Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are always busy creating the equilibrium zone. This is our Number One activity, our Number One occupation. We can do this one our own, or we can do it with someone else. We can do it singly, and we can do it in groups. We create the equilibrium zone as the basis for communication – whenever we meet another person we create an equilibrium state between us. We work together on it – it’s a type of agreement that we have. And when there’s a whole bunch of us in it we collude to create an extra-potent, extra-powerful equilibrium state – the most heavy-weight example of all of course being the equilibrium zone we call society.
We collude with others on a daily basis, but we also collude with ourselves (although we don’t notice that we’re doing it in either case). Every time we think we create an equilibrium state – the act of thinking is the act of comparing the world around us to a taken-for-granted framework, a taken-for-granted measuring stick, and this act of comparison-making always results in the creation of an equilibrium zone. The taken-for-granted framework (or measuring stick) creates an equilibrium zone precisely because it is ‘taken-for-granted’ – it’s assumed, it’s never looked at (i.e. we use it without looking at what it is that we are using) and this means that it is never going to change. If something is never made conscious, never subjected to conscious enquiry, then of course it’s never going to change. How can it?
All phenomena are subject to change – the very fact that they exist in the world means that they are interacting with everything else and if they’re interacting with everything else then they are changing as a result. Every element of the universe exists in state of co-relation with every other element and so nothing can ever be fixed, nothing can ever be pinned down and ‘known’ – much as we’d like to do so! But when we ‘take a framework of reference for granted’ then this framework never changes; when we ‘assume a measuring stick’ then this measuring stick never changes. By not questioning or examining what we are doing (or why) we have created something that is not actually part of the universe, we have created a disconnected static abstraction, and when we use this static abstraction as a basis for enquiring into the world, and designating meaning to the world, then we have created in this way ‘the equilibrium zone’!
We’re always creating the equilibrium zone for ourselves; we do it as a kind of basic function, without actually paying any heed to ourselves doing so. We’re ‘doing it without knowing that we’re doing it’ – it’s an activity that’s always going on in the background, an activity that we are entirely oblivious to. If the business of creating an equilibrium zone ceased for some reason then we’d know about it for sure but the point is that it never does cease (or at least, only on the very rare occasion). Clearly – therefore – we are getting something important out of it. We wouldn’t be so persistent in creating the equilibrium zone if we weren’t getting something out of it and what we’re getting out of it is a basic, underlying sense of certainty (or predictability) about the world. This underlying stratum of certainty or predictability is important to us because it allows us to create a sense of self, a sense of permanent and unchanging identity that otherwise wouldn’t be there. When we create the equilibrium world we’re creating the self. We don’t need to ask why the self wants to create and maintain the self because that’s what the self is – it’s a static pattern of thought that seeing continuing to exist as ‘winning’ and ceasing to exist as ‘losing’. Winning is good and losing is bad and that really is all we need to know when we’re playing the game of self!
The equilibrium zone or world is a world of familiarity therefore – ‘equilibrium’ means that we are provided with a sense of comforting familiarity in a universe where familiarity is quite unwarranted! We’ve no business finding the universe to be a familiar place and yet we do, because of the operation of the thinking mind. In one way therefore this could be said to be a tremendous accomplishment – we have achieved something here that is almost miraculous (albeit ‘miraculous’ in an inverted sense of the world since what we have actually done is that we have replaced the sheer unadulterated wonder of existence with something that is entirely banal. We have as Carlos Castaneda says used our customary ‘doings’ to shield ourselves from the onslaughts of the Immensity that lies out there, and so we no longer know that there is such a thing as this Immensity. We have very effectively blocked out the radically unknown, but since the radically unknown is all there is this turns out to be a good example of what is called a ‘Pyrrhic victory’…
So we get a ‘benefit’ from this business of creating the equilibrium zone but it is only possible to call it a ‘benefit’ when we look at things from the unreal perspective of the static sense of self that we all take for granted. We have to look at things in a funny, twisted, distorted sort of a way. It’s a victory, we might say, but only for something that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, even on this unreal or distorted basis it isn’t what we could call a clear or unambiguous victory- it’s a ‘dirty’ sort of a victory, as we have already indicated. It’s the kind of a victory’ that is achieved only at a price that takes the good out of everything that we have supposedly ‘gained’. It’s a victory that isn’t really a victory, therefore. We can continue as if we have obtained a genuine benefit, but only if we obstinately ignore the way in which the ‘benefit’ in question isn’t actually any sort of benefit at all!
