A natural process cannot control or regulate itself. It can’t do this, and what’s more it doesn’t need to. Control is both impossible and unnecessary! The reason for this is that a process is not a static situation but a movement. Controlling means ‘bringing everything into line with a fixed set of parameters’ (i.e. imposing a static equilibrium) and so the very idea of ‘a process controlling itself’ is quite nonsensical. That would be like saying that a river can ‘control’ itself so that it stops flowing. It would be hard in this case to say what the advantage would be anyway, since all that could be achieved – even if the river could ‘control itself’ – would be the end of the river! If on the other hand the river wanted to be ‘true to itself’, and stay being a river, then there would be no need for control since this is already the situation. The river is already a river…
Consciousness – we may say – is a process. In Jung’s words, it is ‘a movement from an unknown origin to an unknown destination’. If we look for something fixed, something ‘known’, in consciousness, we find that there isn’t anything – there is no independently existing framework with which to locate or define ourselves, no fixed point of reference, nothing like that at all.
I might choose to disagree with this assertion and say that there are certain standards, certain rules that are ‘true no matter what’. I might choose to say that the fixed point of reference in my experience of consciousness, of ‘being conscious’, is myself – the unchanging observer. The thing is, though, that any fixed point of reference that I might be adhering to is only ‘fixed’ because I myself have conveniently chosen for it to be so.
The fixed point of reference or ‘static framework’ that we are so familiar with in our everyday experience is only there because we have tacitly agreed that it shall be there, and then – having made this tacit agreement with ourselves – proceeded in time-honoured fashion to take it entirely for granted. The static framework (otherwise known as the ‘rational mind’) is only there because we ourselves have agreed for it to be there. We only see what we want to see.
This is therefore a question of control – we get to be surreptitiously in control of what happens by controlling the framework within which we are to understand what happens. In order to control we first have to take a certain value as ‘given’. Once we have done this then we can happily proceed on this assumed basis, but without such a basis controlling anything is of course an utterly absurd impossibility. As soon as we do proceed in this way the viewpoint that we have taken for granted, immediately gets to seem like ‘the right one’ and all others seem like ‘wrong’. The perception of rightness and wrongness is therefore a function of the framework that we have chosen – ‘right’ means that whatever we see matches what we have previously decided to be right and ‘wrong’ means that whatever it is we see doesn’t match what we have previously decided to be right. It is all arbitrary and it is all intentional, and yet we act as if it isn’t.
Whenever you come across a person who is very sure of their opinion or belief it is because of this. It is because they have made their opinion or belief seem like the right one through the tried-and-trusted mechanism of ‘setting it all up in advance’. They have intended for such-and-such a viewpoint, such-and-such a belief, to be ‘the one and only true viewpoint’, ‘the one and only true belief’, and then as a result of this engineered perception they obtain a very intense form of satisfaction – the satisfaction of personal validation. And yet this is clearly bizarre – it is as if I cheat at some exam so as to achieve 100% in it, and then actually proceed to feel good about this, for all the world as if getting a distinction by cheating actually meant anything at all!
This might seem laughably foolish but before we laugh too much it would be as well to remember that we all do this sort of thing pretty much all of the time. That is the ridiculousness of the human situation. The only time we don’t do it is when we are not forming opinions or judgements about this, that or the other, and that isn’t very often at all…
The thing about control, speaking from a psychological rather than a strictly cybernetic standpoint, is that it provides us with a sense of security. On the overt (or official) level of meaning it is the set of parameters that have to be scrupulously adhered to that is ‘all-important’, but if we could penetrate to the covert level of meaning then we would discover that it is the sense of security that adhering to the rules that is ‘all-important’ and that the actual parameters or rules themselves don’t matter a damn. Who cares what I believe in just so long as I have the security of believing? Who care what my rigid and unquestionable opinion is, just as long as I don’t ever have to question it? What is truly important to me – although it is of course equally important that I never actually admit this to myself – is that the values that I have chosen to be important shall continue to seem important to me, and that I am therefore able to continue preoccupying myself in the exacting task of adhering to them (and – if I can – making sure that everyone else does too).
The business of living entails a lot of ‘legitimate’ controlling – controlling that is important from the point of view of ‘actual practical benefit’, rather than the ‘spurious psychological benefit’ of deluding myself. Certain equilibrium values have to be maintained in order for biological processes to continue; the physical organism is itself nothing more than a set of variables that have to be kept within precisely defined parameters, within very strict tolerances. Failure to do so is known as death! Thus, a lot of our daily activities are geared to maintaining these equilibrium values – eating enough food, drinking enough water, staying warm enough, dry enough, avoiding hostile environmental conditions, avoiding danger, locating or constructing habitations, locating partners, maintaining social groups, and so on. All of these equilibrium-seeking behaviours are necessary if we wish to continue living.
The other type of equilibrium-seeking behaviour, which is where we continually control our own perceptions and understanding of reality by protecting and maintaining opinions, ideas, prejudices, dogmas, and beliefs in general, is not so necessary – we only do it in order to avoid being mentally challenged. This ‘unnecessary’ psychological type of controlling is all about maintaining not our physical organism but a kind of mental equivalent of that which is our ‘idea of ourselves’, which is what Krishnamurti calls the self-image.
By controlling how we see the world, which aspects of it we wish to high-light or emphasize and which ones we wish to suppress or ignore we create not just a ‘fixed viewpoint’ but a fixed sense of self. But this fixed sense of self is not ‘who we really are’ – which is a process or ‘flow’ – it is simply an arbitrary position assumed because of the feeling of psychological security (or ‘certainty’) it provides us with. Anything would do in fact, just so long as it is something that can be grasped and maintained by our rational minds.
Any crude literalism (no matter how appallingly limiting and imprisoning that crude literalism might be) would fit the bill because what we want out of our ‘sense of self’ is not depth or beauty or mystery but solidity, reliability, predictability. We just want a vulgar concrete token to grasp tightly hold of forever after and say over and over again ‘this is me’ – and the reason for our inordinate keenness to make this unholy deal is our very great desire for ontological security, security of ‘being’. This great desire is what makes us love controlling as much as we do.
This in itself is however a deeply, profoundly peculiar thing because the sense of ontological security that we are talking about is only valuable (or desirable) from the point of view of the false or literal self – it is only this insecure false self that needs the security of definite answers and a definite identity. The literal or concrete self provides us with something fixed and predictable to grasp hold of and this alleviates – temporarily at least – the terrible fear we have about the unfixed and the unpredictable. But this fear, which is nothing other than the fear of change, is only real from the point of view of this arbitrary fixed point of view, the arbitrarily assumed static position or situation, and this arbitrarily fixed point of view is not (it never was and never will be) who we are anyway…
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.