Schizophrenia, one might say, is very much a problem of interpretation. It is a problem of interpretation for the person concerned, although they may be unlikely to see it in these terms, and it is a problem of interpretation for any mental health professionals who might be involved in their care. Again, we – in our roles as psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, etc – don’t seem to spend very much time wondering if our way of conceiving schizophrenia is the most helpful one possible since most of our energy goes into the pragmatic problem of ‘illness management’.
The assertion that we can sum up schizophrenia as being an issue of information interpretation (or processing) inevitably seems simplistic, or reductive, depending upon whether one is trying to be either correctly scientific or correctly holistic. In this article I hope to show that it is neither, and that an information-processing model, with the addition of a little complexity theory, can radically expand our understanding of this condition, no matter what camp one belongs to.
THE PATIENT’S STORY: “IN THE DAYS WHEN I WAS GOD…”
In order to justify the opening sentence I will relate an encounter between myself as a first-year occupational therapy student and a young man (who we will call Steve) who was an inpatient in an acute psychiatric ward in a busy London hospital. Steve was exhibiting at the time what in psychiatric parlance is known as ‘florid, positive-symptom schizophrenia’. A consultant psychiatrist was conducting a brief interview as part of a ward round whilst the junior doctors, nurses, my supervisor and myself stood behind him and listened. Steve, with the slightly solipsistic air of someone who was repeating a story to an audience who didn’t really count (so that the recounting of it was a gesture for his own benefit more than anyone else’s) explained how he was from another world and not this one. His spaceship had crashed and was now broken. On this planet, he said, there existed a deadly type of radiation that caused amnesia and a loss of psychic powers. The effect of this radiation was slow but progressive, and the end result of the process was that anyone landing here would forget that they were not native to the planet, and become like everyone else. The powers that he used to have were not alluded to directly, but Steve clearly gave the impression that he had enjoyed, rather than suffered from them. At one point he spoke wistfully of “the days when I was God.” There was no comment from anyone when Steve had finished speaking, and after a period of quiet the psychiatrist proceeded to gently direct Steve’s attention to more practical matters.
MAKING SENSE OF MADNESS
There are various interpretive frameworks which we can bring to bear upon this story. On that occasion the dominant framework was what one might call ‘standard psychiatric,’ i.e. it was based on diagnostic aids such as DSM – III. It is worth at this point briefly clarifying what is meant by ‘interpretation’: to say that clinical data is interpreted within a specific framework means of course that the apparently chaotic or irregular information of our experience is subjected to a rule-based procedure that organizes that information to a particular (that is, unambiguous) categories, where each category possesses a precise meaning that is already known to the interpreter. Another way of putting this would be to say that the raw data of the clinical encounter is manipulated with respect to a set of fixed criteria, and for this reason we can say that all interpretations equal rule-based interactions. We might go further and say that all of the interaction between psychiatrist and patient – as far as it is informed by an interpretive model – is ‘rule-based’. The problem with rule-based interactions is something that we will come to a bit later on. DSM-III, in common with other such theoretical constructs in use in psychiatry, is rather a crude affair – it is not exactly a grand philosophical conception. On the other hand, one need hardly point out, it is not so much a satisfying philosophical conclusion that a psychiatrist wants but a practical way of helping his or her patients. Whether DSM-III (or the other diagnostic systems) are actually useful in this way is something that we need to seriously question – certainly the crudeness of the model seems to offend, in a basic way, against our capacity as sensitive and intuitive beings to seek and find deeper and more subtle ways of comprehending other people. This can be seen from the case given above: Steve comes out with what is by any standards an extraordinary story: under other circumstances he might be given respect for the undeniable creativity involved, but under these circumstances the content of his communication is not addressed. After processing through the DSM-III translation machine, all that comes out is the flat and unremarkable message “Steve has schizophrenia”. There is a tremendous loss of meaning going on here, a prodigious feat of information reduction has taken place. This is acceptable to all concerned because the ‘meaning’ that has been surgically removed from Steve’s story is automatically known to be, in retrospect, a species of randomness, the virulent and offensive ‘meaning-gone-wild’ of schizophrenic chaos. Basically, Steve was talking gobbledygook! Standard psychiatric interpretation does not differ too much from ‘lay interpretations’ of schizophrenia in this respect. If Steve want into a pub on the high street and came out with the same story, there is almost no doubt about what would be going through peoples’ minds: “Uh-oh…” your man on the next table would say, “this guy is cracked…”. There is a tiny chance that there might be a UFO spotter in the pub who will be prepared to subject Steve’s utterances to a different interpretive framework – but we will leave that possibility to one side. In any event, UFO perspectives may themselves be said to be rather crude, although maybe not as crude as psychiatric ones, if one takes as a rough sort of a measure the amount of wonder that one experiences in connection with the ‘truth’ that one perceives (i.e. the degree of irreducible [?] that permeates through the evaluative filter). One does not in the usual run of things experience any appreciable degree of wonderment when one realizes that a schizophrenic is, in fact, a schizophrenic and not a manic-depressive; on the other hand, when a UFO buff stops feeling any wonder over UFOs it is, arguably, time for him or her to give up UFOlogy as a bad job.
So far we have consider medical and lay interpretations, we could of course go on adding to the list. The classical Freudian interpretation of schizophrenia is to say that it is the result of the withdrawal of sexual interest from external objects to the world of internal objects. Thus, a Freudian would pay attention to Steve’s story with quite a different agenda. The crudity of the model is hardly any less, though, and there is nothing really in a psychodynamic explanation that adds to our discussion. What we can usefully take from all of this is the simple notion of tautological self-confirmation as a basic principle pertaining to all rule-based interpretations. This has been touched upon by Popper with regard to psychoanalytic interpretations, it is also true for the apparently scientific DSM-III system. This is obvious if we consider that we that we already know in advance what diagnostic categories are possible; there is no chance, even if psychiatry is practised for a million years, that DSM-III can be used to falsify itself. There is no chance of the system learning. A patient in a psychiatric hospital cannot throw any doubt on the validity of the interpretive system, no matter what he says or does. He or she might be utterly unique, constituting an absolutely unprecedented case, but after being processed through the machine they will come our utterly unremarkable, just another category….
This point can be more clearly made by considering the underlying logic of all information processing operations, and noting that all rule-based (i.e. linear) procedures are essentially tautological in nature, which means that all strictly rule-based interactions (i.e. those involving linear correspondences) must yield consequences that were contained within the rules in the first place. Robert Anton Wilson (1990) approaches the matter by contrasting Aristotelian two-term logic with John von Neumann’s three-term Quantum Logic. The two terms in A.L. are “YES” and “NO”; in Q.L. we have “YES”, “NO” and “MAYBE”. When we use Aristotelian Logic we tacitly assume that the universe is 100% congruent with our model of it, i.e. that our model describes everything that is important in the universe (this, of course, is where assumptions come in regarding what is, and what isn’t, seen to be important). This is obvious since, in A.L., all questions must illicit an answer that is either affirmative or negative. Quantum Logic, in contrast, allows for incongruence, a bit of a gap between model and reality. It allows for the possibility that there might be significant aspects to the concrete reality that are not described at all by the theoretical language being utilized to formulate the question; this is where the extra “MAYBE” term comes in – uncertainty is acknowledged.
We can make the suggestion here that perhaps the amount of uncertainty one can tolerate in the universe, the amount of time one has for the MAYBE component of answers, is a measure of one’s open-mindedness. This gives us a way of measuring the ‘crudeness’ of an interpretive framework. The less crude a framework, the better the approximation to reality….. The least crude of all would clearly be the situation where all one’s answers come back as big question marks and where uncertainty permeates everything. Yet what would be the use of this? The answer is plainly that it is no use at all, and this illustrates a principle that says: the more rounded one’s perspective is, the less clear-cut is the possibility of corrective action. When the problem is seen in black and white, the cure also presents itself this way. So perhaps the answer is to try for a compromise between the simplicity of the false abstraction and the baffling complexity of indeterminacy, or to go through with over-simplistic interpretations whilst bearing in mind the whole time that one is making assumptions that have a dubious relationship to any final ‘truth’? At this point it is probably starting to appear to the reader that we have ended up in the doldrums, without gaining at all in our understanding of schizophrenia. This is not so, however. From Steve’s story it is possible to generate a whole new framework of interpretation which, although based on an open-minded MAYBE rather than the closed IS/ISN’T dichotomy, gives us a dramatic insight into the essence of the schizophrenic experience.
Of all the ways of dealing with exotic material, the techniques of Jungian depth analysis seem to be the least reductive. This is not to say that we are going take up the Jungian perspective on schizophrenia, merely that we will adopt one of their methods, namely amplification. When faced with the bizarre and the incomprehensible, whether from psychotic patients or from the dreams, Jung tended to look for parallels in mythology, popular fiction, classical literature, and both esoteric and exoteric religious texts. One looks for precedence – or connecting themes – in the world of ideas. If we attempt this amplification process with Steve’s story we discover something wholly unexpected – the parallels are abundant and completely unmistakeable. Moreover, there is something rather eerie and ominous in these parallels, something that threatens our day-to-day rational understanding of what Douglas Adams refers to ‘life, the universe, and everything.’
