Consciousness is practically never encountered in its free state, and the reason it is practically never encountered in this state is because of the process of automatonization, which reduces it to the level of a mere empty reflex. Via this process consciousness is negated, nullified, nerfed – it is made into the opposite of itself, a sham of itself, a parody of itself. What was light is made heavy, what was nimble is made clunky, what was lively is made wooden, what was bright is made dull, and what was transparent is made opaque. What was free is made unfree.
What lies at the root of this down-grading ‘automatonization process’ is the conditioning effect of logic. It is not any particular type of logic that does the conditioning but logic in general. The cause of the process is not any specific viral code or ideological script, but logic itself, in whatever format it happens to come. Logic is like a loud-mouthed dogmatic patriarchal tyrant of a man, and consciousness the culturally disempowered woman who falls under his jealous bullying control.
Consciousness contains many possibilities – in fact it contains all possibilities since it is open. Logic on the other hand allows only the one possibility – which is its own – because it is closed. There can be no such thing as ‘open logic’, logic that can tolerate more than one answer to any particular question, logic that doesn’t exclude everything that lies beyond its narrow remit. There can be no such thing as logic that doesn’t put up boundaries and limits, any more than there can be such a thing as ‘closed consciousness’ – consciousness that doesn’t continuously reach beyond itself, consciousness that isn’t forever opening itself up to greater and wider possibilities.
Logic appears to reach out. It gives the impression of reaching out beyond itself and describing a world that exists outside of itself but all that it really does – all that it can do – is describe that world in its own closed terms. Logic talks incessantly about the bigger picture, but it only ever does this in its own petty vocabulary. Logic provides a snappy if shallow summary of a messy but deep reality. It provides us with an abstract version of reality – a tamed and spiritless simulation that can always be relied upon to obey the rules.
An abstraction is a simplification of reality and there is no harm in this as such. Where the ‘harm’ comes in is in the misrepresentation of the abstraction as the reality. Logic does not declare itself for what it is; far from admitting its own nature, it scrupulously fails to mention that it is only the simplification, only the abstraction. As a result of this critical omission consciousness becomes restricted within a limited version of itself, so to speak. It identifies itself with the picture that logic provides and this identification has far-reaching consequences.
Identifying with an abstraction creates the need to control – which is the same thing as ‘the inability to let go’. Everything becomes purposeful from this point on, and the realm of purposefulness is very much like a lobster trap – easy to enter but practically impossible to leave. Once everything has to be done on purpose, ‘by design’, then there is no way to deliberately get out of this situation. Nothing ‘happens by itself’ after this – it all has to be specified in advance, it all has to be deliberately engineered. The need to control is the curse of the conditioned self – the curse which it cannot see as such, the curse which it sees as a blessing.
The curse of the conditioned self is that everything is does is deliberate. Even when it relaxes it deliberately relaxes. If something is to happen it first has to intended to happen – if I am to ‘be myself’ then I must deliberately ‘be myself’ and if I am to be free then I must calculate how to be so. In the prison of logic I must direct myself to do everything and this is precisely what makes logic into a prison. There is no escape – I can’t intend to stop intending, I can’t make a goal to have no more goals, and I can’t control myself to stop controlling. Once the abstract world of logic is entered, then there is no door from which to exit. In this realm nothing can happen unless there is a pre-existent rule saying that it can happen, and there can be no rule to say there will be no more rules. When the simulation (i.e. the abstraction) is all there is then the trap is laid, for there is no way that the simulation can ever simulate non-simulation…
Identifying with the abstraction creates the need to control. There are no two ways about it – non-stop controlling is the story from then on, no matter how sick of it (i.e. how sick of myself) I get. It has to be this way because of the nature of the abstract world within which I now live. This abstract world is made up entirely of logic and logic equals rules. This world – which is identical in all respects with my logical mind – is quintessentially rigid and brittle. It has not even the tiniest bit of ‘give’ in it. It equals what it equals and that is all there is to it. It equals itself and that is all it equals. Logic, by its very nature, contains no possibility of free movement, only the type of movement that has been predetermined by its static laws.
