There is a single (and most singular) principle that lies behind both the physical world and the world of our thoughts, and this principle is to be found neither in text books on physics nor psychology. This ‘singular principle’ is not mentioned anywhere – it is unknown to us, unheard of by us. And even if someone were to take it upon themselves to come out with it we would pay them no heed. It’s not that we wouldn’t be able to understand it so much that it would be too radical a revision of our understanding of what life is all about. It would in fact be the most radical ‘revision’ of our understanding that it is possible to make, and who wants their understanding of life, the universe and everything radically revised?
The principle to which we are referring here is not particularly hard to explain. That can be done in one sentence:
What appears to us to be an actual ‘positive phenomenon’ is nothing of the sort but is – on the contrary – the absence of any actual phenomenon that we are seeing backwards! It’s a ‘positive hole’…
Holes in the fabric of being appear to be positive things (or ‘self-existent entities’) in other words, whilst the fabric itself (if we may speak of it like this) becomes banished without a trace from our consciousness. Being itself (which is – we may say – the same thing as freedom) becomes something we are very thoroughly prevented from being aware of. It becomes a ‘non thing’. These are the ‘conditions for the game’, so to speak. If we don’t banish freedom (or banish being) then the game doesn’t get to happen and there will no longer be any ‘positive things’ or ‘self-existent entities’. We can’t play the ‘positive reality game’ in this case. There will only be the unlimited field of possibilities, which has not restricted itself to any particular possibilities. There will only be play (or Lila) – there will be no ‘seriousness’, there will be no ‘deterministic’ or ‘causal’ reality.
With regard to thinking, we can explain the operation of this principle by saying that we see abstractions from the natural flow of things as being ‘real’, whilst for us the flow itself does not figure at all, does not come into the picture at all. It’s not that we see the natural flow of things as being ‘of only secondary importance’ – we don’t see it at all. We don’t say that the natural flow of things ‘isn’t real’; we don’t bother to go to the trouble of saying that the flow or flux isn’t real or isn’t important because it never occurs to us that there could be such a thing in the first place. As far as the thinking mind is concerned the natural flow of things (also known as the Dao) doesn’t exist at all. The thinking mind only recognizes abstractions from the universal flux as being real. It sees holes in a positive way…
At this point in the discussion it becomes clear that the distinction which we made between physics on the one hand and psychology on the other is rather artificial – inasmuch as the thinking mind is a tool designed to relate us to the physical world it is of course going to be based on the same principle. If the instrument of the rational mind is to be any use at all then it has to be operating along the same lines! The thinking mind ‘picks up’ on abstractions at the expense of the universal flux because the universe itself is made up of abstractions from the universal flux (or ‘the Holomovement’, as David Bohm calls it). This is the convention that has been adopted and so in one way – the strictly practical way – there is no point in questioning it! As philosophers we may question the convention, but as physical beings who have a very real and pressing interest in surviving in the tangible / material universe, we need to find out how to play the game successfully rather than spending our time pointlessly questioning the rules.
Clearly, thoughts are abstractions and clearly there is no substance, no depth of content (i.e. no genuine information) in an abstraction. There is no information content in a thought because a thought is the result of trying to catch reality in a conceptual net, in an arrangement of mental categories. Whatever we catch in the net, whatever we catch in our mental categories is bound to be generic in nature and since the generic never surprises, and since information is a measure of the ‘surprise-content’ of a message, there can never be any information in a thought. The whole point of the generic is that there is no information (no irregularity, no surprise factor) in it. That’s what generic means – it means that there is nothing irregular, nothing unpredictable going to be found there! So if we say that thoughts or mental constructs have no information in them and that the universal flux is nothing but information (because it is always new, because it is always a surprise) then this is just another way of restating the principle that we set out earlier, where we said that what we take as being actual positive or self-existent phenomena are – when we look at them more closely – resolvable as the absence of any actual phenomenon. Our reformulation of this principle is simply to say a convention is adopted (in both the system of thought and the physical universe) such that zero information (i.e. redundancy) is taken to be genuine (non-redundant) information, whilst the real thing doesn’t come into the picture at all.