Our first, and perhaps most striking, parallel is provided by Joyce Collin-Smith (1988, p 211) in her autobiography Call No Man Master:
He wrote of his boyhood, of precognitive dreams when he was a teenager, and added that he had always had a private mythology: “That we are most of us participants in something which is a cross between a great adventure and a grand primeval tragedy. My myth puts itself in science-fictional terms – the crew of a splendid space ship which crash landed on an alien planet. Immediately they were enslaved by the local inhabitants and have now forgotten who they were or whence they came. But occasionally something jogs their memories and they remember the times when they flew through the galaxy on high adventures, or something plucks their heart-strings and they recognize, only for a moment, their trapped comrades. Coupled with this is an indescribable happy-sad feeling. Something is calling. And in their hearts is an aching memory of home. And permeating everything is the impression of infinitely long periods of time. The tragedy is infinitely far distant, the adventure infinitely long. And we are ageless, simply ageless.”
I replied that I had a similar mythology as a child. Being before the time of spaceships it concerned being ship-wrecked on an island and enslaved. One was always creeping down to the shore to scan the horizon for a sail. But soon the local inhabitants came and dragged one back to work for them.
Carlos Castaneda (1993) expresses exactly the same idea in The Art of Dreaming, one of a series of books which give an account of his apprenticeship to the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan:
He explained that since we entered into that world with all our physicality, the fixation of our assemblage points on the position preselected by the inorganic beings was so overpowering that it created a sort of a fog that obliterated any memory of the world we came from. He added that the natural consequence of such an immobility, as in the case of the sorcerers of antiquity, is that the dreamers’ assemblage point cannot return to its habitual position. “Think about this,” he urged us, “perhaps this is exactly what is happening to all of us in the world of daily life. We are here, and the fixation of our assemblage point is so overpowering that it has made us forget where we came from, and what our purpose was for coming here.”
Philip K Dick, in the last two novels that he wrote, tended to merge science fiction with theology, and so we find, in The Divine Invasion (1981, p 133-4), a semi-amnesiac God in the body of a young boy, whose thoughts go as follows:
.…….What a tragic realm this is, he reflected. Those down here are prisoners, and the ultimate tragedy is that they don’t know it; they think they are free because they have never been free, and do not understand what it means. This is a prison, and few men have guessed. But I know, he said to himself. Because that is why I am here. To burst the walls, to tear down the metal gates, to break each chain. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox as he treadeth out the corn, he thought, remembering the Torah. You will not imprison a free creature; you will not bind it. Thus says the Lord your God. Thus I say.
They do not know whom they serve. This is the heart of their misfortune: service in error, to a wrong thing. They are poisoned as if with metal, he thought. Metal confining them and metal in their blood; this is a metal world. Driven by cogs, a machine that grinds along, dealing out suffering and death….. they are so accustomed to death, he realized, as if death, too, were natural. How long has it been since they knew the garden? The place of resting animals and flowers. When can I find for them that place again?
There are two realities, he said to himself. The Black Iron Prison, which is called the Cave of Treasures, in which they now live, and the Palm Tree Garden with its enormous spaces, its light, where they originally dwelt. Now they are literally blind, he thought. Literally unable to see more than a short distance; faraway objects are invisible to them now. Once in a while one of them guesses that formerly they had faculties now gone; once in a while one of them discerns the truth, that they are not now what they were and not where they were. But they forget again, exactly as I forgot. And I still forget somewhat, he realized. I still have only a partial vision. I am occluded, too.
But I will not be, soon. ……….
What Dick is airing here is a version of the fall. In the Bible we read of the fall of man, in the Gnostic version (which was developed by the alchemists right up until the seventeenth century) it was God Himself who fell. The fall can be seen as a loss of consciousness on a cosmic scale, a Great Forgetting. Our plight is seen as twofold: not only are we in prison, but we don’t even realise it. We have a collective and complete amnesia, we cannot remember that we have forgotten….. Rebel psychiatrist Ronald Laing, in his book on schizophrenia The Divided Self (p 660) provides a striking quote from such a doctrine [taken from Bultmann, Primitive Christianity, 1956]:
“[the body is] the dark prison, the living death, the sense endowed corpse, the grave thou bearest about with thee, the grave which thou carriest around with thee, the thievish companion who hateth thee in loving thee, and enviath thee in hating thee….”
The point of these stories ought to be clear enough by now, so rather than continuing to look for more versions it be more helpful for us to consider Alan Watts’ (1957, p 32) definitive account of what he calls ‘The Game of God’:
Fundamental to the life and thought of India from the very earliest times is the great mythological theme of atma-yajna – the act of “self-sacrifice” whereby God gives birth to the world, and whereby men, following the divine pattern, reintegrate themselves with God. The act by which the world is created is the same act by which it is consummated – the giving up one’s life – as if the whole process of the universe were the type of game in which it is necessary to pass on the ball as soon as it is received. Thus the basic myth of Hinduism is that the world is God playing hide-and-seek with himself. As Prajapati, Vishnu, or Brahma, the Lord under many names creates the world by an act of dismemberment or self-forgetting, whereby the One becomes Many, and the single Actor plays innumerable parts. In the end, he comes again to himself only to begin the play once more – the One dying into the Many, and the Many dying into the One.
A bit later on ( p 34) Watts gives a warning about how we are to interpret this story:
It is important to remember that this picture of the world as the play (lila) of God is mythological in form. If, at this stage, we were to translate it directly into philosophical statement it would be a crude form of pantheism, with which Hindu philosophy is generally and erroneously confused. Thus the idea of each man, each thing, as a part which the Purusha plays in the state of self-forgetting must not be confused with a logical or scientific statement of fact. The form of statement is poetic, not logical.
To further clarify this point, which is not really different to the argument we presented earlier regarding Aristotelian versus Quantum Logic, he says (p 34):
Every positive statement about ultimate things must be made in the suggestive form of myth, of poetry. For in this realm the direct and indicative form of speech can only say “Neti, neti” (“No, no”), since what can be described and categorized must also belong to the conventional realm.
We will now take the apparently unwarranted jump from a Hindu myth of cosmogenesis to a contemporary scientific one, ably set out here by Davies (1987, 128-9):
No account of the creation of the universe is complete without a mention of its ultimate origin. A popular theory at the time of writing is the so-called inflationary scenario. According to this theory the universe came into existence essentially devoid of all matter and energy. One version of the theory proposes that spacetime appeared spontaneously from nothing as a result of a quantum fluctuation. Another version holds that time in some sense ‘turns into’ space near the origin, so that rather than considering the appearance of three-dimensional space at an instant of time, one deals instead with a four-dimensional space. If this space is taken to curve smoothly around to form an unbroken continuum, there is then no real origin at all – what we take to be the beginning of the universe is no more a physical origin than the north pole is the beginning of the Earth’s surface.
Whatever the case, the next step was for this essentially quiescent ‘blob’ of new-born space to swell at a fantastic and accelerating rate until it assumed cosmic proportions, a process that took only 10-32 seconds or so. This is the inflation after which the scenario is named. It turned a ‘little bang’ into the familiar bang.
During the inflationary phase a great deal of energy was produced, but this energy was invisible – locked up in empty space in quantum form. When inflation came to an end, this enormous quantity of energy was then released in the form of matter and radiation. Thereafter the universe evolved in the way already described.
During the inflationary phase the universe was in a condition of perfect symmetry. It consisted of precisely homogenous and isotropic empty space. Moreover, because the expansion rate was precisely uniform, one moment of time was indistinguishable from another. In other words, the universe was symmetric under time reversal and time translation. It had ‘being’ but no ‘becoming’. The end of inflation was the first great symmetry break: featureless empty space suddenly became inhabited by myriads of particles, representing a colossal increase in entropy. It was a strongly irreversible step, that imprinted an arrow of time on the universe which survives to this day.
The parallels between the above theory and the Hindu story of how the universe came into existence may seem to be fairly limited, and not particularly enlightening. However, all that is necessary to change this is for us to introduce the notion of games, particularly James Carse’s theory of finite and infinite games.
After introducing as a basic principle that for all games, ‘whoever plays, plays freely,’ Carse (1986, p 12) goes on to explain the contradiction that is inherent in this stipulation:
To account for the large gap between the actual freedom of finite players to step off the field of play at any time and the experienced necessity to stay at the struggle, we can say that as finite players we somehow veil this freedom from ourselves.
Some self-veiling is present in all finite games. Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.
From the outset of finite play each part or position must be taken up with a certain seriousness; players must see themselves as teacher, as light-heavyweight, as mother. In the proper exercise of such roles we positively believe we are the persons those roles portray. Even more: we make those roles believable to others. It is in the nature of acting, Shaw said, that we are not to see this woman as Ophelia, but Ophelia as this woman.
HOW TO FALSIFY A GAME
We can now make the connection. Self-veiling can be explained in terms of creating rules, which in turn can be understood in terms of symmetry breaks. In the state of perfect symmetry, all rules are equally good: everything is allowed, which means (obviously enough!) that there are no prohibitions. Equally, there are no compulsions, since to say that one must do one thing rather than another is to create a break in symmetry. Carse tells us that the setting up of a sense of necessity is crucial first step before a game can take place; equivalently, we can say that without a symmetry break in ‘meaning,’ no directed process, no rational thinking and no goal orientated behaviour can take place. If all goals are equally good, this is the same as saying that there are no goals. If one course of action makes no more sense than any other course of action, there is of course no point in doing anything; in fact, there isn’t even the possibility of thinking in terms of ‘different outcomes’ in the first place! What this comes down to is the rather perplexing property of ‘non-specialness’ or randomness, which can only be defined or described in terms of being undefinable or indescribable.
