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Entropy And The Self

Identifying with the concrete sense of self is a irreversible process, a process that works one way but not the other. We can check in but not check out, in other words. The ‘irreversibility’ that we are talking about is actually a fundamental principle – what we’re talking about here is the law of entropy and the law of entropy isn’t something anyone can afford to forget about. Although – at the same time – we ought to note that it’s also something that we always forget about! Entropy is what propels us into the Realm of Neurotic Suffering – even though no one ever seems to point this out. No one even mentions entropy in connection with psychology, which in itself is evidence of a rather substantial blind-spot on our part. Once we fall into the Realm of Neurosis (where we are forever playing games without knowing that we are) then all sorts of irreducible problems start popping up and it is our constant attempts to either solve or avoid these irreducible problems that constitutes neurotic suffering. Neurotic suffering is futile suffering, in other words. The game we’re playing when we identify with the concrete sense of self – although intensely motivating (in a mechanical way) – is an entirely futile one because we aren’t ever going to be able to resolve matters in the way we are so strongly motivated to. We can play the game, but we can’t ever win it and this is strange because the only reason we are playing – obviously enough – is to win!



What entropy does is to oversimplify everything and when we oversimplify everything what we’re doing is ‘leaving out a lot of stuff that we oughtn’t to be leaving out’. We can’t afford to leave out so much stuff because when we do it means that nothing we do works out as we would like it to – nothing we do works out as we’d like because our way of looking at the world is completely erroneous! Our ‘model’ is fundamentally wrong so that whilst there seem to be solutions to the difficulties that beset us there aren’t – what we imagine to be ‘solutions’ are simply our way of pushing the problem away somewhere else. Our goal-orientated actions aren’t solutions because – as we have said – we are looking at everything the wrong way; we’re looking at everything the wrong way and we can’t see that we are. Entropy has blinded us; entropy has banjaxed everything we do. What we are essentially doing in neurosis is ‘trying to find freedom from pain’ and from our way of looking at things ‘freedom from pain’ is the very same thing as ‘freedom’. It isn’t the same thing however – we’re just looking at everything backwards. Obviously ‘freedom from pain’ isn’t the same thing as ‘freedom’ because if we need to be free from pain then we are bound to keep on trying to avoid it, and if we’re bound to keep on trying to avoid something then were hardly ‘free’! We’re ‘on the run’ from something that we can’t (ultimately) get away from, and that is the very antithesis of freedom.



There are essentially looking for an impossible thing here – we are looking for ‘the freedom to run away’, which actually comes down to negative freedom‘, i.e. the freedom not to be free. In the Neurotic Realm (which is the realm inhabited by the ‘concrete sense of self’) there are only two things – ‘fixing’ or ‘running away’ and fixing is really just another form of running away. Our running away is a futile thing however because it doesn’t succeed – it is a constant effort to do something that we can’t do. Furthermore, we can say that the ‘running’ isn’t us, it’s a mere reflex that we have identified with and which can never take us anywhere. If the ‘reflex of running’ isn’t us, then how can it possibly ‘take us somewhere’? Even on its own terms, the ‘running away reflex’ can never succeed; it can never succeed because no way how much it runs it can never run away from itself – we can’t escape from our running, we can’t run away from our running away because no matter how much we run we will still be running, and it is this running away that creates the neurotic pain that we are trying to run away from! If this isn’t futility therefore then what is?



When we run away (from this thing that we can’t actually run away from) then we automatically identify with ‘the self of running away’, just as trying to fix what is essentially an insoluble problem always causes us to identify with ‘the self of fixing’. A self-perpetuating or self-replicating reflex is set up and we identify with that reflex, and this ongoing identification is what our everyday life is all about. It might sound odd to put things this way but when we imagine ‘what it might feel like’ to be that reflex we immediately get a sense of déjà vu, we immediately get the uncomfortable feeling that we’ve been there before. The reflex of running/fixing is fixated upon one thing and that is the ‘resolution of the problem’ – successfully escaping or successfully fixing the problem is our goal, our hope, and not escaping/fixing is our fear. The right kind of skillful action is needed to make sure that we get the outcome that we are hoping for and so we focus entirely on the ‘striving activity’ – we don’t actually have any choice about focusing everything we’ve got on our striving. We are ‘driven’ to do so.



But what we’re being driven to do isn’t actually possible (as we keep on saying) and the knowledge of the impossibility (which arises naturally in us) has to be denied, has to be thoroughly repressed. When we can’t repress the awareness of the utter futility of what we are trying so hard to do then this awareness appears as anxiety, so now there is this thing that we absolutely have to do (which is so important that we can’t see beyond it) and there is also this terrible anxiety that attends our efforts in this direction. The question is therefore, how can we fail to recognise this as being the ‘archetypal neurotic situation’? How can it not resonate with us?



