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The Flaw in the System

Logic contains a flaw, the system of thought contains a flaw, the determinate universe contains a flaw. Only it’s not really a flaw because there’s no such thing as logic, there’s no such thing as the system of thought, there’s no such thing as the determinate universe! There’s no such thing as it and therefore there can’t be a flaw in it!

 

 

When we don’t see that there’s no such thing as logic, no such thing as thought, no such thing as the determinate or exegesic universe (because we don’t have the perspective to see this, because we ‘up too close to it’ to see this) then this is when we can say that there is a flaw in the system, that there is a contradiction in the system. It is because we take the system seriously, at face value, that there is a contradiction in it.

 

 

Just because we take the system seriously (and don’t see that there is actually no such thing as it) doesn’t mean that we can see the flaw however. We’re not able to see the flaw. The flaw, the contradiction is invisible to us – the flaw in the system is invisible to us precisely because we are taking the system seriously. Taking the system seriously, at face value, means not being able to see the self-contradiction that is inherent in it; the system itself is constitutionally incapable of disclosing its own self-contradictory nature. Far from disclosing such a thing, it presents itself as being essentially non-contradictory, non-paradoxical. The system of logic presents itself as being flawlessly self-consistent…

 

 

This ‘self-consistency’ is the strength of logic. This is the big selling point of all logical systems – that they are self-consistent, that they do not lie. That’s the whole point of logic – that it can be used to be make absolutely true statements, not statements that are wishy-washy / maybe true maybe not-true. So if the system of logic goes ahead and – using the inviolable rules of logic – makes a definitely true statement, where is the ‘invisible flaw’ in this? Where is the flaw in a ‘definitely true statement’? How can there be a flaw seeing as how the whole point of a definitely true statement is that it has no flaws in it?

 

 

This turns out to be a rather easy question to answer – the ‘flaw’ in a definitely true statement (any definitely true statement) is that it just isn’t true! What bigger flaw than this could there be? This has got to be the biggest flaw going as far as a system that relies upon the unquestionable trueness of its statements goes. What good after all is the system of logic if it can’t provide us with definitely true statements? What else would we want it for?

 

 

The reason we say can that say that the definitely true statement ‘isn’t really true at all’ is because we’re only pretending that it’s true. We’re playing a game that it’s true. We’re experimenting with what the world would be like if the definite statement (or some combination of definite statements) were true. It’s a game that the statement is true but we’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s a game and that’s why we are under the illusion that the definitely true story really is true.

 

 

The point is that in order to have the possibility of a definitely true statement we need to have an over-arching framework which we can use to hold our data up against. I have some proposition or other about the world and I hold it up against the framework to see whether it checks out or not – if it checks out it’s true and if it doesn’t then it isn’t. The FW says whether the proposition – any proposition – is true or not…

 

 

Now this is all very well – it seems to work just fine – but how do we know that the framework itself is true?  This is a bit of a tricky one because we have already agreed that the only way to know if any particular statement, any particular proposition, is true or not is if we can hold it up against an irreproachable standard or template, and if we have agreed to this then by our own logic we will have to hold the irreproachable standard up against something else, some higher authority, to prove that it is indeed ‘irreproachable’.

 

 

So what this shows us is of course that we’re up against an infinite logical regress and running into an infinite logical regress simply means that what we’re trying to do is untenable. It’s as obvious as the nose on your face – we’re not going to get anywhere! We’re up against an impossibility here. We’re striving to obtain the unobtainable and that ‘unobtainable’ is certainty.

