We live in an alogical universe. This isn’t the same as ‘an illogical universe’ which would be a universe that disobeys the rules of logic – in the Alogical Universe there simply isn’t any logic so there is no question of either obeying or disobeying the rules. This isn’t easy to see because there certainly seems to be logic in the universe – there wouldn’t be any such thing as rational thinking otherwise. Without logic, there couldn’t be any such thing as ‘science’. In fact, without logic (i.e. some sort of basic order, some sort of essential predictability, there couldn’t be any such thing as physicality or structure, which there very obviously is!
And yet, despite this apparent evidence to the contrary, we live in an alogical universe, and science itself points to this understanding, if we follow it far enough. What we could say – in order to try to clarify matters – is that the universe we live in is at its heart utterly ‘alogical’, but that there are layers of logic that have crystallized around it, as a result of the entropic process that has created both physicality, and the framework of time and space that this physicality exists within. At the heart of things there is no logic (which means that there are no things, since it is logic that determines that things should be things), but on the periphery, everything seems – at least to casual observation – to follow the laws of cause and effect…
We live in the outer suburbs, so to speak, where everything is pretty much orderly and predictable, and where – as a rule – nothing too strange seems to happen. Even within the suburbs however, there are signs of a lack of logic, if we could be bothered to look into it a bit more carefully. There are junctions between one thing happening, and another thing happening, such that the latter is not predetermined by the former. What normally happens when there is one state of affair which is followed by another state of affairs is that there is a logical relationship, such that ‘the one conditions the other’. This is what we call ‘cause and effect’ and we generally tend to assume that the law of cause and effect is universal, that ‘nothing happens without a precedent’. This is not the case however, despite appearances. Generally speaking, out here in the suburbs of the cosmos, one set of circumstances do follow logically from the prior set and in this case, although there do appear to be ‘breaks’ or junctures’ between the one and the other there actually isn’t. When we are in the realm of cause and effect it is all just the one structure – this is what ‘cause and effect’ means, after all. Logic is a continuity – it is all one continuous structure without any breaks, without any inconsistencies, without any gaps. If there was a gap then this gap wouldn’t be part of the logical continuum, it wouldn’t ‘be logical’, so to speak…
The logical continuum is seamless and this is the whole point of logic, therefore. There is nothing that cannot be related to every other part of the continuum, nothing that cannot be understood or predicted from the basis of any other point on the continuum. Really, therefore, a logical continuum is no more than an orderly expansion of that original point, which is a bit of a peculiar idea, if we were to reflect on it! What this shows us is that the lack of any logical discontinuities is an impoverishment, because when everything is just ‘an extension of the same thing’ this is an impoverishment. It’s only through the inconsistencies that anything interesting and unexpected and poetical comes through. “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” as Leonard Cohen says. Logic can’t lead onto the radically new, it can’t lead on to the unpredictable, and for this reason we can see that the universe pretty much has to have ‘breaks in the logic structure’ if it is to be anything more than just the same old statement, the same old gag, rehashed over and over again. If it is through its logical consistence that the universe gets to have its physical existence, then it is through its inconsistency that it gets to something genuinely dynamic and changing, and not a mere ‘foregone conclusion’.
We don’t usually tend to see the limitations of logic – which is another way of saying that we don’t tend see the limitation of the thinking mind. Collectively, we’re more interested in how the world obeys the rules than in how it flagrantly ignores them. We like rules because they offer us solid ground on which to set up shop and if we questioned these rules too much then we would erode the very ground under our feet, and so anything we thought we had gained we would straightaway lose, like sand slipping away through our fingers. If the rules go then all the stuff that makes sense according to the rules goes too, and the result of this is that we not be able to hold onto anything. Seeing this, we experience that fear of transience which is so well articulated by Edgar Allan Poe in A Dream within a Dream:
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
It is our fear of seeing life in this way, as a dream within a dream, as something that is constantly slipping through our fingers, that predisposes us to loving logic rather than finding it tiresome. We want to keep the sand from ever slipping away, and so we have it put away under lock and key in a safe deposition box in the securest bank in town. This way we get to feel that we know what the world is really all about, so that we can then get on with our lives without the uncomfortable awareness that that all of our positive knowledge is based on shifting sand, sand that actually never stops running through our fingers, no matter how tightly we try to hold it, no matter how secure the deposit box we seal it away in.