The reason we say that this reflex ‘constitutes a self’ for us simply because we are defining ourselves in terms of struggle that we are engaging in. How can we not do, after all? How can this not happen? Successfully resolving the issue means everything to us – can’t see beyond this projected eventuality, we simply assume that it will be the answer to everything’. Not being able to escape successfully is also everything to us – we can’t see beyond this negative outcome either. If the negative outcome were to happen then that would be the ‘end of everything’, we feel. It’s a shadow we can’t crawl out from under, in other words. What is happening here therefore is that we are being totally defined by the game that we are playing, and this happens every time we play a game. That’s actually what ‘playing a game’ means – it means that we are allowing ourselves to be hundred percent defined by the rules of the game. It also means that we are 100% identified with the game rules – i.e. it means that we take these game rules so totally for granted that we never even realise that there is the possibility of questioning them.



This is easy to see – when I’m playing a game then the game’s way of looking at the world is also my way of looking at the world. If I am actually playing the game then this of course has to be the case. What I want most in the world is to win, and what I am most adverse to is to lose, and that’s the game’s way of looking at things, obviously! The game is defining everything about me – it’s defining what I want and what I don’t want and what could be a more complete definition than this? And at the same time we have to make the point that the only reason I care about winning so much is because the game is providing me with this agenda – my ‘everyday mind’, my ‘way of looking at things’ has been provided for me by the game. Who I am outside of the game doesn’t really care about winning or losing. Outside of the framework that is provided by the game (or by my mind) ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘win’ or ‘lose’ doesn’t mean a damn thing, very clearly.



Playing the game makes me ‘what I’m not’ therefore, and by making me ‘what I’m not’, the game is nullifying who I really am, negating who I really am, denying who I really am. For this reason we can say that the ‘reflex self’ which we have identified with is not us, even though we are completely and utterly convinced that it is. The reflex self is ‘us as we have been defined by the game’ and so it’s nothing more than a ‘make-believe identity’, nothing more than just a construct. Games always create a self – there has to be a self in order to play the game, there has to be a self to identify with the rules of the game in order that the game can be played. The self is the essential ingredient for the playing of the game, we might say – who is going to play it otherwise, after all? Actually, this isn’t expressing things quite right; what we should really say is that it is actually the process of identifying with the rules of the game that creates the self – as soon as I take a bunch of rules totally for granted (so that I can no longer even see the possibility of questioning them) then this results in the creation of the concrete sense of self. Conversely, when I stop taking the rules seriously, and realise that there is no actual need to obey them, then I will straightaway lose this concrete sense of self. I will be free from it.



No ‘identifying with the rules’ means ‘no concrete sense of self’ – it’s a simple as that. When we’re not playing the game, then we’re not this ‘self’ anymore. Hence Jean Baudrillard’s statement – “It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are…” This isn’t as arcane or as ‘mystical’  a thing as it might seem – we might lose our ‘concrete identity’ many times during the day in this way – every time we laugh we let go of our concrete sense of identity (assuming that the laugh in question is a genuine one which comes from the belly and not from the head). It is impossible to laugh in any genuine way and yet at the same time experience oneself as being ‘a concrete self’ (which is the only type of self there is) – the self is a quintessentially humourless sort of an entity, after all! If anyone were to ask the question “When will the concrete sense of self get the joke” then the answer would have to be “Never – the concrete sense of self will never get the joke…”



Rules make everything serious; when we are following a bunch of rules then there’s nothing funny even remotely funny about this – we will in fact be offended if someone suggests that there is. Humour comes out of the ‘Realm of Freedom’, whilst rules belong to the ‘Realm of Compulsion’ and in the Realm of Compulsion the only thing that matters is ‘doing what we have to do’ and there’s nothing particularly humorous about this, obviously. An alternative way of making this point is simply to say that there is no capacity for humour within a game – games are essentially humourless, although certain genres of commercially available games can of course be ‘dressed up’ as being funny. When it comes down to it though there’s nothing funny going on in any game – there’s nothing funny about following rules, as we have just said. Whilst the situation of ‘being the self’ (which is a game) might be richly comedic (as Wei Wu Wei says in ‘He who gets slapped’) the concrete identity is constitutionally unable to appreciate this; when we do ‘get the joke’ and are able to laugh at it then this is always because we have ‘forgotten to be the self’. The same thing is true if we ever have a moment of happiness – it’s not the self that is being happy, but rather that happiness arises when the self is no longer there.