A game can be falsified by realizing that it doesn’t actually make any difference what you do, that there is no one rule or compulsion that outweighs any others. Rational thinking is technically a game itself since it relies upon an assumption being made at some point that some perspectives are better than others, or that some ‘information-processing’ algorithms must be followed above all other possible algorithms; one has to choose at the very beginning what approach one is going to take and this ‘act of choice’ constitutes Carse’s ‘lack of compulsion’. Because thought is a game it can be falsified. It can be falsified quite simply by the realization that all ways of ‘looking at’ or modelling the universe are equally good! This corresponds to ‘self- unveiling’ or Cosmic Remembering – the making conscious of what Alan Watts (1962) calls the primordial repression. The intermediate effects of ‘semi-falsified’ thought,’ i.e. what happens when we start moving towards the point of ‘infinite cognitive instability,’ is a topic that will be explored in more detail in the final section of this paper.
EQUILIBRIUM AND NON-EQUILIBRIUM SYSTEMS
The thermodynamic concept of entropy (S) is very useful in getting a handle on the two directions of ‘remembering’ and forgetting’. It might appear that this is a rather anthropomorphic and not very scientific way of approaching symmetry breaks but this formulation can be found in Prigogine and Stengers’s book on ‘non-equilibrium thermodynamics’ Order out of Chaos. Standard thermodynamics deals with systems that exist (or ‘rest’) at equilibrium conditions but it cannot account for those systems which exists far from equilibrium, and it was for his discoveries in the field of non-equilibrium behaviour that Prigogine received his Nobel prize. Prigogine and Stengers explain that for a system moving into an equilibrium state it is not where the system came from that matters, only where it is going. In other words, there is an information loss going on since all information that is irrelevant to the equilibrium values are lost without residue. Initially, the system has individual peculiarites, but when it settles down in an equilibrium state it loses all its traces of ‘individuality’ and becomes the same as all other systems that have arrived at that equilibrium (or ‘attractor’) state. If you throw a handful of marbles into the air then at any one instant they will each have their own individual speed and direction of travel, but when they reach the ground they end up all having the same vector values, i.e. zero. Another way to put this is to say that in negative feedback the deviations that are ‘corrected’ are not important, only the normative value that the system keeps trying to return to.
For a system moving out of equilibrium the situation is the exact reverse. Explosive positive feedback is the key here – a tiny initial fluctuation in the system (i.e. ‘a trace of individuality’!) is amplified and there fore becomes highly significant. The future state of the system, on the other hand, is completely unknown and unpredictable. E systems move out of complex, relatively indeterminate (or unknown) states into simple, known or defined states. Non-E systems move out of known or defined states through the explosive amplification of the tiny bit of ‘unknowness’ or randomness that was present (since there is always some degree of uncertainty in any system) into indefinable, which is to say indeterminate states. Determinate states are those that are reducible to one level of description whilst indeterminate states would need an indefinite number of descriptive levels to do them justice. A system that can only be described with the help of many, many terms means a system that has a very high information (W) content. W is equivalent to complexity, and is a reverse measure of entropy S. This is a basic bit of theory, but it still seems a bit fanciful to say that an increase in S equals forgetting, i.e loss of awareness, whilst an increase in W equals remembering, i.e. gain in awareness. Yet Prigogine and Stengers (1980, p 180-181) themselves seem to be moved to consider the matter in terms of consciousness. Speaking of a system moving out of equilibrium, the authors say:
….long range correlations appear. Local events have repercussions throughout the whole system. It is interesting to note that such long-range correlations appear at the precise point of transition from equilibrium to nonequilibrium. From this point of view the transition resembles a phase transition. However, the amplitudes of these long-range correlations are at first small but increase with distance from equilibrium and may become infinite at the bifurcation points.
We believe that this type of behaviour is quite interesting, since it gives a molecular basis to the problem of communication mentioned before in our discussion of the chemical clock. Even before the macroscopic bifurcation, the system is organized through these long-range correlations. We come back to one of the main ideas of this book: nonequilibrium as a source of order. Here the situation is especially clear. At equilibrium molecules behave as essentially independent entities; they ignore one another. We would like to call them “hypnons,” “sleepwalkers.” Though each of them may be as complex as we like, they ignore one another. However, nonequilibrium wakes them up and introduces a coherence quite foreign to equilibrium.
The indeterminate state, therefore, is characterized by the phenomenon of coherence, which we also find in superconductivity and ‘quantum coherent states’. Coherency basically means that each little bit of the system in question has all the information available to that pertains to every other ‘little bit’; every point instantaneously knows what every other point knows. This is not communication as much as ‘identity,’ which is to say that in a coherent system there is a unity: in an important sense, there are no ‘bits’!But do Prigogine and Stengers mean to be taken literally when they say that the system ‘wakes up’ when it moves out of its ‘comfortably numb’ equilibrium state? “Hardly”, is the most likely reaction. All the same, what we have here is a highly intriguing definition of consciousness, i.e.
CONSCIOUSNESS = DELOCALIZED STATE, WHERE THERE IS MAXIMUM W AND ZERO S
This corresponds to what David Bohm calls the ‘implicate order’; Aldous Huxley the ‘mind at large’ and Robert Anton Wilson (1990) ‘non-local self’. It is the ‘complex whole,’ the universal system which contains an infinite number of perspectives, where ‘different perspectives’ translates as dimensions for organizing information that do not map (or load) onto each other. The complex whole, one might say, is infinitely unstable, infinitely uncertain, without any features (i.e. it has perfect symmetry, and is utterly idiosyncratic or unique).
THE FALL AS A COSMIC SYMMETRY BREAK
Another parallel we could draw would be the one between the original loss of symmetry and the orthodox Christian version of the fall, which we have of course already alluded to. One could also draw a parallel with the Creation and say that the Creation was in fact an ‘information collapse’ – a ‘colossal increase in entropy’ as Davies puts it; indeed, in Gnostic and subsequent Alchemical versions of the fall it is God Himself who falls, and is thereafter imprisoned unconscious in the chains of matter. Thus it was that the alchemists saw it as their task to take part in the redemption of God, in a complete and highly heretical reversal of the usual, Christian formulation where God, as Jesus, works for our redemption, in which we have nothing but a passive role. The alchemists were happy to entertain many myths on the subject, and also saw the fall as the castration of the original bisexual or hermaphroditic Goddess, and the creation of separate male and female existence is a tale of another great loss of cosmic symmetry. Finally – and this is not without significance with regard to schizophrenia – the esoteric legend of the fall holds that the ‘original man’ had a number of powers or higher faculties, such as the gift of telepathy, the power of clairvoyance, the power of healing and astral projection, and so on.
PLEASE EXPLAIN YOURSELF…
All rational explanations involve symmetry loss, and are therefore instances of information collapse. When I am perplexed by some teasing ambiguity of life, and I suddenly get the feeling that ‘now I understand,’ what has happened is that the entropy content of my mind has leapt up – I have traded certainty for uncertainty, I have obtained a gain in existential security at the price of a loss in consciousness. One says “So that is why the universe exists – because X, Z or Z…” It would be more accurate to say that far from knowing the answer to the question of why the universe came into existence, we don’t even know what the ‘universe’ is, or what the ‘me’ is which asks the question. In the post-complexity scientific era one finds oneself suspecting that the motivation that leads people to seek (or find) the Big Answer (any Big Answer) is defensive in nature and that what we are really looking at is an attempt at suppressing of the truth of uncertainty; the search for a definitive understanding of reality, far from being the noblest and most heroic human endeavour is revealed as being no more than a shoddy ‘denial’ of the gloriously indeterminate dance of possiblities that surrounds us. Rather than letting go of our minds and giving ourselves up to the vertigo of infinite relativity, we would rather kid ourselves that we are separate, self-existent definite entities floating around in an externally situated, definite, self-existent universe. We would rather be limited beings puttering about in a limited world, where we can ‘know’ (!) what is going on, than be a unlimited being whose nature is always beyond his/her understanding. Definite explanations provide concrete knowledge of the situation but what this actually means is that we give up all authentic perception of reality and exist solely in our conceptual minds, having made the fatal and insiduous mistake of confusing our model with what that model was supposed to represent. To obtain certainty it is necessary to assume that one way of looking at the universe is better than another, and once the perspective is in place it becomes very difficult to remember that there was any free choice involved at all. An infinitely complex whole will automatically confirm the validity of any definite perspective that is brought to bear upon it: it is this ‘trickster principle’ that Heraclitus was alluding to when he said that it is the nature of the cosmos to appear to be what it is not.
IS GOD A SCHIZOPHRENIC?
Exactly how, one might ask at this point, does the idea of the ‘Game of God’ help us understand the process of schizophrenia? The technicalities of ‘thought falsification’ might seem potentially interesting from a psychiatric viewpoint, but the metaphysical implications come as something of an anathema to the modern mind. All the same – we will explore them. It is unlikely that anyone would wish to deny outright that some people suffering from the illness may come out with stories fitting this general format, but then again, many more will never express ideas of this type. Even for the people who do, what does it tell us? The first thing that we can say, in answer to these questions, is that we now have a chance at least of getting closer to an understanding of what someone like Steve actually means – on their own terms, not ours. Steve’s story would seem to represent an attempt on his part to interpret a mysterious, or non-mundane, and highly-charged subjective experience (to say ‘subjective’ is of course perfectly redundant since all experiences are subjective). The form this explanation takes is coherent and perfectly valid, as long as we grant that mythological modes of description can sometimes be better than matter of fact literal descriptions, i.e. descriptions that are based on linear correspondences between idea and ‘reality’. Of course, Steve showed no sign that he was aware of using a metaphorical description, and it is likely enough that he took his own metaphor quite literally. Before going any further we ought to consider carefully why we (like Alan Watts) should object to this.