The reason we live in the ‘outer suburbs’ (rather than getting bored with the dull predictability of it all and setting off on a journey into the heart of things, where logic breaks down entirely) is therefore because we are afraid. Why else would we put up with the infinite tedium of the suburbs? Living out the whole of our lives in the dreary suburbs means that we try to reason about everything as if reason was all there is. Whatever we come across, we straightaway set our minds to the task of reasoning about it, which is to say, embedding the new datum firmly within the logical structure that we have already established. Needless to say, we see this as a valiant attempt to ‘push back the boundaries of knowledge’, rather than yet another dismal fear-driven evasion of the essential mystery of things.
A version of this is the way in which theologically-minded folk sometimes try to use the fact that there is ‘something rather than nothing’ as a way of ‘logically proving’ that God exists. “Does it not seem reasonable,” the argument goes, “upon seeing that there is a universe, to come to the conclusion that the explanation for this most singular fact must be that God has created it?” Reasonableness exists in this world, admittedly, but this does not mean to say that the world itself has to be reasonable, or that there has to be a ‘reasonable explanation’ for it being there. That would be putting the cart before the horse. When we abstract a specific set from the Universal Set the set in question will be understandable in terms of logic (which is to say, every element in that set will be there only because it satisfies a logical criterion or rule) but there is no logical criterion or rule saying that we had to select that set rather than some other set, or rather than selecting no set at all. No such rule exists! There are no rules with regard to what we pull out of the Universal Set – or with regard to whether we should pull a set out at all. In other words, whilst the set itself is ‘reasonable’ (i.e. it is there for logically discernible reasons, reasons which have to do with the criteria that underlie its existence) the fact that we chose to abstract this set is not in any way ‘reasonable’…
Once we are in a particular universe (which, for the purposes of this argument, is the same thing as ‘a logical set’) then the irreducible unreasonableness as to why there should be such a universe in the first place becomes invisible to us. Reason is all we know and so it seems to us that everything should be reasonable! We think that the creation of the universe itself has to have been a reasonable act – which is to say, we think that there must be some sort of logical rule saying that the universe had to come into existence. We think that there must be a reason for the universe. This is – as we have said – because we are assuming that the logical rules that underlie existence in the world we know about must be an inherent feature of reality itself. This ‘assumption-that-we-can’t-help-making’ is the result of the loss of perspective that always happens when we identify with a particular rule-set, a particular logical continuum. Our world has shrunk and we don’t know it. Our world has shrunk but we can’t see it because we are now incapable of seeing beyond the logical continuum that we have adapted ourselves to.
Actually (and we could see this if we had a bit of perspective left to us) there can’t be any such thing as ‘reasonableness’ (or ‘logic’) unless we first assume some kind of a fixed point of reference, some kind of solid or unquestionable basis. We need to put a framework in place before we can do anything. Once we’ve done this then we can start the game of reasoning about things, being logical about things, making logical steps from one definite statement to another. Because we have assumed a fixed basis, the whole framework of reason clicks into place as if it had always been there, as if there was no way in which it couldn’t have been there. This unchallengeable sense that the framework of reason had always been there, that there is no way that it couldn’t be there, etc, is a function of the information loss that takes place when we adapt ourselves to the logical continuum. It is purely a function of entropy, in other words…
Logic proceeds from ‘lack of freedom’ therefore – even though it may seem strange to say so. Logic arises out of the situation where there is zero freedom to question the original assumption. Not only is it the case that logic arises out of this lack of freedom (as some kind of necessary pre-condition), logic is the lack of freedom which it arose from. It is an extension of that lack of freedom. Logic is a lack of freedom that cannot see itself to be a lack of freedom because there doesn’t exist within it the perspective to see this, naturally so since ‘perspective’ is just another word for freedom. As we have just said, this comes across as rather a strange thing to say – we see logic as being a distinctly positive kind of a thing. We see it as a kind of ‘freedom’ in itself – we see it as giving us the freedom to learn something real and enduring about the world. When we arrive at a consistent logical picture or model of the world we feel very strongly that we have gained something that we didn’t have before. We feel that the light has suddenly been turned on! We certainly don’t perceive ourselves as having lost something. But as is pretty much undeniable once we look at it, the ability to reason, the ability to think logically, comes about as a result of the basic lack of freedom to see the world in any other way other than the way which the logical continuum is allowing us. We believe this ‘way’ to be especially meaningful or especially valid, but we only believe this to be the case because this is the assumption that the continuum of logic (necessarily) makes about itself. The question is therefore – how in earth do we manage to make something ‘positive’ out of this?
