What happens when we hand over all responsibility to the entropic process? The simplest answer is to say that nothing at all happens, despite all sorts of vivid and convincing appearances to the contrary! We just sit where we are, in the same spot, and imagine that various changes are taking place. We think that something’s happening, but it isn’t. Entropy doesn’t take us anywhere meaningful, after all; entropy just degrades and degrades, decays and decays, degenerates and degenerates, and then – when it has done this – it degrades and decays and degenerates some more!
The entropic principle works by degrading into cheap and ugly trash what was previously precious, beautiful and unique. This is its modus operandi; this is the spirit of its operation – the priceless original is stolen and replaced by some vile, tawdry piece of crap. Entropy is thus – we might say – the process in which ‘the unique is replaced by the regular’, which is also the process by which the precious individual is insidiously subsumed within some kind of mechanical system, some kind of collectivization or standardization. The entropic process is therefore the very same thing as the process of ‘socialization’ or social adaptation. We can relate this idea to what Jung has to say about the ‘depreciation of the psyche’ (which is the same thing as the depreciation of the individual) in his commentary in Mysterium Coniunctionis on Philaletha’s ‘Introitus apertus’ –
In the face of huge numbers every thought of individuality pales, for statistics obliterate everything unique. Contemplating such overwhelming might and misery the individual is embarrassed to exist at all. Yet the real carrier of life is the individual. He alone feels happiness, he alone has virtue and responsibility and any ethics whatever. The masses and the state have nothing of the kind. Only man as an individual human being lives; the state is just a system, a mere machine for sorting and tabulating the masses. Anyone, therefore, who thinks in terms of men minus the individual, in huge numbers, atomizes himself and becomes a thief and a robber to himself. He is infected with the leprosy of collective thinking and has become an inmate of that insalubrious stud-farm called the totalitarian State. Our time contains more than enough of that “crude sulphur” which with “arsenical malignity” prevents man from discovering his true self.
Jung equates what he calls ‘the leprosy of collective thinking’ with the alchemical ‘crude sulphur’ which he links in turn with the thief mentioned in the following line from the Introitus apertus – ‘Worthless is this thief, armed with the malignancy of arsenic, from whom the winged youth fleeth, shuddering’. The thief (with the extraordinary fecundity of metaphor characteristic of the ancient alchemists) is also spoken of by Philaletha as a ‘mad dog’, as Jung says here –
It is evident that this passage is a variation on the theme of the preceding text. Instead of the infant hermaphrodite we have the winged youth, whose bride is the fountain of Diana (Luna as a nymph). The parallel to the mad dog is the thief or the ne’r-do-well who is armed with the “malignancy of arsenic.” His malignancy is assuaged by the wings of the dove, just as the dog’s rabies was. The youth’s wings are a token of his aerial nature; he is a pneuma that penetrates through the pores of the earth and activates it – which means nothing less than the connubium of the living spirit with the “dry, virgin earth,” or of the wind with the waters dedicated to the maiden Diana. The winged youth is described as “the spirit moving over the waters,” and this may be not only a reference to Genesis but to the angel that troubled the pool of Bethesda. His enemy, the thief who lies in wait for him, is, as we are told earlier, the “outward burning vaporous sulphur,” in other words sulphur vulgi, who is armed with the evil spirit, the devil, or is held captive by him in hell, and this is the equivalent of the dog choked in water. That the dog and the thief are identical is clear from the remark that Diana knows how to tame wild beasts. The two doves do in fact turn out to be the pair of lovers who appear in the love-story of Diana and the shepherd Endymion. This legend originally referred to Selene.
Jung draws a connection between the alchemical idea of the ‘crude sulphur’ with the process which automatically unwinds whenever we obey whatever basic passions arise in life – just like everybody else does – and as a result cease to be the individuals that we are and become, instead, the ubiquitous ‘non-individuated’ person, referred to here by Jung as ‘Everyman’. Everyman is the victim of ‘mass-mindedness’ – the collective-minded person who ‘clings to that which all the world desires’. This ‘Everyman’ is therefore the end-point of the process, the sandbank on the outskirts of the river of life upon which we are unfailingly washed up when we fail to find our own path and instead allow ourselves to be defined by others. The true individual – whose like is not anywhere to be found in the world – is stolen away in the night by the thief and what we are left with instead is the man or woman who is Everyman, the socially-constructed person whose like is to be found everywhere. Uniqueness becomes ubiquity. Unaware of the switch that has been carried out, we carry on quite happily, entirely convinced that, the ‘regular’ kind of a person we experience ourselves to be truly is ‘who we genuinely are’. It isn’t at all, but then if we just go along with everything we are presented with, if we automatically conform to all the templates for living that we have been provided with and are expected to adapt ourselves to, then how could we ever know the difference?
