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When We Forget We Turn Into Machines

A very straightforward way of looking at life is to say that it is a kind of arena within which there exists a dynamic between two forces, or two principles – ‘forgetting’ and ‘remembering’. This way of looking at things doesn’t make any sense in relation to our usual way of understanding the world, or understanding life, but the irreconcilable cognitive dissonance we come up against here (as major as it may seem) really count for much when it comes right down to it since our usual way of understanding ‘what life is all about’ is utterly and completely absurd!

 

 

Our usual way of understanding what life is all about is a prime example of what happens when we move in the direction of forgetting. We’re losing all sight of the good sense that was originally ours and we’re taking a whole heap of preposterous bullshit as seriously and humourlessly as if it were Divine Revelation coming directly from God Himself. ‘Taking bullshit seriously’ is what forgetting is all about – we’re forgetting the good sense that we already had and believing a package of cock-and-bull stories that have been ‘going around the block’, being passed willy-nilly from one credulous fool to another.

 

 

When the force of forgetting acts upon us it causes us to get caught up in absurd notions that we cannot see as such and the result of this is human culture. We could equally well express this the other way around and say that when we fall into patterns of thinking about the world that then become ‘comfortable’ to us so that we lose all perspective on them then this is a manifestation of the principle of forgetting. We become comfortable with our understanding of what the world is and what or who we are and so we no longer look any further. ‘Looking further’ would in fact be uncomfortable. When we become habituated to a comfortable viewpoint on the world to that it seems ‘normal’ to us then this is a manifestation of the principle of forgetting – we’re forgetting that it’s just another arbitrary viewpoint and that there are untold other arbitrary viewpoints which we could also take up if we so wanted…

 

 

Forgetting is always associated with the feeling that we know what’s going on, so that ‘what’s going on’ no longer seems surprising to us, but ‘only how things should be’. The most surprising thing of all – that we’re actually here in the world, that there actually is such a thing as ‘the world’, that there actually is such a thing as ‘life’ in the first place – becomes completely un-surprising to us. We’re not even a tiny bit surprised. When we are in the state of forgetting then there are only two possible ways for us to feel about things – one is where we feel satisfaction (or ‘comfort’) because things are the way that they’re supposed to be, and the other is where we feel displeased or irritated or annoyed because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. These are the two mechanical possibilities – one is where we say YES to what is going on and the other is where we say NO. Either we feel good or we feel bad and everything revolves around our need to get things to be the one way rather than the other. This ‘need’ (which equals ‘like and dislike’) is all that there is for us when we are in the mechanical mode of being – it is the ‘be-all and the end-all’ of our existence.

 

 

This is the basic game that we are playing when we are in the mode of forgetting. This is now the only thing that matters to us – that things should be the ‘right way’ and not the ‘wrong way’. We couldn’t give a damn about anything else, that’s how ‘practically-minded’ we now are. The banal practicalities of attending to the task are now all we are capable of thinking about. It might seem absurd that all we should care about is getting things to be the right way rather than the wrong way since it was us who decided what was right and what was wrong in the first place (it is deeply absurd) but the point is that we have forgotten that it was us who made the rule and so – as a result of this forgetting – we end up being the slave of the rule that we ourselves have made.

 

 

This is how forgetting works therefore – as we move in the direction of forgetting we lose more and more freedom. It’s freedom we’re forgetting about – we’re forgetting that there ever was such a thing. To forget completely is to lose all freedom so that we end up being completely controlled by a set of mechanical rules. We end up being completely predetermined. To forget is to become a machine, therefore. Machines do what they do; they do not question what they do, or reflect upon what they do, they just do what they do. A machines does what the rules tell it to do and that is all there is to it – a machine is never any more than the sum of the rules which make it up. A mechanical situation is a situation in which ‘there are only the rules’; there are only the rules there working away in the dead mechanical fashion that is characteristic of rules. The salt-grinder grinds the salt, the sweeping brush sweeps, the porridge pot cooks the porridge…

 

According to G. I. Gurdjieff, we are all machines –

 

Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.

 

In a similar vein P.D. Ouspensky, Gurdjieff’s best-known student, says –

 

Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.

 

We are machines that have the possibility of not being machines; or as we could also say, we are machines that have the capability of remembering that we are not machines. This is an interesting thought – what does it feel like to be a machine and then suddenly remember that one is not a machine? How strange and how wonderful that must be! Certainly, this is not a feeling that could be communicated in any sort of ‘machine language’, at any rate. It is not something that a machine would be in the least bit interested in anyway – machines are only interested in machine-type things. Machines are only interested in whatever it is that either helps or hinders them in the execution of their allotted task. The one thing machines can’t do – as we have already said – is to question themselves and their mode of operation. A machine will never be in the position of receiving instructions that tell it to question its own instructions; there will never be such a thing as ‘a rule that invites us not to slavishly obey it’…

 

 

