When everything is sure and certain then we’re locked into ‘Groundhog Day’. When everything is sure and certain then we can’t ever get anywhere; we can’t ever free ourselves, we can’t ever move away from where we are. When everything is sure and certain then we’re trapped in the old, old pattern. When everything is sure and certain then we always keep coming back to exactly the same spot that we started off from…
What makes everything ‘sure and certain’ is the everyday thinking mind – the everyday thinking mind loves to make everything sure and certain! It’s not just that the thinking mind ‘loves’ to make everything sure and certain – this is what it does, this is the only thing it can do. The logical mind can never be free-and-easy about things, it can never be whimsical or poetical or ‘open-ended’. The reason for this is not hard to see – the logical mind operates exclusively on the basis of categories and there is nothing further from being ‘open-ended’ than a category! Categories can only ever lead to more categories – no matter how much categorizing we do we are never going to reach a place of ‘no categories’ (just as it could be said that no matter how much analysing we do we can never reach that wonderful restful place where we don’t have to analyse anymore)…
This creates a fundamental incoherence in terms of how we behave (or interact) in the world and the world itself because reality is not based on categories, because reality itself is not based on modular, generic, immutable units. Once upon a time it was supposed that this was the case, and that the physical world could be satisfactorily resolved into building blocks that themselves could never be changed or messed around with. These supposed building blocks (neutrons, protons, electrons, neutrinos, etc) quickly showed themselves not to be so ‘basic’ after all and no physicist now would be so rash as to suggest that we know what the ‘basic building blocks’ of the universe are. Physics has now reached a point where we have had to go beyond this kindergarten-stage assumption. ‘Whatever matter is made of, it isn’t made of matter’, to paraphrase Hans-Peter Durr. Any ‘tangibility’ that the physical world might seem to possess is ultimately no more than a property of the virtual reality construct that our brains create out for us of sense impressions; the subjective property of so-called ‘tangibility’ gives us a useful handle on how get to grips with the world in a functional way – it is not however a reflection of any essential quality inherent in the universe itself! The very same could be said about this quality of ‘sureness’ or ‘definiteness’ which is created for us by our mental categories – it can sometimes be useful in a purely practical way, but it doesn’t in any way reflect anything that exists in reality itself.
Robert Anton Wilson’s interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation – ‘We don’t got to show you no steenkin reality’ is another way of getting at this same point. Reality – for us – means tangibility, it means the the property of something having substance, the property of something or other being ‘definitely’ so and of our having the ability to grasp it as being definitely so. That only kind of stuff only exists in our VR simulation however – the black-and-white sure-and-certain ‘definiteness’ we see as being the hallmark of true, ‘no-nonsense’ reality is (as we have just said) nothing more than a feature of the simulation that we have been conditioned into taking for granted. Reality doesn’t have any of the black-and-white definiteness we have come to expect from it – that is a property of the categorical mind not a property of what the categorical mind is supposed to be referring to! Reality – we might say – is open-ended and our understanding of it isn’t, so where does this basic incoherence leave us? What’s the way around this? How do we reconcile this particular mismatch?
The short answer here is that we can’t get around this incoherence – not on the terms of the thinking mind, anyway (which are the only terms we understand). Quite simply put, we don’t go anywhere from the spurious platform of the concrete or definite pseudo-reality and we never will! We will never get anywhere on the basis of thought, on the basis of rational thinking. This is of course a profoundly shocking statement to the modern mind – our core assumption as rational beings is that the thinking mind can get us anywhere. That’s our ‘passport’, so to speak. Rationality seems to us like a tool of unsurpassed power and efficacy and as a result we’re relying on it big-time. If life were a horse race then the categorical mind is the horse that we have bet everything on – we’ve put our savings on it, we’ve borrowed from our friends, we’ve remortgaged the house, you name it…. We’ve sunk everything we have into this unwise venture, along with everything we could beg, borrow or steal and the crucial point about this is that it’s not going to pay off.