The priceless original has been replaced with a tacky worthless piece of crap and because our expectations have been so drastically reduced in the process we don’t suspect any funny business, we don’t suspect that we have been cheated. So ‘the thief’ makes off with the original and we make do with the tacky copy and this inferior surrogate now becomes our new benchmark, our new ‘standard of excellence’. But this isn’t the end of it – when we have organized our lives around this new bench-mark he strikes again, he does a number on us yet again and replaces the tacky surrogate with something even more banal, even more inferior! This process has no end, it just keeps on getting repeated; we are – in effect – never given an even break – nothing we have is left to us, and even the shadow of what we once had, the faint echo of what we once had, is taken from us, in time. Things become progressively more ridiculous, progressively less real.
The question is then, just how far down the garden path can we be led? Just how far can our credulity be stretched? To what extent will we allow to take ourselves for fools? This is actually a very significant question. A highly significant experiment is being carried out – whether we realize it or not. The question that we are talking about here can be phrased in various ways but it comes down to this – “When we are in the unconscious mode of being (which is the mode of wanting to hand over responsibility for ‘how to see things’ to some convenient external authority) then just how ridiculous do things have to get before we finally wake up to the utter absurdity of it all?”
The idea of seeing just how far someone’s credulity can be stretched is of course not such an unfamiliar idea. It is as if you meet a guy who is so remarkably gullible that he seems to believe everything that is told to him, no matter how ludicrously far-fetched it might be. Observing this, you decide to test him by telling him (maintaining a totally straight face the whole time, of course) stories that become with time more and more bizarrely improbable, so that you can see at which point he will start to twig it, at which point he will start to see what you are doing, at which point he will finally start to cop on. You keep on feeding him bullshit, in other words, to see how much of it he will swallow! This sounds distinctly unkind, and of course it can be, but it can also be something that is done with no bad intent, in the spirit of innocent humour. It is actually a beneficial kind of a thing: when we see someone who never questions what they are told this means that they are really just fast asleep, so the teasing or japing is in essence therefore an attempt to wake them up. And anything that actually wakes us up has got to be good, after all – no matter apparently unkind or unsympathetic it might be!
So when we’re in the unconscious mode we’re basically fast asleep and while we’re asleep the thief is playing tricks on us, having a laugh at our expense, to see when we will wake up, to see when we will cop on and realize that we have been taken for a ride. The unconscious modality is a very profound state of trance however – it is a very deep sleep indeed, a sleep so deep that it is more like a coma or even death rather than what we normally call sleep. A sleep that even dynamite won’t wake us up out of is more than just a bit of a snooze, after all! It is a sleep that looks permanent, a sleep that shows every indication of never coming to an end…
In the unconscious state it is as if we automatically believe everything we are told. Or perhaps we could say that it is the state in which we automatically believe everything that we ourselves think, and since ‘what we ourselves think’ is only what we have been told anyway – at some point in our lives – there isn’t really any significant difference between these two definitions! Psychological unconsciousness is therefore when we allow ourselves to be determined by ideas, by images or imprints of one sort or another. We hand over authority to these fixed, immutable reality-imprints – whatever the imprint says reality is, we will go along with. We will happily go along with whatever the imprint says reality is because we are in the business of allowing our reality to be defined for us by whatever external authority it is that happens to be out there, willing to do the job for us, willing to do our thinking for us. When we’re in the unconscious mode we’re up for grabs, we just don’t care…
This doesn’t seem to be the case. It never occurs to us that this is the way things are – in fact we see things completely the other way around. I feel that I have my own ideas, my own beliefs about what is going on, about what the world is about and – generally speaking – I resist any other ideas or beliefs very strongly. I feel my view to be ‘right’ and all other (alien) views to be ‘wrong’. But this is of course only because the mental imprint that has already staked its claim on me has not the slightest intention of letting some rival imprint take over its territory! Unconscious life, therefore, is more of a crude ‘free-for-all’ in which all these rival mental imprints or programs compete with each other to see how much territory they can grab for themselves. And no matter which imprint wins the one thing that is for sure is that we are bound to lose since this whole business has nothing to do with our benefit and everything to do with the benefit of the competing mental imprints. The successful imprint wins territory, gains control, and we lose autonomy, we lose all sense of who we really are. We lose our true selves, and are provided instead with the viral imprint’s false version of who it says we are, and what it says we are supposed to be attending to in life.
