information in it; on the other hand, if what the message contains comes as a genuine surprise, then this is by definition ‘information’.
When you read out a series of grid coordinates and I tell you whether each one is a hit or a miss, the nice, crisp black & white, +/- type information that I provide you with is obviously unpredictable in the sense that you don’t know in advance where my battleships are (always assuming that you haven’t stolen a quick look on the sly). We might therefore take this as an indication that confirmation is genuine, honest-to-goodness information. On a trivial level – the level of the game, so to speak – this is true, but when we look a bit deeper we can see that the information about ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ that I provide you with also brings with it taken-for-granted information regarding the basic set-up of the world within which the information is relevant. The very fact that I am giving you data in the hit-or-miss format tells you something that is at once fundamentally important, and utterly invisible. The important-but-invisible information that I am providing you with at the same time as the hit/miss data is information which confirms the validity of the framework within which you assume I am operating – which is to say, your assumption that my battleships exist at specific locations within a Cartesian two dimensional grid-work. Because I answer you in the format that you expect, I am confirming the assumptions which you have had to have made in order to play the game. The point here of course is that this second (and primary) level of information is telling you something that you already ‘know’, which means that it isn’t actually information at all.
This means that we have a rather strange situation on our hands. The ‘trivial-but-genuine’ information regarding hits and misses can only exist when it piggy-backs the null-information which is the ‘confirmation-of-the-assumed framework’. But if the trivial-but-genuine information that we are paying attention to can only exist as part of a package deal that includes a primary level of null-information that we don’t pay attention to, then can we still say that the hit/miss part of the message constitutes information? Or is it the case that the covert ‘entropy content’ of the message (i.e. its information-lessness) cancels out its overt ‘information content’? We have two movements going on, so to speak, on out in the open and one
A more direct way to approach this matter is to say that, on its own, +/- information is completely meaningless. This is undeniably true because without the context, without the abstract grid, there is nothing to refer the package of +/- information to and so I simply cannot make use of it. I cannot read off grid-references in a game of battleships unless I have the board (marked out in neat squares) in front of me. When confirmation-type information is presented however, there is no mention of this essential proviso – it does not come complete with the vital qualification stating the necessity for a specific framework to be in place before the message can be read. If the qualification came as part of the message then this would mean that the information in question was clearly portraying itself ‘as only relatively meaningful’ (i.e. only meaningful if certain arbitrary rules-of-interpretation are first taken as being meaningful). However the situation is that the relative nature of the information is not mentioned anywhere, and because we do not see that the message is only meaningful because we chose to look at it in the special way that makes it meaningful, then the illusion is created that the information ‘stands on its own’, that it is in fact absolutely meaningful. We have laboured this point because what we are trying to show is not at all part of our common understanding – it can’t be part of our normal, everyday understanding because the rational mind and its constructs can function when we don’t see the way in which it functions. To put this another way –
Inasmuch as we are functioning within the rational modality we exist within a structure of our own making that is only meaningful to us only because we have chosen for it to be meaningful, and information pertaining to the fact of this intentional act is not obviously not going to be part of the set-up since it radically falsifies the way of looking at the world that we have chosen to believe in.
The conclusion of our argument is that confirmation is actually a trick that we play on ourselves – because of the sleight of hand whereby the all-important context of understanding is taken for granted and then forgotten about – which automatically happens as soon as we ‘book in’ to a self-consistent system of knowledge or game – we do not see that confirmation is information only because we have (secretly) chosen for it to be information, and so we really do think that it is information. We can indicate the fact that confirmation acts as information to us, without actually being information (which it can’t be because we ourselves created it) by saying that confirmation equals ‘virtual information’.
