General simulation theory (if we can for a moment say that there is such a thing) states that as soon as we think about the world we create a ‘mind-created’ simulation of that world which we are compelled to accept as the real thing. The rules that go to create the simulation are the very same rules that compel us to believe in it! It is all the same mechanism – having rules that compel us to believe in the simulation is how the simulation gets to be the simulation.
We all understand the idea that thought can model or simulate reality and this – of course – seems reasonably unthreatening to us. It actually sounds very useful (and often enough, of course, it can be). But when we have a situation where an all-inclusive simulation compels us to believe in it (i.e. compels us to accept it as not being a simulation) then clearly this is a threat. It’s a threat to our freedom – it’s a threat to our ability to ‘tell truth from lie’! When the simulation commands that we believe in it there is no way that it can be said to be ‘useful’ to us. How can it be useful to us when everything is happening on its terms, not ours? In this particular type of a situation the ‘usefulness’ is happening only one way – any advantages that there might be in this situation belongs to the simulation, not us.
It is of course true that we aren’t REALLY compelled to accept the simulation as not being a simulation – it’s only when we have given away all our freedom to the simulation that we are compelled to believe in it. It’s only when we agree that the system’s rules actually are rules that we are in the position of ‘being compelled’. ‘Being compelled to believe in an illusion’ is a function of the lack of freedom in the simulation, the lack of freedom that is the simulation. When we’re playing by the rules that have been given to us then we’re not free to see the world in any other way other than that way which the simulation itself presents us with. This is (of course) how the simulation gets to work as a simulation.
Outside of the simulation there is no compulsion to see the world in any particular way. There is in other words no ‘compulsive element’ in reality. There is no inherent ‘lack of freedom’ in reality – it’s the simulation that contains an inherent lack of freedom not reality! We can say therefore that there is only a lack of freedom in reality if we agree for there to be such a lack. There is an absence of freedom only if we freely agree to this absence. As James Carse says,
Whoever plays, plays freely.
Saying that ‘outside of the simulation there is no compulsion to accept the fake version of reality that is the simulation’ is the same as saying ‘outside the simulation there is no rule’. There are no rules in unconditioned reality (which is to say, reality when we haven’t agreed to see it in a limited way). Reality is not ‘a rule’ – there is nothing to say any particular thing should or should not happen and neither is there a rule to say what particular type of ‘things’ there should be to either happen or not happen. There isn’t actually a rule saying that there should be anything in the first place! But then again there isn’t any rule to say that there shouldn’t be anything…
Reality therefore isn’t characterized by a ‘lack of freedom’ but by a ‘lack of rules’! And yet according to the rule there is no ‘outside of the rule’. That doesn’t exist. The whole thing about the rule is that it doesn’t admit to there being anything outside of it. It wouldn’t be a rule if it did – a rule that admits to the existence of a reality outside of itself is ‘a rule that doesn’t take itself absolutely seriously’ and there is no such thing as ‘a rule that doesn’t take itself absolutely seriously’. A rule that sees itself as having a limited domain of applicability is a rule that acknowledges uncertainty and it is a fundamental impossibility for any rule to acknowledge uncertainty! That would be like a rule that says “I might be a rule, but then again I might not be a rule…” (or it is like a rule that says “You can obey me or not obey me as you choose…” Rules aren’t like that.
This discussion might be starting to sound a bit abstract, a bit removed from the practical realm of everyday experience. What we’re talking about here might sound like an academic exercise, a foray into philosophy, but the key point to remember here is that what we are talking about is the operation of thought and thought is not some dry, inconsequential topic that we can ignore with impunity. Thought – as the Buddha says – creates our reality. Thought – when we’re in the rational mode of existence – is all that we know about. When we’re in ‘rational mode’ (as we almost always are) then everything we see, everything we think, everything we do, is based on thought…
Thought is what determines the pragmatic reality of who we imagine ourselves to be and what we imagine the world to be. Thought determines the pragmatic reality of what we imagine life to be all about and so there’s nothing ‘academic’ about this at all. If we don’t understand thought then we don’t understand anything! If we don’t understand thought then we are controlled by thought in everything we do without ever knowing that we are being controlled. We might say that other stuff is more important, that other stuff more pressing or interesting than understanding the nature of thought, but that’s only because thought tells us that it is! What after all could be more important than the unseen and unsuspected determinant of who we falsely believe ourselves to be, and what we mistakenly imagine life to be all about? Could there really be something more urgent, more pressing, or more interesting than this?