The benefit we get from creating and maintaining the equilibrium zone is only really a ‘benefit’ in the sense that obtaining a quantity of heroin will seem to be a benefit if I happen to be addicted to the drug. If I’m not addicted to it then it won’t seem like any sort of ‘benefit’ at all. Once I start taking heroin (or some other addictive drug) on a regular basis then from my (admittedly biased) point of view then there most definitely is a benefit to taking the drug – I clearly wouldn’t be so very keen to take it otherwise! From the point of view of someone who is addicted to taking heroin or some such substance the benefit that comes from doing so is the only ‘benefit’ that I actually care about but this is of course only because I need it in order to feel normal. Seen from a less biased viewpoint it can be seen that the euphoric buzz that comes from imbibing opiates is actually a curse not a benefit! It is our downfall, it is our ruination…
Heroin addiction, like any addiction, is a curse because life very quickly gets degraded to the point where it becomes nothing more than taking care of the conditioned need to keep on obtaining the drug. Life devolves or degenerates or downgrades until it becomes a crudely repetitive routine: first there is the need to obtain the substance we are addicted to (which drives all our behaviour) and then there is our success or failure with regard to this aim. There’s ‘the rule’, and then there are the two possible outcomes wrt the rule – either we succeed in obeying it or we fail. Life gets ‘turned into a game’, in other words.
To keep to the example of heroin (because it is so clear-cut), taking the drug is in the first instance very pleasurable. The ‘advantage’ in repeating the action is therefore entirely obvious. Later on of course we’re taking it just to feel normal, just to avoid the pain of cold-turkey. It’s not that we are trying to obtain an advantage, therefore, but rather it’s that we are doing our level best to avoid the disadvantage. In exactly the same way, ‘creating and maintaining the equilibrium zone’ seems at first to be providing us with a very great advantage, but before very long our motivation is all about avoiding the disadvantage of not maintaining it. We’re afraid of the consequences that will immediately attend not maintaining it. We’re addicted to the damn thing, in other words. When our basic need in life is to ‘maintain the equilibrium state of being that we are addicted to’ life has become crudely over-simplified into a game. The rule is that we have to protect the equilibrium zone, and the two possible outcomes that follow on from this rule are that we either succeed at it or fail. There are now – we could say – only three things in our life: the need to maintain the equilibrium state, the sweetness of the euphoria we obtain when we succeed, and the bitterness of the dysphoria that we reap when we don’t succeed. The need is what drives the game we are constantly playing, and the two possible outcomes are either winning or losing.
Actually – we could say – they aren’t three things here but only two – there is the rule and there is the activity or behaviour that comes about as a result of us trying to obey the rule. This is what everything degrades into when our sole (unexamined) purpose in life is to maintain the equilibrium state – there is only the rule (which is actually quite unreal because it’s only there because we’re saying that it is) and there are the activities that come about as a result of us trying to obey this rule (which we don’t know about) and because these activities all stem from the need to obey an unreal rule they aren’t real either! We have a phantom rule and we have the phantom activities that proceed from this rule (which when it comes down to it are the rule). Stuff that happens because of the rule IS the rule and so we could say there is only the ONE thing here in this picture that we are describing! There’s only ‘the rule’, and the rule doesn’t really exist. It’s a hoary old myth that there is – the rule is the ‘official myth that we’re not allowed to question’.