But if confirmation is virtual information, and confirmation is what locality turns into when it is translated into informational terms then locality must be a virtual sort of a thing too. Furthermore, if the paradigm of locality (the Newtonian-Cartesian framework) translates, as we have said, into the state of materiality then this must mean that the state of materiality itself is a virtual state, which is a very weird sort of idea altogether considering that when we say the word ‘material’ we specifically mean the opposite of ‘virtual’. What we are actually saying here is that the three-dimensional framework of space (or even the four-dimensional framework of space and time) is a kind of illusion brought about by the way which we chose to look at things. We are of course also saying that the material world that exists as a tangible manifestation of this framework is a ‘conditioned reality’ in the same way that the framework is (a ‘conditioned reality’ is a reality that is real only if certain conditions are held in place). As a continuation of the argument about virtual versus genuine information this development seems reasonable enough, but then of course when we realize what we are saying then it becomes extremely difficult to accept the conclusion that matter is, when you get right down to it, merely a tangible form of virtual information. A classic counter-argument against those philosophies which hold that the universe is unreal is to say something like “Well, if I bounce this brick off your head, and the brick as you say is an illusion, then it won’t hurt you will it?”
BEYOND THE LIMITATIONS OF SPACE AND TIME
The ‘brick-to-the-head’ argument seems convincing enough, but if we are cowed by it, and on the basis of it return meekly to the fold of commonsense, then we find that we have turned our back on a deeper level of reality which is not merely an intellectual curiosity for idle intellectuals with nothing better to do than waste their time on fruitless philosophical speculations, but actually an essential perquisite for mental health. If loss of belief in the reassuring existence of a lawful, restricted, and most of all final physical universe can potentially result in maladaptation, disassociation, existential panic and psychosis, it also hold the key to creativity and what we might call ‘higher meaning’. On the other hand brutal pragmatism, or ‘absolutism’, which restricts itself to what is useful and tangible within the terms of our everyday thinking and the goals that stem from it, leads inescapably to the sterile and infinitely tedious round of neuroticism, which is where we are dominated by compulsions to achieve goal that only seem meaningful to us if we look at them – as we do – in a very narrow, short-term way. This is a point made by Fritjof Capra (1982, p 421):
It would seem that the concept of mental health should include a harmonious integration of the Cartesian and the transpersonal modes of perception and experience. To perceive reality exclusively in the transpersonal mode is incompatible with adequate functioning and survival in the everyday world. To experience an incoherent mixture of both modes of perception without being able to integrate them is psychotic. But to be limited to the Cartesian mode of perception alone is also madness; it is the madness of our dominant culture.
A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode may be free from manifest symptoms but cannot be considered mentally healthy. Such individuals typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-orientated lives. Overpreoccupied with their past and their future, they tend to have a limited awareness of the present and thus a limited ability to derive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life. They concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their living standard by the quantity of material possessions, while they become ever more alienated from their inner world and unable to appreciate the process of life. For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction, and thus they become infused with a sense of meaninglessness, futility, and even absurdity that no amount of external success can dispel.
Capra explains the transpersonal mode in terms of ‘non-ordinary experiences of reality’, but the question we all tend to ask is “just how real can these experiences be, given the often forceful immediacy, great consistency, and apparent primacy of our ‘ordinary’ experience of the everyday world of regular ‘time and space’?” Another version of this question is “how real is non-locality?’ Before we go on to consider this question, we will remind ourselves exactly what ‘non-locality’ means; this is a necessary first step since non-locality is by its very nature an extremely slippery concept (inasmuch as it can qualify as a ‘concept’ at all). We said a while ago that we can link novelty with the non-locality, and that novelty is a type of information which does not confirm our assumptions. If conformation is made up of [YES] and [NO] answers, novelty consists of the entirely open-ended [MAYBE] answer. This however needs to be understood correctly. When you read out a list of grid-references and I answer MAYBE this is not trivial uncertainty – I am not saying that my battleships may possibly be on the one square or they may possibly be on another square, what the [?] information that I am relaying to you means is that the question as to whether the battleships are on one square of another is rendered meaningless by the bigger question as to whether there actually are any battleships, or board, or positions on the board, or even whether there is any player at all on the other side. Essentially none of your assumptions are being confirmed, and so what we have here is radical rather than trivial uncertainty. It is not just that there is no possibility of knowing where something is in terms of a framework, the very idea that there is a framework there at all is unsupported, which in turn means that there is no basis for believing in objects that would exist within that determining context.
