to top

The Random Self

Peculiar though it may seem, it is possible to learn a lot about the nature of the ‘self’ by looking at the differences between random and non-random numbers. Non-random numbers are numbers that can be specified: If I define a set of numbers by stating some sort of rule such as “Let X be the set of all odd numbers between 1 and 999” then all those numbers which qualify as members of the set are not random. They are not random because they have been specifically ‘referred to’ by the rule – they have been defined. Before we define a number however we must first have a definite ‘starting point’ ­- a basis or platform – to proceed from. We have to be ‘grounded’ before we can specify anything, which is something that we don’t tend to think about. The mathematical act of specifying or defining requires us to make certain assumptions before we can go ahead – our definitions rely on us having some sort of ‘certainty’ to start off with, i.e. we have to assume that our basis for making statements is valid. We have to have a basis that is unquestionably true or else any statement that we might go ahead and make will lack any authority. Therefore, it has to be the case that we have to have a definite position before we can define any other position. If I am not acting from a definite position then no other positions can be defined.

This seems to make sense. Unless I know something to start off with, how can reach out or extend myself to know anything else? If something is to be known then it must be ‘known’ within terms that are already known to be true. No statement, no mathematical description, can possibly be meaningful unless it contains valid assumptions, unless it itself contains some essential, universal element of truth – if it doesn’t then obviously the whole endeavour falls down before it even starts. That would be like a judge passing judgement on a defendant as to whether he is guilty or not guilty when the judge himself is totally corrupt – if the judge in question happened to be corrupt then his judgements as to whether those who stand in from of him in court are corrupt (or not) would be entirely meaningless. If I myself am a liar, then if I call you a liar this accusation carries no weight, no authority whatsoever. So to go back to the point we were just making – in order to specify a set of numbers as being non-random I must first have a specific or particular position from which to do the specifying.

As soon as we say this however we can see that there is some sort of a glitch here, some sort of ‘bug in the system’, some sort of ‘hidden redundancy’. The glitch in question can be seen very easily – if I need a specified position before I can specify any other position, then how will I ever get started? If I need an unquestionable basis before I can go ahead with the business of making positive or definite statement then clearly I am in trouble; I am trapped in an infinite regress here since the conditions that are necessary to enable me to start will never be there unless I first put them in place, but to put them in place (or indeed, to do anything purposeful at all) I need those conditions to be already there…

We can approach things slightly differently by saying that the redundancy lies in the fact that both the position being specified and the position from which one specifies are completely interchangeable. This is an argument based on tautology – if the statement which we use to specify the set of non-random numbers in question is actually inherent in our starting-off point then it is not a ‘choice’ at all since we are not going anywhere new (nor was there ever the slightest chance of us going anywhere new). Actually, we aren’t going anywhere at all. ‘Redundancy’ means that what appears to be information isn’t actually information at all but simply a tautological reformulation of what was already there. It looks like there is a new thing there but there isn’t – it’s just a trick that is being played on me (or that I am playing on myself) and the moment I spot the trick the so-called ‘new thing’ will vanish into thin air, like a loop in a length of string that will vanish just as soon as the string is pulled taut. When the string is pulled taut there is no trace of the loop left at all because the loop never actually had any independent existence of its own. There was only ever the string – the ‘loop’ was merely a tautological development of the string.

Because there was never any ‘new thing’ there this means that the apparently volitional or free act of specifying was not really free at all. The perception that it was a free choice, a genuine act of volition (i.e. that I could have done it differently if I wanted to, or that I actually ‘did’ anything at all) is a phantom, an illusion. Within the closed system of logic that has somehow sprung up there is no such thing as free choice. The way that logic works dictates that from any one specified or defined position only certain other positions are visible (or ‘reachable’). This is the essential principle behind Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. The only other points that are ‘visible’ or ‘reachable’ from our vantage point are those points which we are connected with along the fixed pathways of logic – logic creates fixed pathways precisely because it is logic, because it is based on specific boundaries in mathematical space regarding what is allowed or included and what is disallowed or excluded.  Logic isn’t free-and-easy, it can’t chop and change, it can’t say one thing one minute and another the next, it isn’t fluid and flexible. If it was any of these things, then it wouldn’t be logic at all!

It is demonstrable that there are many continua of logic and that the whole of Mathematical Space (the space of All Possible Mathematical Statements) is not just all one big logical continuum, that the totality of things cannot be legitimately subsumed within one logical statement. If this wasn’t the case then Kurt Gödel would have had to have formulated a ‘Completeness Theorem’ instead of an Incompleteness Theorem (which, needless to say, wouldn’t have upset or disturbed the mathematical community in the slightest). But he didn’t, and he did upset and disturb the mathematical community, and if anyone at the time or since could have proved him wrong they certainly would have done. The fact that Gödel’s theorem wasn’t disproved wasn’t for the lack of trying. The tremendous inertial forces of conservatism (in whatever field) cannot be defeated by any argument that is anything less than 100% watertight – the status quo can be held in place by sloppy arguments and unproven assertions, but for a challenger to prevail over the general inertia and intellectual conservatism he or she must have an argument that stands up against any attack.

