Thinking is what keeps us unconscious. Thinking puts us under and it keeps us under. Thinking is our fail-safe ticket to unconsciousness. As long as we are in the business of thinking – and just about all of us are – then we are in the business of ‘not really knowing about reality but imagining that we do’. Unconsciousness is big business therefore – it’s the biggest business there is!
The reason thinking causes us to become completely unconscious (i.e. ‘completely unaware of the true reality’) is because it always assumes a context. Thought needs a particular context in order to work; without this specific context (which is a context that will affirm the validity of the thought in question) the thought can hold no meaning for us and if it holds no meaning for us then it will shrivel up and die. Thoughts need us to ‘believe in them’ if they are to continue to exist; like newspapers – or memes on the internet – they need to attract our attention if they are to continue to have circulation. Needless to say, newspaper (or a meme) that has no circulation has no existence – whoever heard of such a thing as a newspaper that no one reads or a meme no one ever looks at? In the same way, thoughts only exist as a function of their ability to seize hold of our attention, and they can only seize hold of our attention to the extent that we find them actually meaningful.
When we tune into thinking so that it makes sense to us, so that the thoughts that come into our head actually mean something to us, then at the same time as we do this we are also taking for granted the context of this thought, and this ‘context’ is not something that thoughts ever draw our attention to. When we entertain a thought we are looking at the world in the same way that the thought does and this necessarily means making the same very assumptions that the thought does. Thought and its assumed context come in the same package, in other words. We can’t separate the two; we can’t have one without the other. Assuming the same context that thought does, without knowing that any such context is being assumed, means that we are becoming unconscious – this is what ‘unconsciousness’ is all about.
The big question is then, what is this context that thought assumes? What kind of a thing is it? The answer is of course – as we have already said – ‘thought’s assumed context’ is the particular context which serves the function of affirming its validity. When we say this then what we’re actually saying is that thought’s context is simply itself; thought assumes its own validity, therefore. When one thing validates another thing then both are the same thing. One is the extension of the other. Thought assumes a world within which it makes sense; it assumes a world within in which it possesses relevancy, a world within which it plays a key role as ‘interpreter’. This world that thought assumes, and within which it has relevancy, is the world which it itself has created…
When we think – to get back to what we started off by saying – we don’t just buy into that particular thought, we buy into the world that thought creates, which is clearly a much bigger thing! It’s not that we can think and about this, that and the other and yet at the same time be aware of the world that comes before thought, the ‘unconstructed world’, the world that thought has not created. This just doesn’t happen. If it did happen then our thoughts would no longer make sense to us. Our thoughts always do make sense to us however and what this tells us is that the only world we know is the world that thought creates.
This world isn’t real however. That’s the down-side. That’s the draw-back. The world we believe in so implicitly might be the only world that our thoughts can make sense in, it might be the only world that we know, but it isn’t the real world. No matter how high-powered or sophisticated we might be as regards our thinking, and what we imagine we might be able to achieve with our thinking, it’s never going to amount to even the smallest and most insignificant heap of beans. It isn’t going to amount to anything. When we live in the known world – as we most assuredly do – then everything is very, very hollow. Saying this doesn’t really make the point strongly enough. Hollowness like this is frankly terrifying – if we can see it, which we can’t. Somehow, therefore, we manage to be content (more or less) with this world…
When we buy into the message we also buy into the world that the message implies. There never was such a thing as a message that did not come with an implied world; there never was such a thing as a message that stands alone, even though every message claims to. We are constantly being bombarded by messages, communications that claim to stand alone, without invisibly slanting or distorting or modifying the world in order that they sound more plausible than they otherwise would do and we meet them with perfect naivety – duly noticing the messages but not the secret spin-doctoring that goes on in the background to firm them up, to make them more solid. We imagine therefore that we’re learning something valuable, something meaningful, something that can be of help us.