The [?] answer is also linked with paradox, and paradox, as we have said, is an indication that the system of logic that we are using to try to come with an answer, has been pushed beyond the point where it can actually say anything meaningful. The most famous paradox in quantum physics is the paradox associated with Schrödinger’s cat. Schrödinger, who may not have been a great cat lover, came up with a ‘thought-experiment’ in which a cat is placed in a sealed box with a cat-killing device connected to a quantum process. Quantum theory states that quantum processes exist in a number of superimposed alternative states all at the same time, until an observer ‘collapses’ the wave function by measuring or detecting it. Therefore, until someone opens the box and looks in, the answer to the question “Is the cat dead?” will be simultaneously “YES” and “NO”. The paradoxical answer whereby YES equals NO is also encountered in the liar paradox, as we saw in Chapter 1, and in terms of the model of Pragmatic Information we can say that the statement ‘YES equals NO’ is not nonsense (which is what we take it to be), but rather it constitutes novelty, which is actually the only genuinely meaningful type of information that there is. Confirmation, as we said, is meaningful only within a context, and we have to choose that context ourselves, which means that it only means something because we intend for it to mean something (i.e. the confirmation is self-referential meaning). Novelty on the other hand does not rely on an arbitrary framework ‘to do its thing’ – this is obviously true since what makes novelty be novelty is the way in which it scorns all possible frameworks.
This is a way of saying that novelty is independent of our frame of reference – it is not a function or reflection of our way of looking at the world. By a ‘way of looking at things’ what we mean is the specific rational (or logical) stance that we take in order to produce a black & white picture of the world. When we function in the rational modality we relate to a world that is familiar, a world that is known to us, and which is based upon certainty (or the possibility of certainty). Certainty is the name of the game really because the whole thing about the rational world that we live in is that it is eminently possible to have absolute knowledge of that world. This certain knowledge is what we have been calling confirmation, and confirmation is basically a function of the ‘internal self-consistency’ of the set up. So when we talk about ‘the way which we have of looking at the world’ what we are actually talking about is the framework which makes our positive knowledge possible, and because the information which we are operating on is strictly consistent with this framework it too equals ‘the framework’. When the framework relates to itself in this way, it does so with the type of information that pragmatic information theory calls confirmation. Novelty, on the other hand, is as we have been saying independent of our frame of reference – it is other than it, which is to say ‘it is not our framework’. The apparent meaningless of statements such as [YES = NO] is how the framework perceives stuff that is not the framework –
The closed system of knowledge which is the rational mind doesn’t actually register novelty as ‘information that is coming from outside the system’ because it cannot register anything like this since it has no referents (no precedent) for the concept of ‘outside the system’ – instead, it interprets novelty as pure ‘rubbish’; it files it away as ‘an error’.
THREE DIMENSIONAL PROJECTIONS OF AN N-DIMENSIONAL REALITY
What we are saying here is that the three dimensional ‘box-like’ way which we have of understanding the universe in which we live is not really synonymous with the universe itself, it just happens to match up with the three-dimensional aspect of an n-dimensional universe. David Bohm is pretty explicit about this sort of idea when he says that the three-dimensional objects with which we are so familiar, such as refrigerators, brick walls and our own bodies are simply three-dimensional (or four-dimensional if you want to include time) projections of an underlying n-dimensional reality. This fact only becomes ‘detectable by instrumentation’ on the quantum level because we can plainly see evidence of non-locality in particles such as electrons, which start flagrantly misbehaving (in terms of classical determinism anyway) in such a way that two electrons separated in space sometimes start to act as if they are sharing information that they oughtn’t to be sharing; which is to say –
When something happens to one electron the other electron demonstrates to the experimenter that it ‘knows what happened’ at exactly the same time, which violates the laws of classical physics that strictly prohibit the instantaneous transmission of information.