In a way, we could say that there is nothing mysterious about the principle of forgetting, the ‘direction’ of forgetting. We have an intuitive understanding for this principle; we can see it at work around us every day of our lives. Forgetting is a fact of life – the result of not paying attention, of allowing oneself to get ‘distracted by the inconsequential’. If we just let things happen the way that they are already happening then we fall into forgetting; this is, in other words, an ‘automatic’ kind of a thing – all that is needed is for us to take our eye of the ball and we forget that the ball is there! All that is required on our part to facilitated forgetting is a basic kind of laziness, a basic kind of inattentiveness which we all possess in abundance. Any type of inattentiveness and straightaway we fall into forgetting, and then – having fallen into the pit of forgetting – we also forget that we have forgotten…

 

 

Remembering – on the other hand – does not just ‘happen automatically’. It does not just happen by itself as we are busy looking in some other direction. There is an essential dissymmetry here therefore – when we’re moving in the direction of forgetting we don’t really need to be there, we’re not actually part of the process. We admit the vampire over the threshold, to be sure, but beyond that initial ‘invitation’ nothing further is required of us! When it comes to remembering however we absolutely do have to be there in the process – what we remember in remembering is ourselves, our own true nature, and so of course we have to be there ‘in the process’. We are the process. Only I can remember myself – no one else can do this for me! I can’t ‘delegate the responsibility’. Science and technology isn’t going to be any help either – I certainly can’t ‘design a machine to help me remember myself’!

 

 

The asymmetry that we’re talking about here is the asymmetry between psychological work on the one hand (i.e. difficulty) and ‘going along with the pre-existent mechanical factors or tendencies’, which is ‘non-work’, which is not difficult. It’s not just that non-work (which is also called passive identification) is ‘easy’ – it happens all by itself, just like a habit happens all by itself. Going along with the mechanical tendencies means handing over responsibility to the massive inertia or momentum of these tendencies and this actually feels good. It always feels good to hand over our freedom, hand over our responsibilities – that’s why we love joining political parties, or organizations, or religious movements. Forgetting is pleasurable – just as taking heroin or opium is pleasurable. It is a dark addiction

 

 

The end-point of the process of ‘handing over responsibility to the mechanical tendencies’ is the point at which we completely forget, where we have forgotten everything and yet don’t have the slightest clue that there was anything to forget. Only the machine remains, at this point. Nothing is left but the Machine Universe, running through its cycles like a washing machine. The attraction of this final equilibrium state is immense – like the gravitational pull of a black hole. Nothing can escape it. All roads lead to Rome and Rome is this entropic end-state where reality itself collapses in one itself. Here uniformity rules absolutely – the cheap generic image is the alpha and the omega and all consciousness, all individuality, has been surgically erased. All genuine content is gone. This is what Philip K Dick calls The Black Iron Prison.

 

 

This entropic ‘end-point’ isn’t the end however. The Black Iron Prison isn’t the final reality. To do away with reality like this – to deny our true nature like this – creates immense pain, unbearable pain, and this pain – loathe it though we may – has the ultimate function of waking us up. We try as hard as we can to escape from reality (without realizing that this is what we are doing, since escaping from reality  also means escaping from awareness), but this ‘escape’ leads right back into reality. There’s nowhere else for this journey to lead! Jung says that unconsciousness is the original sin and that it is punished by nature without mercy. No plea of ‘ignorance regarding the law’ or extenuating circumstances will be taken into account. This is not to be understood as a moral issue however – remembering is after all as natural as forgetting! This is what happens in life, this is the way that things work. This is the cycle that we are all continually involved in – this is Lila, or Divine Play. It is not ‘wrong’ to forget – to say that it is wrong would involve us in a moral struggle involving ‘right’ at the one end and ‘wrong’ at the other and to get involved in a moral struggle is to get involved in forgetting.

 

 

 

If we say that it is right to remember and try to compel ourselves to remember (if something is seen as being ‘right’ then this is of course straightaway a rule, a compulsion) then we have fallen head-first into a mind-created polarity and polarities are the very essence of unconsciousness. Everything then becomes about optimizing one pole at the expense of the other, which is a neverending task. We know one opposite is good and that the other is bad and that we have to try as hard as we can to obtain the one and shun the other, but what we don’t see is that when we do this we potentiate the very thing that we are trying to get away from. And what’s more, ‘the thing that we are trying to get away from’ doesn’t exist anymore than ‘the thing that we’re trying to obtain’ does, so the whole struggle is entirely absurd anyway…

 

 

We don’t remember for a reason and we can’t remember ‘on purpose’. We can’t compel ourselves to remember – we don’t have a clue as to what it is we are trying to remember anyway! Remembering is the most mysterious of things – the ‘motivation’ to want to remember is completely outside of our control. There is nothing we can do to try to cultivate it. Although remembering is the most difficult of things, we cannot push ourselves to do it. Pushing is counter-productive – a machine cannot push itself to become non-mechanical, rules cannot be used to go beyond rules, polarity cannot be used to do away with polarity.

 

 

Remembering isn’t something specific that can be ‘done for a reason’. There’s nothing in particular that we can compel ourselves to remember. Remembering is not part of our everyday world, our everyday thinking. It’s not that we’ve forgotten some particular detail – we’ve forgotten everything. We’ve forgotten reality itself.Remembering’ is therefore remembering that there IS such a thing as remembering…

 

 

 

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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