If we are convinced that there are other things that are much more interesting or more relevant to us than understanding the nature of thought then this is clearly because we have fallen under the spell of the simulation! When we fall under the spell of the simulation than we automatically become incurious about anything that is not the simulation. When we have fallen under the spell of the simulation then the suggestion that there might be something outside the simulation (which equals the suggestion that the simulation is the simulation) becomes flatly incomprehensible to us. It becomes something that we just can’t get. We can only stare blankly or scratch our head bemusedly – either this or we just laugh out loud. This is what Baudrillard refers to as ‘the murder of the real’.
All this type of talk of ‘simulations’ that have the power to pass themselves off as reality and which have go around swallowing us and keeping us prisoner without us having the faintest clue that anything untoward has happened sounds like science fiction. It actually sounds like a very good premise for a science fiction novel. It does not however tend to sound like a very sound basis for a theory of psychology! Psychology is after all supposed to be a ‘science’ type of thing, not a ‘science-fiction’ type of thing…!
We just don’t think that psychology should look like this. Our cultural programming would lead us to think that psychology should be dry and scientific-sounding – full of facts and figures and statistics and bar-charts and hypotheses and that sort of thing. It really shouldn’t be about simulated realities which aren’t genuinely alive in themselves (but have instead some strange kind of ‘pseudo-life’ like viruses do), and which subsume us (in what is essentially a predatorial or parasitic fashion) into their mechanical, repetitive, information-free world so that we spend our days living a simulation of life (or a parody of life) without us ever realizing that this is what is happening. If psychology painted this type of a picture what would we think? Instead, psychology talks about all sorts of other stuff – stuff that might possibly be of some slight interest (maybe) if we weren’t in this utterly bizarre (if not to say frankly surreal) situation of living our lives in a mechanical simulation without us having the faintest idea that this is the case!
The situation that we’re talking about here is more than just a bit reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, the plot summary of which (from the Wikipedia entry) is as follows:
Winnie, buried to her waist, follows her daily routine and prattles to her husband, Willie, who is largely hidden and taciturn. Her frequent refrain is “Oh this is a happy day.” Later, in Act II she is buried up to her neck, but continues to talk and remember happier days.
Like Winnie in Beckett’s play, we ignore the most pertinent fact of our existence and preoccupy ourselves with various trivial details, which we don’t see as trivial. We don’t see them as being trivial because they comprise the all-important dramas of our day-to-day lives! We give nonsensical details a significance which they simply don’t deserve – and we do this all the time. The one thing we never mention (or ever show any signs of being aware of) is the fact that we are all buried up to our waists (or necks). Such is our situation when we are stuck in the mind-created simulation without having any awareness that we are. For us to evolve a disciple of psychology without ever addressing this overwhelmingly pertinent existential fact is completely and utterly preposterous – as is our situation in general! It is surreal. It is quite absurd, which is of course exactly what Samuel Beckett is portraying it as being.
If we don’t understand the nature of thought then as we have said we aren’t going to understand the nature of anything. We think we are studying reality whilst what we are really doing is getting deeper and deeper into the illusion. All we’re really doing is swallowing more and more of the mind’s fabrications. This isn’t psychology therefore– this is pseudo-psychology like the ideologically-obedient pseudo-science that flourished under in the USSR under Joseph Stalin. It is a psychology that has the secret purpose of ‘not rocking the boat’ – the ‘boat’ being our collectively deluded state of mind, the boat being the utterly absurd pseudo-reality that we all believe in. What we call ‘psychological science’ is a collusion of dreamers who all agree to agree with each other for fear of rocking the boat…
Within the simulation, we never relate to the world as it is in itself, we relate to mental representations of the world. To think is to make mental representations of the world, but not only is to think ‘to make mental representations of the world’, it is ‘to make mental representations of the world that we are instantaneously compelled to accept as the thing itself’! This is what ‘thinking’ is, it is entrapment. The only way thinking would not be entrapment would be is we were observant enough to notice this entrapment process as it happens, and this would mean not being interested (or rather hypnotically fascinated) by what thought is showing us (i.e. not being fixated upon the object of thought) but instead by being interested in the process by which thought manages to hypnotize us in the way that it does! If we were to represent the world to ourselves and at the same time be aware that we are doing so then this would of course be a different matter. If we were able to see that ‘the thought is not the thing’, if we were able to see that ‘the conceptually-mediated image is not the reality’ then (needless to say) we would no longer be trapped in the simulation!