In summary then, we identify with the ‘reflex self’ via an irreversible process – as a result of ‘simplifying reality down’, but once we have identified with the rules that make up the self then we end up in a situation that is not just ‘beset with problems’, but ultimately untenable. The situation is untenable for the reasons we have just gone into – the self – in a nutshell – can only exist by ‘continuously striving for the impossible, whilst not knowing what it is striving for is impossible’ (although in anxiety this awareness does start to dawn, in a very unwelcome way). The self can only live in its hopes and fears in other words, and it is in its hopes and fears that ‘the impossible’ takes on the appearance of not being impossible, but of actually being ‘very possible indeed’. This is not at all familiar to us as a way of talking about the everyday self, but it’s the only accurate way to speak of it. Anything else is the purest moonshine; anything else is merely a subjective ‘self-serving’ impression generated by that ‘sense of self’.



Our thinking isn’t subtle enough to appreciate what this business of ‘being the concrete self’ is all about – we operate on the basis of assumptions we have made and forgotten about, not on the basis of seeing anything clearly. If we were to see things clearly then we would see the central paradox of rationality (or logic), and we never do see this paradox – not directly, at any rate. When we identify with the rule – which is as we have said how the concrete SOS comes into existence) then obviously it is our lot to be ‘forever striving’ – we are forever striving to obey the rules that are governing our existence, obviously enough. Rules equal ‘striving’, in other words. Rules equal ‘the need to be constantly controlling or constantly trying to control’.



This is where the paradox (the paradox that no one ever talks about) comes in. In terms of games, we can say that the paradox shows itself in terms of James Carse’s idea of ‘the contradictoriness of finite play’ – the game (or the playing of the game) is itself suffering; there is no good in it, the only value of playing it is that it can potentially lead us onto something else, something ‘better’. The point of the game is that when we win it then it will deliver us from the onerous task of having to keep on playing it. The games played in order to bring itself to an end, as Carse says – everything is about bringing play to an end. Everything is about bringing the play to an end and yet this never happens. As Carse says,

If the purpose of a finite game is to conclude play as a winner, then play itself acquires distinctly negative quality. Since your opponents seek only to make you a loser, the play actually stands in the way of their desired result. Winning ends the game at once. Finite players find themselves in a strange situation: they are playing against play itself.

Striving is pain, after all, and the only thing that makes that pain ‘worthwhile’ to us is the thought of it ending. Our finite play is only a means to an end’. This is the realm of Neurotic Suffering, the realm in which we are always striving (in a perfectly futile way) to avoid pain when our very striving is pain. Our attempt to escape the problem is the problem. The snag that we can’t see is that the game can’t deliver us from the game, any more than thoughts can deliver us from thoughts, or obeying a rule can lead us to a position of not having to obey rules any more. The game just keeps on turning over, in other words, just as the thinking mind keeps on turning over’; the rule never tells us ‘how to be free from the rule’ and this is where the irreversibility that we have been talking about comes in…


Underlying this dilemma – the dilemma of having to keep on striving for an outcome that can’t ever be achieved – there’s something else going on – something else that we have absolutely no insight into. What we don’t have any insight into is the fact that we are actually attached to our neurotic suffering in some strange way. In order for the self to be the cell it has to be either grasping for a better situation or running away from a worse one; in this way the self creates what Krishnamurti calls psychological time, and the self can’t exist outside of psychological time –

Do you know what time is? Not by the watch, not chronological time, but psychological time? It is the interval between idea and action. An idea is for self-protection obviously; it is the idea of being secure. Action is always immediate; it is not of the past or of the future; to act must always be in the present, but action is so dangerous, so uncertain, that we conform to an idea which we hope will give us a certain safety.

Do look at this in yourself. You have an idea of what is right or wrong, or an ideological concept about yourself and society, and according to that idea you are going to act. Therefore the action is in conformity with that idea, approximating to the idea, and hence there is always conflict. There is the idea, the interval and action. And in that interval is the whole field of time. That interval is essentially thought. When you think you will be happy tomorrow, then you have an image of your-self achieving a certain result in time. Thought, through observation, through desire, and the continuity of that desire sustained by further thought, says, ‘Tomorrow I shall be happy. Tomorrow I shall have success. Tomorrow the world will be a beautiful place.’ So thought creates that interval which is time




Saying that the self can’t exist outside the imaginary interval which Krishnamurti calls psychological time (which is something that it itself creates) is the same as saying that the self can only exist via its hopes and fears; hopes and fears are ‘psychological time’ (which is to say, they are our projections). When we try to redeem our situation therefore (and our situation certainly does need redeeming) we try to do so via the very same mechanism that got us into the mess in the first place, and so as a result we get led more deeply than ever into illusion, and this illustrates again how it is that the self is created by the irreversible process that is entropy…










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.
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