Being enslaved to the nullity has a number of consequences, all of which come down in the end to the very same thing. One consequence is circularity: we can say that all my purposeful thoughts and actions only ever seem to take me somewhere, that in reality they only ever take me around in circles. It is as if I am kept on a tight leash, an elasticated leash perhaps which lets me feel that I am getting somewhere only to ‘reverse the illusion’ a bit later on and bring me right back to square one again. This consequence is the consequence of thinking that I am getting somewhere whilst never getting anywhere – I am on a permanent ‘journey to nowhere’ but because I don’t see this I never jump off the sterile merry-go-round.
The second consequence of being enslaved by the nullity has to do with the ease with which my assumptions or preconceptions get to be confirmed. This is like having a friend who will agree with you no matter what you say, simply because this keeps you happy. Whatever I want to believe in gets to be true for me at a drop of a hat – I can believe in one thing or another thing and either way that belief instantly gets to seem like the right one to me. It’s all ridiculously arbitrary – I can be a Catholic or I can be a Protestant, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Scientologist, I can be a Republican or a Democrat, I can support Chelsea Football Club or Manchester United. Whatever position I take I will staunchly defend, and yet I could equally well have taken up any other position, and this is true for any viewpoint, any opinion, any belief you might care to mention. This sort of confirmation is a very cheap commodity and this cheapness is of course an indication of its intrinsic worthlessness – if anything can be the right way of seeing things, then there is no right way of seeing things. This consequence is therefore that I think I am seeing a particular format of reality which is ‘specially and uniquely true’, but which in reality is no more true than anything else. Confirmation involves an immediate but trivial type of satisfaction that never gets us anywhere – it is far too easy, it involves zero challenge, zero work…
The third consequence of being enslaved by the nullity is that is that all of my thoughts and actions are henceforth deterministically influenced by whatever set of assumptions that I have randomly assumed to be true, without me being able to see that they have been deterministically influenced. I perceive myself as having free will, and yet in reality everything I think and do is wholly predetermined, is entirely lacking in freedom.
Why this should be the case can be explained in a very straightforward fashion, and that explanation has to do with the ‘identity of the opposites’. As J.G. Bennett says, the fact that I perceive the opposites as being unconnected (or ‘different’) means that I react to a negative with a positive – I switch from a NO to a YES and as I do so I feel that I am getting somewhere new. Furthermore, when I oppose a NO with a YES I feel that this constitutes ‘a genuine act of will’. Yet how can this response be a genuine act of will when it is conditioned by the starting-off position without me realizing that it has been so conditioned? My ‘affirming’ response to the ‘denying’ initial condition I take to be my own invention, a totally new and fresh ingredient in the mix. To me, this act of ‘opposing a negative with the corresponding positive’ constitutes an act of freedom – something new and unexpected, something radical and defiant. My conditioned reaction does not seem to me like ‘a reaction’ but a splendidly individual and autonomous action – a freely-willed, creative initiative owing nothing to the initial conditions and everything to me as the initiating agent. I take the credit for this supposedly creative act and in this assumption of genuine authorship lies the origin of the very convincing sense that the conditioned or purposeful self has of being an actual free and autonomous agent – a sense which is clearly entirely illusory. Or we could simply say that this false sense of autonomy is responsible for the illusion of the conditioned self as a self, when it is really only a mechanical reflex.
The reason this basic, taken-for-granted perception of autonomy is illusory is of course because the ‘affirming’ reaction is inherent in the ‘denying’ initial condition. The supposedly creative (or ‘free’) ‘positive’ reaction is wholly conditioned by the ‘negative’ starting-off point – it was predetermined right from the very beginning. The positive isn’t a new and unexpected development, it isn’t a radical departure from the negative, but rather it is actually the very same time, with a different gloss or spin put on it. The negative is the positive.