If it is the case that the totality of things is essentially discontinuous, that it is a logical discontinuity rather than a logical continuity, then this means that it is flatly impossible to specify points in one continuum of logic from the basis of another. There can be no train-tracks of logic leading from one continuum to another otherwise it would all be the same continuum. It is perfectly possible to specify points within the same continuum from which one is doing the specifying but since all points within the same continuum of logic are tautological developments of each other (since each position in any continuum of logic is inherent in all the others), the ‘choice’ involved here is hollow. Thus, there is simply no such thing as a genuinely free or un-predetermined choice, even though there seems to be.  In fact, our sense of ourselves as autonomous, undetermined beings depends upon this illusion, the illusion that we can actually think something that is new, something that different to everything else that we (logically) think.

This would appear to be a pretty major problem. If I can’t specify anything new in order to make a goal of it, and thereby use that goal to enable myself to change, then I am stuck in the same basic position forever. I cannot change. The impossibility of specifying a random number might therefore look like an implacable obstacle or inescapable jinx, only of course it isn’t at all. How could it be? No one would be silly enough to say that random numbers are in any way bothered or put out by the fact that we can’t specify them, or that this in any way poses a problem or obstacle. It would be ridiculous to think that it did because it is the impossibility of specifying random numbers that makes them random numbers in the first place. Our choosing, our specifying, our ‘purposeful involvement’ is simply not as important as we like to think it is.

The jinx that we have been talking about arises as a manifestation of the paradoxicality inherent in all purposeful action, and indeed, in all positive statements whatsoever. We started off in our argument by saying that we cannot specify a number unless we first have a specified number (or position) to use as a basis for our specifying. We then made the point that the assumed position that we are using for a basis must necessarily exist on the same ‘continuum of logic’ as the number that is to be specified (or pointed to) and that all numbers (or positions) on a logical continuum are – by definition – tautological developments of each other. The jinx, then, is that we cannot specify a position unless we can use that same position that is to be specified as a basis to do the specifying. This is the paradox, the self-contradiction, behind all positive or definite assertions.

There is however a perfectly good way of ‘getting around’ this killer glitch and that way is simply pick a number, any number, at random. What I do is to freely choose a number, which is to say, I choose a number in such a way that there is no logical method whatsoever behind my choosing. This is simplicity itself – I just choose it, I just pick it, just like that. This sort of choosing has nothing to do with purposefulness or intention since if I have a purpose or intent then I have in some way already specified what it is that I am going to choose before I chose it, and that of course is where the ‘logic-glitch’ comes in, the glitch inherent in all purposeful action. Natural systems do this sort of free choosing all the time and it is known as ‘spontaneity’ or ‘self-organization’. There is an important principle in thermodynamics called ergodicity that is based on random action: an ergodic system is a system (such as that made up by freely moving gas molecules) that operates on a random basis and it has to be the case that all such systems will eventually visit (or choose) all possible points or locations that are availlable to them. This organizational openness is inherent in the very idea of randomness.

A system that is guided by logic rather than randomness is non-ergodic and can therefore only visit those locations that are already inherent in its own specific, pre-determined structure. A logical system has a blindspot in other words and this blindspot is ‘the entropy of the system’. In a truly random choice there is no obstruction at all – random choices know no boundaries, recognize no limits, obey no laws, follow no predictable pattern. Because of this limitlessness, this unboundedness, random choices are genuinely ‘free’ and what they are free from is logic.

Another way of approaching this business of ‘non-random versus random’ is in terms of fixed points versus free movement. It is perfectly possible for a fixed point to move in a way that can be logically described, only what we have then is something that could be called ‘fixed movement’. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, and indeed it is, but nevertheless motion that can be described or defined is fixed – it is change of a fashion, but ‘change according to fixed rules’. Change according to fixed rules is clearly such a superficial form of change (or movement) that it cannot really be called change at all. Fixed movement is ‘the surface-level appearance of movement’ and because there is a surface-level appearance of movement we can mistake it as such if we don’t look into it too closely. Inasmuch as superficial change (i.e. regulated or linear change) masks the fact there is no real change it may be said to be ‘non-change disguised as change’. Linear change – very obviously – is the sort of change that is permitted within a particular logical continuum. I can move from one position on the continuum to another position on that same continuum, but the change involved here is purely superficial in nature; it is virtual change, virtual movement. Thus, saying that the movement from one point on a continuum to another is not really a movement at all is the same as saying that all the points on a continuum of logic are tautological developments of each other, and that the whole continuum – which we think of as being spacious – is merely an unwarranted expansion in virtual (or tautological) space of a single fixed point.

If my viewpoint on the world is a single fixed point then as we have said any other points are both invisible and unimaginable to me. For the logical mind, anything that is discontinuous with it is excluded from consideration so thoroughly, so completely, that even the fact of this exclusion is excluded.  A continuum of logic is therefore an organizationally closed system and the whole idea of an organizationally closed system is that it is closed to its own closure – in other words, it implicitly perceives itself as being open. If the closed system did have information about its own closure then it would not be closed at all but open, since it would then be implicitly acknowledging the existence of something ‘beyond itself,’ something ‘beyond its own ken’. It is the closure of the system (its intrinsic incapacity to know that it is closed, that it is not ‘everything’) which allows virtual change or virtual movement to appear real. This closure is identical to the entropy of the system, entropy being ‘the reciprocal of information,’ W -1 (or S in standard thermodynamic notation). It is therefore this entropy which allows the constructs of the rational-conceptual mind to seem real to it (or to paraphrase Nobel Prize Winner Stuart Kauffman, “knowledge requires ignorance”).