Life devolves into ‘only the one possibility’ when our sole (unexamined) aim in everything we do is to maintain the equilibrium state (which involves pretending that there is nothing but the equilibrium state, or pretending that reality itself is an equilibrium state). There is only the rule – the rule is the only thing that matters, the only thing that is valued, the only thing that grabs the headlines. Equilibrium-seeking activity is activity that is directed towards the goal or standardized value and it has a very curious nature in that it splits everything up into ‘signal’ and ‘error’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. We then see ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as an absolute existence; we perceive there to be actually such a thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when the truth is that they are merely functions of a rule that itself is only there because we have said it should be there. We have tricked ourselves into thinking there is self-existent structure when there isn’t. The reason this trick works as effectively as it does is because of the way information is automatically ‘dumped’; the ‘error’ component doesn’t actually exist for us beyond the label ‘error’ – we pay no heed to it because as we realize that the information in question doesn’t fit the rule, doesn’t fit the criteria, we promptly lose all interest in it and throw it away. We disregard it, we chuck it away, we flush it down the toilet. For us, only ‘signal’ is worthy of interest and ‘signal’ simply means ‘stuff that agrees with our assumed rule’. The ‘curious point’ that we started off talking about in this paragraph is therefore that for is only the signal is real, and yet what shows up as ‘signal’ only shows up as such because it faithfully matches a rule that in itself isn’t real.
So what this means is that the ‘devolution’ ‘devaluation’ or ‘degradation’ that we are talking about here is the degradation of the real into the unreal. This is as clear as clear can be – what is being degraded here is reality itself! As soon as we see this we can see very clearly why the equilibrium zone (the world that is constructed on the basis of the rule) is a curse rather than a benefit, even though we automatically take it to be a benefit and act as if it were a benefit. It’s not true to say that we consciously see the creation of the equilibrium zone as ‘a benefit’ because we cannot allow ourselves to know that there is such a thing as the equilibrium zone. We’re not aware of the Equilibrium World as the Equilibrium World because if we were this would entail knowing that it is only an arbitrary construct (or ‘game’) and if we knew this then the subjectively-existing or apparent character of ‘absolute validity’ that we were enjoying (or suffering from) would no longer provide the ‘hit’ that we were looking for. When we know that the apparent character of absolute validity is only apparent (and is actually only ‘relatively valid’, so to speak) then this changes everything. It’s the difference (to use Robert Anton Wilson’s example of ‘framing’) between me saying “You are a total bastard!” and “You seem to me to be a total bastard right now because I am in an aggrieved frame of mind.” Or to give another example, it is the difference between me saying “I am a winner!” and “I seem to be ‘a winner’ from the point of view of the arbitrary game that I am playing.” The difference between these two types of statements (one absolute and the other relative) really is very significant indeed!
Because we can’t see the Equilibrium World for what it is (i.e. an arbitrary construct that we are naively assuming to be ‘the whole of everything’) we can’t see that we are afflicted with a dependency. It’s an invisible dependency. Not only do we not know that we are dependent upon the equilibrium state, we also don’t know that the equilibrium state is essentially unreal, and so we don’t know that we are dependent upon an unreal situation for our sense of well-being, and that this is ‘a curse rather than a benefit’). We might naively ask why exactly it is such a curse to be dependent on unreality. What is the problem here? There is of course no problem with unreality itself – unreality doesn’t exist and so there can’t be a problem with it! Where the ‘problem’ comes in – needless to say – is in us treating unreality as reality when this is something is just can’t be. We’re treating the Equilibrium World as a final reality, a reality in its own right, when this is simply not what it is – it’s our own construct which we have to keep on maintaining, and this isn’t the same thing as reality at all. As we have said, we can play the game that the E-World really is a world in its own right and not just a made-up thing by not permitting any awareness of anything outside of it; we play the game by automatically disregarding all non-equilibrium data as ‘not fitting into the officially-recognized framework of reference’. They are not part of the official story and the official story – so we are led to believe – is not ‘a story’ at all but simply the way things are’. The game is maintained by treating everything that is not the game as ‘error’ in other words; ‘error’ meaning that it just isn’t worth being interested in.