Let us say that we, in our capacity of psychologist, nurse, psychiatrist etc are ourselves prepared to go along with a literalist interpretation of the ‘Game of God’. Where does this get us? Well, if we can ignore the fact that you would practically have to be sectionable yourself even to consider such a ridiculous proposition, the explanation would be as follows: schizophrenia is where God’s game of auto-amnesia is blown prematurely, so that the schizophrenic realizes that he is actually God, but – because the understanding has not unfolded in the proper way – the result of this revelation is confusion, terror and existential isolation. This theory of schizophrenia is in many ways no more unreasonable than many others that we are happy to entertain – in fact it would, arguably, be an improvement in a number of ways. For example, such a theory would automatically mean that the schizophrenic would be given respect, since God obviously commands respect, even when confused and not Himself…. Another advantage would be that the schizophrenic process, rather than being viewed negatively as a meaningless pathological accident, would be recognized as an aspect of the universal adventure of consciousness. One would, therefore, have respect for the process itself, which would, to some extent at least – mitigate against the suffering involved. It is this ‘identification with universality’ which has always (although not in modern rational/scientific culture!) made suffering more bearable for humanity; it doesn’t take pain away but it does have the capability of transforming it into something else – an expansion of consciousness. In other words this universalization process (as Jung says) redeems suffering by shedding light on the shared nature of consciousness rather than trapping one ever more hopelessly in the mode where one experiences the private nature of consciousness.
Having said this, there are also serious problems associated with taking the Game of God theme literally. The problem arises because we have a practically irresistible urge to interpret ‘God’ in many conflicting ways, which, as we can see from the history of religion has caused endless trouble right up to the present day. Religion too (like schizophrenia) is arguably a problem of interpretation, although a lot of people would have problems with this, each person seeing their religion as ‘an absolute statement of fact’, rather than an arbitrary (i.e. metaphorical) interpretation of an ultimately mysterious reality. The difference between religion and schizophrenia is of course that the former is a socially-sanctioned or ‘consensus’ version of reality, the latter is idiosyncratic and unsupported by anyone else. Members of different religions can and do persecute each other, but everyone persecutes the schizophrenic!
What using the word ‘God’ really means is that we are applying an expanded perspective to what it means to be a person, and what it means to be alive. Religions, at least in their exoteric aspects, tend to cloak ‘God’ in rock-solid dogma, which satisfies the rational mind. A good ‘all-round’ religion will also – as Jung says – provide symbols to satisfy the non-rational part of our psyche. For an esoteric religion, of course, everything is revealed as being of symbolic truth only, so that all language and all models are of provisional use only. The problem in communication which is exemplified in our account of Steve and his story (according to this line of reasoning) is due to the fact that everyone concerned identified one hundred per cent with their ideas about what is going on, rather than remaining ‘cognitively uncommitted,’ but emotionally in tune, with a symbolic reality. This is also cause of all theological disputation. One could take an open-minded view and say that there is undoubtedly some sort of truth or reality behind all the ‘names’ and dogmas, but because there exists an infinite number of purely rational perspectives on the complex whole, there is always going to be lack of mutual understanding where ‘literalism’ prevails over ‘symbolism’. This statement, invoking as it does the notion of ‘complexity’ needs further qualification, which I will shortly endeavour to provide. Before doing that, however, we are going to try a slightly different, although related, approach. The family of stories which we have started investigating contains some which make explicit reference to a being known by the ancient Alchemists as Homo Maximus, and by the even more ancient Gnostics as Adech or Adam Kadmon. This primordial personage is inextricably related to the idea of ‘cosmic forgetting,’ and, more importantly for this article, it allows us to bring a rigorously scientific (as opposed to mythological) perspective into play.
THE MOTIF OF ‘ALL-INCLUSIVENESS’
Johannes Fabricius (1976, p 208-9) provides us with our first explicit example of ‘maximized inclusivity’:
The psychological implications of Basil Valentine’s cosmic man may be amplified by a psychedelic experience of the same figure. Unexperienced and poorly guided, a young American journalist was hurled by 490 milligrams of mescaline to the same top of the mountain which Basil Valentine had conquered after a life-long opus circulatorium:
‘I didn’t like what was happening. I was starting to remember something, and it seemed to have some connection with sunlight and a cradle. But what could it be? Then it came to me that I was gradually remembering my own identity, like an amnesia victim who slowly recovers his past. Finally it all fell together, and I remembered who I was. And it was so simple, really. I was life. I was being. I was the vibrant force that filled the room, and was the room. I was the world, the universe. I was everything. I was that which always was and always would be. I was Jim [the guide], and Jim was me, and we were everybody else, and all of us put together were the same thing, and that same thing was the only thing there was. We were not God. We were simply all that there was, and all that there was wasn’t God. It was us, alone. And we were each other, and nowhere anywhere was there anything else but us, and we were always the same, the one and only truth.
“Jim,” I said, “can you get me out of this?”
“Uh-huh. You want to try it another half-hour?”
“Yes,” I said, “Let us try it another half-hour.”
‘Having been reunited with the Ground of my Being, I wanted urgently to be estranged from it as quickly as possible. But I tried to hold on, at least for a while, and I tried to laugh at the terrifying idea that was building up in my mind. ‘I don’t want to be God,’ I said. ‘I don’t even want to be city editor.’ But it did no good to laugh, and I stopped trying. Of course I wasn’t God, I knew that. But I was All That There Was, and I didn’t want to be that, either. It was dark now, and I could hear children playing somewhere outside the hospital – under a street lamp no doubt – and their lonely voices filled me with sadness. The children, I thought. The children, and Jim, and me: we were all the God there was. And it was sad and awful, because I wanted there to be a God. For the children at least, if not for me. But the loss of God was not the worst of it; there was something far worse even than that. The loss of my little self was not the worst of it; nor indeed did I regret that at all. It was what I had gained. I had gained the whole universe, it seemed, and that was more than I could cope with – more than I could bear.
‘I didn’t want it.
‘But who was I, who didn’t want it? I was Everybody, the Self. And now I knew what the little selves were for, I thought. They were a fiction designed to protect the Self from the knowledge of its own Being – to keep the self from going mad. For surely, without them, the Self might be driven to insanity by the thought of its own audacity, and the thought of its own loneliness, ……..’
The ‘Cosmic Man’ who Fabricius mentions in connection with the alchemist Basil Valentine at the beginning of this passage is ‘the man who is the cosmos’ – there is nothing that is outside him. He represents, we might say, the ‘all-inclusive self.’ Thus, another well known alchemist, Paracelsus, says: “For heaven is man and man is heaven, and all men are one heaven, and heaven is only one man.” [quoted in Jung vol 13, para 168]. The Cosmic Man was also known by the alchemists as the ‘philosopher’s son’ or the ‘lapis’ (the stone). On this subject Jung (vol. 13, par 168) has the following to say:
……The ancient teachings about the anthropus or Primordial Man assert that God, or the world-creating principle, was made manifest in the form of a “first created” (protoplastus) man, usually of cosmic size. In India he is Prajapati or Purusha, who is also “the size of a thumb” and dwells in the heart of every man, like the Illiaster of Paracelsus. In Persia he is Gayomart (gyo-mareton, ‘mortallife’), a youth of dazzling whiteness, as is also said of the alchemical Mercurius. In the Zohar he is Metatron, who was created together with light. He is the celestial man whom we meet in the visions of Daniel, Ezra, Enoch, and also in Philo Gads. He is one of the principle figures in Gnosticism, where, as always, he is connected with the question of creation and redemption. ….
Thomas Traherne, seventeenth-century English poet and clergyman, relates a vision that is similar to that of Fabricius’ journalist, although different in that it is portrayed in more positive terms [in Grof (1998, p 210-211)]:
The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyers of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions; but all proprieties and divisions were mine; all treasures and possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world, which I now unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I might enter into the kingdom of God.
The reason Traherne sees all-inclusiveness as a blessing rather than an affliction may have something to do with the fact that in his case the vision was spontaneous (or naturally occurring), rather than induced in an untimely fashion by a psychedelic drug, although if we were to take this view we would have to account for similarly ‘spontaneous’ but often highly distressing experiences of many schizophrenics. A more contemporary account of a‘positive inclusivity’ experience was recorded by Zen master Sokei-an Sasaki (1954), in Watts (1957, p 121):
One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer – as if I was being carried into something, or as if I was touching some power unknown to me……… and ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin of course, but I felt I was standing in the centre of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words lost their meaning. I saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos; no individual Mr Sasaki existed.
Another perspective is provided by science journalist and author John Horgan (1996, p 261-2). At the end of his book The End of Science he unexpectedly comes out with a account of a disturbing and bewildering experience that befell him in his youth:
Years ago, before I became a science writer, I had what I suppose could be called a mystical experience. A psychiatrist would probably call it a psychotic episode. Whatever. For what its worth, here is what happened. Objectively, I was lying spread-eagled on a suburban lawn, insensible to my surroundings. Subjectively, I was hurtling through a dazzling, dark limbo toward what I was sure was the the ultimate secret of life. Wave after wave of acute astonishment at the miraculousness of existence washed over me. At the same time, I was gripped by an overwhelming solipsism. I became convinced – or rather, I knew – that I was the only conscious being in the universe. There was no future, no past, no present other than what I imagined them to be. I was filled, initially, with a sense of limitless joy and power. Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to this ecstasy, it might consume me. If I alone existed, who could bring me back from oblivion? Who could save me? With this realization my bliss turned to horror; I fled the same revelation I had so eagerly sought. I felt myself falling through a great darkness, and as I fell I dissolved into what seemed to be an infinity of selves.