The inability to question a central assumption is not a freedom but the complete antithesis of it, so no matter what happens afterwards (on the basis of taking this starting point seriously) we are never going to be able to go beyond this central limitation. And ‘limitation’ is not really a strong enough word here – it is not just that the starting off point or fixed basis is ‘limited’, it is actually totally untrue. It is a statement which is ‘only true because it itself agrees with itself that it is true’ – and this is not any type of ‘truth’ at all therefore. This is a tautology, not a truth. This central limitation (which is the limitation that is automatically imposed on us when we act as if an untrue statement actually was true) defines us, it defines our world, it defines what is possible for us and what is forever impossible, never even to be considered. This ‘central limitation’ (which we embrace so wholeheartedly) is in other words something that we can never ever go beyond, as well as being something that was never actually real in the first place….
When we proceed on the basis of a groundless assumption that cannot be seen to be a groundless assumption this inauspicious starting off point determines everything about our subsequent journey– from this point on everything is prefigured, everything is ‘set in stone’ and all we can do is let it unwind as it is inevitably going to. Not only will it be the case that we will have to live out the course of our lives within this limited domain (and again, the word ‘limited’ isn’t really strong enough here) we will neither be able to see the astonishingly severe limits that hem us in, nor will we know that we are so severely hemmed in. The deterministic domain that proceeds (or unwinds) from the basis of a groundless assumption that we cannot see as such contains as we have said zero freedom, but because this domain is the whole world to us we are incapable of seeing this. We could perhaps say that the logical continuum contains a type of ‘pseudo-freedom’ – a pale copy or imitation of freedom that passes for the genuine article in the absence of that genuine article. The unquestionable basis that we have adopted as the foundation for everything gives rise therefore to a very curious kind of ‘virtual reality world’ which possesses the illusion of freedom, the illusion of free will, but which in ‘real terms’ always comes to nothing in the end.
An ‘unquestionable central assumption’ creates – we could say – limitations that are so fundamental to our way of thinking, our way of perceiving the world, our way of being in the world, that we don’t understand them as ‘limitations’ at all, but rather we (implicitly) understand them as constituting something surpassingly positive. For us, these inherent limitations constitute the actual positive basis or firmament of reality itself. What could be more gloriously, wondrously ‘positive’ than this? A negative has therefore been turned into a positive – a ‘lack of spaciousness’ has been turned into an actual substantive reality, into an actual bona fide substance.
This spectacular trick comes at a cost. As a result of inverting limitation and turning it into a supreme virtue we have now shot ourselves in the foot big time! As we have said, by making an assumption like this and then turning our back on the fact that we have made it we have created an invisible limitation for ourselves that we will never go beyond – we don’t know this, we think that we do have the possibility of ‘getting somewhere new’, but this simply isn’t the case. The freedom we think we have to develop, to progress, to move onwards, etc, is an illusory one! The substantive reality that we have created for ourselves by using our unexamined assumptions as a springboard is a dream reality, an illusion reality. Our ‘positive basis’ isn’t really as positive as all that after all therefore – it seems great to have something solid to rest on, to build on, to hold onto, but if the definite truth we are making so much of isn’t really true at all, despite the fact that we have so much confidence in it, then clearly this is not a good place to be starting from…
The utter impossibility of there ever being ‘a necessary pretext for existence’ (i.e. a set of rules that exists prior to the universe and which predetermines the reality of the logically-consistent world we live in) is not hard to demonstrate and we have already touched upon it in our discussion of mathematical sets. Once we have abstracted a particular mathematical set out of the Universal Set then naturally the elements in that set seem to have something special about them (as opposed to all the other possible elements that are floating around out there in potentia, which don’t seem special, and which we don’t in fact see as being worth giving even a moment’s consideration). The set of elements that we have chosen to focus on seem special precisely because we have chosen them – it just so happens that after selecting the set in question we lose the ability to see that there is nothing special about it. By choosing we bring a kind of blindness upon ourselves in other words, and it is this blindness that causes us to regard the particular logical continuum that we have chosen as being special in its own right, not because we have ‘made it so’. We see it as being ‘real’ – not as ‘being real because we have agreed for it to be real’, which is clearly not the same thing at all.