These mental imprints are essentially ‘mechanically repeating regularities’. They are basically a collection of ‘mental routines’ (or the static templates that code for these routines). We can therefore say that the process in which unconditioned consciousness gets downgraded to become conditioned or mechanized consciousness is the process in which that which is not regular (i.e. determined by rules) is replaced by that which is regular (or determined by rules). Uniqueness is substituted for by uniformity, in other words. Now as soon as we say this – as soon as we say that the process of ‘becoming unconscious’ is one in which uniqueness is substituted for by uniformity – the nature of the process becomes very clear indeed to us. It becomes clear at this point that the type of change we are looking at here is entropic change, i.e. the type of change in which the entropy content of the system always increases.
Entropy can be understood in terms of predictability. Zero entropy would be the situation in which we can’t predict anything about the system. We can’t tell what’s going to happen next. We can’t even roughly say that it’s going to be ‘this type of a situation’ or ‘that type of situation’, or that the change is going to come from ‘this direction’ or ‘that direction’ or that it’s going to unfold according to ‘this rule’ or ‘that rule’. We can’t say anything at all about ‘what is going to happen next’ because there aren’t any rules and it’s only through rules that we can predict stuff!
The ‘degraded’ version of Zero Entropy is, on the other hand, is where we can predict what is going to happen and we can make predictions because the system in question is obeying rules. Or we could equivalently say that we can make predictions because the system is closed. If the system is closed this means that there are only so many possible way for things to change, which means that the type of change involved is predictable change. We make not be able to know in advance exactly what elements are going to come up, or in which order, but all the elements themselves are known to us in advance and can never change. Underlying the superficial uncertainty that we immediately notice and pay attention to (which is the uncertainty as to which particular element or combination of elements will come up next) there is the absolute irrevocable certainty that whatever comes up it will be one of the pre-specified elements, one of the known elements making up the closed system. Any increase in the entropy of the system means, then, that we end up with a situation where apparent uncertainty overlays – and therefore obscures – the underlying certainty. Or we could say that an increase in entropy content of the system means not just that there is a ‘loss of uncertainty’ (i.e. a loss of the possibility of free or uncontrolled movement) but a ‘disguised loss of uncertainty’, the creation of a type of change or movement which looks like the real thing, but which is in reality ‘stasis in disguise’.
This is a very strange state of affairs. It is a very odd thing to say that what looks like uncertainty is actually 100% certainty in disguise. This is equivalent to saying that there is a person who looks like he is his own man, a free autonomous creative individual and so on, but who is actually a slave to some fixed program, a mere robot without any genuine autonomy at all. So we could say that the superficial form of uncertainty is where we don’t know what number the dice will throw up next, whether it will be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. So, from the perspective of the game, it is pure electric tension all the way, its pure adrenaline. It is thrills and spills for everyone concerned; the audience are kept on the edge of their seats, waiting for the result to unfold. If we take a step back however and look at what is really going on (outside of the game) then we can see that there was never even the slightest bit of uncertainty in the whole procedure. No unexpected result will ever come out of throwing a six-sided dice onto a surface – there are only ever six possible outcomes and that is the end of the matter!
There is no uncertainty in a closed system. That is what ‘closed’ means, ‘closed’ means that nothing can enter the system that wasn’t already in it. And yet when we are right up close to a closed system (so that it’s all we know) we can’t see that there is no uncertainty in it. When we are right up close to the closed system we can’t tell that it isn’t the whole story, the whole of what is possible, and so as a result the superficial uncertainty of the closed system becomes indistinguishable from the real thing. The surrogate replaces the original and no one is any the wiser! This is what happens all the time in life – we don’t know the original at all, we only know the tamed-down version that has been created by the mind. As P. D. Ouspensky (1934, P 35) says –
Pseudo-religion, pseudo-philosophy, pseudo-science and pseudo-art are all that we know. We are fed on substitutes, on “margarine” in all aspects and forms. Very few of us know the taste of genuine things.
Despite the complete ubiquity of this substitution process it is nevertheless an utterly fascinating proposition. The substitution that we are talking about here means that absolutely all uncertainty, all freedom of movement is replaced, so that everything becomes infinitely predictable, infinitely predetermined – and thus infinitely redundant – and yet we are still able to carry on as if there were a genuine point to this type of life, as if it were possible to have some kind of ‘interest’ in what is mechanically unfolding. It is astonishing that we are able to do this, and carry on doing this, apparently indefinitely. What we’re essentially doing is pretending that a thing ‘is what it isn’t’, pretending that a situation has lots and lots of possibilities in it when the reality is that it doesn’t. It is like spending time with a companion who is dead and yet managing to pretend that he is still alive, the source of ready wit and good conversation.
This is how it is with closed systems – they are fundamentally and irrevocable dead (i.e. they are never going to surprise anyone) and yet we find them to be a source of all sorts of wonderful excitement and inspiration! The closed system of the mind is like a very bad DJ who keeps coming out with the same crappy old stereotyped patter, day in and day out whilst we the audience nevertheless find him to be delightfully witty and charming. We chortle away happily and cluck fondly like hens over his wise remarks, despite the fact that it is just the same old tedious rubbish every day, just as what we read in the daily newspapers is the same old rubbish ever day. The miracle is that we perceive what is clichéd and repetitive as being original and fresh, and are able to go on doing this, apparently indefinitely.