So what we’re doing here is ‘treating unreality as reality’ and – as we might expect – there are going to be significant consequences for doing this! The thing is that there is nothing in unreality and yet we are trying our hardest to say that there is. I’m trying to sell you a tin of biscuits with no biscuits in it… What I do to get around this problem (the problem of there being no biscuits) is that I create a ‘virtual economy’ around the supposed contents of the tin without ever checking to see if there actually is anything there. This way I get to put into operation a system of positive and negative tokens for what isn’t there but which I am saying is there – I create a system of credits and debits that is backed by a non-existent reserve, in other words. This is of course a perfectly workable system; we know that it’s perfectly workable because the world banking system uses it all the time. A virtual economy is a theatre – it is a system of deception that works perfectly just as long as we make absolutely sure never to look into it. If we never look any deeper to see what all the debits and credits are about then we can go on being deceived forever – that’s how effective a system of deception this is. When we have a way of deceiving ourselves that is as effective as this, as eminently workable as this, then this actually spells a whole heap of trouble for us! It may in one way seem like a great advantage to have such a good ‘trick’ at our disposal, but by the very same token it is also an equally great disadvantage. Our cleverness works against us, so that the cleverer we are the worse it is for us!
We create an artificial system, which substitutes for reality for us, and then we put all our energy into maintaining and promoting this system – naturally we will because it is now everything for us. The artificial system or construct is the hook we are hanging absolutely everything on, and that makes it a pretty important hook! Maintaining and promoting the system is our ‘hobby’ – so to speak – but it is a hobby that is going to turn around one day (when we don’t expect it) and bite us very nastily indeed. Saying that our hobby is going to turn around one day and bite us – like an addiction that we have lovingly tended and nurtured for many years is eventually going to turn around and bite us – is not really expressing matters strongly enough. There’s more to it than just this; it is – we might say – a lot more sinister than this. It’s not just that the artificial world of ‘absolutely valid statements’ that we have created in order to deceive ourselves that there is such a thing is going to cause us grief later on after we have had our fun with it, but rather that this system, this artificial concrete world, utilizes us for its own ends. It uses us even though we made it; it exploits us even though it is ‘our’ construct… The boot – we might say – is on the other foot; the tables have been neatly turned around on us without us ever noticing that this has happened. It’s not that we are creating and maintaining the Equilibrium World therefore, but that the Equilibrium World gets us to create and maintain it.
Even if we were to see that – when we are in the unconscious state – we are putting all of our energy into maintaining and promoting an artificial world that we mistake for the real one (which we don’t have to maintain and promote, on account of it already existing), we still aren’t seeing things straight, therefore. We still aren’t seeing things straight because we still imagine that it’s us who are running the show, whilst actually the show is running us. The reason ‘the show is running us’ is because we are now understanding ourselves in concrete terms, and are trying therefore to do everything on these concrete terms, when these ‘concrete terms’ have been supplied – unbeknownst to us – by the system. The ‘concrete terms’ which we use to understand both ourselves and the world haven’t just been supplied for us by the system, they are the system, which is why we can say that the system is operating us rather than vice versa.
This then is what happens when we create ‘the equilibrium zone’, which is ‘the world of standardized values’ – what we’re actually doing when we do this is that we’re handing over our freedom. We’re handing over our freedom without knowing that we’re handing over our freedom; if we actually knew what we were doing then this would mean that we hadn’t been entirely converted into concrete or standardized terms and so we’d still be free. When we don’t know that we have handed over all our freedom to the system then what does this say about us? Our delusion is total – we are living our whole lives on the basis of an imaginary type of freedom (this ‘imaginary type of freedom’ being the ‘terms of the game’ that have been supplied to us by the mechanical set-up). Instead of freedom, therefore, we now have ‘the rules of the game’!
This is such an extraordinary state of affairs. It is an incredible thing to become aware of – that we could live out our entire lives on the basis of a type of freedom that just isn’t there, and that we’d never know it, never even come close to knowing it. It’s an incredible thing that we should be able to mistake rules for freedom when rules are the very antithesis of freedom. The meaning our lives have for us depends on us perceiving that we are free; if this were not to be the case (as we are saying it is not) then what – we may ask – is going on here? What kind of a thing is this? We’re handing over responsibility to a deterministic process, to a mechanical and therefore pre-determined sequence of event (that actually aren’t events’ since nothing new is really happening) and as a result of handing over responsibility in this way we are now unable to tell the difference between the mechanical simulation of freedom and the real thing. The rule-based simulation of freedom (which never gets anywhere because it isn’t free to do so) has actually become freedom for us – it is not serving in the role of freedom, as ridiculous as that may be. The genuine article, freedom itself, is utterly inconceivable to us; we have no way of either conceiving it or missing it.