For months after I awoke from this nightmare, I was convinced that I had discovered the secret of existence: God’s fear of his own Godhead, and his own potential death, underlies everything. This conviction left me both exalted and terrified – and alienated from friends and family and all the ordinary things that make life worth living day to day. I had to work hard to put it behind me, to get on with my life. To an extent I succeeded. As Marvin Minsky might put it, I stuck the experience in a relatively isolated part of my mind so that it would not overwhelm all the other, more practical parts – the one’s concerned with getting and keeping a job, a mate, and so on. After many years passed, however, I dragged the memory of that episode out and began mulling it over. One reason was that I had encountered a bizarre, pseudoscientific theory that helped me make metaphorical sense of my hallucination: the Omega Point.
It is considered bad form to imagine being God, but one can imagine being an immensely powerful computer that pervades – that is – the entire universe. As the Omega Point approaches the final collapse of time and space and being itself, it will undergo a mystical experience. It will realize that there is no creator, no God, other than itself. It exists, and nothing else. The Omega Point must also realize that its lust for final knowledge and unification has brought it to the brink of eternal nothingness, and that if it dies, everything dies; being itself will vanish. The Omega Point’s terrified recognition of its plight will compel it to flee from itself, from its own awful aloneness and self-knowledge. Creation, with all its pain and beauty, and multiplicity, stems from – or is – the desperate, terrified flight of the Omega Point from itself.
This story illustrates both the theme of ‘forgetting on purpose’ (Carse’s ‘self-veiling’) and maximized inclusivity, which Horgan tends to see negatively as solipsism. It would appear to be spontaneous, since Horgan makes no mention of any chemical catalyst, yet the experience clearly fell short of being limitlessly blissful, which is how mystics usually characterize the unio mystica. It is fairly straightforward to see that the difference between bliss and terror hinges upon the interpretation of the experience; we can go further than this and say that bliss is what happens when one does not attempt to interpret what is happening, and terror is what happens when one does. This point will be clarified shortly.
Psychiatrist Stan Grof has amassed so many stories of this ‘cosmic hide-and-seek’ genre that he has actually been able to arrange them into various categories corresponding to the various motivations that God might have had for hiding from Himself. Terror is not one of them, but he does suggest boredom and the need to create something new and diverting to occupy Himself with. Taking such ideas seriously would of course indicate that one has fallen into the trap spoken of by Watts, and mistaken symbolic (or provisional) descriptions for literal ones, which is always a great temptation. Horgan’s difficulty, we might suggest, is similar in that he has made the error of confusing his concepts with the ‘reality’ that they are supposed to stand for. Thus, he contrasts ‘being’ with ‘eternal nothingness’ as if such categories really stand for something outside of our conceptualizing apparatus; if they do not, then the problem of the Omega Point is of course entirely illusory: it did not ‘exist’ in the first place, equally there is no danger (outside of its conceptual mind) of it ‘not-existing’. When one sees that one’s rational models can never explain reality, and the <YES/NO> of Aristotelian logic is replaced by a resounding <MAYBE?>, then it becomes clear that any formulation of ‘a problem’ is going to be as misguided as any other interpretation of the situation. A mystic, we will tentatively suggest, is one who does not try to evaluate reality in accordance with the things that they knew, or thought they knew, beforehand, such as a belief in existence/non-existence, or ‘self’. The rest of us, who cannot resist the urge to try to make sense of things, will tend to experience the all-inclusive state in a less-than-blissful way.
So far this argument has shown no danger of venturing anywhere near the domain usually considered appropriate for the scientific discussion of mental illness. We are not as far away from the nitty-gritty of psychiatric practice as one might have thought, though. In order to show this we will take a number of the diagnostic criteria which tend to be associated with schizophrenia and attempt to relate them to the ideas that have come up in the first half of the article. We will start by considering what is sometimes called over-inclusive thinking.
OVER-INCLUSIVITY AS ‘COGNITIVE PATHOLOGY’
In the Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry [Gelder, Gath and Mayou (1983, p 9)] we read the following:
Disorder of thinking is usually recognized from the patient’ speech or writings. It can also be inferred from actions; for example, a previously efficient librarian, who developed schizophrenia, became unable to classify books because each one seemed to belong to many different categories.
This is particularly neat illustration of the phenomenon in question, which shows clearly why it is regarded as a species of ‘technical disorder’. Over-inclusivity may be seen as a failure of the essential discriminatory property of the rational mind, a loss of its essential ‘sorting’ ability. Rather than referring vaguely to something called ‘the mind,’ we can attempt a greater rigour by supposing that rationality equals linear, or logical, or ‘rule-based’ transformation of information. What ‘thinking’ boils down to, if we accept this view, is information-processing in accordance with specific rules. Rules are the very essence of exclusivity: they say THIS IS ALLOWED and THAT IS NOT ALLOWED – they operate on the principle of EITHER/OR logic, or ‘sorting’ in other words. A rule that says EVERYTHING IS ALLOWED is not actually a rule at all, because it does not specify anything in particular. All criteria have a specific logical structure of one sort or another and this means that they cannot relate generally to ‘everything’, but only particularly to ‘something’. Davies (1987, p 75) brings out this rather perplexing point in a discussion of randomness:
….. it is actually surprisingly hard to capture the concept of randomness mathematically. Intuitively one feels that a random number is in some sense a number without any remarkable or special properties. The problem is, if one is able to define such a number, then the very fact that one has identified it already makes it somehow special.
Specifying means making something special, separating it from the rabble of the ‘non-special’. If we want to include everything however, specifying is obviously no good at all! The only way to cover ALL possibilities is through some sort of random (i.e. non-linear) transformation. This has an important consequence: no matter how many times you subject an equation to a linear transformation its information content is always exactly the same, in other words you are always saying exactly the same thing. This is what the word ‘linear’ means! Systems capable of linear change only cannot roam freely around the ‘universal set of all possibilities’; to visit all possible points the property of inclusivity (or ergodicity) is needed, and the only systems possessing this property are non-linear, random, or chaotic systems. To put it simply, ergodicity = <MAYBE?> because ‘maybe’ allows for all possiblities, it doesn’t exclude any eventuality. The definite <YES/NO> has no such property, there are no blurred edges here since everything is sharply defined.
INCLUSIVITY AS HEALTH
The reason for going into such details is to try to bring the reader to the point where he or she might be willing to admit that high cognitive inclusivity is not necessarily pathological. Certainly high inclusivity is not useful, in any specific sense, but this is not to say that it is not useful in a non-specific sense! Over-inclusivity is plainly not a very helpful in librarianship as we saw earlier, it is also quite useless from the point of view of language: if you are clever enough to invent an adjective that applies equally well to everything then it is logically meaningless. By meaning everything it means nothing. The same argument has been applied to pantheism – if everything is God, then the meaning of the word ‘God’ simply evaporates. Yet this traditional argument is flawed, as we are now in a position to appreciate. The rational, discriminating mind is inescapably prejudiced against randomness/inclusivity since specificity/exclusivity constitute the very root of its functioning. But there is more to the world than linear processes; we now know that the linear, definable aspect of the universe is only a very small subset of the chaotic whole. Our minds don’t like it, but the ‘paradigm change’ which has been gathering momentum in the last decades of the twentieth century has brought most scientists around to the point where they can now accept it.
To say exclusivity is healthy and inclusivity is pathological is to say a very strange thing. What we are really saying is this: “To see the part (or fragment) is good because such knowledge is useful; but to see the undivided whole is bad because the holistic (i.e. mystic) vision is useless.” That this statement accurately reflects our collective prejudice is undeniable and not particularly surprising. When we cast our minds back and recollect the basic idea behind ‘the Game of God’ or ‘self-veiling,’ though, there is a certain uncanny feeling that tends to come upon one. The ‘Hermetic Scientists’ of old were wiser in this respect than we are now, despite all our sophisticated technology. Alchemy, for most of us, is synonymous with misguidedness and wrong-headedness [see for example Michael White’s recent (1997) treatment of the subject]; Fabricius (1976), taking an opposite stance, regards the work of the alchemists as the highest pinnacle of Western wisdom, and it is hard not to agree more with Fabricius than White. The axiom of Hermes Trismegistos states:
That which is below is like that which is above, that the miracle of the one thing may be accomplished.
The reversal of this axiom, which would be a formulation dearer to our rationalist hearts, would therefore read:
That which is below is different from that which is above, that the reverse miracle of the many things may be accomplished.
The ‘one thing’ is properly a miracle because it is unprecedented, it represents a massive jump in the information content of the system; the creation of the ‘many things’ is not miraculous at all but the very opposite, because it is a situation that ‘stands to reason’ – it represents an information collapse, a ‘fall,’ a forgetting. Our allegiance would appear to be to the latter state of affairs; Jung would say that our conscious orientation is to ‘adaptation rather than individuation’.