If we were to imagine that the set we have abstracted out of the Universal Set is somehow more significant or more real than any other set that we might have chosen then this would of course be quite ridiculous. If this were the case then that would mean that the Universal Set specially favoured the set we selected right from the beginning, and if this were so then the Universal Set wouldn’t be ‘universal’ at all. It’s only universal if it is unbiased, if it is equally disposed to all the possibilities that might arise from it – otherwise it would be specific rather than universal, and that is another kettle of fish altogether! If the Universal Set were biased towards giving rise to the particular set that we happen to have selected then it wouldn’t be the Universal Set but simply a ‘back-projection’ of the set that we have chosen, and this would represent a loss of information of a truly astronomical order. There wouldn’t actually be any information left at all if this were the case because there would only be ‘a set which agrees with itself’, which is an empty tautology!
Universality is always unbiased. We can think about universality in terms of a perfectly flat (or smooth) surface – if there is a perfectly smooth surface then any one position, any one location, is as good as any other position, any other location. If there happened to be a groove or notch in that surface then this would represent specificity but in the absence of any grooves there is no specificity anywhere. This is ‘the open situation’. We can therefore say that the ‘indifference’ of the Universal Set with regard to any particular possibilities is what allows the free play of all these possibilities, and this can be related to the Taoist principle of non-interference. As Chapter Eleven of the Tao Te Ching says (from Ursula K Le Guin’s 1998 translation):
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.
So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.
Just as it is the space within a vessel that makes the vessel possible, it is the impartiality of the Universal Set that allows all specific sets to come into existence. Space is unprejudiced in that it allows all objects to exist within it, no matter what the peculiarities of the object in question might be – space is not predisposed to allowing (or facilitating) some objects more than others! If space were biased, if space were predisposed to allowing certain objects to exist within it rather than other objects then it wouldn’t be space at all, but rather it would be no more than some kind of glorified template or format. Or we could say: if space were a template for permitting only certain, pre-specified possibilities, then it’s not space that we’re talking about here at all but the rational mind! Naturally the rational mind sees everything in terms of itself (and its own invisible limitations) and so it should come as no surprise that it also sees space as some kind of ‘glorified version’ of itself…
Another way of looking at universality is to say that it is the same thing as ‘the absence of all rules’. A rule is a prejudice, which is to say, a rule is a dissymmetrical situation where one possibility is elevated over another, and so it ought to go without saying that universality is not based on rules. A rule is like the notch or groove cut in the smooth surface that we were talking about earlier – the ‘dissymmetry’ here therefore has to do with the inequality of the position that exists at the bottom of the groove as compared to the position that exists at the top of it. Inside the groove is not equal to outside the groove in the sense that any little object that might happen to be rolling around on the surface either side of it is going to immediately fall into it, and having fallen into it, is of course going to stay there! The ‘position’ that corresponds to the groove is specifically indicated, therefore, and all other positions are not indicated, and this is therefore a perfect example of what we mean by ‘a rule’.