It is as if I have a block of wood sitting there on my living room floor. I leave the house and come back a few hours later to discover that very same block of wood still sitting there on the living room floor, just as it was when I left it. This is of course an infinitely predictable outcome – unless someone comes into the room when I am not there, or unless the house burns down in my absence, the block of wood is pretty much guaranteed to be still there when I get back. And yet when I come back into the room I am amazed, thrilled, excited and surprised to find it still there. The fact that the block of wood is still sitting there on the living room floor constitutes – for me – news of the utmost significance; it is a new development of the most far-reaching consequence, it is an important and revolutionary breakthrough! This is something to tell the folks back home about; I could even write it up into an article and get it published in the New Scientist. The incident makes my day – I just can’t get over it. A block of wood has continued to be a block of wood – amazing…
This might seem like a rather ridiculous story but it is nevertheless exactly what happens when I react to a NO with a YES – I take this as being a significant change, and yet nothing at all has changed. A pendulum swings predictably back and forth, from one side to the other, negative displacement periodically giving way to positive displacement, over and over again. The negative swing phase and the positive swing phase are one and the same movement. They are not two different things – the only way the negative swing phase is not going to give way to the negative is if someone comes along and stops it mid-swing. Yet – as we have said – because I see YES and NO, UP and DOWN, affirming and denying, as being two entirely different things I persist in thinking that I am breaking new ground with my infinitely predictable mechanical reacting. Because of my one-sided or blinkered vision I have a false perception of freedom, a false perception of creativity. I don’t just have a false perception of freedom, I have a false perception of myself – the mechanically reacting conditioned self – as being a free and autonomous agent. I have unwittingly identified with a mere reflex!
Responding to a MINUS with a PLUS makes up the whole of our purposeful behaviour, as well as the entire domain of our rational thinking. It makes up the whole of everything we do and think within the sphere of logic, since logic is quintessentially polar in nature, being constituted entirely of YES answers and NO answers. If it doesn’t exist somewhere on a continuum or scale between [+] at one end and [-] at the other then it can’t be ‘purposeful’ or ‘rational’ because this is what purposeful/rational means. If I have a goal or a purpose then straightaway we know that it must be the case that I am reacting to what I perceive to be a ‘deficit value’ and instigating the attempt to make good this deficit value by ‘swapping a minus for a plus’. Things are one way and I want them to be another – ‘how things are’ is thus the negative and ‘how I want them to be’ is the positive. The making of goals is universally seen as the quintessential expression of self-assertion and self-empowerment, which is a peculiar thing since in reality the making of and striving after goals is the antithesis of autonomy.
Goal-orientated behaviour is ‘acting under a compulsion’ but I generally overlook this fact because I feel that the compulsion in question was created by myself, which means that it isn’t a compulsion at all but a free expression of whatever it is that I want to achieve. What I don’t seem to see is the fact that I was compelled to create that goal in the first place by whatever particular pressure I was under at the time, and so the goal itself is no more than my passive, automatic response to this specific pressure. The goal is me obeying the compulsion by trying mechanically to replace a perceived minus with a plus. The goal is me blindly following the deterministic logic of the situation. Having been compelled to set the goal up I am then compelled to struggle gamely on trying to achieve it. This is therefore the furthest thing from an expression of free will or autonomy – it is mechanical reacting. I am trapped in the situation of having to fulfil whatever duty or responsibility it is that rests upon me and what keeps me trapped is my feeling of allegiance to this ‘duty’ because I falsely understand myself to be struggling to enact my own true will in the matter. In reality what I am feeling allegiance to is a random mechanical reflex – a pointless automatism and nothing more. Such is the irony of unconsciousness life, an irony which is – needless to say – almost invariably lost on me.
If I am genuinely autonomous then I will be able to drop any goal whatsoever without any guilt, without being tormented by a sense that I have myself (or anyone else) down, or by the ominous feeling that something very bad is going to happen as a result. I will be able to let go of it cleanly. But if I am able to do this then this means that I am being spontaneous rather than purposeful – which means that I am already free. It means that I never was under the self-imposed bondage of the ‘goal’ or ‘purpose’ in the first place. It never mattered to me that much anyway, which is to say, it was a playful goal not a serious one. If I am in purposeful rather than spontaneous mode – and we almost always are – then I can’t drop my goals like this. I just can’t. When I am in the calculating, deliberate mode of consciousness then the only way I can change my goals is by deliberately changing them, by swapping one goal for another, one master for another, one compulsion for another compulsion. And if I get sick of this wretched mechanical deliberateness (as is bound to happen sooner or later) then naturally the only way I can think of freeing myself is by making the deliberate effort to stop having goals. I make the goal of having no goal into my new goal. I try to calculate a way of not having to calculating everything the whole time. The truth us that I am well and truly stuck; I have totally forgotten how to be free – or rather, I have totally forgotten that I am free. All I can do is helplessly react to one opposite by instigating the other, whilst passionately believing the whole time that this mechanical reacting will set me free.