Just as I cannot specify a random number, so too it is impossible for me to envisage free movement from the standpoint of the rational or rule-based mind. I can say the words ‘free movement’ but I simply can’t model what that means. If I could model it, then it wouldn’t be free! Fixed points are, we might say, ‘obstacles’ to free movement precisely because they are fixed, because they are specified. Random numbers, therefore, are not obstacles to free movement. They freely permit it. By way of a little mental exercise, we might imagine a little kangaroo figure jumping happily from one random number to another, with no obstruction whatsoever. Our friend the randomly jumping kangaroo can jump anywhere at all because he does not have any intention to jump anywhere, he does not have any idea of where he is going. Basically, he simply doesn’t care – all numbers are the same to him. They are all equally good to him. This imaginary illustration of random movement allows us to see a crucial property of random numbers – they exist in symmetry with each other, they form a ‘symmetrical state’. This symmetrical state is not at all like a logical continuum because a continuum is fundamentally dissymmetrical; a logical continuum is fundamentally dissymmetrical because it is based on a rule (a fixed point is a rule) and a rule is the very quintessence of dissymmetry. This is easily shown: the whole idea of defining or specifying is that we are pointing at a particular location and ‘pointing’ is a fundamentally dissymmetrical operation because where we are pointing to is fundamentally different to where we are not pointing to

From the basis of a fixed or specified point free movement cannot be envisaged. There is simply no possibility of modelling genuine (or ‘ungrounded’) change from a logical basis – we do not have the means of even knowing that there is such a thing and because of the fact that linear change effectively substitutes itself for genuine change we do not miss it. The reason we cannot picture free movement on the basis of logic is of course because everything that we imagine is imagined in terms of the fixed position that is our basis. So if we imagine movement, we imagine ‘movement-in-relation-to-our-fixed-point,’ which is not really movement at all. There is absolutely nothing that we can ever think of (or model) that is not thought of (or modelled) in terms of our fixed basis; we cannot go beyond our assumptions using logic because logic is never any more than the tautological restatement of its assumptions. But suppose we could approach the matter from the other side, suppose we could look at fixed points from the viewpoint (even though language lets us down here) of free movement. What sort of reality would a fixed position (i.e. a ‘non-random number’) have then, when we aren’t assuming it as a basis?

This question is easy to answer. As we have already said, non-random numbers only appear to be ‘non-random’ when they are seen from the basis which they themselves take for granted. This is the reason behind the inherent paradoxicality (or ‘redundancy’) of all positive statements. Any positive statement is true only in relation to the set of assumptions that I have had to make in order that I might make that definite statement in the first place! This means – quite simply – that all definite statements are 100% redundant. There is no information contained in a definite statement. In relative terms there is information, which is to say, there is ‘information in relation to the framework that I am taking for granted in order to formulate that statement’, but since the statement is a tautological development of the framework it assumes in order to make sense I am actually saying nothing at all. I can give you information about my location but since this ‘information’ is only meaningful on the basis of a framework of reference that arises out that very location I am not really giving you any information at all. It is as if you ask me “Where are you?” and I answer, “I’m here!” ‘I’m here’ only makes sense to one who is already here – if you aren’t ‘here’ then it doesn’t tell you anything (and if you were ‘here’ then of course you wouldn’t need to ask the question in the first place). Another example would be someone who replies “It’s me!” in answer to the question “Who’s there?”  ‘It’s me’ appears to be perfectly straightforward information for me because I am me, but it isn’t information for the other person since everyone is ‘me’ from their own point of view.

‘Me’ is a wholly relativistic phenomenon, just as ‘other’ is, or – to give another example – ‘foreigner’. To you I might be a foreigner, but then if that is the case then you are a foreigner to me, and so who ‘really is’ the foreigner? Clearly, no one ‘really is’ the foreigner because there is no such entity out there, the term has no absolute meaning only a strictly relative one. One can hardly say that there is anything wrong or misleading about relative terms – apart from when we start taking the relative for absolute and acting and thinking accordingly. When we do this, as we so often do, then we are obviously heading for trouble! We can also look at this idea in terms of the tautology of saying that something is ‘here’ – I can pick any location at all and as soon as I do, I can quite truthfully say that “I am here”.  This makes perfectly good sense to me because where I am is here, and here is where I am… It does not however tell you anything because wherever I was would be ‘here’.

What we are getting at here is the idea that non-random numbers are only relativistically non-random. So far we have said that [1] Non-random numbers are numbers that have been specified or ‘pointed to’ and [2] In order to point at a number I first have to have to have an assumed basis for my pointing. The assumed basis is my ‘here’ and I can use my relatively real ‘here’ as a basis for pointing because even though my ‘here’ is purely arbitrary as soon as I start using it as a basis I forget that I freely picked it and it gets to seem like an absolute. It is completely subjective, but it seems objective. Thus, by means of this trick I can methodically specify or categorize everything that I see (in terms of my assumed basis of course) and fondly imagine that I have thereby created a universally valid knowledge system when in fact all I have done is to extend my subjective sphere of ‘relative information that seems like real information’ outwards until it misleadingly appears to equal the entire universe. This is of course exactly what the rational mind does all the time: we imagine that we are heroically pushing back the frontiers of knowledge – and feel pretty good about that – whilst the whole time we are really only extending our sphere of ignorance. Just as we said that entropy causes virtual change to seem like genuine change, so too my lack of perspective causes virtual information to seem like real information to me. It is this invisible process of world-shrinkage which is responsible for the subjective local sphere of my ‘here’ sneakily absolutizing itself and turning itself in a spurious ‘universal truth’. My ‘here’ greedily expands until it fills up all the available space, creating the dreadfully ‘close’ and claustrophobic situation of over-valued rationality where there is nothing else but my assumed basis and its projections.