The whole point is however that we don’t see it – even if we think we do, even if we’re flatly convinced that we do. We don’t see it and we are trapped. We take it that the conceptually-mediated reality which the rational mind provides us with is the genuine thing and we proceed on this basis. We don’t just proceed, we rush forward on this basis as fast as with can; we rush forward into the trap with never a backwards glance! We might see that thought ‘interprets’ reality or perhaps ‘pays selective attention’ to its environment but this is a very weak, very watered-down understanding of our situation. It’s a fundamentally ‘non-challenging’ intellectual understanding; understanding things this way is like eating a meal that has absolutely no flavour in it (which is true for everything the thinking mind provides us with). We just don’t have the vision to see that thought provides us with a false reality. That’s not a thought we can have – thought can’t doubt its own basis. We can rationally entertain the thought that we are living in a mind-produced simulation but we can’t (with our minds) taste or feel the truth of this statement. We don’t feel the impact that this awareness should have on us. It’s just a theory like every other theory; it’s just a thought like every other thought. They are ten-a-penny, they are a dime a dozen…
If we did have the actual awareness of how thought cuts us off from reality (under the guise of connecting us to it) then this would be another kind of thing entirely. This would be true philosophical dynamite – it would be like Winnie in Happy Days actually paying attention to the fact that she is buried up to the waist and distracting herself with banalities day in, day out. Noticing this would – very obviously – change everything beyond recognition. Nothing would be the same ever again – a whole way of life (if we can call it that!) would be over. This is the one thing we are – by the rules of the simulation – never supposed to see. It is a perception that simply cannot take place within the closed context of the simulation – if this awareness comes our way then this means that we’re no longer in the simulation – we’ve hatched out into reality like newly born chicks! We have ‘come forth into the light’!
General simulation theory (as we have called it) doesn’t feature in modern ‘rational psychology’ but it features plenty elsewhere. Plato’s analogy of the prisoners in the cave is an early example! In A Psychology with a Soul. (1987) Jean Hardy quotes here from Evelyn Underhill’s (1974) book Mysticism:
Evelyn Underhill, throughout her book on mysticism, paints a graphic picture of the unrealized self, the equivalent of Plato’s prisoners in the cave, the prisoners of the psychological and social conditioning to which we are all subject. We as the prisoners believe that the material world we see is the whole truth, a tree is simply as tree, a social institution is something to be believed in without question, relationship with a person is just an everyday event; we are born and we die and that is all there is to it. The person only in touch with consciousness, the senses and the socialization learned through childhood, takes the world for granted; reality is what is given; ‘sanity consists of sharing the hallucinations of our neighbours’.
She goes on to quote this passage from Evelyn Underhill:
By false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself a false universe: as a mollusc, by the deliberate and persistent absorption of lime and the rejection of all else, can build up for itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, and only represents in a distorted and unrecognizable form the ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly innutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each separate soul. A literal and deliberate getting out of the cave must be for ever mystic, as it was for Plato’s prisoners, the first step in the individual’s hunt for reality… We see a sham world because we live a sham life.
Simulation theory is also to be found in a very clear form in Gnostic theology, here outlined by Dirk Gillabel (2001):
Light comes into contact with Darkness. A part of the Light is swallowed by darkness and by this the Light broken into pieces, into light particles, called pneuma. This is called “blending”, “splintering”.
Darkness encapsulates strongly all these light particles.
Primal Man looked down into Darkness, or into the Waters, and saw his mirrored reflection. He became in love with this reflection by which he “fell” into the Darkness. The original image of Man stayed behind in Pleroma, but the reflection took shape and became trapped by the forces of Darkness. This is very similar to the Narcissus myth in ancient Greece. …
This ‘identification’ is what ‘the unconscious state’ is all about – it is that passive state in which we are trapped in our own self-regard. We are hypnotized by our own image, by our own idea of ourselves. To come right out and say that we are all ‘narcissistically self-absorbed’ is rather hard to take – narcissism is after all considered a disorder, a type of sickness. It is a profound form of alienation. We all admit to being a bit selfish from time to time (or maybe even very selfish, on occasion), but who is going to see themselves as being 100% selfish, 100% self-absorbed? It’s hard to see this in any sort of a positive light. But the fact remains – in the everyday unconscious state (the state in which we are living in the mind-created simulation without knowing that we are) everything we do we do from the basis of the self we think we are, but which we are not.