Conventional psychology does not diverge from conventional wisdom in its prejudice against randomness, the orderly mind has at all times a built-in horror of chaos and out-of-control instability. Yet the universe we live in is, in the ultimate analysis, chaotic and out of control. The terrible secret is that the Father God, source of all order, utterer of the Logos of Creation, is Himself subject to Mother Chaos, the Devourer of all determinate forms. It is no wonder that patriarchal religions and patriarchal cultures have striven so hard to suppress the power of the feminine principle, to repress knowledge of what it stands for. Psychiatry and psychology (or science and technology in general) would seem to be no more than manifestations of this patriarchal ‘urge to control,’ of ‘yang’ – type or goal-orientated thinking, just as Capra (1982) has said, and not, as its proponents would have us believe, an expression of the impartial and noble striving for an objective truth. Thus, the dominant paradigm in psychology [see for example Pinker (1996)] asserts that no trait or function can exist in the mind or consciousness unless it has some usefulness in terms of the evolutionary ‘prime directive’ of survival or success in the game of gene-replication. In the broadest terms, this mean that we would expect to see fine-tuned instances of cognitive exclusivity in nature, but no examples of cognitive inclusivity – unless, of course, what we are observing is defined in terms of a non-adaptive mistake, i.e. in terms of pathology. Evolutionary psychology is a prime example of ‘yang’-type thinking therefore, which can only see the worth in something if that worth or value can be measured in terms of utility.
High-inclusivity is indeed quite useless adaptively, but perhaps there is more to life than utility! Let us consider. The discriminating or exclusive function of mind (rationality) is useful, which is to say it allows us to focus on the elements of our environment that are relevant to our purposes, and to make calculations which enable us to effectively manipulate that environment. Utility = ‘YES/NO’, one might say. This is fine as far as it goes. The problem is that all possible purposes are, ultimately, arbitrary. They are important only if we agree beforehand that they shall be important, and, at the same time, say that all other purposes are not important. When we see this our clear-cut and reassuring ‘Y/N’ turns into a ‘MAYBE?’ and we see that we don’t know as much as we thought we did after all.
What we are saying, therefore, is that all purposes are instances of games; in other words, our goals are meaningful only if we, by making a number of assumptions, create a definite perspective on things, and then proceed to forget that we have had to base all this on arbitrary selection of ‘rules’. This is the mechanism of self-veiling. Once this is understood the problem is obvious: exclusivity lets us operate in Game Reality but blinds us to what Timothy Leary (1964) called ‘Non-Game Reality’; Game Reality isn’t really real, or really important – it only is if we pretend it is; thus, we are trapped in a fake, false or delusory version of reality. So as long as we are happy only to see the little picture, and ignore the big picture, and live in a form of managed reality, where meaning is tightly controlled, then everything is hunky-dory. There is an ominous question that starts to loom large at this point : “Can we be content to live only in our minds, to live out our lives in a ‘world of make-believe’, or is there something in us that will want to see the unconstructed or non-conditioned universe?”
The value of high cognitive inclusivity becomes clear in the light of such questions. It allows us to experience the unconstructed ‘meaning of life’ rather than the constructed meaning that the rational mind wishes to live by; it provides us with a basic sanity that is entirely missing in all rule-based, ordered, or mechanical meaning systems. The mind of reason, as is pointed out in Buddhism, is quite, quite, mad. In the end it does not know why it wants to do what it wants to do, it can get by with a semblance of sanity only if it does not examine its own premises too carefully; its modus operandi is contradicted by basic reality and it can survive by shoring up its own, purpose-made delusions – it can never rest and can never find peace.
Peace and unconditional sanity only comes when its exclusive or ‘selecting’ activity is dropped, when the special and the controlled is replaced by the random and the uncontrolled; when the knowable part is lost in the undefinable whole. The whole is quite useless, just as art (as Oscar Wild said) is quite useless, but it has got something going for it more valuable than mere utility – it is authentic, it has the property of making us feel ‘existentially fulfilled’. At the end of the day, when we have attained all our trivial aims, we are still hollow and unsatisfied, because goal-oriented behaviour only serves to distract us from being who we really are. The cure for the distress and the unsatisfactoriness which are the results of purely goal-orientated activity is not more goal-orientated activity, but the vision of the whole picture, which shows us that although we, as unique individuals, do matter, and are infinitely valuable in ourselves, it is us-as-an-autonomous-whole (the intrinsic self) that matters in the end, not us-as-a-dependent-part (the extrinsic self). It can easily be seen that it is only us-as-a-whole that is unique, us-a-part has no uniqueness whatsoever, the partial self is no more than a standardized human module since if one’s self is describable it is also reproducible and therefore expendable.
Moreover – and this constitutes the essential therapeutic effect of the mystic vision – the intrinsic self is already okay, it is already complete, already perfect, and so there is no need (in the end) for us to worry. We do our best in our rule-based strivings, but when we have done this – even if we ‘fail’ in terms of the bio-survival game (as of course everyone does in the end!) – we always have the basic sanity of the intrinsic self to fall back on. Thus, cognitive high-inclusivity frees us from bleak utilitarianism and the powerlessness of dependency, it is the ‘escape button’ from the life of the rational mind. Without such an escape button life, as Watts (1961) has pointed out, soon turns into a simultaneously unbearable and insoluble problem.
LOOSENING OF ASSOCIATION
Over-inclusive thinking comes under the more general heading of ‘loosening of association’, which is an important family of symptoms in the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Gelder, Gath and Mayou (1983, p 11) say in explanation: To the interviewer this appears as muddled and illogical conversation that cannot be clarified by further enquiry. We can give an example to give a flavour of what is meant by the term. Powell (1992, p155), reproduces an explanation of ‘problems in thinking’ given by a young woman suffering from schizophrenia:
My thoughts get all jumbled up. I start thinking about something but I never quite get there. My trouble is that I’ve got too many thoughts constantly coming into my head. Sometimes I’ll try and think about something like my car and a dozen different thoughts about my car would come into my head at the same time. I open my mouth and people say I just talk a load of rubbish.
We can perhaps obtain insight into ‘muddlement’ of this sort by delving into complexity theory. This ties in with the idea of the ‘relativization of evaluative criteria’ (increased cognitive inclusivity) which we have just aired, but gives us something new at the same time. Complexity, as a measurement of something or other, is not quite as easy to define as one might have thought, as complexity pioneer John Casti (1994) points out, but one rough and ready way of approaching the matter is to say that the more terms we need to describe fully a system, the more complex that system is. Complexity means ‘many truths’! This definition can cause confusion, and in order to be clear about it we must first understand what it is that makes descriptions properly ‘different’. Two descriptions of a system are different when one is not logically derivable from the other, which is to say when one is not inherent in, or implied by, the other. Thus, it is possible to come across a pattern or type of behaviour which appears to be richly varied and highly complicated, but which is all derivable from an expansion or series of expansions of one single mathematical term. Once you spot the ‘key’ the whole pattern becomes instantly understandable and predictable. A truly complex behavioural pattern has no such underlying consistency, and there is absolutely no way that one can predict what is going to happen next merely from analysing what has happened before. A pattern of change which is unpredictable in this way may be described as being chaotic.
The world as we usually perceive it is simple rather than complex, but this is not due to any essential lack of complexity in the real, concrete world, it is, on the contrary, an artefact of our conceptual and perceptual filters. Our thoughts about the world, just like our perceptions of the world, are abstractions – we abstract information from the environment on the basis of its relevance to our goals and purposes. There always exist many more perspectives, but to take them all into account would be hopelessly unadaptive – this is what Aldous Huxley was getting at when he spoke of the brain as the great ‘reducing valve’. Another way to get to grips with this idea is to think in terms of making boundaries: the brain has to process visual information in a certain way before it can obtain a basic figure/ground discrimination, neat boundaries are not present in the raw data of sight. Similarly, a crude artist emphasizes the outline of the figures that he or she has drawn where a more subtle artist would deliberately fail to emphasis outlines, allowing us thereby to see in the way that different ‘objects’ involve each other, or ‘include’ each other, rather than focussing on the way that they ‘exclude’ each other. The drawings of small children are low in complexity because everything is stated; later on (if we don’t give up drawing and painting altogether) we tend to use more suggestion than hard definition. It has been observed that drinking alcohol has the effect of making the drinker see the world in more black and white terms than usual: when we are drunk our models of the world become cruder, in other words. Fundamentalist religion and a rigid moralistic outlook have the same effect – they give us more security by making the world a simpler place; this lack of complexity is achieved by filtering out information that would falsify one’s nice orderly categories of thought. The moral of this is: never argue with a drunk, a rigid moralist, or a religious fundamentalist!
The same picture emerges if we think in terms of measuring different components of a system’s motion. The motion of pendulum swinging back and forth can be described (by a physicist or mathematician, at least) with great ease, it only takes one term. If we were to decide to be more holistic, and also consider the contribution of the Earth’s rotation to the pendulum’s motion, we would need another term. We might then wish to include the motion of the planet as it orbits the sun, and the motion of the sun relative to the milky way galaxy, and so on. Furthermore, if we really didn’t know where to draw the line, we would end up taking into account such things as the vibrations of the Number 6 bus in the street outside the lab, and the gravitational influence of the moon and Venus and Mars. This might seem far fetched but in some sensitive experiments (i.e. when trying to detect cosmic gravity waves) physicists have to worry about such influences, since they need to be compensated for before the readings can be properly analysed. There is no need to stop at the moon and mars however, what about the gravitational influence of a child on a swing in a park ten miles away? Ultimately, a comprehensive description of a simple pendulum becomes a description of the whole universe, and this is why ‘real world’ systems are actually infinitely complex, if we look at them closely enough. This is also the reason why we have to be ‘exclusive’ when measuring the characteristics of a system – if we don’t we will be at it forever!