 

 

Whenever we look closely enough at logic we come up against this regress, this impossibility. It doesn’t matter which way we approach it, we always find ourselves confronted with the very same paradox and this paradox has to do with the impossibility of a system ever making a true statement about itself. The crux of the matter is that if we have a set of provisional statements that needs an over-arching framework before it can be authoritatively verified then there is a hidden problem in this set-up and the hidden problem is that the set of provisional statements and the framework that is being used to verify them (the framework that is going to say that they are true) are one and the same thing. We take it that these are two different things and this is what makes the verification operation meaningful, but this just not the case. And if we try to rescue ourselves by calling into play another framework – a kind of ‘super-framework’ or ‘meta-framework’ – then this isn’t going to work either because the meta-framework that we are calling upon to rescue us is itself no more than an extension of that same thing, that very same ‘system of logic’…

 

 

We can’t wriggle out of this. If we look at the problem in terms of rules we can say that the regress has to do with the impossibility of having a rule on its own, without some other rule to back it up. First we have a rule but then this is no good without a meta-rule to mandate it, but then when we get the meta-rule to mandate the rule we started off with we find that we need a meta-meta-rule to mandate the meta-rule. But the thing about this – if this were not problematic enough already – is that the only rule that can validate a rule is that same rule. The only rule that can mandate a rule is that same rule – any other rule will disagree with it not agree, this being the nature of rules. If there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that if a rule (or a logical system) tries to reach beyond itself in order to find independent validation it is not going to find it! In the same way, the only way that a definitely true statement can be proven to be definitely is by itself. If the statement wants to have the status of being ‘definitely true’ then the only way it can do this is by agreeing with itself. Other than by the dubious mechanism of tautological self-agreement, there is therefore no way to obtain definitely true statements!

 

 

This then is the flaw inherent in all logical systems – the flaw is that any definitely true statement (‘definitely true statements’ being the bread-and-butter, the bricks-and-mortar of a logical system) is not simply ‘untrue’, but fundamentally meaningless. The notion of ‘a true statement’ is a profoundly meaningless one. There can’t be any such thing. Any given ‘true statement’ doesn’t just rely on the framework in order to be true, it actually IS that framework! The definitely true statement is the same thing as the framework that validates it and that framework doesn’t actually exist. There’s no such thing as ‘the framework’ – it’s a fiction, it’s a made-up thing, it’s only there because we have said that it is there…

 

 

The flaw in the system of logic (the flaw in rational thought, the flaw in the determinate or exegesic universe) is as we have said that that there is no such thing. The system itself however does not disclose this flaw. It does not disclose its own non-existence, it does not disclose its own unreality. Instead, it acts as if it does exist, it acts as if it were real. The system implicitly assumes itself as existing and in so doing it buries the fact that there ever was any such assumption. Burying the fact that any assumption was ever made allows the system to present itself in a self-consistent fashion, in an impressively – if not to say forbiddingly – logical fashion. We fail to see – on an everyday basis – something which is akin to a fully-grown woolly mammoth standing there in the living room – we fail to see that the neat and tidy logical picture of the world that we have in our minds doesn’t exist at all.

 

 

In effect, by referring only to itself, the system of logic creates a world, a universe, that is made up entirely of itself. On the one hand there is the system of logic and on the other hand there is reality, of which no mention is ever made. We crawl around like so many ants on the surface of the self-consistent logical world and we never spot the flaw, we never spot the self-contradiction. This doesn’t mean that we don’t act out the self-contradiction, however. We act out the contradiction the whole time in all of our mind-moderated activity – we contradict ourselves in almost everything we do without ever realizing that we are doing so. As Michel de Montaigne says,

 

We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.

 

So what we believe we also disbelieve at the same time, which is a bizarre kind of a predicament to be in. And yet it is an inevitable consequence of the way that purposeful behaviour works, the way purposefulness of any sort works – if I want to believe in something then this means that I can’t already believe in it, or else there would clearly be no need, no motivation for me to want to believe it. So when I believe in something, I do so because I am kicking against it’s opposite, I do so because I believe in the exact opposite proposition, in fact. As we have said, all purposeful behaviour works like this – all purposeful behaviour exists as a dynamic between two opposing poles such that the one is pushing against the other. That’s the whole point of purposefulness. The purposeful journey is the journey from the pole we don’t want to be at to the pole we do want be at!