To go back to the question we posed a minute ago, we could attempt an answer by saying that from outside of the viewpoint assumed by any particular ‘fixed point’ (or positive statement) that fixed point (or positive statement) ‘does not exist’. A fixed point (or positive statement) only exists from its own point of view and the inevitable corollary of this is that from the outside of the closed or self-referential system that comes about as a result of ‘taking a particular position for granted then forgetting that we took it for granted’, there is ‘no such thing’. There is no possibility of taking the particular position or definite assertion seriously without resorting to self-referentiality and yet ‘seriously’ is the only way it wants to be taken. Even though we have just said in so many words that a fixed point does not exist when considered from outside of its own tautological viewpoint, this is not really a very good way of putting it. It would be better to say that one can say nothing specific about such a point, which of course simply means that it is a ‘random number’. It hasn’t been specified. When not seen in its own terms, we can see that a fixed point does not exist as a fixed point, but rather it exists in the same sense that everything else exists, i.e. as a part of the overall, undivided ‘free movement’ that is the universe. In other words, all numbers are random numbers really. Certain numbers only appear to be non-random when we freely (or randomly) select them and proceed to perform a logical operation on this arbitrary basis whilst forgetting as we do so the all-important fact that it is arbitrary…

Random numbers are like strange and wonderful fish in the big wide ocean that no one actually happens to be looking at, or thinking about. If I want to I can of course seek them out and catch them and subject them to my scrutiny; I can if I want describe, analyse and categorize them to my heart’s content. And then, after I have exhaustively catalogued them it will seem to me that I know all about them and as a result they will no longer seem either so strange or so wonderful! The uncanny, mysterious quality which they possessed for me beforehand will be gone and all I will be left with is a system that is – somehow disappointingly – obedient to my expectations. In reality, the fish are of course still every bit as strange and wonderful as they ever were – after all, how can the mere act of cataloguing them change this? Such is my unconscious intellectual arrogance however that I actually believe – on some very deep level – that unless I seize hold of these strange denizens of the deep with my counting, measuring, categorizing mind they don’t properly exist. It is as if I bring them into existence by knowing about them, and this egotistical delusion naturally creates a sense of me being central to the scheme of things (and in a way I am of course because it is me who has been cataloguing them).

From the psychological point of view we can note as a brief aside that unconsciously assuming that I am in some way a lynch-pin to the whole universe gives me on the positive side of things a powerful feeling of personal validation and significance, whilst on the negative side this false sense of centrality induces crippling anxiety due to me rashly taking on responsibility for processes that are totally outside of my control. Furthermore, the fact that I can now only acknowledge or relate to those aspects of the world which I rationally understand (and have conceptually catalogued) means that my world has drastically shrunk, and so by my own overweening cleverness I have restricted myself to a reality that is only as big as my meagre expectations of it. That is an irony I have made myself incapable of appreciating. Over-inflating myself initially causes a sense of elation and euphoria (or ‘false confidence’) and, after the positive phase has passed, depression and despair (which naturally arise when the false confidence shows itself up to be false and one discovers that one has put one’s precious eggs in entirely the wrong basket).

A good way of summing all this up is to say that the categorical mind ‘inverts’ the proper order of things – it surreptitiously makes itself the most important thing, whilst paying lip-service the whole time to the greatness of the reality which it describes and categorizes. According to the story that it itself puts out, the rational mind is engaged upon a noble mission and is there only to serve (as an ever-so-humble servant) an end that is ‘greater than itself’. In reality however this busily measuring and feverishly conceptualizing mind is seeking to make the whole world revolve around it and so it is not quite as humble as it likes to make out, nor is its mission particularly noble. It is too clever for its own good though really, like a greedy parasite that kills its host, because when it pulls off the coupe and says that ‘it is the world’ then it does away with the world, and as a result falls into darkness and despair. To quote Johannes Fabricius (1976, p 52) –

To a normal person the world may appear good even if he feels bad himself, or the world may appear bad even if he feels good himself. Not so with the manic-depressive, he is himself like the world, and the world is like himself, and so the world rises with him and sets with him in the magic mirror of the revolving, symbiotic anima mundi. On the bright side of the moon the whole world is ‘eaten up’ and introjected by a manic ego inflated by a universal soul and self. On the dark half of the moon the manic’s engulfed world is ‘thrown up’ and projected onto reality, which is now painted in the same colours as the ego’s blackened soul and self. As the sense of universal elation is changed into one of universal depression, the circular flight of manic denial comes full circle in the depressive return of the denied. For this reason the elation of mania is an uneasy one since it may be defined as a denial of the horror of the depressed state.

