Chasing Good Feelings in the Mechanical World

Every good feeling we have in the mechanical world, no matter how authentic it may feel, is always going to be counterbalanced by an exactly corresponding bad feeling and for this reason we can’t say that the good feeling we started off with really is ‘authentic’. How can it be an authentic feeling if it always comes paired with its opposite? The truth is that nothing is authentic in the Mechanical World, it’s all just a fast moving ‘magic-show’ but we’re always far too busy chasing good feelings to notice this…

This is how the machine works however – this is the only way it can work. The machine that we’re talking about here is ‘the Machine of Thought’ and the reason why thought always goes around in circles in this way (so that one minute we’re up and the next minute we’re down) is because it doesn’t give us any freedom (although it never tells us this about itself). The Thinking Mind can’t give us any freedom (or independence) because it doesn’t have any itself and it can’t provide us with what it doesn’t have. In the absence of freedom / independence we aren’t going to get anywhere. We might ‘think’ that we’re getting somewhere, but we’re not. We’re getting nowhere fast, we’re ‘running on the spot’.

Through it isn’t free because it’s tied to a fixed point. It’s tethered – so to speak – to the fixed set of assumptions that it has had to make in order to function as thought. We – in our turn – have had to see the way in the exact same way that thought does in order for thought’s representation of the world to seem real, to seem viable; we are in this way able to enjoy at least the illusion of movement, the illusion of freedom, the illusion of ‘something happening’. The illusion of movement is the very most we can have however because when we are anchored to a fixed set of assumptions (and ‘fixed’ assumptions are the only type there are) then in reality no movement at all is possible. We’re fixed, after all and ‘fixed means fixed’. An assumption is by its very nature always going to be ‘fixed’; it’s like a stout post driven deep into the earth that we can tie our horse to when we go into the store to buy our provisions – the horse can move a little bit (it can ‘orbit’ the post) but it’s not really going anywhere on the bigger scale of things.

Even though there is definitely ‘nowhere for us to go’ when we are tethered to thought’s assumptions (which we can’t actually see when we’re operating in the Domain of Thought since the rules that needed to be assumed in order to create this domain become perfectly invisible to us as soon as we do assume them). This is the classic ‘two step manoeuvre’: first we assume the basis, and then we act as if it isn’t ‘a basis that we have assumed or imagined’ but is in fact ‘there for real’, and because we are consistently acting as if the basis really were a basis, it seems to us as if this actually is the case. By pretending so consistently, what we’re pretending becomes pragmatically true for us. As Kurt Vonnegut tells us, ‘We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful about who we pretend to be.’ In reality, there are no rules (which is why we have to assume them); reality doesn’t run on rules (which is to say, it doesn’t have to be told what to do). On the contrary, it runs on spontaneity (i.e., it ‘does what it does’, and that’s all there is to it).  Reality ‘comes before all the productions that it puts on’ (just like a tree comes before its branches) and this means – obviously enough – that it can’t be caused by anything else or dependent upon anything else. It’s not a ‘made’ thing.

We don’t really ‘get’ spontaneity however (even though we use the word all the time, even though we use the word as if we absolutely dounderstand it perfectly). The fact that we base our whole way of life on rules (or logic) shows this. The fact that we believe (or used to believe, at any rate) that God created the universe (i.e., that He compelled it to happen because it wouldn’t have happened otherwise) shows that this is our only way of thinking about things. Believing in causality is our default way of thinking about things. In the present day, if we don’t believe that the universe is here ‘because the Creator made it be here’, then this doesn’t necessarily demonstrate a radically new perspective on our part; it doesn’t mean indicate a radically new way of thinking about things (although we say that it does) we’re just changing the words we’re using, that’s all. We’re just ‘updating our lingo’ since our new idea is ‘science’ we attach everything to this; armed with science, we can then say that what made the cosmos come into being is pure impersonal logic. Instead of the Divine Creator we now believe that rules (rules which can be scientifically derived) ‘caused the universe to happen where otherwise it wouldn’t’. Nothing has changed, therefore; nothing has changed since we’re it for granted in both cases that the universe had to have been caused, that there exists some causal mechanism which neatly explains it all. The fact that causal mechanisms are part of the universe that has been caused by these mechanisms doesn’t occur to us.

Invoking causality means that there is no need to be surprised by anything that happens, no matter what happens. If Y happens then that is because of X (which is what caused Y). Given X, the arising of Y is only to be expected. Y isn’t in any way a mystery therefore – on the contrary, we know exactly why it’s there and there’s no reason at all to be perplexed by it. We’ve explained it all away. This is a scam, however, as has very often being pointed out – given why X, Y is totally predictable, but this doesn’t explain (or predict) anything. In the theological variant of the argument, when told that the world exists because God saw fit to create it all we need to do is ask is “Why was there a Creator Deity in the first place (and might there not have been)?” and the mystery is back, as big (and as menacing) as ever. In the case of what we might call the ‘pseudo-scientific solution’ to the question of ‘Why is there anything?’ it’s the same thing – if the universe came into being as a result of the operation of natural laws then the next question is “How did these laws get to be there in the first place? The giant menacing question mark that we were trying to shrink never gets any smaller – we can’t outrun it!

