Controlling creates the false self. This isn’t how we usually think about things but it is nevertheless the most essential way of understanding what’s going on. Controlling how we create the false self and every self is the false self.
Controlling has an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that we get to create the self (as we have said) and the disadvantages also that we get to create the self! All we can say to this situation is ‘Congratulations and condolences‘, echoing the words of the ancient alchemists, who were smarter than we are.
There is obviously ‘an advantage’ to being the self, of some type or other, because we wouldn’t keep gravitating towards it in the way we do otherwise. Being the self is without any question a powerful ‘attractor state’. It is without doubt the most powerful attractor state going! What else can compare with it? The self is the ultimate equilibrium value. It’s like Rome; it is where all roads lead…
What we really talking about here is freedom, and the ‘advantages’ involved in handing over our freedom to mechanical laws. The advantage of handing over our freedom to mechanical laws is the experience that game that we gain of being the self. We couldn’t have this experience otherwise – it wouldn’t be possible. The disadvantage of ‘handing over our freedom to mechanical rules’ is of course that we become slaves to these rules.
The rules that we are enslaved to tell us what to do and what to think. They tell us how to perceive the world and how to understand the world. They tell us absolutely everything and what they don’t tell us about we don’t know about! They tell us what to care about and what they don’t tell us we don’t care about. We don’t care about reality, therefore.
From one point of view therefore the disadvantages to this deal that we have made appear to be astonishingly severe. We have no freedom left to us – whatever we do we do because we are compelled to do it. Everything we do we do as a result of what we think the world is, after all, and ‘what we think the world is’ (our conception of it) is something that is both’ fundamentally untrue’, and ‘involuntarily imposed upon us from the outside’. Our ‘conception of the world’ is of course the basic template for both how we see the world, and what we do (or don’t do) within it.
Out of this template, no freedom can never come. No freedom can ever come from any template. No freedom can ever emerge from our conception of the world, no matter what; if freedom wasn’t there to start off with then it can’t be there later on, no matter what activities we engage in, no matter what procedures we enact. We can say that no ‘freedom can never come about on the basis of the thinking mind’ or we can say that ‘no freedom can ever come about via the activities of the self’ – it’s the same thing. If we were to ‘take a step out of’ the understanding of the world that is supplied for us by thought then we would immediately lose the self. There is no self outside of our conceptualisation of the world, and that’s the real reason why we aren’t in any great hurry to separate ourselves from our concepts, separate ourselves from our thoughts, separate ourselves from our goals.
Controlling creates the self because we control in accordance with our logical understanding of the world. We see control is simply being, ‘what we have to do in order to bring about the outcome which we happen to favour’ but it there’s a lot more to it than this – control means buying into a particular narrow description of reality, without realising that we are buying into anything. The more heavily we invest in the controlling – more important we see it as being – the more we buy into conceptualisation, the more we buy into the ‘Mind Created Virtual Reality’. When we run into the ‘systematic problems’ or ‘systematic errors’ that are concealed under the glossy surface of the MCVR – as we always will do – then we are of course going to try to use our much vaunted ‘ability to control’ to solve these systemic problems, to escape from them. We’re going to use the thing that’s trapping us (and tying us up in knots) as a ‘remedy’. This is the mechanism by which we get even more entangled, even more enmeshed in that conceptualised world, that ‘world of thoughts’. Our enmeshment becomes ‘multi-layered’ and we end up in some kind of ‘Russian Doll Land’. We end up being ‘lost in the construct‘.
The MCVR always looks fine ‘on the outside’, and it’s only ever the surface that it shows us! The Logically-Constructed World seems to us to be ‘essentially soluble’, in other words, even though it isn’t. That’s the whole appeal of logic, after all – the appeal is that it offers us solutions, that it offers us clearly defined routes to where we want to go. Logic wouldn’t be worth a damn if it didn’t offer this! What good would it be – what good would the type of logic that doesn’t office any solutions be? It’s of no value ‘of itself’ after all, it’s only valuable because of its utility.
The Logical World that is made up of our logical descriptions it looks ‘translucent’, whilst actually it is very opaque indeed. What we fail to see in our enthusiasm for it is that all logical systems contain’ systematic errors’ – which is to say, errors that the system itself is incapable of registering, by its very nature. David Bohm explains this point in his book Thought as a System:
Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thoughts, “felts” and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society – as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times. A system is constantly engaged in a process of development, change, evolution and structure changes…although there are certain features of the system which become relatively fixed. We call this the structure…. Thought has been constantly evolving and we can’t say when that structure began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before.
Now, I say that this system has a fault in it – a “systematic fault”. It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say “I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem”. But “my” thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I’m trying to look at, or a similar fault.
Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it’s creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates.
A logical system – we might say – gets to be ‘a logical system’ by virtue of the fact that it is 100% consistent (which is to say by virtue of the fact that all of the statements and conclusions it produces agree with one another). That’s the beauty of logic. But logic has another type of beauty too which we don’t see and which we don’t appreciate and this is the beauty of paradox. Paradoxicality is how a logical system shows us it’s ‘self-inconsistency’ and all logical systems are self-inconsistent at the same time as being self-consistent – the self-contradictoriness just happens to be on a level that we can’t see.
What the phenomenon of ‘paradoxicality’ tells us – in a nutshell – is that we can’t trust what the logical processes telling us. Logic’s strength is its consistency, which is why we trust it in the way that we do, and so when it shows itself to be flatly contradicting itself – is it always will do when we look at it closely enough – then it destroys its own credibility. A good way to understand the self-contradictory nature of logic is to understand the self-contradictory nature of desire – both of these come from the same root, which is the very structure of logic itself. In the state of desire we focus entirely on the goal; everything is orientated towards the realization of the goal – we don’t give any attention to what happens afterwards. This is how the goal gets to be as attractive as it is – the less attention we give to the question of what might follow on from it, the more appealing, the more exciting, the more ‘all-consuming’ the goal becomes. We charge ahead heedlessly therefore, transfixed and consumed by ‘the Golden Promise of the Goal’.