From a local point of view, from the tautologically defined basis which is ‘here,’ random numbers (or random locations) do not exist – they do not figure in our accounts and that is why our accounts always add up, because we screen out the irrelevant. But to turn around and assert that random numbers actually do exist, in their own right rather than because our accounting system has a place for them, isn’t true either. The reason we can’t say that random numbers either ‘exist’ nor ‘don’t exist’ is because both ‘exist’ and ‘doesn’t exist’ are specifications, and as specifications they are projections of our assumed logical basis. Both ‘exist’ and ‘doesn’t exist’ are points on the same logical continuum, they both correspond to legitimate (or allowed) positions on the fixed framework of understanding that we are using to make sense of the world. Neither of the two designations (PLUS or MINUS) have anything to do with the free or ungrounded movement that the fixed framework exists to deny – neither of them accurately describes that movement (in fact both falsely represent it). We think that we are getting away from ‘exist’ with ‘not exist,’ we think we are challenging it, rejecting it, but in reality we are reinforcing our original notion by our attempt to get away from it; we are colluding with that original notion because to say anything is to use the underlying fixed framework as a basis. All assertions or specifications that are made from the same logical standpoint collude with each other – they only appear to disagree.

Everything I (rationally) think and say utilizes the same fixed framework of understanding – it is all a projection, the outward expansion, of my tautological premise. The universe is not closed with respect to any particular logical system, it is open; the closed system of the known is my own business, my own projection. Everything we think and say utilizes the same assumed and unchanging framework – we are like flies stuck on flypaper from the moment when we wake up in the morning to the moment we fall asleep at night. Such is the limitation of our little rational minds. And yet the flypaper is only sticky, and we are only stuck, because we in our dreadful conservatism insist on exclusively utilizing it. Our fear and rejection of anything that disagrees with our assumed basis (our fear of anything new) condemns us to live lives of flat, two-dimensional literalism. Literalism means accepting our own superficial designations as being exhaustive (i.e. complete) descriptions of reality, so that we go around acknowledging nothing else apart from our own unchanging – and therefore unremittingly and irredeemably dire – concepts. All else is error to be eradicated, chaos which we must war against. We live for the abstraction, the fragment, and against the indefinable Whole from which this abstraction or fragment is taken. Inasmuch as we define ourselves with sharp lines, we ourselves are abstractions, abstractions without substance, without content, since our ‘content’ is the ‘error’ (the illogical, the irrational) which we are committed to excluding.

It is not that the ‘framework’ doesn’t exist – that particular categorization is as we have been saying just another way of utilizing the framework. When the framework says of itself that it does not exist it is using itself to say that. Whatever the framework which is the rational mind says it is using itself to say it. It is not that the framework exists nor doesn’t-exist but rather than both of these are meaningless terms since both terms represent ‘specific positions with respect to an absolute set of rules’ and in reality there are no absolute rules, only rules that we have freely chosen to be such. There is no absolutely valid framework of reference, only a framework of reference that we have chosen to use as a matter of pure convenience for ourselves. Inasmuch as the ‘fixed framework’ we base all our thinking on is part of reality it is part of the Universal Flux – it is part of David Bohm’s ‘unbroken movement,’ and as such it is no more ‘fixed’ than anything else. There is nothing to fix it to! A framework works by ignoring everything that does not correspond to its ‘assumptions’, whereas the Universal Set operates by allowing whatever is there without any questions, without any small-minded quibbling. The Universal Set accepts small-mindedness (or ‘narrowness’) just as happily as it accepts anything else, since it itself is not narrow and closed but wide and open-ended.

Because the Universal Set accepts the framework without question or quibble it is not meaningful to say that that the framework does or doesn’t exist – this would be a judgement and the Universal Set accepts without judging. Evaluations are meaningful from the point of view of the system of reference, the interrogating criterion, but not as far as the alogical principle of All-Inclusiveness is concerned. Existence versus non-existence is a polar designation. All designations or specifications are polar – they are polar (i.e. asymmetrical) because they represent the answer to a closed question, i.e. ‘Does the element in question match the criterion that is being used to evaluate it?’ The criterion, the rule, the ‘closed question’, is the key – everything depends on it, nothing can go further than it, even though it is ostensibly only ‘a means to an end’ and not ‘an end in itself’. The information content of the designation (the meaning it carries) is therefore all about the designation rather than being about the reality that we are supposedly investigating. If there is a match between the datum and the rule then the datum falls neatly into our pre-existent mental category and then – as far as we are concerned anyway – the datum is ‘exhaustively known’ to us. It no longer holds any mystery to us, it has yielded its secrets. The process whereby the unknown is transformed into the known, by mercilessly subjecting it to the yard-stick of our evaluative criteria, is the process whereby the random is made non-random.

If however the datum in question doesn’t need to match the specification inherent in the yardstick in order to be allowed or accepted then clearly the polar designations YES or NO, IN or OUT, EXISTS or EXISTS NOT, etc do not carry any meaning whatsoever. There is no need to rubber stamp the datum because the apparatus of authentication which issues the stamp has no authority, no relevance. The designation is the authenticating apparatus and so if the apparatus (i.e. the system of evaluative criteria) is redundant then so too is the designation. With regard to the open system which is the Universal Set therefore, no element within it (and there are no elements outside of it because it doesn’t have a boundary) can be said to either ‘exist’ or ‘exist-not’. They are allowed to be whatever they are, and whatever they are, that is fine… So whilst the closed system which is the framework always has something to say about whatever happens, the Universal Set has no slant to put on things  – it is happy to leave the random to be random, having no axe to grind and no point to prove. The Universal Set is opinion-less, or, as Richard Bach (1977, P 112) says, ‘Reality is divinely indifferent…’