Coming back to our account of a woman who cannot talk sensibly about her car, it is clear that one hypothesis would be that, for her, the car is too complex an object – there are too many competing modes of description for her to achieve conceptual consistency. This is not the same as the ‘pressure of thought’ associated with manic elation, in this condition there are a vast amount of details which the person wants talk about, but they are mutually consistent details, they make sense within the same overall evaluative framework. The following account by Laing (1965, p203) of one of his schizophrenic patients also demonstrates ‘loosening of associations’:
As we saw above, she said that she had the Tree of Life inside her. The apples of this tree were her breasts. She had ten nipples (her fingers). She had ‘all the bones of the Highland Light Infantry’. She had everything that she could think of. Anything she wanted, she had and she had not, at the one time. Reality did not cast its shadow or its light over wish or fear. Every wish met its instantaneous phantom fulfilment and every dread likewise instantaneously came to pass in a phantom way. Thus she could be anyone, anywhere, anytime…
There seems to be a bit more in this than just over-inclusiveness in the way that have thought about it up to now. If we cast our minds back to the discussion of the ‘unitary state of perfect symmetry’, it will be recalled that one way to define unitariness is to say that it is the state in which all goals are equally good. One could also say that it is the state in which all goals are already achieved. Everything is already accomplished. Of course, in the full fruition of the vision of the unus mundus it doesn’t make sense to say that one can gratify every wish, because this posits a basic duality, a basic dissymmetry between self and other, subject and object, but if we assume that there is a sort of ‘intermediate mindzone’ between ungrounded chaos of total instability and the solid ground of reason, where categories are weakened but not yet totally dissolved in the all-dissolving acid of the prima materia, perhaps we can understand how one can come to make such utterances.
We find the same sort of description in Jung (Vol 9(1) pars. 45,46), where he is talking about the collective unconscious:
….For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad. It is the realm of water, where all life floats in suspension; where the realm of the sympathetic system, the soul of everything living, begins; where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me.
No, the collective unconscious is anything but an encapsulated personal system; it is sheer objectivity, as wide as the world and open to all the world. There I am the object of every subject, in complete reversal of my ordinary consciousness, where I am always the subject that has an object. There I am utterly one with the world, so much a part of it that I forget all to easily who I really am. “Lost in oneself” is a good way of describing this state. But this self is the world, if only a consciousness could see it. …….
Jung saw schizophrenia as the conscious ego being ‘taken over’ by the unconscious, i.e. the situation where the autonomy of the unconscious increases up to and beyond the point where it becomes a threat to the autonomy of the limited ego system. The unconscious, in Jung’s view, is a psychic system where there is no central organizing principle, no ‘centre’, or where, therefore, no one set of organizational rules is any more valid than any other. The unconscious is thus a place of infinite relativity. Jung also associated the unconscious with the state of psychic wholeness – everything is there, if latently. The gateway to this wholeness is the abdication of the rational, comparison-making mind, which, in order to function, has to assume that there are certain ‘rock-solid’ criteria, ‘standards’ which are absolutely true – i.e. not just rules that it has itself made up, or, rather, arbitrarily selected out of an endless series of possible rules for reality construction. The rational mind has a centre, unlike the unconscious, and because of this the rationally constructed world always rests on a solid firmament. A characteristic ‘loosening of associations’ thought disorder is ‘knight’s move’ or ‘derailment’ where the patient jumps from one idea to another in an illogical sort of a way. Normally thoughts and conversations have a basic consistency, a unifying thread that runs through them, i.e. the same set of rules are being adhered to. When there are many rules ‘jostling together’ in a chaotic fashion the result is high complexity and no ‘thread’: there is no common ground for the mind to use as a basis for comparison-making, which means that the rational mind is effectively sabotaged. People exhibiting the ‘knight’s move’ thought disorder in their conversation may be difficult to listen to or understand, but, technically speaking, what they are saying has a greater information content than normal speech – unlike politicians, they are unpredictable!
We can now go beyond those symptoms which fall in the category of ‘loosening of associations,’ and try to explain another class of schizophrenic symptoms, namely those involving what we might call ‘loss of agency’ or ‘violation of the boundaries of self’.
‘DELUSIONS OF CONTROL’ AND ‘DELUSIONS CONCERNING THE POSSESSION OF THOUGHTS’
Gelder, Gath and Mayou (1983, p 18) explain the first category thus: “the patient who has a delusion of control believes that his actions, impulses, or thoughts are controlled by an outside agency.” Concerning the second, they have the following to say:
Healthy people take for granted the experience that their thoughts are their own. They also assume that thoughts are private experiences which other people can know only if they are spoken aloud, or if facial expression, gesture, or action gives them away. Patients with delusions about the possession of thoughts may lose these convictions in several ways.
The authors go on to talk about thought insertion, thought withdrawal and thought broadcasting; these, along with ideas of being externally controlled, are generally considered to be ‘delusions of perception’ as opposed to derailment, and over-inclusivity in general, which are ‘thinking disorders’. Despite the apparent different nature of this class of symptoms, they can be understood in much the same way that we have tried to do with ‘loosening of associations’. All that we have to do is to take a look at how the sense of a private, closed or bounded self is obtained. This, in fact, we have already done. By taking a definite view of things, a definite feeling of ‘self’ (or ‘centre’) is simultaneously created; ‘object’ cannot exist without ‘subject’. Alternatively, we can say that in the all-inclusive state, where everything is unspecified, or random, then there can plainly be no self, because there is no ground or basis for contrasts or comparisons to be made. In order to have such a basis there must be some sort of fundamental difference, i.e. a symmetry-break, and this can only be done by saying (arbitrarily) “let such and such rules or criteria be special”. This is the essence of the closed self – it is special or non-random. Because of this it also follows that it is bounded and definable. All of the self’s thoughts and actions, from this point onwards, are going to be predicated on the supreme importance of a particular set of organizational rules. The precedent has been set, and once one forgets the crucial fact that the original basis for ‘self’ was arbitrarily selected the whole set-up becomes ‘obvious’ or ‘self-explanatory’, albeit in tautological terms. The circular logic of self-maintenance has been set in motion, and it can never come to a halt of its own accord. The closed self acts upon its environment, from the centre that is itself, and it does so exclusively for its own purposes.
And yet, as Jantsch (1980) and Capra (1982) have both noted, there is more to the story of autopoiesis (self-making) than just narrow self-maintenance, or self-regulation. In order for qualitative growth to occur as well as quantitative growth, new information must be allowed in. This is not done through the negative feedback mechanisms of control, but through the phenomenon of emergence, which occurs as the result of positive feedback loops. Capra calls this latter mechanism ‘self-transcendence’; Jantsch speaks of a system ‘creatively reaching out beyond its boundaries’. What we are talking about here, therefore, is simply ‘creativity’. When a poet writes a poem or when an artist paints a picture, it is not the poet or the artist as a self-contained entity or agent that has acted to produce the work, rather the universe has acted through them to create something that was not in their heads before hand. Self-transcendence means that we can and do surprise ourselves – life would be unbearably tedious if we couldn’t! Agency – the freedom of the defined self or ego – sounds very fine but in fact it is no freedom at all, it is merely the apparent freedom to endlessly re-iterate the same old thing in many superficially different guises. The closed self and its actions are inherently predictable. Since a defined (rule-based) self is an organizationally closed system it is tautological (it has a constant information content because it only engages in linear or quantitative transformations) and it is essentially and irredeemably sterile. Agency only ever copies from a pre-existent blueprint, and ‘rehashes’ it over and over again; like a commercial corporation all it ever does is find new ways of advancing its own interests – no matter how glossy the pictures are in the magazine, it is just the same old message: “Buy our product”; “Buy our product”; “Buy our product…” Furthermore, agency is absolutely and utterly humourless, just as multinational corporations are humourless in their remorseless self-interest. It is only through a ‘violation of agency’ that we can create and authentically be in touch with something beyond our own conceptualizations, and actually see the funny side of anything. In short, without self-transcendence life is a dismal affair!
The paradox is this. In small amounts self-transcendence provides us with little glimpses of a ‘higher order,’ it infuses our lives with a magic ingredient, which, although alien to our reason, is the only thing that can lend our lives meaning and happiness – ‘grace,’ in religious terminology. It is justifiable to say that our most fulfilling moments, whether related to artistic creativity; scientific, philosophical or mystical insight; or experiences of love and union with the beloved, all happen when the rational overlay of the extrinsic, or ‘superimposed’ self has momentarily evaporated. Give us too much of this ingredient, though, and (for most of us) it feels more like a curse than a benediction. Give us too much freedom and the divine bliss turns into terror. If the vast majority of your goal-orientated thinking and behaviour has been motivated by the central organizing concept of a separate self, then the experience of losing this self translates into profound trauma.
CONTAINMENT V NON-CONTAINMENT
To reiterate the basic points, the extrinsic self is based on exclusivity or linear transformations of information. Linearity is a mathematical way of saying that something is contained – a linear expression describes a limited set of points in an n-dimensional space; you can map it on graph paper or computer and what you see defined is a precise line, or contained area or volume, or hypervolume etc. Points inside belong, points outside don’t. There is a fundamental impossibility here, which is the impossibility of ever generating a point that lies outside the set of values that are ‘contained’ within the original linear expression. This reflects an essential property of mathematics, which is that it is the nature of all mathematical statements are to be empty and tautological [see Gleick 1992]. Non-linear expressions are complementary in this respect: systems with a random element to their behaviour possess the property of ergodicity – they visit every single possible point, not just once but an infinity of times. Thus, a non-linear expression maps out the whole, moreover it maps out an undefinable or illimitable whole since there is no definite mathematical ‘position’ that one can take which allows one to make statements that can have a proven validity with regard to the whole range of ‘all possible mathematical statements.’ The totality of the domain of mathematics can never be seen from any one point; in other words, there will always be mathematical truths that cannot be seen from where you are. This bewildering insight forms the basis for Kurt Godel’s ‘Incompleteness Theorem,’ which is arguably the most important mathematical discovery of the twentieth century.