We can therefore understand the abstraction which is logic in terms of the cessation of free movement. Prior to the abstraction there had to have been a situation which was non-abstract since abstractions necessarily have to be abstracted from something. Abstractions have to be abstracted from some situation which itself is not an abstraction. This non-abstract situation – we may say – is the situation of free or uncontrolled movement. The abstraction, then, represents a ‘static snap-shot’, a ‘frozen moment’ of this flow or movement. This is of course the Heraclitian view of the universe, the view which sees ongoing change (or flux) as the only reality. The corollary of this view is that anything which has been taken out of the flow (i.e. abstracted from the flow) is not actually real at all; such ‘static snapshots’ or ‘frozen moments’ merely represent what we might refer to as a ‘formal exercise’ or ‘game’.
Logic, then, is a static picture of a moving or dynamic situation, an unchanging snap-shot of the ever-changing universal flux. But this is of course an inherently contradictory statement! How can we have a static picture of a moving situation? How can flow possibly be represented in terms of a fixed pattern of relationships (which is what logic is)? One might as well try to illustrate the wetness of water by using a pile of dry bones, demonstrate the nature of kindness by means of a vicious punch in the head, or explain light with darkness. No matter how inventively we play about with the set of defined relationships that is the language of logic how can we ever expect to get a description of movement out of it?
Of course, we might very well turn around at this point in the argument and object that it is perfectly possible to have a fixed (or logical) description of movement. We learn equations to describe movement or change in maths and physics classes at school, after all. The thing is however that this isn’t actually movement – it isn’t actually change at all. It can’t be because it comes out of a fixed formula, a fixed equation! What we get when we have a logical description for movement is ‘change that occurs in accordance with a specific rule’ and this is linear change. Linear change is change that varies according to a constant – it is ‘constant change’, which is not really change at all. How can it be, when it is constant? How can it be, when it never deviates from the fixed path that has been allocated for it by the equation? How can it be when it is governed every step of the way by the tyrant constant?
What this shows is that there is a type of movement that can take place within the defining framework of logic, but that this movement is at all times totally defined within the terms of that framework, and those terms themselves do not move at all – not ever. We can therefore say that logic is ‘flexible’ in a very specific (and very limited) sense, that it is flexible only on its own terms. This very limited pseudo-flexibility may be thought of as a type of ‘give’ in the system and as such it is very significant because when we are identified with (or conditioned by) the static abstraction which is logic we are given a version (or token) of ‘give’ or ‘flexibility’ in lieu of the real thing. We are given the illusion of change to prevent us having to confront the infinitely unpalatable fact that – in the world of logic – ‘change is simply not an option’.
The truth of the matter is that, inasmuch as we are identified with the logical introject (which David Bohm calls the system of thought), we can only move in the specific way that is recognized by that system as being a lawful or legitimate way of moving. We can only change if that change is in accordance with the guidelines. In terms of the system itself this is real change – it is real change because the system automatically takes itself as a base-line, as the one and only basis upon which change can take place. This means that trivial change (change in relation to the unchanging basis) is accorded the artificially elevated status of actual – which is to say, non-trivial – change. But since the logical base-line isn’t fundamental in the way it takes itself to be, and isn’t ‘the one and only possible basis’ at all, what it takes as being meaningful (or non-trivial) change isn’t meaningful at all, in the bigger picture of things. The meaningfulness of linear change is an illusion caused by the fact that we don’t have any perspective on it. Linear change is only satisfying, therefore, when we focus on the little picture to the exclusion of the bigger picture and this sort of ‘exclusion of the wider view by the narrow’ is precisely how logic works. This is the precise modality of its operation – logic operates via the surgical removal of perspective.