This is the ‘sting in the tail’ with regard to selfishness or the narcissistically catatonic state – the image which we are hypnotized and which we think ourselves to be isn’t us at all! I am absorbed in myself, but the self I am absorbed in is not me! It’s an artificial construct. It is (as Castaneda says) a ‘foreign installation. I am helplessly trapped within the magnetic field of my idea of myself, but this idea isn’t true. It’s just a production of thought, it’s just another of the simulation’s tricks. The point is that we simply CAN’T be ‘unselfish’ when we are trapped in the simulation, when we are being simulated by the simulation. We can only be genuine unselfish (i.e. loving or compassionate) when we’re being who we really are, not who the simulation says we are! The simulation doesn’t have a heart. It can’t do because it’s a mere mechanism. The only way we can ever be compassionate is by disengaging from the false reality that is defining us, the false reality which we are all so very busy believing in, and this is a very rare occurrence. It’s the exception not the rule.
Where the simulation rules there is coldness, there is cruelty, there is the absence of heart. All we need to do in order to see the truth of this is to take a look at the type of world we’re living in! Do we need any more proof than this? Dirk Gillabel goes on to say:
… By the Fall, Darkness has enveloped these light particles in such a way that they became “benumbed”. This is the reason why man does not remember his divine origin. Man has forgotten about Pleroma, his Original House. He has fallen in a kind of unconscious state; he is “sleeping”, he is “drunk”, he is “benumbed”. …
… For the Gnostic this world is like a prison; he does not feel at home here. He is a “stranger”. His real self is divine, the divine spirit, or spark. Everything in this world of Darkness does not belong to him, is not of his essence. This material world is not his home, his real home is the Kingdom of Light.
How can man wake up from his unconscious, sleepy, benumbed state?
In a similar vein, Jean Hardy quotes Z’en ben Shimon Halavi (1977) from his book Kabbalah, who talks of –
…that other, freer place, the dimly remembered homeland… Such people, called outsiders by some, are still slaves, like all their fellows bound in the flesh, but they are particularly unhappy ones because they know they are enslaved and cannot, like their companions, simply lose themselves in the game of everyday life.
In his science-fiction novel The Divine Invasion (1981) Philip K Dick ventures deep into Gnostic territory and talks about the medieval theory which describes the Devil as ‘the Ape of God’ because he ‘apes God’s legitimate creation with spurious interpolations of his own’. Dick refers to the simulation which we are trapped in as ‘The Black Iron Prison’:
What a tragic realm this is, he reflected. Those down here are prisoners, and the ultimate tragedy is that they don’t know it; they think they are free because they have never been free, and do not understand what it means. This is a prison, and few men have guessed. But I know, he said to himself. Because that is why I am here. To burst the walls, to tear down the metal gates, to break each chain. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox as he treadeth out the corn, he thought, remembering the Torah. You will not imprison a free creature; you will not bind it. Thus sayeth the Lord your God. Thus I say.
They do not know whom they serve. This is the heart of their misfortune: service in error, to a wrong thing. They are poisoned as if with metal, he thought. Metal confining them and metal in their blood; this is a metal world. Driven by cogs, a machine that grinds along, dealing out suffering and death… They are so accustomed to death, he realized, as if death, too, were natural. How long has it been since they knew the garden? The place of resting animals and flowers. When can I find for them that place again?
They are two realities, he said to himself. The Black Iron Prison, which is called the Cave of Treasures, in which they now live, and the Palm tree Garden with its enormous spaces, its light, where they originally dwelt. Now they are literally blind, he thought. Literally unable to see more than a short distance; far away objects are invisible to them now. Once in a while one of them guesses that formerly they had faculties now gone; once in a while one of them discerns the truth, that they are not now what they were and not where they were. But they forget again, exactly as I forgot. And I still forget somewhat, he realized. I still have only partial vision. I am occluded, too.
But I will not be, soon. …
The only message worth taking notice of is the Gnostic message, which is the message that tells us that we are trapped in a simulation, the message that tells us we are ‘being simulated in a simulation’. Any other message is the simulation! What else do we really need to know, other than this?
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.