This is a problem if we treat the ‘two electrons’ as separate or discrete entities, but of course we don’t have to treat electrons as such – physicists have long since given up making such crassly naïve assumptions about electrons; Richard Feynman – widely said to be the greatest physicist in the latter half of the twentieth century – was for example fond of playing about with the idea that there is only one electron in the whole universe, and that all the ‘different’ electrons (and possibly all the other stuff too) that we see are merely different manifestations of this single electron as it whizzes back and forth in time just like a sewing needle as it makes stitches in a piece of fabric. Going back to the case of two electrons which are apparently linked in some inexplicable way, we can see that this ‘non-local behaviour’ is no longer a problem if we see the ‘two electrons’ as projections of an n-dimensional object which appears to exist independently only when we see them in three dimensions. This is similar to the way in which one single iceberg may appear to the casual eye to be two separate icebergs simply because we only can see the extrusions of the two portions of the iceberg which happen to cut through the surface of the sea. In certain superficial ways the two projections of the underlying iceberg act as discrete entities, but if we were to study the matter more thoroughly we would discover that the separateness of the two bodies of ice is merely an optical illusion. On this subject we can do no better than to quote David Bohm (1983, P 188-9) from his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order:
…A system constituted of N ‘particles’ is then a 3N-dimensional reality, of which each ‘particle’ is a three dimensional projection. Under the ordinary conditions of our experience, these projections will be close enough to independence so that it will be a good approximation to treat them in the way that we usually do, as a set of separately existing particles all in the same three-dimensional space. Under other conditions this approximation will not be adequate. For example, at low temperatures an aggregate of electrons shows a new property of superconductivity, in which electrical resistance vanishes, so that electrical current can flow indefinitely. This is explained by showing that the electrons enter a different kind of state, in which they are no longer relatively independent. Rather, each electron acts a projection of a single higher-dimensional reality and all these projections share a non-local, non-causal correlation, which is such that they go around obstacles ‘co-operatively’ without being scattered or diffused, and therefore without resistance. (One could compare this behaviour to a ballet dance, while the usual behaviour of electrons could be compared to that of an agitated crowd of people, moving in a helter-skelter way.)
What follows from all this is that basically the implicate order has to be considered as a process of enfoldment and unfoldment in a higher-dimensional space. Only under certain conditions can this be simplified as a process of enfoldment and unfoldment in three dimensions. Thus far, we have indeed used this sort of simplification, not only with the ink-in-fluid analogy but also with the hologram. Indeed, as has already been pointed out earlier in this chapter, the electromagnetic field, which is the ground of the holographic image, obeys the laws of quantum theory, and when these are properly applied to the field it is found that this, too, is actually a multidimensional reality which can only under certain conditions be simplified as a three-dimensional reality.
Quite generally, then, the implicate order has to be extended into a multidimensional reality. In principle this reality is one unbroken whole, including the entire universe with all its ‘fields’ and ‘particles’. Thus we have to say that the holomovement enfolds and unfolds in a multidimensional order, the dimensionality of which is effectively infinite. However, as we have already seen, relatively independent sub-totalities can generally be abstracted, which may be approximated as autonomous. Thus the principle of relative autonomy of sub-totalities which we introduced earlier as basic to the holomovement is now seen to extend to the multidimensional order of reality.