A rule always specifically indicates one possibility, and unequivocally excludes all the rest – this is what rules are all about, obviously! You couldn’t get a rule that says “All possibilities are equally allowed”. No rule could ever do this because all rules – if they are to be rules – have to point to a specific possibility. A rule that says “All possibilities are equally allowed” would be like a groove on a flat surface that is actually perfectly flat itself (just like the flat surface) and if this were the case clearly we are not talking about a ‘groove’ at all but the original flat or unbiased surface! No rule can ever present the same face to all possibilities because the way a rule works is by specifying what ‘must be’, and specifying what ‘must be’ is the same thing as excluding everything else.
The idea of having a rule that doesn’t exclude is therefore nonsensical. It is a ‘no brainer’ to state that we can’t specify the Whole of Everything (which is to say, the Universal set) because as we’ve just said to specify (or define) means to say what is and what isn’t and so if it happens to be the case that there just isn’t a ‘what isn’t’ then this scuppers the whole procedure. Or as we could also say: it is impossible to specify the Whole because specifications necessarily involve boundaries and there are of course no boundaries in the Whole…
All of this goes to show that whilst ‘reasonableness’ (or logic) can exist within the Greater Context (so to speak) of a complete and utter lack of reasonableness (which is the alogical situation) this cannot happen the other way around. Neither can there be a situation where there is only reasonableness, only logic. As we have said, to have the situation where the Whole of Everything is a known unit, a defined object, a self-consistent logical continuum without any cracks in it, etc, it blatantly absurd, blatantly ridiculous. The situation where the logical continuum is ‘everything that there is’ is blatantly absurd because the only way we get to define anything is by excluding a whole load of stuff and at the same time denying that anything has been excluded. That is how we produce a ‘positive reality’; the process of definition is one in which we abstract an emphasized or highlighted figure from the undefined Whole – this process of emphasizing or highlighting simply being another way of saying that we ‘exclude without knowing that we are excluding’. ‘Excluding’ just means then that we relegate everything that we’re not interested in to the ‘background’ (which we are ignoring) in order to create the defined figure.
So when we talk about ‘knowing’ or ‘defining’ everything (as our rational culture quite seriously does on a regular basis) what we’re talking about doing is making everything into ‘the figure’, and not having ‘a ground’! But as anyone could tell us, even a small child, there can’t be any figure without a ground, any more than there can be an inside without an outside, or an up without a down. When we try to make a ‘theory of everything’, therefore (as we’re very prone to doing) then what we’re trying to do is just plain nonsensical – there is no crazier, more deranged project than the project of ‘defining everything’…
The scenario where everything is known, where everything has been converted into defined figures (i.e. thoughts) in the mind is therefore a non-starter. But the other situation where – supposedly – we can have a pocket of the radically uncertain within a greater context of the known, enclosed somehow within the realm of the certain, is also not possible. This is no different to the situation where everything is certain. Saying that the radically uncertain (i.e. the alogical) can exist somehow within a greater context of certainty is like saying that uncertainty can exist as a genuinely independent element and yet also exist within a framework. This is clearly nonsense – that would be the same as saying that a random number can be generated by cranking the handle on some algorithm or other, when the whole point of ‘randomness’ is that it doesn’t arise as a result of some logical precedent. Or it would be like claiming that by cleverly shuffling and reshuffling a set of known elements we can somehow produce the unknown, that we can somehow produce the new. The known only ever produces the known, the old only ever gives rise to the old. The new can never be produced to order by cranking the handle on some algorithm, by dutifully following some logical sequence of steps.
James Carse expresses this impossibility in one sentence in Finite and Infinite Games:
Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game.
This point is very straightforward, yet because of our reliance on the rational process – which necessarily inverts everything – we have the very greatest difficulty in seeing it. Saying that an infinite game can be played within a finite game is like thinking that the writing can come before the page that carries it, or that the writing – by the power that is vested in it – can by some supreme act of cleverness give rise to the page that it is written on! The page comes first, just as the ocean comes before the wave. An ocean can give rise to any number of waves, any number of ripples or wrinkles or perturbations upon its surface, but a perturbation of the ocean clearly cannot give rise to that ocean – naturally enough, it just doesn’t work that way!
So in the same way the alogical universe can give rise to any amount of logic, any amount of rules, to any amount of ‘reasonableness’, but there is no way that logic or rules or reason can ever give birth to the alogical universe…
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.