If you turn around to me and say, “Well, reality neither exists nor non-exists, neither ‘is’ nor ‘is not’…” then this disappoints and demoralises me. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”, I wonder, still trying to subject everything to my categorizing mind. I have a category for what you have just said, and that category is the one marked RUBBISH! I use this particular category a lot. Telling me that my categories are all irrelevant and utterly besides the point does not make me feel good – as far as my grasping categorical mind is concerned that is ultimately bad news! If I am told that I cannot use my categorical mind to say anything meaningful about reality (if I am told that I cannot use my rational mind to think anything meaningful about reality) then this hugely deflates me. I am cruelly disappointed because all along I had been relying on the fact that I would be able to understand the world using my logical mind and now you have told me that this was a laughable impossibility from the very outset. This state of affairs sounds dismal in the extreme to me – the situation where I can’t even say if a thing exists or doesn’t exist, where I can’t even say if a proposition is true or not true, sounds like a deficient situation. I would rather be in a position to say that reality doesn’t exist than be left unable to say anything. This is of course quite ridiculous – what does it matter if I can throw in my paltry two penny’s worth or not, what does it matter if what if I think doesn’t matter? If I can’t add my two penny’s worth on top of the uncountable wealth that is already there, that has already been given to everybody and anybody in an act of incomprehensible generosity then I feel hard done by! It is not enough that I should be the recipient of a treasure so great that an infinite number of life-times will still never be enough to get to the bottom of it, I want somehow to be accruing part (if not all) of this glory for myself! Perversely, I want to be the giver of the gift; being simply the receiver just isn’t enough for me…

As always, the conceptual or categorical mind only wants to be benefited or helped when that benefit or help comes on its terms. I have a certain idea of what a ‘good result’ is. Reality must conform with my category, with my concept of what a ‘good result’ is, otherwise how can it be a good result? It is not enough that you help me, you must help me within my daft terms of what ‘help’ constitutes and the one thing I will never do, no matter how terrible I am feeling, is question my assumptions in that regard. Common sense says that what all people want is simply to be happy but this viewpoint (as many spiritual teachers have told us) is naïve – what we want is to be happy on our terms and if we can’t be happy on our terms then we will damn well stay miserable. The bottom line is that nothing is good or meaningful unless I say it is; nothing is wonderful or great unless I first acknowledge it to be so.

The fixed or ‘absolute’ framework that the rational mind uses as a yard-stick is the result of a gross oversimplification of the true situation, it is the end-product of a tremendous ‘collapse’ of the Original State of Perfect Symmetry (which is the disposition of reality before it is subjected to the imposition of arbitrary, limiting rules). To say that reality is not in its essence symmetrical is of course to say that the rules which create our framework are not randomly (i.e. freely) chosen but that they ‘had to be there’. As we have already noted, denying randomness arbitrarily shrinks the world, it shrink-wraps it. This data-collapsing, entropy-increasing, error-eliminating process diminishes the world to a mere shell, a wretched shrunken and impoverished version of what it was before. On the positive side however – and this is what appeals to us so much – we get to be central to everything, we get to be significant, we get to be ‘relevant’, we get to be an indispensable part of the whole shebang. The trick of oversimplifying the universe in this way is what provides me with my sense of existential security and existential (or ‘ontological’) security is the name of the game, the foundation of everything I hold dear. The fact that the universe I am now central to is a degenerate analogue of the original (a mere parody) is a price I am more than willing to pay. If I knew the nature of the deal I have cut my satisfaction would be wiped out immediately, my sense of centrality and the false sense of security that I have obtained as a result of thinking that I have a ‘conceptual handle on reality’ would vanish in a flash. Knowing that I am only a big fish because of the smallness of the pool I inhabit ruins the buzz, it defeats the whole point of setting up shop in a small pool in the first place. I might as well not bother. The absurdity of all this comes out one way or another and the fact that I feel that it is a disaster when reality fails to match my framework, when it fails to confirm the relevance of my categories, is a prime example: first I oversimplify the universe down until it is a misrepresentative remnant, a mere vestigial echo (an echo which has degraded so much that it no longer bears any resemblance whatsoever to the original) and then I count it the worst of all possible disasters when reality doesn’t measure up to my vastly degraded expectations of it! This is the tragedy of getting trapped in small-mindedness – that I will stubbornly embrace misfortune, and not know good fortune when it comes my way.

The reason I will not know good fortune when it comes my way is because I am forever looking for the answer within the realm of the non-random. In other words, I am only looking within the domain of ‘what I already know’ and if I don’t already know it then I’m simply not interested. As we have said, random numbers are numbers that have been specified and if I am specifying something then I am pointing to it. Jung divided thinking into two sorts – that which is directed (or rational) and that which is spontaneous (or intuitive). Directed thinking is thinking that is ordered and organized to a plan and spontaneous thinking is thinking that occurs by itself, without regard to any conscious agenda. Everything that I am purposefully (as opposed to spontaneously) thinking about, I am therefore pointing to – if I say something exists then  am pointing at it and if I say that something doesn’t exist then I am still pointing at it. Another way of putting this is to say that I can’t refer to something without bringing into play my ‘system of reference’. Furthermore, directing my attention to something automatically renders the fact that I am bringing my system of reference into play invisible – in the act of reference all the attention is on what is being referred to, and so the system of reference is kept in the background. If I point to something then of course the attention is going to be on what I am pointing to, but in order to deliberately point to something I first need for that something to be ‘on my map’. I can’t specify something without knowing what I am specifying any more than I can make a goal of something without first knowing what that goal is. And yet, as we have said, the action of utilizing our reference system is unconscious – when I point to something I am directing my attention outwards and I do not see the inward component which is me first consulting my mental ‘map of the world’.