There are a few unusual terms whose meaning is not apparent from the context, but we will have to content ourselves with Bohm’s notion of the ‘implicate order’, which is obviously crucial to his ideas as a whole. If we have, Bohm says, a regular array or arrangement of objects or events in space then the explicit order which manifests itself in the regularity which we see is not the ‘total order’ that is present there. According to Bohm (P 149), ‘… a total order is contained, in some implicit sense, in each region of space and time.’ Thus, the explicate order is a projection of a higher degree of order which we cannot see, and which is primary to it. This is a very significant idea because it is the explicate order that we relate to as ‘the everyday world of materiality’, and so if we accept – even provisionally – the suggestion that Bohm is making, we are forced to abandon the ingrained belief that we have that the physical-material realm is ‘God’. Bohm makes this point himself quite clearly (1983, P 150):
All this calls attention to the relevance of a new distinction between implicate and explicate order. Generally speaking, the laws of physics have thus far referred mainly to the explicate order. Now, we are proposing that in the formulation of the laws of physics, primary relevance is to be given to the implicate order, while the explicate order is to have a secondary kind of significance (e.g. as happened with Aristotle’s notion of movement, after the development of classical physics). Thus, it may be expected that a description in terms of Cartesian coordinates can no longer be given a primary emphasis, and that a new kind of description will indeed have to be developed for discussing the laws of physics.
‘SMALLER THAN SMALL AND BIGGER THAN BIG’
Another way of throwing some light on what ‘non-locality’ means, and in what way it might be primary rather than a secondary property of the universe, is to take smaller and smaller slices of space, and then see what happens to the parameters of space and time that seem so reliable to us and which we take so much for granted. Our usual way of thinking suggests that if we ‘zoom in’ on a very small slice of the universe, whatever it is that we will find there will be – at best – a few itty-bitty fragments, a few of the constituent ‘pieces’ that, in their humble way, go to make up the whole’. Possibly, we confidently assume, we may find ‘nothing at all’ and this ‘lack of anything’ appears to us to be an even more humble state of affairs than a few ‘bottom-of-the-chain-of-being’-type particles. In fact ‘nothing’ tens to be kind of despicable to us – it is worse than humble, being as it is quite without any ‘significance’ or ‘role’ at all in the greater scheme of things. Therefore, our assumption is (quite reasonably as it seems to us) that completion or wholeness is to be found on the grand scale of things, rather than on the micro-scale – the ‘big’ partakes in existence more than the ‘small’ (and ‘nothing’ partakes not at all…). This assumption has however been turned completely on its head since the realm of the ‘very small’ has been investigated with quantum theory (in fact quantum theory came into existence precisely because it was our only way of making sense of the realm of very small). In the following passage, David Bohm (1983, P 190-1) explains what the problems are in applying our regular notions of space and time to the sub-atomic world, and gives an indication of how we have to ‘adjust our thinking’ in order to understand this world:
…when the quantum theory is applied to fields (in the manner described in the previous section) it is found that the possible states of energy of this field are discrete (or quantized). Such a state of the field is, in some respects, a wavelike excitation spreading out over a broad region of space. Nevertheless, it also has somehow a discrete quantum of energy (and momentum) proportional to its frequency, so that in other respects it is like a particle (e.g. a photon). However, if one considers the electromagnetic field in empty space, for example, one finds from the quantum theory that each such ‘wave-particle’ mode of excitation of the field has what is called a ‘zero-point’ energy, below which it cannot go, even when its energy falls to the minimum that is possible. If one were to add up the energies of all the ‘wave-particle’ modes of excitation in any region of space, the result would be infinite, because an infinite number of wavelengths is present. However, there is good reason to suppose that one need not keep on adding the energies corresponding to shorter and shorter wavelengths. There may be a certain shortest possible wavelength, so that the total number of modes of excitation, and therefore the energy, would be finite.
Indeed, if one applies the rules of quantum theory to the currently accepted general theory of relativity, one finds that the gravitational field is also constituted of such ‘wave-particle’ modes, each having a minimum ‘zero-point’ energy. As a result the gravitational field, and therefore the definition of what is meant by distance, cease to be completely defined. As we keep on adding excitations corresponding to shorter and shorter wavelengths to the gravitational field, we come to a certain length at which the measurement of space and time becomes totally undefinable. Beyond this, the whole notion of space and time as we know it would fade out, into something that is at present unspecifiable. So it would be reasonable to suppose, at least provisionally, that this is the shortest wavelength that should be considered as contributing to the ‘zero-point’ energy of space.