How we are able to do this must rank as some kind of an amazing fantastical accomplishment, although it is an accomplishment that no one in their right mind would ever want anything to do with! We have imagined life where there is none, found inspiration and potential where there is nothing but the profoundest blankness or sterility, perceived genuine creative uncertainty where there is only ever going to be more of the same, more of the same, more of the same, hideously repeated ad nauseam.
The question is then, how do we manage to do this, how do we manage to stick with the infinite predictability of the closed system (which is secure but sterile) and remain ourselves, remain in reasonably good form, remain sane? One way to answer this is to say, as we did earlier, that we adapt by investing in an alternative system – an alternative system in which we treat trivial uncertainty as if it were the real thing; we treat the six-sided dice as if that dice where the whole of what is possible, as if it were – in fact – the whole world! So when we are totally absorbed in the game – hanging upon the result of the throw, not interested in anything else – then our world shrinks to the size of that game and, as far as our pragmatic experience goes, this realm of trivial uncertainty becomes all that there is.
We treat the closed system which is the six-sided dice as if it were an open system, as if the outcomes 1-6 were not predetermined, as if they were not inevitable, were not inherent in the structure of the system. We act – in effect – as if each fall of the dice comes as a complete revelation, a completely new and unprecedented occurrence! The old is thus disguised as the new, the known as the unknown, the determined as the undetermined, and the unfree as the free. So trivial uncertainty is turned into something infinitely more interesting, infinitely more significant, by the very straightforward device of treating a closed system as if it were in fact an open one…
The simplest version of ‘trivial uncertainty’, the most essential version, is of course the ON/OFF switch, the binary logic of YES/NO, PLUS/MINUS, IN/OUT. It is binary logic that our minds run on – which is to say, it is via the logic of boundaries (which is the logic of INSIDE/OUTSIDE, YES/NO) that we construct the formal descriptions that we use to mediate our understanding of ourselves and the world. The fact that the all-important difference between what lies on the inside of the boundary and what lies on the outside (i.e. the difference between what has been included and what has been excluded by the boundary) is only a meaningful datum because the logical mind says it is (since it is this very same mind that has created the boundary) is something that the system never focuses on. This is actually a blind-spot for the system; it is something which the logical system is unable to focus on because of the way in which it works, which is the only way it can work. The logical mind can’t see that the formal representations which it takes so very seriously were arbitrarily constructed by itself because all traces of its own involvement are necessarily removed from the ‘output’ of its operation; as David Bohm says, the system of thought manufactures a picture of reality, and then implicitly denies that it has done so! This is therefore a way of talking about the way in which information is irreversibly lost from the system when the system operates, when the system does what it is supposed to do, and this ‘irreversibility’ is the entropic process in a nutshell. Irreversible loss of information is how reality degrades into ‘unreality that can’t be seen as unreality’, into what Jean Baudrillard calls the hyperreal.
That the difference between the inside and the outside of the boundary is a real and genuine one is taken absolutely for granted by the mind. As Bohm puts it, “Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally”. The difference between IN and OUT, YES and NO, is however exactly the same thing as the difference between the six possible outcomes that arise as a result of throwing a dice. As we have said, no matter which way the dice lands the difference is only superficial because it is same old dice in every case – we never throw the dice to discover that the dice hasn’t been thrown, that it was in fact something else that has been thrown, something with different possibilities in it – and in the same way we never think anything, we never arrive at a particular category of thought, without it being the same old mind thinking it, the same old mind arriving at one of its own categories, in every case!
So no matter whether the binary logic reports back to us with a YES or a NO answer it’s the same old thing, the difference between YES and NO is infinitely trivial because it’s the same old boundary at work in each case! The boundary is what creates the possibility of IN and it is also what creates the possibility of OUT, and so both <IN and OUT> are the boundary, and what this means is that both <IN and OUT>, <YES and NO> are in reality the very same thing.
Whatever the boundary-making rational mind comes out with, it’s only ever the same old rational mind that is coming out with it, so all possible statements made by that system are in fact ‘just that system’. The various statements, the various categories, look different (from the point of view of the system itself) but they’re really all the same thing! This might sound outrageous but there is no getting around it – no matter how complicated or sophisticated the structure is that is produced by the system of thought it all comes down to a pattern of YES/NO answers, it all comes down to logical statements that are based upon various categories (or ‘divisions’) that have been assumed by the mind and since all of these categorical statements rely upon these categories in order to be meaningful we’re actually going around in circles here. The rational mind creates data by using rules which it itself has created, and then evaluates this data as being ‘meaningful’ by pointing to these very same rules!