To show that thoughts or mental constructs are devoid of information content is easy enough, but what about matter? How can we say that matter (or the physicality) is devoid of information? The suggestion that matter or physicality is made up of appearances which look like actual phenomena but aren’t is a radical challenge (the most radical challenge possible) to the (conventional) way we understand the world. We understand the world to be made up of ‘solid building blocks’ of one sort or another so to reconceptualise this so as to say that the world is made up of apparently solid building blocks that are actually ‘solid’ only in the sense that they are abstractions from the universal flux (and are therefore only ‘solid’ in the sense that they are unreal) is a reversal of everything we take for granted. This is the ‘radical revision’ we were talking about at the beginning of this discussion. In conclusion, what we are saying here is that:
 Change is real whilst ‘staying the same’ is unreal
 We live in an abstract reality which is created by the way in which we see ‘staying the same’ as real and (implicitly) see ‘ungrounded change’ as unreal.
It is necessary to speak of ungrounded change (rather than just change) because what we generally consider to be change or movement is really only ‘change / movement within the terms of an assumed framework’ and is on this account not true change at all. Change / movement within a framework is just as much an abstraction from the universal flux as ‘staying the same’ is. Change that occurs within a framework is staying the same – because it never goes beyond the defined or knowable realm which is ‘the framework’ this is a type of change that isn’t actually change at all. The universal flux isn’t the movement from A to B; it isn’t something that we can measure or in any way say something about. The universal flux doesn’t creep obediently and predictably across a defined and tabulated abstract surface; on the contrary, it leaps unexpectedly from one unknown to another. We’re not talking about a toy train running around in circles on its tracks here – we’re talking about the continual unveiling of the incomprehensible. We’re talking about trying to chart the movement of Mercurius, the fugitive stag of the alchemists.
What we see as ‘change’ or ‘movement’ is merely a vibration. A vibration is the appearance of movement without the content, just as the cycling of a closed loop is the appearance of getting somewhere without this actually being the case. The vibration or cycling seems to be getting somewhere in the first instance, but then it immediately goes back on itself so that it doesn’t really go anywhere at all. This is ‘trapped movement’, or ‘movement on an elastic leash’. The circle is the deadest form of movement, says Philip K Dick. Or put this in terms of information – the system seems to be saying something but no sooner has it made the statement than it straightaway turns around and says the inverse, so actually nothing is said at all. It is as if I say “Bill committed the crime, he is guilty” and “Bill did not commit the crime, he is innocent” both in the same breath and both with equal seriousness. If you listen only to the first part of what I am saying it sounds like I am saying something, but then if you listen to the whole thing you will see that I am not. I have said nothing at all! Cyclical or vibratory change is like this only more so – there is absolutely nothing happening that is not immediately cancelled out again, absolutely nothing happening that is not immediately negated in the second act.
In the sentence that we gave earlier the question of whether Bill is innocent or guilty gets constantly reversed and then reversed again (just as is the case in the Liar Paradox where the statement in question is true only to the extent that it is false) so it is only if we are taking a very narrow ‘snippet-sized view’ of the proceedings that we can obtain a view of reality that is non self-contradictory, non self-cancelling. Only by focussing narrowly on one side of the story can we live in a reality that appears to be non-paradoxical (or self-consistent). And as Jung has said, exactly the same is true for the operation of the rational mind – the output of the rational mind only seems ‘non-paradoxical’ to us because we are being one-sided in our approach. This is simply the way that the thinking mind works –it works on the basis of definite statements. Definite statements with ‘no cracks between them’ are what the rational mind builds the world with; for this mind the suggestion that these definite statements are not real, are self-cancelling or self-negating, comes across as being completely absurd. We can’t even begin to take this on!