When this length is estimated it turns out to be about 10-33 cm. This is much shorter than anything thus far probed in physical experiments (which have got down to about 10-17 cm or so). If one computes the amount of energy that would be in one cubic centimetre of space, with this shortest possible wavelength, it turns out to be very far beyond the total energy of all the matter in the known universe.
Thus, once we get down to around about the ‘shortest possible wavelength’ of 10-33 cm, and try to talk about or conceive distances that are less than this, then we run into the problem that ‘distance’ itself has no meaning any more. Which naturally causes all our efforts to backfire in our faces since if the concept of ‘distance’ has no meaning, then what exactly are we trying to do? We are approaching a reality with conceptual tools which have zero relevance to that reality, and so the most information that we can get out of this encounter is the information that tells us that our ‘model’ is 100% incongruent with what it is supposed to be modelling. Our ‘fundamental level of theory-organization’ (our paradigm) becomes useless to us, in other words. If space and time breaks down at this point then all we can say is that ‘small means the same as big’, which is the standard paradoxical formula. It seems nonsense to our rational minds, but actually it is telling us something as plain as day – if only we could take a holiday from our rational minds long enough to see it. Paradoxical assertions that take us beyond our normal understanding of size or dimensionality are not just the province of quantum physics – they are in fact the stock-in-trade of all mystical systems (the only thing being that when we meet paradoxical descriptions of some mysterious ‘transcendent reality’ in mystical literature it is so much easier for us to dismiss it as nonsense). In his introduction to his translation of The Bhagavad Gita, Juan Mascaro (p xv) quotes the following lines from the ancient Indian text of the Chandogya Upanishad which aim to clarify the nature of the ultimate Reality, or ‘Atman’:
There is a Spirit which is mind and life, light and truth, and vast spaces. He enfolds the whole universe, and in silence is loving to all.
This is the Spirit that is in my heart, smaller than a grain of rice, or a grain of barley, or a grain of mustard-seed, or a grain of canary-seed, or the kernel of a grain of canary-seed. This is the Spirit that is in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven itself, greater than all these worlds. This is the Spirit that is in my heart, this is Brahman.
Mascaro (1960, P xv-xvi) goes on to explain this point a bit more:
If we ask definitely ‘What is Brahman?’ the answer in modern terms would be: ‘Brahman cannot be defined because it is Infinite. It is beyond thought and beyond imagination. It is nothing in the mind and nothing outside the mind, nothing past or present or future. These are only conceptions in time and space. But the nearest conception of Brahman we can have is to say that it is a state of consciousness beyond time where SAT, CIT and ANANDA, Being and Consciousness and Joy, are ONE.’
FRAGMENTATION AND WHOLENESS
Obviously this idea that space and time breaks down if we push the boundaries enough is radically upsetting to everything because it means that the unquestionable primacy of the cause-and-effect logic of the physical-material world becomes questionable. The realm of certainty within which we operate is not taken away from us, it is true, but it is suddenly revealed as ‘less of a reality’ than it actually presents itself. We were saying that our usual way of thinking leads us to believe that if we take a very small ‘bite’ of the universe what we will end up looking at will be a rather insignificant piece of the whole. But if we take into account what Bohm says about the parameter of space becoming untenable once we come to the ‘shortest possible wavelength’, then we can see that a portion of the universe, if it is ‘small’ enough, is not a portion at all, but rather it is as ‘big’ (or as complete) as the whole of the universe – which is to say, it is identical to the universe in all its glorious entirety. This is a perplexing idea – we start off with dimensionless wholeness, we ‘progress’ to a sort of intermediate realm in which it is possible to have fragments of the whole which are effectively separate from each other, and then, when we reach maximum inclusivity, and take into our remit everything that exists in the universe, then of course we end up back at the state of wholeness again, which is where we started off.