The pseudo-flexibility of logic grants us therefore ‘a sort of a life’; we allowed some sort of capacity for change, movement or development, albeit a capacity that is only ‘relatively meaningful’ (i.e. meaningful only within the closed system of logic which has become the whole world for us). This degree of virtual flexibility or ‘relative freedom’ provides us with a way of not having to confront the bleak truth that we are trapped in a static picture of a moving reality. It gives us a way of avoiding the realization that we are – because of this – absolutely constrained, absolutely limited, absolutely stuck. We are ‘saved’ from having to see that we are absolutely bound to the fixed location or position to which we have been arbitrary allocated. On the other hand it is also the case that it is because we have been granted the ‘easy option’ of not confronting this most unpalatable of truths that we deny ourselves the opportunity of seeing the ‘untenable nature’ of this paradoxically static modality of existence, and being freed thereby from the absurdity of the situation that we find ourselves in. It is in other words the immediate plausibility of virtual movement (or virtual change) that prevents us from discovering and tasting the real thing.
The type of movement that we have been permitted by the system of logic is all about optimization. Optimization is when we are forever getting closer (and closer still) to some sort of an ‘ideal value’ or ‘golden standard’. The ideal value itself never changes (that being the nature of ideal values) but we can still work away at ‘perfecting ourselves’ and getting ever closer. There is, after all, always room for improvement! The closer we get to the designated value the less ‘error’ there is, and the less error there is the better I have done in the task. The corollary of this is of course that the further away I am from the equilibrium value the more ‘error’ there is, and thus the less commendable my efforts are. This is what human culture is all about – the closer we get to the ideal, the norm, the more we are rewarded, and the further away from it we are (the more ‘error’ there is) the more we are punished. That is the social system in a nutshell.
Exceptions do occur: every now and again someone will – incredibly – break through the stultifying wall of enforced normalization and then what happens is that the system adjusts itself and adopts the ‘successful error’ as if it were its own idea, so to speak, and then this is made into the new equilibrium value, and then the whole process starts all over again. This is what philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn calls paradigm-shifting – this is how culture changes.
‘Optimization-type’ change may be more familiar to us as purposefulness, as goal-orientated behaviour. We pick a goal and then do our level best to attain it, struggling all the while against all the ‘randomizing’ influences inherent in the environment. The environment always contains random fluctuations, disturbances of one sort or another which lead if unchecked towards what the governing system calls ‘error.’ These random fluctuations cannot be eliminated just so long as we remain in the real world (as opposed to a formal world that has been created as ‘an idea’ by the intellect). They what we are ‘up against’ in the course of our ongoing struggle to realize our goals – as a whole they constitute what we call chaos. Chaos is the ancient enemy, the ‘traditional foe’ of the rational-purposeful mind. If it were not for this enemy – so we imagine – then life would fall into line with our ideas for it and everything would be wonderful. This type of ‘final control’ is the ultimate goal-state to which we aspire, it is the ‘nirvana’ which the rational mind dreams of, it is the ‘super-goal’ of when everything that we want has been achieved, and – furthermore – achieved so securely that it cannot ever be taken away from us again.
When we are engaged wholeheartedly in purposeful behaviour it does not seem at all like a ‘static modality’. On the contrary, it feels very dynamic. This however is the same sort of thing as standing still and watching everything else rush by – the illusion holds good just as long as the distraction of the moving scenery is kept up. Take away this diversion – which is essentially the diversion of thinking that we are getting ever closer to realizing our goal – and the reality of the situation starts to become more obvious. Even the ‘negative entertainment’ of thinking that we are getting further away from our goal, of thinking that we are failing, works to prevent us from gaining insight into the essential ‘stuckness’ of our situation. Win or lose, it makes no difference to the fact that our outlook, our mindset, our conception of ourselves and the world, is a frozen or static snapshot of what is actually a gorgeously and fabulously free-flowing movement. No matter what fixed abstract token of life we ‘win’ as a result of our struggling, it will never approximate even in the faintest regard what we are really grasping after. What we are really hankering after is the actual reality and we can only re-enter this reality when we at last find it within ourselves to finally let go of our tired old habitual ‘fixed framework of interpretation’.