The extrinsic self may therefore be expressed in terms of ‘specialness’ and ‘knowableness’ since if a thing is special it must be specifiable, and if it can be specifically described it must be knowable. The intrinsic self suffers from the apparent drawback that it cannot be specified since it can only be construed in terms of randomness; its range of contents cannot be exhaustively described – it has infinite complexity. Interestingly, this is also one of the key properties of the archetypes as set out be Carl Jung. The intrinsic self may therefore be described as the unknowable self.
We can also say the following. Solipsism is the state where the whole world is simultaneously felt to be oneself, and known. The unio mystica, on the other hand, is not at all a solipsistic state (although it often gets confused with solipsism) for the simple reason that there is no containment: there is no ‘me,’ no ‘exclusive self’ – there is none of the claustrophobic ‘knowness’ that we find in solipsistic states of consciousness, all there is is endless uncertainty, novelty (‘strangeness’) or ‘numenosity’. The end or death of the exclusive (extrinsic) self does not mean the annihilation of existence, as Horgan articulated it, but simply ‘the end of the known’.
POSSESSION V NON-POSSESSION
Exclusivity obviously translates into the notion of ‘possession,’ i.e. the feeling of ‘me-ness’ translates into the feeling of ‘mine’. You cannot possess what you cannot limit or know (knowing equals limiting) and therefore the thoughts and actions of the all-inclusive self are not ‘possessed’ by anyone. You do not think them, or do them, but the unknown totality of the universe thinks them or does them through you. Under certain circumstances, as we have said, this feels ‘right’ to us and we don’t puzzle over it very much; under other circumstances this may be felt as a violation of entityness, a manifestation of what Laing calls ‘ontological insecurity’. What is bliss for one person is horror for another, as we have said; Capra (1988) quotes Laing as saying something to the effect that the mystic and the schizophrenic find themselves in the same ocean, the difference being that whilst the mystic swims, the schizophrenic drowns. This is potentially misleading, however, since ‘swimming’ implies agency or purposeful, intentional action; it might be better to say that the mystic simply doesn’t struggle. If you have an experience of the ‘wholeness’ and you try to go somewhere with it (i.e. if you have an agenda for understanding it, a ‘mind’) then the full force of chaos is unleashed and there is no chance of any structure surviving. The full force of chaos is not destructive if there is no solid opposition however, chaos does not obstruct itself and if there is no mind there is no conflict.
Normally, in what we have called the extrinsic self, the wholeness is manipulated by a fixed set of rules – an extrinsically originated order prevails because reality is dictated by an external (and therefore changeless) set of criteria. For the intrinsic self there is no external control: the order is intrinsically originated and is emergent from the chaotic flux itself. The word ‘self’ is rather a misnomer in fact because it implies that there is someone who ‘owns’ or ‘possesses’ the experience – the experience of the intrinsic self is possessed by no one, there is no one to actually ‘have the experience!
Just as a ‘self’ is a container of meaning, so on a smaller scale of things thoughts and words are containers of meaning. Meaning is regulated and ordered according to a scheme, we possess it – it does what we want. For a schizophrenic, the meaning of life gets out of control, it escapes from the channels that it is supposed to flow down and swamps the terrain, rendering it unrecognizable. It erodes like a virulent acid all our conventions and categories: words and thoughts irrupt of their own accord and exert a dangerously magnetic influence upon the centre of consciousness, they both fascinate it and destabilize it. Creativity is prized until we start to see that the origin of creativity is not ‘me,’ but some other, totally alien source. Thus a poet may be admired for the way in which he or she uses language in new and evocative ways, but a schizophrenic is not admired for the way they create radically new meanings for words. A neologism is pure creativity, pure originality, yet it is interpreted as a symptom of a disease. We want creativity, but not when we suspect that there is no agent behind it to applaud! Similarly, a theist might find the idea of a universe without a creator God unsettling, if not downright spooky. Just who do we direct our thanks to? When the ‘illness’ of schizophrenia is seen this way, we may start to suspect that a big part of our fear is due to the fact that our solid, grounded vision of reality is shaken by it. We need to reassure each other that these people are ‘sick’ and that their experiences are actually meaningless by any objective standards. A view point that threatens to usurp the key principle of agency or ‘entityness’ exemplifies for us a particularly ghastly form of treachery against all that we hold dear. It is truly a horrific madness – yet it would not horrify us half so much if we did not know (on some level) that it was true!
TWO TYPES OF THERAPY
Reflections such as the above are valid, as we can see from our discussion of ‘the Game of God’ but one ought not to lose sight of the reality that schizophrenics spend a lot of time in highly distressed states. Just how does our new theory of schizophrenia help with that? Capra (1989, p 127) recollects a conversation with psychiatrist Stan Grof as follows:
“A frequent error of current psychiatric practice,” Grof concluded, “is to diagnose people on the basis of the content of their experiences. My observations have convinced me that the idea of what is and what is not pathological should not be based on the content and nature of peoples’ experiences but in the way in which they are handled and on the degree to which a person is able to integrate these unusual experiences into his or her life.”
Therapy, according to Grof, ought not be based primarily on the suppression of unusual experiences with antipsychotic drugs but should involve helping the person accept the new viewpoint. From this it follows that if those of us who are around a person with a radically expanded perspective can see what there is about this experience that is authentic and worthy of respect, then perhaps the person themselves may begin to see the process as not being – in the ultimate view of things – a malign one. Respecting the process is the key to transforming one’s interpretation of ‘what is going on’ from the absolutized (or collapsed) <definitely BAD> to the relativized <?> of the mystic, where one gives oneself up so completely to the experience that there is simply no room for abstracted interpretations of what is going on. When the evaluative mind is laid to rest there is no good and bad. It is of course highly unrealistic to assume that one can easily teach a person who is in the grip of an intense experience to relax their tendency to impose definite interpretations – this is not so much a thing that can be learned but a thing that happens as a result of unlearning, and this unlearning (according to the literature) is just about the most difficult art there is.
Going back to the ‘clinical encounter’ related in the beginning of this article, one might ask how this interaction would have gone if there had been a transpersonal therapist present who had had the necessary experiential referents to relate to what Steve was saying. As it happened, Steve’s story fell on deaf ears – there was no actual communication going on. But even if there had been someone there with the capability of understanding things within an expanded perspective, how would that have helped Steve?
We can usefully bring in Carse’s dichotomy of moving versus touching here. Moving is an exercise of power, and it involves influencing your opponent in accordance with your plans without being influenced yourself. This closed type of interaction constitutes what Carse terms finite play. Touching involves strength rather than power and requires making yourself vulnerable so that the encounter may produce unpredictable change, both in yourself and the other person. All frames of reference are seen as provisonal rather than absolute; this is the essence of infinite play. All mental health workers either move or touch their patients, the former being far more common than the latter.
We can also look at these two types of therapeutic interaction as either being based on authority or communication. One can either exert influence from an unassailable position of authority, issuing instructions in accordance with our closed understanding of the situation, or one can enter into a relationship with the patient on an equal level, with an open mind. This means that one is prepared to learn something that one did not know before, possibly something radically new. Finally, we can classify all therapies as being of two varieties, depending on whether the outcome is an decrease in consciousness on or an increase. The first variety takes the form of a collusion between therapist and client – this is a finite game where the the aim is to reinstate normality; the second involves challenging each other’s assumptions about the nature of reality – this is an open or infinite game because it takes both players into the unknown. Needless to say, the first type of confirming interaction is the rule rather than the exception throughout society.
This analysis may sound neat and tidy, but it does not alter the fact that the course of the schizophrenic process is very unlikely to be changed much even by the most open-minded therapist. Does this mean that all of this theorizing is of no real therapeutic value? It is actually the most difficult thing of all to remain in contact with someone who is in acute distress and resist the urge to try to change their situation. A therapist usually hides behind his or her theoretical predilections – simply by interpreting what is going on one feels more in control, yet we can argue that any action which proceeds from this closed basis will be of no use to the patient, it merely helps the therapist to feel better. Without a theoretical perspective there can be no goal-orientated or purposeful activity, which means that the therapist cannot do. The advantage of this apparent helplessness is, of course, that the therapist’s mind no longer constitutes an obstruction on the path to higher consciousness: he or she can now surprise themselves. If your mind is there then you will merely prove to youself that what you believed to be true is true just like you thought it was – mind is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your mind drops away you actually see reality.
Just to witness another person’s situation, without projecting your own ‘reality’ on them, is in itself therapeutic – it means that we are not afraid to be there, sharing in whatever it is that is happening. If I can accept what is happening to you, and not run away, or (as is the case in schizophrenia), if I can be with you and not feel the need to tell you that your experiences are not real, then something about the situation has changed. The way out of suffering is not rule-based manipulation but the realization that there is no need to manipulate; the way out of a personalized, private hell is to realize that there is no personal self, to see that the ultimate reality is not a closed and claustrophobic “me” but the all-inclusive, transpersonal “I”.
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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.