Any definite statement, any rule, is a command. It is a command to anyone who is willing to take it seriously, to anyone who is prepared to agree with it. To be taken seriously is ‘all’ that the rule requires. This is ‘all’ it wants: the command implicit in any definite statement or rule is that we should take it at face value, that we should take it as it itself presents itself…
If we want to remain independent from a rule that is trying to get us to take it seriously – because we don’t want to become its captive, its slave – then we may try to assert our independence by disobeying it. As soon as we do this however we instantly lose our freedom; the moment we disobey the rule we get well and truly caught. We get caught on the hook like an unwary fish which doesn’t know to not bite at the bait, and once on the hook then no matter how fiercely we wriggle we will not wriggle off it again. We have bought into the rule.
This is because we have unwittingly fallen into the trap – without realizing it, we have fallen down a deep, deep hole. ‘All’ that the rule requires of us is that we take it seriously and by disagreeing with it we have fulfilled this requirement. If we agree with the rule we are taking it seriously and if we disagree with it we are also taking it seriously; any stance at all we take with regard to the rule equals ‘taking it seriously’.
This trap is ‘stickier’ than you might think. If we deliberately ignore the rule – if we deliberately take no stance at all with regard to the rule – then this is still a stance and so we still fall down the deep, deep hole.
How do we avoid the hole then? What can we not fall down it? What do we have to do? These are all the wrong questions to ask. The point is that as soon as we think there is a hole to avoid then we have fallen down it! As soon as we start trying to work out how to have ‘no stance’ then we have a stance.
Thinking that there is a hole equals ‘taking the hole seriously’. Saying that there is no hole is also taking the hole seriously – if I am going to the trouble of saying that it isn’t there, then this means that I must of course be taking it very seriously indeed. Thinking that there is a hole is the hole. Thinking that there is anything that is definitely or absolutely true is the hole.
The question that we are prone to asking at this point is “Is there a hole or is there not a hole?” This question is itself the hole, just as any thoughts or questions about the hole are the hole. The rule, the definite statement (or the ‘assumption’) is the fly-paper and we are the fly that is trying to go for a walk on that fly-paper. The one thing that really is for sure is that we are not going to get very far. We are not going to get anywhere. The question we might still want an answer to at this point is however, “But is there actually any such a thing as ‘the hole’? Is there really such a thing as ‘a rule’?”
The answer is, “Only if you think there is…”
Definite statements or rules are more commonly known simply as thoughts -the everyday, common-or-garden type of rational thoughts we have running through our heads hundreds of thousands of times every single day of our lives. A rational thought is a definite or concrete statement about the world, and as soon as we take this definite or concrete statement about the world seriously we fall down a deep, deep hole. Our everyday mundane thoughts are the fly-paper we keep trying to go for a walk on.
There are an infinite variety or diversity of possible statements that we could make about reality and if we took them all equally seriously then, clearly, we wouldn’t be able to take any one of them seriously! If everything is true then nothing is true. But we don’t ‘take them all equally seriously’ – on the contrary, we only take one statement, one rule at a time seriously. This is why people sometimes talk about the ‘linear mind’, the mind that can only consider one rational perspective at a time.
Rational or linear thoughts are in their essence therefore no more than constrictions of the field of possibilities: just as a garden hose can be constricted or squeezed to restrict the flow of water coming out of it down to one meagre drop at a time, so too we can restrict or squeeze the field of possibilities that are accessible to our consciousness. When we make a definite statement about the world we cut-off or block-out all other possible statements and so we ‘restrict possibility’. We absolutely limit ourselves and this is how flat literal statements or descriptions of the world are obtained.
Once we are absolutely limited in this way then there is course nowhere else to go – the ‘logical limitation’ of the world cannot lead on to diversity or richness, anymore than a rule can lead to anything other than that same rule. A rule only allows itself, after all. A rule is very narrow and it only allows what it allows, and it only allows itself. A rule agrees with itself but nothing else and a statement which agrees with itself is only ever an exercise in ‘self-referentiality’. This is why a definite or literal statement about the world is a hole down which we fall. A literal statement is a ‘collapsed’ situation, a self-referential loop or tautology – it is a ‘short-circuit’ in the fabric of reality.
The only statements about the world we concern ourselves, and get obsessively or claustrophobically preoccupied with, are the ones that we happen to have a particular attachment to, the ones we are tied to by habit. These are our ‘serious’ thoughts. The vast majority of all possible statements about the world however are not serious – they come complete with a relativizing prefix, the highly-significant prefix which says “It is as if…”
It is this all-important prefix that keeps statements (or ‘descriptions’) light, which keeps them from being sticky, which keeps them from being ‘holes in the ground’. When this prefix is lost then the relatively true statement, the ‘playful’ statement, turns serious. It turns into a concrete statement, a literal statement, a statement without any lightness or humour in it. When the all-important prefix which says “It is as if…” is lost then everything collapses into flat and uncreative absolutisms. We fall down the rabbit-hole into the crushingly uninspiring world of ‘literal truths’; the playful or ‘possibility-allowing’ statement turns serious and becomes a deep, deep hole down which we fall and cannot escape. Or as the ancient alchemists would say in their metaphorical, mythological language, the aerial spirit Mercurius is held captive in the dark bowels of the earth, held fast by the unbreakable chains of matter, by the heavy bonds of restricted possibility.
The playful uncommitted ‘It is as if...” is equivalent to the wings on the heels of the winged messenger of the gods, and when they are lost then the divine messenger plummets to the ground as if he were wearing boots made of lead. Without these wings there is only one way to go, and that is down. When we lose sight of the all-important prefix “It is as if…” we become the hapless victims of a reality-implosion, a data-crash, a collapse into the informational equivalent of a black hole. This black hole is a ‘gravitational one-way street’, it is a door that we go in, but which we can never come out of. It is the ‘Hotel California’.
A very good question to ask ourselves at this point is why exactly the definite statement, the rule, needs to be taken seriously? Why should this be an absolute requirement? Why is it the case that we should have to have some part to play in this? Why can’t the rule be serious on its own, without our help? This a good question to ask because as soon as we ask it we find that we are getting very close to the heart of the matter. The answer is obvious once we see it: the reason that the rule needs us to take it seriously is because unless we do take it seriously, it doesn’t become a rule at all. The reason the rule has to be ‘taken’ seriously (or ‘understood as being serious’) in order to be a rule is because – actually – it isn’t really serious at all…
As Alan Watts says, the universe isn’t really serious, it just ‘acts as if’ it were serious. In other words, it plays at being serious, just for the sake of the game. If we want to take it at face value, then that is fine by it. If we want to play the game then we are quite welcome to! If we want to forget about the “It is as if…” that prefixes all definite statements then that is OK. That isn’t a problem… In that case the definite statement gets to be a definite statement, the rule gets to be a rule…
In order for a rule to be a rule it needs to be taken seriously, which means that we have to agree for it to be a rule, we have to choose for it to be a rule. ‘Taking the rule seriously’ means agreeing to play the game. The rule isn’t really a rule, it is really just an invitation to play a particular game, the game that ensues once we take it seriously. Once we have entered into this game we cease to know it as a game, because ‘playing the game’ necessarily means ‘not knowing that we are playing a game’. It is a game all the same though, whether we are aware of this truth or not aware of it. The ‘rule’ exists only with the context of the game, and it is we ourselves who elect to play the game…
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.