What we are saying here therefore is that the object being referred to is at all times covertly tied to the system of reference. The outwards designation is never separate from the yard-stick, the map, which guides and determines that designation. Everything I purposefully say and think and do is a faithful extrapolation of that inner map and so I can never depart from the map, and yet I do not see the stark fact of my bondage to this limited and limiting map. Since the object being referred to is covertly tied to the system of reference this makes it seem as if the system (or framework) is indispensable, and since this is implicit rather than explicit this means that the idea sinks into our head much more insidiously and effectively than it would otherwise. We therefore ‘unconsciously assume’ that the system is crucial to everything and as a result we will fight to the bitter end to protect it, without ever reflecting upon what we are doing. This irony lies at the very heart of the unconscious life. The truth is of course that the system is laughably redundant and only necessary because ‘it itself says that it is necessary’. It is necessary only on its own terms, and its own terms are quite arbitrary.

Through this sleight of hand the framework that is arbitrarily chosen gets to look absolute – the point that was picked at random becomes the centre of the universe. When I describe (or rather when my thoughts describe) the outside world from the basis of the point of reference I have picked my attention is neatly displaced onto the details of this description – I get excited about what the description tells me to get excited about, I worry about what the description tells me to get worried about, I desire what the description tells me to desire. In short, I concern myself with what the description leads me to believe is worth concerning myself with, and because of the neatness of this displacement mechanism I never concern myself with the question of whether the actual basis of my descriptions and evaluations is worth taking seriously in the first place, even though this is – needless to say – an infinitely more important question to be concerned with!

The hidden redundancy comes in because of the way in which I am gulled into thinking that unless something is authenticated by the reference system, it isn’t there. This is like a small child suffering from existential insecurity who thinks that if his mother can’t see him, he doesn’t exist; somehow I have ended up believing that unless I can mentally point at something, and thereby make it non-random instead of random it has no validity, that it might as well not exist. This means that I get highly anxious and defensive about the assumed framework which I use to cognitively orientate myself – to me, this assumed framework isn’t redundant at all, but absolutely indispensable. It is because of this fear-driven dependency that I am covertly tied to the system of reference, and am forced to drag it around with me wherever I go, like a man who is compelled to bring all his living room furniture along with him in a cart as he walks down the street, even though he could perfectly well have left it at home like everyone else does, and saved himself a lot of trouble. What this comes down to is ‘self-frustration’ (or ‘self-blocking’) – we are stuck to the fly-paper of the assumed or taken-for-granted framework because we use this framework as the basis for all of our purposeful behaviour output. Everything that we deliberately or calculatedly do utilizes this frame of reference and so we are stuck fast to it wherever we (purposefully) go. Even though our rational-conceptual mind is, in all but a few situations, a pointless unwieldy redundancy, we have to have it along; despite the fact that it is often about as much use as a swastika-decorated, jack-boot wearing, slogan-shouting neo-Nazi at a bah mitzvah, we could not consider leaving it behind at home, or outside the front door perhaps, even for a second.

But if this situation of being forever stuck on the fly-paper of the rational mind is so ‘flattening’, so pointlessly limiting, so ridiculously self-sabotaging, then just why the hell are we so damn keen on it? If my rationalizing, categorizing, analyzing mind is like a Nazi at a bar mitzvah, or Richard Dawkins at a prayer meeting, then why am I so bizarrely stupid as to bring it along? We have already mentioned the idea that we are dependent upon our familiar framework of reference for ontological security, for providing us with a sure-and-certain way of understanding ourselves and our situation. It gives us an angle, a ‘handle on things’, and the comfort of having a handle on things is so great that we don’t really care if the handle isn’t honestly representative of reality. This sense of security and comfort is the ‘secondary gain’ – the not-so-obvious advantage that comes along with the apparently pointless and self-sabotaging behaviour. This explanation is perfectly good but we can go one stage further and make the following statement: the hidden advantage or secondary gain in bringing our painfully narrow frame of reference with us wherever we go is that it is this narrow frame of reference that allows our narrow ‘sense of self’ to carry on existing.

