The nature of everything is that of an infinitely harmonious situation. This is of course not how we usually – if ever – see it. Things very rarely look infinitely harmonious – if they did then they would no longer be things. To be part of the over-all harmonious situation is not to be a thing! Being ‘a thing’ – we might say – is ‘a non-harmonious situation’. It is a non-harmonious in the sense that to be a thing is to resist all other possibilities other than being that specific thing. This being the case – that I am steadfastly resisting all possibilities other than ‘the one designated possibility’ – then it has to be said that this is a non-harmonious situation. It is, on the contrary, a situation that is quintessentially rigid, brittle, unyielding, unaccommodating, inflexible, and so on.
On a very small scale, the situation where only the one possibility is being promoted might be said to be ‘harmonious’ in a very limited way (in that it is accepting of itself and anything that agrees with it) but with regard to the bigger picture it very clearly can’t be – a fixed (and therefore unambiguous) thing gets to be ‘fixed’ and ‘unambiguous’ only by resisting all possibilities other than the one it exemplifies. To be a specific thing is therefore to be decidedly non-fluid in nature – it is to be static, self-contained, single-minded, stubbornly persistent, crudely insensitive, uninfluenced by other realities, uninterested in other possibilities, and so on. It is a note that that has no relationship to any greater symphony, an opinion that can’t tolerate any other point of view than its own, a strident voice, a megaphone voice that wants to be the only voice in town.
The ‘harmonious’ situation, on the other hand, is where everything is allowed to dissolve as it will, where all fixed positions are permitted to give way. There is no holding on, and this freedom is what gives rise to the harmoniousness. To be ‘harmonious’ therefore means being fluid, unfixed, non-resistant, accommodating, accepting, yielding, mutable, open to change, etc. The quality of being fluid, unfixed, non-resistant, accommodating, and so on, doesn’t tend to sound great to us; from the point of view of our normal way of thinking it sounds weak, vague, indecisive, and downright fickle. Because it is so very adaptable and lacking in any loyalty to any given set of rules or principles what we have called ‘harmoniousness’ doesn’t really sound like anything. It sounds insipid, wishy-washy, feeble, uncommitted, characterless, nondescript, half-hearted…
As a culture, it is evidently true that we just don’t value fluidity – on the contrary, what we value is firmness of purpose! And even if the ‘purpose’ in question seems to be doing more harm than good we still seem to want to go along with it, out of some sort of misplaced loyalty to the concept of having an ideal, out of stubbornness, out of the feeling that there is some value in being sure of oneself, sure in one’s opinions, resolute in one’s intentions, irrespective of any other considerations. What we value is the definite voice, the clear-cut and unambiguous version of ‘what is’, the ‘logos’, the bowing down to the one defined reality. We want the Yang without the Yin, and we don’t see that this means authority for the sake of authority, power for the sake of power, control for the sake of control.
When we talk about ‘fixed things’ in the way that we have been doing what we’re really talking about are thoughts or concepts – fixed things don’t actually exist at all outside of our categorical minds, not in the way we think they do. When we talk about ‘things’ we’re not talking about tables and chairs and teacups and rocks and clouds and tree trunks that exist in the outside world – we’re talking about the rigid mental categories which we superimpose upon these ‘things in the outside world’, and which we automatically confuse with them. ‘Things’ in the outside world are not fixed and self-contained and isolated, even though we might perceive them to be – they exist in fluid relationship with the whole picture, unlike our thoughts, unlike our concepts.
Everything in the outside world is part of an infinitely harmonious situation because everything in the outside world is essentially non-resistant, essentially fluid, essentially accommodating (or sensitive) to everything else. Everything in ‘the inside world’ is part of the infinitely harmonious situation too – the only elements in the picture which aren’t part of the overall harmony are our thoughts, our opinions, our mental constructs and categories, which aren’t either ‘outside’ or ‘inside’. They aren’t anywhere! These constructs – and the entire mind-created world that they make up – are not part of the infinitely harmonious situation. They are abstracted from it and exist in their own terms as ‘defined objects’ in the unchanging, black-and-white world of the static mind.