Moving on from the ‘logical’ to the ‘psychological’ now, it is clear that if a <YES> answer happens to feel good to us, then a <NO> answer to the same question is bound to feel equivalently bad. When we get the result that we ourselves have designated as being the RIGHT one, then we are pleased, we are gratified, and when we get the result that we read as being WRONG are chagrined, disgruntled, demoralized, disappointed. We experience emotional reactions to evaluation that we ourselves have imposed upon life which means that we have a ready-made motivational system that is inextricably tied in with the arbitrary descriptions of reality that the system of thought has created for us. The boundary-making mind produces the map (i.e. it produces the structure within which we are to live) and it also provides us with the motivation to obtain one defined outcome as opposed to the other, to obtain a ‘successful’ outcome rather than an ‘unsuccessful’ one.
The motivation to achieve a WIN-type outcome is generally called greed and the urge to avoid the corresponding LOSE-type outcome is known as fear, and between the two poles of greed and fear there isn’t actually a hell of a lot of our day-to-day concerns that aren’t covered! What is liked, what is disliked, what is wanted, what is unwanted, this is how the self is defined. What sort of a relationship do I have after all with stuff that I neither like nor dislike, that is neither perceived as being potentially to my advantage or my disadvantage? What possible interest would I have in such stuff? If I’m operating through my rational mind then the only way I can even perceive an element within my environment (or within myself) is if it corresponds to one or other of my mental categories and so the idea of me taking an interest in something that lies beyond the remit of my logical (or ‘categorical’) mind is a complete non-starter. It’s not going to happen – the conditioned mind has no way of relating to something that it has not been set up to relate to.
The only way that I would start to be interested in stuff that I neither like nor dislike (that I don’t perceive to be either advantageous or disadvantageous) would be if I wasn’t trapped as I usually am within the everyday mind. In this case I would no longer be functioning mechanically – I would no longer be functioning as a mere machine which is at all times completely preoccupied with its own likes and dislikes, its own attachments both positive and negative. I would no longer be operating from the closed standpoint of ‘the everyday self’ but rather I would be operating from the open standpoint of the spontaneous self – which isn’t really a ‘standpoint’ at all since it isn’t fixed.
Operating on the basis of the everyday self means operating on the basis of logical thought, so we can say that the way that the self distracts itself from the infinite predictability of living within a closed system is by focusing narrowly on ‘obtaining the advantage and avoiding the disadvantage’. From a very short-sighted (or ‘blinkered’) point of view the advantage genuinely is an advantage and so it is definitely worthwhile pursuing; it is a meaningful thing to be doing – in fact it pretty much provides us with our entire meaning system!
When we step out of the closed remit of the game however we can see that UP and DOWN, YES and NO, WIN and LOSE are all just the same old merry-go-round and that what we are engaged so seriously, so whole-heartedly with isn’t actually meaningful at all. What goes UP must come DOWN, gaining the advantage only puts us in line for a reversal of fortune later on, and so really all we are doing is going around in viciously tight circles. On what we might call the ‘micro-local scale of things’ chasing after one opposite and running away from the other is perfectly meaningful – self-evidently meaningful – but if we were to take a wider view of what’s going on (the unblinkered view) then we would see that all the ups and down invariably cancel themselves out. This is why John G. Bennett (1961, P 167-8) speaks of the mechanical reactions of trying to obtain pleasure and avoid pain as being ‘null operations of the will’ –
The Reactional Self is dominated by external forces that have a dualistic character by reason of the two kinds of laws, positive and negative, that determine the state of the Will in World XCVI. It is, however, not a true dyad, for it can only transmit one Cosmic Impulse at a time. This is the chief characteristic of the Reactional Self and it accounts for the role it plays in the economy of the total Self-hood. It is the source of the basic dualism of human reactions, with their dyads of pleasure-pain, like-dislike, activity and repose, affirmation and negation, attraction and repulsion. All these reactions are automatic – that is, null operations of the Will. For this reason, the Reactional Self could also be called the ‘Nullity in Man’.
J.G. Bennett (P 188-9) goes on to explain the idea that all the local ups and downs, advantages and disadvantages, etc cancel themselves out in the bigger picture by pointing to the way unbalanced polarities can exist on a molecular scale, but not on the scale of more massive physical bodies:
Isolated, the Reactional Self is a nullity. When it is in the state of delusion, it is unaware of its inability to perform any true act of will and, therefore, ‘believes’ in its own world. From this delusion it becomes subject to pleasure and pain as actual facts – being unable to see the compensation that reduces them to null-situations. The idea of nullity in polarity is illustrated in the electrical neutrality of large bodies; however intense may be the local electrostatic fields surrounding the atoms, there is a space-distributed compensation that makes the whole body almost perfectly neutral.