We’re talking very glibly of ‘freedom’ here of course but what exactly do we mean by it? ‘Freedom’ – within the closed terms of the rule-based system – refers to something very different indeed from what we might call the ‘true’ meaning of freedom. ‘Freedom within the terms of the mechanical system’ is such a trivial thing that it doesn’t actually exist – not really. It’s a phantom. ‘Conditioned freedom’ is simply a way of talking about the freedom that we have, when we playing the game without knowing we are, to play the game. I’m free to try my best to win at the game, and also I’m free to believe that this ‘winning’ is somehow a meaningful thing. As a component of the machine, I am ‘free’ to do what the machine requires me to do, and I am also free to see this pre-determined mechanical action as being an authentic expression of my free will. We could also say that mechanical freedom is ‘the freedom to move between two knowns’. This is therefore ‘freedom within a fixed context’; we can never move beyond this defined context and so conditioned or mechanical freedom is inseparable from the context. In other words, it is the context, it is the system. Genuine freedom, on the other hand, would be the freedom to go beyond this defined context and for this reason we cannot in any way describe it by using the terms of that defining framework. We cannot in any way say what freedom is, but we can say what it is not and what it is not is the movement between one known and another! As Krishnamurti says, the movement between one known and another is not a movement. Movement is only movement if it goes beyond the enclosing framework that we have lazily assumed to be ‘the Whole of Everything’. Similarly, freedom is only freedom when it is the freedom of something which we do not and cannot understand to do something that we have no way of comprehending!
This is a reformulation of Sir Arthur Eddington’s statement “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what”. We might expect a famous physicist to tell us more about the nature of the physical universe in which we live, but this is the best we are going to get – there are no ‘knowns’. We might assume – out of our naivety, out of the confusion of our thoughts – that we do know more than this but this simply isn’t so. We can if we wish use lots of impressive-sounding technical terminology to lull ourselves into thinking that we ‘know’ something but these are only words that we have become familiar with; we have become familiar with the terms and we have mistaken this ‘familiarity with technical terms’ with actual knowledge. If I say “All matter is made up of vibrating particles’ this statement seems to be actually saying something but what is ‘a particle’ and what is ‘vibration’? I could say “An atom is vibrating in space” but I don’t know what an atom is anymore than I know what space is. We know what space is in practical terms (I can know for example how far it is to my local post office) but this isn’t exactly what we might call a profound knowledge regarding the essential nature of space itself. Is there even such a thing as ‘space’, when it comes down to it, or is this just one of the terms of the game that the universe is playing? Is what we call ‘space’ (or ‘distance’) not simply a ‘rule of the game’?
When we are operating within the equilibrium zone of our own thoughts we automatically think we know the answer to all of these questions. We think we know what matter is, what atoms are, what space and time is – we know all of that stuff. We are blasé about it. The stuff that we ‘know’ constitutes a seamless whole – it’s ‘seamless’ precisely because there’s nothing there that we don’t know! The Equilibrium Zone is a seamless whole in which everything is either already known or ‘soon to be known’ and yet what has been excluded in order to create this reassuring situation is any shred or vestige of actual reality. That’s how the known gets to be ‘the known’. We’re smothered with the known – it presses in on us from all sides (there are no sides from which it isn’t pressing in on us like so much cotton wool) but what we’re being smothered with, suffocated with, stifled with, isn’t real. It’s ‘the bland cotton wool of unreality’ – we’re being buried alive under ‘the polystyrene packing beads of pernicious illusion’. The known, as we have said, only gets to be ‘the known’ because of the way that it drives out anything that doesn’t agree with its own (unexamined) premise. This is how rules work – they exclude anything that dares to disagree with them. A virtual world is created by folding the realm of allowed possibilities ‘back in on itself’ (so to speak) so that there is no longer any reference to anything other than the continuum. A ‘cocoon of the known’ is in this way formed, a cocoon which envelops us on all sides, and this is ‘the domain of standardized values’ which we have called the Equilibrium Zone…
Art: Ahmet Ögüt
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.