Because the world of our mental constructs, the world of defined objects or things, is not harmonious it has to be continually supported, continually propped up, continually stated, continually defended and reinforced. It has to be actively maintained in the face of what it sees as ‘error’ or ‘chaos’. The ‘infinite harmoniousness of everything’ is thus perceived by the thinking mind as being a kind of oppositional force – in short, as an enemy to be fought against. Fluidity (or ‘ungrounded change’) is, from the perspective of the thinking mind, the ultimate horror, the ultimate terror. The ‘infinitely harmonious situation’ is the ultimate horror – it is the ultimate horror because all of our precious constructs are guaranteed to dissolve back into it just as soon as we stop holding tightly onto them!
The horror (or terror) lies in the fact that for the everyday thinking mind the most important thing (the only important thing!) is the perpetuation of its fixed categories, and in the infinitely harmonious situation all of thought’s categories (and all of the definite statements that are made on the basis of these categories) are unfailingly going to be dissolved, without any exception whatsoever….
This is what ‘ungrounded change’ means – it means the dissolving of all mental categories, the dissolving of all mental constructs, without any exceptions at all. What we normally think of as ‘change’ (and which we don’t have so much of a problem with) is linear change – change that is governed by fixed variables, change that occurs within a defined context. Ungrounded change, on the other hand, is a different ball-game altogether – we can think about the first type of change, we can grasp it, we can understand it, and most importantly of all, we can potentially control it. Ungrounded change is a whole different kettle of fish however – as we have just said. It is change that goes beyond what we normally understand as change.
A good way to explain ungrounded change is in terms of a runaway feedback loop where the output of a device is amplified hugely and then fed right back into the input. This in itself however is not sufficient to create ungrounded change – what is needed for this is for there to be a scattering of random fluctuations in the original inputted signal, and then due to the repeated amplification and runaway recycling of these ‘errors’ the whole process becomes chaotically unstable. The original pattern of ‘definite statements’ is lost, and we end up going off the map entirely.
This, in practice, isn’t such a hard thing to arrange since all real world systems contain some degree of randomness! This is what distinguishes a real-world system from a formal system – the fact that real-world systems always contain seeds (however small) of unpredictability that can give rise to chaotic processes. This type of ungrounded or chaotic change cannot therefore be brought about in a formal system: everything in a formal system is there because it has been specified in advance, and randomness – by its very nature – cannot be specified. If I can churn out a number as a result of some rule-based procedure then whatever number it is that I create the one thing I know for sure about it is that it can’t be random! Random numbers are numbers that are obtained by accident not derived by design.
Ungrounded change is ‘change that outruns the guide-lines which are supposed to be governing how that change occurs’, and so it goes without saying that there is no way to guide (or direct) change so that it goes beyond the guide-lines, goes beyond the directives. This would be the same as instructing a formal system to not do what it has been instructed to do. Or it would be the same as ordering someone who always does what you say to disobey the order that you are just giving them – there is no way out from this because when they go ahead and disobey you they are still obeying. What we are essentially saying therefore is that there is no way for a simulation to stop simulating because even when a simulation simulates the situation of not being simulated this is still only a simulation. A simulation can simulate not-simulating as much as it likes but it’s still not getting anywhere! [Or we could say that when I think about what it would be like for me not to be thinking the whole time this would still only be ‘me thinking’ because I’m thinking about not thinking….]
A formal system can of course change itself by utilizing a negative feedback loop but there is nothing ungrounded about this at all. A programme can receive information about the result of its own activity and then proceed to modify itself on the basis of this information but this is just the programme regulating itself, controlling itself, adapting itself, fine-tuning itself, etc. If a system assesses its own performance and then alters its own functional parameters as a result of this assessment then this is of course nothing other than optimization, which is to say, the machine is getting better and better at doing the same thing!