Another way to illustrate the idea is to think about waves – any type of wave that you might possibly care to imagine! On a small scale there are distinct ups and downs, crests and waves and it is therefore entirely meaningful to distinguish between them; on the bigger scale however – since there is no such thing as a crest without the trough that follows on from it – the overall picture is always perfectly balanced out. No matter how hard you work at it you will never turn a net profit in crests; no matter how long you stay at it you will never end up with a surplus in either the crest or the trough department!
Thus, what is meaningful to the blinkered self, which sees everything via the logical mind (and which on this account sees the opposites as being separate) is revealed as being profoundly meaningless just as soon as we take the blinkers off, just as soon as we step outside of the picture generated by this mind. If – in other words – we ‘stepped outside the box’ and got some perspective on things (for a change) we would no longer be able to take the game seriously. It is the logic-induced lack of perspective that facilitates us being able to play the game, so if this lack of perspective were to be punctured (by becoming conscious) then this would event would be a total disaster from the point of view of the game-playing self. Consciousness is a total disaster from the point of view of the game-playing (or ‘purposeful’) self…
This means that it’s not merely the case that we are generally speaking wholly unconscious because we haven’t made a strenuous enough effort in the direction of becoming conscious, because we are too caught up in our habitual mechanical activities, but because consciousness is something we just don’t want. Consciousness is the ‘kingly view’ that Tilopa speaks of in The Song of Mahamudra – the view which transcends duality.
Consciousness breaks all the rules, consciousness doesn’t take the categories of the rational mind seriously, consciousness doesn’t play the game, and so as far as this tyrannical mind is concerned consciousness is not recognized as a virtue, but identified narrowly as a very great threat – something that is going to upset the applecart in a big way. It is the absolute absence of perspective that allows us to carry on being motivated to play the game. So whilst all activity that takes place within the remit of the logical mind is inherently pointless (or ‘self-cancelling’) the fact that we can’t – from within the game – see this allows the game to continue indefinitely.
From the standpoint of the logical mind WIN and LOSE seem very different indeed but really its all just the same old game repeated over and over again, ad infinitum. This ‘same old game’ is actually the conditioned self, and so it is this self that gets reiterated ad infinitum, ad nauseam, in the face of the endless depth and profundity that is the unconditioned reality. The conditioned self is incapable of changing because its idea of change is the tiresome switching over from one opposite to the other and the way that it is built precludes it ever seeing that the two opposites are – on a deeper level – really just the same thing. Not only is it the case that the conditioned self cannot change, it is actually, as J.G. Bennett says, a nullity. It is a nullity because there is absolutely no difference at all between the outcome it yearns for and strives for and the outcome which it fears and tries as hard as it can to avoid.
The reason we end up identified with this null (or hollow) self is because we have ‘handed over responsibility’ to the entropic process – this is where handing over responsibility gets us. The null self is the end product of the entropic process – entropy is ‘responsible’ for it, so to speak. Entropy creates the everyday self, just as it creates the dramas which the we believe in so flatly, the dramas of gain and loss. Entropy is what lends the mind-created thoughts and images their authority, their power over us, and it is also what determines our reactions to them. Entropy is also what guarantees that the whole drama will be a nullity.
Without the intercession of entropy we would see that the self ‘isn’t necessarily so’, and that – by the same token – that ‘the dramas it gets involved in are only important if we choose to buy into them. With freedom (which is the antithesis of entropy) we can see that the self only seems real because we have chosen for it to be real, and that the dramas which the self gets caught up in are only meaningful because we choose for them to be meaningful. Freedom would therefore show up the game as a game. This creates the odd situation where the self – in order that it might continue to believe in itself – fears freedom and runs away from it at every opportunity.
A closed system isn’t actually real but because it is closed it doesn’t have the freedom to see this! In order to see that it wasn’t real it would have to get outside of itself, it would have to look at itself in a way that it is not allowed by the system, since the system – being closed – only allows those viewpoints which validate or confirm its starting-off position. We could therefore say that the closed system which is the thinking mind is a kind of ‘tautological echo’ – something that is echoing itself, but which doesn’t have any way of knowing what ‘itself’ is because it has no outside of reference. It is a kind of reverberation that doesn’t look like what it actually is from the inside! From the outside, we can see that its just a mechanical vibration, but from the inside it doesn’t look like this at all – it looks like a whole world!