We notice the thoughts that we are having but we don’t at all notice the substitution of the implied world for the world that was there before thought, which is the world that was not created by thought. Our eye is on the cheap shiny gimmick and we miss the stroke that is being pulled, the trick that is being played. The cheap gimmick itself never really amounts to anything – this being in the nature of cheap gimmicks, but that doesn’t matter because it has served its purpose. The switch has taken place, the context has been assumed, and just as long as thought can keep us preoccupied with gimmicks we will never know what has happened to us. We will never miss the world that was there before the substitution was pulled on us. Thought has its deadly grip on us and it’s not going to let up of its own accord, not ever…
If we were to try to pay attention to the ground rather than the figure, to the world that is implied by thought rather than the passing thought itself, then what kind of thing would we see? What can we say about this thing that we’re calling ‘thought’s assumed context’, in other words?
This is a tricky question to answer. If the figure is what captures our attention then if we were to switch things around so that we’re focussing on the ground then whatever it is that we’re focusing on will become the figure and the ground will be elsewhere. The ground will always be where we are not focussing, in other words – actually to have a focus that attracts our attention requires that there be a ground to which we do not attend, and do not notice our lack of attention. Knowing requires entropy, in other words. All of this is just another way of talking about the act of ‘making an assumption’, therefore: when we make an assumption we do not know that that we have do so; we take it for granted that something or other is true and because we take it for granted we don’t look, we don’t bother with further examination. Or indeed any examination.
This sort of thing is of course always happening – our entire mental function occurs on the basis of ‘assumptions that have been unconsciously made’ (which is the same thing as saying that our mental functioning occurs on the basis of rules that are never questioned). The world of the known’ – which is the only world we know about – is built upon this assumption-making business. That’s the only way the known can ever come into existence – by us making assumptions. No other route exists. To ‘know’ something is to assume that we know it – we don’t actually know that we know it, not really it. Or as Stuart Kauffman enigmatically says, “knowing involves not knowing”. In order to know we have to not know all the stuff that might contradict our knowing; knowing comes about through the action of following information-processing rules but these rules are only rules because we have agreed for them to be so. We’re playing a game. If we didn’t have our mental categories – which we ourselves made up – then we would be able to know anything.
It sounds unnecessary to say as we have done that ‘making assumptions means not looking at what we have assumed’ – we all know that very well. That’s what the word ‘assumed’ means, after all. We don’t seem to be saying very much when we say this. But the type of ‘assuming’ we’re talking about goes way beyond what we usually understand by the word – we’re assuming a whole world. We have this enormous sense of surety regarding the existence of thought’s assumed context, regarding the world that thought assumes. This is a sense of surety we share between ourselves and with this sharing we amplify the power of our certainty a thousand-fold. There’s nothing we know as well as this; there’s nothing we’re as sure of as the existence of this illusory world. The weight of our knowing is like ten tons of lead sitting on top of us. It’s pinning us to the ground; we couldn’t budge it if we tried – not that we ever do, of course.
The point that we are making in this discussion is that this ‘context’ that we assume – this ‘heavy-as-lead’ shared understanding of the world that pins us down so absolutely – doesn’t actually have the slightest basis. It might be prodigiously heavy but at the same time it is entirely baseless. It’s like a social norm that causes millions and millions of people to conform unthinkingly to pattern of behaviour – it has huge force, but at the same time it doesn’t really exist. The ‘assumed context’ or ‘implied world’ that we are talking about is the same type of thing – it is an equilibrium value and nothing more. It is like a ‘statistical average’ that might seem to be very significant when it’s bandied around the place but which can’t actually be found anywhere in the real world. Thought’s assumed context possesses the remarkable property of possessing zero ‘information content’ – it’s an abstraction from reality and as such it doesn’t exist within reality.
So we assume a world – we think (in effect) that we know everything when really we know nothing. But knowing nothing is OK, knowing nothing is legitimate – that’s actually being conscious. But when we assume a world without realizing that we have done so this isn’t being conscious, it’s being unconscious. We’re not consciously realizing that we know nothing, we’re knowing nothing whilst imagining that we pretty much know everything! This is something peculiar. This – when we reflect on it – is extraordinarily and bizarrely peculiar. What the hell are we doing? We are constructing this idea of reality whilst not having the slightest relationship with the actual thing itself (if we did have a relationship with reality then we couldn’t have ‘an idea of it’) and so what sort of a picture is it that we’re going to come up with?