‘Definite’ means real; that’s how we know that a thing is real – because the thinking mind tells us that it is definitely there. But what we always miss is that anything the thinking mind tells us is definitely true is only ‘true’ in a very conditional sense; it is only true within the ‘closed context’ that is assumed by that mind. What logic (or the thinking mind) tells is ‘true’ only in relation to this artificial situation. All ‘true’ statements are only true in relation to an assumed framework – the designation ‘true’ comes about because of the way in which we have held up the incoming information against the yardstick which is the framework and have thereby ‘found’ it to be true. ‘True’ comes about via an act of comparison in other words and this means that the certainty which we think comes for free is actually obtained at a price (albeit an invisible price), and this invisible price changes everything.
The price we’re talking about here is entropy, if we may state matters as bluntly as that. What this means is that we incur a blind-spot, a form of mental blindness which by its very nature we can’t know about. Seeing the world only in terms of the assumed framework means that we are assuming that this is the only way in which the world can be seen. That’s another way of saying the same thing. This however means that all other ways of seeing the world are now unavailable to me (without us knowing that they are). This ‘unavailable information’ is what we have been calling ‘the blind-spot’; unavailable information (i.e. information that has been irreversibly lost) equals entropy. Whenever we operate on the basis of a ‘closed context’ there is always going to be entropy – this is of course the case since the only way we can obtain a closed context for ourselves to operate out of is by ignoring all other possible ways of seeing the world, and then ignoring the fact that we are ignoring it…
Just to repeat this is all-important point: only when we’re operating on the basis of a closed context can we come up with ‘definitely true statements’. This – as we have just said – is because we need the closed context (i.e. the assumed framework) to prove to ourselves that the definite statement really is definite. No framework means no certainty. No closed context means no possibility of arriving at the conclusion that any given statement is certain – how can we have such a thing as ‘a definitely true statement’ when our context for understanding what that statement might mean is open?
This is the first step in our argument – to show that definitely true statements require entropy in order to be definitely true. The second step in the argument is to show that all definite statements are self-contradictory or self-cancelling and are – as a result – unreal, devoid of content. “To cross twice is not to cross at all”, Spencer-Brown says in his Laws of Form. Clearly, definite statements aren’t what they make themselves out to be. They make themselves out to be unreservedly certain, absolutely certain, certain under all conditions or circumstances, when in reality they are only certain because we have set them up in advance to be by ignoring or out-ruling all possible contradictions. As we have already said, the definite statements which we place so much stock in are only certain because we have chosen the framework that makes them certain. The truth of the matter is in other words that there can only be this thing we call ‘certainty’ when we make a comparison with an arbitrary framework that we’re not acknowledging to be an arbitrary framework and this is a polite way of saying that certainty can only be produced by a form of self-deception. If ‘certainty’ can only be obtained via the trickery of utilizing a closed context without admitting to ourselves that this is what we are doing then this obviously means that there just plain isn’t any such thing!
The essential ‘unreality’ of all definite statements is demonstrated very clearly by their inherent paradoxicality. Things couldn’t be spelled out any clearer than thins. The inherent paradoxicality of definite statements is however not in itself at obvious and so this argument tends very much to be lost on us. When a closed context gives rise to a ‘definitely true statement’ it can only do so at the cost of creating the equal and opposite statement (the complementary reverse statement) at the same time. If for example I state that God definitely exists then at the same time – quite unbeknownst to myself – I am at the same time also admitting that there is the very real possibility that God doesn’t exist. If there wasn’t the possible that God doesn’t exist then why would I need to assert that he does? To say that ‘God exists’ is the same thing as saying ‘God doesn’t not exist’ and so by denying this possibility I am actually affirming that it is there. I can’t have ‘existing’ without ‘not-existing’. I can’t have the one possibility without the other – that would be like having a stick with only one end! There can be no such thing as ‘YES’ unless there is also such a thing as a ‘NO’. A ‘YES’ on its own has no reality! A stick with only one end has no reality…