A closed system is an illusion generator – just like a TV set might be said to be ‘an illusion generator’. When we watch TV we see (and to an extent, believe in) a virtual world but all we’re really looking is a bunch of pixels, and in the same way when we see and interact with the virtual world created by the rational mind all we are looking at is an ongoing vibration between [+1] and [-1], between a positive value and the corresponding negative value. There’s nothing spontaneous or creative in our mental picture (or representation) of the world – there just can’t be because genuinely spontaneous stuff or creative stuff can’t come about as a result of rules.
The mind-created world is in its very nature predictable, repetitive, mechanical, and so on. It has no other possibilities open to it, no other possibilities other than just following the laws that are laid out for it to follow. It is just a game going through its pre-programmed possibilities, its pre-ordained categories, at high speed. It just keeps on tautologically repeating itself – only so quickly and so dazzlingly and in such complex combinations that we don’t spot that it is only ever ‘repeating itself’, only ever just ‘going through the motions’.
Another word we could use here is ‘simulation’ – the mind-created world is a simulation because it is something that has been pre-figured, pre-programmed, pre-ordained. It is a simulation because it is something that runs on fixed rules. All simulations run on rules, are ran by rules – if this were not the case then what we would be talking about would not be a simulation at all but the genuine article! The genuine article – which is what all simulations are trying to simulate – is of course Reality, and the thing about Reality is that it comes before the rules and not vice versa. There are rules in Reality but there is no rule for Reality!
When we are living in the simulation (and taking that simulation to be the same thing as Reality) then it goes without saying that we can’t see Reality. We can only see what the system shows us, which is its own hugely ‘degraded’ version of Reality. In order to see Reality we would have to step sideways out of the simulation, we would have to drop out of the simulation, and observe what the world looks like when we have not arranged in advance for it to look like something. Krishnamurti says, “To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” When the mind is still then it is no longer there, it no longer has a role to play, and so we are able to perceive Reality as it is in itself, which is immeasurable, non-quantifiable.
What is happening in everyday life is that we are handing over responsibility for ‘how to see the world’ to the nullity of the rational mind and in this ‘handing over’ what we are in effect doing is identifying with that mind so that we see everything from its point of view and its point of view only. In this act of handing over responsibility we are becoming the rational mind, we are becoming the simulation, we are becoming the mechanical or conditioned self. We ‘make ourselves it’ and so from this point on we experience life on its behalf. We allow it to ‘live through us’, in effect. The ‘experiment’ (an experiment in consciousness) is therefore to see what life is like when lived from the point of view of the conditioned self, from the point of view of this ‘simulation of who I am’ without having the slightest insight into the fact that it is only a simulation.
The simulation and ‘who I think I am in terms of the simulation’ are one and the same thing – it’s all the simulation. The role I play and the game I play it in are one – the one can’t exist without the other. The point is however that the simulation is not real life at all – it doesn’t have real life in it, it just represents life in its own fashion, in its own mechanical terms. Because it is a mechanical thing, a rule-based thing, it has no freedom in it – it just proceeds according to the way in which it was set up to proceed. In this it is like a stone that has been thrown – it is fated to follow the predetermined path that was laid out for it the moment it was thrown. It was always going to follow its deterministic trajectory and that we imagine otherwise is simply a hallucination!
Everything we perceive is a hallucination – because we identify with the nullity we mistakenly perceive the projections of this ‘null simulation’ on the world as being the world itself, and so our confusion is complete. As long as we are trapped in the null simulation all we are really experiencing is that simulation’s own interaction with itself, with its own unacknowledged projections. Any other view of life has become obscured from us, and so even if we were to get the occasional glimpse of it we would instantly reject it as being some kind of aberrant or erroneous perception.
The conditioned self, which is who I genuinely experience myself to be, is the self which makes sense within the very limited terms of the simulation – it is therefore the same thing as the simulation, which by virtue of the fact that it is a simulation, is not real. It is a mere repetition, devoid of any possibility of seeing the world or being in the world other then the strictly limited way which is has been provided with, This self – as Gurdjieff says – is devoid of any possibility of creative or free action; it is incapable of doing anything other than obeying to the letter the dead mechanical laws to which it is subject, yet without having any awareness that this is what it is doing. Instead, it has an entirely false or delusory perception of being free, of being volitional – it possesses a fantasy of freedom, a fantasy of possibility which covers up its stark lack of any freedom at all.
The ‘me’ is in reality nothing more than a mistaken assumption – an assumption that there is something there when there just plain isn’t! It is as if I have a cheque in my pocket which I fondly imagine to be worth millions, when the truth is that it isn’t worth a thing. Or it is like me carrying a box around with me in the belief that it contains a precious jewel, when the fact that is that the jewel in question was stolen long ago by a cunning thief and has been replaced with a pebble. The substitution in question couldn’t be more dramatic, more extreme – my ‘Self’ used to be the whole universe, and now instead of this there is just the absorption of a degraded illusory self in a dull fantasy, in a banal sequence of ever-repeating nonsensical concerns. Instead of being interested in the infinite depths of Reality, I am wholly preoccupied – and alternatively pleased and displeased – with the infinitely trivial issues that my mind automatically creates for me to be interested in.