If the machine is getting better and better at doing the same thing (getting better and better at improving itself) then clearly it isn’t really changing! It doesn’t matter how many levels or tiers of negative feedback loops there are (by which the machine can assess and modify its own assessment, and then assess and modify the way in which it assesses and modifies its own assessments, and so on) it’s still never going to escape itself, or transcend itself. If rules are being modified then this means that there must be ‘rules to modify the rule’, and so on and so forth. There’s no way out from this. The rule-based mechanism can never escape itself – no matter how convoluted it all gets (no matter how many tiers in the control hierarchy there are) there are always going to be a set of rules behind it all that dictate how change is to happen, without themselves ever being changed…
Whenever change is governed, or directed to a certain end, it is not really change at all. It is change that is in service of ‘the one designated possibility’ – there is the superficial appearance of change which occurs as we push closer and closer to the goal of ‘finally realizing the one designated possibility’. As we lock onto it, this ideal becomes imbued with a glory it does not possess – it appears to us to be something that it isn’t at all. The prospect of finally realizing the one designated possibility appears – in a fundamentally deceptive way – to be the glorious answer or solution to everything.
Naturally obtaining the designated possibility seems to be ‘the answer to everything’ – when we take the narrow view then the obtaining of the goal at hand seems to be the only thing that matters. For us, looking at things in the narrow way that we are doing, it IS the only thing that matters. Because we are focussing narrowly on the specified outcome in this way – and ignoring everything else – the goal in our cross-hairs subsumes everything else. The goal takes on the importance of everything else; it becomes everything else. The goal is ‘the one designated possibility’ and this is why – when we get locked into the compulsive logic of optimization (which is the logic that lies behind the well-known neurotic disturbance of perfectionism) – the one designated possibility gets imbued with a glory that it does not possess.
As we’ve said, because of the lack of perspective involved, the prospect of the attainment of the designated possibility becomes ‘the supremely important thing’. It gets absurdly over-valued and the attainment of this defined outcome becomes subjectively synonymous with the attainment of everything that matters. It becomes – by a totally illegitimate route – the ‘prize of prizes’, the attainment of which represents ‘the ultimate success story’. It becomes the ultimate lure, the ultimate ‘attractor state’. In a very strange and curious sort of way, therefore, the one designated possibility becomes everything that it denies.
What we’re talking about here is the phenomenon of INVERSION – we turn our backs on the whole world, we scrupulously ignore everything apart from the hollow abstraction that we are focussing on and in this way the abstract object of our attention – the formal construct, the static mind-created image – takes the place of what we are ignoring. The ‘abstract object’ gets charged with a significance that it simply does not deserve. In itself it is ‘blank’, but it takes up ‘reflected colour’, ‘reflected brightness’. It becomes glamourized and as a result of the glamour that attaches to it the construct has the ability to command our attention. It hypnotizes us, it mesmerizes us, it enchants us…
The mesmerizing quality that we are talking about here causes us to fixate upon the formal description as if it were so very much more than the formal description. We enter into a closed relationship with the simulation of reality, and as a result we know nothing about what is being simulated. Because of the way in which we ‘lock onto’ the one way of looking at things we enter into the realm of static mental constructs and everything becomes defined, everything becomes ‘cut and dried’, everything becomes ‘black-and-white’. We hand ourselves over unreservedly to the process of ‘optimization’ – which is the process in which we are forever getting closer and closer to the fixed ideal, without ever actually touching it. Like Zeno’s arrow, we are forever approaching the one defined possibility, without ever being able to reach it.
The closer we do get to our defined destination (the better adapted we are to the one way of looking at things) however the more conflicted we become. Even though we can’t see it, absolute definite equals absolute paradox, absolute self-contradiction. After all, a definite statement exists explicitly for the purpose of denying the ‘equal and opposite’ statement, the antithetical statement – why else would we make it in the first place, if we weren’t trying to disprove the antithetical proposition?
The tighter we grasp at the abstraction the more we remove ourselves from the infinitely harmonious situation, therefore. We are getting closer and closer at obtaining the final prize, but because the final prize is the state of STASIS (i.e. the ultimate black-and-white situation) what we’re actually closing our fingers on is the state of pure self-contradiction, pure ‘disharmony’. We are locking onto what in reality (even though we’re seeing everything upside down) is the ultimately disharmonious situation.
This disharmonious situation (which is as Colin Wilson says the situation of ‘being a thing in a world of things’) is home for us. It is everything that is familiar to us. It’s all we know. And as for ‘the infinitely harmonious situation’ – well, as for this, we know of no greater terror…
Image: The Harmony Of Truly Cosmic Spheres by ReeNee Cummins
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.