Only the whole exists. We can’t break Wholeness down – we can only break it down into two halves, into two poles, into a YES and a NO (or an UP and a DOWN) in our imagination. Pretending that Wholeness can be broken down into two poles, into a PLUS and a MINUS allows us to construct a world that is made up of definitely true statements. It allows us to play about with the all hypothetical scenarios that are created when we pretend that there is such a thing as ‘a definitely true statement’ and feel either good or bad about them, as appropriate. It allows us to live in the positive (or defined) reality that the thinking mind always tells us is real as if it really were real, but this doesn’t actually make it real! The positive or defined world is pragmatically real for us when we take all the definite statements that come our way at face value, but because it is not possible to separate [+] from [-] the positive world isn’t ever going to be more than a mind-created fiction. The positive world isn’t real, and yet at the same time it’s the only world we know…
Only the whole, the Undivided is real and there’s nothing that can be said about this whole. No definite statements can be made. No certainty can be obtained. The Whole alone is real, but we can say nothing about it at all and when we do make positive statements what we are doing is creating absences of information that we take to be actual information. We are converting information into redundancy and getting ‘caught up’ in this redundancy that the same time. We’re getting enmeshed with it. We are creating pockets of redundancy that we take to be ‘non-redundant’. With our positive statements we are creating ‘information-free’ vacuoles of hollow virtuality in the rich (but indefinable) texture of unconditioned being, which is the only sort of being there is.
Everything is a whole. There’s nothing that isn’t already whole in itself – every person is a whole, every pebble, every grain of sand, every particle of dust. This is another way of saying that everything is uncertain. Everything is uncertain; everything is both unknown and unknowable. Everything’s mysterious – from the tiniest littlest thing to the very biggest. All of this uncertainty makes us insecure however – we’re very insecure round all that mystery! So what we do is to make it definite, we cover the mystery over with an impenetrable overlay of positive statements and create in this way a defined universe, a universe made up of matter-of-fact concrete statements. In doing this, we create an unreal world therefore – a world that simply doesn’t exist, and yet which we believe wholeheartedly in, to the exclusion of everything else…
We said that there is a parallel between the convention adopted by the system of thought and the physical or tangible universe. There is, but it is not an exact one. The thinking mind always deals in flat literalisms – there is nothing else it can deal in. Each and every statement it makes is a flat or absolute literalism. The material objects in the physical universe are never literalisms however. They might seem to be 100% literal (or 100% ‘concrete’) when we don’t look too deeply into them, but when we examine them closely we discover that there is always an aura of radical uncertainty (or ‘irreducible unpredictability’) around them. This aura never disappears, not under any conditions, and it will ‘give the game away’ if we choose to look into it, and see what it means. Most of us take it for granted that the physical universe is made up of actual concrete ‘building blocks’ – units that are really there. We might for example say that atoms are the basic building blocks’, or that some subatomic particle is. No physicist would agree with this though. ‘Whatever matter is, it’s not made of matter’, says Professor Hans-Peter Durr. Or suppose – just for the sake of the argument – that we say that location in space equals ‘a definite statement’. So if we say that an electron is ‘here but not there’ then this would constitute a positive statement. This however is fine in theory but not possible in practice; this type of black-and-white certainty is actually a fundamental impossibility – it exists in our minds but not in reality. The location of the electron can never be more than a blur of possibilities; the uncertainty can never be taken out of the equation (or at least, not without departing from reality). The impossibility of pinning anything down in the physical universe (which finds expression in quantum uncertainty, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Relation, chaos theory and complexity theory) is the ‘hint’ that will ‘give the game away’ if we take enough interest in what we are looking at.
The literal statements made by the thinking mind on the other hand never contain any uncertainty, and so the ‘trick’ they play on us is complete. No hints regarding the hoax that is being perpetrated upon us are given. The only way in which the literal statements of the rational mind do betray themselves for what they are is in their self-contradictory (or paradoxical) nature, which is as we have said an inevitable function of their absolute certainty. Needless to say however, we never look at the positive assertions made by the thinking mind anywhere near carefully enough to see this….
[Photo taken from Aneta Grzeszykowska’s ‘Negative Book’]
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.