The truth of the matter – as a moment’s experimentation will clearly show – is that we are all ‘stuck in thinking’ and thinking is based on logic, it is based on the perception that the opposites are separate. If we weren’t ‘stuck in thinking’ we would be able to drop it all, the whole lot of it, without any fuss or straining, and we can’t. All we can do is keep on rebounding helplessly from one thought to another, thinking the whole time that we are actually getting somewhere! We have no escape, we have no possibility – within the system of thought – of ever getting somewhere new. It is always just same old block of wood sitting there in the same spot on the living room floor.
We aren’t stuck because we can’t get anywhere new, we are stuck because we can’t get anywhere new whilst thinking the whole time that we can. We are stuck in negative freedom – stuck in ‘zero freedom that looks like freedom because of our truncated way of apprehending reality’. Because we wholehearted and passionately believe that the rational mind or the rational outlook contains freedom it is inevitable that we will continue looking for our freedom within this remit. The unlikelihood that we will ever see the nature of our prison is demonstrated by the way which we instantaneously dismiss the idea that all of our thoughts and actions are deterministically decided by the rational framework within which we exclusively operate. Who is going to seriously entertain such a suggestion, even for a moment or two? The rational framework does not allow us the possibility of considering this possibility – such a thought would be free thought, a genuinely creative thought, and the rational framework does not allow for freedom or creativity.
The idea that everything we think and do within the remit of the rational mind is predetermined (i.e. conditioned) by the finite assumptions that we have made and then resolutely forgotten about is one that is necessarily incomprehensible to the rational mind. When we are enslaved by the nullity the terms of that enslavement are that we will not be able to understand the idea that we are enslaved. Confronted with this idea we will laugh at it. The nullity itself arises as a direct and inevitable consequence of assuming that the whole of reality is capable of being apprehended within a fixed and therefore finite framework of understanding. Once we have made this assumption then we can never go beyond it; the assumption is our limitation and we are tied fast to it as if by some kind of elasticated leash – we may take off at a tremendous gallop but, no matter what our dreams at the outset might have been, we will always be brought up short at a certain point and returned unceremoniously to our starting-off point. As wretchedly banal and uninspiring as that initial, ‘hastily acquired’ and thoroughly ill-advised assumption might have been, it now constitutes the absolute precondition for everything we experience. It constitutes the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of our conditioned lives.
Because we are so extremely disinclined to turn around and examine the key assumption that we have made (the assumption that the universe we live in must be comprehensively and literally understandable to us) we are condemned to live lives of unremitting pettiness. By this reluctance we have – by default – insisted that the universe be a small sort of a place, we have insisted that it be a constrained and petty sort of an affair. It can’t be beyond our limited understanding; we will not countenance that suggestion, we will have no truck with it. We can get away with this insistence – after a fashion – but there is a price to pay and the price is that the world we live in is a null one. The price is that life is turned into a meaningless game that we nevertheless have to play with the utmost seriousness.
When we assume that reality is definite, definable, and describable we create the nullity because anything that is wholly definite, definable, and describable is null. All definite statements are null. Logic is null. There is a kind of an advantage to not seeing this – albeit an advantage that pretty soon turns around and bites you in the arse – and that advantage can be explained in terms of what is commonly called a ‘false sense of security’. When we do not want to see that the null world that we have opted to live in is null we genuinely do obtain a sense of flat, unchallenging security about things but there are consequences. These consequences can be broken down into three components:
 – That we never get anywhere, that we just keep going around in circles
 – That whatever we originally assume to be true automatically gets to be true, in an ‘empty’ kind of a way
 – That we have no free will at all in going around in circles, or in totally believing in whatever picture of reality it is that our assumptions cause us to believe in
Ultimately speaking, all three consequences come down to the same thing. Not really getting anywhere but seeming to, not really seeing reality but imagining we do, not really having free will but thinking we do all come down to ‘disguised redundancy’, which is of course what the nullity is all about.
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.