But WHY can’t the everyday mind ‘deliver’ for us, most people would probably want to know? What’s the big problem? This is the sticking point – the point most of us would probably have problems with – and so it’s worth being very clear about it. The argument is worth going over as many times as necessary – the reason the everyday mind can’t ever get us anywhere is because it is literal. The thinking mind can only ever be literal – it only operates on one level and that is the level which we all understand it to be working. This is like a can-opener opening a van or a hair-drier drying some hair – it does what it is supposed to do and that is all that it does. The operation of the can-opener or hair-drier is precisely as it is described as being on the label – what you see is what you get. You get what it says on the label. The instrument does the job that it has been designed to do, it follows the precise specifications that have been laid down for it, and that is that! End of story.
There is nothing strange or unexpected about this, of course. We are all very familiar with the idea of ‘specificity’ and so the idea that complex tools only do what they are designed to do isn’t a particularly challenging one for us. Hole-punchers punch holes – they don’t toast bread, they don’t clean the carpet for us, they don’t fly us to Malaga for our holidays. We need different tools, different instruments for that! In general, the principle is that the more highly designed a tool is, the more specific its function is. Increased specificity brings dividends in terms of the improved ability to do the job that the tool in question is required to do, but it comes at the price of being more and more useless at everything else! This of course is the basic ecological trade-off between being a generalist and a specialist that we come across in nature – as an organism I stand to benefit if I fit a particular narrow ecological niche better, but then if the niche goes then I’m ill-adapted for anything else and I might then in that case be looking at rapid extinction. Human society is another example of the way we have all become specialists of one sort or another, and are not as a result very good at surviving if we are transposed out of our very limited niche.
Bringing the argument back to the thinking mind, we can say that the rational or categorical mind is a tool that is suited to solving logical problems. It functions on the level of the logical, on the level of ‘separate compartments’ and this necessarily makes it 100% literal – if it takes its own compartments (or categories) seriously then of course it cannot escape being literal about them! The thinking mind is obliged by the nature of the job it does to be literal since the categories it deals with absolutely have to be what they are designated as being if the thinking process is to happen! The one thing the rational mind CANNOT do is to use categories as having a different meaning other than the one that they have been specified as having. That would be craziness – that would defeat the purpose in having a thinking mind in the first place!
So just to go over this one more time, what we mean by ‘literalism’ here is that if I have a certain category that I am utilizing to process data then that category means precisely what I have nominated it as meaning and nothing else. Whilst it is true that certain combinations of categories can be operated upon by rule-based procedures and thereby subjected to some sort of transformation or other this does not actually mean that something ‘radically new’ has been said. Inasmuch as the categories being used in the logical operation only ever mean what they are designated as meaning we are – very obviously – never going to go beyond these same categories! The rational mind is a closed system.
Going beyond our categories by using these same categories is of course a fundamentally impossible thing – going beyond the inherent scope of our categories by using these same categories is a fundamental impossibility because the system is closed and ‘closed’ means closed’. Whatever goes on within the terms of the system, it’s NEVER going to happen that closed ends up meaning open! If we talk in terms of the thinking mind operating on the basis of a nominated ‘measuring stick’ rather than categories (which is of course the same thing really) then we can easily see that no matter how I go about measuring the world, it’s still only ever going to be in terms of that same old measuring stick. No matter how complicated it gets, I can never get away from this measuring stick because this measuring stick is my ‘basis’. This then is the ‘fundamental impossibility’ that we are looking at here – the fundamental impossibility of using the measuring stick to get beyond that same measuring stick, the fundamental impossibility of using the thinking mind to get beyond that same thinking mind.
Our evaluative categories evaluate in a final way, therefore. There is no ‘radical revision’ process going on by which the categories themselves can be changed – the information that is being processed cannot disagree with the evaluative criteria that are being used to process it! That would be like the accused man in court judging the magistrate and finding him guilty. The criterion itself can never be questioned and this is why we say that it represents a ‘final’ level of meaning, a level of meaning that we cannot ever go beyond. This is not necessarily obvious – we might argue that we could use a secondary set of criteria to evaluate the first set (and thereby change or modify them as needed) but all we’ve done here is swap the old limiting factors for a new lot of limiting factors. We’re facing exactly the same problem because now we can’t go beyond the new criteria – the new criteria now represent the ‘final or unquestionable level of description’. Everything always comes down to same thing – this ‘same thing’ being that we can’t ever leave the literal meaning of our thoughts. We can’t even take the smallest step away from the literal meaning of our thoughts; that’s how stuck we are – we can’t deviate even by so much as a hair’s breadth! We can’t ever depart from the closed or literal world of our thoughts and the rub here is that this closed or literal world isn’t actually real. There’s no such thing as a ‘literal reality’ – the very notion that there could be such a thing is quite preposterous!