Everything is done on behalf of this ‘self’ but this self isn’t really anything at all – it is an abstraction, just as a triangle or a tetrahedron or the plan of a building or a shopping list is an abstraction – and it exists in a world of abstractions – not the real non-abstract world. When I identify with this conditioned self I therefore put myself in the position being a ‘sterile onlooker’ – an observer of life who is trapped behind the thick glass wall of my own necessary separation, the separation that has to be there if I am to retain my perception of myself as being the isolated ‘me’ which occupies the central position of its own world.
The version of life that we have just described sounds harsh in its depiction, and yet honest self-observation would show that it is perfectly accurate. How can the disconnected observer which is the ego-self be anything else than an abstract point of view, a point of reference which in itself never ever changes, no matter what changes we might imagine are going on around us? Anything else would breach the conditions of me being what I understand ‘myself’ to be, and the self – most assuredly – does not want to see these conditions breached!
I do not see myself an ‘abstract, fundamentally disconnected and therefore forever unchanging point of reference’ and if I did then my position would immediately become quite untenable. It would be revealed as no basis for living life at all. But I do not see things this way because I am (almost always) distracted with fantasies about what is going to happen to me, what is going to change for me – fantasies of either an attractive or of a frightening nature.
In the state of conditioned ego-hood we have given ourselves wholly over to the mechanical laws that govern our pseudo-existence and so that is all there is to it – that is the end of the matter. There is nothing else to say. That is ‘the long and the short of it’. As Gurdjieff says, for the everyday self psychology is not needed – all that is needed is a grasp of mechanics! Or as we could equivalently say, all that is needed in order to understand the everyday self is a grasp of thermodynamics, in particular the Second law of thermodynamics, which famously states that in a closed system entropy must always increase…
As a result of our identification with this rule-created world therefore we are entirely subject to the law of entropic decay. The only qualification here is that we are guaranteed not be aware of this entropy decay or degradation – the reason for this being that our capacity to be aware of such things is degrading along with everything else!
In psychological (rather than physical) terms – as we have already suggested – the concept of ‘entropy’ can be related to the process by which the original is replaced by an inferior copy, which does not itself contain any reference or acknowledgement to the fact that it is an inferior copy (or indeed, any sort of a copy at all). We can therefore say that psychological entropy is – in effect – a measure of either  How far the copy has strayed from the original, or  To what degree we have been deluded as to the true nature of reality.
However we define psychological entropy, it comes down in practical terms to the same thing: we are running downhill on tracks that we cannot deviate from, not even by a millimetre, and yet pretty much the whole time we are entertained by a ‘fantasy version’ of what is going on (or what we expect to be going on) that is being projected for us by the mechanical mind. We don’t see the true nature of the mind-created self that we have identified with any more than we see the true nature of its destiny. We have not been acquainted with the prognosis for our situation; no one has ever told us – and even if they did, we still wouldn’t believe them!
The illusory idea of ‘who we are’ experiences all sorts of illusory perceptions about ‘what is going to happen to who we think we are’ – we have all sorts of illusory ideas about the type of outcomes which we think may be in store for us, outcomes that we feel may be ‘just down the pipeline’, so to speak. We can often get extremely worked up about these ideas – we get pretty excited about them, one way or another. We suffer greatly because of them – we can go through hell because of them. And yet despite what we put ourselves through on their behalf, these ideas about possible outcomes, possible futures, both good and bad, exciting and frightening, are bound to be illusory. After all, if the self to which they are to occur is an illusion, then how can the scenarios which we are envisaging possibly be any different?
Everything we experience, everything we think about, everything we hope or fear is seen in relation to this very specific viewpoint – which is itself ‘only real because we say it is’, ‘only valid because we assume it to be so’, or ‘only true because we agree for it to be true’. It’s all just an illusion – there is nothing else it can be since it only exists in relation to the disconnected or abstract viewpoint of the false self.
This doomed mechanical life (in which we keep on going downhill without being able to see it happening to us) is the inevitable consequence of not taking responsibility to see reality ourselves, the inevitable result of handing over all responsibility to a mere mechanical process. This is what creates all our troubles, all our endless suffering. And yet the whole trip is mysteriously redeemed by the fact that it actually never happened.
The whole thing was – as we have said – ‘an experiment in consciousness’ – an experience of what it would be like if the simulated reality actually was real, if it wasn’t only a simulation created by the mind. But it was only ever a simulation, no matter how real it might have seemed. It never was true…
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.