If the goals which we are pursuing were too ridiculous (as might be the case if we were to be suffering from some extreme sort of neurotic obsessiveness) then other people at least would be immediately inclined to notice that we are ‘stuck in a rut’. The absurdity, the ‘stuckness’, is instantly obvious. When these ridiculous goals are socially-validated, however, then it is so much harder to notice the stuckness. It becomes a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. If we do feel deadened, demotivated and despairing by the meaningless repetitiveness of it all (or stressed out by the ongoing overpowering sense of trying to achieve the impossible) then we tend to internalise the problem and feel that there is something wrong with us. We might for example think that we are suffering from depression or clinical anxiety, conditions that arise – so we are told – as a result of ‘faulty brain chemicals’. Certainly, no one ever dares to suggest that neurotic mental illness comes about as a result of the petty meaninglessness and cleverly camouflaged futility of our culture! No one ever suggests that neurosis is the result of trying to live our lives on the basis of an arbitrary static (and therefore sterile) abstraction – the endlessly proliferating abstractions which are created by the over-valued rational mind.
It is of course true that we may, during the course of our lives, pursue many different goals, act in accordance with many different purposes and idea and this does not look ‘static’. The freedom to choose between various goals or life-plans is however a deceptive form of freedom, just as the freedom we have to optimize our behaviour around a set of given norms is a deceptive form of freedom. Any goal that I might pick represents the very same underlying framework of meaning and it is this framework that we are not allowed to question or change. The system of logic offers us ‘the freedom the control successfully’ but what lies behind this is the stipulation that on the one hand we always operate according to the rules that have been given to us, and on the other hand that the outcome or goal which we are working towards the whole time is an ‘ideal value’ that has also been provided for us by the system.
The type of freedom to try to succeed within a given framework is the freedom to play a game. This is another way of looking at the ‘leeway’ or ‘give’ that is built into the rigid logical system and which has the function or absorbing or pre-occupying our attention so that we do not feel trapped or imprisoned. Games are all about optimization around an arbitrarily designated ideal goal-state, they are all about controlling. In single-player games we play against the environment (i.e. we play against the random fluctuations that are spontaneously thrown up by the environment) and in two- or multi-player games we play not only against the environment also against the ‘competition’ who have an interest in thwarting our attempt to control successfully. The aim here is to out-control one’s opponent, to thwart (or control) their controlling.
Victory in a game brings an intense feeling of satisfaction and personal empowerment – I feel as if I am ‘untouchable,’ I feel as if I am supreme in my ability to enforce my own will. I feel myself to be in the wonderfully superior position where no one can control me. Victory therefore is perceived as the ultimate form of freedom – it is perceived as complete undisputed freedom from any ‘rival’ forces or agents who might have ideas and intentions which are not the same as mine.
This perception is however profoundly deluded. As a winner (what James Carse would call a ‘master game player’) I am free to overturn the wishes or designs of the other game players but what I am not free from is the game itself. The game is supreme not me because it conditions my perception both of myself and the world. My perception of both what is possible and what is desirable are both provided for me by the fixed context of meaning that I have bought into; my perception of what is important for me is controlled by this context. After all, I don’t decide what constitutes ‘winning’ and what constitutes ‘losing’. I don’t decide what my goals are (even though I might be granted the derisory freedom of choosing between a given set of nominally-different possibilities). My view of the world, my sense of what matters to me, my sense of myself, my very volition, is all being controlled for me by some external agency and so in what sense exactly am I in the ‘superior position’? The only thing I am being victorious in is ‘being a good slave’; the only thing I am being successful in is in giving away my freedom…
Perversely, therefore, at the precise moment of what I take to be my victory, my success, I am feeling good about my own defeat, I am celebrating my own subjugation. The goal which I strain so desperately for, and which I absurdly perceive to be the very pinnacle of freedom (where I myself am the ‘supreme controller’) is in truth – if only I could see things straight instead of ‘upside-down’ – the occasion of my complete and utter subjugation by an external mechanical agency. This is the point at which I have precisely zero freedom and yet I take it to be the exact opposite. This is the point at which everything about me is controlled. This is the point at which I cease to exist as an autonomous or free being, and yet I feel wonderfully empowered. I feel triumphant at the very moment at which the external agency possesses me and what this means (of course) is that the triumph which I rejoice in is the triumph of the system of logic.