There’s no such thing as the evaluative criteria that we use to make sense of the world. There’s no such thing as our categories. There’s no such thing as ‘the measuring stick of the mind’. There is in one way, because we have made them up. We have created the criteria for ourselves, we have come up with the categories, we have come up with the measuring stick. There is such a thing as the measuring stick because I have said that there is, because I have decided that there is. There is therefore such a thing as the ‘objective data’ that I have gathering by using the measuring stick that I myself have fashioned, but only because I have chosen to assume that this measuring stick corresponds to some final level of description that exists in reality itself. Actually, this whole ‘objective data’ business is my own affair, my own private game that I am playing. I am quite at liberty to play this private game, just as I am quite at liberty to forget that it is only a game, but needless to say none of this has the slightest bearing on reality itself! I can play this game as much as I want, but no amount of playing it is ever going to mean that actually – somehow – it isn’t a game. Saying this exactly corresponds to saying that no matter how much thinking I do, I am never going to be able to take even the smallest step away from the literal reality of my thoughts…
So if this isn’t ‘Groundhog Day’ what is? It’s not that it isn’t possible for us to make the journey away from the finite, literal world that is created for us by our mental categories. Of course it is possible to make this journey away from the unreal world of literality. How can it not be possible to move away from the unreal into the real, when the unreal doesn’t even exist in the first place? It is possible, but the thing is that there’s no asking ‘how’ we do it because as soon as we ask ‘how’ we can do it (‘how’ we are to take that first step out of literality) we are making the thinking mind an indispensible part of escaping from the thinking mind.
When we ask ‘how’ we are asking the rational mind how we can escape from the rational mind, which clearly isn’t going to work! We can only take a step away from the world that has been created by our mental categories by not asking how, by not thinking about it. This is a bit like saying that we can float in the air – quite easily and naturally – just so long as we don’t think about how we are doing it. We can neither have the goal to do it (since a goal is a thought) nor can we in any way try to take control of the process since controlling is thinking too. ‘Goals’ and ‘controlling’ are of course one and the same thing. We can’t even conceptualize that we have departed from the grey old ‘literal reality’ of our thoughts since that would bring us straight back into it. To think that I have departed from the mind-created virtual reality is to be back in the mind-created virtual reality. This would be like me thinking about the marvellous fact that I am no longer thinking!
What’s banjaxing us here is that we want to be ‘sure and certain’ about the ‘fact’ that we are no longer being ‘sure and certain’ about things! This is the glitch that we’re caught up in, and it’s a bad old glitch. The thing is of course that it isn’t and never could be ‘a fact’ that we’re no longer sure and certain about things because ‘a fact’ is something that is sure and certain. There are no such things as facts – facts are constructs of the MCVR. Facts are literalisms. The thinking mind has to nail a thing down before it can know that it is there; it has to nail everything down before it can know that anything is there, before it can know that anything is real. Nailing stuff down is how we get to know that the world is real…
The problem with this however is that just as soon as we nail something down it ceases to be real. Whatever it was immediately becomes part of the mind-created virtual reality and the mind-created virtual reality isn’t anything. This proves to be a very hard hole to dig ourselves out of – with a great deal of patience and perseverance we can learn not to nail everything down with our thinking the whole time but the moment we enter into this undefined space (which is reality) we want to mentally comment on it, we want to categorize the experience that we’re having so that we know it’s real. We want to verify for ourselves that it is actually happening. We want to nail down our own ‘not nailing everything down’ and where is this going to get us?
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.