When it’s a causal sequence that we’re looking at then no matter what thing it was that ‘came first in the sequence’, it still needs to be explained, it still needs to be accounted for. If – however – we keep our attention focussed very narrowly, and don’t ever get curious about ‘the bigger picture’ (and don’t even stop to consider the possibility that there is such a thing as ‘the bigger picture’) then there can be such a thing as certainty, then everything that happens can be exhaustively explained to everyone’s satisfaction (is a great relief to all). We are then facilitated to live out the course of our lives in a kind of absurd ‘make-believe world’ where everything is known, where everything can be perfectly explained, no matter what. This is of course ‘the default situation’ – this is the basic format for how things are for all of us. This is everyday life.

‘Everyday life’ is however a truly ridiculous hoax, the bizarre kind of act that we’re all putting on. We’re acting as if there’s nothing strange about anything (although deep down we can’t help suspecting that there is). Predictable and repetitive to the point of outright tedium, which we do our best to ignore, utilising a whole range of well-established distraction techniques, the exercise of which has become somewhat wearisome in itself. It’s got so we know the real world to be real because it’s so dull and repetitive, because it never does anything strange, because it is so relentlessly stifling to the spirit. ‘Real’ has become synonymous with mere routine, routine that we’re perfectly comfortable with but which is at the same time an express train to nowhere at all. We’re on ‘the Road to Nowhere’, but it’s a very well-lit, well-maintained, well-signposted road, complete with as many service stations as we could possibly wish for. Existence has degenerated to a point at which it is no more than ‘the habitual obeying of what has happened before’, everything is a rerun of the last and this ‘faithful-if-tedious repetition of the past’ is what passes for ‘meaning’ for us. It’s a very conservative type of meaning in which we endlessly recycle the past in the fond belief that there’s something ‘good’ in it but whatever good might have been there has long since fled.

This picture is the inevitable consequence of us ‘living in denial of radical certainty’; radical uncertainty – which is to say stuff that absolutely can’t be explained – is anathema to us when we’re living in uncertainty-denial mode. Any trace of the Original Enigma has to be wholly eradicated – even the faintest notion that there might be ‘something that can’t be explained’ has to be expunged and the result of this is the dire form of ‘mechanical existence’ that we have just been describing. Everything in the Mechanical Realm has been turned into a thought, a ‘binary representation of reality’. The world has been simplified down to the point where it is nothing more than a collection of thoughts (and where I too am nothing more ‘than just another thought’) some of which are ‘special’ in as much as we have a particular attachment to them; Some thought we might say our goals and pursuing goals is the mainstay of mechanical existence. Chasing goals is how we distract ourselves from the intolerable tedium that is life in the mechanical or conditioned world. There are two types of ‘excitement’ that are associated with the activity of goal-chasing – either we can become pleasurably excited because we believe that we’re going to win, or we can become corresponding the unpleasantly excited when it seems to us that we’re going lose. Jung, using the language of the ancient alchemists, refers to this excitement as passion.  Passion very effectively blinds us – it makes us so excited that we can’t see what’s going on. Passion – Jung tells us – results in the production of the ‘alchemical sulphur’ which is an inert substance that inexorably accumulates within us and thus ‘clogs up the works’. The life which is based on ‘seeking euphoria and avoiding dysphoria’ invariably defeats itself, so to speak.

Excitement of one sort or the other is all we can have when we’re living in the world that thought has created for us; all we have to work with are our thoughts, after all, and thoughts – no matter how exciting they might be – are unreal. Nothing is true, nothing is authentic, and yet despite this we’re able to ‘make a go of it’, we are able – for the most part – to keep ourselves entertained. The mainstay of this entertainment – as we have said – is pursuing goals and the thing about this is that the nominal goal is all we need for this: there doesn’t have to be anything real there (which is just as well since there isn’t). We can’t ever get intimate with our environment (or with anyone else) because thought doesn’t do intimacy So what we have instead is this formal YES / NO, HIT / MISS business that we have been talking about, which is entirely generic, entirely abstract. If we were to engage intimately with what’s around us (which is to say if we were to engage directly, without any conceptual mediation), then that situation would have no opposite, no ‘reverse-proposition’ associated with it. Wholeness doesn’t have an opposite. A goal – on the other hand – offers two opposed possibilities. We have ‘the possibility of winning’ and we have ‘the possibility of losing’ and there’s an awful lot of pressure riding on this. There can hardly not be, seeing as how one possibility is infinitely great and the other infinitely terrible. No matter what the pressure however, it remains the case that these two outcomes are entirely artificial – which is to say, they don’t exist in reality but only in our arbitrary take on it. The setup that we’re talking about is ‘artificial’ because the two things involved (‘the game’ and ‘the player of the game’) are categories of thought rather than being inherent aspects of the world itself. <Thought’s concept of who we are> is striving to achieve <thought’s definition of what the goal is > and out of this situation comes either this thing called <success> or this other thing called <failure> and this polarity has a grip on our attention like nothing else! It has a total grip upon our attention, and yet there’s nothing real about any of this at all. Nothing could be more ridiculously abstract than the situation that we’ve just described, and yet this is what conditioned life – which is ‘life in the Mechanical World’ – is all about.

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