 

 

Purposeful behaviour is usually (but not always) unproblematic with regard to the external world but it creates contradictions with our inner life, contradictions with our inner states of being. When it comes to inner states of being (how I am inside), purposefulness simply means that I repress one opposite and promote the other. I am one way and I want to be the other way so I put a serious amount of energy into denying how I am. As Krishnamurti says, I am violent and I want to be not violent and this is simply conflict, this is simply a conflicted situation. Violence can never act on itself to produce non-violence. Or to go back to the example of belief – I assert that one thing is true, but this is simply fighting against the counter-statement, the statement that I want to reject. I say that I believe in God, but this statement is actually proof of my disbelief. The more effort I put into stating that something is true, the more clear it becomes that actually it is a lie…

 

 

The most essential way of expressing this ‘principle of contradiction’ is simply to say that attachment brings about the opposite result from the one intended. As Douglas Flemons says, “Desired separation forges a connection”. If I say YES to something then I create a NO and if I say NO to something then I create a YES. The two opposites involve each other so that the more the desired opposite is emphasized the more the undesired one is potentiated. All definite statements contain paradox therefore because all definite statements are based on the separation of YES and NO. All definitions are based on the separation of YES and NO just as all locations are – for something to be located in one place rather than in another it has to be ‘here but not there’, it has to be based on the separation of one opposite from the other, which means that the determinate (or ‘localized’) universe is based on paradox too!

 

 

There is a crucial difference between the system of logic and the physical universe, however. In the physical universe things aren’t nailed down as firmly, as absolutely, as we ‘think’ they are. Precise ‘all or nothing’ location doesn’t exist in nature – there’s always a degree of uncertainty with regard to ‘where things are’, no matter how insignificant this degree might seem. The universe is made up of probabilities, not black-and-white certainties – certainty belongs to formal systems, not informal ones. For a particle existing in space somewhere we can say that there is a ‘peak value’ with to the probability of the particle being found in one specific location, and much smaller values of probability tailing off in all directions, diminishing and diminishing the further out we go but never actually reaching zero. There are no slots, no definite locations in a natural system. The universe is analogue, not digital. This is what Professor Hans-Peter Durr is getting at [quote taken from Peter Russell’s Spirit of Now] when he says that

 

Whatever matter is, it is not made of matter.

 

Nature might not be made up of YES and NO answers, but the system of logic is. All logical systems are made up of the separation of YES and NO – this cannot be doubted! And yet YES and NO aren’t separate things at all – they’re forever stuck together. They’re not just ‘stuck together’, they’re the same thing. In one way however YES and NO are separate – these two mutually-exclusive terms are separate from each other from the point of view of the logical system which creates itself in terms of them. This is how the logical system gets to be a logical system. So within its own terms the logical system works perfectly well. It works and yet it doesn’t work. It works on one level whilst not working on another. There is – we might say – a catch, a catch that we don’t see (can’t see) when we’re playing the game that the system is real, when we’re playing the game that the system isn’t ‘a system’…

 

 

We can understand what this ‘flaw’ is by thinking in terms of the nullity. Overall, the system is always going to be null. It’s always going to be null because it’s not real, because it’s an abstraction, because it a mere hollow formalization. We can see that the system is null because it is perfectly equalized, perfectly neutral, perfectly ‘balanced out’ in terms of YES and NO. We’re always chasing after one opposite at the expense of the other opposite, one opposite rather than the other complementary one. This is obtainable on a short-term basis – we can obtain a YES-without-a-NO but only temporarily. We can obtain the opposite we want but only at the price of creating the unwanted opposite, which is then waiting in the wings. We’re ‘king for a day’ – we’re ‘up’ for one day but then ‘down’ for the other. In short – we win at the price of losing, we gain success at the price of failure…

 

 

This is ‘chasing theatrical victories’. A theatrical victory – as the name implies – is the appearance of victory without the actual content. It is a victory that isn’t really a victory – it looks like a victory only if we look at it narrowly enough, it satisfies like a victory would, but only if we don’t see that it comes with a defect in tow. So this works perfectly well as a motivational system only as long as we don’t look into it too much – and we won’t (can’t) look into it too much when we’re using the rational mind.  When we look at the world through the narrow focussing device of the rational mind we just can’t see the full picture. We just can’t see the fly in the ointment, the spanner in the works, the flaw in the system…

 

 

 

 


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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