The triumph of the system of logic is the same thing as the ‘functional negation’ or ‘practical nullification’ of consciousness. This is the automatonization or robotization of free awareness, the process whereby uncontrolled, unlimited and unprecedented consciousness is immediately and unceremoniously arrested and locked up in the appropriate mental categories the moment it shows its face, so to speak. Consciousness that has not been allocated to the appropriate category (consciousness that has not been suitably parcelled-up by the rational-conceptual apparatus) is a scandal. It is like a woman of marriageable age who is unfortunate enough to be living in a strongly patriarchal society and who is seen walking around the crowded city streets on her own. This is an affront – a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. Women are not meant to be free agents. This is not what patriarchy is all about.
Similarly, free, uncontrolled or ‘non-allocated’ consciousness cannot be allowed to show itself – this would be simply too shocking, too flagrantly scandalous for the dogmatic and overbearing system of thought to tolerate, even for the briefest moment. One might goes so far as to say that this constitutes a crime, the crime of being free, the crime of not recognizing and at all times abiding by the pointlessly restrictive system of rules and stipulations which is the rational mind.
The crime is ‘being free’ and the punishment is the immediate incarceration of the offender in the dark and dismal prison of the fully-regulated, fully-automated mechanical process. The punishment is for consciousness to be transformed into a mechanical parody of itself.
We can also look at this robotization process by saying that it is what inevitably happens when we grasp after certainty, or ‘absolute definition’. Certainty is seen by all as the ultimately advantageous state of affairs – the admirably unambiguous state in which all confusion, all fuzziness, all unwanted or irrelevant elements (all ‘error’) has been surgically cut away and removed leaving only the one particular thing that we do want. Certainty is the flip-side of being totally in control, it is what we obtain when we are totally in control, which is to say, when I have obtained and secured the one possibility that I do want, and have forever shut the door on, and excluded, all other possibilities. The moment that the door of consciousness is shut ‘once and for all’ upon all the unwanted or irrelevant possibilites is the moment of our supreme and undisputed triumph. This is what we have always been working towards.
The triumph in question however belongs as we have said not to the ‘I’ of free consciousness, but to the reflexive ‘me’ of the system of logic. The ‘me’ has replaced the ‘I’. The dead letter of the law has overthrown the living spirit and the senseless bureaucracy of the sterile rational mind now rules over all. Consciousness has been automatonized, turned into a senseless set of reflexes or reactions, a pointless game that demonstrates nothing more than the absolute crushing life-excluding authority of the mechanical or logical mind. The logical mind’s glorious supremacy is the message that is trumpeted out over and over again, in all things.
What the mind’s door has been shut on is not ‘error’, as the system would have us believe, but life itself. It is not ‘I’ who have triumphed over an unruly chaotic universe to assert my will, but quite the reverse. It is not I to whom the triumph belongs, but that ancient adversary – the ‘true adversary’ – the dark force of restriction and deception. My perceptions have been inverted – I have identified with (given myself over to, capitulated to) my oppressor and so now I see things from his own point of view. I am looking out of his eyes, thinking his thoughts, feeling his victory as my own…
So who is this terrible adversary? Who (or what) is the force that is so ruthlessly intent on my utter subjugation? Who is it that trips me up every time I put my best foot forward? What agency is it that promptly arrests me and claps me in irons and throws me in a dark and miserable dungeon every time I show my face? Who is it that is working to thrown me back in jail every time I finish my sentence?
On the on hand we could try to answer this question by saying that the one who does the imprisoning is the mechanical system, the closed continuum of logic. We could say that the adversary is the Demiurge, the deluded ‘half-maker’, the insane Creator of Gnostic Theology. This isn’t really true however. A better answer to the question is to say that the one who does all this, the one who sabotages me every time, the one who trips me up at every step and delivers me back into pointless servitude, is myself. I have after all facilitated the whole process myself, by agreeing with it at every step…
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.