This is a neat ‘trick’ (if we may call it that), but at the same time as being satisfyingly neat it is also unsettling because it relegates the ‘matter-of-fact’ world within which we conduct our ‘daily business’ to a rather curious position. This world might be as ‘real’ as ever when we meet it, but at the same time the meaning which it has for us is subtly altered because we know that it is not the ‘final’ reality. This transformation in the meaning of the experienced world is subtle, but it is also extraordinarily profound and far-reaching. Beforehand the mundane world was ‘an end in itself’, it was self-evidently ‘what it appeared to be’ and so any journey that we might take in life could only ever be a journey of optimization (which is to say, a journey that ultimately ends up with us adapting ourselves to the given base-line of ‘what reality literally is’). Optimization is a journey of ever-increasing adaptation to a fixed idea and this means that it is a journey that never goes anywhere – it is a curve that is always approximating itself better and better to a straight-line. Another way of putting this is to say that literalism is always stuck fast in its literalisms – that’s what the world literal means, it is a ‘dead-end in terms of meaning’, a ‘short-circuit of consciousness’. When we see the physical, cause-and-effect world as being nested somehow within something that has nothing to do with physicality or deterministic logic, something that is in itself utterly immune to our attempts to conceptually grasp hold of it, something that offers us no possibility of rational orientation at all, then we do not suddenly stop taking the known world seriously but instead the nature of the transformation in meaning is that we start to see the physical as being a metaphor for something else, a metaphor for some ‘greater reality’ that we cannot even begin to imagine.
Of course, it can still be argued that the characteristically ‘immediate and pressing demands’ which the physical world of cause-and effect makes on us mean that it is still the bottom-line with regard to anything that really matters. The argument is if you drop a brick on my head by way of a philosophical experiment, I can’t really explain the resulting cranial concussion away with fancy talk of quantum physics and phenomenology. But this is clearly not true – a brick can land on my head, and cause me a significant amount of discomfort as it does so, but the meaning which this event has for me is not necessarily determined by literal conceptions of such things as ‘a brick’ and ‘a head’. If the framework which we use to determine the meaning of the stuff that happens to us is an absolute and final sort of a thing then indeed the literalist has the satisfaction of having the last laugh. But if this framework is not final, if in fact it only represents a very limited and absurdly over-simplified of understanding things, then the rational mind is robbed of its triumph, for now it can neither say nor understand anything. The only thing it can legitimately claim to understand is that everything it understands as being literally true is only really a metaphorical token for something that stands forever beyond its powers of comprehension.
A succinct way to penetrate straight to the heart of the difference between the realm of wholeness that ultimately underlies and overarches the realm of ‘separateness’ (or ‘fragmentation’) with which we are so overwhelmingly familiar is to look at the two realms in terms of information. The world of our everyday experience is a world governed by the laws of Aristotelian (or exclusive) logic, which means that when we ask a properly defined question, it must in principle be possible for us to obtain a definite answer of the form YES/NO. The type of world that we are looking at here is a world that obeys the laws of exclusive logic, a world where all events and processes always occur in a way that is in accordance with the clearly defined and mutually exclusive categories of YES and NO. If all the events and processes occurring always make sense within this strict framework of logic then this is the same thing as saying that the universe we are talking about can be described completely using the type of information that we have been calling confirmation. If the universe in question can be described perfectly in terms of +/- information (i.e. information that makes sense to a specific system of logic), then this means that the universe can be legitimately reduced to information of this type, which is to say ‘the material world is no more and no less than the tangible expression of abstract Aristotelian logic’. This is so obviously true that it is almost a redundant statement – what we are saying when we make this assertion is that it is because the ‘stuff’ which goes up to make the physicality of the world we live in obeys deterministic laws that the physical world gets to be ‘defined’, and it is precisely because the physical world is clearly defined (i.e. because there exist – at least on one level – unambiguous boundaries between one thing and other, different things) that it is has the property that we are referring to as ‘physicality’. In a nutshell –
The property of having boundaries (i.e. contrast) is what makes the world of form, and creating contrast is the characteristic function of exclusive logic; therefore, we can say that the defined (or ‘material’) world is nothing other than the logic of exclusivity made flesh, as it were.