This – needless to say – is an utterly crazy sort of a thing. It is ludicrously crazy. What content could there possibly be to this bizarre mind-created hallucination that we are calling ‘reality’? There clearly can’t be any content. There’s no content to it at all but the point is that we don’t have any interest in looking at whether there is any actual content or not to our hallucination. That’s not our bag – our bag is ‘reacting to the hallucination’, not carefully examining it for content. We’re not reflecting on what’s going on; we’re too busy reacting to the content that we assume that is in it, even though where we actually are getting this ‘assumed content’ from is anybody’s guess…
What we’re reacting to is ‘the known’ and then known – as we have said – is always an assumption. It is always a conclusion that we have jumped to. ‘The known’ is, when it comes down to it, nothing more than an equilibrium value that we have all agreed to not look at, that we have agreed to not question. It’s like a religious dogma. It is a phantom appearance which has zero information content and yet all of our rational and purposeful activity proceeds from this basis. All of our rational/purposeful output proceeds from this basis and yet – somehow – we imagine that we can actually get somewhere from this most inauspicious of starting-off points. Why else would we be ‘making the effort’ if we didn’t think that we were going to get somewhere, if we didn’t think that there was the possibility of real rather than imaginary gain?
All our purposeful activity starts off from the basis of the known. It can’t start from anywhere else – the known is the springboard, the known supplies us with both the goal and the one who is to achieve the goal. Unless there is this perception of ‘the known’ how can there be any choice, any decisions, any goals? None of this can start and if none of this can start then neither can the chooser, the decider, the assumed ‘causal agent’ which we call the self. The whole show – for what it’s worth – can only come into existence if there is this perception of the known.
That’s one half of the story. The other half however is that none of this happens anyway. The show isn’t real. When we think all of this stuff is happening then this is what we are calling ‘being unconscious’ – being unconscious is believing in the unreal show. When we start off from the position that is created by us making an assumption without in any way acknowledging that we are doing so then this isn’t a real starting-off point at all and because the starting-off point isn’t real then neither is anything that follows on from it! It only seems to be real from the illusory standpoint of the unacknowledged assumption (which is the world that thought implies every time we get involved in some sort of rational/intellectual operation). The whole thing is a ‘self-contained virtual reality’, therefore – it’s a closed ‘loop of thought’ that we never actually escape from, that we can never actually move away from.
A journey has happened on the basis of the world that thought implies but that ‘implied world’ isn’t real, as we keep saying. We’re full of hopes for this journey – we might get disappointed along the way, we might get disheartened or get eaten up with doubt and anxiety, we might get consumed with despair about ever getting anywhere, but we’ll always keep coming back. We’re convinced on some fundamental level that we can (or ought to be able to) pull it off, that we can (or ought to be able to) get somewhere on the basis of this world that thought assumes. The belief in this journey, and in the one who is to make it, is what constitutes this whole business of ‘being unconscious’.
The truth is that there is no journey there – there’s no journey there because there’s actually no distance between the starting-off point and the goal which is the logical projection or extension of this point. There’s no distance between the starting-off point and what we are to obtain on the basis of this starting-off point because the two are one and the same thing. The figure and the ground are the same thing; the shiny gimmick that the thinking mind is dazzling us with it the same thing as the empty assumptions that have been made in order to produce that shiny, super-attractive, ‘content-less’ gimmick.
Or as we could also say, the ‘assumed context’ or ‘implied world’ that we have been trying to talk about in this discussion are the same thing as the causal agent or purposeful self that we take so much for granted in everything we do, in everything we think. The self is the ‘absurd assumption’ that we make so much of. It is the ‘unwarranted basis on which we are always trying to make the journey’. It is ‘the blind-spot that our whole imaginary world turns upon’. The supposed causal agent or purposeful self is the ‘entropy in the system’ that we have been talking about…
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.