What’s actually happening here is that we are seeing the ‘positive value’ of the goal as some kind of ‘isolated or separate entity’ – not seeing that all positive values are inseparable from the corresponding negative values (just as one end of a stick is by its very nature inseparable from the other). The consequence of seeing the positive pole as if it were a separate thing from a negative one is that a very great ‘attractiveness’ is created – an intense magnetic pull that we are completely swept up in. The ‘irresistible attractiveness’ of the isolated positive value (the goal) is what we call desire.
From a psychological point of view therefore, ‘isolated opposites’ (even though they don’t really exist) are immensely compelling. They turn us all into lemmings! The isolated opposites don’t just fascinate our will, they become our will. Not only is the ‘isolated opposite’ (the ‘plus without a minus’, or ‘up without a down’) immensely compelling (to the extent that we take it to be our will) it is also flatly self-contradictory in that we are – unbeknownst to ourselves – chasing the opposite that we hate and fear at the same time that we are pursuing the one we love and covet.
So if this isn’t ‘contradictory’ then what is? We’re shooting ourselves in the foot every time. We love and cherish pleasure (this being – of course – tautologically true!) and yet we doggedly pursue the pain that comes with it, even though the repulsion and aversion we feel for the pain is every bit as absolute as the attraction and longingly we feel for the pleasure. We caught between the clashing rocks (the Symplegades of Greek legend) which Joseph Campbell speaks of here in Reflections on the Art of Living:
When you cross a threshold, you’re passing into the dark forest, taking a plunge into the sea, embarking upon the night sea journey. It involves passing through clashing rocks, narrow gates, or the like, which represents represent yes and no, the pain the pairs of opposites,. There will be a moment when the walls of the world seem to open for a second, and you get an insight through. Jump then!! The gates will often close so fast that they take off the tail of your horse. You may be dismembered, lose everything you have. This is Christ leaving the Mother, the world, and going to the father, the spirit. This is Jonah swallowed by the whale, its jaws being the pairs of opposites.
When we are identified with thought then we have to live out the course of our lives in the space between plus and minus, between pleasure and pain, and the problem with this is that there is no space between them!
When we are operating within the realm of thought – and we always are! – then we are under the magnetic/hypnotic influence of the ‘isolated opposite’. This is precisely what thought does after all – it splits everything up into opposites! The essential mechanism of thought is to compare all incoming data with its categories (or, as we could also say, its essential mechanism is to ‘process all incoming data in accordance with its assumed rules or criteria’) which is the same thing. The end result of this is to digitalise the world, to turn the world into ‘affirm and deny’, into ‘positive results versus negative results’. Thought creates the ‘Dual World’ therefore, and the dual world, as we have already pointed out, is the only world within which the self can exist. There can be no ‘self’ without ‘not-self’, after all, and this means that the self is an ongoing exercise in duality!
The Dual World is an arena of experience with within which we can have the security of living within a world within which everything is defined and known, including (of course) ourselves. We will never have to radically revise our understanding of things and there’s great comfort in this; everything is always going to be ‘the same old story’ with only very minor, very superficial variations. If these variations (the ups and downs of the logically consistent narrative) seem ‘nontrivial’ to us then that’s only because of our total lack of perspective, our total lack of appreciation for ‘the Bigger Picture’. This is the ‘benefit’ therefore of being the defined self, whilst the downside or ‘cost’ is (as we have been saying) that we have no true will of our own. We are under a state of constant hypnosis with regard to the magnetic power of the ‘isolated opposites’, which completely control us, and so everything that happens here in the Realm of Duality is, as Gurdjieff says, purely mechanical.
There is a further ‘cost’ to be taken into consideration here and that is the cost of always having to be obeying the mechanical compulsions and believing as we do so  that this external mechanical compulsions are own true will and  that the direction in which these compulsions are taking us is towards freedom, rather than deeper and deeper into self-conflicting slavery. The actual truth behind our delusions couldn’t be more stark however, we don’t have any will of our own – we don’t have any will of our own because we have been hypnotised by apparition of the ‘isolated opposites’ – we’re sleepwalkers marching mechanically to the beat of the rational-conceptual mind and the rational-conceptual mind only ever deals in ‘isolated opposites’.
The only way we wouldn’t be’ sleepwalking’ would be if we weren’t utilising the rational–conceptual mind in order to understand everything and this isn’t something that happens very often. The RC mind creates a Dual World, the world of YES and NO, the world of RIGHT and WRONG, and that’s the only world they can create. As we have said. And when we are operating within this realm – which is the realm of duality – there’s no way that we cannot be hypnotised by the apparition of the separated/isolated opposites. There is no way that our consciousness CAN’T be hijacked by the ‘attraction to one opposite and aversion to the other’, which is what in Vedanta and Buddhism is called attachment.
Attachment only ever leads to one place, and that is a place that doesn’t contain any kind of fulfilment or peace. We’re striving to find that fulfilment, that sense of ‘being at peace’, but that’s only because we believe in the promise of the isolated opposite (i.e. the ‘mythical monopole’ of winning). We can’t help believing in the isolated opposite or monopole on a very deep level – it is after all encoded into our very way of understanding things- but notwithstanding this, it is still based on a hallucinatory perception! Just because this dualistic viewpoint is built into our very way of understanding the world doesn’t mean that it can’t – at one and the same time – be a total hallucination…
Art: Dia de los Muertos Matryoshkas by Cyanidenight
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.