This ought not to come as to much of a surprise – after all, if everything I think of is constructed with the help of the ‘assumed framework of reference’ then obviously so too is my sense of identity. To put this another way, being stuck on the fly-paper of the rational mind is what creates the familiar and comforting sense of ‘me’ and this ‘me’ – ghost though it is – is frightened beyond measure of the prospect of loosing its familiar and comforting belief in itself. The ‘me’ is all that the ‘me’ knows about and it knows no terror greater than the prospect of leaving this cosy-but-oh-so-miserable prison, the prison that is itself. When I don’t slavishly and unreflectively identify with the flat, tyrannically literal viewpoint of the categorical mind then there is nothing but ‘dizzying freedom’ (as Kierkegaard puts it) and in this dizzying freedom there is no trace of a ‘me,’ a ‘centre’, anywhere to be found…

The ‘me’ only gets to be ME if it is absolute, if it is not ‘a’ centre but ‘THE’ centre. If it is only an arbitrary centre – if any location could be ‘me’ – then the whole idea of ‘me’ loses its meaning, the whole concept is exploded. If everyone is a ‘me’, then what does ‘me’ mean? It clearly doesn’t mean a thing! In reality, there is no such thing as ‘the self’: the bottom line is that the ‘me’ is totally and completely relativistic. It is like the term ‘foreigner’ –  a ‘foreigner’ is not an actual thing at all, there are no ‘foreigners’ to be found out there anywhere, no matter how hard we look, because ‘foreigner’ is not a thing-in-itself but a function of my way of thinking. It is relativistic in the same way ‘UP’ is – there is no ‘UP’ apart from me, outside of me, independent of me. If I am very angry and xenophobic I won’t go running around looking for an ‘UP’ to beat the hell out of because I know that this would be very stupid. I am however more than likely to go around looking for a ‘foreigner’ or a ‘bad guy’ to beat up because I don’t recognize that these terms are just as relative as ‘UP’ or ‘DOWN’. I don’t recognize – and won’t recognize, no matter how many times you try to explain it to me – that ‘foreigner’ and ‘bad guy’ are projections of my painfully constricted frame of mind that I am heedlessly and irresponsibly throwing out onto people who are just like myself, or onto the world in general. There are no ‘foreigners,’ no ‘strangers,’ anywhere but that won’t stop me stringing you up from the nearest tree if you are unfortunate enough to host my virulent redneck-type projections. In the same way there is no ‘me’ to get all defensive about, and obsessively cherishing towards, but that has never stopped us.

What we persistently and consistently fail to realize is that ‘freedom’ is not freedom for the self, but freedom from the self, and this is why the self – although it pontificates incessantly and interminably about freedom and how marvellous freedom is – always makes damn sure that it never runs the risk of actually encountering it. The self was only ever a ‘relativistic ghost’ after all – a centre or pivot that only seemed to be a centre or pivot when we chose to stand on that particular spot. Actually, any spot would have seemed like the centre of the universe if we had stood on it and what this means is that there isn’t a (particular) centre of the universe. Following the well-known theological dictum, we could then say that everywhere is the centre of the universe and, thus, that everywhere is the self. That would be a paradox however. If everywhere is the self then this means that the self must be ‘non-local’ – it is not either/or (‘here but not there’) but both/and (‘both here and there’). But the whole point of the self is that it stands in contrast to that which is not the self and so it is completely and utterly impossible to have a non-local (or non-specific) self. There is no support whatsoever in All-Inclusivity for the local self with its (to use Thomas Traherne’s word) ‘churlish’ proprietary boundaries. The ‘me’ is the quintessential dissymmetrical situation, it is all about in and out, accept and reject, yes and no. Take these pair of opposites away and there is no more self. ‘Symmetry’ and ‘self’ are two words that cannot be mentioned in the same breath – the self cannot become impartial (or unprejudiced) without ceasing to be the self. The ‘non-local self’ is here illustrated with the words of the hero of the Jicarilla Apache, Killer-of-Enemies, taken from The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell (1949, P 350) –

Don’t think I am in the east, south, west or north. The earth is my body. I am there. I am all over. Don’t think I stay only under the earth or up in the sky, or only in the seasons, or on the other side of the waters. These are all my body. It is the truth that the underworld, the sky, the seasons, the waters, are all my body. I am all over.

Despite the fact that we often refer to people as being irrational or illogical, the self is always logical. The self is no more than a robot. It always obeys the logic of selfhood. It always treats itself as the centre of the universe. It always accepts without question ‘the assumption that is it’. If a person were truly irrational or illogical then they would be disregarding the rule of self, which is to say, they would have to be seeing the world in an unselfish way, thinking in an unselfish way, and acting in an unselfish way. Whilst this does happen it is very rare. Most of the time we are dreadfully, horribly predictable – we try our best to obtain whatever we think will benefit us, and we try our best to avoid whatever we think will not benefit us. What we think of as being ‘beneficial’ or ‘non-beneficial’ varies from individual to individual, but the same old motivation underlies our behaviour no matter what our thinking might be, and in this we are as ‘logical’ as can be. We stick to whatever serves our interest, and anything that is irrelevant to our interest we meet with the profoundest of disinterest. Furthermore, what is ‘in our interest’ is anything that fits into, or has a place in, the logically consistent – and therefore closed – system of our rational mind. We have to be like this – if I didn’t acknowledge as real or meaningful only that which makes sense within my closed, logical way of looking at the world then I would no longer be able to take my ‘self’ seriously – it would become unreal to me, an exercise in ‘make-believe’ and nothing more. The system of the rational mind is – so to speak – made up of non-random numbers. But, as we have said, non-random numbers only appear to be non-random when we look at them from the viewpoint which they themselves assume. The ‘non-randomness’ is a game that we choose to play, a conceit, a folly, a phantasy that only appears real to itself. Really, all numbers are random. Really, there is no such thing as ‘a non-random number’. Similarly, there is no such thing as a ‘non-random self’. There is only the random self, which is no self at all.

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

(Visited 177 times, 1 visits today)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.